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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Friday, February 25, 2005

"Contract Feudalism"

That's not my term, but Elizabeth Anderson's at Left2Right. It covers a wide range of events that have been in the news lately. One is described by Anderson in her blog post. According to the New York Times, Howard Weyers, president of Michigan-based Weyco, has forbidden his workers to smoke--"not just at work but anywhere else." The policy, taken in response to rising cost of health coverage, requires workers to submit to nicotine tests.

As Anderson reminds us, one of the benefits that the worker traditionally received in return for his submission to the bosses' authority on the job was sovereignty over the rest of his life in the "real world" outside of work. Under the terms of this Taylorist bargain, the worker surrendered his sense of craftsmanship and control over his own work in return for the right to express his "real" personality through consumption in the part of his life that still belonged to him. This bargain assumed

the separation of work from the home. However arbitrary and abusive the boss may have been on the factory floor, when work was over the workers could at least escape his tyranny (unless they lived in a factory town, where one's boss was also one's landlord and regulator of their lives through their leases). Again, in the early phase of industrialization, this was small comfort, given that nearly every waking hour was spent at work. But as workers gained the right to a shortened workday--due to legislation as well as economic growth--the separation of work from home made a big difference to workers' liberty from their employers' wills.

At the same time, Anderson points out, this separation of work from home depends entirely on the relative bargaining power of labor ("competition for workers") for its enforcement. I'll elaborate on this theme later in the post.

Another recent example of "contract feudalism" is the saga of Joe Gordon, editor of the Woolamaloo Gazette blog, who was fired from Waterstone's (a UK chain bookstore roughly comparable to B&N) when it came to his bosses' attention that he'd made the occasional venting post (quite mild, from my perspective) after a particularly bad day at work. Gordon, who arranged book promotions and was friendly with a number of prominent science fiction authors (including Ken MacLeod, via whose blog I first heard of this), brought Waterstone's business worth many times his salary; and although he was ostensibly fired for bringing them into "disrepute," those despicable shitheads have themselves done more to that end than a thousand of their employees' blogs could possibly have done.

B.K Marcus, in discussing his experiences with libertarian writers who later attempt to remove their writings from the Web, hints that some of them might be motivated by the fear of what an employer might stumble upon. If that is indeed what he's talking about, then the danger is a very real one. Having been involved in a job search myself not too many months ago, I know firsthand how paranoid a job applicant can become that the Human Resources Thought Police are Googling him, and perhaps deciding on the basis of a high internet profile in radical political circles that he "ain't got his mind right." Although it may not be standard practice everywhere yet, it's likely to become so sooner rather than later in our downsized and overworked future, as increasing levels of employee disgruntlement and corporate authoritarianism interact synergistically to transform the employment relation beyond our worst nightmares.

Naturally, when such incidents become fodder for debate in the blogosphere, many self-styled "free market" advocates rally instinctively around the bosses. One commenter, for example, said this in response to Elizabeth Anderson's Left2Right post: "It's a free market. If you don't like your employer's rules, then work somewhere else." Fairly typical, I'm afraid.

Uh, no--this is not a free market. As Benjamin Tucker wrote over a century ago:

....It is not enough, however true, to say that, "if a man has labor to sell, he must find some one with money to buy it"; it is necessary to add the much more important truth that, if a man has labor to sell, he has a right to a free market in which to sell it, - a market in which no one shall be prevented by restrictive laws from honestly obtaining the money to buy it. If the man with labor to sell has not this free market, then his liberty is violated and his property virtually taken from him. Now, such a market has constantly been denied, not only to the laborers at Homestead, but to the laborers of the entire civilized world. And the men who have denied it are the Andrew Carnegies. Capitalists of whom this Pittsburgh forge-master is a typical representative have placed and kept upon the statute-books all sorts of prohibitions and taxes (of which the customs tariff is among the least harmful) designed to limit and effective in limiting the number of bidders for the labor of those who have labor to sell....

....Let Carnegie, Dana & Co. first see to it that every law in violation of equal liberty is removed from the statute-books. If, after that, any laborers shall interfere with the rights of their employers, or shall use force upon inoffensive "scabs," or shall attack their employers' watchmen, whether these be Pinkerton detectives, sheriff's deputies, or the State militia, I pledge myself that, as an Anarchist and in consequence of my Anarchistic faith, I will be among the first to volunteer as a member of a force to repress these disturbers of order and, if necessary, sweep them from the earth. But while these invasive laws remain, I must view every forcible conflict that arises as the consequence of an original violation of liberty on the part of the employing classes, and, if any sweeping is done, may the laborers hold the broom! Still, while my sympathies thus go with the under dog, I shall never cease to proclaim my conviction that the annihilation of neither party can secure justice, and that the only effective sweeping will be that which clears from the statute-book every restriction of the freedom of the market....

So even in the so-called "laissez-faire" 19th century, as Tucker described the situation, the level of statist intervention on behalf of the owning and employing classes was already warping the wage system in all sorts of authoritarian directions. The phenomenon of wage labor existed to the extent that it did only as a result of the process of primitive accumulation by which the producing classes had, in previous centuries, been robbed of their property in the means of production and forced to sell their labor on the bosses' terms. And thanks to the state's restrictions on self-organized credit and on access to unoccupied land, which enabled the owners of artificially scarce land and capital to charge tribute for access to them, workers faced an ongoing necessity of selling their labor on still more disadvantageous terms. These facts, alone, were enough to force the owners' agents to take on the character of plantation overseers in dealing with their exploited and disgruntled work force.

The problem was exacerbated at the turn of the 20th century by still higher levels of government intervention, and the resulting centralization of the economy. The effect of government subsidies and regulatory cartelization was to conceal or transfer the inefficiency costs of large-scale organization, and to promote a model of business organization that was far larger, and far more hierarchical and bureaucratic, than could possibly survive in a free market.

The state's subsidies to the development of capital-intensive production, as the 20th century wore on, promoted deskilling and ever-steeper internal hierarchies, and reduced the bargaining power that came with labor's control of the production process. (There is an excellent body of literature on this theme by authors like David Montgomery, William Lazonick, etc.) Many of the most powerfully deskilling forms of production technology were created as a result of the state's subsidies to research and development. As David Montgomery wrote in Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (Knopf, 1984),

[I]nvestigation of the actual design and use of capital-intensive, labor-saving, skillreducing technology has begun to indicate that cost reduction was not a prime motivation, nor was it achieved. Rather than any such economic stimulus, the overriding impulse behind the development of the American system of manufacture was military; the principal promoter of the new methods was not the self-adjusting market but the extra-market U.S. Army Ordnance Department. . . . The drive to automate has been from its inception the drive to reduce dependence upon skilled labor, to deskill necessary labor and reduce rather than raise wages.

Finally, the decision of neoliberal elites in the 1970s to freeze real wages and transfer all productivity increases into reinvestment, dividends, or senior management salaries, led to a still more disgruntled work force, and the need for internal systems of surveillance and control far beyond anything that had existed before. David M. Gordon's Fat and Mean (Free Press, 1996) refers, in its subtitle, to the "Myth of Managerial Downsizing." Gordon demonstrates that, contrary to public misperception, most companies employ even more middle management than they used to; and a major function of these new overseers is enforcing management control over an increasingly overworked, insecure, and embittered workforce. The professional culture in Human Resources departments is geared, more and more, to detecting and forestalling sabotage and other expressions of employee disgruntlement, through elaborate internal surveillance mechanisms, and to spotting potentially dangerous attitudes toward authority through intensive psychological profiling.

Contrast this monstrous state of affairs with what would exist in a genuine free market: jobs competing for workers instead of the other way around.

Instead of workers living in fear that bosses might discover something "bad" about them (like the fact that they have publicly spoken their minds in the past, like free men and women), bosses would live in fear that workers would think badly enough of them to take their labor elsewhere. Instead of workers being so desperate to hold onto a job as to allow their private lives to be regulated as an extension of work, management would be so desperate to hold onto workers as to change conditions on the job to suit them. Instead of workers taking more and more indignities to avoid bankruptcy and homelessness, bosses would give up more and more control over the workplace to retain a workforce. Gary Elkin described the libertarian socialist consequences of Tucker's free market in this passage from the Anarchist FAQ:

It's important to note that because of Tucker's proposal to increase the bargaining power of workers through access to mutual credit, his individualist anarchism is not only compatible with workers' control but would in fact promote it (as well as logically requiring it). For if access to mutual credit were to increase the bargaining power of workers to the extent that Tucker claimed it would, they would then be able to: (1) demand and get workplace democracy; and (2) pool their credit to buy and own companies collectively. This would eliminate the top-down structure of the firm and the ability of owners to pay themselves unfairly large salaries as well as reducing capitalist profits to zero by ensuring that workers received the full value of their labour. Tucker himself pointed this out when he argued that Proudhon (like himself) "would individualise and associate" workplaces by mutualism, which would "place the means of production within the reach of all."

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Samuel Edward Konkin III

Yesterday was the first anniversary of SEK3's death. I remembered earlier this month that it was coming soon, but Wally Conger jogged my memory. He has a nice memorial post at Out of Step.

Sam was a comrade of Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess back in the days of their abortive alliance with the New Left, during and after the Radical Libertarian Caucus' walkout from the YAF convention in St. Louis. He was a fierce advocate for that alliance long after Rothbard had given it up and gone Paleo. His Movement of the Libertarian Left was (still is) dedicated to pursuing Rothbard's early goal of a libertarian coalition of left and right against the corporate state, in the same spirit as Rothbard's own Left and Right venture and his collaboration with Ronald Radosh on A New History of Leviathan (E.P. Dutton, 1972). Sam was also author of the New Libertarian Manifesto, and founder of the Agorist Institute and the Karl Hess Supper Club. Yet another of his creations, the LeftLibertarian email list at Yahoogroups, is still a venue for productive (and often heated) debate between members of a wide range of free market libertarian and libertarian socialist species. The archives from 2000, for example, contain a months-long free-for-all between Rothbardians and Georgists, with some of the biggest contemporary names in the Geolib milieu dropping in to take a few swings.

There aren't many dyed-in-the-wool Misean subjectivists who'd get caught saying something like this:

...free-market and pro-entrepreneur as we are, MLL supports genuine anarchosyndicalist unions which consistently refuse to collaborate with the State. (In North America, that's the IWW and nothing else I know of.) Second, if you look at the bottom, you'll note the abhorrence of the IWW to politics and party; they split with the nascent U.S. Socialist Party [actually SLP] on the same grounds that MLL split with the formative USLP --- rejecting parliamentarianism for direct action.

If you have to have workers, they ought to be all IWW.... I wouldn't have any other kind.

The SEK3 memorial service from last year can be viewed here; but unless you've got a few hours to wait for it to load, you probably won't want to try it if you've got crappy dial-up service like me.

Wally says:

This afternoon, I've lifted a pint of Guinness in his memory. I hope other comrades will do the same (with their preferred beverage).

Hear, hear!

Pollard: Power and How to Topple It

Another excellent essay by David Pollard on a strategy for defeating the present corporatist system.
The third way to bring about major global change is incapacitation -- rendering the old order unable to function by sapping what it needs to survive. This is the method that disease uses to prey on fragile and vulnerable organs, that parasites and venomous creatures use to weaken and sometimes kill their (much larger) hosts, that terrorists use to paralyze their enemies, and that innovative businesses use to undermine, render obsolete and supplant bigger, less flexible businesses. For those of us with neither the patience or religious fanaticism to wait for a global natural catastrophe, nor the naivety to believe in a successful 'popular' revolution, this third way is the only way to change, and save, our beleaguered planet.

....Actions that are aimed to incapacitate are called guerrilla (meaning 'little war') actions. Since the Vietnam war debacle in the 1960s the very term has struck fear in the hearts of the power elite, because they know that, in today's heavily concentrated, centralized, interconnected, 'grid-locked' society, this is where they are most vulnerable, most powerless to defend themselves.

This is a time-honored strategy in many different left-decentralist traditions, and passes under a variety of names. Perhaps the most well-known is the Wobbly slogan "building the structure of the new society within the shell of the old." Proudhon expressed something like it in General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, as the mutualist economy growing within the statist one until the former eclipsed the latter. The political would eventually be absorbed in the economic and social, and the distinction between public and private would wither away. Paul Goodman described the process this way:
A free society cannot be the substitution of a 'new order' for the old order; it is the extension of spheres of free action until they make up most of the social life.
This statement by Gustav Landauer is also a good one:
The State is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behavior, we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another...
The process of incapacitation, as Pollard describes it, has four components:
1. Identify the vulnerabilities: Fragility, overconcentration, ignorance, arrogance, lack of diversity, centralization, lack of redundancy, popular disgust, anxiety, dissatisfaction or apprehension, ill-preparedness, lack of agility, overcomplexity (left hand doesn't know what the right is doing), lack of imagination and creativity, etc.

2. Acquire resources stealthily: Put together what you need without letting your target know you're doing so, or even what you are capable of doing with them.

3. Develop solutions that exploit the vulnerabilities.

4. Rigorously assess the likelihood of those solutions working effectively (incapacitating the incumbent power), and deploy only the high-probability solutions, quickly, before the incumbents have time to react and defend themselves.
In Part Two, Pollard describes in detail some non-violent ways of fighting this guerrilla war.
The focus will be on new technology, new infrastructure, new models and new processes that replace the vulnerable ones that are the causes of so many of today's global problems -- and ensuring that these replacements are Open Source, and stay in the hands of all the world's people.

As a paradigm for the successor society, Pollard cites the "village society" advocated by Freeman Dyson in his mind-blowing Wired interview. The villages, based on decentralized energy and information technology, and open-source innovation (including biotech, which I find problematic), will be able to sustain themselves and network with each other independently, for the most part, of the existing corporate economy.

Pollard insists, perversely, on referring to the process of incapacitation and replacement as "the collapse of the market economy." But in my view, the successor society he envisions has a much stronger and more legitimate claim to the "market" label than does the present corporate society he aims to replace. For example, consider this passage:
The first part of this guerrilla undermining of the corporatist-controlled 'market' economy -- the 'making free' of information -- is already underway. The war for free information between corporatists and people is occurring on multiple fronts: The attempt by large corporations to patent everything so it cannot be used by the people without paying an exorbitant and prohibitive fee; the attempt by large corporations to ban file-sharing without first paying extortion to the intellectual property 'owner' (little of which actually goes to the artist); the attempt to make more of the information on the Internet 'pay for itself'. But the people are winning this guerrilla war.

Although Pollard conflates "corporate-controlled" with "market," in any war "between corporatists and people" the latter have by far the better claim to genuine free market credentials. In most of the cases he lists in the passage above--patents on technology, file-sharing--it's clearly the corporations who are at war with the "market economy," and the people who are defending it.

I do have some doubts concerning the presumed illegitimacy of making the Internet "pay for itself"; the "cost principle," that the consumers of goods and services should pay the cost of providing them, has a venerable individualist anarchist pedigree. But I strenuously oppose attempts at a corporate "enclosure" of the Internet by the information equivalent of absentee landlords; far better to treat it as a social commons. Nevertheless, to the extent that services cost something to provide, somebody has to pay for them--and that somebody should be the beneficiary.

Apparently, Pollard makes the common mistake of confusing the market with the cash nexus. Writing almost 36 years ago, Karl Hess proclaimed in The Libertarian Forum:
Libertarianism is a people's movement and a liberation movement. It seeks the sort of open, non-coercive society in which the people, the living, free, distinct people, may voluntarily associate, dis-associate, and, as they see fit, participate in the decisions affecting their lives. This means a truly free market in everything from ideas to idiosyncracies. It means people free collectively to organize the resources of their immediate community or individualistically to organize them; it means the freedom to have a community-based and supported judiciary where wanted, none where not, or private arbitration services where that is seen as most desirable. The same with police. The same with schools, hospitals, factories, farms, laboratories, parks, and pensions. Liberty means the right to shape your own institutions. It opposes the right of those institutions to shape you simply because of accreted power or gerontological status.

Or as Jesse Walker put it once on the LeftLibertarian discussion list:
I have a fondness for libertarian socialists of the Paul Goodman/Colin Ward type -- the kind who see market exchanges and non-market forms of voluntary cooperation as interpenetrating each other, rather than regarding the cash nexus as overwhelming everything it touches.
Of course, I prefer to use the term "market" to encompass all forms of voluntary interactions, whether monetized or not. But the point is that a society based on market interaction might well look more like something designed by Ivan Illich than by Milton Friedman; a little more like The Farm than Galt's Gulch; a little more.... well, you get the idea.

Pollard's post contains an oddly disturbing anecdote. At a public informational event on wind power, presented by the Canadian government, Pollard describes the bizarrely negative reactions of one (to say the least) rather exercised fellow:
One extremely agitated gentleman kept trying to sabotage the day's events. Having all these local, piecemeal energy producers was 'grossly inefficient', he said, and for that reason (and because they are 'eyesores') they should be banned, in favour of large mega-farms of energy owned by private industry. Private industry would pick more 'efficient' sites, get economies of scale, and they 'knew the business' and would be motivated by profits to run these farms in a more businesslike way.

Again, the alternative energy advocates (aside--a big aside--from their government funding) were far more on the side of free markets than was that scary specimen.

Besides being so far off the high end of Adorno's F-scale as to be positively radioactive (is there such a thing as a Type-AAA personality?), that poor guy is utterly wrong. The distribution of energy through centralized networks is extremely costly and inefficient. With decentralized production of energy at the point of consumption, on the other hand, almost nothing is lost in transmission. If decentralized energy production were as "grossly inefficient" as he makes out, it wouldn't have to be banned; it would lose out to more efficient competition from the utility dinosaurs. On the other hand, if centralized energy production for the grid is so "efficient," why is it one of the most subsidized industries in existence? And while we're at it, private citizens voluntarily cooperating to produce their own energy *is* "private industry." It's a hell of a lot more "private" than corporations that can't survive without suckling at the government teat. They "know the business" all right: like a rich courtier of Louis XIV, they know how "profitable" it is to have the king's ear.

Pollard continues:
This guy was utterly outnumbered on Saturday, but watch out -- as word gets out that we can all be energy self-sufficient, and own our own 'utility', getting energy at cost (which is plummeting), the energy companies will join the war on the other side. They have billions to lose, and will not stand idly by as the peasants take back the means of their own production.
Ain't that the truth! As the public utilities start to lose ground to people producing their own energy for themselves, we can expect them to discover all sorts of ways that this threatens the "public safety" and "general welfare." It will likely follow a pattern similar to that of imported prescription drugs, which bogus "free market" advocates want to prohibit on grounds of "safety." Even at present, many localities have "safety codes" requiring houses to be hooked up to the grid. Ernest Callenbach, in the fictional setting of Ecotopia Rising, described a further escalation of the same phenonmenon, as an increasingly desperate corporate system lashed out against the human-scale society replacing it.

"Public safety" and "general welfare" are the last refuge of scoundrels.

NOTE--Dave Pollard, in response to my criticisms of his use of the term "market," pointed out: "I try to always use 'market' in quotes to indicate its (mis-)use as a euphemism for unregulated oligopoly. I love the idea of a free market for regulating prices."

Ivan Illich Tribute

I've missed a lot of good stuff on Dave Pollard's blog over the past few weeks because, being the dumbass that I am, I bookmarked a page in his archive rather than the main blog. I wondered why the blog was so inactive.... So in coming days, I'll probably be using material that I missed the first time around as grist for my own mill. Hey, it's my blog--who says I have to limit my commentary to current stuff? And if you, like me, didn't read it until now, then it's "new"--right?

Anyway, Pollard recently had a great post on Ivan Illich. Having already been repeatedly nagged to read Illich, he finally stumbled across him in a serendipitous moment while looking (among other things) for "a way to unite progressives and libertarians... against the onslaught of the neocons in a Green Movement."

In the course of his own interesting discussion, Pollard quotes the Infed (Informal Education) site's article on Illich at length, including a thought-provoking list of the central principles in Illich's social analysis. Especially noteworthy is the principle of counterproductivity." "Counterproductivity is the means by which a fundamentally beneficial process or arrangement is turned into a negative one. Once it reaches a certain threshold, the process of institutionalization becomes counterproductive."

Although Illich's application of his counterproductivity principle is brilliant (he presents specific case of it in, e.g., Deschooling Society, Energy and Equity, and Medical Nemesis, and the general phenomenon in Tools for Conviviality and Vernacular Values), in my opinion he comes up short in identifying the causal mechanism behind it.

The chief reason the threshold of counterproductivity is reached is the role of government in creating externalities.

In a genuine free market, where every actor fully internalizes all the costs and benefits of an action, no technology will be adopted to the point of counterproductivity because it will become unprofitable for the individual using it at the point where the total costs outweigh the total benefits.

Government subsidies and government enforcement of special privileges, on the other hand, protects privileged actors from fully internalizing all the costs and benefits of their actions. Since the cost and benefit sides of the ledger are dissociated from each other, with costs and benefits accruing to different actors, those receiving the benefits of the action have no rational incentive to stop at the point of diminishing total returns to society as a whole. For them, no point of diminishing returns exists, because the cost is kept artificially low or nonexistent. So society adopts technologies beyond a pareto-optimal level: that is, it adopts them to the point that those benefiting from them benefit at somebody else's expense.

That, in essence, is what government does: it creates externalities, or zero-sum situations. The state, as Oppenheimer wrote in his famous work of the same title, is the "political means" to wealth. Production by peaceful labor, and voluntary exchange of labor-products between producers, are the "economic means" to wealth. When all wealth is obtained by such means, the situation is "pareto-optimal" (i.e., everyone benefits) because economic transactions are voluntary and perceived as beneficial by all the parties to them. When the political means of exploitation are introduced, and privileged classes of capitalists, landlords and bureaucrats are enabled to obtain wealth at the expense of those who produce it, the situation becomes zero-sum: one party uses coercion to impose a transaction on the other that he would not have chosen freely.

Under corporate capitalism, technologies are adopted to the point of counterproductivity because corporate elites are adopting them on somebody else's dime. The profit remains private, while the costs and risks are "socialized" on the taxpayer.

In other words, government-enforced privilege is what differentiates capitalism from the free market.

For those interested in Illich's thought, Richard Wall's appreciation of him at Lew Rockwell is worth checking out. Wall also did a nice piece on Paul Goodman.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Sympathy for the Devil

A Progressive Review reader comments on Sam Smith's coverage of the Negroponte appointment:

Hey, the guy gets results. How many people have YOU killed? None? And how many connections DO you have way high up in the CIA? None?? Well, then what DO you know about foreign diplomacy? Diplomacy is best left to those with blood pouring off of their lying hooves.

Tell Us What You Really Think, Tim

Tim Cavanaugh bitch-slaps the "big government conservatives":
The genius of neoconservatism is that it's exactly in step with the progressivist, middle-of-the-road, big state view of American history they teach in school: The Articles of Confederation resulted in a disaster that taught the founders the value of a strong central state; the Whiskey rebels were dangerous kooks, not unlike the Branch Davidians of our own time; "States' Rights" has always been a code word for slavery; President Woodrow Wilson was a man of vision but sadly was unable to achieve his goals for an international order; the America Firsters were even kookier and more marginal than the Whiskey rebels, and the best way to deal with one is to sock him in the jaw like in The Best Years of Our Lives; many well intentioned folks on the left underestimated the danger of the Soviet Union, but the anti-communist witch hunts of the fifties were a regrettable overreaction (the Left didn't become dangerous until the late sixties and early seventies, when it embraced separatist an militant views that undermined the politics of consensus that made this country great); real civil rights progress only came when the federal government asserted it power over the refractory states; September 11 shocked America out of its isolationism and freed President George W. Bush (an excellent man, but distressingly shortsighted in some matters) from his naive opposition to nation-building. And so on.
Compare this to Voltairine de Cleyre's acid remarks on the Little Red Schoolhouse version of American history, which consisted of little more than a hagiographic account of the wisdom and foresight of our "Founding Fathers":
To the average American of today, the Revolution means the series of battles fought by the patriot army with the armies of England. The millions of school children who attend our public schools are taught to draw maps of the siege of Boston and the siege of Yorktown, to know the general plan of the several campaigns, to quote the number of prisoners of war surrendered with Burgoyne; they are required to remember the date when Washington crossed the Delaware on the ice; they are told to "Remember Paoli," to repeat "Molly Stark's a widow," to call General Wayne "Mad Anthony Wayne," and to execrate Benedict Arnold; they know that the Declaration of Independence was signed on the Fourth of July, 1776, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783; and then they think they have learned the Revolution...blessed be George Washington! They have no idea why it should have been called a "revolution" instead of the "English war"....

Pick up today any common school history, and see how much of this spirit [of the Revolution] you will find therein. On the contrary, from cover to cover you will find nothing but the cheapest sort of patriotism, the inculcation of the most unquestioning acquiescence in the deeds of government, a lullaby of rest, security, confidence, -- the doctrine that the Law can do no wrong, a Te Deum in praise of the continuous encroachments of the powers of the general government upon the reserved rights of the States, shameless falsification of all acts of rebellion, to put the government in the right and the rebels in the wrong, pyrotechnic glorifications of union, power, and force, and a complete ignoring of the essential liberties to maintain which was the purpose of the revolutionists....

Such is the spirit of government-provided schools. Ask any child what he knows about Shays's rebellion, and he will answer, "Oh, some of the farmers couldn't pay their taxes, and Shays led a rebellion against the court-house at Worcester, so they could burn up the deeds; and when Washington heard of it he sent over an army quick and taught them a good lesson" -- "And what was the result of it?" "The result? Why -- why -- the result was -- Oh yes, I remember -- the result was they saw the need of a strong federal government to collect the taxes and pay the debts." Ask if he knows what was said on the other side of the story, ask if he knows that the men who had given their goods and their health and their strength for the freeing of the country now found themselves cast into prison for debt, sick, disabled, and poor, facing a new tyranny for the old; that their demand was that the land should become the free communal possession of those who wished to work it, not subject to tribute, and the child will answer "No."....

Such are the fruits of government schools.
Tim Cavanaugh's mot juste reminds me of something B.K. Marcus wrote a few weeks ago about an old high school project in which he interviewed his mom and his girlfriend's mom as typical examples of "liberals" and "conservatives" (in fact, his mom was a social democrat and his girlfriend's mom was a neocon who'd worked for Norman Podhoretz).
One thing I remember from the neocon mom was that she rejected the "Old Right" (which I'd never heard of) and considered herself a JFK Democrat, a trade-unionist, etc., but the establishment Left had moved away from what she saw as the correct positions on the Cold War and culture.
Somebody, I forget where, suggested that a neoconservative is the kind of a conservative that a liberal wouldn't be ashamed to invite over for a drink. Or maybe it's just that, as Matt Taibbi recently wrote of Tucker Carlson, the left finds them so non-threatening:
In the same way that the helpless, ineffectual Colmes is a reassuring image to hardcore conservatives, Carlson puts a soothing face on conservatism for educated East-coast progressives—because even the biggest neo-Marxist wanker from Brown takes one look at Carlson and sees the one man in America he would feel sure of being able to kick the shit out of in a back alley.
Come to think of it, neocons often seem to express more hostility for the Old Right than for either the Old or New Left. As Jesse Walker points out in his review of Ron Radosh's Commies, Radosh is quite vocal about all the nuances of New Left politics during his involvement, but strangely reticent about his ties to Murray Rothbard. But Radosh neglects to mention that his "first friendly contacts with the right" predated the '80s considerably.
They came in the ’60s, when the group around the journal Studies on the Left, which included Radosh, pioneered the idea of "corporate liberalism." This was the notion that, as Radosh puts it here, "the dominant worldview of American political leaders was not one of laissez faire, but rather a managerial form of liberalism." In its "cruder form," Radosh continues, the theory "was used to argue that in the United States, the true enemy of the left was not the ‘reactionaries,’ i.e. old-style Republicans and conservatives, but rather the liberals who comprised what they liked to call the ‘vital center.’"

This stance allowed a certain measure of cooperation between the Studies leftists and Murray Rothbard’s circle of isolationist libertarians. Rothbard contributed to Studies on the Left, and in 1967, Radosh in turn contributed to Rothbard’s Left and Right. In 1972, the two co-edited A New History of Leviathan, with contributions from both sides of the anti-liberal aisle; three years later, Radosh published Prophets on the Right, a sympathetic study of the conservative critics of American imperialism.

Virtually all of this is missing from Commies....

....At times, Commies seems less interesting for its insights than for those moment when insight suddenly, intriguingly disappears.
I recall someone commenting once on a discussion list that neocons like Radosh and David Horowitz had more sympathy for the Old Right when they were commies than they do today as so-called "conservatives."

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ken Gregg on Hodgskin, etc.

Ken Gregg's CLASSical Liberalism blog has an interesting post up, after a long period of dormancy. His list of recommended readings includes books on Thomas Hodgskin (one of my favorites) and Anglo-American land reform movements.

Fred Foldvary on Green Taxes

Via Independent Country:

Geo-capitalist Fred Foldvary argues that the best way to fight global warming is via Pigouvian taxation of externalities like pollution and greenhouse gas emissions--and not through centralized controls imposed by the regulatory state.
The most efficient way to reduce pollution has been well known in economics for 80 years. The economist Arthur Pigou showed how when there is a negative external effect such as pollution, the buyer is not paying the full social cost of the good. In effect, the user is subsidized. To eliminate the subsidy and make him pay the social cost, there needs to be a pollution charge on the sale of the good, ideally equal to the social cost of the pollution contributed by that item.
I'll go him one further on it. In most cases (stipulating that some cases exist), government action is not needed to prevent externalities; rather, externalities are created by government action. In fact, Oppenheimer's theory of the "political means" is just another way of saying that government is a mechanism for creating externalities: the state transfers the costs and risks of certain kinds of economic activity from the actors themselves to others, so that some are enabled to live at others' expense.

The solution, in such cases, is simply to end the existing state subsidies or privileges, so that the economic actor fully internalizes the negative consequences of his action through the price mechanism.

Now, if one accepts (as I am inclined to) a semi-Geoist argument that some particularly scarce forms of natural resources (like mines and forests) should be treated as a social commons, with community collection of rent, the rent paid to local communities may itself be a legitimate way of internalizing costs in price.
....the USA could implement the Kyoto goals by shifting public revenue to pollution and land rent. But the US chiefs have rejected this. The coal and oil industry chiefs in the US have great political clout, and will not allow a tax shift that will reduce their economic dominance. The public is too ignorant and apathetic to demand the efficient solution to pollution.
Or it could simply cease to subsidize the consumption of energy and transportation services, start running the interstates and airports entirely on cost-based user fees, and eliminate the use of eminent domain to expand transportation infrastructure. Of course, charging rent for access to coal and oil reserves might be part of such a scheme.
The economic reality is that in the long run, there need not be any economic cost to reducing pollution. The political reality is that the governing chiefs do not want to enact pollution-reducing charges because the chiefs of the polluting industries have huge political clout.
Exactly! One of the central functions of the regulatory state, contrary to "progressive" conventional wisdom, has been to preempt the preexisting law of public and private nuisances. Federal regulatory controls on pollution and other nuisances supercede, not only more stringent state laws, but the power of state and local juries to impose civil damages on corporate malfeasors. Hence the popularity of preemption provisions in new federal regulatory legislation, along with legislation like the bill currently under consideration to remove class action suits to the federal court system. Such measures are especially popular among those "Tenth Amendment" Republicans.

Thomas Woods on the Decentralist Left

Thomas Woods has some nice things to say about E.F. Schumacher and Kirkpatrick Sale at the Lew Rockwell blog:

When I read today about people in California who are being harassed by the federal government over the medical-marijuana issue, I am sympathetic. Of course they should be able to use medical marijuana. Unfortunately, many of these people are the very same ones who have historically cheered federal supremacy. They're now being forced to sleep in the very bed they themselves have made.

There used to be a tradition of decentralism on the Left. I saw some of it when I spoke at the E.F. Schumacher Society Decentralist Conference at Williams College in 1996. Most of the organizations represented there were on the left. And it couldn't have been more cordial. These were folks who, being decentralists themselves, gave you the courtesy of not automatically assuming that the reason you favored decentralism was so you could oppress people.

At that conference and then at another event several years later I had an opportunity to meet Kirkpatrick Sale, who has been a serious intellectual on the Left for many years. Now I certainly can't agree with everything Sale says by any means. But we got along very well. He agreed with the Jeffersonian idea of state nullification. He believed in local self-government to a degree reminiscent of Jefferson's scheme for ward republics. He even opposed the Fourteenth Amendment, since he understood where it was bound to lead.

I'm currently reading Sale's book Human Scale. Again, I have to reject much of it. But I find myself wondering what happened to this tradition on the Left. The Left spends a lot of time criticizing neoconservatives, but the fact is that both sides share the same prejudice against local self-government and in favor of central management of society. The typical left-liberal shares far more of the preconceptions of the typical neoconservative than he is willing to admit.
Woods' contrast between 1996 and today is probably overblown. I'd guess that the decentralist Left is at least as healthy today as it was in 1996. It's not as though decentralists like Schumacher and Sale were any more popular among left-liberals then than they are now. Their tradition was marginalized on the left for most of the 20th century--at least since Saint Woodrow decimated the genuine left in his War Hysteria and Red Scare.

If anything, the Internet has allowed various decentralist traditions to cross-pollinate and reach a mainstream audience to a far larger extent than could have been imagined in the mid-90s. There are many online venues where mutualists, agrarians, distributists, Georgists, social crediters, Catholic Workers, Rothbardians and Greens compare their views, amiably for the most part, and find out how much they have in common.

The Green Party, quite decentralist in many ways despite some unfortunate statist positions, is considerably more prominent today than ten years ago. And the recent era of good feelings between Libertarian Michael Badnarik and Green David Cobb, in my humble opinion, was the most promising political development since Murray Rothbard's and Karl Hess' attempted alliance with the New Left during and after the "St. Louis Days."

Today, as much as ever, the good guys on the left and right fringe have more in common with each other than with the bad guys in the corporate center. As I've written elsewhere, the gun rights and home-schooling people are the natural allies of people into things like human scale technology and worker self-management. It's the statist neoconservatives of the right-center and the New Republic liberals of the left-center, fighting over control of the corporate state, who are our common enemy.

I'm glad to see Woods' kind words for Kirk Sale. Human Scale had more of an effect on the evolution of my economic views, probably, than any other book (although Sale seems to have taken a nosedive into primitivism in recent years). Fifteen years ago, I was a more-or-less Burkean conservative. An article entitled "The Jeffersonian Conservative Tradition," by Clyde Wilson (about whom Woods also has some nice things to say) directed me to a populist/decentralist strand of the right that I found much more attractive than endless gassing about "the cake of custom" and "the wisdom of the unlettered." That led me to the agrarians and distributists, the antifederalists, and the Levellers and Commonwealthmen.

At that point, I stumbled across Kirkpatrick Sale's Human Scale. I recall all sorts of odds and ends that impressed me on my first reading of it. For example, his estimated figure for corporate welfare that totalled higher than annual corporate profits. And all sorts of references to interesting work on economy of scale and decentralized economics, that showed peak efficiency being reached in production units of startlingly low size. Reading this book was a sort of Damascus Road experience, really impressing on my mind for the first time that the structure of the corporate economy owed more to government intervention than to the "free market." Starting with Sale's voluminous end-notes (themselves worth the effort of combing the used bookstores for your own copy), I went on to work by Barry Stein and Walter Adams showing the extent to which government subsidized the inefficiency costs of economic centralization and made the dinosaurs of the Fortune 500 artificially competitive against small firms producing for local markets.

Not long after, I read David DeLeon's excellent The American as Anarchist and Henry Silverman's American Radical Thought: The Libertarian Tradition (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath, 1970), a superb anthology of libertarian writers of left and right which has virtually disappeared. Between the two of them, they led me on to thinkers as diverse as Benjamin Tucker, Murray Rothbard, and Carl Oglesby.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Those Washington Bullets Again

Tim Shorrock, In These Times:

The Bush administration and the Pentagon are leveraging warmer post-tsunami relations with Indonesia to convince Congress to lift its restrictions on full military ties with the world's largest Muslim nation....

The administration's push began in January, when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz visited Aceh province, where an estimated 220,000 people were killed by the tsunami. The U.S. military relief effort marked the highest level of U.S.-Indonesian cooperation since 1991, when Congress imposed a ban on U.S. training of Indonesian officers under the State Department's International Military Education and Training (IMET) program. Upon his return, Wolfowitz urged Congress to reevaluate the IMET restrictions. "We can have more positive influence that way," he told PBS's "Online News Hour."....

Last November, Human Rights Watch said it had "substantial evidence" that Indonesian security forces "have engaged in extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and drastic limits on freedom of movement in Aceh."....

After her televised confirmation hearings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress that the administration is "currently evaluating whether to issue the required determination." But she was unequivocal on the training funds. "IMET for Indonesia is in the U.S. interest," she said in a written response to questions posed to her by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.). IMET, she added, will "strengthen the professionalism of military officers, especially with respect to the norms of democratic civil-military relations such as transparency, civilian supremacy, public accountability and respect for human rights."
Uh, yeah. Close ties with the U.S. did wonders for "professionalism" and "norms of democratic civil-military relations" among the officer cadres of the Salvadoran Atlacatl Battalion and Honduran Bttn 3-16, who had the benefit of the "positive influence" of the School of the Americas. Especially when U.S. foreign policy is currently under the sway of humanitarians like John Negroponte and Richard Armitage, for whom "extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detentions," etc., are more a feature than a bug. Indeed, the Bush State Department is packed with purveyors of fraternal aid to death squads in the '80s. As Justin Raimondo wrote,

The inheritors of the death-squads franchise (Central American division) have a lot of affinity for the Bushies, considering that so many of the latter are veterans of the Iran-Contra scandal: Eliot Abrams is now doing to the Middle East what he did to Central America in the 1980s. Current Bush administration officials Richard Armitage, John Poindexter, Roger Noriega, and Otto Reich are all alumni of Death Squad U. Having perfected their course materials, they are teaching Iraqis – and American soldiers – the basics of "counter-insurgency" techniques, updated for the post-9/11 era.
Come to think of it, Indonesia itself at one time was something of a showpiece for American military assistance to Third World armed forces. The U.S. had had decidedly frosty relations with Indonesia's Sukarno at least since the late 1950s, with a foreign policy aimed at isolating and destabilizing his regime in much the same way that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has been targeted in the past few years. Sukarno was a left-wing nationalist who had led Indonesia's postwar struggle for independence from the Netherlands. But he was hardly a communist--as indicated by his suppression of the Indonesian Communist Party following independence. By the late '50s, however, his coalition government included communists, and (like Chavez) he continued talking to countries that the U.S. regarded as pariahs. It's hard to avoid the strong suspicion that Sukarno's threat to U.S. "national security" had less to do with any communist sympathies than with his economic nationalism and his leadership role in the non-aligned movement. But "communist," in the U.S. national security community's lexicon, usually refers to anybody who menaces the land-holdings of United Fruit Company or threatens to nationalize the oil industry. In the case of Sukarno, who nationalized the country's oil deposits not long before the coup, the latter may have been an especially strong consideration.

In any case, in 1965 the Indonesian army overthrew Sukarno, and in the ensuing months massacred hundreds of thousands of "communists" (although the distinction between "communist" and "leftist" or even "union organizer" is rather squishy, among people of a practical bent like those involved in Suharto's coup). What's interesting, though, is that the helpful folks at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta provided the military with as many as 5,000 names for their roundup list. The list was "a detailed who's-who" of the PKI (Communist Party) leadership, including "provincial, city and other local PKI committee members, and leaders of the 'mass organizations,' such as the PKI national labor federation, women's and youth groups." [Kathy Kadane, San Francisco Examiner, May 20, 1990]

As evidence that the U.S. leadership saw the coup and its aftermath as a payoff for American ties to the Indonesian military, consider this 1966 exchange between Bob McNamara and Senator Sparkman in hearings before the Foreign Relations Committee [Miles Wolpin, Military Aid and Counterrevolution in the Third World (Toronto and London: Lexington Books, 1972), p. 8]:

Senator Sparkman. At a time when Indonesia was kicking up pretty badly--when we were getting a lot of criticism for continuing military aid--at that time we could not say what that military aid was for. Is it secret any more?

Secretary McNamara. I think, in retrospect, that the aid was well justified.

Senator Sparkman. You think it paid dividends?

Secretary McNamara. I do, sir.
My goodness, what drollery! What's that, Mr. Bones, you think it paid dividends? Yes indeed, yes indeed, I surely do! Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk!

Indonesia was far from the only case in which the U.S. maintained close ties to the military forces of a country whose political leadership it regarded as an enemy. In Chile, for example, the American government's attitude toward the civilian government was expressed in Ambassador's warning that "Not a nut or bolt shall reach Chile under Allende. Once Allende comes to power we shall do all within our power to condemn Chile and all Chileans to utmost deprivation and poverty." And the aim of the Nixon administration, once Allende came to power, was expressed in more colorful terms: "make the economy scream." [Holly Sklar, "Overview, in Sklar, ed., Trilateralism (Boston: South End Press, 1980), pp. 28-29] But meanwhile, U.S. military aid to the Chilean armed forces continued unabated. And we all know how that turned out.

U.S. aid to Third World military forces, as its advocates have made clear for decades, is predicated on a "clear distinction between building up or cultivating the friendship of an army, on one hand, and supporting that army's government." [Wolpin, p. 20] For example, as DOD Undersecretary Nutter explained to Representative Fraser in 1971 hearings [Ibid. pp. 17-18], assistance to foreign military forces did not always aim at increasing the internal security of the countries involved:

Mr. Fraser. In some of thoese countries, we are providing assistance to the side that has seized the power.

Secretary Nutter.... We feel it is extremely important to maintain our relations with the people who are in positions of influence in those countries so we can help influence the course of events in those countries....

Mr. Fraser. In your judgment, [national security of the United States] means internal stability in those countries, is that right?

Secretary Nutter. Not always. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it does not. It means maintaining our influence in some areas of the world that are critical to our security. It means helping to promote, as best we can, the developments that are most in our national interest, but that does not necessarily mean providing for the internal security of those countries.
The NSC paper "Overseas Internal Defense Policy" (August 1962) stated [Gabriel Kolko, Confronting the Third World (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), p. 133]:

A change brought about through force by non-communist elements may be preferable to prolonged deterioration of governmental effectiveness.... It is U.S.
policy, when it is in the U.S. interest, to make the local military and police advocates of democracy and agents for carrying forward the development process.
See, the military and police, in their capacity as "advocates of democracy," are to bring about change through force--no doubt planned in the Ministry of Love. So we should keep in mind that when people like Dr. Rice refer to "norms of democratic civil-military relations," they may be using those terms with connotations we're not entirely accustomed to.

In context, it becomes quite clear that "national security" had (and continues to have) more to do with economic control over resources and markets, and their integration into a transnational corporate political-economic framework, than with defense against a military threat. Consider the following list of political targets of the Military Assistance Program, compiled by Miles Wolpin from U.S. national security community's literature [p. 19]:

...neutralism; leftist revolution; forces of disruption; nationalism; radical African states; home-grown insurgents; preventing or eliminating insurgencies inimical to U.S. interests; political instability; extremist elements; political dissidents; insurgents and their allies, other extremists, radical elements; militant radicals; revolutions; Arab nationalism; revolutionary ideas; leftist, ultranationalist, anti-American, Nasser-type group.
And Methodists!

The central enemy was not "communism" or a potential strategic alliance with the Soviet bloc, but "obstructive nationalism" that threatened the "free world's" control of resources needed for its "security." [Ibid. p. 22]

Robert Porter, Southern Command CINC, in 1968 described the Military Assistance Program as an insurance policy for private investments in Latin America. In an address to the Pan-American Society in New York City, he said [Ibid. p. 23]:

Many of you gentlemen are leaders and policy makers in the businesses and industries that account for the huge American private investment in Latin America.... You can help produce a climate conducive to more investment and more progressive American involvement in the hemisphere....

As a final thought, consider the small amount of U.S. public funds that have gone for military assistance and for AID public safety projects as a very modest insurance policy protecting our vast private investment in an area of tremendous trade and strategic value to our country.
As McNamara (or Rice) might put it, it pays dividends.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Neocon "Democracy" in Iraq

The main effect of all that ink-stained finger-waving and bathos, it seems, is to guarantee the legacy of Paul Bremer, and to rubber-stamp his neoliberal agenda for the near term.

MILAN RAI, ELECTRONIC IRAQ (via Progressive Review, February 16):

One US device is the Transitional Administrative Law, an interim constitution written in Washington and imposed on Iraq in March 2004.

Jawad al-Maliki, member of Daawa, one of the two main Shia parties, has pointed out correctly that 'the body which we have elected has more legitimacy than this document.' Unfortunately, the TAL is self-defined as the default constitution of Iraq until a permanent constitution has been adopted in a referendum.

In a clause bitterly rejected by the Shia majority parties, the TAL states that the permanent constitution must obtain the approval of at least one-third of the voters in sixteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces. This was put in to give Kurdish provinces a veto over the final text. . . If this veto is used by the Kurds, the TAL continues to be the constitution. (And, according to Article 59 of the TAL, the Iraqi military will continue to function under US command.)
Equally important, it's worth mentioning again, is a couple of other key provisions of the TAL: the intellectual property agreements signed under Bremer and the "privatization" (corporate looting) of state assets.

The effect of these provisions of the Transitional Administrative Law is to give Washington's most loyal clients in Iraq - the Kurds - a powerful veto over political progress.

Another device for US control is the debt relief plan put together in November 2004, under which some of Iraq's creditor nations will forgive some of Iraq's debt (in stages), conditional upon the Iraqi government following an IMF 'liberalization' program. This program will prioritize foreign investors, privatization, and 'tax reform', but not unemployment or poverty in Iraq....

Translated from neoliberal-speak into English, of course, that means further massive looting of state assets, embodying the sweat equity of Iraqi taxpayers, by politically connected insiders. If a slightly less whipped government were in power, it might do what Sean Corrigan recommends:

....much less "forgiveness," no self-respecting libertarian would cavil at a free people wholly repudiating any debts contracted in their name by the members of their former political elites, especially where this was done with the less-than-disinterested connivance of alien powers, themselves pursuing either cynical Realpolitik or "Open Door" corporatist vote-buying (most likely, both).
The Electronic Iraq article continues:

Another device for maintaining control was Paul Bremer's appointment of key officials for five year terms just before leaving office. In June 2004, the US governor ordered that the national security adviser and the national intelligence chief chosen by the US-imposed interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, be given five-year terms, imposing Allawi's choices on the elected government. Bremer also installed inspectors-general for five-year terms in every ministry, and formed and filled commissions to regulate communications, public broadcasting and securities markets.
Once again, as has been the case with assorted other velvet and orange revolutions, along with sundry exercises in "people power," what's left after the smoke clears is a neoconservative counterfeit democracy. What the neocons call "democracy" is a Hamiltonian system in which the people exercise formal power to elect the government, but the key directions of policy are determined by a small and relatively stable Power Elite that is insulated from any real public pressure.

An Extended Free Association Rap Loosely Inspired by Frank Chodorov

Ken Gregg has a nice post in honor of the late anarcho-cap-Georgist Frank Chodorov's birthday at Liberty and Power.

An account of just how much of an influence Georgism has had on libertarianism, of both the Left and Right, would occupy a huge tome. Ken MacLeod made a brief survey of the current range of Georgian (or Geolibertarian) thought in a post a few weeks ago.

The career of Chodorov himself, taken alone, tells us a great deal about the importance of Georgism on the libertarian right. Chodorov was a disciple of Georgist Albert Nock, who devoted major parts of Our Enemy, the State to the role of the land monopoly (famously arguing that economic exploitation was impossible without prior expropriation of the producing classes from the land). And Chodorov, in turn, was a mentor of Murray Rothbard (who definitely repudiated Chodorov's Georgist views on land). As for Nock, his effect, not only on the libertarian movement but on the conservative movement of the twentieth century, is incalculable. Although it's doubtful he would endorse their full agendas, an array of conservative thinkers ranging from Russell Kirk to William F. Buckley have claimed him as a major influence.

On the contemporary libertarian right, the Georgist contingent includes Fred Foldvary, Harold Kyriazi, and Debbie Clark.

Georgism also gave rise to a number of hippy-dippy movements (and I mean that in a nice way) of the decentralist left, like Ralph Borsodi's School of Living. The Thomas Paine Network, which includes the Tom Paine Caucus of the Libertarian Party, probably falls within this category. Their site has some good material by Mike O'Mara and Paul Gagnon that's definitely worth checking out. And Chris Toto probably belongs somewhere in this grouping; I can't find a website for him, but he's the author of this astute remark:
In the rare cases where the Producers own their own "natural means of production," ...the classically defined systems of Capitalism and Socialism are one and the same, [and] they intersect at a nexus of unusual and infrequent, but eminently possible conditions.... Geoism is the nexus of classically defined Capitalism and Socialism; it is the very unusual subset of possible economic conditions where Capitalism and Socialism are the same. It is the market which is truly free of government enforced entitlements, where each and every individual in a community has the equal right and opportunity to access, use and hold an equal percapita value of the natural means of production for independent self support and self shelter. Geoism is the nexus subset of Capitalism where each and every individual has not only the right *to be,* but the right to be *somewhere,* meaning the equal right to independently use the naturally available wealth in a territory to shelter himself and to produce his own livelihood. This same Geoism is the nexus subset condition of Socialism where government does not top-down command and control markets, but is very careful to avoid granting politically enforced entitlements. Such restraining vigilance results in "maintaining" a level playing field where the market is not forcibly tilted in anyones one's favor. Such Socialism results in a market where no one has a government enforced entitlement to more than percapita shares of natural means of production. Such market "maintenance" results in a condition where all producers have equal rights to use and access naturally available market values (natural means of production) while enjoying the voluntaryist freedom of choice in a genuine, unrigged "laissez faire" market. Geoism provides both the advantages of Capitalism and Socialism without either's possible negative conditions.
Further toward the left end of the Geolibertarian spectrum, we find people like Michael Hudson and groups like the Geonomics Society arguing for the collection of rent not only on land and natural resources, but on "social commons" like the radio spectrum. Many of the same groups advocate distributing, as a "citizen's dividend," the surplus rent that remains after all public goods are fully funded.

Back at left-center, the Democratic Freedom Caucus, a libertarian affinity group within the Democratic Party, is made up predominantly of Geolibertarians of one kind or another.

Some Geoists have the disconcerting habit of jumping over commonly accepted boundaries between left and right. Dan Sullivan, for instance, aims at a Geolib fusion of libertarian and green politics. Todd Altman, despite a long history of involvement in the Libertarian Party, is now active in the DFC after becoming disillusioned with the LP's crypto-Republican economic policies. The tendency of the same names to keep popping up in Geolib groups conventionally classified as left, right, and center, should tell us something about the complexity and variety of Georgist thought and the limited usefulness of political labels.

Even trying to fit most of these various strands of Geoism into hard and fast left-right categories is an exercise in futility. One of the charms of Georgism is that it defies any easy classification on the conventional political spectrum. The movement was originally an outgrowth of the radical/populist wing of the classical liberal movement, and shared the rest of that movement's emphasis on the radical aspects of Locke (his labor theory of appropriation and the so-called "Lockean proviso"). Even the right-wing fringe of the Geoist movement has a decidedly non-vulgar libertarian tone to it; those sharing in the mainstream Georgist legacy are more populist still.

I've no doubt left out a lot of important Geolibertarian thinkers of all persuasions whose ideas deserve consideration; for this I apologize. But in a way, that's the point of all this. The modern heirs of Henry George are so numerous and diverse that it's hard even to keep track of them. There are probably at least as many subgroups in the Georgist as in the Trotskyite milieu--but without the mutual animosity and paranoid competition (No, that's the Judean People's Front--we're the Popular Front of Judea!) that characterize the latter. That's pretty damn good for (as Ken MacLeod said) a quaint, bearded Victorian.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Howard Zinn on Outreach

I thought this was relevant to our recent discussion with Chris Sciabarra on outreach to the Left (and, I would add, to the Right). Although I disagree strenuously with much of Howard Zinn's assessment of current problems, and probably most of his proposed solutions, the following is right on the mark:

What does it take to bring a turnaround in social consciousness...? We desperately want an answer, because we know that the future of the human race depends on a radical change in social consciousness.

It seems to me that we need not engage in some fancy psychological experiment to learn the answer, but rather to look at ourselves and to talk to our friends. We then see, though it is unsettling, that we were not born critical of existing society. There was a moment in our lives (or a month, or a year) when certain facts appeared before us, startled us, and then caused us to question beliefs that were strongly fixed in our consciousness--embedded there by years of family prejudices, orthodox schooling, imbibing of newspapers, radio, and television.

This would seem to lead to a simple conclusion: that we all have an enormous responsibility to bring to the attention of others information they do not have, which has the potential of causing them to rethink long-held ideas.

Another Great Hildyard Article on Neoliberalism

Nicholas Hildyard. "Public Risk, Private Profit: The World Bank and the Private Sector" (July 1996) .

"For years," Hildyard writes, "bilateral and multilateral aid agencies have provided a multi-billion dollar source of subsidies to commercial enterprises in both the North and the South." For some reason, though, in the course of his excellent article he makes a great deal of the fact that such World Bank-subsidized aid is provided through private corporations, instead of national governments.

Such figures confirm what critics of the development industry have long maintained: namely, that official aid functions largely as an export subsidy for companies in the Northern industrialised countries. However, globalization and market liberalisation are rapidly changing both the form and the means by which the MDBs now subsidise the powerful.

Traditionally, Northern companies have benefited from the MDBs through contracts awarded for public sector projects such as roads, airports and irrigation schemes. Although governments still provide 90 per cent of the money spent on infrastructure projects worldwide, however, the trend is increasingly for projects to be undertaken by the private sector with governments acting as "facilitators rather than financiers". One reason is that many of the state enterprises which previously operated public projects have been privatised; another is that governments do not have the money to undertake the work.
But of course the actual money comes from the MDBs, not many people's idea of "private sector" funding. So the only significance of the "private sector" angle is to show another example of neoliberal "privatization" (which ain't privatization a-tall). What's important, now as ever, is that (as Hildyard says) the aid is "an export subsidy": the money, whether funnelled directly through governments or indirectly through crony capitalist camp followers, goes to subsidize the operating costs (especially transportation and utilities) of Western-owned production facilities overseas, without which most exports of capital could not possibly be profitable.

More Small-Government Conservatism: Deregulation, Texas-Style

From Mises.Org:

....in the mid-90s, regulators, consumers and energy producers began to rearrange the market for "deregulation" in Texas. Incumbent providers such as TXU and Reliant were restructured in the name of free markets, but when the dust cleared, the only winners were members of the political class and corporations that had been State-sanctioned monopolies prior to the "deregulation."

TXU was separated into two companies, Oncor and TXU Energy. Oncor was given the monopoly on all services including meter reading, energy delivery, etc. Additionally they own all of the poles and wires and are protected by law from competition. TXU Energy became a billing company (and owner of power plants), merely forwarding all of the customer service questions and problems to Oncor, and therefore providing no services themselves.

This is akin to the following: splitting AT&T into two separate companies, one (Nexis) that owns all of the cables, wires, PBXs, switching stations, call centers, etc. and provides all of the services, repairs, installations, etc.; and the other company (Willy) whom simply sends you a bill at the end of the month, providing no value-added service.

Not only is it not deregulation (the same players exist with State protection) but more overhead is created through the creation of another billing company. Instead of paying Nexis, you are now paying Willy who in turn pays Nexis—an unneeded layer of complexity that is inefficient in terms of capital allocation and time for all parties involved....

As of this writing, there are three separate pieces to the energy market in Texas: power plants, services and billing. Power plants are still heavily regulated... (note: both TXU and Reliant Energy own the majority of power plants). In most of Texas all services are provided through a monopoly called Oncor, which was previously named TXU (if they aren't provided by Oncor, services are provided by a municipality which has a monopoly on those services...). Billing is the only area in which competition is allowed, with about a dozen companies vying for an easy dollar—and as shown above, this is an unnecessary and inefficient layer.

As far as pricing goes, if the average market price of natural gas increases 4 percent over a 10-day period, incumbent utilities like TXU and Reliant can request a price increase, all of which have been granted (the commissioners at the Public Utilities Commission have to grant the price increase if this condition is met).

Not surprisingly, the incumbent utilities purchase all of their natural gas via long-term contracts, so short-term market fluctuations over a 10-day period do not affect their bottom line, yet this condition gives them an excuse to increase their prices twice a year (the maximum allowed).
In other words, typical of what passes for "deregulation" under neoliberalism: a nominal shifting of functions from state to corporate bureaucracies, within an overall framework that's more statist than ever. No wonder the ASI considers George W. Bush a hero of "free markets"!

More Small-Government Conservatism: The Siege of Wanstonia

Via UK Indymedia, with hat tip to Jesse Walker.

A participant in the siege of Wanstonia recently commemorated the tenth anniversary of that event. You really should click on the link for yourself, just to see what a beautiful neighborhood was destroyed to make way for the M11--part of Maggie's "greatest road building program since the Romans." Yes, that Maggie: this destruction of a local community to build a subsidized road was the work of the same Mrs. Thatcher whose tenure the ASI lionizes as the epitome of "small government."

Northwest Arkansas Blogging: On Cockroach Caucuses, Urban Growth Machines, and Airports

Via Jesse Walker at Reason Hit&Run:

Michael Bates of BatesLine received a cease-and-desist letter from the Tulsa World's attorneys demanding, among other things, that he stop linking to the newspaper:

....we hereby demand that you immediately remove any Tulsa World material from your website, to include unauthorized links to our website, and cease and desist from any further use or dissemination of our copyrighted content.
The World has reason for its ill feelings toward Mr. Bates. In the past, BatesLine has described the World's editors as part of the Tulsa "Cockroach Caucus," otherwise known as "the 'Developers, Chamber, and Establishment' party," and a "cluster of special interests which has been trying to run the City of Tulsa without public input, and preferably without public debate." More recently, he elaborated on the nature of the Cockroach Caucus:

The World is more than just an observer of the local scene. It is an integral part of the tight social network that has run local politics for as long as anyone can remember. This network... has pursued its own selfish interests under the name of civic progress, with disastrous results for the ordinary citizens of Tulsa and its metropolitan area....

The Cockroach Caucus is most recently infamous for convincing state and local elected officials to pour $47 million in public funds into Great Plains Airlines.... It went bankrupt, leaving local taxpayers liable for millions in loan guarantees. Many leading lights of the Cockroach Caucus, including World Publishing Company, were investors in Great Plains Airlines.

The Cockroach Caucus has wasted tens of millions in public funds on failed economic development strategies...., and has bent and sometimes broken the rules of the land use planning system to favor those with political and financial connections. The same small number of connected insiders circulates from one city authority, board, or commission to another, controlling city policy, but beyond the reach of the democratic process.
Talk about deja vu! Change a few of the names, and he could be talking about Fayetteville, Ark.; but I guess every town has its Cockroach Caucus. Harvey Molotch, working from a sort of Millsian Power Elite theory, calls them "urban growth machines": basically a smaller version of C. Wright Mills' Power Elite, but operating on a local scale. In essence Molotch's growth machines were exactly what Bates describes in Tulsa: a coalition of corporate welfare queens from the real estate developers, banks, and Chamber of Commerce, all united in their ambition to gorge themselves on billion-dollar slop at the public trough.

Here in Northwest Arkansas, the Cockroach Caucus represents mainly Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt, and the Jim Lindsey real estate agency. Like C. Wright Mills' national Power Elite (and like its Tulsa counterpart), our local Cockroach Caucus unites all the major economic and political organizations in the area, through a constant revolving door of good ol' boy personnel, into a single interlocking directorate of oligarchies.

The local monument to our Cockroach Caucus is the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, which was completed in 1998. The movers and shakers behind the Airport were a nominally private organization called the Northwest Arkansas Council--despite its pretensions to be a "public interest" advocacy group, actually a shadow government built in 1990 around a core membership of Tysons, Waltons and Hunts. The Northwest Arkansas Council's central mission was to lobby for the "infrastructure" the area needed for "economic growth"--i.e., for subsidized highway and airport pork to line the pockets of the Tysons, Waltons, Hunts, and Lindseys at taxpayer expense.

Following extensive undercover lobbying by the NWA Council, several city and county governments voted in 1990 to create an intergovernmental NWA Regional Airport Authority. Intergovernmental authorities, under state law, are immortal so long as any of the member governments remain party to it; and they have all sorts of interesting powers, like the power to issue bonds and condemn property. The creation of this authority was presented to the people of Northwest Arkansas as a fait accompli. Given the immortality of the Authority, and the extent of its powers, you might expect its creation to be a matter for extensive public debate. You would be wrong. The local governments, for the most part, voted on it as an emergency measure: no prior public notice, no public debate, no multiple readings, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Some local aldermen and members of county government explicitly stated that they acted in secret because they didn't want the Great Unwashed gumming up the works.

That was smart thinking on their part. See, the rich bastards had been trying, periodically, to shove a regional airport project down our throats since the 1970s. And each time, it was voted down in a public referendum. This time, they decided it would be a whole lot easier without all that democratic nonsense to slow things down.

The result, when we woke up the next morning and learned about the fait accompli, was a public outcry and a polarizing debate. In the process of that debate, the authority's chairman subjected airport critics to a barrage of ridicule. They were, he said, just "troublemakers" and "aginners," "housewives" who didn't know enough about the issues to have a valid opinion. An elite group within the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, known as "Leadership Fayetteville," held special seminars for the creme de la creme of the good ol' boy Power Elite to discuss ways of dealing with the "small but vocal minority" who wanted to "hijack" area progress (quite an interesting exercise in mirror-imaging, that). Following their conclave, as a result of Cockroach Caucus pressure on the owners of the main Fayetteville newspaper and a major radio station, an editor and DJ who had called for a public vote on the issue were fired.

Before it was over, the pressure for a public vote was just too great to resist. The citizens of each member city and county were allowed to vote in 1992 on whether to remain in the Authority. But the Cockroach Caucus put together a propaganda barrage that no doubt made Josef Goebbels chuckle with approval from the depths of Hell. If a local government voted to withdraw, they shrieked, the citizens would "lose their voice" because they would no longer have any say in the Authority. Of course--that was the whole point of setting it up that way in the first place: the Frankenstein's monster was deliberately created so that it couldn't be destroyed except by the unanimous action of all seven member governments. The Cockroach Caucus designed the Authority so that once it was sprung on the public, there would be virtually no way to destroy it. As for our "voice," the process was rigged from the beginning to make sure we wouldn't have one. Odd that people who engineered a secret vote would be so worried about us "losing our voice," don't you think?

Along the way, there were some pretty entertaining howlers. For example, the FAA proposal drawn up by the Authority's consultants initially called for a cargo airport: there was, they said, insufficient demand to justify a passenger facility. On the FAA's ruling that insufficient demand existed for a cargo port, the consultants reversed course and drew up a new proposal for a passenger airport! But a passenger airport with runways long enough to accomodate fully laden cargo jets! Can you say "Trojan horse"?

My late father, who was a policeman in Springdale, used to say that regular organized crime couldn't get a foothold in this area because the competition from the good ol' boys in the Chambers of Commerce and City Councils was too stiff.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

More on Those "Small Government" Neocons

From MaxSpeak:

The government that governs best runs local public schools, regulates state tort law, protects religious sacraments, finances religious organizations, expands entitlements, and grows public spending.

Compassionate Conservatism Meets Harrison Bergeron

A school district in Rhode Island canceled its annual spelling bee this year because administrators decided the crowning of only one winner violates the main principle of the federal No Child Left Behind Act – that all children should succeed....

"It's about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind," Newman said of the competition, which culminates with the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C....

A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners, some kids being losers," which "sends a message that this isn't an all-kids movement."

Especially embarassing when the "some kids" who can spell happen to be mostly home-schooled, and thus have managed being dumbed-down by the human resources processing factories.

She argues that professional organizations now encourage elementary school children to participate in activities that avoid winners and losers, which is why sports teams have been eliminated for that age group.
So when do you plan to eliminate grading, genius?

Since then, the decision has been reversed:

John Tindall-Gibson, superintendent of schools in Lincoln, R.I., told the Woonsocket Call newspaper his job is to make sure schools aren't dull and dreary places.
And to handle the shovel and mop work when a previous ass-brained decision makes him and his colleagues look like a bunch of incompetent nitwits.

Another Triumph for Victim Disarmament

Gene Callahan just experienced first-hand the fruits of eighty years of UK policy aimed not only at systematically disarming the populace, but reducing them to docile sheep afraid even to defend themselves with their bare hands for fear of some criminal penalty or civil liability.

It's helpful to remember the class origins of gun control, by the way. In the U.S., gun control laws (for blacks, that is) were part the post-Civil War "black codes" created to keep the population of freed slaves manageable. Registration of firearms was also used under martial regimes in Western states, as a way of disarming the working population during the Copper Wars. In the UK, I believe, the movement for gun control really picked up steam around the General Strike of 1926. So as usual, all those "progressives" like Rosie and Hillary and Barbra and their ilk are just doing their masters' work. And of course, with their gated communities and armed guards, they don't need guns.

Fortunately, although Callahan is bruised up a bit, his sense of humor is unscathed. Mazeltov!

A Modest Proposal

After prolonged soul-searching, I find myself in reluctant agreement with those who consider torture permissible under certain limited circumstances, with appropriate oversight. I propose, therefore, that Congress' power to subpoena Executive officials be supplemented as follows: Upon certifying to the President its finding that a substantial likelihood or reasonable suspicion exists that a member of his Cabinet or personal staff is a lying bastard, or that his or her testimony is an utter pile of horseshit, Congress shall be authorized to insert sanitized needles under his or her fingernails, or to resort to whatever other coercive measures it finds necessary, to extract the truth. Of course, this still prohibits rendition of Ms. Rice to a jurisdiction beyond U.S. oversight and accountability, and would require compensation upon any finding that she had been, despite all expectations, telling the truth.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Update: Adam Smith Still Spinning

And Alan Greenspan does some spinning of his own:

As expected, Greenspan (in his Adam Smith lecture) warmed the hearts of the ASI's vulgar libertarians by bloviating on the wholesome effects of Thatcherism and Reaganism (which he passed off, of course, as "free market reforms").

In the process, though, he got in some real howlers:

Finally, classical economists, who battled the rear guard of mercantilism in their days, would certainly recognize the assault on their paradigm in the anti-capitalist, anti-free-trade rhetoric currently prevalent in some contemporary discourse.
Smith, Ricardo and Mill could probably get their minds around that. What I suspect they'd have a hard time adjusting to, Alan, is the utter gall of today's real mercantilists, the ones sitting on the boards of large corporations and central banks, in appropriating Smith's "free market" mantle for themselves and twisting the term "free trade" 180 degrees from its original meaning.

While we're on the subject of mercantilism, by the way, let's just take a look at the sort of "laissez-faire" activities Greenspan carries out on his day job. As most of us know, in Fedspeak "inflationary pressure" is just another way of saying "bargaining power of labor." When unemployment gets too low and jobs start competing for workers instead of the other way around, work discipline declines and upward pressure on wages increases. Workers start getting uppity and are willing to take a lot less crap off the boss when they know they can find another job just as good the next day. That's when the Fed comes to the rescue by raising interest rates and throwing a few million people out of work. Knowing that people are lined up waiting for their jobs, workers get their minds right again.

Until the '90s, the Fed viewed 6% as the "natural" rate of unemployment, below which the danger of "inflationary pressure" (read "worker uppityness") was likely to become unacceptably high. But unemployment dipped below this "natural" level during the high-tech boom of the Clinton years, and kept dipping, and dipping, and dipping. Some members of the Fed began murmuring about the need to step in with higher interest rates. But good ol' Alan persuaded them that the situation was unique. As he testified before the Senate Banking Committee in 1997, the increased job insecurity in the high-tech economy was resulting in "atypical restraint on compensation increases." Even with a tight labor market, he reassured them, 46% of workers at large firms were still afraid of layoffs (compared to only 25% in 1991, when unemployment was considerably higher).

The reluctance of workers to leave their jobs to seek other employment as the labor market tightened has provided further evidence of such concern, as has the tendency toward longer labor union contracts. For many decades, contracts rarely exceeded three years. Today, one can point to five- and six-year contracts--contracts that are commonly characterized by an emphasis on job security and that involve only modest wage increases. The low level of work stoppages of recent years also attests to concern about job security.
Well, ain't that grand! In other words, job insecurity is great! Keeping wages down is job one! So long as workers are scared of the unemployment lines, we can leave interest rates alone. Of course, we can always raise them again if those nasty old wages start going back up. Funny--skyrocketing CEO pay never seems to send the Fed scurrying to raise interest rates, for some reason.

It's a good thing Greenspan's an Objectivist. Otherwise he might be afraid of going to hell.