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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

Monday, October 31, 2005

Dave Pollard on Underdevelopment

...we in the "developed" West almost blindly accept these arrogant propositions:

1. The "underdeveloped" nations have always been full of misery, suffering, deprivation and abject poverty. This has been entirely their own fault.
2. Their salvation lies in learning the lessons (political, economic, educational, cultural, technological and social) of the West and changing to be just like them. There is no other route to improvement....

Among the realities ignored by such talking points:

Exploitation: Theft of land and resources, political and military repression of native peoples by outside forces. It is pretty hard to get your country out of poverty when all the land and resources of any value are owned by foreigners, and their fruits all sold for rock-bottom prices and exported to "developed" nations.

Legacy ownership of resources by the heirs and beneficiaries of colonial rule is the elephant in the living room. The faux "free market" rhetoric of the ASI and other neoliberals will be nothing but bullshit until they first deal with initial questions of justice in the starting distribution of property titles. Otherwise, their version of the "free market" really just means a massive looting spree, followed by the proclamation "No coercive intervention in the market starting... NOW!" Real free marketers include Georgists, the radical Lockean followers of Rothbard, and others who acknowledge the history of primitive accumulation, "written in letters of fire and blood"; they are willing to face the issue, and void all state grants of land and resources to absentee rentiers.

Anti-State.Com Blog

The amazing market anarchist site Anti-State.Com now has a blog: Project for the New Anarchist Century.

Some Good Reviews of How to Kill the Job Culture

By Wally Conger:

I wish Claire Wolfe had written her new motivational how-to book How to Kill the Job Culture Before it Kills You: Living a Life of Autonomy in a Wage-Slave Society sometime during my 16-year servitude to Corporate America. I might have saved myself a few years of the suit-and-tie routine, unproductive business meetings, back-stabbing politics, and daily two-hour roundtrip commutes to downtown L.A. But since I did eventually cut loose from what Claire calls the Job Culture by my own arduous methods, let me say that the advice she offers is top-notch. If you’re now a “wage slave,” this book will save you a lot of time planning your escape.

What makes How to Kill the Job Culture especially important is its role as a first-rate primer on the Left Libertarian (i.e., radical free-market) case against state-corporate capitalism....

Claire admits there are substantial distinctions between big government and big business, not the least of which being that we’re compelled to live under the coercive State but deal with big business voluntarily for the most part.

But Wally goes on to quote this passage:

Big, all-controlling government and the large institutions of the Industrial Revolution were born together, from the same roots, for many of the same purposes — to regiment, centralize, homogenize, and control. To succeed in their purposes, both needed to turn a population of rowdy, diverse individuals into a compliant, largely robotic, mass. And — it’s horrible, but undeniable — big government and big corporate institutions were created side-by-side as two facets of one increasingly formidable war-making machine.

It didn’t ‘just happen’ that two allegedly diverse institutions came together for the same purpose at the same time. And it doesn’t ‘just happen’ today that those same institutions continue to reinforce each other in war and peace.

So it really isn't accurate to say we deal with big business "voluntarily for the most part." We make a "voluntary" choice among a range of alternatives that is artificially limited by the state, in collusion with big business.

And by Sunni Maravillosa:

Beginning with a brief, critical examination of the Industrial Revolution, Wolfe documents the creation of the job culture and the concomitant shifts in supporting oneself. She's at her best in this first part of the tri-section book, addressing the problems a job culture creates and chiding many free-market advocates for being too uncritical of business and today's markets (that are anything but free) in general.

Sunni makes one observation that I disagree with:

The only other substantial quibble I have with How to Kill the Job Culture Before It Kills You is a subtle thing that many readers probably won't notice; in describing shifts in work environments and relationships Wolfe often asserts that individuals were forced to do certain things, or to give up others.... While it's true that they may not have fully understood what they were giving up in taking the jobs they did, outside of true slave labor individuals did have the choice of trying to secure employment in a factory, or to stay with a specific job under changing conditions. To characterize voluntary choices as forced adopts a victim mentality that is probably inaccurate, somewhat hyperbolic, and undermines the shift to greater self-reliance that Wolfe is advocating.

As I mentioned above, that begs the question of whether they were voluntary choices. When you make a "voluntary" choice between a set of alternatives that is artificially limited by the state, and--surprise, surprise, surprise!--employers just happen to have played the major role in setting the state policy that limits those alternatives, the terms "force" and "coercion" are right on the mark.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Anthony Gregory. The Inevitability of Private Interests

Politicians, too, are private interests. So are bureaucrats, social engineers, public schoolteachers, and policemen. They are all individuals, regardless of their spruce uniforms or tax-funded pension packages. The political class itself benefits anytime the government expands, and yet it is rarely recognized as a vested interest in politics.

The same private interests willing to cheat the consumer and worker in business are also willing to enter politics, to fund campaigns, to run for office, to bribe officials, to exploit every advantage the state offers to the dishonest entrepreneur. Further entrenching the monopoly of violence that is the state into the economy only ups the ante of the game over political influence. The more the state can regulate private interests, the more private interests will take control of the state.

The larger the state is, the more private individuals and groups have an interest in keeping the racket going. As the government expands to the detriment or assistance of specific sectors of the economy, collusion is inevitable. Those with power will use it to help the businesses they favor for whatever reason, and those in business will seek to deflect harmful legislation and encourage desired legislation. The more government intervention in the economy, the more the state and business classes coalesce, the more private interests can socialize their costs and privatize the profits to themselves. Socialism merely guarantees unearned profits and unjust power to whoever controls the state. And the state will be controlled by someone.

And as I've pointed out before, the private interests who control the machinery of the state will always have an advantage in attention span, agenda control, and inside information over those on the outside to whom the state is nominally responsible. It's what Michels called the Iron Law of Oligarchy.

Jim Henley totally demolished the typical "progressive" public good argument for the regulatory state a while back. "Progressives" usually challenge, "how would we provide x without a government? Individuals are too greedy/short-sighted to organize and pay for it themselves without some central coordinating authority." Then they go on to argue that, while big government in practice is quite corrupt, it would work just fine if people had the vigilance and tenacity to monitor it closely and exercise ongoing democratic control. But if a populace is too lazy and short-sighted to organize services for themselves, how can they be expected to exercise reliable supervision over their government?

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Larry Gambone: State Socialism of the Rich

The role of Marshall Plan aid in replacing trains with trucks in Europe, and of the USDA in promoting mechanisation and rural depopulation, among other things.

Check it out.

Dave Pollard: The Changing Behavior of Organizations

These changes will be driven by:

* a shift in knowledge and power from suppliers to customers and end-consumers
* the failure of the 'blockbuster' model of product offerings (where all the profit comes from one or two smash hit products, often followed by cheap, mediocre 'sequels') as consumers catch on
* the availability through the Internet of almost infinite choice at modest cost
* an Internet culture that believes that software and content should be free to all
* the end of cheap oil, labour and other resources
* new, innovative competitors in many industries that won't need to be big to have a huge market impact, and which will be astonishingly prolific and agile (imagine a thousand Googles!)
* the wide-spread realization (thanks to interest rate spikes and a shrinking economy) that living beyond our needs is reckless and unsustainable
* a growing lack of trust in corporations, thanks to an ongoing litany of scandals

It's going to be fascinating to watch this evolution. For the Fortune 500 (and for their shareholders) it's likely to be bloody, a replay of the transformation that has seen huge organizations crumble and small upstarts soar past them over and over since the start of the Industrial Revolution. What's likely to be different this time, however, is that the new upstarts will not grow into megaliths, but will instead spin off divisions into hundreds of small, autonomous, ever-agile entrepreneurial companies.

The big corporations just don't get it. They don't understand why so many are outraged that we're sitting on intellectual and financial capital that could end disease and poverty on this planet, but we can't do so because it would be unacceptable to the handful of staggeringly rich families that control this capital. They don't understand why Google is giving so many of its brilliant and valuable new tools and content away free. They don't understand why eBay paid billions to buy Skype. They don't understand why so many 'respectable' people don't equate file-sharing, the modern equivalent of going to the library, as theft. They are still stuck in the same mentality that predicted the telephone would never catch on, or that the world only needed a handful of computers.

Brad Spangler on Counter-Economics

Counter-establishment economic activity (counter-economics — a.k.a. “the black market”) is the only tool that can eventually build institutions of security and law independent of state control. In the mean time, it makes peoples lives better for themselves here and now....

Because counter-economics focuses on making peoples lives better here and now, it’s something useful that people can incorporate into their lives, yet it lays the groundwork for eventually laying the state low.

See also:

Brian A. Dominick. "An Introduction to Dual Power Strategy"

Yours Truly. "Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old"

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Dave Pollard et Al: Open Source World

Some good stuff by David Pollard in the past few weeks on Open Source Business. Here he defines the concept:

A radically transparent organization which (a) operates through open collaborative partnerships with customers, employees, suppliers, and the communities in which it does business, (b) shares its sources of information, designs, specifications and processes with them, and (c) allows open participation in and makes public all decisions it makes, all operating information, and all documents it produces, on a creative commons basis.

In a follow-up post, he describes its functioning in the marketplace:

To remain competitive, at least as long as the 'market' economy remains in place, an OSB must be small enough to stay below the interest radar of potential larger competitors, or choose to operate on a zero- or small-profit basis, so that larger enterprises will be unwilling to match its price. So OSB is best suited to those who are looking for something other than big money in the way they make a living. That's not to say an OSB cannot be very profitable. Profit, however, is not the intention of the business, and, because growth is not the intention of an OSB either, any surplus would normally be returned to the community and the customers. Not-for-profit businesses are not volunteer organizations. Its members earn a market-rate salary, but not more.

Businesses that are not-for-profit and which have no ambitions for growth are not of much interest to banks or investors, but may well be of interest to credit unions or fraternal financial institutions, which also operate on a not-for-profit basis (though generally they do aspire to growth).

Take a look through the standard industrial classification of businesses and other organizations... and you'll have a hard time coming up with any business that doesn't lend itself to operating as an OSB. The toughest are probably mineral exploration and pharmaceuticals, industries with a huge investment required and a substantial risk of having nothing to show for it. Just about any other type of organization, it seems to me (including government, transportation, health and education), could just as easily be community based, small, and not-for-profit, with what Jon Husband calls 'wirearchy' coordinating their actions with similar organizations in other communities. Size and hierarchy are unnecessary.

Industries like mineral exploration and pharmaceuticals could manage that risk the same way all other large risks are managed -- by pooling their collective risks against failure, making the search a networked 'joint venture'. The result for those in the risky businesses is the elimination of both profit and loss. For example, suppose there were 50 tiny pharma companies looking for an antiviral for Poultry Flu. All but one of the 50 invests $1M and comes up empty. One invests $1M and comes up with the answer. The drug is valued at $50M. All the small community governments (say a million of them) in the world split that cost by paying $50 each for an unlimited amount of the drug (cost of manufacture of the drug itself is usually negligible) and offer their members the drug for nothing -- the $50 is part of the community's health care budget. The $50M goes equally to the 50 pharma companies, eliminating their loss by covering all their costs. Nobody makes a profit, but no one suffers a loss, either. The people in the pharma companies get their standard 'salary' costs paid for, and the satisfaction of knowing they participated in finding a cure for a horrific disease.

Compare this to Eric Raymond's response to a Marxist who denounced him as "right-wing":

...you know, it’s not like I’ve made any secret of the fact that I believe open-source thinking has radical political consequences in the longer term. I’ve said many times that the economic-efficiency arguments for open-source decentralization should sufficient to get people to do it without buying my politics. Then I’ve turned around and observed that learning how to do without centralization and big management in one area provides people with both working models and efficiency arguments for getting rid of authority hierarchies elsewhere. Yeah, sure, that’s a conservative prescription!

I’ve even argued — in front of Wall Street analysts, and had them buy it! — that we’re entering an era in which the traditional capital-intensive, management-intensive corporate form is less and less appropriate for managing production in which the main bottleneck is skilled human attention. I don’t use the term “workers’ cooperative” for what’s replacing it, but hello…hello? Can’t any of the so-called “progressive” thinkers in the Marxist camp put two and two together?

“Right-wing”. It is to laugh. It is to laugh exceedingly.

In another post, Pollard applies his open source vision specifically to the information and entertainment industries:

I believe we are less than a decade from reaching the point when all software and all content (information and entertainment) will be file-shared and quickly and simply downloadable free of charge as soon as it is released. By that time there will be some revolutionary changes to hardware as well -- it will get much smaller, faster, cheaper (though not free) and wireless, to the point that you won't bother to keep any content on your personal devices at all (though we may all share our content peer-to-peer through our cast-off wire-anchored PCs, part of a huge distributed network of global file servers, data warehousers that we will be oblivious to, and which will interact only with other machines). The plunging price of hardware and bandwidth and the ubiquity of free content will perhaps, at last, awaken us to the abominably low value of most of this stuff, and the horrific amount of time we spend paying attention to it -- and we may (we can only hope) rediscover the superiority of personal, self-created entertainment, conversation, live performances, imagination-provoking fiction, art and poetry, and contemplation of the real world on this side of the screen.

But there will be some other implications, less important socially but more important economically. With the disappearance of advertising, current producers of media content will need to find another business model to fund their productions. That model may vary from a Gift Economy (many of the baby boomers will have retired, and may be willing to write and produce good quality entertainment for the sheer creative joy of it), to a personalization model (sell tickets to the live performance, with a chance to meet the cast afterwards, and give the taped version away free). Those who entertain but don't perform live (studio musicians, authors who don't do readings and Q&As, and animated film producers) will need to be more creative in financing their careers (such as teaching -- long an admirable and accepted vocation for entertainers, and making customized products). It's hard to say whether corporate sponsorships (mainstay of US public broadcasting), and product placement will remain viable financing mechanisms. Private 'memberships' are doomed to be circumvented, unless they are altruistic and (also like US public broadcasting) bestow no special 'bit-access' privileges. Overpaid superstars will be a thing of the past.

The implications for media intermediaries (television and radio networks and print newspapers and other content aggregators) are more dire. These groups simply do not add enough value to justify their cost. I predict that unless they reinvent themselves (and they have shown themselves quite uninventive) they will soon go the way of ticket-punchers, tellers and bellboys ("thanks, I can look after that myself").

That reminds me of some brilliant remarks Steve Koppelman made in a comment thread at Reason Hit & Run:

Before the mid 19th century, when mass-market sheet music and piano roll sales created a "music industry" in which selling widgets and collecting royalties became sources of income, there was still plenty of music being made. People played fiddles and lutes and whistles and whatever around the kitchen table and the campfire. Some made money at it playing in party bands. Traveling musicians and buskers could earn a modest income. Other professionals played in theaters and traveling shows, and still others earned money through composing pieces on commission.

The music industry as we've come to know it in the last century and a half is a fairly new development. Music isn't. It came into being because printing sheet music, producing piano rolls, and later, manufacruring cylinders and discs and tapes was expensive and required costly equipment. The only entities that could afford do it were serious businesses, so the business models they created around copyright, publishing rights and manufacturing a physical product were viable. It was easy to use copyright to protect your interests because serious piracy required serious capital. Piracy that impacted the industry generally came from big operations run by organized crime . Cracking down was the relatively simple matter of radiing factories and warehouses and stopping big trucks full of bootlegs.

Now the "music industry" is unnecessary. Anyone can produce a flawless CD for about forty cents at home. Maintaining the industry in its current state is simply propping up an old cartel out of a misguided sense that it's the rightful gatekeeper to music distribution.

We're not rushing to ban or tax the hell out of digital cameras because Kodak and Polariod are suffering. They haven't asked government to do so, and they'd be laughed out of town if they did.

The record industry is obsolete. It's time for all those people to find another line of work. Musicians will keep making music. They just won't have an easy time making money from selling recordings. We had music for thousands of years before Edison's wax cylinders, and the inevitable end of the music industry -- pay-per-track download sites included -- won't put a stop to it. It may signal an end to the top-down star system, though, and a return to local and personal musicmaking.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Their Walls are Filled with Cannon Balls, Their Motto is "Don't Tread on Me"


An Impossible Dream or a Vision of the Future?

State House

Montpelier, Vermont

October 28, 2005

James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency, will be the keynote speaker at The Vermont Convention on Independence to be held in the House Chamber of the State House in Montpelier on Friday October 28th. Sponsored by the Second Vermont Republic, the convention, which will begin at 9:00 a.m. and conclude at 5:00 p.m., is open to the public and free of charge.

This historic event will be the first statewide convention on secession in the United States since North Carolina voted to secede from the Union on May 20, 1861.
Other speakers will include Professor Frank Bryan, UVM; Kirkpatrick Sale, author of Human Scale, J. Kevin Graffagnino, Executive Director, Vermont Historical Society; Professor Eric Davis, Middlebury College; Shay Totten, editor, Vermont Guardian; Antoine Robitaille, journalist Le Devoir (Quebec City); G. Roderick Lawrence, CEO, Stevenson Kellogg(Canada); (Rev.) Ben T. Matchstick; and General Ethan Allen (aka Jim Hogue). General Allen is expected to travel by horse to the State House.

The objectives of the convention are twofold. First, to raise the level of awareness of Vermonters of the feasibility of independence as a viable alternative to a nation which has lost its moral authority and is unsustainable. Second, to provide an example and a process for other states and nations which may be seriously considering separatism, secession, independence, and similar devolutionary strategies.

The Second Vermont Republic is a peaceful, democratic, grassroots, libertarian populist movement committed to the return of Vermont to its status as an independent republic as it once was between 1777 and 1791.

For additional information, contact Thomas H. Naylor at 802-425-4133 or Jane Dwinell at 802-229-4008, info@vermontrepublic org.

Private Schooling for the Third World Poor

Via Jesse Walker: James Tooley, "Private Schools in the Poorest Countries"

However well-intentioned, the Global Campaign for Education is overlooking something rather important that is happening in developing countries today: the phenomenal growth of private schools for the poor.

I first discovered for myself the phenomenon of private schools for the poor while consulting for the International Finance Corporation, the private finance arm of the World Bank, in Hyderabad, India, in 2000.

I’d just published an argument for privatization of education, Reclaiming Education, and was wrestling with the criticism from even sympathetic readers that what I’d argued might be good for the middle classes, or richer countries, but what about the poor, especially in poor countries? That criticism bothered me. I knew from my reading of E. G. West’s book Education and the State that the poor in Victorian England were largely provided for by private education, before the state got involved. Why wouldn’t the same be true of the poor today? Out of curiosity, I left my work—looking at private schools for the elite and middle classes—and took an autorickshaw into the slum areas behind the imposing 16th-century Charminar in the center of the Old City. And to my surprise, I found private schools on almost every street corner. Inspired by that, I grew to know many of the school owners, teachers, parents, and children; I learned of their motivations and difficulties and their successes and requirements.

Since then I have found private schools in battle-scarred buildings in Somaliland and Sierra Leone; in the shanty town of Makoko built on stilts above the Lagos lagoons in Nigeria; scattered among the tin and cardboard huts of Africa’s largest slum, Kibera, Kenya; in the teeming townships perched on the shoreline of Accra, Ghana; in slums and villages across India; among the “floating population” in Beijing; and in remote Himalayan villages in China. Indeed, I have yet to find a developing country environment where private schools for the poor don’t exist. My teams have combed poor areas—slums or shanty towns in and around the major cities and villages inhabited by peasant farmers and fishermen—going down every lane and alleyway, asking people in marketplaces and on the streets where the poor are sending their children to school. And while we’ve been conducting the censuses, we’ve been finding out as much as possible about the schools, what their facilities are like, whether teachers are teaching, building up a comprehensive picture of the private schools and comparing them with the government alternative. Then, most important of all, we’ve been comparing the achievement of students in the private and public schools serving the poor areas; testing a stratified random sample of 4,000 children in each country, chosen equally from registered private, unregistered private, and government schools; and using advanced statistical techniques to control for as many background variables as we can, to find out whether the poor are better served by public or private education.

Interestingly, the study found not only that a majority of children in poor areas were privately educated, but that student-teacher ratios were lower than in "public" schools, and produced higher levels of proficiency in language and math. Private schools were actually better supplied with facilities like toilets and running water than government ones. Teachers, while lower paid, came from the immediate neighborhood or community, instead of being bused in.

One of the most intriguing findings is how competitive private schools are in cost:

...there are differences between countries in the relative costs of public and private schooling. In countries where public schooling is entirely free at the point of delivery—India for instance—clearly, the private schools cost more for parents. But in other countries—China and Ghana, for instance—where public schools charge low fees or “levies,” we find that sometimes the private schools are undercutting public schools, because the really poor can’t afford the public option. What makes the private schools financially attractive is that they allow the parents to pay on a daily basis—perhaps 10 cents a day—rather than to pay for the full term up-front as they must for the public schools, even though this might work out more cheaply if they could afford to pay it. In Kenya, the government has recently introduced “free primary education,” but our interviews with parents point to many “hidden costs” of public schools, such as the requirement for full uniforms, which mean that, in practice, private slum schools often turn out to be less expensive.

Naturally, this doesn't sit entirely well with Oxfam. Its report on education expressed a concern that

if poor parents support private education, this “carries a real danger of undermining the government schooling system.”

In other words, the existence of the government schooling system is an end in itself, even if private schools perform better at lower cost, and the poor prefer scraping up the tuition to sending their kids to the government alternative. As Tooley responds to that "oddest" of objections,

What it seems to be saying is that poor parents will just have to wait until “things get better.” By removing your children from the totally inadequate state school, imply development experts, you are jeopardizing the state system. It doesn’t matter that you are poor yourself and that your children’s education may be the only viable vehicle out of poverty; you’d better stay in the state sector and hope that something happens to make things better. Meanwhile, your children can irrevocably suffer from teachers who don’t turn up, or who don’t teach if they do turn up, until governments learn the lessons from experiments elsewhere. But don’t, whatever you do, send your children to private school!

It seems to me that parents in the slums and villages may be less sanguine and more impatient. Parents may not feel they have any impact on distant or corrupt political processes. They may not believe in any case that politicians can or will effect solutions to their problems. Their only realistic alternative might be to exit the state system. Increasingly, it seems to me that progress toward accountable education might not necessarily involve complex political processes and the realignment of power relationships. Instead, the lessons coming loudly and clearly from parents using the private system might be that accountable education involves a very simple and easy transfer of power from the politician to the parent, and that can be done now.

The belief that government schools are a good in their own right is usually coupled with the assumption, explicit or implicit, that a government school system promotes a unified "democratic" culture or a common schooling in the values of good citizenship. What this means in practice, though, is education in the official ideology of the state, and inculation of the habits that make one a good servant of the state and its ruling class. In America in the early 20th century, this "education for democracy" meant indoctrination in "100% Americanism" and flag-worship; a distorted, statist understanding of American history in which the Federalist "Founding Father" demigods saved the country from ruin; and good habits of consumption, like eschewing "old-fashioned" home-grown vegetables and home-baked bread for cooking out of a can, like up-to-date "good Americans" did. To put it more succinctly, the official ideology of the "public" school system was One Nation, One Government, One School System.

But the really odd Oxfam objection, in my opinion, is this one:

private teachers’ “overwhelming objective is to cram the heads of the pupils, so that they may pass the relevant tests and examinations,” rather than engage in wider educational activities....

Talk about mirror-imaging! Obviously, they've never seen an American public school in the era of the No Child's Behind Left Unviolated Act.

Oxfam was relatively polite in its criticism, leavening it with plenty of honesty in admitting the superior performance of private schools in many reflects. Not so with the government school establishment in Third World countries. In another article, linked by Richard Garner, Tooley writes of the reaction by a representative of the Nigerian education commission, on a visit to "public" schools in Makoko:

although my visit was announced, and I came with the commissioner of education’s representative, I saw the headmistress beating children to get them into the classrooms, and found one teacher fast asleep at his desk. The welcoming chorus of the children didn’t rouse him.

The commissioner’s representative, however, described parents who send their children to the mushrooming private schools as “ignoramuses”, wanting the status symbol of private education (saying this, without irony, standing by her brand new silver Mercedes), but hoodwinked by unscrupulous businessmen.

“They should all be closed down,” she told me.

As I've commented before, saying that any service (like healthcare or education) should be a universal "right," means in practice that you get it in the (rationed) amount and form the State wants you to have, and that buying it in the form you want becomes much more difficult (if not criminalized). It means the providers of the service will be cartelized, and that the provision of the service will be regulated according to their professional culture and institutional mindset. Or as a Nigerian parent commented in Tooley's article:

If you go to a market and are offered free fruit and vegetables, they will be rotten. If you want fresh fruit and veg, you have to pay for them.

For some excellent analysis of the role of government schooling in "getting our minds right," I recommend Ivan Illich's Deschooling Society and John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education.

There's one aspect of Tooley's work I don't care for: his assumption that "private" education means schooling provided by a for-profit capitalist enterprise. One thing I brought away from reading Kropotkin, E.P. Thompson, and Colin Ward was the amazing extent to which the working class relied on their own cooperative, self-organized education in the days before universal free state schooling. Large numbers of working class children in nineteenth century Britain attended "penny schools" conducted by crippled or aged workers. Alternative schools were organized by anarchists in Italy and Spain. And then there's the large-scale explosion of alternative schooling in the Sixties counterculture and the subsequent movements toward decentralism and cooperative economics. The Anarchist FAQ has a lot of good information on Modern Schools.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Northwest Arkansas Blogging: Close Call for Fayetteville Cockroach Caucus

I first wrote early this year about the Cockroach Caucus phenomenon. Members of that genus tend to scuttle out from under the refrigerator whenever the light is safely off, in any community where the local government and chamber of commerce are controlled by a good ol' boy network. In other words, just about any community in America. Michael Bates coined the term to describe collusion between local government and business interests (especially real estate developers), particularly in his own town of Tulsa. Millsian "Power Elite" sociologist Harvey Molotch, more politely, used the term "urban growth machine." But I prefer Bates' colorful terms: "the 'Developers, Chamber, and Establishment' party," a "cluster of special interests which has been trying to run the City of Tulsa without public input, and preferably without public debate," and (at greater length)

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... 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.

In my own "Cockroach Caucus" post, I described the schemes of Northwest Arkansas' version of that clique to shove a corporate welfare regional airport down our throats.

Well, the Cockroach Caucus never tires, and is never slack in its mission of comforting the comfortable (at the afflicted taxpayer's expense, of course). According to an account by the Northwest Arkansas Times' Greg Harton, democracy reared its ugly head and almost queered a deal between the Fayetteville Economic Development Council and Biobased Technologies, the would-be beneficiary of a taxpayer pork transfusion.

The Fayetteville mayor might have been forgiven if he had accepted Biobased Technologies CEO Tom Muccio’s impatient reaction to questions asked by a handful of Fayetteville residents in last week’s City Council meeting. On the agenda was a plan to sell city-owned land to Biobased so that the company — a maker of a soybean-based polyurethane insulation — could move its headquarters and plant from Rogers to Fayetteville. The price is $940,000, hundreds of thousands below the market value of the land. FEDC officials who want to lure the company here believe Biobased, which hopes to expand its environmental technology into many more products that now use petroleum, is a seed that could spark more technology-based companies starting or locating in Fayetteville.

If it's such a promising idea and all, it should be profitable even if the little piggie pays for all the slop in his own trough. At any rate, there ought not to be one price of land for the politically connected, and another for the rest of us second-class citizens. One law for the lion and another for the lamb is tyranny.

Last Tuesday, after a lengthy discussion, Coody began repeating questions raised by residents for Muccio, who was participating by conference call. As usual at critical moments, the technology didn’t create a very workable environment for discussion, so Coody proposed that Muccio come visit the City Council to help ease some concerns.

The length of the discussion and apparently the fact that anyone was asking questions led to the following comments by Muccio: "Mr. Mayor, having gone through seven months of questioning with the Fayetteville Economic Development Committee [sic], having opened the factory and blending plants and everything we’re doing for folks to come up and look at it and whatever, I can only assume that if there’s not enough information for the City Council to make a decision today that they’re really not interested in us being in Fayetteville. We didn’t petition to come to the city; the city came after us and said we want you to come. On that basis, we withheld a lot of investment, as you well know, and put ourselves in a noncompetitive situation vs. our business plan. So if the city’s not interested in having us, then we’ll find another alternative, but we need to get on with building our business."...

But let’s consider this: Last Tuesday’s council meeting came precisely 17 days after the city and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council revealed that a deal had tentatively been struck for the company to relocate, and for it to benefit from a sweetheart land deal created to entice the company to move to Fayetteville. Tuesday’s meeting was the first at which any comments were accepted from anyone outside the very secretive, closed environment of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, which was formed 19 months ago through private funding. Its structure is such that the FEDC is said to speak with a unified voice on behalf of city government, the University of Arkansas and the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce, but the city and university have specifically avoided providing any funding so that the FEDC can operate outside the public’s view.

Uh huh. I'm not sure what this means. But it appears to imply that, despite being empowered to speak on behalf of the city and give away taxpayer property, so long as the Council isn't actually funded by tax money it isn't really a government body, and therefore doesn't quite fall under the Freedom of Information Act. Bullshit.

Even Mayor Coody, affectionately known as "Dictator Dan" by locals who oppsed the city smoking ban, felt some obligation to defend at least a cursory public review. After all, believe it or not, Coody was originally part of a slate of "reform" candidates who ran against the Cockroach Caucus and its high-handed methods in catering to real estate developers and other local business interests. (Of course, the policies of Coody and his allies turned out to be "progressive" social engineering, which is another way of saying yuppie gentrification; they weren't the opposite of the Cockroach Caucus after all, but just an alternative Bobo version of it). Anyway, here's Coody's lame attempt not to seem quite as bought-and-paid-for as both he and Muccio knew very well he was:

Now, back to Tuesday’s meeting. Coody didn’t fall into Muccio’s ill-tempered baiting. Instead, the mayor calmly explained what shouldn’t have to be explained, that the elected leaders of Fayetteville have a responsibility to let the public speak on issues of public policy. Last I checked, the sale of public land to lure a company to town qualifies. "Fayetteville is interested in having Biobased locate your shop here," Coody responded. "I think it’s our responsibility as the governing body to answer the concerns of the constituents we have here, so once they can get their questions answered, the fear factor goes down and we can live happily ever after. I don’t think having the public come up and ask questions and having us help provide answers is necessarily a bad thing, and I don’t think it shows bad faith on Fayetteville’s part. Obviously, we want you here or we wouldn’t be dealing with you as we have. Please don’t take this as a negative perspective on your company. I think the opposite is true. We think very highly of Biobased very much."

Well, at least he still has his dignity (snicker). But Muccio wasn't having any of it:

Good save, mayor. But Muccio, whose connections to Fayetteville include his years as a senior officer with Procter & Gamble before he left to head Biobased, continued, giving us a glimpse, perhaps, of what rankled him most. "I thought what we were doing over the last seven months was working within the guidelines that the city had allocated to the Fayetteville Economic Development Committee to put us through a vetting process and ask the questions," Muccio said. "It was my understanding that we were dealing with the professionals who were charged with what’s best for Fayetteville economic development. We’ve been through four or five different meetings, we’ve offered tours, we’ve answered every question that has been posed to us. We’ve shared business plan. I’m not sure what else we can do, Mr. Mayor."

In other words, I thought we had a done deal--can't you people keep your serfs in line? There you have it! That's exactly the spirit behind at-large representation, the city manager/city board form of government, unelected commissions and authorities, and all the other manifestations of "professionalism" in government. Government is to be "depoliticized" and managed by "competent professionals" who "know what's best" for the people, without said people getting their grubby little hands on the levers of power or interfering in the business of their betters. Like all New Class Crolyites, the intellectuals behind such "reforms" believe in the existence of disinterested "expertise"; in practice, such experts wind up being the servants of those with wealth and power. The New Class intellectuals of the "Progressive" Era, who started out thinking that immaculate managerialism could transcend class conflict, wound up being coopted as Taylorist overseers for the corporate rich.

By the way, I didn't realize that "business plan" was a bodily fluid; but it sure seems that way, doesn't it?


Cooperative Economics in New Orleans

Blogging at Uncapitalist Journal today.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Former Seattle Police Chief Advocates Drug Legalization

(Via Progressive Review) Besides having once been chief of police, Norm Stamper is the author of Breaking Rank: A Top Cop's Expose of the Dark Side of American Policing. From the Seattle Times.

I don't favor [drug] decriminalization. I favor legalization, and not just of pot but of all drugs, including heroin, cocaine, meth, psychotropics, mushrooms and LSD. Decriminalization, as my colleagues in the drug reform movement hasten to inform me, takes the crime out of using drugs but continues to classify possession and use as a public offense, punishable by fines.

I've never understood why adults shouldn't enjoy the same right to use verboten drugs as they have to suck on a Marlboro or knock back a scotch and water.

Prohibition of alcohol fell flat on its face. The prohibition of other drugs rests on an equally wobbly foundation. Not until we choose to frame responsible drug use — not an oxymoron in my dictionary — as a civil liberty will we be able to recognize the abuse of drugs, including alcohol, for what it is: a medical, not a criminal, matter.

As a cop, I bore witness to the multiple lunacies of the "war on drugs." Lasting far longer than any other of our national conflicts, the drug war has been prosecuted with equal vigor by Republican and Democratic administrations, with one president after another — Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush — delivering sanctimonious sermons, squandering vast sums of taxpayer money and cheerleading law enforcers from the safety of the sidelines.

It's not a stretch to conclude that our draconian approach to drug use is the most injurious domestic policy since slavery. Want to cut back on prison overcrowding and save a bundle on the construction of new facilities? Open the doors, let the nonviolent drug offenders go. The huge increases in federal and state prison populations during the 1980s and '90s (from 139 per 100,000 residents in 1980 to 482 per 100,000 in 2003) were mainly for drug convictions. In 1980, 580,900 Americans were arrested on drug charges. By 2003, that figure had ballooned to 1,678,200. We're making more arrests for drug offenses than for murder, manslaughter, forcible rape and aggravated assault combined. Feel safer?

I've witnessed the devastating effects of open-air drug markets in residential neighborhoods: children recruited as runners, mules and lookouts; drug dealers and innocent citizens shot dead in firefights between rival traffickers bent on protecting or expanding their markets; dedicated narcotics officers tortured and killed in the line of duty; prisons filled with nonviolent drug offenders; and drug-related foreign policies that foster political instability, wreak health and environmental disasters, and make life even tougher for indigenous subsistence farmers in places such as Latin America and Afghanistan. All because we like our drugs - and can't have them without breaking the law. . .

Although small in numbers of offenders, there isn't a major police force — the Los Angeles Police Department included — that has escaped the problem: cops, sworn to uphold the law, seizing and converting drugs to their own use, planting dope on suspects, robbing and extorting pushers, taking up dealing themselves, intimidating or murdering witnesses.

In declaring a war on drugs, we've declared war on our fellow citizens. War requires "hostiles" — enemies we can demonize, fear and loathe. This unfortunate categorization of millions of our citizens justifies treating them as dope fiends, evil-doers, less than human. That grants political license to ban the exchange or purchase of clean needles or to withhold methadone from heroin addicts motivated to kick the addiction.
Addendum. This is from an excellent post by commenter M. Simon:

Notice what is going on. New patented stimulants must come on the market to replace drugs whose patents expire. You know how it is. Doctors and patients always want the latest miracle drugs. Even if they are not much different from drugs going off patent. So how long has cocaine been off patent? How about methamphetamine?

It seems even old line stimulants have competition for the ADD/ADHD market. Here is a report on research by a doctor who has found pot effective against ADD/ADHD, anxiety, and alcohol and tobacco addictions.
Now why do you suppose a relatively benign drug like marijuana gets the lions share of drug war money? What exactly are we being protected from? My best guess is a decline in drug company profits.

The Drug Companies have become a cartel. And like any cartel they endeavor to wipe out their competition. They are very clever to see that there is no blood on their hands. They get the government to do the job for them....

The drug companies have their eye on you and don't want you messin with none of those dirty, adulterated, unpatentable street drugs. They want to sell you a patented drug. Clean pure and legal like. Of course there will be a slight surcharge to pay for all the expensive research and development required to come up with new stimulants. On a regular basis as the patents run out.

(And with government R&D money, by the way.)

As the bumper sticker on my truck says, "Hugs are better than drugs-- except for Ritalin."

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Neoconservatism as a Fake Ideology, Part 2

More on that noted "strict constructionist" and enemy of "legislating from the bench," Harriet Miers (from Progressive Review):

RICK KLEIN, BOSTON GLOBE - Earlier this year, Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers used several speeches to push for expanding President Bush's powers to protect the United States against terrorism, arguing that "a nation at war" needs a stronger executive branch, according to transcripts the White House has provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In her speeches to conservative groups, Miers called for extension of the Patriot Act, which expands law enforcement agencies' power to investigate suspected terrorists. She defended Vice President Dick Cheney's closed-door energy task force as the best way for the administration to use confidential deliberations to set national policy. And she said her role as White House counsel was generally to "protect against any attempted infringement on the appropriate role of the executive branch."

"In order to effectively serve the American people, the president's powers must be protected," Miers said in June, in a speech given to the conservative Heritage Foundation. "We must recognize that we are a nation at war, and that requires a strong presidency to act as commander-in-chief.". . .

These so-called "strict constructionists" should be aware that the Article II delegation of power to the Executive has an "original understanding" paper trail almost as extensive as that of the legislative delegation in Article I, Section 8. I've done a fair amount of reading on the subject, although I'm too damned lazy to go back through Thorpe's Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the States, Territories, and Colonies, Madison's Notes, and Elliot's Debates to dig out the exact citations (it's a project in the hopper, though).

Hamilton, that prototype of neocon sliminess, argued as Pacificus that Article II (unlike Article I) was a plenary grant of all executive powers involved in the royal prerogative, minus only those expressly forbidden. But as one defender of Article II's language pointed out in the Federal Convention, there is no general residue of executive power that is not expressly accounted for in some part of the Constitution. All the separate components of the royal prerogative were listed by Blackstone in volume 1 of his Commentaries. And every single one of those components in the Constitution is expressly granted to the President, expressly denied to him, or expressly granted or denied to some other branch of government. There is no residuum of executive power, not thus accounted for, on which to hang a general "national security prerogative."

The language of Article II, likewise, carried clear implications on the extent of Presidential power. The term "president" itself, for example. Three state constitutions, in the 1780s, referred to their executive as a president. In every one of those states, the chief executive was the first among equals, or presiding officer, in a plural executive (hence the Latin participle "president"), sometimes taking the form of a privy council whose "advice and consent" was required for the exercise of a wide range of executive powers. The "advice and consent" requirement was not a mere rubber stamp. It required the nominal chief executive, in effect, to function as a component part of a plural executive: "the governor-in-privy council." Something of this is preserved in the federal executive's direct involvement, in the person of his Vice President, in presiding over the Senate. The clear effect of the Constitution's original language, given the contemporary understanding of its terms of art, was to create the President as presiding officer of a plural executive ("President-in-Senate") in the exercise of all powers for which "advice and consent" were required.

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Sam Smith on the Tenth Amendment

From Progressive Review:

A number of conservatives have suggested that reversing Roe v. Wade is not as important as many think since, if it were overturned, persons wanting abortions could just go to states that permit them. Aside from the fact that this argument ignores those without the funds for such a trip, there is another serious problem: the reversal of Roe v. Wade might soon lead to a law federalizing abortion standards. Bear in mind the federal government's role in other matters that should be none of its business such as medical marijuana or the danger that the court will outlaw euthanasia in states that would permit it.

As the Bush regime's gross intrusion into public education - and liberals' indifference to the 10th Amendment principles involved - illustrate, there is absolutely no guarantee that a GOP Congress would not pass a law outlawing abortion everywhere that would be upheld by the courts.

...[L]iberals have to stop disdaining the 10th Amendment that gives to the states and people powers that are not specifically granted the federal government. Gay rights, women's rights, environmental laws would not be anywhere near as far along as they are were it not for the examples set by states and localities while the federal government did little or nothing.

It would also give them the moral high ground to bitch slap the hypocritical lying bastards in the Federalist Society, Heritage Foundation, AEI, etc., who complain about "legislating from the bench" and call for "interpreting the Constitution as written." To much discourse from the left entails taking the neocons' hijacked self-descriptions at face value--e. g. "free market," "strict construction," etc.--and then attacking free markets and strict construction. They shouldn't be able to get away with associating themselves with such terms in the first place; they should be judged in terms of their own self-proclaimed values, and shown up for the frauds they are.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Neoconservatism as a Fake Ideology

It seems Harriet Miers' so-called "strict constitutionalism" doesn't bear much looking into. Apparently, it's not the federal government that's one of strictly defined and limited powers--just the legislative branch of it (via Mojo Blog):

As White House chief-of-staff, [Andy Card] found the most intriguing article, he said, to be Article II, which established the presidency and the executive branch. Miers, he continued, understood Article II as well, and would defend it "when challenged by those given the power to challenge it by Article I [i.e., the Congress] and Article III [i.e., the courts]."

Thus ended Card's constitutional disquisition -- not a moment too soon, as he had managed to conflate Miers' duties as White House counsel with what he seemed to be saying was her judicial philosophy on executive power. He could not have meant to imply that Miers would see her first duty on the bench as defending Bush against all enemies, legislative and judicial, but that's what he managed to convey. At minimum, he suggested that Miers would be the staunchest proponent of executive power over that of the other two branches that the Court had seen in a very long time. Whom, exactly, this was meant to reassure is unclear. Card's comment could not have been better calculated to raise suspicions of Miers on both sides of the aisle.

I've pointed out before how phony and disingenuous the Federalist Society's version of "strict constitutionalism" is ("Fake Constitutionalism"). Or as Miers explained it herself in the Fafblog Interview:

FB: Well, first off let me say I'm pretty relieved that you've confirmed reports that you will not legislate from the bench. Movin on, you're a good friend of the president, and on the court you'd have cases where you'd have to rule for him or against him. Do you there could be a conflict of interest there?

MIERS: Well that's just crazy, Fafnir. As a personal friend of the president, I know more about presidents than most people. I have to rule on the president's powers, I can call 'im up and say, "Hey, Mr. President, do you have the constitutional authority to indefinitely detain prisoners without due process?" And he'll say "You bet."

Of course, I doubt Miers is really that much of a strict constructionist even when it comes to legislative powers; if she comes up with a reading of the Commerce Clause that undermines Crisco John's position on federal preemption of state medpot and assisted suicide laws, I'll be very much surprised. And somehow, I doubt she's all that bothered by an activist federal government when it comes to things like "tort reform." The Shorter Federalist Society "Strict Constructionism": we're for limited government, except when it comes to giving the Executive the kinds of "national security" powers claimed by Charles I, and preempting state laws in the interest of big business, and making sure you're keeping your dick where it belongs.

This fake constitutionalism is just one example of why modern conservatism, in both its Buckleyite New Right version of the '50s and its updated neocon form, is a fake ideology. Besides fake constitutionalism and fake federalism, it also manages to peddle adulterated versions of several other popular buzzwords: fake populism, fake communitarianism, and fake free market liberalism.

Thomas Frank has a pretty good ear for their fake populism. Some people (particularly those in Red States) may have trouble distinguishing their populist denunciation of elites from the altogether different sin of "class warfare." To clarify things, here's how to tell them apart:

Elites. Latte-sipping, brie-eating, Volvo-driving, little magazine-reading, effete snobs who live on the coasts, whom it is entirely permissible to attack for their privileged lifestyle. Such attacks are entirely different from the heinous crime of Class Warfare (q.v.), which no decent person will engage in.

Class Warfare. Demagogic attacks based on the entirely specious ground of unearned wealth, a sin up with which the neocons will not put. Entirely different from demagogic attacks based on cultural characteristics like the kind of food and entertainment one likes (see Elites).

The fake communitarians like to wring their hands over "bowling alone," wax enthusiastic over "civil society," and selectively quote de Tocqueville on barn raisings and suchlike. But notice their talk of "empowerment" and "civil society" never strays from the realms of consumption and of reproducing human labor-power. When it comes to the realm of econmic production and of government, the neocons are good Crolyites, New Class managerialists who believe in the "rule of law": in other words, decisions should be made by competent professionals, while we sit down, shut up, and ratify their decisions every four years (and keep ourselves busy with things that are more our speed, like bowling leagues and church socials).

On the fake free market liberalism, I've had plenty to say here--most of it probably about the Adam Smith Institute. It consists mainly of fake privatization, and fake deregulation. If you're a glutton for punishment, just check out one of these old posts: "The Neoliberal Myth of 'Small Government'"; "More Small-Government Conservatism: Deregulation, Texas-Style"; "Public Services, 'Privatized' and Mutualized"; "Faux Private Interests, Part III: Sean Gabb on ASI-Style 'Privatization'"; "Claire Wolfe on Economic Fascism"; "MaxSpeak on the Myth of Small-Government Conservatism."

Here's how I summed up their fake conservatism in an earlier post:

They're a statist borg collective, concealing themselves like pod people behind a facade of traditional Main Street conservatism.

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Richard K. Moore: Escaping the Matrix

For some time, Richard K. Moore has been sharing draft chapters of his manuscript Escaping the Matrix: How We the People Can Change the World with his email list. He's now got a draft of Chapter One online. It's a considerably fleshed out version of his amazing article "Escaping the Matrix." You can also find a lot of earlier drafts of other chapters if you check out his newslog archives for the past couple of years. For example, here's the table of contents of an earlier version with links to draft chapters.

But back to the draft of Chapter One:

Chapter 1 - The Matrix

[ mostly unchanged ]
1 Are you ready for the red pill?
2 Imperialism and the Matrix
3 World War II and Pax Americana
4 Popular rebellion and the decline of the postwar blueprint

5 London banking elites and the strategy of oil-based dominance
6 World War I and the House of Morgan

7 The emergence of the Anglo-American alliance
8 Wall Street & The City: covert masters of the universe
9 Abandoning Bretton Woods: the petrodollar scam

10 The neoliberal project

11 9/11 and the New American Century

12 The management of discontented societies

13 The UN and the new-millennium blueprint

14 Capitalism and the Matrix
15 Civilization in crisis

Friday, October 14, 2005

Air Pollution: Common Law vs. the Regulatory State

Via Kent Hastings on the LeftLibertarian yahoogroup. A review of Noga Morag-Levine's Chasing the Wind: Regulating Air Pollution in the Common Law State (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003). According to the reviewer, Robert Percival, Morag-Levine considers the surviving common law culture (especially its burden of proof in demonstrating harm) to be a hindrance to the efficient functioning of the environmental regulatory state.

Morag-Levine's casual dismissal of common law remedies ignores at least two things. First, the twentieth century regulatory state replaced, not the common law of nuisance in its full vigor, but an anemic common law on its deathbed after a century of attacks by commercially-minded judges. That process, in which the common law of nuisance had its teeth pulled in the interest of "best and highest use" of property, was brilliantly described by Morton Horwitz in The Transformation of American Law.

Second, big business played a major role in crafting federal regulatory legislation (see Kolko's The Triumph of Conservatism), so in actual practice such "strict" measures against polluters are reminiscent of Brer Rabbit being thrown in the briarpatch. The administrative state not only protected polluters against potentially harsher damages imposed by juries, but also preempted state and local legislation with a least-common-denominator standard. And that doesn't even take into account industry capture of the regulatory agencies, which strikes me less as a perverse result of insufficient vigilance than as a near-inevitability. A state-regulated economy will have a huge demand for all sorts of economic data which, by the nature of things, will be generated mainly by industrial management itself. As the structuralist Marxists have argued quite effectively, industrial interests will inevitably be the main policy input in making state industrial policy. And the middle-aged suits running the large corporation and the middle-aged suits running the regulatory agencies already share a common set of managerialist-Taylorist values. Only a naive liberal who believes the suits in government are inherently more "progressive" or "idealistic" (because they represent "all of us together") could hold out any hope against such government-industry collusion. Such a hope is one step away from the view of Charles Reich in The Greening of America, who considered institutional structures largely irrelevant so long as the corporatist hierarchies were staffed by people in bell-bottoms and beads who, you know, like, had their heads right, man.

Kent comments:

It seems to me that government itself is the biggest polluter, and the private polluter's best friend. I wonder if anyone else remembers hearing about those early common law pollution judgements being set aside in favor of industrial interests by the Crown? In the U.S. today, class action suits against polluters are thwarted by the EPA and AQMD regulators.

Here's a random example from the web, in this case about the MTBE gas additive: "In fact, a class-action lawsuit has already been filed on behalf of private well owners against the major oil companies. Of course, the oil companies will point the finger back to the EPA, the agency that made them put this poison in gasoline in the first place. And suing the EPA is a tough row to hoe."

Here's a decent article from Cato that prefers common law to administrative remedies and, despite grudgingly regarding the former alone as insufficient, want to infuse the regulatory state with more of the spirit of the common law: David Schoenbrod "Putting the 'Law' Back into Environment Law." And here's one by Rothbard, who is much less reserved in his enthusiasm for common law action against polluters: "Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution."

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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Limited Government as a Public Good

While I'm at it, Jim also did an excellent job of standing the liberal "public good" argument for big government on its head:

The liberal critique of voluntarism is that it is piecemeal and inadequate to momentous tasks like flood prevention and disaster relief. The coordination problem is too large and the horizon of individual interest too limited. Only government has the size and public-spiritedness to tackle such momentous tasks. However, liberals also argue that it’s crucial to have the right people in charge of the government to achieve these things. The problem is that, in a democracy, getting those “right people” into office is itself a monumental problem of voluntary coordination and outreaching the horizon of self-interest. The track record of liberal success at this in recent decades casts doubt on the automatic superiority of government action to achieve liberal goals.

Or as he summarized the argument more recently, "the public goods problem of controlling the state" is bigger than the public goods problem of dealing with any other issue without the state. If we're not aware and involved and persistent enough to do all this wonderful goo-goo stuff ourselves without a government to coordinate things for us, how can we possibly be aware and involved and persistent enough to watch the watchmen?

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Iraqi Oil

Some time ago, in late August, Jim Henley asked me for an opinion on the status of the oil industry under the new Iraqi regime. Under the proposed new constitution, all existing oil wells are the common patrimony of the "Iraqi people," but those developed in the future will belong to the governments of the regions developing them (which happen to be almost entirely Kurdish or Shia). So the Sunnis will be muscled out of any future development of the oil industry. Here's how a CSM article described the problem:

Iraqi constitution must deliver oil to Sunnis, or it won't deliver stability
By Edward P. Joseph and Michael O'Hanlon

There are two big problems, however. First, the temporary constitution promulgated in early 2004 under Paul Bremer specifically assured Sunnis that Iraq's natural resources belong to "all the people of all the regions and governorates of Iraq," and further underscored that oil revenue would be distributed equally and fairly through the national budget. Effectively the Kurds are demanding all the autonomy protections afforded them by that interim document while trying to remove the key resource-distribution provision important to the Sunnis.

Second, if successful, this Kurdish action will establish a precedent that Shiites may seek to emulate in the south, where almost all the rest of Iraq's oil is found. The Sunnis would probably see such a constitution as a deal struck between Shiites who will eventually dominate Iraq's central institutions and Kurds who covet eventual separation - and one that deprived them of their fair share of Iraq's national resources as well.

....Without a fair deal ensuring that most Iraqi oil revenue is treated as a national resource, to be distributed proportionately to regions on a per-capita basis, it is hard to see how the Iraqi constitution can defuse Sunni Arab paranoias - and hard to see how it can serve the broader goal of creating a stable democratic Iraq.

Jim pointed out that the mainstream libertarian solution would be to put the wells under private ownership, and discard the idea of oil as property of the "people of Iraq."

The standard libertarian diagnosis here is, of course, that by putting the oil wealth in "public" hands you're really putting it in the hands of whichever gang manages to control the levers of state power, and that a compound change would obviate the problem entirely: 1) private ownership of all wells and fields, combined with 2) dropping the notion that oil fields found under the sands of Iraq somehow "belong to all Iraqis."

I know enough about Mutualism now, I think, to conclude that you'd reject the orthodox diagnosis as "vulgar libertarianism," but not enough to guess what you think WOULD work in such situations.

Well, golly, I'd kind of like to know myself. I delayed attempting an answer, because I had no clear idea of what the answer was. I should add, for the record, that I don't necessarily dismiss the "orthodox diagnosis" as vulgar libertarianism--not all of it, anyway. If "public hands" means "state hands," then the orthodox diagnosis is a pretty accurate statement of the problem. The question is whether society's ownership of a commons can be enforced by a non-state mechanism, through voluntary association and federation. And if "private ownership" can be stretched to include the idea of the commons as a legitimate form of property, or of worker homesteading of the formerly state-owned oil industry, then I'm fine with it. I don't much like the idea of auctioning it off at sweetheart prices to politically connected asset-strippers, though, on the Milton Friedman/Jeffrey Sachs model.

My initial inclination was to support homesteading of the industry by its workforce, combined with some kind of Geolib severance fee going to something like the Alaska Permanent Fund. Putin has been toying with the idea of such natural resource severance fees, as described in this Counterpunch interview with Michael Hudson. Of course, treating oil resources as a common raises all sorts of other puzzling questions, such as: how do you establish the territorial limits of the "community" to which common resources belong? If Iraq is just an artificial state cobbled together at Versailles from a grab bag of Ottoman provinces, why should some "Iraqi people" jointly own resources actually occupied by Kurds and Shia Arabs?

Well, I'm not much closer to figuring it out. But I turned my attention back to the issue after reading this article, (recommended by brian in the comment thread on an earlier post). I'm not sure how much it helps to resolve the overall problem, but it's about Iraq, and oil, and has a suitably Rothbardian flavor.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Rothbard on War Collectivism

Via Jesse Walker, on the LeftLibertarian yahoogroup. Murray Rothbard's classic essay "War Collectivism in World War I."

War collectivism showed the big-business interests of the Western world that it was possible to shift radically from the previous, largely free-market, capitalism to a new order marked by strong government, and extensive and pervasive government intervention and planning, for the purpose of providing a network of subsidies and monopolistic privileges to business, and especially to large business, interests. In particular, the economy could be cartelized under the aegis of government, with prices raised and production fixed and restricted, in the classic pattern of monopoly; and military and other government contracts could be channeled into the hands of favored corporate producers. Labor, which had been becoming increasingly rambunctious, could be tamed and bridled into the service of this new, state monopoly-capitalist order, through the device of promoting a suitably cooperative trade unionism, and by bringing the willing union leaders into the planning system as junior partners....

Of course, I take issue with Rothbard's characterization of the pre-WWI economy as "largely free-market." Although state intervention was admittedly much more massive and direct after that time, it already existed on a large scale in the nineteenth century. Benjamin Tucker's essay "State Socialism and Anarchism" described the four major forms of monopolistic privilege he saw as causing labor's wage to differ from its natural value (i.e., its product). And even before WWI, the state had intervened in all sorts of new ways (largely neglected by Tucker) to promote the rise of monopoly capitalism: subsidies to railroads and other "internal improvements," the cartelizing effects of patents, and the tariff as "mother of cartels."

For their part, the liberal intellectuals acquired not only prestige and a modicum of power in the new order, they also achieved the satisfaction of believing that this new system of government intervention was able to transcend the weaknesses and the social conflicts that they saw in the two major alternatives: laissez-faire capitalism or proletarian, Marxian socialism. The intellectuals saw the new order as bringing harmony and cooperation to all classes on behalf of the general welfare, under the aegis of big government. In the liberal view, the new order provided a middle way, a "vital center" for the nation, as contrasted to the divisive "extremes" of left and right.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Dan Sullivan on Green-Libertarian Alliance

An old essay by Dan Sullivan that's worth reading: "Greens and Libertarians: The yin and yang of our political future." It originally appeared in Green Revolution, Volume 49, No. 2 (Summer 1992).

The Libertarian Party is made up mostly of former conservatives who object to the Republican Party's penchant for militarism and its use of government to entrench powerful interests and shield them from market forces. The Green Party is made up mostly of former liberals who object to the Democratic Party's penchant for centralized bureaucracy and its frequent hypocritical disregard for natural systems of ecological balance, ranging from the human metabolism and the family unit to the ecology of the planet....

In The Green Alternative, a popular book among American Greens, author Brian Tokar states that "the real origin of the Green movement is the great social and political upheavals that swept the United States and the entire Western world during the 1960's." As part of that upheaval, I remember the charge by elders that we acted as though "we had invented sex." Mr. Tokar acts as though we had invented Green values.

Actually, all the innovative and vital features of the Greens stem from an earlier Green movement. The influx of disaffected liberals to the movement since the sixties has actually imbued that movement with many features early Greens would find offensive.

This periodical, for example, has been published more or less regularly since 1943, calling for intentional communities based on holistic living, decentralism, sharing natural bounty, freedom of trade, government by consensus, privately-generated honest monetary systems and a host of other societal reforms. Yet the founder, Ralph Borsodi, wrote extensively about the evils of the state, and would clearly oppose most of the interventionist policies brought to the Green Party by disaffected liberals and socialists. The same can be said of more famous proponents of Green values, such as Emerson and Thoreau.

The Green movement grew slowly and steadily and quite apart from mainstream liberalism throughout the sixties and seventies. In the eighties, however, it became clear that the liberal ship, and even more clear that the socialist ship, was headed for the political rocks. The left had simply lost credibility, even among those who felt oppressed by the current system. Gradually at first, discouraged leftists discovered the Green movement provided a more credible platform their positions.

Because of their excellent communications network, additional members of the left quickly discovered the Greens, embraced their values (at least superficially), joined their ranks and proceeded to drastically alter the Green agenda. For example, early Greens pushed for keeping economies more diverse and decentralized by promoting alternative, voluntary systems, and by criticizing lavish government expenditures on interstate highways, international airports, irrigation projects, and centralized bureaucracies that discriminated against small, independent entrepreneurs.

Today the National Platform of the Green Party calls for "municipalization" of industry (that is, decentralized socialism), limits on foreign trade to save American jobs (which they insist is not protectionism), and other devices to create artificial decentralization under the guiding hand of some benevolent central authority.

The influence of Greens who are fond of government intervention (referred to as Watermelons by more libertarian Greens) seems to be strongest at the national level and weakest within most Green local organizations. Despite the National Green Platform's resemblance to a new face on the old left, many people who are genuinely attracted to Green principles are either undermining or abandoning the left-dominated Green Party USA. Specifically, the principal of decentralism is being used to challenge the right of a national committee to dictate positions to local Greens. This is fortunate for those of us interested in a coalition of Greens and Libertarians, as reconciliation between the Green Left and libertarianism is clearly impossible....

The Libertarian Party was born in 1971. Like the Green Party, it has philosophical roots that extend far back into history. It emerged, however, at a time when conservatism was in decline. Just as Greens attract liberals today and are strongly influenced by the liberal agenda, Libertarians attracted conservatives and were influenced by their agenda. However, as Libertarians are more analytically rigorous, there are fewer blatant inconsistencies between their positions and their principles.

Libertarian bias tends to show up more in prioritization of issues than in any particular issue. For example, Libertarians are far more prone to complain about the capital gains tax than about many other taxes, even though there is nothing uniquely un-libertarian about that particular tax.

Many Libertarians ignore classic libertarian writings and dwell on the works of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises. The classical libertarians get mere superficial attention. For example, few have read Tragedy of the Commons, but many quote the title. Specifically, they are unwilling to recognize that the ecological mishaps like those referred to in that work had been absent for centuries when almost all land was common. As with the tragedy of the reservations, commons were abused because so many people had to share access to so little land. All this was a result of government sanction, allowing vast tracts of commonly held land to be appropriated by individuals without proper compensation to those who were dispossessed of access to the earth. These facts are ignored because they cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian conservatism.

Just as contemporary Greens have fondness for government and contempt for private property that their forebears did not share, Libertarians take an extreme position on private property and have hostility to all forms of government that their philosophical predecessors did not share.

Their refusal to acknowledge natural limits to private property and their insistence of unlimited protection of property by the state is their one great departure from their predecessors and their principles. For example, they dismiss the following statement by John Locke, known as the father of private property:

God gave the world in common to all mankind. Whenever, in any country, the proprietor ceases to be the improver, political economy has nothing to say in defense of landed property. When the "sacredness" of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.

They similarly ignore Adam Smith's statement that:

Ground rents [land values] are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Ground rents are, therefore, perhaps a species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.

Private ownership of the earth and its resources is the one area where Libertarians depart from their own philosophy. After all, their justification of property is in the right of individuals to the fruits of their labor. Because the earth is not a labor product, land value is not the fruit of its owner's labor. Indeed, all land titles are state-granted privileges, and Libertarians deny the right of the state to grant privileges.

Even here, Libertarians are on solid ground when they argue that freedom could not survive in a society where land tenure depended on bureaucratic discretion. They are split, however, over devices like land value taxation that would, with a minimum of bureaucracy, put the landless in a more tenable position with respect to land monopolists. Just as liberals dominate the National Greens, conservatives dominate the Libertarian position on this issue, though many Libertarians, including Karl Hess, former editor of the Libertarian Times, do not share that conservative position.

Again, this is a key issue for reconciliation. The Green tradition cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian claims that a subset of the people can claim unlimited title to the planet....

If the Libertarians accept that ownership of land is a privilege, and agree to pay a fair rent (or land value tax) for that privilege, they will hold the key to getting rid of property (building) tax, income tax, sales tax, amusement tax, and a host of other taxes. Furthermore, statistical evidence indicates that land value tax promotes compact, harmonious use of land and eliminates a root cause of poverty. In this case, adopting land tax can reduce the need for zoning and protection of rural land, and for housing projects, welfare, and a host of bureaucratic services for the poor.

Greens who study this issue will find that small and simple combination taxes that are essentially payments for exclusive access to common resources will address most of thier interests without complicated and intrusive bureaucracies. Land tax itself will eliminate land speculation and land monopoly, and will promote orderly development of land in cities and towns, taking developmental pressure off suburban and rural land.

Severence taxes on our common heritage of non-renewable resources can even-handedly reduce the rate of exploitation of these resources, conserving them for future generations.

Finally, taxes on pollution are really payments for exclusive use of our common rights to clean air and water. It reflects that the air and water is less valuable to the rest of us when it is polluted, and those who pollute literally owe us for the right to tresspass on our air and water.

Of course land monopoly will not solve all the problems by itself, but it is the key area where Greens and Libertarians are separated from each other as well as from thier own principles. Once this is reconciled, we can more readily work together on other issues where we are in agreement, such as liberating our monitary system the banking monopoly, ending military domination of foreign peoples, and ending government interference against people who commit victumless "crimes."

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