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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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Robert Williams Tribute

There was recently a documentary on Robert Williams on PBS. I missed it, but this review is a good one:

In the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1960s, Robert Williams seemed to be everywhere.

The civil rights activist's 1962 book "Negroes with Guns" is credited with being part of the intellectual foundation for the founding of the Black Panther Party....

But Williams name isn't included in most present-day accounts of the civil rights movement....

But while Williams used nonviolent protest and boycotts, he was also arming local blacks and teaching them marksmanship and self-defense. He and other activists lived in fear for their lives amid what the documentary describes as widespread and open Ku Klux Klan activity in Monroe and surrounding Union County, where [Timothy] Tyson said Klan rallies regularly attracted thousands of participants.

"We were never looking for trouble," said Yusef Crowder, a member of one of Williams' "Black Guard" units, in the film. "As long as you're peaceful, we're peaceful; but if you become violent, we have to become violent."

That approach had its merits. Here, from an earlier post of mine, are excerpts from some accounts of one example of Williams' armed self-defense actions in Monroe, a defense of the local NAACP chapter leader's house:

Civil rights volunteers, in groups of 50 a night, took turns standing guard at Albert Perry's house. They dug foxholes, piled up sandbags, and kept steel helmets and gas masks handy. They also stockpiled over 600 firearms.

On the night of October 5, 1957, a Klan motorcade approached the Perry house. The civil rights workers opened fire, having been told not to shoot unless necessary.

* * *

The fire was blistering, disciplined and frightening. The motorcade of about eighty cars, which had begun in a spirit of good fellowship, disintegrated into chaos, with panicky, robed men fleeing in every direction. Some had to abandon their automobiles and continue on foot.

Back to the review:

That position conflicted with the beliefs of some civil rights leaders and many of the white liberals who were beginning to support the movement. In 1959, the NAACP suspended Williams' chapter because of his Black Guard activities.

The two approaches clashed openly in the summer of 1961, when Freedom Riders from King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in Monroe to try to integrate the town through nonviolent protest — and prove to Williams that nonviolence was the best path. On a Sunday afternoon, they clashed with the Klan and others in downtown Monroe, sparking what Tyson and the documentary describe as a race riot.

In the middle of the chaos, a white couple drove into the heart of Monroe's black community and were surrounded by a mob.

"Williams comes out of his house, saying, 'You're not killing these people in my front yard,' and stops them from being killed," Tyson said. He kept the couple in his home for a couple of hours, shielding him from the mob — an action that led local police to charge him with kidnapping....

Tyson, author of the Williams biography "Radio Free Dixie," is interviewed extensively in the documentary. He believes Williams is left out of modern accounts of the civil rights movement because he "didn't fit into our kind of sugarcoated version" of that era.

"The history of the civil rights movement has been largely written by white liberals who admire the movement and in their sort of paternalistic way wish to protect it from its complexities," Tyson said. In writing a "politically acceptable and soothing account ... they've tended to grind off the rough edges and paper over the passionate differences of opinion."

He said many of the tributes to Rosa Parks following her death last year left out the fact that she was a black nationalist and a gun owner. Williams and Parks were close — when he was buried in Monroe following his death in 1996 at 71, Parks delivered his eulogy.

"Williams gets ignored because you can't tell his story without messing up the mainstream story," Tyson said.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Inequality and Work Hours

Stumbling and Mumbling cites a paper by Samuel Bowles and Yong-Jin Park showing a high correlation between working hours and inequality. They suggest the reason can be found in Veblen: the greater the degree of inequality, the more incentive the have-nots have to emulate the consumption of the haves.

But as I suggested in the comments, the association between inequality and work hours might also be explained by the backward-bending labor supply curve. Unlike other goods, the supply of which will increase indefinitely as the price increases, labor carries an inherent disutility. The laborer may increase his work hours to a certain point in response to increased pay, until he reaches what he regards as an ideal standard of living; after that, he may instead see further pay increases as reducing the number of hours he has to drag himself into his job to maintain that standard of living. In societies with high income disparity, the majority work longer hours because they have to. On the other hand, an increase in hourly pay might simply mean fewer hours have to be worked to produce the same standard of living. If cheap credit for starting up self-employment ventures were available, and the interest rates on mortgages and credit card debt were lower, considerably more people might be cutting back their work hours to part-time or retiring early.

There are reams of quotes available from the employing classes of Britain during the enclosures (see here for some of them), arguing that laborers couldn't be forced to work hard enough unless they were made destitute. When laborers had independent access to the means of subsistence, they worked at wage labor only seasonally, for supplemental income; they could afford to rely on subsistence farming for long periods, and go back to working for a boss only when they felt like it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A New Spin on "Stakeholder Society"

I missed this the first time around, but it's definitely worth reading if you haven't seen it. Tom Philpott of Bitter Greens Journal provides another infuriating example of how the government-agribusiness complex rigs the game against organic farming.

The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, controlled by Iowa State's College of Agriculture, was a lonely organic island in the vast chemical sea of government-funded agriculture research and education. It maintained a precarious existence at the Mecca of federally subsidized industrial hog farming and roundup-marinated corn.

But late last October, everything changed. A press release by the College of Agriculture announced that Fred Kirschenmann, the Leopold Center's director, had "accepted a new leadership role as a distinguished fellow of the center," with an interim director appointed in his place.

As it turns out, he was kicked upstairs. According to Kirschenmann's account, the "new leadership role" was sprung on him without warning.

"On Wednesday [Oct. 26] I received a letter from the interim dean asking me to resign by Friday and decide by then if I would accept the position of distinguished fellow at the center," Kirschenmann told me yesterday.

"I wrote her [the interim dean] back telling her I thought she was moving too fast, that there wouldn't be time for a smooth transition. She wrote back that it was a done deal -- she had already named a new director."

And the motives of the interim dean, Wendy Wintersteen, were pretty clear. It seems corporate agribusiness interests were gunning for Kirschenmann. He'd been on their shit list for a long time.

Although Wintersteen was on the search committee that hired Kirschenmann in 2000, and was initially supportive, her attitude took a dramatic change for the worse.

"She was always very supportive of what we were doing," Kirschenmann says. "Until about two years ago. Then she became very critical."

Her critique centered on the idea that in its work the Leopold Center was neglecting "key stakeholders," Kirschenmann adds. "But she never really clarified who those stakeholders were."

It's pretty obvious, though. The College of Agriculture is awash in corporate money from John Deere and Cargill, and the bulk of the research it churns out is along the lines of pleas for stronger "intellectual property" [sic] protection for GM seeds.

It's hard to understand how such companies could be "key stakeholders" in the Leopold Center, since they already owned the rest of the College lock, stock, and barrel, and the Leopold Center was set up to challenge that model of industrial agriculture. As the man says, "I am equal time."

Why did Wintersteen suddenly develop such a zeal for the interests of those "key stakeholders," to the point of sabotaging the Leopold Center's mission? I don't know how much thirty pieces of silver comes to in today's market, but I suspect it would look pretty good even to someone on an interim dean's salary.

Here, by the way, is contact info for Wendy Wintersteen:

Wendy K. Wintersteen
Interim dean, ISU College of Agriculture
e-mail: wwinters@iastate.edu

Friday, February 24, 2006

Chris Dillow: Managerialism and the Police State

More bitch-slaps for the managerialists at Stumbling and Mumbling. Chris Dillow suggests that Nulab's police statism can be explained by said managerialism.

In many walks of life, not just economic policy-making, there is a choice between using rules and using discretion. The choice often depends upon how much confidence you have in your ability to think rationally. If you think rationally is unbounded, you'll want to make ad hoc decisions, and use your discretion....

Blair... seems to reject the premise of bounded rationality and limited knowledge. He therefore thinks the state needn't be constrained by the rule of law, as it can do better by ad hoc interventions.

By the way, you ever notice how many apologists for the police state use the same ass-brained expression: "If you're not doing anything wrong, what have you got to worry about?" It implicitly assumes that the people engaged in electronic surveillance, warrantless searches, etc., mean well, and that the people running the state would never go after anyone who wasn't "doing anything wrong"--two characteristically managerialist assumptions, both quite unjustified, historically speaking.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Clockwork Orange

Chris Dillow, bane of managerialists, has a good one at Stumbling and Mumbling on Nulab's "Respect Action Plan" The document is the British equivalent of the smarmy, patronizing liberal authoritarianism and social engineering we'd associate with the Clintons in this country. Blair and his cohorts figure they need power to operate outside the regular common law system of due process to deal properly with Alex and his droogies. He hasn't yet proposed Pavlovian conditioning with Ludwig van's glorious Ninth in the background, but give him time.

Dillow quotes one passage:

If a group of local children were playing truant from school and hanging around on a street corner, people in deprived areas would be less likely to feel that people would do something about it than those in more affluent areas.

He suggests the reason:

.... it’s to do with power.

What people in deprived areas are deprived of is not (merely) money; in any historic or global perspective, the average tenant in such areas is amazingly prosperous.

Instead, what they lack is a feeling of power. From childhood, through schooling and into meaningless jobs, the poor learn that they have little ability to control or improve their own lives. This leads them to tolerate bad behaviour and littered environments in a way that richer people – who have a (possibly inflated) sense of their power – do not. They just feel that they don’t have the power to change things.

Of course, being managed from cradle to grave by liberal state school teachers and case workers might have something to do with that.

Could it be, then, that one solution to the problem of anti-social behaviour is to give power to the poor, ideally from an early age. If you bring democracy into workplaces, estates and even schools, people will get the impression that they can change things. This will give a sense of empowerment that will encourage people to intervene to counteract anti-social behaviour. The advantage of democracy - proper democracy, not an occasional choice between identical managerialists - is that it, eventually, changes the culture for the better.

Alexis de Tocqueville made just this point. The great benefit of democracy, he said, is that it (in the long-run) creates a civic spirit, and an active interest in improving one’s community....

Ripples From the Zambezi

Good post at Panchromatica on Sirolli's Ripples From the Zambezi: Passion, Entrepreneurship and the Rebirth of Local Economies.

Historically economic development practice in the UK has focussed on trying to pick winners and on a centralised big bang philosophy. It hasn’t worked. It hasn’t worked in economic terms and it hasn’t worked in welfare terms. The richest areas in the UK in the 1950s are still the richest now, and the poorest areas continue to fall behind.

By contrast, in Esperance Western Australia, (a town of 14,000 people) one man has over a period of 11 years assisted in the creation of 410 new businesses. In the region of Emilia-Romagna in Italy, with a population of around four million people, there is one business for every 11 people – and 90% of these employ less than 99 workers. The town of Carpi, with a population of 60,000, has 2,500 companies (with an average workforce of 5) generating $2 billion per year.

The most important aspect of all this is simple - it has happened without bloody revolution, without any so-called dictatorship of the proletariat. It has happened without anyone witing around for some millenarian conversion to the minimal state. They have just got on with it – a lesson that needs to be learnt by politicians of every ilk - by those of a ‘vulgar libertarian’ bent every bit as much as by the statists in the the Labour and Tory parties.

Ian provides a great Walt Anderson quote from the book:

To talk of political revolution as we have known it becomes irrelevant to our times. Nobody will have to overthrow the state; we will simply outgrow our need for many of its functions.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part XVI

Via Jason Stumpner on distributism yahoogroup. Thomas Woods. "What's Wrong with 'Distributism'"

Even granting the distributist premise that smaller businesses have been swallowed up by larger firms, it is by no means obvious that it is always preferable for a man to operate his own business rather than to work for another. It may well be that a man is better able to care for his family precisely if he does not own his own business or work the backbreaking schedule of running his own farm, partially because he is not ruined if the enterprise for which he works should have to close, and partially because he doubtless enjoys more leisure time that he can spend with his family than if he had the cares and responsibilities of his own business. Surely, therefore, we are dealing here with a matter for individual circumstances rather than crude generalization.

This makes the unwarranted assumption that working for someone else is the only way of reducing risk, as opposed to cooperative ownership, federation, etc.. It assumes, as a basic premise, the very thing that distributism objects to: that capital is concentrated in the hands of a few owners who hire wage labor, instead of widely distributed among the general population who pool it through cooperative mechanisms.

And the proper contrast is not between the work schedule of an American farmer, producing for a capitalist commodity market, despite the hindrances of banks and railroads, versus the early 19th century factory labor. The proper contrast is between a laborer making a subsistence living off a small family plot with access to a common, and supplementing his income when necessary with wage labor, versus that same factory worker. To compare the hours and quality of work of a genuine subsistence farmer with the mind-numbing 12- or 14-hour days in a dark satanic mill is a joke.

Suppose, moreover, that "distributism" had been in effect as the Industrial Revolution was developing in Britain in the late 18th century. We would have heard ceaseless laments regarding the increasing concentration of economic power and the dramatic growth in the number people working for wages. What we probably wouldn’t have heard about was the actual condition of those people who were seeking employment in the factories. They weren’t lucky enough to be able to make a profitable living in agriculture, and their families had not provided them with the tools necessary to enter an independent trade and operate one of the small shops that delight the distributist.

Had they not had the opportunity to work for a wage, therefore, they and their families would simply have starved. It is as simple as that. Capitalism, and not distributism, literally saved these people from utter destitution and made possible the enormous growth in population, in life expectancy, in health, and in living standards more generally that England experienced at the time and which later spread to western Europe at large....

To back this up, Woods quotes Mises and Hayek with variations on the "best available alternative" defense of working conditions in the early industrial revolution. That argument was the subject of my first "Vulgar Libertarianism Watch" piece. As I showed then, it is not "as simple as that." And "luck" had nothing to do with it--the land expropriations of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the "downsizing" of the agricultural population, were a case of the propertied classes making their own "luck." And the story if this, their luck, is written in letters of fire and blood.

Those who care to support locally based and smaller-scale agriculture have already been doing so for two decades now by means of community-supported agriculture, which is booming. On a purely voluntary basis, people who wish to support local agriculture pay several hundred dollars at the beginning of the year to provide the farmer with the capital he needs; they then receive locally grown produce for the rest of the year. The organizers of this movement, rather than wasting their time and ours complaining about the need for state intervention, actually did something: they put together a voluntary program that has enjoyed considerable success across the country. Perhaps, if distributists feel as strongly about their position as they claim, this example can provide a model of how their time might be better spent.

This is one thing I agree with, sort of. Belloc strikes me as profoundly pessimistic. He assumed that concentration of property in a few hands was the natural tendency of a free market, and that state intervention was needed to reverse that natural process. In fact, the concentration of wealth is overwhelmingly owing to existing state intervention. The working of a free market would break it up. Belloc might have been more optimistic had he seen the free market as working in favor of distributism rather than against it.

What wouldn't be a "waste of time," though, would be for the community-supported agriculture movement to lobby for an end to the subsidies and other competitive advantages the federal government provides to corporate agribusiness.

To the extent that the anti-corporate Left sees state intervention as necessary to break the present power of big business, it's owing to the fact (as Nock said), that vulgar libertarians and state socialists have a common interest in obscuring the nature of the present system. Vulgar libertarian apologists for big business like to pretend that the current winners got that way through superior efficiency in the market. And state socialists like to pretend, likewise, that a bureaucratic apparatus controlled by themselves is the only way to counter the natural outgrowth of big business from the free market.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Reality as Subversion

More Rushkoff.

We can take charge of the real reality they left behind. I mean the world we’re actually living in. The yards and streets and fingers and tongues. Let’s build bike lanes and barbecues, after school programs and AIDS care networks, places to play music and playgrounds for kids. They’re so busy monitoring the airwaves for signs of treason against the market or state that they’ve lost track of what’s happening between real people. Turn off your cell phone and speak to that guy sitting next to you on the bus. That’s about the most subversive thing you could do.

Instead, like well-meaning Pied Pipers, we play our tunes hoping the children might follow us instead of the other guy taking them off the cliff. But when we enter into that competition, we’re no better than the tune we can muster at that moment. If ours is more hypnotic or captivating than theirs, we win for the time being, and keep the kids believing our version of things until the next round.

And in entering that pissing contest, we deny ourselves the home field advantage. We live here, after all. If we can learn to sit still for a moment rather than following any of those phantoms, we can take over real reality, instead. It’s right here for the taking.

The technofascists, with Echelon, RFID chips, public surveillance cameras, and the like, have us under tighter surveillance at home than we could have imagined a generation ago; they have the globe under the closest thing to an unchallenged hegemony that's ever existed in history. In their wildest dreams, the PNAC types probably imagine a network orbital laser battle stations capable of incinerating ships and armed formations on the surface. Indeed, Ken Macleod depicts something like that as the basis of the US/UN Hegemony in The Star Fraction. But in Macleod's story, that Hegemony was overthrown in the end by asymmetrical warfare, fought by a loose coalition of insurgencies around the world. Their fluid guerrilla tactics never presented a a target for the orbital lasers; and they kept coming back with one offensive after another against the New World Order, until the cost of the constant counter-insurgency wars bled the U.S. economy dry.

I suspect that all these high-tech lines of defense, against would-be military rivals and against subversion at home, are a modern-day analog of the Maginot Line.

The Trained Dog Ethic

Michael Rushkoff writes:

Take a perfectly ethical and justified effort, like the advertising campaigns launched to keep kids from using cigarettes. In one of these commercials, a young teenager is doing pretty well impressing a girl – until he whips out his cigarette. Then, instead of appearing cool, the girl and her friends make it quite clear that the boy is now considered *un*cool. Another ad, part of the “truth” campaign, shows kids crashing the lobby of a cigarette company, a la Michael Moore, demanding to speak to the lying executives. While the first ad is shot in that quick-cut, off-balance style of the famous late-‘90s AT&T ads, the other is faux documentary – handheld, disorienting, and high impact.

Do the ends justify the means, here? The first commercial exploits what most commercials do: a young person’s deep sense of insecurity. Is it any better for a commercial to use this insecurity to keeps kids off cigarettes than it is to use it to addict them? As far as their lungs are concerned, yes. But as far as reducing their vulnerability to manipulative media, not at all. If anything, the don’t-smoke-because-you’ll-look-uncool ad only confuses the issue further, turning the choice not to smoke into a fashion statement, and ignoring any of its true advantages. And when a choice as important as what to do with your lungs is reduced to a matter as trivial as which brand of jeans or sneaker to wear, the young smoker is not well served. In fact, kids who are self-aware enough to reject people who advertise to them in this fashion might start smoking precisely because TV is telling them it’s uncool.

Rushkoff's remarks remind me of a couple of things. Back in the '80s, National Lampoon ran a parody called Get Off My Damn Back! magazine, spoofing such paternalistic PSAs, along with "pro-social" cartoons like the Get Along Gang ("Oh, our friend is about to try drugs! Let's help her in a non-violent, pro-social way!") I remember parody ads for bumper stickers with messages like "A Friend Lets a Friend Drive Any Damned Time He Wants To," "Who Gives a Hoot? Punch the Owl in the Snoot," and "If Somebody Offers You Drugs, Just Say 'Hey, Thanks, Man!'"

The leading character in Stephen King's novella Road Rage took a decidedly contrarian approach to public service announcements. He objected to what he called the "Trained Dog Ethic": the automatic tendency to believe whatever an authority figure on the TV told you, and to do whatever the TV told you good, responsible citizens were supposed to do. The story was set during the OPEC oil embargo of the early 1970s, and the airwaves were saturated with PSAs on what good citizens could do to save energy. When the TV told our protagonist to avoid unnecessary driving, he hopped in his car and cruised the freeway every waking hour. When it advised him that blenders were among the most energy-wasting substances, he deliberately filled one with guacamole and left it turned on until it burned out. He turned the thermostat all the way up to 80. Well, you get the idea.

I don't think it's necessarily a good idea to respond to such messages by deliberately acting against our own interests, just out of spite. But these examples of cantankerousness are a useful antidote to the all too prevalent tendency to take orders from the telescreen.

As I said in an earlier post on Who Moved My Cheese?, a genuinely educated person should instinctively distrust anything that those in authority are trying to get him to believe. The automatic response to any slick ad campaign, aimed at promoting "pro-social" values, should be to critique the agenda behind it. Unfortunately, the product the schools package as "education" is aimed at creating just the opposite tendency. From kindergarten on up, the central lesson learned in schools is to find out what is necessary to please those in authority, and then do it, in order to get that gold star or new line on one's resume. Information is something one gets from those officially qualified to dispense it. School is the beginning of a lifetime habit of only accepting knowledge filtered through the institutional culture of a large organization. Next time you watch a "news you can use" story on the local "health beat," notice the number of times the phrase "experts say" is used.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Ozark Blog

I've just started a new blog for Northwest Arkansas issues: Ozark Blog.

Of course, I need a new blog like I need a hole in the head. I'm already spread myself thin on writing commitments that I'm not doing justice to, and now I've got another thing to do a half-assed job at.

Sigh. Oh, well....

Help! Help! I'm Being Repressed!

Roderick Long recounts a rather involved debate on the relationship between state and social power, and adds some good observations of his own, in "A Lefter Shade of Thick."

Specifically, he quotes from an extended exchange between Charles Featherstone and Stephen Kinsella. The debate was set off by this remark of Featherstone's:

I suspect the reason the residue of cultural Leftism resonates as that there are a whole lot of people, many of whom live in Blue-state urban areas, who find "social power" as oppressive as any state power they could face. I am one of them.

In response, Kinsella treated Featherstone's concept of "social power" as the moral equivalent of the statist left's "market power," which is used to justify state intervention as a form of "self-defense":

I'm not sure what you mean by "social power" or "oppressive," but if by social power you mean some kind of influence that is not based on aggression; and if by oppressive you mean "violation of rights" (since you use it in comparison with state power, which is oppressive in a violent, aggressive way), then your statement does not seem consistent with libertarianism. For it would basically be implying that rights can be violated by both aggression, and by non-aggression--some generic concept of "oppression" which includes both real force and state power and violence, and other, non-violent means. But since rights are enforceable, force may be used against this oppression. Which would mean your statement implicitly endorses the idea that force can be used against non-force; i.e., that aggression is permissible. As I said, I don't think this is libertarian.

Featherstone, in reply, made this astute observation about the interplay of the state with private social power:

I did not want to suggest I endorsed the actual use of state power for anything. ... But I do believe that social power is a lot more subtle, and tends to work fairly closely with both real and implied state power, especially at local levels.

Long suggests that the statist left and the libertarian right have a misconception in common. The "progressive" justification for interventionism seems to be based on a train of logic something like this:

1. Nonviolent forms of influence are sometimes oppressive.

2. All forms of oppression are rights-violations and so may legitimately be combated by force.

3. Therefore: nonviolent forms of influence are sometimes rights-violations and so may legitimately be combated by force.

Kinsella, on the other hand, seems to assume an argument along these lines:

1. Nonviolent forms of influence are never rights-violations and so may not legitimately be combated by force.

2. All forms of oppression are rights-violations and so may legitimately be combated by force.

3. Therefore: nonviolent forms of influence are never oppressive.

But, Long argues, both sides share the same false premise: No. 2.

...there can be, and are, forms of oppression that are not violations of rights – and so are appropriately addressed by means other than force. Treating injustice as the only serious social evil unduly flattens the moral landscape. Nonviolent forms of oppression are evil partly because they tend to reinforce violent ones, and partly because they’re just bad in their own right....

He also links to an excellent essay by Charles Johnson (aka Rad Geek) on "thick" and "thin" libertarianism. The thick-thin distinction itself came from Jan Narveson's presentation to the Molinari Society in December of last year. Narveson distinguished between thin libertarianism, as a restriction on the initiation of force by the state narrowly defined, and thick libertarianism, which concerns broader cultural values as well. Thin libertarianism, to the extent that it is concerned only with the initiation of force by the state as such, is a little too thin. But a libertarianism which concerns itself with issues of social power that don't involve the initiation of force is too thick. The only legitimate concern of libertarianism, as such, is with the initiation of force.

Johnson suggests that Narveson isn't quite thick enough.

There seem to me to be at least four levels on which you might claim that libertarianism ought to go along with some thicker bundle of social and cultural commitments, practices, or projects — each with different upshots between the bundle and libertarianism.

1. The bundle might just be the application of libertarian principle to some special case — imagine an Aztec libertarian, who urged -- Of course libertarianism has upshots for religious beliefs! It means you have to give up human sacrifice to Huitzilopochtli. Here the bundle goes along with non-aggression simply in light of non-contradiction. Call this entailment thickness.

2. There might be cases in which the bundle could be rejected without a formal contradiction to the non-aggression principle, but not without in fact interfering with its application. There are cases in which people disagree over the line where my rights end and yours begin; and libertarians might argue that some thick bundles need to be preferred over others in order to avoid conceptual blinders against certain rights or forms of aggression. Think of the feminist criticism of the traditional division between the private and the political sphere and those who draw it in such a way that systematic violence and coercion within families are justified, or excused, or ignored, as something private and therefore less than a serious form of violent oppression. Or the way in which garden-variety collectivism prevents many non-libertarians from even recognizing taxation or legislation by a democratic government as a form of coercion in the first place. Here the bundle of commitments that libertarians need to have isn’t just a special application of libertarian principle; the argument calls in resources other than the non-aggression principle to determine just where and how the principle is properly applied. In that sense the thickness called for is thicker than entailment thickness; but the cash value of the thick commitments is still the direct contribution they make towards the full and complete application of the non-aggression principle. Call this application thickness.

3. There might be cases in which a bundle is neither strictly entailed by the non-aggression principle, nor necessary for its correct application, but may be a causal precondition for implementing the non-aggression principle in the real world. Thick libertarians might suggest cases in which it’s difficult or even impossible for a free society to emerge, or survive over the long term, or flourish, without the right bundle of commitments, because the wrong bundle (say, blind obedience to traditional authority), without logically conflicting with libertarianism, might still make it very hard for libertarian ideas to get much purchase in our actual society, or for a future free society to resist a collapse into statism or civil war. Since this offers instrumental grounds for, say, individualist self-reliance to be bundled along with libertarianism, call this instrumental thickness.

4. Some bundles might be consistent with the non-aggression principle, but might undermine or contradict the deeper reasons that justify libertarian principles in the first place. Here it would be claimed that the you could accept libertarianism without the thicker bundle consistently, but that you couldn’t do so reasonably, because rejecting the bundle means rejecting the grounds for your libertarianism. Call this grounds thickness.

5. Finally, it might be held that a thicker bundle should be adopted because it has its own reasons, independent of libertarian considerations, for being considered right; in this case, nothing more is being asserted than that you ought to be a libertarian (for whatever reason), and, as it happens, you also ought to accept some futher set of commitments (for independent reasons). Since no deeper relationship between the two is being asserted here, call this kind of thickness conjunction thickness.

In a subsequent post, Long makes this general observation on the relative importance of state and social forms of oppression:

Ever since libertarians and leftists went their separate ways, libertarians have specialised in understanding

a) governmental forms and mechanisms of oppression, and
b) the benefits of competitive, for-profit forms of voluntary association;

while leftists have specialised in understanding

c) non-governmental forms and mechanisms of oppression, and
d) the benefits of cooperative, not-for-profit forms of voluntary association.

Libertarians have a great deal to teach leftists about (a) and (b), but leftists likewise have a lot to teach libertarians about (c) and (d).

Norm Singleton jumped in, questioning whether there even is such an animal as a "non-violent form of oppression";

Also, maybe some of what the left complains about as oppression is totally justified, such as an employer imposing a dress code on employees [or making them read Who Moved My Cheese?].

This latter remark touches on what I've called (hat tip to Elizabeth Anderson) "contract feudalism." Long, in fact, challenges Singleton's visceral sympathy for the employer:

On the issue of dress codes, it depends what’s meant by “totally justified.” If it means “just” (in the sense of “non-rights-violating”), sure – at least so far as the employer’s position is not itself the result of state intervention on his or her behalf. (Rothbard was friendly to the idea that companies that owed their wealth primarily to state patronage should become the property of their employees.) But something can be just without being justified; there’s more to what virtue demands of us than merely refraining from violating rights. Whether a dress code is justified or not will depend, I suppose, on a variety of factors, including how relevant it is for the job and how burdensome or otherwise obnoxious it is for the workers. Suppose Colonial Bank announced that all its black employees had to dress as slaves. Unjust? Nope. Unjustified? Yup.

In any case, dress codes aren’t primarily what leftists complain about on behalf of employees. They mainly complain about low salaries, lack of job security, lack of voice in management decisions, and the petty chickenshit tyrannies of bosses. I think those problems stem in part from the lack of a competitive labour market, thanks to government intervention; nonviolent oppression draws much of its support from violent oppression, and so would be much weaker in a genuine free market. (That’s the point that leftists often miss.) But I don’t think such problems are reducible without remainder to government intervention; they also depend on cultural factors that need to be combated separately. (That’s the point that libertarians often miss.)

As further reading on "the 'labortarian' thesis that libertarians should return to the days when they shared many of the concerns of the labour movement," he links to a long series of posts by yours truly, Charles Johnson, and himself. I suggest you go over to his post and click on them all--even mine.

Long also draws Ayn Rand into the picture, pointing to her fictional treatment of private social pressures toward conformity as the primary evil in The Fountainhead (his original use of the argument appeared in an excellent essay on libertarian feminism coauthored with Charles Johnson).

Although its political implications are fairly clear, The Fountainhead pays relatively little attention to governmental oppression per se; its main focus is on social pressures that encourage conformity and penalize independence. Rand traces how such pressures operate through predominantly non-governmental and (in the libertarian sense) non-coercive means, in the business world, the media, and society generally.

Long has since written more on the left-libertarian aspects of Rand's thought, including this brilliant phrase:

Rand understood and emphasised the interlocking, systemic connections between governmental and cultural factors....

Here he cites Chris Sciabarra, surely the big dog on the block when it comes to this side of Rand scholarship. Sciabarra, in Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and in Total Freedom, delves deeply into the dialectical aspect of Rand's work: i.e., her treatment of the mutual interaction between Personal (psycho-epistemological/ethical), Cultural (linguistic/ideological), and Structural (economic/political) levels of analysis. The photo of Ayn Rand with close-cropped hair in Long's piece, by the way, is hot--certainly a word I'd ordinarily never use in the same sentence as Ayn Rand.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Susan Witt on Independent Local Economies

Via Bill Grennon on the Distributism list. A guest editorial in Vermont Commons by the E. F. Schumacher Society's Susan Witt.

If our common interest is to help establish a more independent Vermont Republic, then part of that effort will be to build a more independent Vermont economy—one in which, as economist Fritz Schumacher advocates in Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, the goods consumed in a region are produced in a region. Therefore, as the brilliant regional planner and intuitive economist Jane Jacobs argues in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, the strategy for economic development should be to generate import-replacement industries. She would have us examine what is now imported into the state and develop the conditions to instead produce those products from local resources with local labor. Unlike the branch of a multi-national corporation that might open and then suddenly close, driven by moody fluctuations in the global economy, a locally owned and managed business is more likely to establish a complex of economic and social interactions that build strong entwining regional roots, keeping the business in place and accountable to people, land, and community.

Leopold Kohr suggested that small markets were like harbors in a storm, insulated from the worst effects of large, anonymous commodity markets and financial fluctuations. The smaller the market area, the more likely that there will be ongoing relationships between buyers and sellers, regulated by local social ties; the expectations of sellers in regard to their market, and buyers in regard to their source of supply, will likewise be more stable and predicable. And local economic networks like LETS systems enable providers of goods and services to deal directly with one another, and translate their skills directly into exchange-value, without depending on the whims of an institutional employer.

Look at it this way: if a market gardener exchanges produce for the services of a plumber, that exchange relationship won't provide either one with an outlet for all his produce. But the farmer will have a reliable and stable outlet for the portion of his produce consumed by the plumber, and be able to reliably meet his plumbing needs--and vice versa. If they participate in a small LETS network, the more trades that are incorporated into the network, the more goods and services each participant will have a reliable source of, and the larger the portion of his own output will have a predictable outlet. The members will all be securing a major part of their need for goods and services, and obtain employment directly from one another, without any danger from the vagaries of the national economy, banking system, or currency.

Whatever economic needs you currently meet through the subsistence, barter, and gift economies, you'll likely continue to be able to meet even in a depression.

What then, is the responsibility of concerned citizens to help build a sustainable Vermont economy? An independent regional economy calls for new regional economic institutions for land, labor, and capital to embody the scale, purpose, and structure of our endeavors. These new institutions cannot be government-driven, and rightly so. They will be shaped by free associations of consumers and producers, working co-operatively, sharing the risk in creating an economy that reflects shared culture and shared values. Small in scale, transparent in structure, designed to profit the community rather than profit from the community, they can address our common concern for safe and fair working conditions; for production practices that keep our air and soil and waters clean, renewing our natural resources rather than depleting them; for innovation in the making and distribution of the basic necessities of food, clothing, shelter, and energy rather than luxury items; and for more equitable distribution of wealth.

Building of new economic institutions is hard work. Most of us rest complacently in our role as passive consumers, not co-producers and co-shapers of our own economies. But it is work that can be done, and fine beginnings are being made right here in Vermont in the development of local currencies, worker-owned businesses, community land trusts, and business alliances for local living economies.

Friday, February 17, 2006

William Greene on the Labor Theory of Value

There's an excellent post at In the Libertarian Labyrinth on William Greene's position on the labor theory of value. Shawn quotes, from the 1850 edition of Mutual Banking:

It is affirmed by some, that labor is the only true measure of value, that every thing is worth precisely what it costs in labor to produce it, and that the price of every thing ought always to be determined by the relative amount of labor expended in its production. We would remark, in answer to these affirmations, that there is such a thing as misdirected labor; and that a man may produce an article for which there is no demand, and which has, consequently, no exchangeable value. Again, Peter, working upon a poor soil, may, with an incredible expenditure of labor, produce a bushel of corn, while John, working on rich land, may raise a like quantity, in the same time, and with comparatively little labor: now we venture to affirm that the market value of these two bushels of corn, will (and ought to) depend, not on the relative quantities of labor expended in their production, but on the relative excellence of the grain: and if the bushel raised by Peter be of precisely the same quality as that raised by John, it is very probable that both bushels will sell in the market at precisely the same price. Price, or value, is therefore, determined by the law of supply and demand.

Shawn comments:

If ultimately, cost and price converge in Greene's model, it is because of market forces. There is no sign here that Greene adhere's to anything like a "cost principle" akin to Warren's.

That observation is very much to the point. A labor theory of value was implicit in Greene's mutual banking work, but it was quite different from that of Warren and the utopian socialists. The latter saw the labor theory of value, not as an empirical description of the functioning of the market, but as an ethical ideal to be realized by human volition--namely, through labor notes and contrived systems of that sort. Greene apparently had very little idea of what the Ricardian/Marxist version of the labor theory of value entailed. Marx, in his attack on Proudhon and the labor-note schemes of the Owenites and other utopians (especially in The Poverty of Philosophy), explicitly dealt with issues of socially unnecessary labor and sunk costs, in almost the same language Greene used above. Marx viewed the operation of the market price system through supply and demand as the mechanism by which price gravitated toward labor-value. The producer learned from market prices, ex post, whether and to what extent his labor was socially necessary. The market price signal, by providing this information, regulated whether and how much he would produce in the future, and thus (acting through supply) caused price to gravitate toward value. The utility-driven, subjectively motivated behavior of market actors did not contradict the labor theory of value, in other words, but was its means of operation.

Here is what Engels wrote in his Preface to the first German edition of Marx's Poverty of Philosophy:

In present-day capitalist society each individual capitalist produces off his own bat what, how and as much as he likes. The social demand, however, remains an unknown magnitude to him, both in regard to quality, the kind of objects required, and in regard to quantity.... Nevertheless, demand is finally satisfied in way or another, good or bad, and, taken as a whole, production is ultimately geared towards the objects required. How is this evening-out of the contradiction effected? By competition. And how does the competition bring about this solution? Simply by depreciating below their labour value those commodities which by their kind or amount are useless for immediate social requirements, and by making the producers feel... that they have produced either absolutely useless articles or ostensibly useful articles in unusable, superfluous quantity....

....[C]ontinual deviations of the prices of commodities from their values are the necessary condition in and through which the value of the commodities as such can come into existence. Only through the fluctuations of competition, and consequently of commodity prices, does the law of value of commodity production assert itself and the determination of the value of the commodity by the socially necessary labour time become a reality.... To desire, in a society of producers who exchange their commodities, to establish the determination of value by labour time, by forbidding competition to establish this determination of value through pressure on prices in the only way it can be established, is therefore merely to prove that... one has adopted the usual utopian disdain of economic laws.

....Only through the undervaluation or overvaluation of products is it forcibly brought home to the individual commodity producers what society requires or does not require and in what amounts.

And here is Marx, in the main body of the work:

It is not the sale of a given product at the price of its cost of production which constitutes the "proportional relation" of supply and demand, or the proportional quota of this product relatively to the sum total of production; it is the variations in demand and supply that show the producer what amount of a given commodity he must produce in order to receive at least the cost of production in exchange. And as these variations are continually occurring, there is also a continual movement of withdrawal and application of capital in the different branches of industry....

....Competition implements the law according to which the relative value of a product is determined by the labour time needed to produce it.

Or as Greene himself wrote,

There is a market price of commodities, depending on supply and demand, and a natural price, depending on the cost of production; and the market price is in a state of continual oscillation, being sometimes above, and sometimes below, the natural price; but, in the long run, the average of a series of years being taken, it coincides with it.

Tucker inherited all of Greene's differences with Warren; the Tucker labor theory of value, as an empirical law rather than a norm to be imposed, was much closer to Marx than to Proudhon. Tucker, a disciple of Greene, saw the approximation of price to labor-value as something that would occur by the natural laws of the market, once the state-enforced monopoly prices of land and capital were eliminated. For labor to receive its full product did not require a utopian labor-note currency; it only required that the banking industry be opened up to the laws of market competition.

Greene, as closely as his ideas approached the Ricardian understanding of the labor theory, seems to have had little familiarity with that version of it; his references to labor-value, rather, allude mainly to Smith and Malthus. In another passage, he referred to the Smithian idea of value being determined by the amount of labor a commodity could command, coupled with an iron law of wages:

Considered from this point of view, the price of commodities is regulated not by the labor expended in their production, but by the distress and want of the laboring class. The greater the distress of the laborer, the more willing will he be to work for low wages, that is, the higher will be the price he is willing to give for the necessaries of life. When the wife and children of the laborer ask for bread, and he has none to give them, then, according to the political economists, is the community prosperous and happy; for then the rate of wages is low, and commodities command a high price in labor. There is no device of the political economists so infernal as the one which ranks labor as a commodity, varying in value according to supply and demand....

This touches on the point at which Tucker and the individualists differed from Marx. For Marx, the difference between the value of labor-power as a commodity and the value of labor's product was a natural outcome of the market, once wage-labor had been instituted. For Tucker, on the contrary, it was an unnatural outcome caused by state-enforced monopoly returns to land and capital and state-enforced unequal exchange in the labor market. As Greene himself wrote, continuing in the passage above:

neither is there any device so unphilosophical; since the ratio of the supply of labor to the demand for it, is unvarying; for every producer is also a consumer, and rightfully, to the precise extent of the amount of his products—the laborer who saves up his wages, being, so far as society is concerned, and in the long run, a consumer of those wages. The supply and demand for labor is unvarying, and its price ought therefore to be constant. Labor is said to be value, not because it is itself merchandise, but because of the values it contains as it were in solution, or, to use the correct metaphysical term, in potentia.

I attempted, in Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, to present a schematic of the differences between the utopian, Marxist, and Tuckerite versions of the labor theory. Here is a brief statement of it, from "Introduction to Part II: Exploitation and the Political Means":

A central point of contention between Marx and the utopians was the extent to which the labor theory of value was a description of existing commodity exchange, or a prescription for rules of exchange in a reformed system. Marx criticized the utopians for erecting the law of value into a normative standard for a utopian society, rather than a law descriptive of existing capitalism. For him, the law of value described the process of exchange under capitalism as it was; the law of value was fully compatible with the existence of exploitation. His generalizations about exploitation assumed that commodities were exchanged according to their labor value; far from making profits impossible, exchange according to the law of value was presupposed as the foundation for surplus-value. Profit resulted from the difference in value between labor-power, as a commodity, and the labor-product; this was true even (or rather, especially) when all commodities exchanged at their value.

Some "utopians" (including Proudhon, the Owenites, and some Ricardian socialists), it is true, saw the labor theory as a call for a mandated set of rules (like Labor Notes, or modern proposals for government backing of a LETS system). For these, the law of value ruled out exploitation; but rather than seeing it as an automatically operating law of the market, they saw it as requiring the imposition of egalitarian "rules of the game."

But besides these two opposing theories, there was a possible third alternative that differed significantly from the first two. This third alternative considered all exploitation to be based on force; and the exploitative features of existing society to result from the intrusion of the element of coercion. Unlike utopianism, the third theory treated the law of value as something that operated automatically when not subject to interference. Unlike Marxism, it believed the unfettered operation of the law of value to be incompatible with exploitation. This school included, especially, the market-oriented Ricardian socialist Thomas Hodgskin, and the later individualist anarchists in America; they saw capitalism as exploitative to the extent that unequal exchange prevailed, under the influence of the State. Without such intervention, the normal operation of the law of value would automatically result in labor receiving its full product. For them, exploitation was not the natural outcome of a free market; the difference between the value of labor power as a commodity and the value of labor's product resulted, not from the existence of wage labor itself, but from state-imposed unequal exchange in the labor market. For them, the law of value was both the automatic mechanism by which a truly free market operated, and at the same time incompatible with exploitation.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Gonzales Reveals Contempt of Constitution, Congress

Via Progressive Review.

Refuses to say whether Bush has authorized spying on domestic calls, e-mails and letters or has approved warrentless searchs of Americans' homes and offices

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST - Gonzales offered the legislative branch little deference yesterday, and certainly no apology for the administration's decision not to seek congressional approval for its surveillance program. "The short answer is that we didn't think we needed to, quite frankly," he declared in a typical exchange.

When did the administration decide it had the authority? "I'm not going to give an exact date," he said.

What does the administration do with the information it collects? "I can't talk about specifics."

Is the information used to obtain search warrants? "I am uncomfortable talking in great detail."

More interesting than what the attorney general said was what he would not say. Has President Bush, invoking his "inherent powers" under the Constitution, also authorized warrantless eavesdropping on domestic calls, opening of Americans' mail and e-mail, and searches of their homes and offices?

"I am not comfortable going down the road of saying yes or no as to what the president has or has not authorized," Gonzales, shifting frequently in his chair, informed the senators. . .


SEN. FEINGOLD: I - Judge Gonzales, let me ask a broader question. I'm asking you whether in general the president has the constitutional authority, does he at least in theory have the authority to authorize violations of the criminal law under duly enacted statutes simply because he's commander in chief? Does he - does he have that power?

MR. GONZALES: Senator, I - you - in my judgment, you phrase it sort of a hypothetical situation. I would have to know what - what is the - what is the national interest that the president may have to consider. What I'm saying is, it is impossible to me, based upon the question as you've presented it to me, to answer that question. I can say, is that there is a presumption of constitutionality with respect to any statute passed by Congress. I will take an oath to defend the statutes. And to the extent that there is a decision made to ignore a statute, I consider that a very significant decision, and one that I would personally be involved with, I commit to you on that, and one we will take with a great deal of care and seriousness.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Well, that sounds to me like the president still remains above the law.

MR. GONZALES: No, sir.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Again, you know, if this is something where - where it - you take a good look at it, you give a presumption that the president ought to follow the law, that - you know, that's - to me, that's not good enough under our system of government.

MR. GONZALES: Senator, if I might respond to that, the president is not above the law. Of course he's not above the law. But he has an obligation, too. He takes an oath as well. And if Congress passes a law that is unconstitutional, there is a practice and a tradition recognized by presidents of both parties that he may elect to decide not to enforce that law. Now, I think that that would be -

SEN. FEINGOLD: I recognize that, and I tried to make that distinction, Judge, between electing not to enforce as opposed to affirmatively telling people they can do certain things in contravention of the law.

MR. GONZALES: Senator, this president is not - I - it is not the policy or the agenda of this president to authorize actions that would be in contravention of our criminal statutes.

SEN. FEINGOLD: Finally, will you commit to notify Congress if the president makes this type of decision and not wait two years until a memo is leaked about it?

MR. GONZALES: I will to advise the Congress as soon as I reasonably can, yes, sir.

Jon Carroll on Who Moved My Cheese?

"Who Moved My Cheese?" is much used in corporate settings. Employees are ordered to read the book, to write reports about the book, to break into groups and discuss the book. The principles of the book are referred to in meetings. It is a huge hit among managers, and a huge pain for employees....

The author seems to think that "cheese" is a metaphor for "success in business," but the employees forced to read the book know the truth: "Cheese" is a metaphor for "continued employment." Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that a flurry of cheese sessions often precedes layoffs....

Employees are encouraged to emulate the mice and/or learn from the travails of the littlepeople. These are interesting choices of role models -- small and powerless things who forever run around a maze because they need cheese....

AND THE EMPLOYEES get the message. No matter how wrapped up in New Age jargon it is, the message is: Ask only small questions. Accept whatever you are told. If it's cheese day at the office, say "thank you" and give a nice cringing presentation about moving with the times.

And let go of that useless nostalgia for, say, times when everyone was on the medical plan, when the concept of "overtime" was meaningful, when memos made sense, when cowardly consultants were not creeping around figuring out whom to fire, when there was a leader in the company who welcomed challenges, had fun doing the job and did not need a dopey little book, because the job itself had meaning.

Reading "Who Moved My Cheese?" I was reminded of another book about "littlepeople" who were constantly required to survive in a mazelike environment characterized by cruel and arbitrary change, another place where the search for cheese was constant. That book is "The Gulag Archipelago."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Gatto: The True History of Public Education

Via Progressive Review. Quotes taken from The Underground History of American Education.

MEMORY HOLE - John Taylor Gatto was voted the New York City Teacher of the Year three times and the New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. But he became disillusioned with schools - the way they enforce conformity, the way they kill the natural creativity, inquisitiveness, and love of learning that every little child has at the beginning. So he began to dig into terra incognita, the roots of America's educational system.

In 1888, the Senate Committee on Education was getting jittery about the localized, non-standardized, non-mandatory form of education that was actually teaching children to read at advanced levels, to comprehend history, and, egads, to think for themselves. The committee's report stated, "We believe that education is one of the principal causes of discontent of late years manifesting itself among the laboring classes." By the turn of the century, America's new educrats were pushing a new form of schooling with a new mission (and it wasn't to teach). The famous philosopher and educator John Dewey wrote in 1897:

"Every teacher should realize he is a social servant set apart for the maintenance of the proper social order and the securing of the right social growth."

In his 1905 dissertation for Columbia Teachers College, Elwood Cubberly - the future Dean of Education at Stanford - wrote that schools should be factories "in which raw products, children, are to be shaped and formed into finished products. . . manufactured like nails, and the specifications for manufacturing will come from government and industry."

The next year, the Rockefeller Education Board - which funded the creation of numerous public schools-issued a statement which read in part:

"In our dreams. . . people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hands. The present educational conventions [intellectual and character education] fade from our minds, and unhampered by tradition we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or men of science. We have not to raise up from among them authors, educators, poets or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians, nor lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we have ample supply. The task we set before ourselves is very simple. . . we will organize children. . . and teach them to do in a perfect way the things their fathers and mothers are doing in an imperfect way."

At the same time, William Torrey Harris, US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906, wrote:

"Ninety-nine [students] out of a hundred are automata, careful to walk in prescribed paths, careful to follow the prescribed custom. This is not an accident but the result of substantial education, which, scientifically defined, is the subsumption of the individual."

In that same book, The Philosophy of Education, Harris also revealed:

"The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places. . . It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature. School should develop the power to withdraw from the external world."

Several years later, President Woodrow Wilson would echo these sentiments in a speech to businessmen:

"We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."

Writes Gatto: "Another major architect of standardized testing, H.H. Goddard, said in his book Human Efficiency (1920) that government schooling was about 'the perfect organization of the hive.'"

While President of Harvard from 1933 to 1953, James Bryant Conant wrote that the change to a forced, rigid, potential-destroying educational system had been demanded by "certain industrialists and the innovative who were altering the nature of the industrial process."

In other words, the captains of industry and government explicitly wanted an educational system that would maintain social order by teaching us just enough to get by but not enough so that we could think for ourselves, question the sociopolitical order, or communicate articulately. We were to become good worker-drones, with a razor-thin slice of the population-mainly the children of the captains of industry and government-to rise to the level where they could continue running things.

Or as Hitler envisioned "education" for the Slavic Untermenschen in the occupied Eastern territories of his greater German reich, teach them to count to a hundred and read road signs. Rather than liberal education, we have servile education.

This was the openly admitted blueprint for the public schooling system, a blueprint which remains unchanged to this day. Although the true reasons behind it aren't often publicly expressed, they're apparently still known within education circles. Clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine wrote in 2001:

"I once consulted with a teacher of an extremely bright eight-year-old boy labeled with oppositional defiant disorder. I suggested that perhaps the boy didn't have a disease, but was just bored. His teacher, a pleasant woman, agreed with me. However, she added, "They told us at the state conference that our job is to get them ready for the work world. . . that the children have to get used to not being stimulated all the time or they will lose their jobs in the real world.'"

Or, if the state wasn't there to mass produce docile "human resources," employers might be forced to compete for labor by accommodating working conditions to the kinds of real people who were available for employment.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Autonomism and the State

Via Terry Burgess on LeftLibertarian. A Marxist critique of autonomism by Claudio Katz in International Socialist Review. Although Katz critiques autonomism from the perspective of a state socialist, emphasizing the insufficiency of counter-institutions alone and the need for a new socialist political regime to replace the present system, some of his criticisms are relevant to an anarchist perspective.

As I argued in an earlier post ("The Revolution is Not Being Televised"), it is a mistake, when engaged in building counter-institutions as the basis of a new society, to ignore the political arena. Unlike Katz, the anarchist does not focus on the political arena for the sake of creating a successor regime. The anarchist's goal is to contest the existing system of power, to seize its commanding heights, and to dismantle it and devolve its functions to civil society. But to do this, some form of political engagement is necessary. It is not enough to simply withdraw consent, until "the last one out turns off the lights." So long as privileged classes find it in their rational self-interest to support the state, there is the danger that they, with a minority of dupes from the producing classes, and with the security forces directly engaged in coercion, will attempt to retain power through open repression even when the illusion of majority support is withdrawn: the Iron Heel scenario, in other words. Until the remains of the state are seized and dismantled once and for all, it cannot simply be treated as though it does not exist. I also dealt with these questions in the introductory section of "A 'Political' Program for Anarchists."

In addition to Katz's useful observations on contesting control of the political sphere, his general account of autonomist movements is of interest also.

They [autonomists] broadcast a moral critique of capitalism from an anti-authoritarian perspective, rejecting all forms of leadership and state power. They use a libertarian language and defend autoorganización [self-organization], emphasizing values of solidarity and community. They question participation in mainstream institutions and encourage autogestión [self-management] in the economic sphere....

Zibechi [Genealogía de la revuelta (Letra Libre: Buenos Aires, 2003)] synthesizes many of these viewpoints in the political sphere, because he identifies the autonomist project with the practice of various social movements in the region. He asserts this connection in his analysis of the Zapatistas in Mexico, the MST [Landless Workers’ Movement] in Brazil, the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, the Bolivian cocaleros [coca growers], and the Argentine piqueteros [the unemployed workers’ movement]....

The popular uprising of 2001–2003 in Argentina was a particularly relevant experience for the autonomists because they concluded that their project was beginning to take shape in the organizations emerging during this rebellion. They presented the neighborhood assemblies and the piquetero protests as examples of a new emancipatory autoorganización and extended this assessment to the bartering clubs (where workers and farmers exchanged goods and services without cash), the reoccupied factories, and the counter-cultural collectives.

But the upsurge of these experiments in popular control did not prevent the old political system from reestablishing itself in record time. The bourgeoisie’s recovery weakened the assemblies and pickets and diminished expectations for the continuation of popular action. The ruling classes deactivated the immediate democratic demand “Que se vayan todos” [“They all must go”] through governmental channels that the uprising was not able to counteract.

The autonomists did not grasp that the oppressors took advantage of the limitations of a rebellion that took militant action, but lacked organization, leadership, and ideological coherence. Moreover, they celebrate these features as a sign of the uprising’s novelty (“a festival without programs, nor objectives”).

The assemblies emerged when the collapse of government institutions turned neoliberal propaganda against politicians and the “government” into a radicalized mobilization against the entire regime. The assemblies focused popular participation in the key moments of the uprising, but they declined when the ruling class regained the reigns of power. Many autonomists refuse to see this, forgetting that the oppressed cannot liberate themselves if they do not develop their own political project. They do not consider this to be an obstacle because they think that the social movements will construct a new society from the spontaneous act of rebellion.

This vision extends to the characterization of the piqueteros as architects of parallel forms of social organization. Many autonomists see them as creators of political networks and economic alternatives, and therefore conclude that the piqueteros “do not want to be workers, or citizens.”
But the experience of recent years does not bear out this characterization. The piqueteros always attempt to join with other oppressed groups and bring their marches into the centers of the cities to avoid isolation in remote localities.

It is wrong to suppose that the piqueteros do not want to return to formal work or that they have constructed an identity opposed to that of workers. This belief contradicts the core of the demands and actions of the unemployed. They always demand unemployment assistance and reinstatement in the formal workforce. In their mobilizations they demand genuine employment and decent salaries.

During the popular rebellion many varieties of economic organization proposed by autonomism flourished. Of these, the bartering clubs were particularly short-lived because they took commerce back to primitive forms. Bartering only lasted under the particular circumstances created by devaluation of the peso and issuance of province-level currencies. As the circulation of goods and the cash economy recovered, the bartering clubs disappeared.

The impulse that fueled other experiments also diminished under the impact of the economic recovery. Capitalism’s competitive pressure especially affected the self-managed shops. Some autonomists lose sight of the defensive character of these experiments, which emerged as a means of survival at the height of economic crisis. Because the principal objective of these initiatives was to preserve some source of income in the midst of the catastrophe, they began to decline when the depression receded.

But many bakeries, soup kitchens, and peoples’ gardens continue to exist because they were creations of popular struggle. They developed without government assistance, but only with the support of the community. Now they are part of the tradition of resistance because they demonstrate that the unemployed are not lazy and could surely contribute to the development of a people’s program for economic recovery. But they do not generate large-scale employment, nor provide income to the bulk of the population. Many autonomists ignore these limitations.

The worker-managed enterprises constitute another major achievement of the rebellion. They won difficult battles with the courts, governments, and ex-proprietors that wanted to expel them or to strangle them economically. They survived repression, from judicial attacks to financial strangulation, showing that they could run the businesses without the bosses.
But certain autonomists forget that these companies operate in a limited segment of the labor force and should not be idealized. They ignore the difficulties created by government pressure to convert them into small capitalist firms. The worker-managed enterprises can develop and assist an emancipatory project. But it is wrong to imagine they are liberated islands within a capitalist universe....

The autonomists extend their romantic vision of the rebellion in Argentina to all of the social movements of Latin America. With this projection they frequently ignore the difficulties these organizations have in winning their demands in the political arena.

The autonomists refuse to grasp the fact that the representatives of the ruling classes co-opt many popular movements. They do not recognize the importance of the challenges that confront the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, the landless of Brazil, or the cocaleros of Bolivia in the face of betrayals, neoliberal policies, and right-wing repression from the governments that emerged from their struggles. They promote an idyllic image of the social movements, acting as if these groups advance from strength to strength.

The autonomists trust in the sufficiency of the social struggle and dismiss the necessity of a socialist political project of the oppressed. They think that the accumulated experience in popular action leads to the spontaneous development of anti-capitalist sentiments within the population....

The defense of social struggle at the expense of political action leads many of the autonomists to promote the expansion of an “anti-power” outside the boundaries of bourgeois institutions. They proclaim this alternative will be constructed by means of direct democracy, with horizontal methods and by avoiding all types of hierarchies. But they do not present evidence of the implementation of these proposals, nor do they take into account the obstacles that confront these mechanisms.
These difficulties have been, for example, recognized by many autonomist militants who have participated in the neighborhood assemblies in Argentina. That experience proved that the absence of rules of procedure and the lack of criteria for adopting majority decisions were as damaging as doing without an elected and accountable leadership.

Undoubtedly, self-organization plays a decisive role in any popular explosion, but experience shows that this mobilization declines in periods of retreat. For this reason it is necessary to have stable, continuous popular organization that is reinforced with forms of indirect representation. Only on a small local scale can these measures be set aside.

The operation of the contemporary economy and the complexity of the political choices that confront society today demand that we delegate authority and use legislative tools. The different forms of direct democracy proposed by autonomists could only contribute in a complementary way to the organization of society in the process of constructing a socialist society.

Autonomism counterposes the broadening of communal forms of democracy to the institutions of the bourgeois regime. For this reason, autonomists regularly oppose participation in elections, or hold their noses to take part in certain races. They only intervene explicitly when they perceive a serious right-wing threat. But in these cases they do not support candidates of the social movements, but rather proponents of the “lesser evil” of the same oppressive regime. This anti-electoralism fails to understand the role that elections play in preparing for the future creation of true democracy under a workers’ government.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Phaedrus on the Church of Reason

From Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Compare this to Paul Goodman's treatment of "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" motivation in The Community of Scholars. Replacing intrinsic with extrinsic motivation isn't just a sad necessity. It is vital to the existence of all hierarchical organizations. In the case of education, a student who pursues an intellectual interest for its own sake is dangerous to the educational hierarchy, because he sees it at best as a means to his own end, and at worst as a hindrance. To be considered safe, he must learn for the sake of the gold star on his paper, or the new line on his resume. Starting in school, the future human resource must be broken of the habit of doing anything for its own sake, and instead be inculcated with a desire for whatever carrot the organization has to offer.

Phædrus’ argument for the abolition of the degree-and- grading system produced a nonplussed or negative reaction in all but a few students at first, since it seemed, on first judgment, to destroy the whole University system. One student laid it wide open when she said with complete candor, "Of course you can’t eliminate the degree and grading system. After all, that’s what we’re here for."

She spoke the complete truth. The idea that the majority of students attend a university for an education independent of the degree and grades is a little hypocrisy everyone is happier not to expose. Occasionally some students do arrive for an education but rote and the mechanical nature of the institution soon converts them to a less idealistic attitude.

The demonstrator was an argument that elimination of grades and degrees would destroy this hypocrisy. Rather than deal with generalities it dealt with the specific career of an imaginary student who more or less typified what was found in the classroom, a student completely conditioned to work for a grade rather than for the knowledge the grade was supposed to represent.

Such a student, the demonstrator hypothesized, would go to his first class, get his first assignment and probably do it out of habit. He might go to his second and third as well. But eventually the novelty of the course would wear off and, because his academic life was not his only life, the pressure of other obligations or desires would create circumstances where he just would not be able to get an assignment in.

Since there was no degree or grading system he would incur no penalty for this. Subsequent lectures which presumed he’d completed the assignment might be a little more difficult to understand, however, and this difficulty, in turn, might weaken his interest to a point where the next assignment, which he would find quite hard, would also be dropped. Again no penalty.

In time his weaker and weaker understanding of what the lectures were about would make it more and more difficult for him to pay attention in class. Eventually he would see he wasn’t learning much; and facing the continual pressure of outside obligations, he would stop studying, feel guilty about this and stop attending class. Again, no penalty would be attached.

But what had happened? The student, with no hard feelings on anybody’s part, would have flunked himself out. Good! This is what should have happened. He wasn’t there for a real education in the first place and had no real business there at all. A large amount of money and effort had been saved and there would be no stigma of failure and ruin to haunt him the rest of his life. No bridges had been burned.

The student’s biggest problem was a slave mentality which had been built into him by years of carrot-and- whip grading, a mule mentality which said, "If you don’t whip me, I won’t work." He didn’t get whipped. He didn’t work. And the cart of civilization, which he supposedly was being trained to pull, was just going to have to creak along a little slower without him.

This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, "the system," is pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, "location" point of view, but it’s not the Church attitude.

The Church attitude is that civilization, or "the system" or "society" or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.

The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he’d abandoned, in what used to be called the "school of hard knocks." Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe as a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that’s what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d found his level. But don’t count on it.

In time...six months; five years, perhaps...a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-to-day shopwork. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now become reawakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He’d think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn’t have the theoretical information. He would discover that when before he felt stupid because of his lack of interest in theoretical information, he’d now find a brand of theoretical information which he’d have a lot of respect for, namely, mechanical engineering.

So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He’d no longer be a grade-motivated person. He’d be a knowledge-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He’d be a free man. He wouldn’t need a lot of discipline to shape him up. In fact, if the instructors assigned him were slacking on the job he would be likely to shape them up by asking rude questions. He’d be there to learn something, would be paying to learn something and they’d better come up with it.

Motivation of this sort, once it catches hold, is a ferocious force, and in the gradeless, degreeless institution where our student would find himself, he wouldn’t stop with rote engineering information. Physics and mathematics were going to come within his sphere of interest because he’d see he needed them. Metallurgy and electrical engineering would come up for attention. And, in the process of intellectual maturing that these abstract studies gave him, he would he likely to branch out into other theoretical areas that weren’t directly related to machines but had become a part of a newer larger goal. This larger goal wouldn’t be the imitation of education in Universities today, glossed over and concealed by grades and degrees that give the appearance of something happening when, in fact, almost nothing is going on. It would be the real thing.

Friday, February 10, 2006

If You've Done Nothing Wrong, You've Got Nothing to Hide

Payback's a bitch. But it still isn't enough. None of these cops who's pissing and moaning has had evidence planted in his car. None of them got kicked to death for "resisting arrest" (i.e., being unable to stop writhing in agony from the previous kicks and baton blows), or tasered to death or picked up by his handcuffs until his wrists snapped for "non-compliance" (i.e., being in a diabetic coma). When they are, they can complain. But seeing them get even a small taste of what it's like for those of us at the other end of their "protection and service" is mighty sweet.

Via Ed Stamm on the VCM Discussion list:

Police Officers Sue over Police Surveillance of Their Protests

The demonstrators arrived angry, departed furious. The police had herded them into pens. Stopped them from handing out fliers. Threatened them with arrest for standing on public sidewalks. Made notes on which politicians they cheered and who they razzed.

Meanwhile, officers from a special unit videotaped their faces, evoking for one demonstrator the unblinking eye of George Orwell's "1984."

"That's Big Brother watching you," the demonstrator, Walter Liddy, said in a deposition.

Mr. Liddy's complaint about police tactics, while hardly novel from a big-city protester, stands out because of his job: He is a New York City police officer. The rallies he attended were organized in the summer of 2004 by his union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, to protest the pace of contract talks with the city.

Now the officers, through their union, are suing the city, charging that the police procedures at their demonstrations - many of them routinely used at war protests, antipoverty marches and mass bike rides - were so heavy-handed and intimidating that their First Amendment rights were violated.

A lawyer for the city said the police union members were treated no differently than hundreds of thousands of people at other gatherings, with public safety and free speech both protected. The department observes all constitutional requirements, the city maintains.

The lawsuit by the police union brings a distinctive voice to the charged debate over how the city has monitored political protest since Sept. 11. The off-duty officers faced a "constant threat of arrest," Officer Liddy testified, all but echoing the complaint by activists for other causes that the city has effectively "criminalized dissent."

Since [the 2001 attacks], police officers in disguise have taken part in demonstrations, an approach the Police Department says it used before receiving the expanded powers; other officers have made hundreds of hours of videotapes of people involved in protests and rallies, very few of whom were charged with breaking any law. Neither form of surveillance, the city argues, violates the Constitution....

During a deposition of the chief of department, Joseph Esposito, who is the department's top uniformed official, Ms. McNamara read parts of a report prepared by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau, which noted that the protesters included members of the Police and Fire Department unions.

"In Paragraph 4, it says that members of both departments called out to the mayor for pay raises," Ms. McNamara said, according to the court transcript, "In Paragraph 5, it notes that the protesters clapped and cheered when former Mayor Koch appeared."

She asked, "What would be the basis for them recording the content of the protesters' demonstrations?"

Chief Esposito responded: "Just to record what they observed."....

At Chief Esposito's deposition, Ms. McNamara asked, "Would there be any reason, to your knowledge, for them to be taping the protest to zoom in and individually photograph each officer at the protest?"

"I don't know," he replied.

"Do you know any legitimate reason for such documentation of individuals at the protest?" Ms. McNamara asked.

The chief replied, "Document presence for further identification in the event there was misconduct."....

In 2003, a federal judge found that the Police Department had scrutinized the beliefs of antiwar protesters without legitimate reason. After antiwar rallies in February and March 2003, 12 people who were arrested said they were questioned on their political thinking by detectives.....

Via Progressive Review:


The irony couldn't be more clear. New York City police and their union, the Police Benevolent Association, are suing the NYPD for spying on them at rallies and demonstrations held during their contract dispute with the city in the summer of 2004. As reported on the front page of [the] New York Times, the lawsuit, whose plaintiffs include New York firefighters and other police unions, charges that the NYPD's own surveillance of off-duty cops who attended these rallies was so heavy-handed and "intimidating" that it violated their civil rights. The cops' lawyer even called videotaping a form of "political harassment."

Talk about the cat calling the kettle black. For years activists at antiwar demos, Critical Mass bike rides and other political protests have found themselves under the heavy gaze of camera-toting TARU (Technical Assistance Response) officers seemingly recording their every move. "For years we have complained about the NYPD videotaping protesters," says Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has been fighting to curb police surveillance of activists since it filed its landmark Handschu case in 1971."It's nice to see that police officers now agree with us," Dunn adds. "It sure is ironic, however, how cops turn into the biggest advocates of constitutional rights when they become the targets of police misconduct."