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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, September 27, 2005

Nulab's Economic Fascism

Via Dr. Chris Tame of the Libertarian Alliance yahoogroup. "Private firms to take over NHS staff"

Tony Blair was accused of planning the privatisation of the health service yesterday after it was revealed that some NHS buildings and staff will be transferred to the private sector.

Firms applying for contracts worth a total of £3 billion to run a new generation of treatment centres have been told that in some cases they may take over NHS facilities and employ NHS staff.

Patricia Hewitt, the Health Secretary, said there was "no question" of the NHS being privatised and that it was "nonsense".

But union leaders and doctors claimed that private healthcare firms were gaining unprecedented control over the NHS.

Three years ago the Department for Health announced that it was expanding NHS capacity by paying for operations to be carried out in privately run treatment centres....

The Government is now inviting bids for a second wave of treatment centres and, according to details of the tender documents leaked to a newspaper, some contractors will be allowed to take over NHS facilities.

In Birmingham and the New Forest, private firms will be allowed to take over state-of-the-art operating theatres built for the NHS.

The Adam Smith Institute should be all over this, since it's just the kind of "privatization" they like. I've noted before (most of the links are here) that what passes for "privatization" is usually just crony capitalism: sharing taxpayer-funded loot with politically connected corporatists in the nominally "private sector." As Nigel Meek said in response to the National Health story:

"Privatising" only in the sense that directors and shareholders of certain companies may well benefit financially. The state will still ultimately direct the whole show. This is an example of the corporatism typical of New Labour. They've moved the not very great difference from socialism to that "socialism for grown-ups" otherwise known as fascism. The instincts and ultimate state direction remain the same but it incorporates sufficient elements of "business" - e.g. personal incentives and rewards - to make the whole thing work after a fashion.

Remember: "business" and a genuine "free market" as libertarians understand it - i.e. the "economic" element of a social system of reciprocal individual liberty - need have little connection. Auschwitz was a commercial enterprise involving the Nazi government, big business and the luckless slaves working (to death) in the complex. We need to keep repeating this and indeed opposing such "privatisation" and making clear the thoroughgoing libertarian alternatives.

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Monday, September 26, 2005

The War on Posse Comitatus

Via Progressive Review, as part of its recurring feature entitled (appropriately enough) The Creeping Coup. The original appeared under the much more innocuous title "Military May Play Bigger Relief Role":

President Bush's push to give the military a bigger role in responding to major disasters like Hurricane Katrina could lead to a loosening of legal limits on the use of federal troops on U.S. soil. Pentagon officials are reviewing that possibility, and some in Congress agree it needs to be considered....

At question is how far to push the military role, which by law may not include actions that can be defined as law enforcement _ stopping traffic, searching people, seizing property or making arrests. That prohibition is spelled out in the Posse Comitatus Act of enacted after the Civil War mainly to prevent federal troops from supervising elections in former Confederate states.

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. John Warner, R-Va., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said, "I believe the time has come that we reflect on the Posse Comitatus Act." He advocated giving the president and the secretary of defense "correct standby authorities" to manage disasters....

Uh huh. I guess Warner, like many in his party, is one of those "strict constitutionalists" who opposes "judicial activism"--except when it comes to "executive privilege," the President's "national security" prerogatives, and the garrison state.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is reviewing a wide range of possible changes in the way the military could be used in domestic emergencies, spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said Friday. He said these included possible changes in the relationship between federal and state military authorities. Under the existing relationship, a state's governor is chiefly responsible for disaster preparedness and response....

Rumsfeld has not made recommendations to Bush, but among the issues he is examining is the viability of the Posse Comitatus Act. Di Rita called it one of the "very archaic laws" from a different era in U.S. history that limits the Pentagon's flexibility in responding to 21st century domestic crises.

"Very archaic." That reminds me of a talking head show I saw on CNN years ago, where Ernest van den Haag referred to the common law privilege against self-incrimination as a relic of the past, and pointed out that it existed only in a handful of countries: among them the U.S., England and Australia. Let's see, what do those three countries have in common? Oh, yeah--Magna Carta, the common law tradition, and all those other "archaic" things. The generation that passed the Posse Comitatus Act, being more historically literate than their modern heirs, might also have had in mind, besides that "other era" in U.S. history, an earlier case in which a country was divided up into military districts and governed by lieutenant generals: Cromwell's Protectorate. But nothing like that could ever happen here--even though it just had happened here during Reconstruction. Many of the events of 1861-77 were reminiscent of Macaulay--but repeated as farce.

Another such law, Di Rita said, is the Civil War-era Insurrection Act, which Bush could have invoked to waive the law enforcement restrictions of the Posse Comitatus Act. That would have enabled him to use either National Guard soldiers or active-duty troops _ or both _ to quell the looting and other lawlessness that broke out in New Orleans.

The Insurrection Act lets the president call troops into federal action inside the United States whenever "unlawful obstructions, combinations or assemblages or rebellion against the authority of the United States make it impracticable to enforce the laws" in any state.

The political problem in Katrina was that Bush would have had to impose federal command over the wishes of two governors Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana and Haley Barbour of Mississippi who made it clear they wanted to retain state control.

The last time the Insurrection Act was invoked was in 1992 when it was requested by California Gov. Pete Wilson after the outbreak of race riots in Los Angeles. President George H.W. Bush dispatched about 4,000 soldiers and Marines.

That may also, by the way, be the first time Garden Plot's emergency provisions were put into effect. For those who aren't aware that we live an Executive pen stroke away from dictatorship, here's a simplified time line. A series of executive orders under JFK gave the President authority, in a "national emergency," to declare martial law, nationalize the economy, detain "subversives," and relocate entire populations at will. The Garden Plot plan, developed in response to the civil disorders of the 1960s ("Never again!" our ruling elites said), provided for cooperation between the regular armed forces, Guard, and state and local police on a national scale to restore "civil order." Among other things, pursuant to Garden Plot, many local police forces maintain files of "subversive" organizations for future reference--pretty handy in a "national emergency," when a U.S. military liason is sent to "assist" the local Chief of Police. Under Jimmy Carter, FEMA was created with the primary mission of superceding civilian government in the event of a national emergency (under Bush II, of course, it has been subsumed under the Ministry of Fatherland Security). In the early 1980s, Reagan's FEMA Director, Louis Giuffrida (at one time Governor Reagan's National Guard guy, an enthusiastic supporter of Garden Plot joint training exercises) collaborated with Ollie North in drafting plans for martial law in a national emergency. The "emergency" scenario was mass civil disorder resulting from an antiwar movement, in the event of a hypothetical U.S. invasion of Central America. If it sounds like the U.S. government increasingly sees its own population as a potential enemy, well, that's the impression I get, too.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

More on the Irrationality of Large Organizations

Today I'm posting at Uncapitalist Journal on the subject "What Can Bosses Know?"

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Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Free Time, Scheduling, Schooling and Independent Thought

Another great article by Claire Wolfe at Loompanics, on the subject of our most valuable commodity. What is that commodity?

This greatly valued, yet constantly devalued, thing is uninterrupted time. We claim to long for it, while at the same time we slam our cellphones against our ears and head off for our aerobics classes or meetings of our investment club with tomorrow's urgent report in our laps....

It's a necessity for remaining free and independent. In many ways, it's a necessity for human growth and progress.

....if the telephone or your boss or your maddening schedule or the barrage of e-mail constantly rattle your days, it becomes harder and harder to synthesize the information your mind gathers every day and make sense of the experiences you're living through. This is true even if the interruptions themselves are brief or innocuous....

Here's what I wrote on the same subject (Destroying the Capacity for Independent Thought):

...we've got our real-life version of the "handicaps" Kurt Vonnegut envisioned in "Harrison Bergeron." In his egalitarian dystopia, everyone of above-average ability was required to wear a handicap device of some sort. For instance, a person of above-average intelligence would wear a headset that, at random intervals, zapped the wearer or deafened him with a loud noise, so that he was unable to follow any coherent line of thought for five minutes at a time. In the real world, we don't need a handicapper-general; instead, people are lining up to buy their handicaps from Cingular or T-Mobile. Until the dawning of the Age of the Perpetually Wired-in Conversation, around a decade ago, it was while doing menial chores or walking from one place to another that thinking people often got their best thinking done. Now, every other person I see going down the sidewalk is carrying on a conversation. Can anyone born before 1985 even remember what it was like to be alone with your thoughts, without the constant possibility of being jerked by an electronic leash?

The educational system is closely tied to the war on quiet time. Wolfe resumes:

Something else arose in society at the same time as the Industrial Revolution. And it arose because of the Industrial Revolution. It's something that forms our lives and attitudes to this day. It teaches us that unthinking frenzy is right and proper....

It used to begin when we were five or six. Our parents would send us off to a school where the most important (albeit unspoken) lessons were, and still are, these:

* No subject is related to any other. History has nothing to do with Biology has nothing to do with English has nothing to do with Math. Keep these subjects in separate pockets in your mind and be prepared to switch between them on a moment's notice – never to contemplate them as a totality.

* Never think about anything for more than 50 minutes at a time – brrrrrriiiiing!

* Others will control what, and how, you learn....

The largest impact of such a school system isn't to teach us to read, write, or think (on the contrary, the educrats who originally developed the system considered reading dangerously subversive; too much reading could only open doors into larger worlds and make the peasants discontent). The basics of reading and writing can be taught, as Gatto notes, in about 100 hours – and much of the rest can be learned through experience, experimentation, reading, and living. The 12+ year sentence in school teaches: Don't make connections; don't get deeply engrossed in any one activity; don't pursue any one avenue of inquiry; don't lose yourself in a subject; don't be an individual. And when the authorities ring that bell – you jump....

The official educationists are pushing the system even further toward a Japanese-style system of enforced cramming every waking hour, with a seamless transition from student careerism and shameless brown-nosing to the next forty-odd years of careerism and brown-nosing on the job. And the publick skools' official ideologues increasingly view time outside of school, whether self-organized learning or play after school, the weekend, or the summer vacation, as the enemy--a dangerous intrusion of own-life, in which the child is subject to competing influences capable of subverting the careerist ethos. As I once heard a New York City publick skool official comment on NPR, the present school year is a holdover from the agricultural economy. In these progressive days, the child should be managed by professionals for as many of his waking hours as possible, from (at least) the time he learns to talk until he is capable of functioning as a docile servant of the corporate state.

John Taylor Gatto
casts doubt on the official rationale for such hyper-anal scheduling (via lowercase liberty):

Surely in modern technological society it is the quantity of schooling and the amount of money you spend on it that buys value. And yet last year in St. Louis, I heard a vice-president of IBM tell an audience of people assembled to redesign the process of teacher certification that in his opinion this country became computer-literate by self-teaching, not through any action of schools.... Now think about Sweden, a beautiful, healthy, prosperous and up-to-date country with a spectacular reputation for quality in everything it produces. It makes sense to think their schools must have something to do with that.

Then what do you make of the fact that you can't go to school in Sweden until you are 7 years old? The reason the unsentimental Swedes have wiped out what would be first and seconds grades here is that they don't want to pay the large social bill that quickly comes due when boys and girls are ripped away from their best teachers at home too early.

It just isn't worth the price, say the Swedes, to provide jobs for teachers and therapists if the result is sick, incomplete kids who can't be put back together again very easily. The entire Swedish school sequence isn't 12 years, either -- it's nine. Less schooling, not more. The direct savings of such a step in the US would be $75-100 billion, a lot of unforeclosed home mortgages, a lot of time freed up with which to seek an education.

Who was it that decided to force your attention onto Japan instead of Sweden? Japan with its long school year and state compulsion, instead of Sweden with its short school year, short school sequence, and free choice where your kid is schooled? Who decided you should know about Japan and not Hong Kong, an Asian neighbour with a short school year that outperforms Japan across the board in math and science? Whose interests are served by hiding that from you?...

The structure of American schooling, 20th century style, began in 1806 when Napoleon's amateur soldiers beat the professional soldiers of Prussia at the battle of Jena. When your business is selling soldiers, losing a battle like that is serious. Almost immediately afterwards a German philosopher named Fichte delivered his famous "Address to the German Nation" which became one of the most influential documents in modern history. In effect he told the Prussian people that the party was over, that the nation would have to shape up through a new Utopian institution of forced schooling in which everyone would learn to take orders.

So the world got compulsion schooling at the end of a state bayonet for the first time in human history; modern forced schooling started in Prussia in 1819 with a clear vision of what centralized schools could deliver:

1. Obedient soldiers to the army;
2. Obedient workers to the mines;
3. Well subordinated civil servants to government;
4. Well subordinated clerks to industry
5. Citizens who thought alike about major issues.

....Thirty-three years after that fateful invention of the central school institution, as the behest of Horace Mann and many other leading citizens, we borrowed the style of Prussian schooling as our own....

In Prussia the purpose of the Volksshule, which educated 92 percent of the children, was not intellectual development at all, but socialization in obedience and subordination. Thinking was left to the Real Schulen, in which 8 percent of the kids participated. But for the great mass, intellectual development was regarded with managerial horror, as something that caused armies to lose battles.

Prussia concocted a method based on complex fragmentations to ensure that its school products would fit the grand social design. Some of this method involved dividing whole ideas into school subjects, each further divisible, some of it involved short periods punctuated by a horn so that self-motivation in study would be muted by ceaseless interruptions.

There were many more techniques of training, but all were built around the premise that isolation from first-hand information, and fragmentation of the abstract information presented by teachers, would result in obedient and subordinate graduates, properly respectful of arbitrary orders. "Lesser" men would be unable to interfere with policy makers because, while they could still complain, they could not manage sustained or comprehensive thought. Well-schooled children cannot think critically, cannot argue effectively....

The central lesson the student learns in the government schooling system is that nothing is important for its own sake; subject matter is to be learned, and studies pursued, because of their importance to the authority figure who is empowered to paste that gold star on your paper, or to grant or withhold that new line on your resume. As Paul Goodman wrote in Compulsory Miseducation, to the average college junior, for fifteen years

[s]chooling has been the serious part of his life, and it has consisted of listening to some grown-up talking and of doing assigned lessons. The young man has almost never seriously assigned himself a task. Sometimes, as a child, he thought he was doing something earnest on his own, but the adults interrupted him and he became discouraged.

And, as Wolfe says, there's no longer even a respite of five or six years:

Today it's only getting worse. We send our children to government institutions that operate on the same principles we were schooled in. But the poor things don't even get five years of leisure and learning time first. They don't get to lay on the grass and stare up at the clouds for hours. Or play quietly in a corner with bricks or sticks or blocks or mud. Instead, they're assaulted with flashing, hypnotic, rapid imagery from the TV from birth, then are all too often shoved into highly structured, high-performance pre-schools where, once again, the emphasis is on specific skills, group activities, enforced socialization with only one age group, and being measured and judged by social workers, test-makers, mental-health professionals, bureaucrats, and their own incredibly busy parents.

Karen De Coster recently wrote about the effect of preschool on mental development:

As a child, I placed a great premium on quiet-time and time spent alone indulging in my solo interests. Whether the order of the day was creating some new artwork or reading my books, or writing a story or listening to my records, it was something I found necessary for my peace of mind, and for the growth of my intellectual capabilities. After school, I remember running home as fast as I could and bursting into the house, heading straight for my room and all my little tasks that lay before me. It was as much fun planning those activities as it was doing them. I felt a sense of security and comfort, since I knew Mom was there, and therefore, everything was going to be all right. I ran home because I knew it was a place that I wanted to be. Now, kids don't run home to Mom anymore, because they have the latchkey stopover that comes between school and home. The security of Mom may come hours after school is over. During the summer months, for me, it was a whole day of various things to do; things I wanted to do. I never could have survived a moment as a daycare kid.

Can one who grew up like I did even imagine living the chaos of the daycare center life? Gaggles of kids, some screaming and some crying, some fighting and some sick, all letting loose in an atmosphere void of parents, control, or set discipline. Even if there exists a sense of discipline, where can a child get any peace, for instance, to read or write or study, or to develop artistic or musical talents?

There is no peace, for a daycare kid is trapped in a ritual of group games, group projects, and group trips. The activities are planned, as are lunchtime and naptime. Solo time, however, is not planned because it does not exist. A child is forced into this groupthink whether he likes it or not. He has no access to his own "things", his own comforts that he chooses, or his own hobbies. He's there to be babysat and to go along with the rest of the group on its little projects, no matter how uninteresting he may find them. And he is expected to do that for eight, ten, twelve hours a day, every day.

Here's another great piece of commentary on the same subject by Joel Schlosberg:

Last Tuesday's health section of the New York Times had an appalling article, "Tough Day for Kindergartners (and Parents)" by Laurie Tarkan. It's about the unhappiness both children and their parents face when the children begin attending kindergarten; and how this unhappiness is being dealt with only by ever-more-elaborate methods of "greasing the wheels" to make a smoother transition into the system. In the blandly matter-of-fact account of such methods, there isn't the ghost of a suggestion that the system itself is the problem, even as it acknowledges that the new environment is less individualized and breaks up the students' previous relationships with their parents and preschool community. For instance, "not wanting to go to school" is listed as one of the experts' "Signs that the transition may not be going smoothly for a child". Erich Fromm, who had the courage to use psychology to critique rather than reinforce the status quo, pointed out with his concept of an "insane society" that when a society's norms run counter to the conditions for human mental health, what is considered to be normal behavior is actually mental illness.

Could there be a greater indication of how modern kindergartens, with their ever-greater "academic demands" in order to "move the needle on achievement", and their function of breaking kids away from their parents and into an artificial environment before clamping down on them with stricter control in later grades, are the polar opposite of the intentions of Friedrich Froebel when he created the kindergarten?

Wolfe also quotes a great passage from E.P. Thompson on the greater amount of leisure in the days of self-employment:

The work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness. A weaver, for example, might weave eight or nine yards on a rainy day. On other days, a contemporary diary tells us, he might weave just two yards before he did “sundry jobs about the lathe and in the yard; wrote a letter in the evening.” Or he might go cherry-picking, work on a community dam, calve the cow, cut down trees or go to watch a public hanging.

It's interesting to consider how many leaders of the English working class movement, also described by Thompson, were self-educated tradesmen: masters and journeymen who had leisure for wide and self-directed reading in the slow spells between runs of work. Self-educated trade union and mutual society leaders were especially common among weavers. The same is true of printers, who often read the books and pamphlets they were setting type for and engaged in all kinds of radical talk in between jobs of work. In this country, our archtypical intellectual gadfly, Ben Franklin, was a self-educated printer. So was Henry George. Of course, any students displaying such tendencies in the publick skools are likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (or worse yet, "Oppositional Defiance Disorder") and drugged with ritalin. Even without ritalin, the schools are quite effective at discouraging any desire to read anything out of anything as inconsequential as mere interest, without first asking "is this going to be on the test?"

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

Upaya: the Market vs. the Market

Excellent post on the meaning of "the market" at Upaya, based on this article by Fred Foldvary.

There are at least two ways to think about what is and what isn't part of the market. On the one hand, you have the Rothbardian idea that market is just the sum total of all voluntary human activity. That means hippie communes, charities, revolutionary workers collectives, and so on would count as market institutions. On a narrower conception of markets, the market is constituted by the total of commercial exchanges in a society.

When libertarians express an easy "let the market handle it" attitude, many non-libertarians will reasonably assume that this means "let for-profit commercial exchange handle it." And that might not be a very good or a very attractive idea. For instance, getting utilities out of the hands of government is a good idea, but should they be transferred to big utilities corporations (who are likely very well connected politically) or should they be turned into consumer co-ops? From a libertarian perspective these are both shifts from state to market. Indeed, as radical libertarians (left, right, or center) will be quick to point out, the consumer co-op solution is probably the more free market solution. And yet, the consumer co-op might be considered by some to be more of a "community-based" (read: grassroots and cooperative) rather than "market-based" (read: corporate, greedy, and competitive) solution. Foldvary helps to point out that the sphere of non-coercive, voluntary social activity includes commercial exchange, but also charities and "association in equality." Hence, it seems useful to think and talk in terms of voluntary coordination, rather that (always) "the market."

Indeed another problem, especially among mainstream right libertarians, is too much emphasis on the first two and not the third. "Government welfare sucks? Leave it to private charities, they'll be more humane and more efficient!" This is probably true. But what about mutual aid societies, neighborhood assemblies, land trusts, co-ops, tenant's unions, independent labor unions, neighborhood watch and cop-watch, alternative media, community gardens, LETS systems, barter networks, mutual banks, open-source information, etc.? It may be better to be dependent on a private charity than a government bureaucracy, but what about individual and community independence through the association of equals?

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Alfred Westrup

Once again, Shawn Wilbur has outdone himself. He's got a new post up at Libertarian Labyrinth on Alfred Westrup. Westrup was in the circle of contributors to Benjamin Tucker's Liberty, and the leading theorist of mutual banking after William Greene died. The post includes a long bibliography.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Larry Gambone on the Railroads

General Motors destroyed the electric commuter railroads which flourished in the USA in the 1920's and '30's. They did this by insisting, as one of the largest shippers, that the railroads replace their electric locomotives with diesel units. Problem is diesel pollutes, the engines cost three times as much as an electric and last half as long. In 1935 there were seven times as many electric units as diesel, by 1970 there were ten times as many diesel as electric. (1)

But this was only the tip of the iceberg. After WW2 there was increasing pressure on the rail roads to convert from steam to diesel, as well. In 1945 almost all freight was transported by steam or electric.... This conversion process was a layer cake of disasters for both rail and the public.

First off, the expense for the railroad companies. Steam locomotives have a working life of about 50 years. Most of the engines were built in the 1930's, and those that weren't were from the 1920's or 1940's. Thus, we are looking at equipment that needed to be replaced from 1970 to 1990, yet they were all cut up for scrap metal by 1955! Locomotives were not the only loss. All the infrastructure created around steam, such as coaling stations, water towers, repair shops etc. either was scrapped or needed a complete and costly re-vamping. The destruction of all these locomotives and equipment is a loss that would run in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Even if much of the loss was written off in taxes, the expense was passed on to the tax-payer.

Now, while destroying all that perfectly good equipment, the rail lines would had to replace it with highly costly diesel units. Furthermore, these engines are not as durable as steam, are more complex, thus cost more to repair and need to be replaced more often....

At the very time rail made the highly costly switch over, it was losing both freight and passengers. Government built air ports were helping the airlines steal passengers. Government built highways were converting medium haul freight to trucks and train passengers to bus passengers. Thus rail was caught in a pincer - costly investment on one side, loss of revenue on the other. Note how the state helped to destroy rail. Consider the amount of tax-payer wealth that had gone into building the lines in the first place - land grants, cheap loans, cash gifts, tax-write-offs - all of these would total to hundreds of billions of dollars of OUR money. Yet our money, once again to the tune of hundreds of billions was being used to destroy this investment!

All this may seem insane, but this was planned to happen this way. The oil companies and the auto manufactures found another new way to pillage the public and using their mouth pieces in government destroyed rail. We do not live in a free market economy and we never have. We live in a planned economy, one that is organized not for the benefit of the people, but for a tiny wealthy minority.

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Sam Smith on Constitution Day

THOSE WHO dreamed up the federal government-enforced Constitution Day for schools and colleges might want to spend that day reading the Tenth Amendment which says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The way the feds repeatedly get around the Tenth Amendment is through greenmail, saying in effect, "We don't have the right to tell you what to do but we do have the money so if you want our money you have to do what the Tenth Amendment says we can't tell you do." Since schools and college get federal funds, they are easy targets of greenmail.

This would be a worthy topic of discussion in schools and colleges on Constitution Day.

Since the average state probably gets a quarter of its revenues from intergovernmental grants in aid, and that 25% ties down a lot more through matching funds requirements and mandates, greenmail is a potent force indeed.

The latest revised Arkansas state constitution proposed by the political class here would have authorized state agencies to apply for federal funds to spend pursuant to federal programs, without the need for an appropriation from the legislature. In other words, the governor would have been made independent of the legislature's power of the purse, and would instead have become an administrative arm of the federal government. That was, by the way, a central issue in the revolutionary struggle between Masachusetts and the British Parliament. The Brits were using tax revenue collected in the colonies to pay colonial governors and judges, and render them independent of their own colonial legislatures' power of the purse.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Claire Wolfe vs. the Job Culture

Claire Wolfe's got a new book out: How to Kill the Job Culture Before it Kills You. I haven't read it yet, but it went to my Top 10 must-reads the minute I first saw a reference to it. Apparently it develops the themes she touched on in these earlier articles: "How to Avoid Work," "How to Avoid Work, Part II," and "Dark Satanic Cubicles."

Meanwhile, here's a brief promotional article she wrote about it in the Loompanics catalog: "Insanity, the Job Culture, and Freedom"

The traditional case against jobs and the Job Culture comes from the left, which warns us of exploited workers, mindless consumerism, and environmental destruction. Meanwhile, the right cheers what it mistakenly calls free enterprise.

But if anybody should rail against the Job Culture and endeavor to bring it down, it should be libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, and true conservatives.

Free enterprise – if that's truly what we had – would be an overall good.

A true system of free enterprise is one in which the largest number of individuals are free to engage in the widest possible variety of enterprises, in the widest possible variety of ways.

In a system of genuine free enterprise, millions (perhaps even billions) of people could lead highly self-determined lives. Millions of free enterprisers could choose to set their own hours, make products of their own choice, trade with whom they wished, close up shop when they didn't care to work, bring the kids and dogs into the business, work from home, bring in helpers as needed, follow the rhythms of the seasons, or otherwise structure their own lives as they saw fit.

The cultural assumption of a true free enterprise system would be: “Individuals are responsible for their own lives and labors. They trade as equals, but are beholdin' to nobody.”

Free enterprise isn't anything like big-corporate capitalism. We've been told the two are equivalent, but that's just another bit of cultural brainwashing.

Think about it. Job holders by definition aren't capitalists. Job holders, no matter how well paid they might be, function merely as the servants of capitalists, just as medieval serfs functioned as the servants of lords. They are beholdin'. They function in a climate of diminished responsibility, diminished risk, and diminished reward. A climate of institutional dependency....

The daily act of surrendering individual sovereignty – the act of becoming a mere interchangeable cog in a machine – an act we have been conditioned to accept and to call a part of “capitalism” and “free enterprise” when it is not – is the key reason why the present Job Culture is a disaster for freedom.

James Madison, the father of the Bill of Rights, wrote:

“The class of citizens who provide at once their own food and their own raiment, may be viewed as the most truly independent and happy. They are more: They are the best basis of public liberty, and the strongest bulwark of public safety. It follows, that the greater the proportion of this class to the whole society, the more free, the more independent, and the more happy must be the society itself.”

Madison was speaking specifically about independent farmers, but he was also a believer in the independent entrepreneur – and for the same reasons.

Madison (and his like-minded friend Jefferson) knew that people who are self-sufficient in life's basics, who make their own decisions, whose livelihood relies on their own choices rather than someone else's, are less likely to march in lockstep. Independent enterprisers are far more likely to think for themselves, and far more capable of independent action than those whose first aim is to appease institutional gods.

Living in the Job Culture, on the other hand, has conditioned us to take a “someone else will deal with it” mentality. “I'm just doing my job.” “The boss makes the decisions.” “I'm just following orders.” But if someone else is responsible for all the important choices in life, then we by definition, are not.

An attitude and work-style of true free enterprise would leave millions spectacularly independent from both the juicy blandishments and the inhumane dictates of large corporate institutions (both governmental and private). It would leave millions free to say, “Screw you!” to institutional masters and “No thanks” to those who dangle tempting “benefits” in exchange for loss of personal autonomy. It would mean that more individuals dealt with each other on a more equal footing, with fewer corporate or political masters.

That's what both free enterprise and true freedom are all about.

Of course, as an individualist anarchist, I take issue with her use of the term "capitalism." Although the Job Culture is the opposite of free enterprise, it's at the heart of historic capitalism. But why quibble about semantics? Whatever you call the present system--whether you call it simply "capitalism," as I do, or add the "big corporate" modifiers as Claire does--we're agreed that it sure as hell ain't free enterprise. And we agree that real free enterprise would result in a drastic transformation of society for the better, with increased economic autonomy for the average person.

Albert Nock had this to say about the job culture, decades ago:

Our natural resources, while much depleted, are still great; our population is very thin, running something like twenty or twenty-five to the square mile; and some millions of this population are at the moment "unemployed," and likely to remain so because no one will or can "give them work." The point is not that men generally submit to this state of things, or that they accept it as inevitable, but that they see nothing irregular or anomalous about it because of their fixed idea that work is something to be given.

For more on the subject of why work is something we're "given" instead of something we just do, check out my old post on "Contract Feudalism." Or maybe just read this other great quote from Nock:

This imperfect policy of non-intervention, or laissez-faire, led straight to a most hideous and dreadful economic exploitation; starvation wages, slum dwelling, killing hours, pauperism, coffin-ships, child-labour -- nothing like it had ever been seen in modern times....People began to say, perhaps naturally, if this is what State absentation comes to, let us have some State intervention.

But the State had intervened; that was the whole trouble. The State had established one monopoly, -- the landlord's monopoly of economic rent, -- thereby shutting off great hordes of people from free access to the only source of human subsistence, and driving them into the factories to work for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Bottles chose to give them. The land of England, while by no means nearly all actually occupied, was all legally occupied; and this State-created monopoly enabled landlords to satisfy their needs and desires with little exertion or none, but it also removed the land from competition with industry in the labour market, thus creating a huge, constant and exigent labour-surplus. ["The God's Lookout"--thanks to Bill G (not Gates) for posting it in a comment thread below]

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Vulgar Libertarianism Watch, Part XII (but this ought to count for two or three, at least)

What to make of this?
The expansion of human creativity, wealth and liberty made possible by the digital revolution will best be accomplished in a world respectful of property rights, writes The Progress & Freedom Foundation President Ray Gifford. In the Progress on Point "The Place for Property and Commons," Gifford cites the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, and in particular the "enclosure movement" in England in the 18th century, to demonstrate that progress and societal well-being can result from a greater emphasis on property rights and the return those rights give to producers....

The digital revolution, writes Gifford, is leading to massive increases in wealth and productivity, as well as changes to the social and political structures of our age, just as the agricultural and industrial revolutions did in their time. But those in the commons movement are mistaken in arguing that the digital revolution threatens to foreclose knowledge or innovation. When English common land was enclosed for more efficient private farming, this shift to a property rights model created a manifold increase in food production, as well as a new labor force that fueled the industrial revolution.

The "return... to producers" bit is especially hilarious, by the way. The enclosures were aimed precisely at reducing the return to producers to the smallest amount feasible--a fact that Gifford can verify for himself by a simple survey of the contemporary pro-enclosure literature. The employing classes of that day did everything but twirl their moustaches, chortle "We are evil, heh heh," and tie Little Nell to the train tracks.

In his speech itself, Gifford facilely describes the enclosures as "stronger property rights in land"--as opposed to "the old rules of peasants eking out a living on the commons." Now, some backward-thinking folks might say that those "old rules" were property rights, and that enclosures were a violation of those property rights. It resulted in "stronger property rights in land," all right: stronger property rights for the thief over his stolen loot.

And naturally, Gifford can't resist defending the robbery on the grounds that the thieves made better use of the property (supposedly scientific farming would never have come about, otherwise). Hmmm.... that's pretty much what the state of Connecticut was saying in the Kelo case, I believe.

What Gifford calls "property" in the digital sphere is an example of what Hodgskin called an "artificial," as opposed to a "natural," right of property. Property in tangibles and land is rooted in the fact of physical reality that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. My wallet cannot be in my pocket and yours at the same time. And when I occupy a piece of ground, and homestead it with my labor, it precludes your doing the same. By the very fact of maintaining my occupancy, I am at the same time excluding others. And I can call on my neighbors, if necessary, to support me in maintaining my occupancy against any attempt to dispossess me.

"Intellectual property" [sic], on the other hand, is a state-granted monopoly on something that is not finite by nature, and can be used by an unlimited number of people at the same time. And unlike tangible property, I cannot defend intellectual "property" rights by the mere fact of possession. In fact, I have to call on the state to invade someone else's space and coercively prevent him from arranging his own tangible property in a configuration, or using it to organize information in a configuration, over which the state has granted me a monopoly. Would-be enforcers of "intellectual property" find that there's always a way around their measures, requiring ever more intrusive forms of surveillance to control what we can do with our own stuff. The intrusive measures haven't yet reached this level of absurdity--but give it time.

Intellectual property, in other words, is theft. Gifford comes close to admitting as much himself:

What do I mean by “legislative regulation?” Of course, in one sense, all rights are contingent upon their enforcement by the state. However, in the digital sphere, these rights are acutely the prerogative of the legislative sphere, and its extension, the administrative sphere. Thus, property rights for network owners are contingent upon their construction by the FCC and the state utility commissions. Can you, as a network owner, exclude certain content or uses of your network? That is a question for the FCC to answer. And then there is copyright and patent law, which constitutionally are matters for legislative regulation. The Congress gets to define the parameters of these intangible property rights, and their terms too.

In other words, they're just some shit somebody made up.

I contrast this “legislative regulation” with “rule of law regulation.” Though admittedly a matter of degree and not kind, “rule of law regulation” as experienced through common law norms of property and contract and enforced through the formalism of courts is more stable and, well, normative than the less fixed legislative regulation.

This fact of legislative regulation in turn means there is intense pressure and grand incentives to seek definitions of the rights favorable to a given interest. There is, in other words, an enhanced incentive in the world of legislative regulation for rentseeking. Furthermore, there is less stability in the rights defined under legislative regulation, because they are always contingent upon the next session of congress or the next meeting of the regulatory commission.

You don't say! "Rentseeking"... could you describe that for us, Mr. Gifford? You wouldn't have heard of something called the RIAA, would you, Mr. Gifford?

There really is a parallel between the enclosures and digital copyright law: both are cases of privileged interests acting through the state to rob people of genuine property rights.

Shameless apologetics for the rich and powerful, wrapped up in faux populism. Isn't one Tom Friedman enough?

Hat tip to Jesse Walker, who forwarded the link and suggested it might be just the thing for another "Vulgar Libertarianism" piece.

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Chomsky: Neoliberalism as Statism

I just happened on Chomsky's new blog. His old one, Turning the Tide, had been defunct for over a year, and I didn't know he'd relocated. From the Chomsky blog at Znet:
The rules of the game were more or less formalized in the Uruguay round that set up the WTO, in NAFTA, and other such mislabelled “free trade agreements.” They are a mixture of liberalization and protectionism, designed—not surprisingly—in the interests of the designers: mainly MNCs, financial institutions, the investor/lender class generally, the powerful states that cater to their interests, etc. The rights and interests of people are incidental. The extreme protectionism of the WTO and NAFTA goes far beyond earlier forms of protectionism. The outrageous patent principles, for example, designed to grant monopoly pricing privileges to immense private tyrannies, far in the future, and to stifle innovation and development, in their interests.

Concentrated private power strongly resists exposure to market forces, unless it’s confident it can win in the competition. That goes back centuries.... Protectionist devices, such as those of NAFTA and the WTO, are only a fraction of the means by which the wealthy and powerful protect themselves from market forces. In fact, the core of the “new economy” is based on the principle that cost and risk should be socialized, and profit privatized (often after decades in the dynamic state sector).

Chomsky had a big effect on the development of my thought. Many of the most important books I've read on the history of U.S. foreign policy, the early history of capitalism, and the present government role in the corporate system, I was originally referred to by his endnotes in Deterring Democracy or World Orders, Old and New.

And his approach to politics: 1) that you'd expect the policies of a government to reflect the dominant class interests in that society; and 2) that you'd expect the structure of world politics and economics to reflect the class interests controlling the dominant government--seem pretty common-sense to me. As Chomsky says, a neutral observer from Mars would be astonished that people put so much effort into not drawing the obvious conclusion. Contrary to the folks who keep squealing about "blame America first," it only makes sense that when a country is the most powerful in the history of the world, has played the dominant role in shaping global political and economic institutions since 1945, and has probably overthrown more governments than any other country in history, it can take a major share of the responsibility for what's wrong in the world. And Jeanne Kirkpatrick can take her "arsonist vs. fireman" analogy and shove it; the framers of the postwar Pax Americana themselves admitted that their world order would have been substantially the same, even without the USSR as a fly in the ointment. All the USSR did was prevent total consolidation of the "Grand Area," make it a little harder for the World Bank and IMF to run things, and stop the UN Security Council from operating quite as smoothly as a vehicle for American military power.

But what I've never been able to understand is Chomsky's failure to draw the logical conclusions from his own arguments. His books are packed with endless documentation of the ways in which big business externalizes its costs on the taxpayer, and is protected from competition by government. As Chomsky himself said somewhere (one of his by-the-numbers jobs with Barsamian, I think), most of the big corporations would be bankrupt in a few months without corporate welfare. But at the same time, he argues that eliminating government would leave us in the grip of private corporate tyrannies, and that it's necessary to strengthen the state to break up such "private concentrations of power."

Now, if big business can't survive without ongoing state intervention in the economy, why is further state intervention necessary to break corporate power? That makes absolutely no sense to me. If "concentrated private power strongly resists exposure to market forces," then why not rub their noses in it?

As Friedrich Engels put it over a century ago: anarchists say eliminate the state and capital will go to the devil; Marxists say the reverse. Exactly!

Chomsky's position, it seems to me, is essentially Marxian (albeit of the SocDem, not the Leninoid kind): the state has to be used to break the power of the capitalists, before it can be allowed to wither away.

I'm also extremely leery of Chomsky's claim that the state is potentially amenable to popular control. I don't think it's possible, myself. The state is the vehicle of a ruling class; and by the nature of things, a popular majority can't be that ruling class. The reasons were explained decades ago by Robert Michels, Vilfredo Pareto, and Max Nomad, among others: regardless of the formally democratic means of control, those on the inside of the state will always have an advantage in interest, attention, information, and agenda control over those they allegedly "represent." Even on Anarres, the libertarian socialist world of LeGuin's The Dispossessed, all those syndicates (made up of recallable delegates from democratic workplaces) wound up rubber-stamping the economic plans of the permanent staffs of experts.

The only way to prevent centralized machinery from being taken over by a ruling class is not to have centralized machinery. The state sometimes responds to intense public pressure, but it cannot be directly or sustainably controlled by the public. Therefore, we should take advantage of whatever mass pressure can be put on the state to roll back its intervention in the economy on behalf of big business, and dismantle the taxing mechanism by which the corporate economy is able to externalize its costs. In an economy of producers' co-ops, worker-controlled large enterprises, family farms and businesses, and voluntary mutual aid associations, all interacting entirely through the free market, there won't be any coercive mechanism to enable big business to profit at the expense of the rest of us.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Venezuelan Oligarchy's War Against Land Reform: Death Squads Target Peasant Organizers

Counterpunch: Land Reform in Venezuela

A Brief History of Venezuela's Spectacular Iniquities In Venezuela roughly 75 to 80% of the country's private land is owned by 5% of all landowners. Regarding agricultural holdings, that figure drops to a mere 2% of the population owning 60% of the country's farmland, much of which is fallow.

NarcoNews: Land Reform in Venezuela

Lara, Venezuela, September 2003: Land in Venezuela – as in most of this continent – has been in the hands of big landowners, politicians, and mercenaries, for years. Today, through the revolutionary Agrarian Reform process, this land is being handed over to peasant-farmers, or campesinos....

The winds of change are now blowing over Venezuelan territory.

On August 31, President Hugo Chávez handed over land deeds to campesino representatives from the states of Barinas, Carabobo, Cojedes, Lara, Portuguesa, and Yaracuy at the Cuara Farm School in Jiménez de Quibor, Lara....

The Venezuelan National Land Institute (INTI in its Spanish initials) is carrying out the land distribution under the co-called “Plan Zamora.” The plan – as well as Álvarez’s organization – is named in memory of Ezequiel Zamora, the 19th century Venezuelan peasant leader who struggled for land reform, social equality, and human rights for the poor.

In the first phase of Plan Zamora, more than a million hectares (2.5 million acres) were transferred to campesinos, benefiting more than 40,000 families. The government handed over 31,437 land deeds, 121 farm machines and 30 billion bolívars (US$20 million). The second phase of the plan will be to distribute two million hectares by the end of this year....

The land distribution process has not been easy. Powerful business and political interests have tried every way to stop justice from being done. In the last few years, mercenaries have killed 79 people for defending their land. Marginalized peasant-farmers have begun to seek ways to pressure the authorities into hearing them.

INTI director Leonel Ricaurte said that land distribution affects the powerful groups that governed Venezuela many years ago....

People's Weekly World: Venezuela’s land reform challenges elite

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, signing new land reform decrees last January, declared, “The war against the large estates is the essence of the Bolivarian Revolution. It’s land for the campesinos, land for the ones who work the land!”

Venezuelanalysis: Hitmen Attempt to Assasinate Venezuelan Land Reform Leader

Caracas, Venezuela, June 27, 2005—Land reform leader Braulio Alvarez barely escaped an assasination attempt last Thursday, after receiving two gunshot wounds. Alvarez was intercepted on a highway in the Venezuelan state of Yaracuy by two gunmen after leaving a meeting with local landless workers. The assassination attempt against Alvarez appears to fit into a larger pattern of violence against leaders of Venezuela’s land reform that has emerged since the Land Reform law was first passed in 2001.

Alvarez, a deputy to Venezuela’s National Assembly (AN) as well as an historic peasant leader, was meeting with landless workers last Thursday in the Northeastern Venezuelan state of Yaracuy, a region that includes both large agricultural holdings known as “latifundios” as well as a large manufacturing center. As he left the meeting, a Chevy Blazer pulled up along side him and two masked men opened fire on his car. Alvarez received a gunshot to his right shoulder, and one to his right leg, but is reported to be stable in hospital.

Since Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez passed a land reform law in 2001, violence against those attempting to implement the government’s planned reform has skyrocketed....

According to Claudia Jardim, a journalist for the State Cultural channel Vive who produces a special program on the country’s land reform process, the number of assassinations has increased sharply since January, when Chávez declared war on the Latifundios. Since January, says Jardim, the political murder-rate in the countryside has jumped to an estimated one peasant leader per week.

Cato, predictably, calls it a "land grab."
According to Chavez's concept of property, any land extension of more than 5,000 hectares (approximately 20 square miles) is considered a "large estate."

According to Mises' concept of property,

Nowhere and at no time has the large-scale ownership of land come into being through the working of economic forces in the market. It is the result of military and political effort. Founded by violence, it has been upheld by violence and by that alone. As soon as the latifundia are drawn into the sphere of market transactions they begin to crumble, until at last they disappear completely. Neither at their formation or in their maintenance have economic causes operated. The great landed fortunes did not arise through the economic superiority of large-scale ownership, but by violent annexation outside the area of trade.... (Socialism, p. 375)

Murray Rothbard, to his credit, placed the onus of land-grabbing where it belonged: right square on the heads of the landed oligarchs who own the latifundia:

But suppose that centuries ago, Smith was tilling the soil and therefore legitimately owning the land; and then that Jones came along and settled down near Smith, claiming by use of coercion the title to Smith’s land, and extracting payment or “rent” from Smith for the privilege of continuing to till the soil. Suppose that now, centuries later, Smith’s descendants (or, for that matter, other unrelated families) are now tilling the soil, while Jones’s descendants, or those who purchased their claims, still continue to exact tribute from the modern tillers. Where is the true property right in such a case? It should be clear that here, just as in the case of slavery, we have a case of continuing aggression against the true owners—the true possessors—of the land, the tillers, or peasants, by the illegitimate owner, the man whose original and continuing claim to the land and its fruits has come from coercion and violence. Just as the original Jones was a continuing aggressor against the original Smith, so the modern peasants are being aggressed against by the modern holder of the Jones-derived land title. In this case of what we might call “feudalism” or “land monopoly,” the feudal or monopolist landlords have no legitimate claim to the property. The current “tenants,” or peasants, should be the absolute owners of their property, and, as in the case of slavery, the land titles should be transferred to the peasants, without compensation to the monopoly landlords. (The Ethics of Liberty, p. 69)

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Henry George

Excellent appreciation of Henry George by Ken Gregg, over at CLASSical Liberalism.


New Orleans: The Looting Continues

Via Lenin's Tomb. The WSJ reports that New Orleans' Cockroach Caucus is busy making plans to parlay this disaster into the biggest urban renewal/gentrification project in history, now that they no longer have to face resistance from the people who, you know, live there:

The power elite of New Orleans -- whether they are still in the city or have moved temporarily to enclaves such as Destin, Fla., and Vail, Colo. -- insist the remade city won't simply restore the old order. New Orleans before the flood was burdened by a teeming underclass, substandard schools and a high crime rate. The city has few corporate headquarters.

The new city must be something very different, Mr. Reiss says, with better services and fewer poor people. "Those who want to see this city rebuilt want to see it done in a completely different way: demographically, geographically and politically," he says. "I'm not just speaking for myself here. The way we've been living is not going to happen again, or we're out."

Pigs. Filthy fucking pigs.

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Saturday, September 10, 2005

New Orleans Cockroach Caucus: A Prequel

Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz at Counterpunch:

How ironic that the Superdome became a house of horrors for the dispossessed for five grueling days. Most of the African Americans who were herded into the Superdome came from the infamous New Orleans projects and are descendents of those evicted from their neat little homes in the working class district that was seized and bulldozed to build, with public funds, the Superdome. Their cemetery was also destroyed. Construction began in August 1971 and was completed four years later.

So the NOLA real estate developers (aka Cockroach Caucus), as described in the previous post, are just finishing the job they started thirty years ago.

This Just In. Since I made these last two posts about the local "urban growth machine" looting of New Orleans, I found this at Independent Country:

Expect in New Orleans this to take place. Evacuated homeowners who want to come back and rebuild on their own land will be prevented from doing so. The city (or the state, or even the feds) will take the land from them and give it to developers. The poor and modest homeowners, even after receiving decent-sized insurance checks and government checks, will be priced out of the city. A category-5-proof levee will be built making the city an attractive destination, but land values and rents will be too high for most people. Yet the French Quarter will return in all its glory, and the Saints will be given the most plush stadium in America. Americans will be proud of how the city "came back." And now it won't have all those poor and fearsome black people!

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Mutual Aid in New Orleans; The Real Looters Go Unpunished

Via Jesse Walker, on the LeftLibertarian yahoogroup. The mainstream press is giving a very misleading impression of what's going on in New Orleans. There are some big islands of mutual aid in that Hobbesian sea we hear so much about. For that matter, the situation down there may really be defined more by such cooperative behavior than by the reverse--all we know is what those lying bastards tell us.

First, an article by Jesse himself, at Reason: "Nightmare in New Orleans: Do disasters destroy social cooperation?"

And another Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky at Counterpunch: "Trapped in New Orleans"

And this, from the Baltimore Sun: "A do-it-ourselves shelter shines: a community bands together in civilized self-sufficiency, in stark contrast to the misery in official New Orleans shelters."

By the way, do you notice the irony? The government and talking head establishment have been blaming the destitute, who had no cars, gas money, or places to go, for not evacuating New Orleans on food before the hurricane hit. Now destitute people who attempt to evacuate are turned back at gunpoint by uniformed thugs at all the city's exits.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Cockroach Caucus is making hay while the sun shines (so to speak): turning this disaster into a real estate developer's wet dream, while the po' folks are out of town. Via Progressive Review:

There are already signs that New Orleans evacuees could face a similarly brutal second storm. Jimmy Reiss, chairman of the New Orleans Business Council, told Newsweek that he has been brainstorming about how "to use this catastrophe as a once-in-an-eon opportunity to change the dynamic." The Business Council's wish list is well-known: low wages, low taxes, more luxury condos and hotels. Before the flood, this highly profitable vision was already displacing thousands of poor African-Americans: While their music and culture was for sale in an increasingly corporatized French Quarter (where only 4.3 percent of residents are black), their housing developments were being torn down. "For white tourists and businesspeople, New Orleans' reputation is 'a great place to have a vacation but don't leave the French Quarter or you'll get shot,'" Jordan Flaherty, a New Orleans-based labor organizer told me the day after he left the city by boat. "Now the developers have their big chance to disperse the obstacle to gentrification--poor people."

Maybe the filthy bastards can build a new convention center on a pyramid of human skulls!

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

A Couple of Items on Healthcare

From Sam Smith's Progressive Review. This is from Sam's account of Hillary's healthcare "reform," in Shadows of Hope (1994)

During the first months of the Clinton administration, one of the biggest national policy changes of the past fifty years was being forged by a secret committee led by Mrs. Clinton under procedures that periodically defied the courts and the Government Accounting Office and whose public manifestations consisted of highly contrived media opportunities, carefully staged "town meetings," and similar artifices....

"Around Hillary Rodham Clinton's health reform table sit the managed-competition winners: big business, hospitals, large (but not small) commercial insurers, the Blues, budget-worried government leaders and the 'Jackson Hole Group,' the chief intellectual honchos of the managed competition movement. . . Adherence to the mantra of managed competition appears to be the price of a ticket of admission to this gathering. "

What was finally proposed involved a massive transfer of the American health industry -- by some accounts now larger than the military-industrial complex -- to a small number of the largest insurance companies and other major corporations. These were companies that had the assets to play the game being offered -- a medical oligopoly that would dispense health-care under the rules of the Fortune 500 rather than according to those of Hipprocrates.

Clinton's position on health care had bounced around in the early months of the campaign, finally settling on a policy that would leave the big health insurers largely unscathed. It was not particularly surprising. Max Brantley, columnist for the Arkansas Times, noted that "Blue Cross owns Arkansas, and [Clinton] never did much to fight them."

The stakes would eventually become so high that a number of the biggest insurers -- including CIGNA, Aetna and Metropolitan Life -- would leave the industry-wide Health Insurance Association of America. Five of the largest insurance companies formed something called the Alliance for Managed Competition. In this new game one of the first targets of 'managed competition' was the smaller insurance companies that now account for nearly half of the health underwriting business. Said managed competition advocate Lynn Etheridge, "Ninety-nine percent of the insurance companies are going to be wiped out because they're only prepared to be insurance companies." Mrs. Clinton, sounding like a 1980s takeover lawyer, said, "It's going to be a Darwinian struggle. Only the best and fittest of them will survive." Similarly, when asked how small businesses were meant to cope with the added costs of her plan, Mrs. Clinton replied, "I can't go out and save every undercapitalized entrepreneur in America."

Her interest lay with the largest companies, i.e. the ones with the ability to purchase or create the health maintenance organizations that would become de rigeur under the Clinton scheme. The new HMOs would be major profit-centers for companies, simultaneously subsidized by federal payments for the ailments of the poor, elderly and those without conventional insurance.

The use of federal healthcare policy as a "progressive" smokescreen for the biggest insurance companies to attack their small competitors sounds awfully familiar. It's almost exactly what Gabriel Kolko described the big meat packers doing to the small packers by means of the Meat Inspection Act, in The Triumph of Conservatism. Ah, that great liberal Democratic Party, champion of "the people against the powerful"! And oh, my, that Hillary, what a left-wing radical! I guess she picked up her Maoist tendencies on the Wal-Mart board of directors.

Check out, also, this excerpt from a British Medical Journal article on how patented me-too drugs--with only marginal benefits over much, much cheaper generics--are driving up the cost of healthcare. As I wrote before (here, and here) the state's patent system creates the honey pot--then the standard model of practice goes after the honey.

Newly patented versions of old drugs are driving the rapid growth in expenditure on prescription drugs in most developed countries, without offering substantial improvements over existing products, finds a study published online by the BMJ. The rising cost of using these me-too drugs at prices far exceeding those of time-tested competitors deserves careful scrutiny, say the authors, based at the University of British Columbia in Canada, where spending on drugs doubled between 1996 and 2003.... Vintage brand and vintage generic drugs combined accounted for 75% of total use in 1996 and 54% in 2003, but only 53% and 27% of total annual expenditure. In contrast, me-too drugs accounted for 44% of use and 63% of expenditure by 2003. Their average cost per day of treatment was twice that of vintage brand drugs and four times that of vintage generic drugs. Given that the list of top 20 drugs in global sales includes newly patented versions of older drugs, me-too drugs probably dominate spending trends in most developed countries, conclude the authors.

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Labor Day Statement by the Syracuse Green Party

Via Ed Stamm on the VCM yahoogroup. The original vision of the labor movement:

Unions would defend and advance workers’ wages and working conditions in their jobs within the existing society by direct action, particularly strikes, picket lines, and worker solidarity across crafts and industries.

Cooperatives would progressively transform the economy by organizing our production and consumption democratically. We would receive the full fruits of our labor instead of being systematically exploited by a system that siphons away much of the value we create to parasitic absentee owners. Each member of a cooperative would have one vote in decisions and would receive a patronage dividend equal to their contribution to the cooperative’s net earnings: refunds in proportion to purchases made through consumer cooperatives and incomes in proportion to labor contributed in worker cooperatives.

The reality today:

Today business unionism is predominant. With few exceptions, unions today have the culture of an insurance company, where the workers are clients and the officers are managers taking in our payments and doling out our benefits....

The legal framework that made the corporate offensive against unions possible was created in 1947 with the passage of the Taft-Hartley amendments to the National Labor Relations Act. Taft-Harley outlawed nonviolent direct action by workers in many of its forms, including sympathy and solidarity strikes, “secondary boycotts” where workers refuse to cross picket lines when they were not directly party to a labor dispute, and refusing to handle “hot cargo” coming from or going to a struck enterprise.

The major result of the Taft-Hartley restrictions on labor action has been to divert unions from direct action to cautious administration of contracts with no-strike clauses so the company will not sue the union for violating the contract. Unions now devote most of their resources to handling grievances through “proper channels” and defending themselves from lawsuits by corporations with far more resources to go to court.
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Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Could You Live Without Money?

Great post by Dave Pollard at How to Save the World. He begins by analyzing a typical Canadian household budget, and finds that work-related costs (expenses people wouldn't have if they didn't work) eat up close to 80% of work income. He counts housing costs as entirely work-related, because "the average family has $120,000 in equity, and if that were invested in an all-season cottage far enough away from expensive cities, the rent and mortgage costs would disappear."

Next, he asks, "how much would you have to do for your wage-slave neighbors," in the informal barter economy, to make up the tiny fraction of work income that is actually net income when work-related expenses are taken into account? That might include

making clothing or furniture for them, doing renovation work, lawn maintenance, child care, driving them around in their car, picking things up for them, educating their kids, running a bed-and-breakfast for their visiting family and friends....

This assumes, of course, that your neighbors are in the inexpensive community you moved to. Or better yet,

suppose instead of just moving out yourself, you got together with nine other wage-slave families and pooled your resources and started an Intentional Community?... Now you get some economies working for you: You can share vehicles, meal preparation, education and other duties, and the space needed for these activities (which make up much of the modern 'single-family' home, and which space is unused most of the day). You can wi-fi the place for the whole group. You can grow some of your own food and use solar and wind to take the place off the grid. By doing these things you could probably halve the per-family fixed cost in the table above to $7,000, and then create one or two small enterprises to earn the $70,000 per year the whole community needs to live on. Maybe work an hour a day, or one day a week each, for outsiders, and the rest of your time would be your own, to spend with those you love doing things you love doing.

And suppose your Intentional Community provided useful services to other ICs in a 'network' that could give you things you can't provide well for yourselves (food you can't grow, say, or health care, or recreation) in return for you providing things that they don't know how to do.
Now go back and read this old post of mine: Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old

For those who've been following at Technorati, I'm putting this under a new tag:
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Monday, September 05, 2005

"Laissez-Faire Capitalism": Redundant, or Oxymoron?

Great extended discussion at freeman, lc on the various nuanced meanings of capitalism and free markets, from a left-libertarian perspective. Among other things, it quotes Chris Sciabarra's old posts Capitalism: The Known Reality and "Capitalism" and Other Isms, with all sorts of interesting meanders on whether the term "capitalism" can be legitimately equated to the free market, or whether it should be used in the original sense of the Ricardian socialists and radical classical liberals (who identified it with "actually existing capitalism," as distinguished from the free market). It's too long and complex to summarize beyond that, but you should definitely check it out.

Northwest Arkansas Blogging: Corporate Welfare for Wal-Mart

Charles N. Todd has a post at Uncapitalist Journal on more pork barrel spending for Wal-Mart.

At some point in the last two years, Wal-Mart approached the city of Bentonville, Arkansas (where Wal-Mart’s headquarters is located) with plans to expand their operations at the David Glass Technology Center.

City officials said that was fine, but that the quality of the road leading to the facility didn’t meet standards for the increased traffic volume the expansion would bring, and so the city requested that if Wal-Mart wanted to expand their facilities, then Wal-Mart should pay to have the street improved. In particular, the city wanted Wal-Mart to widen the road to three lanes plus add curb and gutter.

Wal-Mart, in turn, went to their U.S. Congressman John Boozman and asked if it was possible to get federal funding to pay for city street improvements, to widen the street to five lanes, and to extend the street so that it could tie in with the interstate.

Boozman followed up by asking U.S. Representative from Alaska Dan Young to see if funds for the project could be added to the federal highway transportation bill since the proposed project now included a possible highway interchange.

Young added a 35$ million dollar amendment to the bill which passed the House and later the Senate and was signed into law by President Bush this month.

Of course, all of this came as a big surprise to city officials in Bentonville since they never requested the funds. Even more troubling to the city: federal highway transportation funds require a local 20% match. Bentonville is now required by law to come up with the additional funds for the project, despite the fact that their budget has already been stretched really thin.

That's a common pattern for Wal-Mart. If a city doesn't cough up the money for expanding the sewer and road infrastructure to serve their new supercenter, they threaten to take it to another city that offers a higher bid.

Charles is originally from Bentonville himself, so he knows first-hand how things go here in northwest Arkansas. We've got a corporate welfare regional airport, built mainly as a result of lobbying by Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods, the J.B. Hunt trucking company, and the Lindsey real estate interests. The Northwest Arkansas Council, a "private" advocacy group made up mainly of representatives from the above companies, was formed as a "civic-minded" organization to lobby for spending more tax money on infrastructure pork that said companies need to be profitable. Under the influence of these lobbyists, local governments acted in secret (as an "emergency measure," with no prior notice or public debate) to create an inter-governmental airport authority. The authority, acting in collusion with the local University and usual suspects from assorted chambers of commerce, worked not only to secure federal loot (with a lot of skullduggery by ethically challenged consultants in manufacturing an FAA proposal), but to suppress local dissent. I told the utterly sickening story of how the regional airport got shoved down our throats here: "Northwest Arkansas Blogging: On Cockroach Caucuses, Urban Growth Machines, and Airports"

Parenti: "How the Free Market [sic] Killed New Orleans"

Via Freiheit und Wissen, and Keith Preston. Here's an utterly appalling commentary piece by Michael Parenti at Zmag: "How the Free Market Killed New Orleans"

The free market played a crucial role in the destruction of New Orleans and the death of thousands of its residents. Forewarned that a momentous (force 5) hurricane was going to hit that city and surrounding areas, what did officials do? They played the free market.

They announced that everyone should evacuate. Everyone was expected to devise their own way out of the disaster area by private means, just like people do when disaster hits free-market Third World countries.

It is a beautiful thing this free market in which every individual pursues his or her own personal interests and thereby effects an optimal outcome for the entire society. Thus does the invisible hand work its wonders in mysterious ways.

Using the term "free market" in reference to America's corporate economy or the global neoliberal system is an obscene joke. But in such usage of the term, Parenti has a lot in common with corporate apologists on the right. "Free market," as Albert Nock observed many years ago, is an "impostor term."

Let the incidence of exploitation show the first sign of shifting, and we hear at once from one source of "interested clamours and sophistry" that... the unparalleled excellences of our civilization have come about solely through a policy of "rugged individualism," carried out under terms of "free competition"; while from another source we hear that the enormities of laissez-faire have ground the faces of the poor, and obstructed entrance into the More Abundant Life.

In a footnote to this passage, he elaborated:

....no policy of rugged individualism has ever existed; the most that rugged individualism has done to distinguish itself has been by way of running to the State for some form of economic advantage. If the reader has any curiosity about this, let him look up the number of American business enterprises that have made a success unaided by the political means, or the number of fortunes accumulated without such aid. Laissez-faire has become a term of pure opprobrium; those who use it either do not know what it means, or else wilfully pervert it.

Big business has a vested interest in claiming its present size and power came about through the "free market," and that it's really opposed to government intervention in the economy ("Please don't fling me in that briar patch, Brer Fox!"). The statist left, likewise, has a vested interest in claiming that big business emerged from a "laissez-faire" economy and that government regulation is necessary to restrain it. Art Schlesinger-style big government liberals and pro-corporate Randroids are engaged in a mirror-imaged version of the same morality play, but with the good guys and bad guys reversed.

Parenti continues:

Questions arose that the free market seem incapable of answering: Who was in charge of the rescue operation? Why so few helicopters and just a scattering of Coast Guard rescuers? Why did it take helicopters five hours to lift six people out of one hospital? When would the rescue operation gather some steam? Where were the feds? The state troopers? The National Guard? Where were the buses and trucks? the shelters and portable toilets? The medical supplies and water?

And where was Homeland Security? What has Homeland Security done with the $33.8 billions allocated to it in fiscal 2005? By Day Four, almost all the major media were reporting that the federal government’s response was “a national disgrace.”

Um, remind me again--which sector do the Coast Guard, state troopers, National Guard, and Homeland Security belong to? Government incompetence in allocating the resources it already has doesn't strike me as a very effective indictment of the "free market." As someone observed recently on a discussion list (I'm too lazy to look it up), New Orleans could have shored up its levees and been prepared up the wazoo with a tenth of the tax money it sends to the federal government.

Large corporations, like all large organizations, are inefficient and irrationally run. I've written about it before ("The Irrationality of Large-Scale Organizations"). But the rapacity of big business, its exploitation of labor and consumers, in fact its very existence, are possible only because it has big government in its service. Government subsidizes many of the operating costs of big business, as recounted by James O'Connor in Fiscal Crisis of the State. Through regulatory cartelization, patents, and other legal privileges, it protects big business from free market competition, and insulates them from the competitive disadvantages that would otherwise result from their inefficiency costs and diseconomies of large scale. By subsidizing high-tech, capital-intensive forms of production, and subsidizing technical education, it promotes the deskilling of labor and technological unemployment. By subsidizing the export of capital, it promotes de-industrialization. The state, by definition, is the executive committee of some ruling class--in Cuba as well as the U.S. And for reasons that Robert Michels pointed out long ago, the majority of producers can never be the ruling class.

In a free market, most large corporations would be bankrupt in months as a result of their inefficiency, and we'd have a radically decentralized economy of local production for local use.

What's true of big business is true of big government, the monopoly of monopolies: any business firm on a free market that allocated its resources as incompetently as the federal government's disaster relief agencies would be in Chapter Eleven, and its management would probably be under criminal indictment as well.

I recently heard someone complain, “Bush is trying to save the world when he can’t even take care of his own people here at home.” Not quite true. He certainly does take very good care of his own people, that tiny fraction of one percent, the superrich. It’s just that the working people of New Orleans do not number among them.

The last I heard, government "taking care of the superrich"--although that's certainly what government does, all right--didn't have much to do with the free market.