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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

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Liberal Goo-Goos vs. Left-Libertarians

Hat tip to Joel Schlosberg. As Joel says, this is an indication of what left-libertarians have to contend with from so-called "progressives":

Dear America

You put in power a conservative movement whose attitude toward government was expressed as: "To get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

You voted for President Bush, who approvingly quoted Reagan's phrase, "The most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Well, they weakened the government, and the government is not there to help.

So get your jaw off the floor.

You cashed your tax rebate check, didn't you? You got what you voted for.

And what's happening in New Orleans is exactly what you voted for.

So any criticism of government as such makes you a fellow traveler with Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist. In the words of good ol' Tail-Gunner Joe, if it walks like a duck....

That post reminds me of a lot of crap I saw immediately after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, with op-ed pieces using the heroism of emergency responders to "prove" that the "anti-government" ideology was nonsense. Some time not long after the OKC bombing, I was listening to a call-in segment on C-SPAN. One caller quoted the Tenth Amendment and made a fairly mainstream statement (the kind you'd hear from Bob Dole) to the effect that the federal government should limit itself to its delegated powers. The next caller sounded on the verge of tears, breathing heavily and her voice shaking: "I'm just so upset, I can hardly talk. That last caller sounded almost like one of those... those militia people!"

Also via Schlosberg, this op-ed piece by John Tierney in the NYT, comparing the successful history of private fire insurance as an organizer of fire safety (as opposed to the federal flood insurance fiasco).

Why is New Orleans in so much worse shape today than New York City was after the attacks on Sept. 11?

The short answer is that New York was attacked by fire, not water. But then why are urbanites so much better prepared to cope with fire than with flooding? Mostly because they learned to fight fire without any help from the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For most of history, fire was far more feared than flooding. Cities repeatedly burned to the ground. Those catastrophes occurred sporadically enough that politicians must have been tempted to skimp on fire protection - like levee maintenance, it was a long-term investment against a calamity that probably wouldn't occur before they left office.

But urbanites learned to protect themselves through two innovations Benjamin Franklin introduced to America. He started a fire department in Philadelphia, as well as its first fire insurance company. Other cities followed, often with the firefighters organized by insurance companies with a vested interest in encouraging public safety.

Their customers had a vested interest, too, because they had to pay higher premiums if they lived in homes or neighborhoods that were prone to fire....

But as we've learned this week, few people seem to care passionately about maintaining levees or preparing for a predictable flood. They've left that to Washington, which promised to hold back the waters and absolved coastal dwellers from worrying about hurricanes.

Starting in the 1960's, the federal government took over the business of insuring against floods. It offered subsidized insurance to people in flood-prone areas, encouraging seaside homes that never would have been built otherwise. Even at bargain rates, most people went without flood insurance - only about a third of the homes in New Orleans carried it.

Believe it or not, working people have been associating, time out of mind, for purposes of voluntary cooperation and mutual aid. For example, see the classic work on the theme: Kropotkin's Mutual Aid. Or read the sections in E.P. Thompson on sick benefit societies, fraternal lodges, penny schools, and the like, in The Making of the English Working Class. There are a lot of excellent monographs by Bob James on the history of fraternal societies as both mutual aid associations and embryonic labor unions, at Takver's Radical Tradition site. There's also a good essay by Tim Evans at the Libertarian Alliance: "Socialism Without the State"

Such organizations were crowded out by the 20th century welfare state, when the New Class decided that health, education and welfare were the proper domain of "qualified professionals," and that working class self-organization of anything was an embarassing atavism. Colin Ward's Social Policy: an Anarchist Response (Freedom Press 1996) is an excellent starting point for understanding "the welfare road we failed to take." But it's quoted extensively, along with a lot of other good stuff, in these sections of the Anarchist FAQ: "J.5.15 What attitude do anarchists take to the welfare state?" and "J.5.16 Are there any historical examples of collective self-help?" David Beito's From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State is another excellent history of the change.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Adam said...

So, you've gotten into Technorati... maybe I should check that out.

Anyway, I've seen a lot of the same BS (and most of it is poorly written--see this piece in Salon for example: The Culture War Over Katrina.) The most glaring hole in their logic is that the government is run by BIG-government conservatives, not small-government conservatives. Federal spending has been increasing for the past several years, even without the "emergency" spending on Iraq and Afghanistan. This administration has not returned control to the people--it has simply stolen our money and spent it on destructive projects rather than constructive projects.

In general, big-government, bleeding-heart types instinctively ask "what could government have done to avoid this?" whenever there is a problem. They never ask the other side of the political question: "did government do anything to cause this problem?" As a result, they always end up proposing band-aid solutions to deep problems.

So in the case of this hurricane, the government obviously didn't cause the hurricane, and there was bound to be extensive destruction in the wake of the hurricane. However, this situation has progressed from a "disaster" to a "fiasco" because at least 50,000 people are stranded in the city.

So let's take a step back and ask the big-picture questions: why do 400,000 Americans live on a few square miles of marshland that has sunken below sea level? Why did so many of them lack the means to evacuate the city? Why are many of them resisting the re-establishment of "order"? In other words: why is there so much poverty? Why are so many people incapable of taking care of themselves?

Everyone knows that the government had a big role historically in creating this situation: until the 1960s, the government went out of its way to keep southern blacks impoverished and ignorant. Every reasonable person knows that 40 years is not long enough for this community to recover from centuries of explicit oppression.

Most folk figure that this is ancient history, and that the government is no longer acting to keep these people impoverished. However, "we" (left-libertarians) are aware of how much the government does to eliminate opportunities for the poor.

So my response to this criticism of small-gov't is twofold.

1) If the govn't weren't stealing our money and using it to kill foreigners, we would have more wealth in the country to prepare for disasters--whether or not it is spent through the state or privately.

2) If the gov't weren't involved in the systematic exploitation of the poor, they would have a greater ability to take care of themselves and these disasters would be much less severe.

September 04, 2005 11:18 AM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

"So any criticism of government as such makes you a fellow traveler with Ronald Reagan and Grover Norquist"

i don't know, i don't that that's the case amongst the "progressive" left. it's the cynical, opportunistic, and greedy/selfish criticism of "government" by people who either are quite clearly benefiting from government coddling, or benefitting by way of tax breaks.

the thing is, many of these folk are reflexivy against much of what government does, and the way they do it, but rather than holding an ideological stance against "government" as an institution--like so many libertarians and all anarchists--they see it as just one other of the many flawed, but legitimate institutions in our society. and in the name of pragmatism they want an govenment owned by, and accountable to the people, rather than the moneyed-interests.

i mean, the post you link to has a point: the people got what they voted for.

September 04, 2005 5:55 PM  
Blogger buermann said...

"the people got what they voted for"

mmmkay.

:P

September 04, 2005 7:09 PM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

okay, then, the people got what Diebold voted for, for them.

:-/

September 04, 2005 11:16 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Adam, Re southern blacks, have you read Regulating the Poor by Piven and Cloward? They argue that the neocons are all wet in blaming the atomization of inner city black social fabric on the Great Society (like Olasky, one of Gingrich's favorites). The social pathologies were really caused by millions of southern black sharecroppers moving north when they got tractored off their land post-WWII, and flooding the ghettoes with unemployables. Where does the state come in? Well, in a just world that land they were sharecropping would have been THEIRS after emancipation.

colorless green ideas,
Well, that's the vibe I'm getting from the piece in question, anyway. And in discussing most issues with mainstream liberals (the kind who think the sun shone out of FDR's ass), I find they are utterly flabbergasted to hear that most of the regulatory and welfare measures they favor were sponsored by big business for its own ends, or that anyone seriously proposes self-organization by ordinary people as an alternative to liberal social engineering. For an extreme example of this type, consider Daniel Lazare (Frozen Republic), who positively foams at the mouth when talking about "decentralism."

September 05, 2005 7:45 AM  
Blogger colorless green ideas said...

fair enough. there certainly is more than enough fdr worship in the liberal blogosphere. me, i'm on the fence about fdr, i guessw what i think is that he was quite a bit better than any realistic alternative.

i don't know much about lazare, but my dad's an old "social democrat", 60's leftover, and he loves centralism, but when we talked about politics, if go into a great deal of depth on any topic, and i argue the decentralist side, he usually comes around. the problem is that no other paradigm has been presented to him in a way that speaks to his fundamental values and beliefs. if the only two alternativs are big government liberalism, and big government conservatism, i'm sorry, but i'll take the former every single time--and that's where my dad is coming from. that's why i think that those of us on the left who value decentralism, and smaller institutions need find a better way to speak to your typical liberal.

September 05, 2005 12:22 PM  

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