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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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Another Link Digest

1. At Stumbling and Mumbling, Chris Dillow administers a well deserved ass-beating to those who wring their hands over "the politics of envy":

...is the unhappiness the poor feel about the consumption of the rich really just envy?

Maybe not. There are two other hypotheses. One is that there are genuine consumption externalities. For example, if the rich drive hummers and big SUVs, they make roads more dangerous for the rest of us. Or perhaps their demand raises the prices of positional goods, such as houses in nice areas.

The other possibility is that "envy" is, in fact, a sense of injustice. Most people don't much begrudge a lottery winner or top sportsman his fortune. Instead, what looks like "envy" is instead a discomfort that some people's wealth is unjust.

2. Travis Bradford on the decentralizing potential of solar power:

Solar is different from other energy technologies in that it delivers energy at the point of use, directly to the end user. That allows it to circumvent the entire supply chain. It's not another option for a utility, it's a competitor to a utility -- the first time utilities have really had a competitor....

This also happened in computers. We went from large, centralized mainframes with dummy terminals to a distributed hybrid architecture.

Solar is slowly going to begin to unwind the existing utility economics, to the point where utilities decide they have to get in or they risk losing their core business -- exactly the transformations we've lived through in the last 20 years.

3. Roderick Long writes on the potential for libertarian-green cooperation, a worthy addition to the body of literature on the subject.

4. In similar vein, Brad Spangler makes an intriguing case for market anarchism as a legitimate heir of the classical socialist movement.

5. On tasers, Sam Smith asks:

Seriously, can anyone explain to me why these weapons [tasers] are allowed for police use? They seem to have enough of a problem with their guns 'accidentally' discharging, 'accidentally' killing people with choke holds, 'accidentally' killing them with lethal levels of chemical Mace, and 'accidentally' smashing into vehicles during high speed car chases, killing the occupants. Do we really need to be giving them yet another means for 'accidentally' murdering people on top of the too many they already have at their disposal?

6. Jeremy Weiland at Social Memory Complex writes on Sweden's answer to the Rockefeller family, which controls a major portion of the "cooperative" sector.

7. Dan Sullivan at Saving Communities writes on privilege:

Behind all issues lies the problem of privilege -- legal mechanisms that give some people artificial advantages over others, enabling them to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

8. Alex Kjerulf of Positive Sharing quotes a living example of just how hellish contract feudalism can be from the perspective of the serf--and the guy's actually proud of it!

You can forget lunch breaks. You can’t make money for a company while you’re eating lunch . . . if you don’t put in the hours, someone just as smart and clever as you will. Fact of life: the strong survive.

[If you ignore this] you might just end up as roadkill - lying dead by the side of the corporate highway as others drive right past you.

I have always made a habit of walking around early and late to personally see who’s pumping it out. If they are getting results and working harder than everyone else, I promote them.

9. Jonathan David Morris on "desk rage":

Workers are being aggressive towards each other? Slacking off? Stealing? Abusing sick days? Great! I’ve always felt the desk job environment is unnatural—even inhuman. What this news tells me is thousands of fellow human beings believe it’s unnatural and even inhuman, too.

Take poor productivity, for instance. The very tone of the phrase, “poor productivity,” strikes me as negative spin.

When was the last time you got a new job? How much did your new employer pay you? Most companies want to pay their employees the least amount of money they’re willing to work for. This isn’t because those companies are devious cheapskates; it’s just the basic idea behind having employees.

Poor productivity is the same thing in reverse. Employees are extracting the most amount of money from the least amount of work. This is a bad thing? Why?

10. This quote from St. Disgruntled ("the patron saint of hate") is a perfect summation of Fish! Philosophy:

you've got all my time. you've got my energy. my physical and mental abilities churning out crapload after crapload of work. now you want my enthusiasm, too? you want me to come in everyday and smile JUST SO YOU DON'T HAVE TO FEEL GUILTY THAT YOU'RE SUCKING THE LIFE OUT OF ME? wow. that's fantastic. i'll get right on that.

11. Via Ender's Review. Matt Taibbi writes on the great "progressive" sweep of Congress:

Meanwhile, Jeff Greenfield on the Democratic talking points (change, new direction, Baker-Hamilton): "They look to be very focus-group-tested for maximum appeal." He says this approvingly....

A friend of mine a few weeks ago wrote me a letter suggesting that reporters come up with a list of press behaviors worth banning before the 2008 elections. One good one, I think, would be commending candidates for successfully manipulating voters and the media with crude fakery and bullshit. In other words, anytime a panel expert like Greenfield says something like "McCain's handlers have clearly done a great job at getting their man to sound more genuine in rural areas," he should have to do thirty hours of community service, ladeling out soup somewhere to paraplegics or something. "They look to be focus-group-tested for maximum appeal" seems worth a double sentence....

Listening to any Democrat rattle off his talking points tonight is like having a jerk-off session with a chat room robot....

Are there really people out there who get off on this shit? Have we sunk so low that people actually respond emotionally to these robo-speeches?...

1:53 a.m. When Missouri's Claire McCaskell comes on the air to claim victory, I take one of the steak knives from my room-service tray and hold it to my throat, vowing to slice myself open and pull my tongue through my neck-hole if the words "new direction" escape her lips.

12. Maxspeak comments on the new Congressional majority's infatuation with Robert Rubin and Alexander Hamilton, two names that we hates forever. And in the same vein, via walk into eternity: "How Democrats won the election by stealing wealthy voters from the GOP." The title says it all.

13. Via Lenin's Tomb. Those "brave Hungarian freedom fighters" so celebrated in 1956, had they actually been in this country, would probably have been investigated by the HUAC. They were libertarian communists who wanted to replace Stalinist state capitalism with "socialism from below"--you know, workers' councils and all that.

14. Ron Paul on the "NAFTA Superhighway":

This superhighway would connect Mexico, the United States, and Canada, cutting a wide swath through the middle of Texas and up through Kansas City. Offshoots would connect the main artery to the west coast, Florida, and northeast. Proponents envision a ten-lane colossus the width of several football fields, with freight and rail lines, fiber-optic cable lines, and oil and natural gas pipelines running alongside.

This will require coordinated federal and state eminent domain actions on an unprecedented scale, as literally millions of people and businesses could be displaced. The loss of whole communities is almost certain, as planners cannot wind the highway around every quaint town, historic building, or senior citizen apartment for thousands of miles.

15. Chris Dillow, in response to a critic, explains "Why I Bang On" about managerialism. Commenter "dearieme" was moved to write:

Managerialism isn't about ""knowledgeable leadership": it's about ignorant boss-ship. You appoint a man head of a car company because he use to run a croissant company - you argue that knowing about cars, and the market for cars, is unimportant. What matters is that he's a LEADER, in the sense that if you weren't paid to, you'd never take his opinions seriously. He's also PROFESSIONAL, which means that he's got the right sort of haircut and suit. Pah!

16. Via Ross Heckmann on the mutualists email list, on who benefits from the financial crisis:

The financial crisis that we now face was created by design. It is intended to destroy the labor movement, crush the middle class, quash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, reduce our foreign debt by 50 or 60%, force a restructuring of America's debt, privatize all public assets and resources, and create a new regime of austerity measures which will divert more wealth to the banking and corporate establishments.

The avatars of neoliberalism invariably use crooked politicians to spawn enormous "unsustainable" debt so that the nations' riches can be transferred to ruling elites. It works the same everywhere. It's a form of corporate colonization, only this time the victim is the good old USA.

17. Via Brad Spangler. "The Left, the Market and the Struggle for Socialism."

To truly build a powerful revolutionary left, we must recognize that the market is not simply synonymous with Low Road capitalism.

The market is an achievement of human civilization that both predates capitalism and will persist for a long time even if capitalism is replaced by another system. It is truly system neutral - a place where politics and different values contend for influence and hegemony. Capitalism has taken the power of the market as a tool for its influence to new heights, and demonstrated the cruelty of its “market reality.” A socialist society would use the power of the market to extend democracy and promote sustainable development....

Of course, we have corporate enemies that must be exposed and blocked; but there are important tactical and strategic corporate allies in the business community that we must align with and bring into our movement.

These include part of the 8 million privately held small companies that must find local solutions and partnerships if they are to survive. This includes innovative technology people and environmentalists that truly are inventing essential new technologies for the next century. And this includes leaders in the investment community truly committed to sustainable development.

18. Lenin's Tomb on the idealistic rhetoric of ruling class ideology, versus its reality:

The empire prefers weak states, of course, dictatorships with few of the traditional capacities of modern bureaucratic nation-states, ones that are bought off by the IMF, World Bank, DEA and CIA, ones with weak legitimacy and little accountability to the domestic populace. Hence, you help a general to power in Indonesia, let him butcher a million people, carve up the economy in private sessions with leading multi-national CEOs, encourage the general's family to skim billions off the top of 'development' loans based on exorbitant estimates for construction plans that go nowhere. Even if the CIA or MI6 didn't put you in power, once you take the money you start to factor it into the national and personal budgets, and your sovereignty is compromised. What's more, if you're obliged to integrate into the global economy on empire's terms (accepting neoliberal reforms etc), you have to devise an infrastructure adequate to the demands of investors - and once you're committed to that offer, it is rather difficult to pass and enforce laws restricting environmental or labour practises, or that curtail what would ordinarily be considered criminal behaviour. This logic inevitably extends back into the heart of empire. Having developed the institutions and techniques of covert criminality, one expects that these will acquire a weight of their own within the imperial centre. The CIA, for instance, routinely works to corrupt federal prosecutors and law enforcement agents where it must.... Similarly, having worked to create business opportunities for domestic capitalist elites overseas, one doesn't stop relating to them domestically. Commercial spying is an aspect of most intelligence agencies' work, and those with experience in state sectors are highly prized assets in the private sector; the state sustains important sectors of capital (especially those associated with its imperial practises, ranging from high finance to semiconductor manufacturing) so that the process of state rule is integrated with the processes of capital accumulation. Now, often highlighting corruption is a means of preserving the furniture aboard the titanic, so that one misses that the system is at fault - but I am merely undertaking the marxist task of pointing out how corruption of this kind is in fact part of the imperial system, an aspect of the techniques of state rule. Of course small-time crooks getting in over their heads are sometimes excellent prophylactics: whether it's Richard Perle shaking down the sheikhs or John DeLorean making off with billions of dollars, the public lesson is that such corruption is an anomaly, rather than an integral part of the social fabric.


19. Rad Geek links to an interview with court intellectual John "Unitary Executive" Yoo, who obligingly admits that he's the devil.

20. I've stumbled onto a great new blog, How Many Miles from Babylon, by homesteader Eleutheros (his Blogger profile lists his occupation as "free man"). Along with its subsidiary blogs Free Man's Garden and Free Man's Table, the writing style and subject matter both remind me a bit of Nathan Lytle's essay "The Hind Tit" in the Nashville agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand.

21. Via Battlepanda:
WASHINGTON -- Former FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford pleaded guilty Tuesday to conflict of interest and false reporting of information about stocks he owned in food, beverage and medical device companies he was in charge of regulating.

Crawford admitted to falsely reporting that he had sold or did not own stock when he continued holding shares in the firms governed by rules of the Food and Drug Administration. Beginning in 2002, Crawford filed seven incorrect financial reports with a government ethics office and Congress, leading to the charges.

Battlepanda adds, "Of course Crawford is working at a lobbying firm now...."


22. Ed D'Angelo's book Barbarians at the Gates, an analysis of the neoliberal and postmodern capitalist ideologies as they affect libraries, is now available in print.

23. Beautiful slam of Tom Friedman, who's apparently been talking out his ass:

During a CNBC interview with Tim Russert in late July, the acclaimed savant made a notable confession: “We got this free market, and I admit, I was speaking out in Minnesota - my hometown, in fact - and guy stood up in the audience, said, ‘Mr. Friedman, is there any free trade agreement you’d oppose?’ I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’ I said, ‘You know what, sir? I wrote a column supporting the CAFTA, the Caribbean Free Trade initiative. I didn’t even know what was in it. I just knew two words: free trade.’”...

Tim Russert didn’t bother to pursue the fact that one of the nation’s leading journalists had just said that he fervently advocated for a major trade agreement without knowing what was in it. “But beyond Russert’s negligence,” David Sirota wrote at the time, “what’s truly astonishing is that Tom Friedman, the person who the media most relies on to interpret trade policy, now publicly runs around admitting he actually knows nothing at all about the trade pacts he pushes in his New York Times column.”

24. Roderick Long reviews Barbara Ehrenreich's excellent Nickel and Dimed. Unlike most libertarians, who he says seldom mention it without a sneer, Long (by his own account familiar with the life Ehrenreich explored) finds her account of life in the bottom wage tier pretty much on the mark--including "the arbitrary and humiliating petty chickenshit tyrannies of employers." Unfortunately, she has little grasp of what makes life so unpleasant for the working poor, or of how much of it results from state intervention on behalf of the plutes rather than from the "market." Long proposes, as a remedy, an end to such intervention, along with working class solidarity--the pre-Wagner kind:

On the one hand, this means formal organisation, including unionisation – but I’m not talking about the prevailing model of “business unions,” conspiring to exclude lower-wage workers and jockeying for partnership with the corporate/government elite, but real unions, the old-fashioned kind, committed to the working class and not just union members, and interested in worker autonomy, not government patronage. (See Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business for a history of how pseudo-unions crowded out real ones, with government help.) On the other hand, it means helping to build a broader culture of workers standing up for one another and refusing to submit to humiliating treatment.

These two solutions are of course complementary; an expanded economy, greater competition among employers, and fewer legal restrictions on workers makes building solidarity easier, while at the same time increased solidarity can and should be part of a political movement fighting the state.

25. Via Ender's Review, some good material on no-knock raids, police informer corruption, and the militarization of police forces: Radley Balko and William Grigg.

26. Via Meir Israelowitz, by private email, links to an article on increasing attempts by former owners to reclaim worker-managed factories: "Workers without bosses at a turning point." Never mind the question of whether the worker-occupied enterprises were state capitalist, and therefore ought to be expropriated by workers on Rothbardian grounds. And never mind even more radical leftist property theories. What I wonder is this: Shouldn't it be enough for most radical free market believers that 1) the occupied factories were abandoned because the property at the time wasn't worth the labor of selling it in a collapsed economy; 2) the firms that abandoned it were bankrupt; and 3) among the victims of the defaulting bankrupt firms were the workers who were owed back wages?

27. Another mutualist classic online, thanks to the indefatigable Shawn Wilbur: William Henry Van Ornum's Money, Co-operative Banking and Exchange (1892).

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin, you might like Alex Singleton's post over at Samizdata, on the neoliberal Centre for a New Europe lobbying for a special Europe wide police force to stop free trade in drugs.

New report calls for an EU police force, new EU regulations and the precautionary principle

December 08, 2006 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Eric H said...

I try to keep one eye on alternative energy, but it just doesn't measure up to what the optimists are claiming - 20 years ago or now. And I'm especially interested in the decentralizing aspects of all of them; I've written about it (rather incoherently) several times. The interview with Travis Bradford is interesting, but I don't see that he's adding anything substantive to the debate.

Any serious consideration of alt energy has to start with Howard Hayden's Solar Fraud, which is over-the-top and extremely distorting in some aspects, but the man is a physicist and he makes good points about the misleading marketing and bogus engineering claims made. If anything, Lovins gets marks for advocating a personal economy of scale: if you do everything - alt energy, thick insulation, reuse water, etc. - your bills go down, but if you do only a few, they go up. But so far, that's something you can only do if you're fairly well off already (or you have lots of time on your hands), especially in the face of zoning laws that prohibit even the appropriate and responsible reuse of gray water (so you end up using high quality potable water in the toilet tank).

The cost of solar has been going up over the past few years, not down (see this for example). I see that as a temporary, demand-driven problem. Nevertheless, while he is claiming that solar is decentralizing, Bradford barely admits that much of the demand is gov't-driven. This is a great way to mark the 100th anniversary of the Good Roads movement, the Progressive Era common individual's answer to railroads that brought us public roads, cars, freeways, trucks, pollution, traffic fatalities, a rising demand for mass transit -- what we used to call railroads! -- and, ironically, the very problems that solar energy is supposed to address. As the gov't infrastructure that subsidizes and promotes solar grows, what unintended consequences are on the horizon?

Oh, and while Travis Bradford is concerned about the environmental load of biofuels (something about which he is correct; it will put our fuel stations in competition with our grocery stores, no matter what Joshua Tickell says), he is silent about the environmental load of silicon. It takes massive amounts of energy (!), caustic chemicals, and water to produce silicon at the purities required. No problem - I'm sure the Dept of Energy has a proposal or two that, given sufficient funding, will produce the necessary replacement technologies.

December 08, 2006 8:06 PM  
Blogger quasibill said...

Eric,

As far as solar increasing in price, always be careful measuring prices in a commodity that is constantly depreciating in value (like the US$). If you correct your chart for MZM, at least, you might discover something surprising.

The rest of your take seems pretty accurate, though.

December 09, 2006 12:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Eric,

As to solar energy, I'd guess that Peak Oil will have to make non-renewable energy considerably more expensive before it takes off. Wind is much cheaper per KwH, and so is small-scale water generation if you've got a creek. The best mix probably to use solar only as a complement to wind.

I also agree that conservation measures, like passive solar design, have far better payoff as investments than alternative energy generation. It sounds like you've been reading Natural Capitalism, by Lovins, Hawken et al. A whole-systems approach to design, as opposed to integrating alternative components piecemeal into a conventional overall design, can actually reduce energy consumption by an order of magnitude or more at a *lower* initial construction cost.

People like Reisman who equate reduced carbon consumption to a primitive lifestyle, assuming that the required input of carbon for a given level of output is a fixed ratio, are idiots.

As quasibill has suggested, Reisman should stick to commentary on things he knows something about. Maybe he'll figure out what that is someday.

December 12, 2006 12:06 PM  
Anonymous Eric H said...

quasi

Yes, I only used current, not real prices. The point was that PV was changing at about the same rate as gasoline, yet gas stations are being accused of gouging and solar sellers aren't.

Kevin;

Wind is cheaper, but the key to alt energy is going to be the development of a proper storage medium (battery).

I have read Natural Capitalism, but I wasn't very enthusiastic about it. Except for the chapter endorsing Womack et al's Lean Thinking, and their child's view of economists, it was entirely unremarkable.

December 26, 2006 8:59 PM  

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