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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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Saturday, December 31, 2005

Monbiot: Two Steps Forward....

Via Larry Gambone at Porcupine Blog. George Monbiot's got a great article at The Guardian: "They bleat about the free market, then hold out their begging bowls."

In the submission [the Confederation of British Industry] made to the chancellor's pre-budget report, it demanded that the government spend less on everything except business. The state should cut its planned spending on health, social security and local authorities, and use some of the savings to protect and enhance its "support and advisory services for trade and businesses". Our higher-education budget should be used to supply free research for corporations. The regional development agencies should "expand their activities to support more extensive business-to-business networking and collaboration". Further road taxes should be abandoned, and the climate-change levy "should be frozen", but the government should help businesses by building more roads and airports. This is what the CBI means by free enterprise.

....In his book Perverse Subsidies, published in 2001, Professor Norman Myers estimates that when you add the direct payments US corporations receive to the wider costs they oblige society to carry, you come up with a figure of $2.6 trillion, or roughly five times as much as the profits they make. As well as the $362bn the OECD countries were paying for farming when his book was published (or rather, as we have seen, for activities masquerading as farming) they were shelling out about $71bn on fossil fuels and nuclear power and a staggering $1.1 trillion on road transport....

This week the rich countries gathering for the World Trade Organisation meeting in Hong Kong will tell the poor ones to open their economies to the free market. But the free market does not exist. In every nation the corporations hold out their begging bowls and tax-payers line up to fill them. We are the ragged-trousered philanthropists of the 21st century, the comparatively poor obliged to sponsor the rich.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Second Follow-up on Vulgar Liberalism: More on Labor Unions

In "Follow-Up: Vulgar Liberalism Watch," I pointed to several libertarian blog posts as evidence that not all free market advocates share the vulgar libertarians' employer-skewed scenario of free labor markets, and that some are even quite union-friendly. Now Ian Bertram of Panchromatica points me to this:

It may be of course that the ASI is really saying that employers should be able to hire and fire for any reason whatsoever without those fired having any remedy. If we accept this for the sake of argument, what would be the implications of such a radical approach?

First of all we need also to assume a completely free market in labour, with employers and employees able to seek whatever terms they wish and to negotiate with each other about those terms. It seems likely that employers would use agents to carry out the negotiations since the CEO of a company is not going to want to have to constantly negotiate with each and every worker directly. These agents would probably be directly employed since the work would be ongoing, although it presumably could be outsourced as is frequently the case with accounting services.

On the employee side they would presumably also want to employ someone to negotiate on their behalf. After all their normal working skills are unlikely to include the skills needed for negotiations, (although I suppose some workers could develop those skills over time and with extra training and may wish to move into this area, thus allowing for 'upskilling' in the labour force). Inevitably this will not be by direct employment, but through some form of agent. Over time, economies of scale and the workings of the market are likely to lead to these agents combining into larger units much as other businesses do. Some will be more successful than others and will therefore gain more business. Some may diversify into areas other than simple wage negotiations and into areas such as holidays, pension benefits etc.

Over time, relationships between employers and employees agents would begin to to stabilise into formal agreements, with contracts setting out terms of employment for a defined period.

Hang on - this is beginning to sound very familiar! Isn't this a trade union?

I would add that, in a free labor market, what's good for the gander is good for the goose. If employers are free to refuse or withdraw employment for any reason or no reason, then workers are likewise free to withdraw their labor for any or no reason. That means that, in the absence of a freely negotiated contract, workers are free to engage in secondary sympathy or boycott strikes. Teamsters and longshoremen are free to refuse to handle scab cargo. The Railway Labor Relations Act and Taft-Hartley are out the window.

The great CIO organizing strikes of the early '30s, remember, were won before the Wagner Act passed. They were won by non-government-certified unions, without any union-shop contract clause to help them. The union membership was created, in other words, by the very act of striking. Paid union membership in a plant might be just a few percent, until a flying squadron announced a walkout--at which the entire labor force joined by voting with its feet. I suggest it might actually be easier to organize disgruntled workers by such means, in hot blood, than to get them to jump in cold blood through all the hoops of the NLRB certification process.

And those early industrial union victories were won by strategic leadership planning strikes the way a general staff plans a military campaign. The successful strikes involved multiple echelons of defense, with strikes at every stage in the production process. In some cases, the support of transport workers turned them into regional general strikes. The whole body of labor legislation, with Taft-Hartley and the various transport labor relations acts at its heart, was created to outlaw just such a successful strategy. The object of corporate liberal legislation was to domesticate the labor revolution of the early '30s, and to place the rank-and-file under the firm supervision of union bureaucrats at the local plant level.

As Ian said, it was the employers who wanted to bring contract and predictability into the process. My guess is that, without Taft-Hartley and Wagner, they might well again be begging for the kind of stability that a union contract provides. As I recall, one of the reasons that Gerard Swope and like-minded employers favored industrial unionism in the '30s was precisely that they were so much easier to deal with than a whole gaggle of craft unions, any one of which could disrupt production unpredictably. In other words, the industrial union could potentially solve the same problem that earlier attempts at company unions were intended to solve. The leadership of an industrial union, if given the government-backed power to suppress wildcats and enforce contracts, was a handy tool for labor discipline.

I'll take it one step further. I suspect that labor relations are potentially a case of asymmetric warfare. That is, in a situation of labor war, the cost and risk to the workers of circumventing management surveillance and control will be a fraction of the cost to the employer of implementing it. It's a lot like the old offensive-defensive arms race in the days of ballistic missile defense, when offensive counter-measures were a lot cheaper than the defenses.

For example, if you think about it, you can probably think of a hundred ways to raise costs and reduce effiency on your job, with virtually no chance of getting caught. Many of them, like working to rule, are nothing more than glorified passive-aggression.

Another example: the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto argue that unauthorized communication between workers and customers is, contrary to the assumptions of clueless management, the best promotional tool a company can have. What they neglected to mention is that, when workers are disgruntled, telling customers the truth about the company is the best way to break it. In the absence of unions, the workers' only real bargaining leverage may be the customer's favorable image of the company. For the customer to see the worker as his ally and the company management as their common enemy is the bosses' worst nightmare. "Open mouth sabotage" is just another form of the "swarming" that so alarmed David Ronfeldt et al in their work on "netwar." In this age of networked activism, it's possible for disgruntled employees, through a campaign of emails, letters, phone calls, discussion board posts, and anonymous websites, to totally overwhelm their employers with negative publicity.

Lane Kirkland once suggested, only half-heartedly, that he was tempted to seek a repeal of all labor legislation since Norris-LaGuardia (which simply took federal militias and courts out of labor disputes). He speculated that, if labor and management were allowed fight it out with all the weapons at their disposal in a free market, labor would do better than under the present regime. I suspect he was right. After all, as the slogan goes, all we have to do is fold our arms, and we can bring their world to a stop.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective

Chapter Outline

Part One: State Capitalist Intervention in the Market

Chapter One: A Critical Survey of Orthodox Views on Economy of Scale
Appendix 1A. Economy of Scale in Development Economics
Chapter Two: A Survey of Empirical Literature on Economy of Scale
A. Economies of Firm Size
B. Economies of Plant Size
C. The Comparative Significance of Scale Economies and Organizational Efficiency
D. Increased Distribution Costs
E. The Link Between Size and Innovation
F. Economy of Scale in Agriculture
Chapter Three: State Policies Promoting Centralization and Large Organizational Size
I. The Corporate Transformation of Capitalism in the Nineteenth Century
A. The Nineteenth Century Corporate Legal Revolution
B. Subsidies to Transportation and Communication Infrastructure
C. Patents and Copyrights
D. Tariffs
II. Twentieth Century State Capitalism
A. Cartelizing Regulations
B. Tax Policy
C. The Corporate Liberal Pact with Labor
D. The Socialization of Corporate Cost
E. State Action to Absorb Surplus Output
F. Neoliberal Foreign Policy

Part Two: Systemic Effects of Centralization and Excessive Organizational Size

Chapter Four: Systemic Effects of State-Induced Economic Centralization and Large Organizational Size
A. Radical Monopoly and Its Effects on the Individual
B. Systemic Effects on Institutional Culture
C. The Large Organization and Conscript Clienteles
D. The New Middle Class and the Professional-Managerial Revolution
Postscript: Crisis Tendencies
Appendix 4A. Journalism as Stenography

Part Three: Internal Effects of Organizational Size Above That Required for Optimum Efficiency

Chapter Five: Knowledge and Information Problems in the Large Organization
A. The Volume of Data
B. The Distortion of Information Flow by Power
Conclusion and Segue
Appendix 5A. Toilet Paper as Paradigm
Chapter Six: Agency and Incentive Problems in the Large Organization
Chapter Seven: Economic Calculation in the Corporate Commonwealth (the corporation as planned economy)
A. The Divorce of Entrepreneurial from Technical Knowledge
B. Mises vs. Hayek on Distributed Knowledge
C. Rothbard's Application of Mises' Calculation Argument to the Private Sector
Chapter Eight: Managerialism, Irrationality and Authoritarianism in the Large Organization
A. The Corporate Form and Managerialism
B. Self-Serving Policies for "Cost-Cutting," "Quality" and "Efficiency"
C. The Authoritarian Workplace: Increased Hierarchy and Surveillance
D. Authoritarianism: Contract Feudalism
E. Authoritarianism: The Hegemony of "Professionalism"
F. Motivational Propaganda as a Substitute for Real Incentives
Appendix 8A. Blaming Workers for the Results of Mismanagement
Chapter Nine: Special Agency Problems of Labor (internal crisis tendencies of the large organization)
A. The Special Agency Problems of Labor
B. Labor Struggle as Asymmetric Warfare
C. The Growing Importance of Human Capital: Peer Production vs. the Corporate Gatekeepers
D. Austrian Criticism of the Usefulness of Unions
Appendix 9A. Sabotage in a London Nightclub: A Case Study
Appendix 9B. Yochai Benkler on Open-Mouth Sabotage: Diebold and Sinclair Media as Case Studies in Media Swarming
Appendix 9C. DeCSS as an Example of Media Swarming
Appendix 9D. Open-Mouth Sabotage, Cont.: Alisher Usmanov as a Case Study in Media Swarming
Appendix 9E.
Open-Mouth Sabotage, Cont.: Wikileaks as a Case Study in Media Swarming
Appendix 9F. Open-Mouth Sabotage, Cont.: Stupid White Men as a Case Study in Media Swarming
Chapter Ten: Attempts at Reform from Within (Management Fads)
A. New Wine in Old Bottles
B. Lip Service and Business as Usual
C. Management by Stress
D. Dumbing Down
Appendix 10A. The Military Origins of Quality Control

Part Four: Conjectures on Decentralist Free Market Alternative

Chapter Eleven: The Abolition of Privilege
A. Reciprocity
B. Privilege and Inequality
C. Specific Forms of Privilege, and the Effect of Their Abolition
Appendix 11A. Reciprocity and Thick Libertarianism
Chapter Twelve:
The Cost Principle
Chapter Thirteen:
Dissolution of the State in Society
A. Revolution vs. Evolution
B. Dialectical Libertarianism and the Order of Attack
C. The "Free Market" as Hegemonic Ideology
D. Gradualism and the "Magic Button"
E. "Dissolving the State in the Economy"
F. Counter-Institutions
G. Counter-Institutions and Counter-Economics
H. The Two Economies and the Shifting Correlation of Forces
I. Privatizing State Property
Chapter Fourteen: Decentralized Production Technology
Introduction: Basic Goals and Values
A. Multiple Purpose Production Technology
B. The Transition to Decentralized Manufacturing
C. Desktop Manufacturing Technology
D. Polytechnic
E. Eotechnic, Paleotechnic, and Neotechnic
F. Decentralized Agriculture
G. A Soft Development Path
Chapter Fifteen: Social Organization of Production: Cooperatives and Peer Production
A. Self-Employment: Increased Productive Efficiency
B. Cooperatives: Increased Productive Efficiency
C. Innovation Under Worker Self-Management
D. Social Benefits of Worker Empowerment
E. Peer Production
F. The Social Economy and the Crisis of Capitalism
Chapter Sixteen: The Social Organization of Distribution, Exchange and Services
A. Demand-Pull Distribution
B. Local Exchange Systems; Household and Informal Economies
C. Certification, Licensing and Trust
D. Social Services
E. Mutual Aid and the Voluntary Welfare State
F. Education
G. Healthcare


General Material

A Heads-Up on My New Project
General Outline (pdf)

Major Posts:
On the Irrationality of Large Organizations
On the Superior Efficiency of Small-Scale Organization
What Can Bosses Know?
Toilet Paper as Paradigm
Economic Calculation in the Corporate Commonwealth
Part I: The Divorce of Entrepreneurial from Technical Knowledge
Part II: Hayek vs. Mises on Distributed Knowledge (Excerpt)
Part III: Rothbard's Application of the Calculation Argument to the Private Sector

Follow-up: P2P, the Two Economies, and Desktop Manufacturing
Distribution of Capital and the Pull Economy
Managerialism and the State
Natural Organizations and the Pull Economy
Robert Jackall on Corporate Bureaucracy
Liberation Management, or Management by Stress?

Secondary Posts:
The Panopticon: Not Just For Prison Any More
Face Time, Extrinsic Measures, and Contract Feudalism
Dilbert, Corporate Bureaucracy, and Libertarianism
P2P: New Economic Paradigm?
Dave Pollard on Organizational Behavior
Inmates Running the Asylum
New Wine in Old Bottles
Great Discussion on Corporate Hierarchies
Three Quotes on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Outsource Everyone But the Pointy-Haired Bosses
Blaming Workers for the Results of Mismanagement
I Wish You Wouldn't Be So Good to Me, Cap'n (or, Executive Compensation and Ass-Kicking)
The Importance of Competitive CEO Salaries

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

Follow-up: P2P, the Two Economies, and Desktop Manufacturing

Some readers have pointed me to a considerable amount of new information on decentralized economics.

1. Joel Schlosberg, of Joel's Humanistic Blog, sent me (as a follow-up to "P2P: New Economic Paradigm?") links to (among other things) Oekonux, a neo-Marxist group that sees open source as the organizing paradigm for a new economy. He also linked to some intriguing articles at Oekonux, including Stefan Merton's "GNU/Linux - Milestone on the Way to the GPL Society."

2. In "P2P," I wrote concerning Michel Bawens' essay "Peer to Peer and Human Evolution,"

I'm not sure I agree with Bauwens' contention that peer-to-peer networks will become the dominant form of economic organization. But to the extent that it's possible to disaggregate the separate stages of production within existing vertically integrated corporations, a good many of those stages (for example, as Bauwens says, the design stage) will be amenable to handling by decentralized peer networks and the gift economy.

Bauwens, in the comments, clarified his position.

...I want to slightly amend your interpretation. I am saying that historically, different intersubjective modes have co-existed (gift economy, authority ranking, market pricing and communal shareholding), but always within a context of a dominant form (the gift economy in the tribal era, the authority ranking model in the feudal era), which informs their own expression.... What I'm saying is, that since the current format is not ecologically or psychically sustainable, we have an opportunity to replace it with a format where P2P is the prime overarching logic. But still: markets, gift economy modes, hierarchy modes will continue to exist.

He went on to quote a newsletter editorial he recently wrote:

I think much revolves about the significance of the Relational Model by Alan Page Fiske, and the consequences we draw from it. Remember, Fiske, in Structures of Social Life, maintains there’s a universal grammar of human relationships. Intersubjective relations can take on four ideal-types: Equality Matching (I have to return something of equal value to this gift to maintain equal status); Authority Ranking (I defer to your authority because you are superior in some way); Market Pricing (I exchange something for similar value), Communal Sharing (I give what I can for this collective resource, it’s for everybody to use).

I make an add-on to this theory, which I’m not sure Fiske is making himself. Which is the following: if historically the four modes have always co-existed, they have done so under the dominant influence of one of them, which ‘informs’ their own expression. For example, the tribal era was dominated by a gift economy, i.e. equality matching; the feudal era by Authority Ranking, the industrial and capitalist era by market pricing.

The key hypothesis of P2P Theory is this: we witness the emergence of a new form of Communal Shareholding, associated with the peer to peer relational dynamic at work in distributed networks, and giving rise to such processes as peer production, peer governance, and peer property modes. Our preferred hypothesis is that we have a major opportunity to move towards a ‘Commons-based civilization within a reformed market and a reformed state’. Alternatives are that the present market form incorporates the P2P dynamic, or that our energy-intensive civilization collapses into Authority Ranking once more.

P2P Theory attempts to describe the emergence of peer to peer as an ‘objective phenomenon’, but, crucially, investiges what subjective/intersubjective political strategies could be used to promote it. Because of the insight of the Relational Model, we do not believe in a marketless or stateless society, but rather, in a political economy influenced primarily by civil society and its commons.

Please note that we are not advocating a Commons-only society, as a counter to both state totalitarianism (the Soviet model), and market totalitarianism (the neoliberal model), but a differentiated society, where the four modes can co-exist and where people are free to choose the intersubjective mode they enter into. In particular, what makes P2P so appealing, is that it is a form of collective life, of intersubjectivity, which builds on, but does not replace individuality or individualism. There is no return to the organic wholism of premodern society, but something entirely new that integrates individual freedom and free cooperation.

A credible strategy for political and social change therefore would combine fourfold substrategies:

1) strategies aimed at strengthening the Commons and P2P modes

2) strategies aimed at strengthening personalized gift economies in areas where market exchange is inappropriate or dysfunctional (elderly care in Japan, LETS systems)

3) a reform towards an equitable market which does not externalize environmental and social costs (natural capitalism approach); reform of the scarcity-based monetary system (a la Bernard Lietaer), multiple currencies for localized markets (open money schemes); multistakeholder framing of market exchange (Decaillot, see above)

4) reform of the state form and change of hierarchical modes using multistakeholdership and peer governance

It is the combination of all of this which could be the basis of a powerful alternative. P2P Theory does not claim at this stage to offer such an integrated and differentiated strategy, but at least investigates its possibility. At the moment what it has more or less successfully done is describe and explain the emergence of peer to peer as the new relational dynamic which is both immanent in the contempary system, but which has strong transcendent aspects (i.e. a potential for systemic change).

3. In the comments on "The Two Economies," Matthew Claxton of Little Iguanodon referred me in the comment thread to material on desktop manufacturing. As he says,

Manufacturing is already, in small ways, breaking out into an open-source model.

"Desktop manufacturing," as a catchall term, includes a wide spectrum of different innovations.

At the most science-fictiony end of the specturm, the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT operates on the philosophy that "reality is information"; and at the point where bits intersect with atoms, via all kinds of nifty stuff like nanotech and von Neumann replicators, you get something like the transporters and replicators on Star Trek. While that may be on the way, it's too far out for me to get my mind around.

At an intermediate stage, with one foot still in the old-fashioned world of meatsphere-style production, he links to a Salon article on desktop manufacturing via 3-D printers. The idea is a printer that, over a period of hours, lays down layer after infinitesimal layer of glue and conductive material, gradually fabricating an electronic device or appliance with circuitry embedded in its frame; or, alternatively, "printing" circuitry onto a sheet. You transmit the specs for an electronic device, and it gets "printed" in 3-D at the destination.

But at the other end of the spectrum, most relevant to what I've written in the past on decentralized production, he links to some sites like Squidlabs, eMachineShop, and Big Blue Saw that will custom machine individual parts to your specs by online order, and ship them to you. As eMachineShop says,

Welcome to eMachineShop - where you can design, price, and order your custom parts online!

eMachineShop is the remarkable new way to get the custom parts you need - the first true online machine shop. Download our free software, draw your part, and click to order - it's easy! Your part will be machined and delivered - at low cost.

With Big Blue Saw, likewise,

you can upload a part and have it shipped to your door in 14-21 days. We use state of the art computer controlled robotic machinery to convert your ideas into a reality.

Of all the material Matthew referred me to, this is the most interesting to me, because it ties in with a lot of other ideas I've been toying with lately. In "P2P," I wrote:

In a decentralized economy, individual stages of production that are currently carried on at a single large site by a vertically integrated corporation may be more economically done in small machine shops (cf. Jane Jacobs' account of the origins of the Japanese bicycle industry, in The Economy of Cities), or in Kirkpatrick Sale's neighborhood repair-recycling centers. In some stages of production, the substitution of lower-tech, partially human powered operations (cf Mumford's discussion of "polytechnic" in The Pentagon of Power) or Sale's and Bookchin's general-purpose production technologies, will be economical when savings on bureaucratic and distribution costs, and overhead, are taken into account.

I dealt with these ideas at much greater length in "On the Superior Efficiency of Small-Scale Organization."

In The Visible Hand, Alfred Chandler idealized the kind of high-tech, capital- and energy-intensive production in which "economies of speed" or "throughput" are used to "transform high fixed costs into low unit costs." But the success of such a model depends on artificially large market areas with a swift and uninterrupted flow of goods through a mass-distribution and -marketing pipeline, reinforced by an advertising-mediated culture of mass-consumption--all of which depends on state-subsidized infrastructure. When those artificial assumptions are removed, and production is in limited runs for small local markets, Mumford's and Sale's industrial model is likely to be more efficient than Chandler's.

The custom machining of parts fits right in with these ideas. What really interests me is the potential for using the kind of thing eMachineShop and Big Blue Saw are doing--but in the context of small machine shops integrated into a local economy.

F.M. Scherer, a specialist on economy of scale, wrote of the false economies involved in higher-tech, more product-specific forms of production than the size of the market would support:

Ball bearing manufacturing provides a good illustration of several product-specific economies. If only a few bearings are to be custom-made, the ring machining will be done on general-purpose lathes by a skilled operator who hand-positions the stock and tools and makes measurements for each cut. With this method, machining a single ring requires from five minutes to more than an hour, depending on the part's size and complexity and the operator's skill. If a sizable batch is to be produced, a more specialized automatic screw machine will be used instead. Once it is loaded with a steel tube, it automatically feeds the tube, sets the tools and adjusts its speed to make the necessary cuts, and spits out machined parts into a hopper at a rate of from eighty to one hundred forty parts per hour. A substantial saving of machine running and operator attendance time per unit is achieved, but setting up the screw machine to perform these operations takes about eight hours. If only one hundred bearing rings are to be made, setup time greatly exceeds total running time, and it may be cheaper to do the job on an ordinary lathe. [Industrial Market Structure and Economic Performance, p. 97]

Now, if production runs sufficient to make the product-specific machinery profitable require government intervention to make distribution artificially cheap and to aggregate artificially large market areas, then it's not really profitable at all when all the costs are internalized. It costs more than it comes to. In this case, again, Sale's model of general-purpose production technology is more efficient. Treating transportation subsidy as a "public good," as Chandler does, because mass distribution and marketing enable these dubious "efficiencies" in manufacturing, is ass-backward. As Peter Drucker said,

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

In a related matter, Oliver Williamson argued in Market and Hierarchy and The Economic Institutions of Capitalism that internalizing separate production stages in a large firm, rather than tying them together contractually on the open market, was a governance structure made necessary by the moral hazard problems involved in "asset specificity." In the absence of asset specificity, he said, firms would reach the point at which internal bureaucratic inefficiencies outweighed the transaction costs of market contracting at a much smaller size. But as we've seen, asset specificity is itself a dependent variable depending on market size--not, as Chandler seemed to believe, a good in its own right. Government policies that promote large market size and artificially increase the division of labor also lead to artificially high asset specificity, and thus make large firm size artificially efficient.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Clarence Swartz: What is Mutualism?

At his Panarchy site, John Zube (also of Libertarian Microfiche fame) has the full text of Clarence Lee Swartz's 1927 classic What is Mutualism?

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Soldiers' Christmas Truce, 1914

Via Dick Martin on the VCM discussion list. A Phil Shannon review of Stanley Weintraub's Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce (The Free Press, 2001).

The Soldiers’ Truce

It was the war that was supposed ''to be over by Christmas''. It very nearly was. A spontaneous soldiers' truce broke out along the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914, four months after the start of hostilities.

''Peace on Earth'', ''goodwill to all men'' -- British, French and German soldiers took these usually hypocritical Christmas sentiments for real and refused to fire on the ''enemy'', exchanging instead song, food, drink and gifts with each other in the battle-churned wastes of ''no-man's land'' between the trenches.

Lasting until Boxing Day in some cases, the truce alarmed the military authorities who worked overtime to end the fraternisation and restart the killing.

Stanley Weintraub's haunting book on the ''Christmas Truce'' recounts through the letters of the soldiers the extraordinary event, routinely denigrated in orthodox military histories as ''an aberration of no consequence'', but which was, argues Weintraub, not only a temporary respite from slaughter but an event which had the potential to topple death-dealing governments.

With hundreds of thousands of casualties since August from a war bogged down in the trenches and mud of France, soldiers of all countries were tired of fighting. There had already been some pre-Christmas truces to bury the dead rotting in ''no-man's land'' but these truces had needed the approval of higher authority.

''Soon'', however, ''few would care about higher authority'' as an unauthorised and illegal truce ''bubbled up from the ranks''.

The peace overtures generally began with song. From German trenches illuminated by brightly lit Christmas trees would come a rich baritone voice or an impromptu choir singing Silent Night (Stille Nacht). Other carols and songs floated back and forth over the barbed wire. A German boot tossed into the British trenches exploded with nothing more harmful than sausages and chocolates. Signs bearing ''Merry Christmas'' were hung over the trench parapets, followed by signs and shouts of ''you no shoot, we no shoot''.

The shared Christmas rituals of carols and gifts eased the fear, suspicion and anxiety of initial contact as first a few unarmed
soldiers, arms held above their heads, warily ventured out into the middle to be followed soon by dozens of others, armed only with schnapps, pudding, cigarettes and newspapers.

The extraordinary outbreak of peace swept along the entire front from the English Channel to the Switzerland border. Corporal John Ferguson, from the Scottish Seaforth Highlanders shared the pleasant disbelief -- ''Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill''.

Uniform accessories (buttons, insignias, belts) were swapped as souvenirs. Christmas dinner was shared amongst the bomb craters. A Londoner in the 3rd Rifles had his hair cut by a Saxon who had been his barber in High Holborn. Helmets were swapped as mixed groups of soldiers posed for group photographs.

Some British soldiers were taken well behind German lines to a bombed farmhouse to share the champagne from its still intact cellar. Soccer matches were played in `no-man's land' with stretchers as goalposts. Bicycle races were held on bikes with no tyres found in the ruins of houses. A German soldier captivated hundreds with a display of juggling and magic. ''You would have thought you were dreaming'', wrote captain F. D. Harris to his family in Liverpool.

The high command ordered the line command to stop the fraternisation. Few line officers did or could. The truce momentum could not be arrested. Deliberate or accidental breaches of the tacit truce failed to undermine it. Stray shots were resolved by an apology. If ordered to shoot at unarmed soldiers, soldiers aimed deliberately high.

Sergeant Lange of the XIX Saxon Corps recounted how, when ordered on Boxing Day to fire on the 1st Hampshires, they did so, ''spending that day and the next wasting ammunition in trying to shoot the stars down from the sky''. By firing in the air, as the sergeant noted with approval, they had ''struck'', like the class-conscious workers they were in civilian life. They had had enough of killing.

Military authorities feared fraternisation -- a court-martial offence, punishable by death, it weakens ''the will to kill'', ''destroys the offensive spirit'', saps ''ideological fervour'' and ''undermines the sacrificial spirit'' necessary to wage war. It was politically subversive -- ''A bas la guerre!'' (''Down with the war!'') from a French soldier was returned with ''Nie wieder Kreig! Das walte Gott!'' (''No more war! It's what God wants!'') from his Bavarian counterpart.

After ''mucking-in'' with British soldiers, a German private wrote that ''never was I as keenly aware of the insanity of war''.

Soldiers reasserted their shared humanity -- Private Rupert Frey of the Bavarian 16th Regiment wrote after fraternising with the English that ''normally we only knew of their presence when they sent us their iron greetings''. ''Now'', we gathered, ''as if we were friends, as if we were brothers. Well, were we not, after all!''.

If ordinary soldiers acted on these sentiments, a big danger loomed for governments and the ruling class. If left to themselves, the soldiers would have been home from the shooting war by Christmas all fired up for the class war at home. As Weintraub says, ''many troops had discovered through the truce that the enemy, despite the best efforts of propagandists, were not monsters. Each side had encountered men much like themselves, drawn from the same walks of life -- and led, alas by professionals who saw the world through different lenses''.

Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Sherlock Holmes creator, who had turned from jingoistic imperialism to spiritualism after the death of his son in the war, shot an angry glance to military and civil authority -- ''those high-born conspirators against the peace of the world, who in their mad ambition had hounded men on to take each other by the throat rather than by the hand''.

The high command on both sides were desperate to restart ''the war that had strangely vanished''. Replacement troops with no emotional commitment to the truce were rushed in. The 2nd Welsh Fusiliers who had not fired a shot from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day were relieved without notice, an exceptional practice. Sometimes threats were necessary -- when German officers ordered a regiment in the XIX Saxon Corps to start firing and were met with replies of ''we can't -- they are good fellows'', the officers replied ''Fire, or we do -- and not at the enemy!''.

To prevent further spontaneous truces after 1914, the British high command ordered slow, continuous artillery barrages, trench raids and mortar bombardments -- immensely costly of lives but effectively limiting the opportunities for fraternisation for the rest of the war. To discourage others, conspicuous disciplinary examples were made of individuals. For organising a cease-fire to bury the dead, which was followed by half an hour of fraternisation in ''no-man's land'' with no shooting for the rest of Christmas Day 1915, Captain Iain Colquhoun of the 1st Scots Guard was court-martialled. Merely reprimanded, the message was nevertheless clear for career-minded British officers.

Tougher medicine was needed when French soldiers refused to return to the trenches at Aisne in May 1917 -- 3427 courts-martial and 554 death sentences with 53 executed by firing squad were necessary to crank-start the war on this sector of the French front.

Repression from above won the day against the Christmas Truce of 1914 but it was the lack of soldiers' organisation from below that stifled the potential for turning the truce into a movement to stop the war.

On the eastern front, on the other hand, fraternisation and peace were Bolshevik policy and in Germany, it was mutinies by organised sailors and home-based soldiers, which finally put paid to Germany's war effort.

Weintraub has resurrected a beautiful moment in history, made all the more beautiful in the darkness of the carnage that was to follow when four more years of war took the lives of 6000 men a day. Far from a ''two-day wonder'', the Christmas truce ''evokes a stubborn humanity within us''. As folksinger John McCutcheon put it in his 1980s ballad Christmas in the Trenches, the war monster is a vulnerable beast when the common soldier realises that ''on each end of the rifle we're the same''.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Holidays!

Might ought to make that "Merry Christmas," so I don't get added to O'Reilly's list of far-left, progressive secularist hate groups fighting the war on Christmas. Best wishes to everyone, and many thanks for reading my cranky posts!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Comparing Online Services

My crappy PeoplePC free internet service is set to expire at the end of this year. I'd be interested in any recommendations my readers might have for a good ISP that's relatively cheap.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Echelon: Corporate Welfare?

Via Progressive Review:

ALAN PERROTT, INDEPENDENT, UK, JUL 14, 2001 - Echelon was set up during the Cold War by the United States, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia to collate electronic intelligence. The network has grown to keep pace with the explosion in information technology. Today it gives 55,000 British and American operatives access to data gathered by 120 spy satellites worldwide. Every minute of every day, the system can process three million electronic communications. . . This daily barrage is fed through a computer system which sifts out messages containing keywords or individual names and divides them between various intelligence agencies for further study. . .

Here it comes.... Wait for it, wait for it....:

One of Europe's main worries is the claim that Echelon gathers industrial espionage from European companies for American rivals. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas are said to have beaten France to a $6 billion contract to supply Airbus jets to Saudi Arabia, thanks to Echelon intercepts of faxes and phone calls. . .

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Follow-Up: Vulgar Liberalism Watch

Since I first posted "Vulgar Liberalism Watch," I found several more links to excellent posts on libertarian attitudes toward labor unions. Thanks to freeman, lc, who links to several of them in this post.

Rad Geek links to some good recent stuff by Roderick Long and Brad Spangler, as well as this great post at No Treason, by frequent Mutualist Blog commenter Joshua Holmes, on libertarian attitudes toward labor unions.

What do libertarians have against labour unions? This question struck me the other day (because it was better than studying for Business Associations) and I wondered why libertarians have so much bile for labour unions.

As an example of the genre, he cites George Reisman, one of the more viscerally vulgar libertarian writers at Mises.Org. Holmes, in considering the possible reason for so much anti-union bile, includes these standout comments:

Reason 1: Unions wouldn’t exist in a free market.

Answer 1: Why wouldn’t they? Perhaps they would actually be the dominant system for large-scale production enterprises. [Indeed; no particular reason that labor wouldn't be the firm and hire capital, instead of the other way around. KC]

Answer 2: Neither would the water department. How much bile do you have against public water?

Reason 2: Unions get government protection.

Answer: Sure, who doesn’t? The corporations whose products libertarians enjoy and often lionise enjoy government protection themselves. Direct subsidies, research grants, uneven tax laws, transport subsidies, bureaucratic regulation, etc. all contribute to the success of numerous corporations. Libertarians seem less bothered by this than with (admittedly unjust) laws such as the prohibition on firing striking workers.

Reason 3: Unions attempt to raise wages above the market rate.

Answer 1: In other words, unions attempt to get more for workers. So what?

Answer 2: The market rate, if I understand it, is what buyers and sellers are willing to bear. There is no objectively correct wage for labour - it is the result of the interplay of market actors. Workers will, of course, push for higher wages, just as management will push for higher profits....

Freeman also links to a post by Spangler in support of the NYC transit strike.

So there's a wealth of examples out there, if you look for them, showing that libertarians are not monolithically anti-union, and some of us free marketers are even pretty union-friendly. In fact, you don't even have to look for them. As I indicated in the original post, I practically rubbed philgoblue's and eugene's noses in such examples; and, gentlemen, if either of you is reading this, consider your noses duly rubbed once again.

So what's the deal? Confronted with such examples, why do so many liberals continue to cling so desperately to their false stereotype of libertarianism? The examples they cite of labor exploitation, pollution and other corporate malfeasance have about as much to do with genuine free markets as with Pinochet's Chile. In fact, they seem to be gleefully taking vulgar libertarian apologists for Pinochet at their word in their definition of libertarianism. Are they really unaware that anti-corporate, pro-union free market libertarians exist, and that there's a fairly substantial community of us? Surely philgoblue can't plead sincere ignorance, after he's been practically clubbed over the head with links proving just that. Are they really unaware of the extent to which corporate power benefits from state intervention, and the present system deviates from a free market? I fear the truth, rather, is that they deliberately reject evidence contrary to their crude black-and-white stereotype, and consciously embrace the most vulgar of vulgar libertarian ideas on "free markets," because they don't want to know the truth. It would make it a lot harder to hold on to their instinctive aesthetic revulsion against free markets, and their illusion that paternalistic, technocratic corporatism exists to benefit "the little guy." Simply put, it's more comfortable to be ignorant, and they'll fight to the death to keep from learning anything.

I say it once more: When somebody confronts you with evidence that your caricature of them is wrong, and you then calmly repeat that caricature without batting an eye, you're no longer ignorant. You're a liar.

Sympathy for the Devil

In the comments on "WTFWWTOD?" an interesting discussion sprung up over which think tanks and publications were most prone to vulgar libertarianism. The emerging consensus seems to be that most are a mixture of good and bad. But Mises.Org, for some reason, is a place of extremes, combining the best of the best with the most vulgar of the vulgar. As an example of the latter, Joel Schlosberg links to an especially awful piece, "In Defense of Scrooge," which seems to resurface around Christmas every year at Lew Rockwell or Mises.Org. Now you might wonder why, of all people, Levin picked Scrooge to defend. Oh, wait, I know--because he's rich! And as we all know, "free market principles" mean defending big business and the rich. Geez, I wonder why so many liberal Democrats instinctively reject libertarians as "greedy Republicans" in sheep's clothing, and why we have so much trouble promoting libertarian ideas in their venues. The answer, Mr. Levin, is in the mirror.

Levin's article includes this gem:

So let's look without preconceptions at Scrooge's allegedly underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. The fact is, if Cratchit's skills were worth more to anyone than the fifteen shillings Scrooge pays him weekly, there would be someone glad to offer it to him. Since no one has, and since Cratchit's profit-maximizing boss is hardly a man to pay for nothing, Cratchit must be worth exactly his present wages.

Note the standard vulgar libertarian pose of defending existing wealth, on the assumption that this is a free market. Now where have we seen this before? "Wal-Mart can't be exploiting workers or competing unfairly against small retailers, because the way a free market works is blah blah blah blah blah...."

Now, mind, Dickens' setting is an England where the Combination Laws and Laws of Settlement are still fairly recent, and large-scale waves of enclosures are still a living memory for many. In the previous two centuries, a majority of English peasants had been robbed of copyholds, commons rights, and other customary forms of tenure, and transformed (by state violence in collusion with the owning classes) into a propertyless proletariat. Any worker in an overpopulated parish of London who attempted to vote with his feet and seek work in the underpopulated industrial districts of the north, without permission, was a criminal under the terms of the internal passport system known as the Laws of Settlement. But voluntary movement being prohibited, the parish Poor Law overseers were more than happy to auction off denizens of the poorhouses, by the gross, to factory owners in said underpopulated industrial districts. Voluntary association to bargain for higher wages, likewise, was criminalized by the Combination Law--enforced, not by juries, but by administrative law with none of the customary common law protections for the defendant.

To summarize: the vast majority of English had been robbed of their property, society forcibly reconstructed from above, and the working majority put under totalitarian social controls by a plutocratic government, exactly as an occupying power would have done to a conquered population--all in order that they might be more easily exploited by the rich. The situation of the English working class during the Industrial Revolution, in other words, was slavery.

What next--a "free market" defense of wage rates in the Warsaw Ghetto?

Merry Christmas, everybody, and thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Vulgar Liberalism Watch (Yeah, You Read it Right)

Via James Wilson at Independent Country. If you follow the mainstream Democratic blogosphere, you know that any discussion of cooperation with libertarians will evoke the inevitable anti-libertarian slurs from some quarters. As Wilson says,

every time... somebody says something about reaching out to libertarians, then "Libertarianism" itself is put on trial.

The problem is, the people who presume to put it on trial are usually idiots, who know as little about the history of libertarianism as they do about the history of anything else.

Case in point: Logan Ferree, in a thoughtful post in his Daily Kos diary, described the vulgar liberal stereotype of libertarianism:

White men who are opposed to taxes, have read Ayn Rand one too many times (although once might be too many times) and like their guns and the Confederacy a lot.

And that's a pretty cartoonish, not to say stupid, view for a "reality-based" movement that prides itself on its grasp of the irreducible complexity of reality and derides its enemies for black-and-white thinking.

...accepting this characterchure is like believing the description of liberals at Free Republic. Intelligent, rational liberals like ourselves can do better than that.

Can? Maybe. And some do--but all too many do not. The vulgar liberal caricature of libertarianism is, as Logan suggests, an almost exact mirror image of the know-nothingism at Free Republic. As Archie Bunker said, "People who live in communes are commune-ists!" And for the vulgar liberal, likewise, "Libertarians are just pot-smoking Republicans."

Ferree cites Battlepanda's recent post, "Two Flavors of Libertarianism," as an example of a liberal willing to acknowledge the complexity of the real libertarian movement. Sure, the Catoids and pot-smoking Republicans are out there. They're the advocates of what I call "vulgar libertarianism": a crude pro-corporate apologetic barely disguised behind bogus "free market" principles. But there's another flavor of libertarianism:

There is Free Market Anti-Capitalism and a Blogosphere of the Libertarian Left. There are libertarians that criticize big business and criticize the role that big government plays in creating big business.

There's no shame in being unaware of this current of libertarianism. What is shameful, though, is not only being ignorant, but being proud of one's ignorance--indeed, desperately clinging to one's ignorance with the fervency of bigots everywhere.

Despite Ferree's good efforts, the ignorance in some cases was invincible. Worse yet, some of it went beyond the point of sincere ignorance, and instead became evidence of bad faith. Wilson sums up, quite well, all too many of the ensuing comments on Ferree's post:

But as the comments to Logan's post indicate, just saying the word "libertarian" gets some people riled up. Libertarians are greedy bastards, end of story. Some had the attitude of, "A LIBERTARIAN is voting for us? We don't want that!"

The worst of a bad lot was philgoblue, who was apparently channelling the idiot I debated earlier at Progressive Review.

Libertarians would also be against:
Social Security
The Minimum Wage
Union Organizing
Public Schools
etc, etc...
Moving in that direction is the very LAST thing Democrats should do.

When some libertarians attempted to explain their principled opposition to coercive taxation in a thoughtful way, or to point out the shortcomings of government-provided schools and roads, philgoblue's witty rejoinder was "Dumbfuck," and

because of some problems, you're for not building roads, levees and school?


Logan Ferree, perhaps acting on the misapprehension that philgoblue's ignorance was genuine or that he was arguing in good faith, tried to explain the left-libertarian position:

A libertarian would argue that if you removed all of the regulations and government programs that aid the rich and the wealthy, the little guy wouldn't need Social Security, the Minimum Wage, or Public Schools. However you're dead wrong that they'd be opposed to union organizing.

I'll make you a deal. Get the Democrats to oppose government policies that benefit the rich and the wealthy. We do away with all of the programs that create an uneven playing field in favor of those at the top.

Libertarians will vote for Democrats because they'd be the only party pushing for reducing the size of government. After we've done everything we agree on, we can agree to disagree and start fighting again.

The result was what usually follows when one casts pearls before swine:

You're An Absolute Fool.

Without the protection of the collective, the wealthy and ruthless would eat 99% of us for breakfast. See most of world history and many current Third World nations.

Ferree, finally beginning to realize just what kind of utter jackass he was dealing with, responded:

You're an absolute idiot.

Without the power and authority of the state, the wealthy and the ruthless would have no way of maintaining their control over the remaining 99% of us. See most of world history and many current Third World nations. In most of the developing world it's the state, with the support of institutions like the IMF and World Bank, that is nothing more than the servant of multinational corporations.

Wasted breath, though. People like philgoblue are so emotionally dependent on their Art Schlesinger myth about the anti-plutocratic motivation of big government, he might as well have been speaking Esperanto. You can take people like philgoblue and rub their noses in the real history of corporate liberalism, and the role of big business in setting the Progressive and New Deal agendas, and they'll just go right back to repeating their historical mythology without missing a beat.

Eugene, considerably more civil than philgoblue, repeated the assertion about anti-unionism, and added that

the "little guy" needs all those programs not because of government aid to corporations, but because of the nature of capitalism itself. Unless you're looking to abolish capitalism, you'll never be free of the need for a minimum wage or social insurance.

The "nature of capitalism itself," as it actually exists, is statist. We on the libertarian left disagree among ourselves on terminology, especially in regard to the C-word. Like many individualist anarchists past and present, I like to distinguish "capitalism" from the free market, and to reserve the former term for a system of privilege in which the state intervenes in the market on behalf of capitalists. But semantic differences aside, most of us libertarian lefties consider the size and power of corporations under "actually existing capitalism," and the extreme concentrations of wealth, to be the result of state intervention in the market on behalf of the rich and powerful. And unlike Eugene, we've actually tried to make a case for our position, rather than just asserting it.

On the union thing, Eugene was quickly confronted by a self-styled free market libertarian and card-carrying union member. And by the way, I know of at least three free market libertarians (Tom Knapp, Brad Spangler, and myself) who are card-carrying Wobblies. (Here's Knapp's post on the subject, and here are my comments.) [Note--Rad Geek emails: "Make it four, for what it's worth; IU 640, Hotel, Restaurant, and Building Service Workers here. (Which reminds me, I need to get caught up on my monthly dues....)"]

Eugene, unfortunately, wasn't having any of this; he regurgitated philgoblue's idee fixe:

I am familiar with the variants of libertarianism.... [??!] "Economic libertarians" are really greedy Republicans who want to couch their desire for exploitation in some sort of language of rights and freedoms.

And Karmafish added:

Economic libertarian... is more or less the equivalent of Social Darwinism.

In other words, "Don't confuse me with the facts. I'm comfortable with my hate." It doesn't matter how many times you produce documented evidence of free market libertarians who are enemies of corporate power, or of the fact that most state intervention benefits the plutocracy at the expense of the working class, or even that such policies were drafted by the plutocracy. They've got their fingers jammed in their ears as far as they'll go, shouting "la la la la la" at the top of their lungs.

It's so much more comfortable to believe that large, powerful corporations arose out of a "laissez-faire" economy, and that government intervention is the remedy rather than the cause of corporate power. And that the sun shone out of FDR's ass, that he was some kind of populist tribune, a "traitor to his class" who put down the "economic royalists."

Logan Ferree confronted them with the indisputable fact that many economic libertarians are neither "greedy Republicans" or "social Darwinists"; and yet they're still parroting the exact same dogma they were before, as if he'd never written the post. I repeat: beyond a certain point, you have to conclude that you're no longer dealing with genuine ignorance, but with someone who is knowingly and deliberately repeating a lie.

The one saving grace in this whole ugly clusterfuck was DawnG, who wrote:

The problem... with lumping people into categories is that it opens the door for stereotypes that, whether rational or absurd, don't fit everyone labled in that category.

I thank you for giving us some insights into the minds of a libertarian and hope you don't take the reactionary and judgemental componants of our community as representatives of the whole.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Richard K. Moore: Escaping the Matrix, Now in Print

Richard K. Moore's new book, Escaping the Matrix, is for sale. It's loosely based on his classic article of the same title. The historical analysis of corporate liberalism and the shift to neoliberalism in the article is amazing, and it's fleshed out considerably in the book. You can get earlier draft versions of the chapters, in a hyperlinked table of contents, in this old post of mine.

Mutualist Political Economy: PayPal Update

You can also use PayPal for non-U.S. orders, or for U.S. shipping options other than media mail/4th class books. Just click the email link with your order, and I'll send you a custom PayPal invoice. So as long as you use PayPal, foreign currency is no longer a problem.

Monday, December 19, 2005


A good post by Eugene Plawiuk on the WTO's promotion of agribusiness at the expense of village agriculture.

The village farming cooperatives are a real market alternative to rapacious capitalism and its agribusiness operations, but these folks are forgotten at the WTO. They have neither local representatives nor state representatives. Nor has the Libertarian movement taken up their cause with few exceptions such as those of us on the Libertarian Left; Kevin Carson, Larry Gambone, and the Knappster, voices in the wilderness on this issue.

Think of the power that these small villages would have if rich American Libertarians who have oodles of cash were to champion their cause. But it won't happen because they aren't really Libertarians, just Republican hanger ons, more interested in privatizing public services than supporting real free markets in the real world. Because these markets are run by cooperatives and collectives, which runs counter to their individualist consumerist ideology.

By way of disclaimer, I don't believe Reason deserves such a blanket dismissal ("rich American Libertarians" hyperlinks to its URL). I can't keep track of who's taken Kochtipus money and who hasn't, but like many libertarian publications, Reason is a mixed bag ideologically. At least one of their writers, Jesse Walker, regularly writes on leftish stuff like squatter communities and worker takeovers in Argentina.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Trying to Keep a Straight Face

Fafblog has shown an amazing ability to get straight talk out of the powerful, as we saw with their earlier interview of Harriet Miers.

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

Now, in another Fafblog interview, Condoleezza Rice comes through with disarming frankness:

FB: ....what's wrong with good ol fashioned American torturers? Aren't we just shippin their jobs overseas?
RICE: First of all, we don't send prisoners off to be tortured, Fafnir. We just transport prisoners to countries where torture happens to be legal and where they happen to end up getting tortured.
FB: Well that explains everything then! It's all just a wacky misunderstanding, like that episode a Three's Company where Jack sends Janet off to Uzbekistan to get boiled alive by the secret police.
RICE: I'd also like to point out that whenever we send a prisoner to a country that routinely tortures prisoners, that country promises us NOT to torture them.
FB: And then they get tortured anyway!
RICE: Yes, they do! It's very strange.
FB: Over and over again, every time! That's gotta be so frustrating.
RICE: Oh it is, it is.

If the rendition thing has caused a lot of unseemly winking and nudging between Condi and "our allies," according to Kenneth Anderson of Uncapitalist Journal it may also involve something of a private joke between Bush and John McCain. The McCain Amendment provides that

No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. [emphasis Anderson's]

But lo and behold, the list in that Field Manual seems to have gotten a bit longer, according to the New York Times:

The Army has approved a new, classified set of interrogation methods.... The techniques are included in a 10-page classified addendum new Army field manual that was forwarded this week to Stephen A. Cambone, the under secretary of defense for intelligence policy. [again, emphasis Anderson's]
Does that mean the U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation is a "living document"?

Anderson also links to some other rather creepy indications that Bush has decided, for some reason, that the McCain Amendment isn't so bad after all.

Bottom line: torture has been illegal for a long, long time, and it's been going on for an equally long time with support (of varying degrees of directness) from the SOA, Green Berets, and God knows who else. Passing a new law that says "and we really mean it this time" should have about as much real restraining effect on the Executive branch as, say, the Boland Amendment.

Friday, December 16, 2005


In a discussion at Drudge Retort, "A Citizen" wrote:

...people who go to college and enter a field where they live off the government tit or enter the arts where thye live off the government tit or become actors where they totally lose touch with reality are liberal.

Bwahahahahahaha! Shit, it seems every time I get the coffee wiped off my keyboard, something like this comes along.

You mean like that out of touch liberal--I forget the beady-eyed little turd's name--who owned the Texas Rangers, and had the taxpayers of Arlington build him a stadium? Those kinds of liberals? Or the stockholders in giant corporations that get more each year in corporate welfare than they make in profits?

Reminds me of that Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon, "Bush and Cheney's Guide to Getting Rich":

....despite what certain liberal politicians say, it has absolutely nothing to do with government!

Just use our E-Z to follow instructions:

First, use family political connections to assemble a group that can buy a baseball team and will include you.

Then convince the city government to build you a stadium... and then give it and the surrounding land to you.

WHAT?! You've got no family political connections? Ha-ha! Don't panic! We've got a back-up plan for the less fortunate.

Simply parlay your cabinet post into a job as CEO of an oil services corporation that relies on government contracts.

Then use your Pentagon and government connections to land hugely profitable government contracts and loan guarantee giveaways--and watch your stock skyrocket!

Simple, ain't it? No need to thank us--and definitely no need to thank the government.

Mutualist Political Economy: PayPal Now Accepted

For U.S. orders, anyway. The fact that S&H amounts differ complicates things. The link is on the sidebar, under "My Sites."

I may regret this, since their user agreement reminds me of the fine print in that insurance policy on Monty Python ("No claims made by you will be paid.") After reading it, I have absolutely no idea of what specific things, if any, they're legally obligated to do. And I've read plenty of horror stories about arbitrary seizures of accounts, with an appeals process that Kafka himself would dismiss as sheer fantasy.

But I've been asked by so many people whether I accept PayPal, I figured I ought to take the chance and see if it brings me some impulse sales.

R.A. Wilson, Prophet

All this Cory Maye business--i.e., the criminalization of self-defense when the criminal thugs attacking you are in uniform--reminded me of a passage in R.A. Wilson's Illuminatus! Trilogy. Hagbard Celine, Wilson's central character, describes the Illuminati's strategy for acquiring total power in the U.S.:

Their grip on Washington is still pretty precarious. They've been able to socialize the economy. But if they showed their hand now and went totalitarian all the way, there would be a revolution. Middle-roaders would rise up with right-wingers, and left-libertarians, and the Illuminati aren't powerful enough to withstand that kind of massive revolution. But they can rule by fraud, and by fraud eventually acquire access to the tools they need to finish the job of killing off the Constitution....

The assassinations, you see, establish the need for such [totalitarian] laws in the public mind. ...[T]he people reason--or are manipulated into reasoning--that the entire populace must have its freedom restricted in order to protect the leaders. The people agree that they themselves can't be trusted....

....At present rate, within the next few years the Illuminati will have the American people under tighter surveillance than Hitler had the Germans. And the beauty of it is, the majority of the Americans will have been so frightened by Illuminati-backed terrorist incidents that they will beg to be controlled as a masochist begs for the whip.

Although Wilson probably wrote the conspiratorial aspect of it about half tongue-in-cheek (it's hard to tell with him), what's really interesting is Celine's list of specific police state measures that would be gradually be adopted by the government.

Universal electronic surveillance.

Echelon, TIA, and all the other hijinks of those jolly folks lurking in the bowels of Ft. Meade. Not to mention the ubiquity of public surveillance cameras and traffic light cameras in the UK, and near-ubiquity in the U.S. Or the mating of facial recognition technology to government databases, already experimented with in some jurisdictions. But as the sheeple say, you've nothing to fear unless you've done something wrong.

No-knock laws.

No-knock warrants (i.e., warrants which are by definition impossible for the home-owner to inspect before the state invades his "castle") are S.O.P. in the drug war. And unless you've got the nerves of steel required to remain absolutely motionless when awakened by jackboots kicking down your door and invading your totally dark house in the dead of night, and refrain from twitching an eyelid, you'll likely have the shit beaten out of you and be charged with resisting arrest. Or at worst, be shot or tasered to death.

Stop and frisk laws.

The NYPD under Giulani, among other inner city occupation forces.

Government inspection of first-class mail.

Not quite here yet, although the mandatory connection of both USPS and private mailbox rentals to street addresses, and "smart stamp" proposals, are steps in that direction.

Automatic fingerprinting, photographing, blood tests, and urinalysis of any person arrested before he is charged with a crime.

Already here, along with mandatory DNA samples in some jurisdictions. Hell, there's pressure for the public at large to "voluntarily" submit blood samples as an act of "good citizenship" when a rapist or murderer is on the loose. And depending on where you live, you may get an automatic drug test when you go to the ER, with positive results passed along to the police. Along with "know your customer" banking laws, Lowe's record keeping of purchases of potential meth components, and the like, the latter is part of a growing phenomenon of "private" businesses acting as arms of the police state.

A law making it illegal to resist even unlawful arrest.

When I first Googled the phrase "resist even unlawful arrest" out of curiosity, about four years ago, I found a link to a court decision (in Ohio, I think) explicitly using those words in its opinion. Can't find it any more (little help?). But as we've recently seen, it's illegal to act in self-defense against armed invasion of your house, if it turns out the thugs kicking in your door were in uniform.

Remember that scene in Stranger in a Strange Land, where Jubal Harshaw makes the cops produce their badges and warrants, one at a time, before he lets them into the compound? In response to the squad leader's claim to have an arrest warrant, Harshaw said something like "And I've got a warrant to part your hair with a shotgun, unless you do everything decently and in order." Try getting away with that in today's real police state, unlike Heinlein's fictional Federation.

Laws establishing detention camps for potential subversives.

Already provided for under the terms of the McCarran Internal Security Act, long before Illuminatus! was even a gleam in Wilson's eye.

Gun control laws.

Do I really need to comment on this? OK--the Brady law.

Restrictions on travel.

DWI and drug roadblocks, the TSA and no-fly list (with the same likely on the way for train and bus travel), a de facto national ID under the guise of state drivers' licenses, required for using the airlines.... In other words, we're already most of the way to an internal passport system.
Wilson wrote this some thirty years ago, when 2005 was a science-fictiony year of domed cities and anti-grav cars. And, hard as it may be to remember (Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia), it was written before most of these things had yet come to pass.

And as Joe Sobran recently pointed out (hat tip to Chris Tame on LA Forum), whatever "freedom" we still have left isn't based on rights at all, but rather on privileges granted to us by a total state.

Americans are still permitted to do a great many things, though not as many things as their ancestors could take for granted. Fine. But permission isn't freedom. The privilege of a subject isn't the right of a free man. If you can own only what the government permits you to own, then in essence the government owns you. We no longer tell the state what our rights are; it tells us.

Such is the servitude Americans are now accustomed to under an increasingly bureaucratic state. Permission, often in the form of legal licensing, is the residue of the old freedom; but we're supposed to think that this is still "the land of the free," and that we owe our freedom to the state, its laws, and especially its wars. The more the state grows -- that is, the more it fulfills the character of national socialism -- the freer we're told we are.

Hard-Drive Samizdat

Via Adam at Mutualist Journal Club. According to Calendarlive, DVDs are the new soapbox. Radical filmmakers can bypass the Hollywood distribution system by going straight to DVD.

Launching this week, on the left side of the aisle: Ironweed, a San Francisco-based DVD-of-the-month club (www.ironweedfilms.com) that will disseminate "progressive" documentaries and feature films and also serve as a networking tool. As part of a grass-roots marketing campaign, groups such as MoveOn.org, the Progressive Majority, Working Assets and the Nation magazine have alerted their subscribers.

On the right: Eagle Publishing, a leading conservative publisher based in Washington, D.C., was selling so many DVDs through its book club that it recently set up its own DVD website (www.conservativedvds.com).

It strikes me that discs may also be the new samizdat. It's quite likely that the transmission of information on the web will be increasingly monitored and restricted by Homeland Security--or whatever combination of jackbooted alphabet soup agencies in the sub-basements of Ft. Meade, and "private" Pinkertonian mercenaries, become our home-grown Gestapo. And as John Zube of the Libertarian Microfiche Project has pointed out, a single CD-Rom with 650MB capacity can hold thousands of books in text-only files. So the duplication of CD-Roms by hard drive and distribution by hand (or by snail mail, assuming "smart stamps" and other forms of enclosure of the postal commons don't render it off-limits to subversives) may be the best way of circulating libertarian literature under a police state.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

R.A. Wilson: Privilege and Unequal Exchange

From The Illuminatus! Trilogy:

"Privilege implies exclusion from privilege, just as advantage implies disadvantage," Celine went on. "In the same mathematically reciprocal way, profit implies loss. If you and I exchange equal goods, that is trade: neither of us profits and neither of us loses. But if we exchange unequal goods, one of us profits and the other loses. Mathematically. Certainly. Now, such mathematically unequal exchanges will always occur because some traders will be shrewder than others. But in total freedom— in anarchy— such unequal exchanges will be sporadic and irregular. A phenomenon of unpredictable periodicity, mathematically speaking. Now look about you, professor— raise your nose from your great books and survey the actual world as it is— and you will not observe such unpredictable functions. You will observe, instead, a mathematically smooth function, a steady profit accruing to one group and an equally steady loss accumulating for all others. Why is this, professor? Because the system is not free or random, any mathematician would tell you a priori. Well, then, where is the determining function, the factor that controls the other variables? You have named it yourself, or Mr. Adler has: the Great Tradition. Privilege, I prefer to call it. When A meets B in the marketplace, they do not bargain as equals. A bargains from a position of privilege; hence, he always profits and B always loses. There is no more Free Market here than there is on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The privileges, or Private Laws— the rules of the game, as promulgated by the Politburo and the General Congress of the Communist Party on that side and by the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve Board on this side— are slightly different; that's all. And it is this that is threatened by anarchists, and by the repressed anarchist in each of us," he concluded, strongly emphasizing the last clause, staring at Drake, not at the professor.

Just thought I'd put that up front, since it's by far the most important part. The whole thing is worth reading, though:

Somehow the conversation got around to a new book by somebody named Mortimer Adler who had already written a hundred or so great books if I understood the drift. One banker type at the table was terribly keen on this Adler and especially on his latest great book. "He says that we and the Communists share the same Great Tradition" (I could hear the caps by the way he pronounced the term) "and we must join together against the one force that really does threaten civilization—anarchism!"

There were several objections, in which Drake [Robert Putney Drake, a leading figure in the Illuminati] didn't take part (he just sat back, puffing his cigar and looking agreeable to everyone, but I could see boredom under the surface) and the banker tried to explain the Great Tradition, which was a bit over my head, and, judging by the expressions around the table, a bit over everybody else's head, too, when the hawk-faced dago [Hagbard Celine] spoke up suddenly.

"I can put the Great Tradition in one word," he said calmly. "Privilege."

Old Drake suddenly stopped looking agreeable-but-bored— he seemed both interested and amused. "One seldom encounters such a refreshing freedom from euphemism," he said, leaning forward. "But perhaps I am reading too much into your remark, sir?"

Hawk-face sipped at his champagne and patted his mouth with a napkin before answering. "I think not," he said at last. "Privilege is defined in most dictionaries as a right or immunity giving special favors or benefits to those who hold it. Another meaning in Webster is 'not subject to the usual rules or penalties.' The invaluable thesaurus gives such synonyms as power, authority, birthright, franchise, patent, grant, favor and, I'm sad to say, pretension. Surely, we all know what privilege is in this club, don't we, gentlemen? Do I have to remind you of the Latin roots, privi, private, and lege, law, and point out in detail how we have created our Private Law over here, just as the Politburo have created their own private law in their own sphere of influence?"

"But that's not the Great Tradition," the banker type said (later, I learned that he was actually a college professor; Drake was the only banker at that table). "What Mr. Adler means by the Great Tradition—"

"What Mortimer means by the Great Tradition," hawk-face interrupted rudely, "is a set of myths and fables invented to legitimize or sugar-coat the institution of privilege. Correct me if I'm wrong," he added more politely but with a sardonic grin.

"He means," the true believer said, "the undeniable axioms, the time-tested truths, the shared wisdom of the ages, the . . ."

"The myths and fables," hawk-face contributed gently.

"The sacred, time-tested wisdom of the ages," the other went on, becoming redundant. "The basic bedrock of civil society, of civilization. And we do share that with the Communists. And it is just that common humanistic tradition that the young anarchists, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, are blaspheming, denying and trying to destroy. It has nothing to do with privilege at all."

"Pardon me," the dark man said. "Are you a college professor?"

"Certainly. I'm head of the Political Science Department at Harvard!"

"Oh," the dark man shrugged. "I'm sorry for talking so bluntly before you. I thought I was entirely surrounded by men of business and finance."

The professor was just starting to look as if he spotted the implied insult in that formal apology when Drake interrupted.

"Quite so. No need to shock our paid idealists and turn them into vulgar realists overnight. At the same time, is it absolutely necessary to state what we all know in such a manner as to imply a rather hostile and outside viewpoint? Who are you and what is your trade, sir?"

"Hagbard Celine. Import-export. Gold and Appel Transfers here in New York. A few other small establishments in other ports." As he spoke my image of piracy and Borgia stealth came back strongly. "And we're not children here," he added, "so why should we avoid frank language?"

The professor, taken aback a foot or so by this turn in the conversation, sat perplexed as Drake replied:

"So. Civilization is privilege— or Private Law, as you say so literally. And we all know where Private Law comes from, except the poor professor here— out of the barrel of a gun,' in the words of a gentleman whose bluntness you would appreciate. Is it your conclusion, then, that Adler is, for all his naivete, correct, and we have more in common with the Communist rulers than we have setting us at odds?"

"Let me illuminate you further," Celine said— and the way he pronounced the verb made me jump. Drake's blue eyes flashed a bit, too, but that didn't surprise me: anybody as rich as IRS thought he was, would have to be On the Inside.

"Privilege implies exclusion from privilege, just as advantage implies disadvantage," Celine went on. "In the same mathematically reciprocal way, profit implies loss. If you and I exchange equal goods, that is trade: neither of us profits and neither of us loses. But if we exchange unequal goods, one of us profits and the other loses. Mathematically. Certainly. Now, such mathematically unequal exchanges will always occur because some traders will be shrewder than others. But in total freedom— in anarchy— such unequal exchanges will be sporadic and irregular. A phenomenon of unpredictable periodicity, mathematically speaking. Now look about you, professor— raise your nose from your great books and survey the actual world as it is— and you will not observe such unpredictable functions. You will observe, instead, a mathematically smooth function, a steady profit accruing to one group and an equally steady loss accumulating for all others. Why is this, professor? Because the system is not free or random, any mathematician would tell you a priori. Well, then, where is the determining function, the factor that controls the other variables? You have named it yourself, or Mr. Adler has: the Great Tradition. Privilege, I prefer to call it. When A meets B in the marketplace, they do not bargain as equals. A bargains from a position of privilege; hence, he always profits and B always loses. There is no more Free Market here than there is on the other side of the Iron Curtain. The privileges, or Private Laws— the rules of the game, as promulgated by the Politburo and the General Congress of the Communist Party on that side and by the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve Board on this side— are slightly different; that's all. And it is this that is threatened by anarchists, and by the repressed anarchist in each of us," he concluded, strongly emphasizing the last clause, staring at Drake, not at the professor.