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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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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Faux Private Interests, Revisited

Social Memory Complex tears David Boaz a new corn chute for his typical display of vulgar libertarian public choice theory (or as Jeremy put it, "the old Cato Institute line that institutional analysis need only go so far as to frame up politicians, letting the other players in the politics itself go blameless"). Boaz writes:

When you spread food out on a picnic table, you can expect ants. When you put $3 trillion on the table, you can expect special interests, lobbyists and pork-barrel politicians....

Actually, I think it's the other way around. When you've got a centralized state that's amenable to control by a ruling class, you get $3 trillion on the table. Of course, it's something of a chicken-and-egg thing. Big business is a lot bigger and more cartelized because of big government. But big government is also a lot bigger because of big business acting through it to stabilize political capitalism. The synergy between them has been there since the moneyed classes created a Hamiltonian federal government, and both government and business have enjoyed cancerous rates of growth since the simultaneous corporate revolution and explosion of centralizing federalism in the 1860s.

Anyway, getting back to Boaz:

People invest money to make money. In a free economy they invest in building homes and factories, inventing new products, finding oil, and other economic activities. That kind of investment benefits us all -- it's a positive-sum game, as economists say. People get rich by producing what other people want.

But you can also invest in Washington. You can organize an interest group, or hire a lobbyist, and try to get some taxpayers' money routed to you. That's what the farm lobbies, AARP, industry associations, and teachers unions do. And that kind of investment is zero-sum -- money is taken from some people and given to others, but no new wealth is created.

If you want to drill an oil well, you hire petroleum engineers. If you want to drill for money in Washington, you hire a lobbyist. And more people have been doing that.

At Social Memory Complex, Jeremy responds:

And if you want to kill somebody, you hire a hitman. That doesn’t make it ok that people hire them, just because the service is available for purchase. This apologism for the corporate influence in - nay, the perpetuation of - state capitalism is the very portrait of the vulgar libertarian approach. Selling influence is bad. But buying influence is mere economic survival. Politicians should be more principled, but businessmen looking for a buck can be forgiven for looking at the short term gains of rigging the game.

In fact, Brad Spangler once argued not only that the corporate beneficiaries of statism are directly culpable in the state's coercion, but that it's misleading even to call one side of the equation "public" and the other "private." Rather, he referred to the latter as "faux private interests that are actually part of the state":

Let’s postulate two sorts of robbery scenarios.

In one, a lone robber points a gun at you and takes your cash. All libertarians would recognize this as a micro-example of any kind of government at work, resembling most closely State Socialism.

In the second, depicting State Capitalism, one robber (the literal apparatus of government) keeps you covered with a pistol while the second (representing State-allied corporations) just holds the bag that you have to drop your wristwatch, wallet and car keys in. To say that your interaction with the bagman was a “voluntary transaction” is an absurdity. Such nonsense should be condemned by all libertarians. Both gunman and bagman together are the true State.

Jeremy says something similar here:

Here’s the truth of the matter: mega corporations derive their existence, power, and modus operandi from the government from the get-go. Government charters corporations and protects them from liability, subsidizes, allows de-facto cartelization, etc. Big business has sought not only to expand their influence of gov’t, but to expand the power of that very state they are buying an interest in - using regulation to offset market mechanics, accquire sweetheart loans and bailouts, sieze private property through eminent domain, and otherwise manipulate this so-called free market. For every businessman who distastefully lobbies Congress there are at least 5 who see the dollar signs and are quite content to let our individual freedoms and pocketbooks take the hit.

Business is part of the problem. Corporations are quasi-states, using government to gobble up the market and returning the favor by funding the politicians who enable it. They’ve always been part of the political equation, from the Civil War at least.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Open Source Textbooks

In the comments to "Schlosberg on Rushkoff," Joshua Holmes has some interesting ideas on the potential for open source online texts to challenge the power of traditional textbook companies:

....how is it that no one has created an open-source series of textbooks and posted them on-line? Textbooks are extraordinarily expensive, yet there are plenty of people with the expertise and know-how to put together excellent textbooks on elementary-level subjects. Heck, you could get 100 high school biology teachers and put together a stellar book on introductory biology, free and downloadable.

Textbook makers really have students, schools, and teachers over a barrel. I'm stunned teachers haven't done something about this (or perhaps, the teacher unions).

Well, the teachers probably have some rather smelly interests in common with the textbook companies. After all, they're likely to support technology that promotes independent learning about the same time they start recommending Ivan Illich and John Taylor Gatto. You know, the same day Judas Iscariot and Adolf Hitler line up in hell to get their new ice skates. It's probably not by accident, comrades, that the publik skool establishment tends to promote look-say over phonics. The invention of the phonic alphabet was one of the most democratically empowering revolutions in history. As Miss Daisy said, if you know your letters, you can read. Learning to sight-read whole words, on the other hand, is a throwback to ideographic writing systems like Egyptian hieroglyphics, that make society dependent on a privileged mandarin class. Today's functionally illiterate or near-illiterate majority, manipulated by assorted educationists, social workers, and human resources apparatchiks, seems oddly familiar, does it not? In the society of the pig ignorant, the half-educated man is king.

Anyway, two other commenters came to the rescue with a lot of interesting links to online texts. Joel Schlosberg links to an article by Ben Crowell on the online textbook phenomenon, and to several online texts on physics and algebra,

Duncan links to a large online library of textbooks at Wikibooks; here's the site's introductory article.

As for me, the first thing Josh's comment brought to mind was M.I.T.'s Open Courseware project, which provides online syllabi and some lecture notes for a major part of their course catalogs.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Who Moved My Cheese, Revisited

I've already done Who Moved My Cheese?, so a lot of the comments below are new only to those who missed them the first time around. But every once in a while, as with the "best available alternative" meme about sweatshops, I find another example of the phenomenon so sickening I can't help repeating myself.

So here it is: a review (by Terry Watson, "international speaker") of Spencer Johnson's godawful Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way To Deal With Change In Your Work And In Your Life. The fact that it's clustered, on Watson's recommended books page, along with a bunch of motivational dreck by Dale Carnegie, Og Mandino, and Stephen Covey, should tell you something about Watson. (The genre was deliciously parodied by National Lampoon in the person of Sphinx Sphincter, author of the motivational classic Visualize, Actualize, Grasp and Claw.)

The defunct Molotov Cocktail for the Soul site had this to say about another specimen of the genre, Tom Lagana (creator of the execrable Chicken Soup series):

Snatching hypocritical victory from the jaws of defeat, this electrical engineer turned mind engineer is now complicit with his old "redundancy eliminators." He now helps "organizations who want to get the most out of people;" and those people would, of course, be the Prozac-plied personnel now doing twice the work they would have at the same position twenty years ago and are too sedated to feel the boss's whip cracking across their backs. "[Lagana] put a smile on my face and it stayed there even after I went back to work," gushes one successfully sheered sheep, her organization now getting the most out of her. "I already feel less stress as I apply some of the techniques," bleated another after scampering from a Lagana seminar payed for by the Firm.

Anyway, here's what Watson writes:

Change can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your perspective. The message of Who Moved My Cheese? is that all can come to see it as a blessing, if they understand the nature of cheese and the role it plays in their lives. Who Moved My Cheese? is a parable that takes place in a maze. Four beings live in that maze: Sniff and Scurry are mice--nonanalytical and nonjudgmental, they just want cheese and are willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Hem and Haw are "littlepeople," mouse-size humans who have an entirely different relationship with cheese. It's not just sustenance to them; it's their self-image. Their lives and belief systems are built around the cheese they've found. Most of us reading the story will see the cheese as something related to our livelihoods--our jobs, our career paths, the industries we work in--although it can stand for anything, from health to relationships. The point of the story is that we have to be alert to changes in the cheese, and be prepared to go running off in search of new sources of cheese when the cheese we have runs out.

Change, like cheese, is something that "just happens"; it's presented in much the same way Tom Friedman presents "globalization": not as the product of human action, but as an inevitable and impersonal force of nature. We're expected to accept as it comes, and deal with it within whatever framework is established by the anonymous gods in white coats who structure the maze. The idea that some authority figures are in a position to dole out cheese, and that we must jump through whatever hoops they require in order to get it, goes without saying.

In fact, Johnson's recipe for "dealing with change in your work and in your life" is a lot like the medieval peasant's fatalistic acceptance of one ruler after another, washing over him in succession like a series of tidal waves. "Keep your head down, do your work, pay your rent without complaint, don't look beyond your station in life; and don't above all, meddle in the affairs of the great lords."

It's also a bit like Parsons' enthusiastic embrace of "change" in 1984: "The choco-ration's been increased to 20 grammes. Doubleplusgood, eh?"

Thomas Frank, in One Market Under God, describes it as an "asinine" work of "breathtaking obscenity," designed to "openly advance a scheme for gulling, silencing, and firing workers who are critical of management...." Not only is the mover of the cheese never identified, Frank points out:

...[E]ven to wonder about the logic of the cheese's movements or to ask the title question Who Moved My Cheese? is to commit workplace error of such magnitude that management can rightly "let" workers who are given to such thoughts "go." So while one of the "littlepeople" remains stubbornly at the place where he last sighted the cheese, the other sets off through the maze again, running the rat race, but finding along the way that job insecurity is good for his soul and composing a number of pithy observations about adapting to "change"....

Or, like Watership Down's Silverweed, composing hymns to the wire. The book, according to Frank, was created as a management tool for dealing with "change resisters." And naturally, it's a big favorite of HR departments everywhere, who order it by the gross for employee self-criticism meetings--er, seminars. Those managers who applied the lessons of the book in their thankless job of imposing "change" found, to their delight, that it "worked wonders."

Those who had been fired learned to relish their situation ("there was New Cheese out there just waiting to be found!") and those were permitted to stay stopped "complaining" and bowed to management's new scheme.

For most of us, it's an accepted part of existence to dread showing up for work and finding out jut how far our fucking cheese has been moved this time.

Here's to the day when we're moving their cheese.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Schlosberg on Rushkoff

Joel Schlosberg has a great post on Douglas Rushkoff's new book, Get Back in the Box: Innovation from the Inside Out.

He links to a series of Rushkoff "thought viruses," written as previews of themes in the book. My favorite is "Open Source and the Authorship Society":

The market for products enabling the do-it-yourselfer is still growing. Home Depot and Lowe's equip the consumer with professional grade tools, while Vitamin Warehouse and herb shops supply the self-healer. Amateurs are now more responsible for formerly expert-only aspects of their own lives, and they're comfortable with it....

This renaissance ethos of authorship isn't limited to some isolated group of “cultural creatives” in New York, San Francisco, and Cambridge. No, it's a mainstream "red state" American trend, as well, emerging as crafts fairs, a NASCAR culture of car modification, gun kits, backyard farming, and even home schooling. For every Northeasterner musing on how he would have drawn up the plans for New York's street grid to include bike lanes (and then working through the city council to create some) there's a Midwesterner challenging the curriculum of the local school system, and rewriting his own version based on the facts and values he thinks are more important to teach a young person.

This is the spirit of authorship presaged by the Internet and now extending to every area of our lives....

It is the real legacy of the open source movement—misunderstood even by many of its participants as solely a way to develop computer operating systems, and underestimated in its potential impact by even its staunchest opponents. As I've come to see it, the deeper cultural agenda is based on three far-reaching assumptions:

1. The systems by which we live are inventions and conventions.
2. The codes underlying those systems can be learned and rewritten.
3. This process best takes place collaboratively.

Joel also links to Rushkoff's regular column in Arthur magazine. In the first installment ("Evolution is a Team Sport"), as Joel says, he discusses centralized currency and banking in terms that sound positively money crankish.

...it was also during the first great Renaissance that we developed the concept of competition. Authorities became more centralized, and individuals competed for how high they could rise in the system. We like to think of it as a high-minded meritocracy, but the rat-race that ensued only strengthened the authority of central command. We learned [to] compete for resources and credit made artificially scarce by centralized banking and government.

For just one example, it was during the Renaissance that centralized currency came into widespread use. Before then, localities developed their own currencies, often based on real commodities, and many of which existed side-by-side more centralized currencies that were used for transacting with other regions. With the establishment of the nation state came the exclusive right of kings to create money by "fiat" - literally by invention - and then force everyone else to compete to pay it back....

....[T]he development of complementary currency models, such as Ithaca Hours, allow people to agree together what their goods and services are worth to one another without involving the Fed. They don't need to compete for currency in order to pay back the central creditor - currency is an enabler of collaborative efforts rather than purely competitive ones.

Check out, also, the online version of Open Source Democracy: How online communication is changing offline politics.

Addendum. Also via Joel Schlosberg, here's an excerpt from Rushkoff's article on open source currency:

The advantage is that while the value of centralized currency is based on its scarcity, the bias of complementary or local currencies is towards their abundance.

So instead of having to involve the Fed in every transaction — and using money that requires being paid back with interest — we can invent our own currencies and create value with our labor. It's what the Japanese did at the height of the recession. No, not the Japanese government, but unemployed Japanese people who couldn't afford to pay healthcare costs for their elder relatives in distant cities. They created a currency through which people could care for someone else's grandmother, and accrue credits for someone else to take care of theirs.

Throughout most of history, complementary currencies existed alongside centralized currency. While local currency was used for labor and local transactions, centralized currencies were used for long distance and foreign trade. Local currencies were based on a model of abundance — there was so much of it that people constantly invested it. That's why we saw so many cathedrals being built in the late middle ages, and unparalleled levels of investment in infrastructure and maintenance. Centralized currency, on the other hand, needed to retain value over long distances and periods of time, so it was based on precious and scarce resources, such as gold.

The problem started during the Renaissance: as kings attempted to centralize their power, most local currencies were outlawed. This new monopoly on currency reduced entire economies into scarcity engines, encouraging competition over collaboration, protectionism over sharing, and fixed commodities over renewable resources. Today, money is lent into existence by the Fed or another central bank — and paid back with interest.

This cash is a medium; and like any medium, it has certain biases. The money we use today is just one model of money. Turning currency into an collaborative phenomenon is the final frontier in the open source movement. It's what would allow for an economic model that could support a renewable energies industry, a way for companies such as Wal-Mart to add value to the communities it currently drains, and a way of working with money that doesn't have bankruptcy built in as a given circumstance.

Friday, January 27, 2006

With Friends Like John Yoo, Who Needs a Reichstag?

Via Avedon Carol. A good quote from Jerrold Nadler (rather amusing, given his supporting role in so much police state legislation under the Clinton/Reno regime).

Mr. Nadler said that as he read the broad presidential power claimed by Mr. Bush, "if he were in Germany in 1933, he would not have required the Enabling Act to pass the Reichstag to claim the power," a reference to the law that gave Hitler broad power to run the country.

For that matter, if Bush's power as "Commander-in-Chief" is as broad as he claims, he didn't need Congressional passage of the USA PATRIOT Act, either. If Bush is allowed to get away with asserting the prerogatives of a Charles I in the name of "national security," then such legislation is a moot issue.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

SEK3 on Libertarian History

Brad Spangler links to (the late, alas!) Samuel Edward Konkin III's account of the history of the libertarian movement. It's especially good on the splits in SDS and the YAF, and Rothbard's and Hess' abortive project of a New Left-Old Right coalition against the corporate state.

While we're resurrecting SEK3's libertarian history, here's his brief history of the Movement of the Libertarian Left, from the LeftLibertarian archives:

....we take our name from the synthesis of two sources. Murray Rothbard defined himself as the "sane. sober, anarchist center"during the rise of the Libertarian Movement (1968-1973, well before the LP), and those who opposed his "plumb line" did so from the Right (conservative, minarchist, less anti-statist, less historical-revisionist, etc.) or the Left (radical, anarchist, more anti-statist, more anti-power-elite, etc.).

It's certainly true that the Libertarian Left tended to (and still does) prefer Rothbard's alliances with SDS (1965-69) than, say, the paleoconservatives (1989-95), but in both cases, we prefer Left AND Right against the totally-statist, utterly unredeemable, political (archist) Center.

And we're all free-market here. Agorists believe only the Counter-Economy has a chance of approaching a pure free market, from the "underground" or beyond the frontier. I debated this with Murray Rothbard after the publication of New Libertarian Manifesto and his criticism (and my defence) of it in the 1980s. A few copies are still available.

During the formation of the LP in 1972-74, we were involved in re-organizing the Student Libertarian Action Movement (SLAM), mainly in New York and Arizona. But we decided to confront the Free Libertarian Party (in New York, they couldn't just call it the "Libertarian" Party because the courts ruled the mindless rednecks of New York City would confuse it with the "Liberal" Party --- two oxymorons right there) and see if we could abort it from within.

The original Radical Caucus, for which I take responsibility, began when the outgoing Chair (Ed Clark) and incoming Chair (Jerry Klasman) invited me to join, not only the FLP, but the Executive Council. I told them I would work to destroy the Party, they accepted on those terms, and I did.

At its peak, the FLPrc claimed about a quarter of the membership, and through alliances with Reform minarchists from upstate, had a majority by the time of the 1974 convention. I then walked out to prevent that happening, and the Convention went into chaos, with different sides winning different offices and points. Murray Rothbard, in exasperation, pointed to me sitting outside the meeting hall at my New Libertarian magazine table, and called out, "Is he the only one who understands what is going on?"

Our RC members had already gained delegate status for the national convention in Dallas (we had first appeared in Cleveland the previous year and started national recruiting). Again, we allied with Reform minarchists (like E. Scott Royce, who writes an excellent political column for NL to this day) and claimed about a third of the vote. Then we walked out for good, forming the New Libertarian Alliance (NLA).

There's a lot more, including the purging of eight state newsletter editors by the LP's own Stalin, Ed Crane, for so much as mentioning our existence, but I"ll skip ahead. In 1978, it looked like the U.S. was going to start another "Viet Nam" in El Salvador and the NLA divided over whether to participate in above-ground coalitions to stop the war. Most went underground; I started The Agorist Institute to defend counter-economists (we actually got IRS recognition in 1986) and, for anti-imperialist coalitions, the Movement of the Libertarian Left.

The second source (remember, I mentioned two sources a few paragraphs back) was due to my observations of the Euro political scene. Communism was swinging right and forming parliamentary coalitions. In France, a Union of the Left (Union de Gauche) formed to challenge the Gaullists and Independent Republicans. It consisted of the Communists, Socialists, and the Mouvement des Radicaux de Gauche (MRG) or "movement of left radicals", which had split from the Radical Party that allied itself with the Gaullists and Centrists. Although the MRG were parliamentary, and the RC (SLAM-NLA) are anti-parliamentary, the "Movement" name sounded perfect to distinguish us from the "libertarian" Party.

So we became the Mouvement des Libertariens de Gauche/Movement of the Libertarian Left (MLL).

Aren't you glad you asked?

We promptly joined both the anti-nuclear coalition and the CISPES-led U.S. Out of El Salvador groups.

We refused to support either the Sandinistas or the Contras in Nicaragua, but did come out for the Terceristas and its Commander Zero, Eden Pastora. He returned the favour in 1994 by speaking to the Karl Hess Club, an MLL front if anyone still was wondering, and announcing his candidacy for president of Nicaragua, running against both sides, with a ringing endorsement of . . . Thomas Jefferson.

So I guess you can say... that two Left Libertarians are Eden Pastora and Thomas Jefferson. Actually, they sort of define our "far right wing" in that they still muck about with voting and elections. On our other side, I would include anagoric (non-market) anarchists who willingly work with us, such as Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn (who I take some credit for recruiting), Ursula K. LeGuin and Michael Moorcock (at least while he was still an anarchist.)

We received a strongly positive portrayal in old SDSer James Weinstein's "In These Times" around 1988, in the same article that trashed the LP. Yeah!

Another Free-for-All: Libertarian Class Analysis, Organized Labor, Etc.

In a post on the recent New York City transit strike, Jonathan Wilde at Catallarchy wrote:

In democracies, classes don’t fight each other, organized groups do. Concentrated interests, regardless of “class", have far more incentive to engage in political activism than do dispersed ones.

That prompted Rad Geek to ask, in the comments:

It seems that what you’ve offered here is just a claim that there are more classes than simply a monolithic managerial class and a monolithic working class, and that some classes of workers might seek to benefit at the expense of others?

Or, to put it another way: if you aren’t offering a class analysis of the transit strike, what level of analysis are you offering? Individual?)


Yes. Individuals, in general, act for their own self-interest. When the yield from investment in government exceeds the yield from investment in civil society/market, they invest in government. They could act by voting, but the returns on voting are slim-to-none for any single individual, and thus voting is a mere exercise in self-expression. However, there is another outlet. The dynamics of the political marketplace are such that the highest return on investment in government occurs when self-interested individuals act together to get laws passed that favor them at the expense of everyone else (tariffs, quotas, licensing, etc). The costs are diffused over 280 million while the benefits are reaped by a small minority.

I don’t consider this a “class” analysis. The group created is a product of individual interests. Different competing groups are often of the same socioeconomic status, background, income level, and professions, often bidding on the same govt special privilege. The distinctions between different groups are small. Memberships between different competing groups can change easily as it becomes more rewarding for individuals to seek new allies. New groups can be created by members of already existing groups. I don’t find it accurate to analyze the marketplace (free or political) as fundamentally class-driven. Economic action occurs at the level of the individual, not the group, not the class.

Rad Geek:

Which individuals did you have in mind? The only person discussed in this post who is picked out as an individual, as far as I can tell, is Megan McArdle. The analysis you offer seems to pick everyone else out on the basis of the interests presumedly shared by the members of five groups of people, differentiated from one another by socioeconomic factors: the MTA management, the TWU Local 100, poor commuters who use MTA busses and trains, well-off commuters who use MTA busses and trains, and folks who would be willing to accept scab work from the MTA management if it were offered. That seems like echt-class analysis. If it doesn’t seem that way to you, I wonder what you think class analysis does look like.

Schuele suggested that the debate here has at least as much to do with miscommunication as with substantive disagreement. So, let’s number off claims for convenience:

"[1] The group created is a product of individual interests. [2] Different competing groups are often of the same socioeconomic status, background, income level, and professions, often bidding on the same govt special privilege. [3] The distinctions between different groups are small. [4] Memberships between different competing groups can change easily as it becomes more rewarding for individuals to seek new allies. [5] New groups can be created by members of already existing groups. … [6] Economic action occurs at the level of the individual, not the group, not the class."

Which of claims (1)-(6) do you think make for a disagreement between you and someone who thinks class analysis is a fruitful way to understand the transit strike (and significant patches of socio-economic life elsewhere)? Further, if there’s more than one claim here that you take to cut against class analysis if true, do those separate claims cut it against it independently of each other, or only in conjunction with one another?

Personally, I think the traditional notion of class is a lot more useful when it's developed in terms of the power elite theory of Mills and Domhoff. Since what Mills called the "corporate restructuring of the capitalist class" in the twentieth century, the ruling class is shaped more by the institutional structures it acts through than by birth, marriage, and social mores. Still, I don't understand the instinctive revulsion so many libertarians have toward the idea of class in principle. Methodological individualism is all very well. But few practitioners of class analysis, I'm guessing, would object to the majority of the points Rad Geek enumerates above. Aside from some pseudo-Hegelian metaphysical buncombe emanating from the most vulgar of vulgar Marxists, I don't think much class analysis requires any kind of collective consciousness or will--just patterned interactions between individuals.

There were a couple of other interesting fibers in the comment thread, as well. One concerns the question of how far organized labor depends on the state:

Dave: Only if propped up by political power can unions survive.

Rad Geek: There were a good six and a half decades between the foundation of the Knights of Labor, and the establishment of government patronage of unions under the Wagner Act. I conclude that unions can survive quite well without being propped up by political power, and that there’s nothing intrinsic to unions that’s antagonistic to market survival.

Brandon Berg, if inadvertently, called into question the vulgar libertarian orthodoxy that the Wagner Act simply privileges unions against employers:

Either you give in to avoid a disruption, or you start replacing strikers and then collect what damages you can from them afterwards. A credible threat to do the latter might cause some would-be strikers to change their minds.

Anti-union clauses help to prevent this sort of situation—if they didn’t, unions wouldn’t be so vehemently opposed to them—but they’re not foolproof, especially if workers unionize secretly. One way to help enforce this might be to reward workers for reporting union activity and then firing the instigators to make an example.

One of the most important effects of Wagner was to channel union activity into 1) state-certified majority unionism, 2) a contract regime relying heavily on the state and the union bureaucracies for enforcement against wildcat strikes and direct action on the job, and 3) reliance on conventional strikes rather than on forms of direct action more difficult to detect or punish. In short, Wagner channelled organized labor into the kinds of activity most vulnerable to employer monitoring and countermeasures. What's more, Wagner got the federal government's foot in the door for subsequent labor legislation like Taft-Hartley, which prohibited the secondary strikes that were so successful in the 1930s.

Without Wagner, the typical pattern of union activity would likely be far different. Without NLRB certification votes and NLRB-enforced contract regimes, the organized labor paradigm might be a lot closer to the Wobbly practices of "minority unionism"....

U.S. & Canadian labor relations regimes are set up on the premise that you need a majority of workers to have a union, generally government-certified in a worldwide context, this is a relatively rare set-up. And even in North America, the notion that a union needs official recognition or majority status to have the right to represent its members is of relatively recent origin, thanks mostly to the choice of business unions to trade rank-and-file strength for legal maintenance of membership guarantees.

The labor movement was not built through majority unionism-it couldn't have been. One hundred years ago unions had no legal status (indeed, courts often ruled that unions were an illegal conspiracy and strikes a form of extortion) - they gained recognition through raw industrial power....

Unionism was built through direct action and through organization on the job. But in the 1930s, the bosses found it increasingly difficult to keep unions out with hired thugs, mass firings and friendly judges. Recognizing that there was no way to crush unions altogether, and tired of the continual strife, they offered a deal: If unions would agree to give up their industrial' power and instead work through proper channels - the National Labor Relations Board in the United States, various provincial boards in Canada - the government would act as an "impartial" arbiter to determine whether or not the union was the bona fide representative of the workers.

In the short term unions were able to short-circuit the need to sign workers up one by one and collect dues directly. The bosses traded union busters in suits for the gun thugs they had previously employed. And after a short burst in membership, unions (particularly in the United States) began a long-term downward spiral. Under this exclusive bargaining model, unions do not attempt to function on-the job until they gain legal certification. That legal process affords the bosses almost unlimited opportunity to threaten and intimidate workers, and to drag proceedings out for years.

* * *

We must stop making gaining legal recognition and a contract the point of our organizing....

We have to bring about a situation where the bosses, not the union, want the contract. We need to create situations where bosses will offer us concessions to get our cooperation. Make them beg for it.

and "direct action on the job."

The best-known form of direct action is the strike, in which workers simply walk off their jobs and refuse to produce profits for the boss until they get what they want. This is the preferred tactic of the AFL-CIO ``business unions,'' but is one of the least effective ways of confronting the boss.

The bosses, with their large financial reserves, are better able to withstand a long drawn-out strike than the workers. In many cases, court injuctions will freeze or confiscate the union's strike funds. And worst of all, a long walk-out only gives the boss a chance to replace striking workers with a scab (replacement) workforce.

Workers are far more effective when they take direct action while still on the job. By deliberately reducing the boss' profits while continuing to collect wages, you can cripple the boss without giving some scab the opportunity to take your job. Direct action, by definition, means those tactics workers can undertake themselves, without the help of government agencies, union bureaucrats, or high-priced lawyers.

For example, Wal-Mart may be about to find out what it's like to deal with de facto unions organized without the state's imprimatur, and playing by their own rules instead of ones written by the bosses' state. Rad Geek, in a post of his own, linked to a story about the Wal-Mart Workers Association: "Even Without a Union, Florida Wal-Mart Workers Use Collective Action to Enforce Rights." But as Rad Geek says, it is a union--a fighting union. With no NLRB certification and NLRB-enforced collective bargaining, the Association is using one of the most powerful forms of leverage the average worker has in today's economy: the company's public image. In time-honored practice, Wal-Mart workers are resorting to what the Wobblies call "open-mouth sabotage": taking their case directly to the public.

There was another interesting exchange in the Catallarchy thread that bore on questions raised earlier at Libertarian Underground, which I linked to in an earlier post. Several people in the Libertarian Underground discussion kept asserting, in general terms, that strikes were a breach of contract.

John T. Kennedy: I’ve yet to hear of anything the union did wrong in the transit strike.

David Masten: Isn’t violating the terms of existing agreements (no collective strike) wrong?

Rad Geek: The MTA’s employees didn’t “agree” to the Taylor Law. It was imposed on them by an interventionist state government with the power but not the authority to ban peaceful coordinated strikes.

John T. Kennedy: That is my understanding. But even if there were an agreement not to strike nobody would be entitled to specific performance.

Jonathan Wilde: You’re throwing around the term “specific performance” without a full understanding of it. Contracts arise out of agreements to performance or an exchange of promise. The point of preferring the contracts be enforceable is to create some measure of assurance that the parties will carry out the terms of the contract. Should one side or the fail to live up to the terms, awarding of “remedies” by a court may include remission of the contract, monetary damages, or specific performance. Specific performance is usually not awarded as it is generally not feasible for the court to ensure adequate performance. If a string quartet breaks a contract to play at a wedding, it’s not practical for the court to compel them to play. The court would have to send an officer to monitor the performance, and the quartet may give a poor performance on purpose. Thus, it makes more sense that they would be ordered to pay monetary damages to the aggrieved party. Sometimes it does make sense to compel specific performance if the terms of the contract refer to the exchange of a unique item, like a one-of-a-kind jewel or the Mona Lisa.

Not awarding remedies would render contracts meaningless. Reputational effects are usually not sufficient without strong information-gathering mechanisms. They may have been enough in hunter-gatherer villages, but are lacking in large, complex societies without enterprises that gather information like credit bureaus.

Lack of compelling specific performance does not mean lack of remedies. Fining and jailing people for [not] living up to contracted terms is not somehow “unlibertarian". As just one example, CEOs get jailed for failing to live up to their fiduciary responsibilities.

But without an NLRB-approved procedure for striking, and with unions resorting to de facto or undeclared strikes, the legal difficulties entailed in demonstrating non-performance by any particular worker would probably be considerable. And in a stateless legal regime, where the cost of court services was based on the cost of providing them, an employer might find all the transaction costs involved in enforcing a no-strike clause to be more than it was worth. Without the state to subsidize those "strong information-gathering mechanisms," society might well be considerably less large and complex.

Anyway, my experience at just about every job I've ever held in "right-to-work" Arkansas has been that the employer explicitly stated up front, in writing, that the position was "at will." There was no contractual obligation for either of us to give notice for ending the employment relationship. The law, in its majesty, forbids both rich and poor to sleep under bridges and urinate in public. But every once in a while, a rich guy really needs to take a leak. You want a society in which there are no bonds of loyalty between employer and employee? Fine--it works both ways.

Brandon Berg:

Consider the following scenarios:

1. The legislature passes a law requiring all government employees to sign a contract, as a condition of employment, promising that they will not strike.

2. The legislature passes a law forbidding public employees from striking. All public employees are informed of this law before they are hired.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you’d have an objection to the first. I don’t think the government should be running a subway any more than you do, but as long as it does, the legislature has the authority and responsibility to manage it properly.

And I don’t see any functional difference between these two scenarios. If the anti-strike law didn’t exist, the transit authority could accomplish the same thing with contracts. As a matter of principle, I’d prefer the first scenario. But since the difference seems to be purely symbolic, I can live with the second.

Of course, if we’re talking about private businesses, it’s a different story altogether. I would oppose a law imposing a blanket ban on strikes by private employees, because the government doesn’t have the authority to set policy for private businesses.

That sounds a lot like Rand's sympathies for administrative defenders of "law 'n' order" at state universities, during the campus unrest of the '60s.

Murray Rothbard's sympathies were considerably different. Since the state's title to property is illegitimate, the real owners are those occupying it and mixing their labor with it.

Suppose... that Messers. Brezhnev and Co. become converted to the principles of a free society; they than ask our anti-Communists, all right, how do we go about de-socializing? What could our anti- Communists offer them?

This question has been essentially answered by the exciting developments of Tito's Yugoslavia. Beginning in 1952, Yugoslavia has been de-socializing at a remarkable rate. The principle the Yugoslavs have used is the libertarian "homesteading" one: the state-owned factories to the workers that work in them! The nationalized plants in the "public" sector have all been transferred in virtual ownership to the specific workers who work in the particular plants, thus making them producers' coops, and moving rapidly in the direction of individual shares of virtual ownership to the individual worker. What other practicable route toward destatization could there be? The principle in the Communist countries should be: land to the peasants and the factories to the workers, thereby getting the property out of the hands of the State and into private, homesteading hands.

In L. Neil Schulman's Alongside Night, likewise, the leaders of the victorious agorist revolution suggested that government employees (at least those engaged in providing goods and services for which there would be market demand in a free society) should organize themselves as syndicates or producer co-ops and claim homestead rights to the property of the former government agency.

In the case of state universities, Rothbard argued, the rightful owners would be either the students or the faculty--in either case a return to the medieval status of universities as scholars' guilds. So in the case of a state-owned subway system, the rightful owners would be....?

John T. Kennedy also got into the fray with KipEsquire. Kip gloated that "the striking workers will... forfeit 6 days pay for their illegal acts, give or take...." Kip allowed himself to be provoked into the following non sequitur (rather remarkable for one who describes his blog's theme as "libertarian, individualist and laissez-faire...."):

Kennedy: Why aren’t libertarians commenting on the obvious injustice of outlawing strikes?

KipEsquire: Because libertarians believe in freedom of contract. If you don’t like the terms of employment, which are made clear upfront, then don’t take the job.

Now how about the injustice of requiring people to join unions, or at least to pay union dues, against their will?

With the exception of skilled trades unions, where the monopoly of the hiring hall is upheld by the state's licensing power, most union shops are enforced by private contract between the employer and the bargaining agent. In other words, the employee is required to join the union and pay union dues by the employer. I believe the usual libertarian response to grousing about terms of employment is "if you don't like it, work somewhere else," or something to that effect. The right-to-work law is a form of state intervention in the market, prohibiting private employers from negotiating union shop clauses with their employees' bargaining agent, and compelling unions to represent non-members.

Kennedy, finally, took up the gauntlet in a post of his own at No Treason:

Libertarians enthusiastically defended oil companies that raised their prices in the wake of Katrina, but they’ve had little appetite for defending the NY transit workers who decided to raise their prices.

It was amusing to see someone who calls herself Jane Galt chiding workers for striking selfishly. Bloggers at Catallarchy were particularly vocal in defending the oil companies, but the only mention of the strike I can find on that blog just quotes Galt lamenting how strikers made victims of millions of New Yorkers. I can’t imagine them letting similar charges against oil companies pass without comment.

Yeah, that is a little ironic, now, isn't it? It's been a long time since I read Atlas Shrugged, but didn't the folks in Galt's Gulch actually refer to their withdrawal as a "strike"?

Addendum, re my statement above on the basis of union shops in voluntary contract. Sheldon Richman, in the comments, has gone a long way toward convincing me that I probably put my foot in it:

Charles Baird, a labor economist, union critic, and Freeman author, has often stated that once a union is NLRB-certified, the employer has no choice but to deal with it and may not bargain with individual employees, who must pay dues, or fees if they abstain from joining. It's called exclusive representation. That would not occur in a "right-to-work" state, of course. Another Freeman author, George Leef, points out in a forthcoming article that unionists James Pope, Peter Kellman, and Ed Bruno in the Spring 2001 "WorkingUSA" objected to exclusive representation, claiming it harms dissenters who would rather bargain alone or through a minority union. Their complaint is the standard one against any protected monopoly.

That criticism of the union shop's empowerment of "business union" monopolies is fairly common on the left wing of the labor movement, by the way. It's been expressed by Alexis Buss, among others (the author of the pieces linked above on minority unionism).

Anyway, I should state for the record that if (as seems increasingly likely, to my chagrin) NLRB certification automatically results in a union shop in the absence of right-to-work legislation, I consider that an injustice. But, as Sheldon suggests, the right-to-work law goes too far in the other direction in prohibiting union shop agreements by purely private contract. And it goes way too far in requiring unions to represent anyone not paying dues.

My apologies for the slipshod fact-checking.

P.P.S. This Just In (May 29, 2007): I may have gone too far in conceding the issue on the voluntary nature of union shops. On the discussion page concerning the "Right-to-Work-Law" article at Wikipedia, Miguel Madeira of Vento Sueste blog found the following answer:

...the "union security" clause needs to be negotiated between the employer & the union, and is part of the union contract. Simply achieving representation does not automatically establish the union-membership or fee-payment requirement.

So maybe I don't have egg on my face after all.

Infrastructure as Public Good

Via Doc Searls. Lawrence Lessig writes:

Broadband is infrastructure — like highways, if not railroads. If you rely upon "markets" alone to provide infrastructure, you'll get less of it, and at a higher price.

Yeah, if you didn’t subsidize infrastructure, and people had to pay for it on a cost basis, they might actually have to make rational decisions of how much to consume based on the cost of providing it. Awful, huh?

Then, you might be buying something from a small factory 15 miles away, instead of from a big factory 1000 miles away that’s able to invade the local market because highway subsidies make it artificially competitive. You might be buying produce from a local farmer, instead of from corporate agribusiness plantations in California using subsidized irrigation water from the Army Corps of Engineers and shipping their food cross-country on subsidized highways. And without subsidized transportation to piggyback on, Wal-Mart’s artificially efficient high-speed and -volume distribution system might not be able to drive local retailers out of business.

Awful, just awful.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

OK, No More Stealing, Starting.... NOW!

Via A Pox On All Their Houses, via Upaya. A great quote from Virgil Storr:

Respecting property rights is all well and good if the existing regime of property ownership is legitimate but if it's illegitimate, if property was got through theft, through corruption, through racial privilege, through, say, colonial conquest, then that's another matter. Markets don't correct this sort of injustice in fact they perpetuate it, they have no way of compensating the victims, no mechanism for disbursing reparations. And, so its no wonder that the Good Guys (however misled they are about the economics of free trade) are deeply suspicious of markets.

Jamaica Kincaid, in A Small Place, made the point quite brilliantly. "Do you know why people like me are shy about being capitalists? Well, it's because we, for as long as we have known you, we were capital, like bales of cotton and sacks of sugar, and you were the commanding, cruel capitalists, and the memory of this is so strong, the experience so recent, that we can't quite bring ourselves to embrace this idea that you think so much of." Let me make the point another way. If I were to walk into a room full of people and rob them at gun point, it’s unlikely that I’d be able to convince them that now, after my crime, we should respect each others property rights and only engage in voluntary exchanges going forward. And even if I were to convince them, perhaps by gun point as well, they’re not likely to be happy about it. Certainly, any moral case for establishing a free market that I attempted to make in that room under those circumstances would be sensibly rejected.

Yet that’s what so many black and brown hued people around the world are being asked to do by free market advocates. Never mind that you’re renting land that would have been yours had it not been stolen a hundred years ago, never mind that your employer is educated and wealthy and that you’re not largely because for generations his ancestors denied opportunities to yours, never mind past injustices, let’s do the best we can given the current allocations of resources. In a phrase, that’s morally bankrupt.

Local Exchange Systems

Terry Burgess, on the mutualists yahoogroup, links to a site on Local Exchange Systems in the Global South, which includes a large library of materials on complementary currencies.

Collective Bargaining Against the State

Via Ender's Review. Vin Suprynowicz has an interesting proposal: collective bargaining for drug law victims.
Our freedom-hating, pain-loving War on Drugs depends on the tactic of "overcharging," and then offering attractive deals -- reduced charges, easier sentences -- in exchange for guilty pleas. Fewer than 5 percent of all drug cases ever go to trial.

Again, the drug war depends on this -- if every drug arrest led to a trial, the courts would be so swamped that some defendants couldn't be scheduled for trial dates for many years into the future. Their attorneys could then win complete dismissal of all charges based on the violation of the constitutional right to a speedy trial.

So all members of our new union need to do is this: Agree to demand a jury trial. No plea bargains -- no guilty pleas, ever. Otherwise, please don't join.

Today, no individual defense attorney can in good conscience advise any individual defendant not to take the deal. But all the drug war defendants have to do is sign up and agree that -- once an arbitrary number of drug defendants estimated to be 25 percent of all those currently charged have signed on -- a "D-Day" will be announced, and all brother members will immediately demand jury trials. Furthermore, they will advise their attorneys not to stipulate or agree to any delay in a trial date, even if the prosecutor choked to death on a chicken bone last night.

Union brothers will instruct their counsel to file for dismissal based on denial of a speedy trial on the 181st day, and keep filing, and publicize these filings with dramatic courthouse-step press conferences. Invite Amnesty International and the International Red Cross to participate. Mention what percentage of these defendants, being held without trial, are black or Hispanic. Mention it constantly.

What will the Fearless Drug Warriors do? Even with only 25 percent of drug defendants joining up and participating, trials that can now be started within a year will have to be scheduled at least three years into the future. The Drug Warriors will have no choice but to prosecute their "worst" cases first, turning at least two thirds of all drug defendants loose.

And once additional drug war defendants see this starting to happen, and proceed to sign up and demand their jury trials, those scheduled trials will start to stretch four, five, six years into the future. The freedom-hating thugs will be swamped!

Back in 2000, I had a similar idea about organizing to make the census worthless. Anyone who received the long form would give false answers to all questions--the more spectacularly erroneous, the better. Then, they would send an anonymous letter under separate cover to the Census Bureau telling them that they'd returned a long form filled with completely worthless information. Finally, they'd send copies of the anonymous letter to news outlets of their choice. If it were well publicized that a significant portion of long form recipients deliberately sabotaged the process, the Census Bureau and the general public would know that the resulting statistics were worthless.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Alex Singleton: The Effect of Patents on Drug R&D

Excellent post by Alex Singleton at the Globalization Institute Blog: "Can Pharmaceuticals be Developed Without Patents?"

Singleton questions the conventional wisdom that pharmaceuticals are unique because of their high cost of R&D compared to production cost. He cites a study of the Italian drug industry before and after its 1978 adoption of drug patents which found that Italy developed some nine percent of the world's "new molecular entities" (as opposed to tinkering around the edges with "me, too" drugs) before drug patents were introduced. The rate of major innovation actually went down under the new regime.

F.M. Scherer, in his study of the effects of patents on innovation, found drugs to be the one exception to his general conclusion that most product and process innovations would have been adopted even without patents, for the sake of competitiveness. But even in the case of drugs, around half would have been developed without patents. And that figure itself would be more meaningful if it incorporated the distinction between "new molecular entities" and "me, too" drugs.

The Italian case suggests to me, at least, that without patents drug companies are likely to gamble more of their R&D efforts on genuinely new drugs, whereas with patents they're more likely to try to game the patent system with incremental "me, too" research.

It's important also to treat separately the artificial inflation of R&D costs by the FDA and its counterparts. If the market were allowed to set acceptable levels of risk, though insurance and tort liability, and the buyer had more responsibility for assuming risks other than fraud, the cost of development would no doubt fall considerably. It's a damn shame and disgrace that a grown man or woman has to go to Mexico to put (say) laetrile or Hoxsey's red clover formula into their own body.

Check out, also, Singleton's Pharmopoly Blog.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Nock: The Economics of Landowners and Mill-Owners

Via Sheldon Richman. A great quote from Nock's Our Enemy, the State:

The horrors of England's industrial life in the last century furnish a standing brief for addicts of positive intervention. Child-labour and woman-labour in the mills and mines; Coketown and Mr. Bounderby; starvation wages; killing hours; vile and hazardous conditions of labour; coffin ships officered by ruffians - all these are glibly charged off by reformers and publicists to a regime of rugged individualism, unrestrained competition, and laissez-faire. This is an absurdity on its face, for no such regime ever existed in England. They were due to the State's primary intervention whereby the population of England was expropriated from the land; due to the State's removal of the land from competition with industry for labour. Nor did the factory system and the "industrial revolution" have the least thing to do with creating those hordes of miserable beings. When the factory system came in, those hordes were already there, expropriated, and they went into the mills for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Plugson of Undershot would give them, because they had no choice but to beg, steal or starve. Their misery and degradation did not lie at the door of individualism; they lay nowhere but at the door of the State. Adam Smith's economics are not the economics of individualism; they are the economics of landowners and mill-owners. Our zealots of positive intervention would do well to read the history of the Enclosures Acts and the work of the Hammonds, and see what they can make of them.

So Nock would agree, as far as it goes, with the vulgar libertarian argument that workers chose the Dark Satanic Mills as the "best available alternative." As far as it goes, though, is only half the truth.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Intellectual History Blog

Shawn Wilbur's got a blog up for a course he's teaching on Great Ideas, centering on themes of American freedom. Currently, it's heavy on the history of Puritanism in the Massachusetts Bay colony: The Very Idea!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Real Patriotism

Traditionally, patriotism has too often been defined, in Brad Spangler's words, as "loyalty to the existing rulers." That is, a willingness of subjects everywhere "to do each other in through un-neighborly use of cutting implements at the whims of their political leaders."

It was this sense of the word patriotism, I think, that Big Bill Haywood had in mind when he said:

You ask me why the I.W.W. is not patriotic to the United States. If you were a bum without a blanket; if you had left your wife and kids when you went west for a job, and had never located them since; if your job had never kept you long enough in a place to qualify you to vote; if you slept in a lousy, sour bunkhouse, and ate food just as rotten as they could give you and get by with it; if deputy sheriffs shot your cooking cans full of holes and spilled your grub on the ground; if your wages were lowered on you when the bosses thought they had you down; if there was one law for Ford, Suhr, and Mooney, and another for Harry Thaw; if every person who represented law and order and the nation beat you up, railroaded you to jail, and the good Christian people cheered and told them to go to it, how in hell do you expect a man to be patriotic? This war is a business man's war and we don't see why we should go out and get shot in order to save the lovely state of affairs that we now enjoy.

But there's another sense of the word, in which patriotism is a good thing. Patriotism, in this sense, is a love for one's native soil (in the literal sense), an attachment to hearth and home, and piety toward the graves of one's ancestors. It is a desire to defend these things, and the ordinary way of daily life that goes with them, against the violence of any outside enemy--including the central government. Or as Edward Abbey said, "A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government."

The patriots who founded this country were surely patriots in the second sense of the word more than the first. They were not fighting, as Voltairine de Cleyre characterized the dumbed-down American history in the publik skools, a mere foreign war against the British. They were fighting a genuine revolution against their own governments.

To the average American of today, the Revolution means the series of battles fought by the patriot army with the armies of England. The millions of school children who attend our public schools are taught to draw maps of the siege of Boston and the siege of Yorktown, to know the general plan of the several campaigns, to quote the number of prisoners of war surrendered with Burgoyne; they are required to remember the date when Washington crossed the Delaware on the ice; they are told to "Remember Paoli," to repeat "Molly Stark's a widow," to call General Wayne "Mad Anthony Wayne," and to execrate Benedict Arnold; they know that the Declaration of Independence was signed on the Fourth of July, 1776, and the Treaty of Paris in 1783; and then they think they have learned the Revolution...blessed be George Washington! They have no idea why it should have been called a "revolution" instead of the "English war," or any similar title: it's the name of it, that's all. And name-worship, both in child and man, has acquired such mastery of them, that the name "American Revolution" is held sacred, though it means to them nothing more than successful force, while the name "Revolution" applied to a further possibility, is a spectre detested and abhorred. In neither case have they any idea of the content of the word, save that of armed force....

Such is the spirit of government-provided schools. Ask any child what he knows about Shays's rebellion, and he will answer, "Oh, some of the farmers couldn't pay their taxes, and Shays led a rebellion against the court-house at Worcester, so they could burn up the deeds; and when Washington heard of it he sent over an army quick and taught them a good lesson" -- "And what was the result of it?" "The result? Why -- why -- the result was -- Oh yes, I remember -- the result was they saw the need of a strong federal government to collect the taxes and pay the debts."

Ask if he knows what was said on the other side of the story, ask if he knows that the men who had given their goods and their health and their strength for the freeing of the country now found themselves cast into prison for debt, sick, disabled, and poor, facing a new tyranny for the old; that their demand was that the land should become the free communal possession of those who wished to work it, not subject to tribute, and the child will answer "No." Ask him if he ever read Jefferson's letter... about it, in which he says:

...."God forbid that we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion! ... What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that the people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take up arms.... The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." Ask any school child if he was ever taught that the author of the Declaration of Independence, one of the great founders of the common school, said these things, and he will look at you with open mouth and unbelieving eyes.

The real American Revolution started, certainly not in 1776, and not even on April 19, 1775, but back in 1774 (See Ray Raphael, A People's History of the American Revolution). One of North's "intolerable acts," in response to "provocations" by the Massachusetts-Bay colony, was to order the royal governor to suspend that colony's General Court. The lower house, in response, met as a revolutionary Convention, without royal assent--in conscious imitation of the Convention Parliament of 1688, which met as a revolutionary body (despite election writs never having been issued under the royal seal, which James II threw into the Thames on the way out of Dodge). In ensuing weeks and months, the legislative bodies of other colonies likewise met in defiance of their own governors and colonial charters. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts and other colonies (especially in New England), committees of public safety met to do the work of defunct regular local government, and to supervise the local militia companies. Local patriots shut down courthouses and prevented foreclosures for unpaid taxes, and forced would-be placeholders to renounce their royal commissions on pain of tarring and feathering. By the spring of 1775, the Convention and the ad hoc executive bodies created by it had taken direction of the arming and training of the colonial militia, and exercised direct control over its magazines and other facilities. Massachusetts was in the process of raising her own regular army of 13,000, and creating a joint military command with the other New England colonies. It was these armed forces--acting two months before the Continental Congress got around to forming a Continental Army under the sainted General Washington--that responded in April to a British invasion aimed at seizing a stock of arms stored at Concord.

Shithead "patriots" like Sean Hannity, who fulminate against "criticizing the Commander-in-Chief in wartime," had they been alive in those days, would have screamed for the blood of Sam Adams. And contrariwise, as Spangler points out,

I believe that if he were alive today, Samuel Adams would be not merely calling for impeachment, but agitating for a revolutionary tribunal to bring forth manila hemp articles of impeachment, tied with several coils in the loop.

Unfortunately, patriotism in this country is identified mainly with the Fox News/talk radio subculture of Fatherland-worship. Here's Mike Rogers' (an American expatriate living in Japan) description of America's Good Germans:

Let’s face it, what’s more important: the truth or the nation? The nation, right? It doesn’t matter if the leader took the nation into a war on false pretenses – it’s safer and more fashionable to toe the party line. Those women and children were being discriminated against and savaged by those Poles in the Danzig Corridor [not to mention those Kuwaiti incubator babies and the Iraqi troops massed on the Saudi border]. Saddam was an evil man. We had to go after them. The world is better off today. The revisionists can say all they want, but the leader had to act before the proof came in some terrible form like a mushroom cloud. Take it to them I say. Kill them all then let God sort them out.

We’ve got these Neanderthals in Japan too, but not very many. They are a rarity. Most people would be too embarrassed to walk around with flag pins on their lapels and idiotic bumper stickers on the cars that show everyone just how ill-educated and how low their I.Q.’s are. I mean, really, when you stop and think about it, if you went to any country in the world and saw some guy wearing his countries’ flag pin on their lapel and bumper stickers all over his car saying how his country is "God’s Country," you’d think he was a buffoon and had more than just a few screws loose, right? So what makes you think that Americans who do this aren’t anymore nuts than, say, a Nazi cheerleader or someone who cheers on Imperial Japan?

"Oh, but that’s different." You say? "Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan did lots of bad things like genocide, mass murder, and waging war of aggression." If you seriously thought this, even for a moment, then consider that you just may have some Neanderthal blood in you. Intelligent people recognize and admit that America has waged many wars of aggression and has committed genocide more than once. The only people who don’t agree with me here are the ill-educated Neanderthals…. You’ve seen them, they are everywhere in America: they are usually sporting a flag pin on their lapel.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Eugene Plawiuk on Anarchist Socialism

A thoughtful post by Eugene Plawiuk on "State-less Socialism."

I get called an oxymoron... for using the term Libertarian Communist.

When I pondered the title of this page I could have called it an anarchist, or anarcho-syndicalist, or autonomous marxist or a libertarian socialist, or left communist. But I decided to use the contradictory phrase libertarian communist. Which to me is embraces all these the ideas and those of the Anti-Parlimentary Communists, which included Sylvia Pankhurst, James Connolly and Guy Aldred.

My, my all these terms which are really interchangable. They really are only terms used for what Kropotkin orginally said of anarchism, 'we are the left wing of the socialist movement'. Why I use the term Libertarian Communist rather than Anarchist Socialist could be best illustrated by comparing the ideas of Marx and Benjamin Tucker .

"Not to abolish wages, but to make every man dependent upon wages and secure to every man his whole wages is the aim of Anarchistic Socialism. What Anarchistic Socialism aims to abolish is usury. It does not want to deprive labor of its reward; it wants to deprive capital of its reward. It does not hold that labor should not be sold; it holds that capital should not be hired at usury." Benjamin Tucker

This is what I call distributist economics, that is the idea that the problem with the market place is distribution of goods rather than the social relations of production. Tucker was influenced by Prodhoun in this and it is the idea that the problem with capitalism is usury and monopoly, and could be summed up as a fair days wage for a fair days work....

I don't think the individualist anarchist understanding of distribution and exchange can be isolated quite that easily from the social relations of production; after all, what could involve the social relations of production more than the question of whether or not labor receives its full product? Although Tucker rarely wrote in terms of class, a class theory of exploitation was at least implicit in his analysis of unequal exchange. Unequal exchange in the market was the means by which owners of land and capital extracted tribute from labor; because workers were forced to sell their labor on the buyers' terms, they wound up accepting less than their product for their work. For instance, while most members of society gain from some kinds of unequal exchange and lose from others, Tucker considered the important class to be the "chief usurers" who were net beneficiaries of the system of exploitation:

Somebody gets the surplus wealth that labor produces and does not consume. Who is the Somebody?...

Is the Somebody the laborer? No; at least not as laborer; otherwise the question were absurd.... We are searching for his surplus product. He has it not.

....Only the usurer remaining, he must be the Somebody whom we are looking for; he, and none other. But who is the usurer, and whence comes his power? There are three forms of usury; interest on money, rent of land and houses, and profit in exchange. Whoever is in receipt of any of these is a usurer. And who is not? Scarcely any one. The banker is a usurer; the manufacturer is a usurer; the merchant is a usurer; the landlord is a usurer; and the workingman who puts his savings, if he has any, out at interest, or takes rent for his house or lot, if he owns one, or exchanges his labor for more than an equivalent, - he too is a usurer. The sin of usury is one under which all are concluded, and for which all are responsible. But all do not benefit by it. The vast majority suffer. Only the chief usurers accumulate: in agricultural and thickly-settled countries, the landlords; in industrial and commercial countries, the bankers. Those are the Somebodies who swallow up the surplus wealth.

And where do the Somebodies get their power? From monopoly. Here, as usual, the State is the chief of sinners. Usury rests on two great monopolies; the monopoly of land and the monopoly of credit. Were it not for these, it would disappear. Ground-rent exists only because the State stands by to collect it and to protect land-titles rooted in force or fraud. Otherwise the land would be free to all, and no one could control more than he used. Interest and house-rent exist only because the State grants to a certain class of individuals and corporations the exclusive privilege of using its credit and theirs as a basis for the issuance of circulating currency. Otherwise credit would be free to all, and money, brought under the law of competition, would be issued at cost. Interest and rent gone, competition would leave little or no chance for profit in exchange except in business protected by tariff or patent laws. And there again the State has but to step aside to cause the last vestige of usury to disappear.

The usurer is the Somebody, and the State is his protector.

Tucker, like some free market libertarians today, usually framed his discussion of exploitation and unequal exchange in individualistic terms--that is, in terms of transactions between individuals as such, rather than as members of exploiting and exploitative classes. Some right-wing libertarians today go so far in their methodological individualism (not to say atomism) as to instinctively recoil from the word "class." But many free market libertarians are quite comfortable with class analysis. The late Samuel Edward Konkin III (SEK3) wrote Agorism Contra Marxism, a work of agorist class analysis based on the distinction of Comte, Oppenheimer, and others between the economic and political means to wealth. Wally Conger has kindly keyed in major portions of it at his blog (the concluding post, Agorism Contra Marxism, part 10, includes links to the whole series). Chris Sciabarra's Total Freedom, likewise, places central importance on class and the question of "cui bono?" for any context-keeping critic of state intervention. It can be read especially profitably in conjunction with Roderick Long's article "Toward a Libertarian Theory of Class," Social Philosophy & Policy 15:2 (1998). Here's an attempt I made to fuse Sciabarra's libertarian dialectic with Long's class theory in Chapter Nine of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy:

The enemy of the state must start with a strategic picture of his own. It is not enough to oppose any and all statism, as such, without any conception of how particular examples of statism fit into the overall system of power. Each concrete example of statism must be grasped in its relation to the system of power as a whole, and the way in which the nature of the part is characterized by the whole to which it belongs. That is, we must examine the ways in which it functions together with other elements of the system, both coercive and market, to promote the interests of the class controlling the state.

In forming this strategic picture, we must use class analysis to identify the key interests and groups at the heart of the system of power. As Sciabarra points out, at first glance Rothbard‘s view of the state might seem to superficially resemble interest group liberalism: although the state is the organized political means, it serves the exploitative interests of whatever collection of political factions happen to seize control of it at any given time. This picture of how the state works does not require any organic relation between the various interest groups controlling the state at any time, or between them and the state. The state might be controlled by a disparate array of interest groups, ranging from licensed professionals, rent-seeking corporations, family farmers, regulated utilities, and labor unions; the only thing they might have in common is the fact that they happen to be currently the best at weaseling their way into the state....

But on closer inspection, Rothbard did not see the state as being controlled by a random collection of interest groups. Rather, it was controlled by [as Sciabarra wrote]

"a primary group that has achieved a position of structural hegemony, a group central to class consolidation and crisis in contemporary political economy. Rothbard’s approach to this problem is, in fact, highly dialectical in its comprehension of the historical, political, economic, and social dynamics of class."
Walter Grinder and John Hagel, in "Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate Decision-Making and Class Structure," saw the ruling class under state capitalism coalescing around the central bankers, and the corporations associated with them.

Eugene continues:

Whereas the IWW took as their watchword Abolish the wages system. from Marx's essay Value, Price and Profit.

And for good reason, wages will never reflect the real value of labour, merely its exchange value, the price paid for a good.

I take issue with this. A regular email correspondent (whom I am not at liberty to name) made the insightful obsevation that the treatment of labor by the individualist anarchists and other market socialists is analogous to the Marxists' treatment of capital. That is, the two groups treat those factors of production, respectively, as uniquely immune from the determination of price by production cost.

For the Marxist, capital is able to command a price greater than the cost of supplying it; the supposed reason why, I've never been able to clearly understand. For the individualist anarchist, the natural price of capital in a free market is the cost of providing it; if the price of capital is greater than that cost, the reason is artificial scarcity.

For the individualist anarchist, on the other hand, the natural market price of labor is not simply the cost of physically reproducing it, as Marx and the classical political economists said. Rather, it is the subjective cost to the laborer of providing it--the toil and trouble, or disutility, of sacrificing his leisure. As Tucker said, in a free market there is no basis for price except cost, and ultimately only labor has real cost. So for us Tuckerites, the difference between the price of labor-power and the price of labor's product is unnatural, resulting from the state's intervention in the free market and its forcing of labor to sell itself under conditions of unequal exchange.

In the comments, angry roughneck made the following observation:

One last thought. In a free world which is compatible with capitalism you are free to arrange yourself in any social or working arrangement you choose to. This leaves you free to start communal businesses and anarchist orginizations (publications)without any fear of persecution. In your world what is my destiny? I am free as long as I want to be an interchangeable clog in your machine. As soon as i vote to vote against this conformity you will have no option other than silence me. Call me a dissenter and for the good of the people send me to the gulag. Worse what if me and a hundred others decided to quit the commune and form a company with a hierarchal structure based on voluntary contracts then what would happen? Would you allow us to live as we choose? I am powerless to determine your values in a capitalist world and yet you hope to create a world based on the premise of freedom by first inscribing mens proper values?

I disagree strenuously with those who consider the term "anarcho-communism" or "libertarian communism" to be an oxymoron. The various strands of collectivist anarchism are quite consistent to regard themselves as anarchist or libertarian, given their starting assumptions. It's not that they "forbid" wage labor by voluntary contract; rather, their fundamental property rules make it impossible by definition. Since they regard occupancy and use as the basis of property in all means of production, and not just (like us Tuckerites) of property in land, the firm is automatically owned by those engaged in production. As the left-libertarian Peter Ellerman puts it, the workers are the firm.

Given these starting assumptions on property rules, though, it's possible for individual work collectives to interact either through syndicalist federation, or through market exchange, as the members of the individual units see fit. And not only that--it's possible for a large sector of self-employed entrepreneurs and family farms and businesses to deal with each other and with the collectives through free market exchange. In the syndicalist areas of southeastern Spain, for example, self-employed businessmen and peasants were free to operate independently of the communes or syndicates, or to arrange limited membership. As SEK3 argued in his discussions with Ursula LeGuin, it was possible for the "syndicate of initiative" to challenge the increasing bureaucratization of Anarres' anarcho-communist society because they were permitted to own radios and printing presses, and operate independently of the other federated syndicates.

Bakuninist anarcho-collectivism retained a large element of market exchange between communes; and many leftish free market anarchists believe, like Karl Hess, that a great deal of activity in a stateless society would be organized through non-stereotypically "capitalist" organizations like cooperatives and mutual aid societies. So it's quite likely that, as Jesse Walker once suggested on LeftLibertarian, that in any kind of post-state society there would be a great deal of interpenetration between market exchange and communalism. I believe Bill Orton (aka Hogeye Bill) argued on some message board exchange at FreeMarket.Net or Anti-State.Com that, in a panarchy, a communist workers' collective would from the outside be indistinguishable from a capitalist firm.

Now, as an individualist anarchist, I don't share the collectivists' starting assumptions about capital ownership. And I tend to be leery of the practical effects of syndicalist organization. I think LeGuin's fictional anarcho-communist society in The Dispossessed gave a pretty accurate picture of what a federally organized economy would degenerate into, no matter how formally democratic its organization. The syndicates and the central federations of syndicates may be governed by delegates from the factories, recallable at will, and yada yada yada. But the economic decisions the syndicates and federations have to make involve numbers crunching on the scale of Gosplan. So all those comradely workers' delegates will need the "help" of an ever-growing permanent staff of experts to crunch those numbers; and their expertise, and insider access to daily, routine information, will eventually result (via Michels' Iron Law of Oligarchy) in their presenting one or a handful of alternative central plans to be rubber stamped by the delegates. In other words, they'll turn into Gosplan.

The beauty of the price system, on the other hand, is that no central organization is necessary. In an economy of self-employed farmers and small businesspeople, worker co-ops, and worker-controlled factories, interacting through exchange on a free market, the price signal itself provides all the information necessary for the individual actor to decide what and how much to produce.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

You Don't Need a Weatherman....

Via Brad Spangler. Next Left Notes announces the revival of Students for a Democratic Society as a national organization. Apparently local chapters had already been around for a while, and only recently decided to resurrect the national structure.

If you click on the link above to their website, it has some amazing resources: an archive of historic SDS documents, as well as the back issues of Radical America and The Rag.

One of the most promising political developments in recent American history, in my opinion, was the attempt of Murray Rothbard and Karl Hess 35-odd years ago to build an Old Right-New Left coalition against the corporate state. The libertarian socialist faction of SDS and the radical libertarian caucus of the YAF, together, were a big part of that effort. From the late 60s into the early 70s, Rothbard was writing for Ramparts and Studies on the Left, and quoting New Left historiography of corporate liberalism from the likes of Gabriel Kolko and James Weinstein. His journal Left and Right was created to explore issues of concern to that left-right coalition. And the first year's worth of The Libertarian Forum was full of all sorts of heady discussion in the same vein.

In a way, the friendly relations between the Libertarian Party's Badnarik and the Green Party's Cobb in 2004 seemed like a partial revival of that old coalition; the two were backslapping each other through the whole third party debate on C-SPAN, and Badnarik earlier praised the Greens for their decentralist values and their departure from conventional state socialism.

It would be a match made in heaven, as far as I'm concerned. My own general reaction to both parties is that the Greens are right about most of the things they object to: pollution, labor exploitation, concentration of capital, and the other evils of corporate rule. But free market libertarianism has the answers to what causes those evils, and how to address them. A coalition to achieve the ends of socialism through the means of (as Benjamin Tucker put it) "consistent Manchesterism" would be ideal. See, for example, this essay by Dan Sullivan: "Greens and Libertarians: The Yin and Yang of Our Political Future." For a brief summary of the kinds of anti-corporate radicalism Rothbard and his comrades were getting up to in those early issues of Libertarian Forum, and my ideas for an agenda based on the common ground between radical free marketers and libertarian socialists, you can check out my "Libertarian Forum: A Resource for UnCapitalists?" Here's another one on a possible Libertarian-Green alliance for tax reform.

We could do a hell of a lot worse than a common agenda to (for instance) get out of Iraq, repeal USA Patriot, declare a drug war armistice, radically scale back "intellectual property" [sic], eliminate corporate welfare, and raise the personal income tax exemption to $30,000. As Tom Knapp put it a while back, dismantle big government by cutting welfare from the top down and taxes from the bottom up.

Addendum. I didn't get the original email, because yahoogroups messages aren't getting through to me for some reason (again), but Brad Spangler got the original tip from Jesse Walker's post to the LeftLibertarian email list; Jesse, in turn, got it from Bill Kauffman.
For more on Rothbard's time on the Left, see "Rothbard's Time on the Left," by John Payne.

Sciabarra Encyclopedia Article on Libertarianism

Chris Sciabarra has an excellent article on "Libertarianism" included in the International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology.

Mises located the central ‘caste conflict’ in the financial sector of the economy. In such books as The Theory of Money and Credit, he contends that government control over money and banking led to the cycle of boom and bust. A systematic increase in the money supply creates differential effects over time, redistributing wealth to those social groups, especially banks and debtor industries, which are the first beneficiaries of the inflation.

Mises’ student, Murray Rothbard, developed this theory of ‘caste conflict’ into a full-fledged libertarian class analysis. Rothbard views central banking as a cartelizing device that has created a powerful structure of class privilege in modern political economy. These privileges grow exponentially as government restricts market competition and free entry, thereby creating monopoly through various coercive means (e.g. compulsory cartelization, price controls, output quotas, licensing, tariffs, immigration restrictions, labour laws, conscription, patents, franchises, etc.).

Rothbard’s view of the relationship between big business and government in the rise of American ‘statism’ draws additionally from the work of New Left historical revisionists, such as Gabriel Kolko and James Weinstein. These historians held that big business was at the forefront of the movement towards government regulation of the market. That movement, according to Rothbard, had both a domestic and foreign component, since it often entailed both domestic regulation and foreign imperialism to secure global markets. The creation of a ‘welfare-warfare state’ leads necessarily to economic inefficiencies and deep distortions in the structure of production. Like Marx, Rothbard views these ‘internal contradictions’ as potentially fatal to the economic system; unlike Marx, Rothbard blames these contradictions not on the free market, but on the growth of statism.