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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Weekly Link Digest, Part Deux

Lots of stuff in the hopper, so here's a twofer.

Vulgar Liberalism Watch.

Robot Economist at Freedom Democrats quoted a soccer momish advocate of free grad school education, on the grounds that the job market is so competitive a bachelor's just doesn't cut it. In response, I wrote:

The only solution to income polarization... is more income polarization. The main effect of subsidized college education was to dumb down college education to the previous level of high school education, while making a batchelor's degree obligatory for jobs that previously required a high school diploma. If graduate education is similarly subsidized, we'll see grad schools eagerly dumbing down standards to attract the money, and pretty soon everybody in America will have to have an M.A. to do any job that pays better than dishwasher. Subsidized higher education has simply made technical manpower cheaper to business, and encouraged it to adopt capital-intensive, skill-intensive production models that create technological unemployment for the uneducated. Given that subsidized education is one of the main reasons for the two-tier economy, advocating even more subsidized education in the belief that it will reduce income disparity is rather, well, shitheaded.

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling has a similar (if more polite) reaction to Deepak Lal's pollyannish prescription of "more school" as the solution to technological unemployment.

Meanwhile, via Logan Ferree at Freedom Democrats, free higher education is also the centerpiece of Uber-Soccer Mom Hillary's middle class agenda.

If all this gives you nightmares of a monster with "the body of Leviathan and the head of a social worker," a good antidote would be Joel Schlosberg's post on a documentary about the free school movement. And if that's not enough, iceberg (at lettuce have peas) quotes John Taylor Gatto:

Alexander Inglis's 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education, ... breaks down the purpose - the actual purpose - of modern schooling into six basic functions...:

1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can't test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.

2) The integrating function.... People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.

3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student's proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records....

4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been "diagnosed," children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits....

6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.

At Info All, Paul Knatz writes on servile education:

Kleptocracies don’t want citizens learning from experience on their own, and the kleptocracy’s solution is a state-run school system: learn what the state-appointed teacher says when the state-appointed teacher says it....

...[T]he individual most severely punished may be the one who learned something before the teacher gave the command.

And (via Ender's Review) as a final raspberry to the publik skools, Retta Fontana writes:

The main purpose... of government schools is to train young people to tolerate boredom, repeat other people’s answers to rote questions, spy on their parents, absorb “groupthink,” follow orders and most of all, to become good citizens and, through peer pressure, to conform.

Via Indie Castle, Bill Kauffman (in a review of Jeff Taylor's Where Did the Party Go?) contrasts W.J. Bryan to H.H. Humphrey:

Restating the Jeffersonian motto "Equal rights for all; special privileges for none," he denounced "ship-subsidy grabbers," "trust magnates," and "the privilege-hunting and favor-seeking class." (Predictably, his campaigns were chronically underfunded.) It might seem odd that Taylor calls a candidate who advocated nationalization of the railroads a believer in "a laissez-faire economy," but Bryan himself professed it: "The safety of our farmers and our laborers is not in special legislation, but in equal and just laws that bear alike on every man. The great masses of our people are interested, not in getting their hands into other people's pockets, but in keeping the hands of other people out of their pockets."...

Humphrey, twisting the Jeffersonian slogan, desired "special privileges for all," cracks Taylor. An "exponent of paternalistic statism," he never met a welfare progam he didn't vote for no matter if the beneficary was Lockheed, Boeing, or a single mother. He stated confidently that "big corporations are a source of strength and economic vitality."

Brad Spangler points to evidence that corporate campaign money is shifting toward the Democrats. That suggests to me a possible shift back toward corporate liberalism among the Power Elite--perhaps because the dominant crisis tendency in state capitalism has shifted from the under-accumulation crisis of the '70s, back toward the default mode of over-production crisis.

At The Superfluous Man, John Markley comments on the "great irony"

that "anti-corporate" liberals and leftists are usually the most vocal advocates of the very interventionist state that makes the manipulation and exploitation that Richman describes possible. They probably do more than anyone else to provide the necessary ideological support for the state powers that the rich and powerful use for their own ends.

He mentions the liberal rush to defend Kelo. And, I'd add, liberals also fought challenges to federal preemption of state medpot laws on Tenth Amendment grounds because--you guessed it--such preemption depends on the same creative reading of the Commerce Clause as the rest of the regulatory state. If John Ashcroft can't kick down your door for smoking a joint, the Four Horsemen might come back to the Supreme Court.

Markley observes, in the same vein,

It is an amusing (or depressing, depending on my mood) irony that many liberal/"vital center" types who talk about how statism protects us from the depredations and exploitation of big business are the same people who consider the national government highway system a glorious achievement that proves that demonstrates the state's wisdom and benevolence. The people who rage against huge corporate chains are largely the same people who cheer for the many of the government programs that make the huge chains so powerful in the first place.

And Joshua Holmes takes on the latest vulgar liberals to suggest the Bush Administration represents a "free market libertarian" coup:

Ooh, you liberals are so smart. You caught us! That’s right, we sneaked a full-throated, red-blooded libertarian into the White House while you guys were laughing it up about his language blunders. And now he’s implementing the libertarian agenda: tax cuts for the rich and pork for the rich!

Despite the fact that Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Bush the Younger have all presided over massive increases in federal spending, proposed and signed legislation expanding the welfare, warfare, and regulatory state, and played the Great Game in various regions of the world, the real problem is that they’re all closet libertarians.

Fiscal Crisis of the State.

Jomama reports:

Roads and bridges built by U.S. taxpayers are starting to be sold off, and so far foreign-owned companies are doing the buying....

Washington is not likely to produce more money to build roads. The federal highway fund — which will have a balance of about $16 billion by the end of 2006 — will run out in 2009 or 2010, according to White House and congressional estimates.

Meanwhile, at Independent Country, James Wilson speculates on the direction the economy might have taken without corporate welfare for railroads, trucks, and airlines.

Health Care: Seller's Market

For a competitive market to work optimally, information on the competing choices and their prices has to be freely available--a condition the cartelized health system is designed to prevent. At Info All, Paul Knatz discusses absence of such information in health care:

The good Samaritan finds a homeless guy run over in the road. He takes him to the hospital. They put the guy in IC, keep him a month. Who gets the bill? Was there a menu? Was the guy conscious when the choices were made?

The hospital knows perfectly well that some patients won’t be able to pay. So they jack up all the prices. Get it where they can, when they can, pass the rest to the public. What? Do you think the hospital owner should be at risk?

But the kleptocracy is rigged so that enormous pressure will be put on the out patient to pay -- for what he never ordered, never knew the price. The guy is in hock till he pays, permanently screwed if he doesn’t.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The people who rage against huge corporate chains are largely the same people who cheer for the many of the government programs that make the huge chains so powerful in the first place."

That statement may be too sweeping. It's possible that the writer is speaking from first hand experience, and if so, I'm willing to believe any specific anecdote that might be cited, but my own experience is otherwise. I've spent a lot of time working with radical groups, and they never praise large-scale infrastructure projects. The radicals are different from the mainstream left-liberals of the New Deal Democrat type. I grew up in a family where FDR was held up as an ideal President. I don't mean to disparage FDR, who had to deal with the circumstances of his time. However, the radicals I've known have been critical of the pro-corporate bias of many of the large scale infrastructure projects undertaken during the New Deal and Great Society. The Tennesse Valley Authority, for instance, is often mocked as being a pure subsidy to big business.

The Highland Center, in Tennesse, may have been one of the best known radical centers that I've had personal experience with. It started as a training camp for labor organizers in the 1930s. When I went there in the 1990s, its focus was on environmental matters and the people I met there were mostly of a perspective that might be described as "left-libertarian". I remember being told: "The true environmentalist would just shut the EPA down. Just shut it down. What does it do but legalize murder? They set rules about how much poison a corporation can put in the water, and whether a given chemcial can be allowed if it kills one person in a million, or two people in a million, or three people in a million. They legalize pollution that effects others, and they remove the right of others to legally complain about that pollution."

I'm quoting from memory, and this was many years ago, but I think I've correctly got the spirit of the thing. There was a strong desire to see the EPA shut down. There was the sense that a corporation could pollute the property of a home-owner, and the home-owner could do nothing about it because the corporation was staying inside the pollution limits set by the EPA. Really, the Highland Center was probably the first time I ever heard anything like left-libertarian arguments. It remains, to this day, an important part of the infrastructure of America's left radical fringe.

I could certainly list other examples. I will if someone wants me to. I don't mean to beat the point too much. However, I do feel it is important to understand the wide gap that exists between the mainstream left-liberals that one might associate with the mainstream of the Democratic party, and the true radicals of America's fringe. In my experience, the radicals are often anti-state. It is difficult to make generalizations about such a heterogenus group, but I do think if you took a poll, you'd find a lot of anti-state attitudes. I speak with more confidence about what you would not find: you would not find nostalgic reverence for the big infrastructure projects of the 1932-1980 period. I grew up in a family that had that kind of nostalgia, but the family I grew up in could hardly be described as radical.

-- Lawrence Krubner
-- www.libertariandemocrat.org

August 18, 2006 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To reinforce the point I just made, in another way, many people who vote Democratic have pulled their kids out of the public schools and are either homeschooling them or sending them to private school. I once had a single-issue-focus blog called Free The Schools devoted to interviews with parents wrestling with school issues. At the time, 4 years ago, I said the point of the blog was to convince the left that vouchers and homeschooling and free schools were things the left should support. But really, nowadays, looking back, I'd say I was providing proof that such a group of left-learning individuals had already dropped out of the public system and taken their kids with them. I wish I had time to do more interviews of that kind (I only did a dozen or so).

Most of the parents I spoke with felt there was no perfect option regard the schools. The public schools were worrisome and didn't give their child the attention that the child needed. The private schools imposed an economic burden. Home schooling imposed a crushing time burden. Most of these parents were ambivalent about their choices, and groping for the right direction. But all had taken their kids out of the public schools for while.

This conversation with Laura Brown would be an example.

And, as I say, these are all people whose politics are left-of-center.

--Lawrence Krubner
-- www.libertariandemocrat.org

August 18, 2006 6:06 PM  
Blogger Jeff Taylor said...

Thanks for mentioning Bill Kauffman's review of my book (Where Did the Party Go?). Thanks also to Lawrence Krubner for his insightful comments. I agree that mainstream Democrats are far less libertarian than radical/populist Democrats. Clinton-DLC-Wall Street Democrats may be more "libertarian" on certain issues than the traditional base of the party--abortion and gay rights are obvious examples--but that's linked more to upper-class mores of hedonism and amorality than to a principled belief in individual freedom (i.e., more libertine than libertarian).

Compared to Grover Cleveland and his elitist allies, William Jennings Bryan and his populist brethren were much closer to Thomas Jefferson, and this was even true in terms of libertarianism and decentralization. Bryan led a Jeffersonian revival within the Democratic Party. Woodrow Wilson symbolized a betrayal of Jeffersonianism and he set the stage for Franklin D. Roosevelt, in terms of Hamiltonian domestic and foreign policies.

Bryan gets a bad rap from libertarians who assume he was an advocate of big government because some historians have mistakenly depicted him as a forerunner of FDR and the New Deal. Michael Kazin's new biography, A Godly Hero, helps to perpetuate this error. Unlike Roosevelt, Bryan was not a supporter of the welfare state and centralized bureaucracy. I deal with this in chapter 9 of my book but you can find even more information in the Deleted Scenes of chapter 9 on my website (9 : 187-190): http://popcorn78.blogspot.com/2006/05/deleted-scenes.html

Populism is not synonymous with statism or paternalism. I have an article scheduled to be published in the October issue of Chronicles. Here's an excerpt from "Don't Blame Bryan": “Bryan was not an early advocate of the welfare state created by politicians like Franklin Roosevelt, Hubert Humphrey, and Lyndon Johnson. Bryan’s concern for the common people--many of whom were relatively poor--did not include using the federal government to ‘solve’ their poverty problems. He believed in a laissez-faire economy through which industry, thrift, cordiality, and honesty would be naturally rewarded. He objected to governmental favors that artificially interfered with this natural order. This is why he opposed members of ‘the privilege-hunting and favor-seeking class’ who acquired wealth through exploitation and political favoritism.”

What has happened to the national Democratic Party? Largely founded by Thomas Jefferson on the basis of libertarian, laissez-faire, quasi-pacifist, and republican principles, it has fallen captive to the distinctly un-Jeffersonian--and unpopular--values of statism, government-sponsored capitalism, militarism, and imperialism. My book presents the sobering story of a party’s slide toward Leviathan and Pax [sic] Americana.

I am both a libertarian and a populist. Sometimes the basic American values of freedom and democracy clash, but more often than not they are allied. Ironically enough, the modern Democratic Party has generally stood opposed to both. In my book, I try to explain why and I survey the current political landscape in this era of Democratic mushiness and Republican mendacity.

-- Jeff Taylor

August 18, 2006 11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, you're visit to this site was well worth it. Your book looks very interesting. (I too had the wrong idea about Bryan.) I'll check it out.


August 20, 2006 10:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooh, but I forgot to mention:

>>Clinton-DLC-Wall Street Democrats may be more "libertarian" on certain issues than the traditional base of the party--abortion and gay rights are obvious examples--but that's linked more to upper-class mores of hedonism and amorality than to a principled belief in individual freedom (i.e., more libertine than libertarian).

I agree that the issues of abortion and gay rights get more mileage among the middle and upper class, but I still feel they are important, and not necessarily linked to an ethic of "hedonism and amorality". There is indeed a certain amount of tension between populist sentiments and these "libertine" issues, though ideally the two camps would reconcile. Concern for the minority among the minority - the gay among the poor for instance - is a virtue.


August 20, 2006 10:18 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Lawrence Krubner,

You're probably right that the category of "left-liberal," in general, is far too broad and lumps too many different groups together. But I think what Markley had in mind was the sort of yuppie NPR liberal who has shifted toward "progressivism" to the point of jumping on the anti-Wal-Mart bandwagon and shops at the local natural food co-op, but retains the older goo-goo reverence for the mixed economy of the mid-20th century.

Of course, the old hard core advocates of the New Deal and technocratic liberalism--Art Schlesigner and Bob McNamara, and their ilk--make no pretensions to decentralism or peasant chic. But didn't most of them become neocons?


It's nice to have the author stop by and comment. Have you by any chance read Clyde Wilson's essay "The Jeffersonian Conservative Tradition?" It rejects the publik skools' equation of progressivism and populism in the typical American history class, and argues that the populists were much more in the decentralist, laissez-faire tradition and only favored statist means to the extent that they faced a problem (like subsidized railroad monopolies) created by the state in the first place. The progressives, on the other hand, had more of a social worker mentality.

On the issue of upper class hedonism between Dain and JT, I think the exaggerated emphasis on "traditional values" in the populism of the producing classes results, at least in part, from the intellectual hegemony of the elites. I suspect that a great deal of the religious right's funding comes from establisment Republican types with "blue state" cultural values, who see it as a way to divert the proles' attention away from their pockets being picked. I tend to agree with Thomas Frank's take on this, although his use of the term "free market" nearly drives me to homicidal rage.

August 21, 2006 10:42 PM  
Blogger Jeff Taylor said...

Anonymous - Thank you for your interest in the book. Certainly you're right that not everyone supports abortion and gay rights with elitist or libertine motives. There are other motivations as well. But I think in the case of Wall Street Democrats you can't point to concern for the underdog or belief in libertarianism as the main factors. Similarly, Bill Clinton isn't a strong supporter of abortion because he respects women so much. I think he's a Hugh Hefner-style booster of abortion with his enthusiasm coming from a place of sexual convenience and objectification (i.e., pregnancy is neither convenient nor sexy for those who just want to use women for their own sexual gratification).

Kevin - I like your yuppie NPR liberal example. That's one reason I think it's a mistake for progressives to wax nostalgic about FDR and the New Deal. We need to look to other examples (not necessarily older examples although I admire Bryan; Senator Burton Wheeler was a contemporary of FDR and a much better liberal Democrat).

Yes, I've read Clyde Wilson's article (Modern Age, Winter 1969-70, 36-48). It's cited in the book. I don't share Wilson's admiration for John C. Calhoun, but he's a distinguished historian, fine writer, and astute observer of contemporary politics.

I agree with Wilson's general distinction between populists and progressives, although the terms were used interchangeably to some extent. In the early 1900s, "Populist" was usually a proper name referring to a member of the Populist Party. Senator Thomas Gore (D-OK), grandfather of Gore Vidal, was an ex-Populist and progressive Democrat in the 1910s. Within the broad progressive movement, there was a real difference between Robert La Follette progs and Theodore Roosevelt progs and between William J. Bryan progs and Woodrow Wilson progs. The La Follette-Bryan types were more agrarian, more decentralist, and more authentic. This was especially true for Bryan Democrats, who were more immersed in the Jefferson anti-statist, pro-states' rights tradition (in comparison to progressive Republicans).

I completely agree with the statement that Bryan-style populists "were much more in the decentralist, laissez-faire tradition and only favored statist means to the extent that they faced a problem (like subsidized railroad monopolies) created by the state in the first place." Exactly! That's where Kazin--following earlier historians like Henry Steele Commager--is wrong. On my website, I quote Sean Scallon on Bryan: “He was a populist pure and simple. He bolted from the Wilson Administration when he dealt with the real forerunners of the New Deal.”

Like you, I "suspect that a great deal of the religious right's funding comes from establisment Republican types with 'blue state' cultural values, who see it as a way to divert the proles' attention away from their pockets being picked." Thomas Frank's book is important and everyone interested in American politics should read it. I go into some detail about this exploitation in the closing chapters of my book. It's of special interest to me because I was a conservative populist Republican for part of the '70s and '80s.

August 22, 2006 11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As for Frank's book, I think he may fail to appreciate the extent to which Kansas voters - and other red state lower and middle class heartland types - actually do vote for values over economics. (I haven't read the book, let it be noted.) In a review of Frank's book at Reason some time ago, the writer pointed out that Kansas voters are in fact being fairly rational in their votes for republicans; i.e. school choice (including concern for religious values not included therein), land use controls (for more rural families) and of course taxation of the income and property sort.

So perhaps it's a matter of values differing from those of Frank, and not so much wool being pulled over anyone's eyes.


August 24, 2006 7:17 PM  
Blogger jomama said...

Thanks for the link on the highway sales, Kevin.

August 27, 2006 7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anton Sherwood said...

The only person to block me on Twitter, so far as I know, did so because I said the purpose of public schooling is to train children to shut up, sit still and obey, and then said I wasn't joking.

March 02, 2016 2:44 PM  

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