Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Keeping Up With the Joneses

There's something about a "national security advisor" being named Jim Jones that just gives me the willies all up and down my spine.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

CALL to Action: "End the Fed" Rally in Chicago, Nov. 22nd

This may be short notice, but if you're anywhere near the Chicagoland area this Saturday, November 22nd, please come to downtown Chicago and join what will hopefully be hundreds of people, including a few of us in the nascent Chicagoland Alliance of the Libertarian Left, for one of dozens of "End the Fed" rallies going on around the country.

These protests against the thieving whores of state-capitalism that is the Federal Reserve System are being organized by an outfit called Restore the Republic, which was founded by the late film producer Aaron Russo not long before he succumbed to cancer. The Chicago area Ron Paul Meetup group has taken it upon themselves to coordinate the Windy City's anti-Fed/anti-fiat money festivities.

Of course, as an anarchist, I'm not so much interested in restoring any republic as I am convincing everyone else who values individual liberty to face reality and admit that the very idea of a republic has been a non-starter as far as our cause is concerned, and to thus relegate that concept to the trash heap of history in favor of a stateless, leaderless, spontaneously self-organizing and wholly self-governing society. Nor was I ever on the Ron Paul-for-president bandwagon. I was on the Nobody-for-president bandwagon. (Nor do I understand the significance of holding such a rally on the anniversary of the JFK assassination. To my knowledge, Kennedy was never particularly opposed to the Fed.)

But if the Paulistas want to host a consciousness-raising event in an effort to get out the word on the evils of inflationary paper money created by the central banking plutocracy, versus the virtues of sound, free market gold and silver money, then I'm all over it. Count me in.

People will be assembling at 401 N. Michigan between 11:00 a.m. and Noon, CST. (The location is on Michigan Avenue just north of the river, on the east side of the street.) There will be some speakers and hopefully lots and lots of people sharing ideas and literature. So please come!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Jonestown 30 Years On

Yesterday marked the passing of 30 years since a terrible tragedy, a mindboggling loss of human lives.

I was a small child when I saw the horrific footage on television of some 900 or more dead bodies sprawled around a wooden pavilion in the jungles of Guyana. The images of what looked like a sea of corpses were more than my young mind could comprehend.

It was hard to believe at first: Followers of the Reverend Jim Jones and his "People's Temple" had, at their soulless, heartless, power-mad messiah's command, swallowed punch laced with potassium cyanide. Jones had told his assembled flock that they and their children were about to be tortured by the Guyanese army, after a few of the temple members had shot and murdered Congressman Leo Ryan and several others at a nearby airstrip. The Ryan party were about to take at least two "defectors" from the cult back to the U.S., people who had begged and pleaded with Ryan to get them out. Jones lied to his flock and told them he had no personal involvement in the incident, but that in any case the Guyanese authorities were about to arrive and make the temple members helpless vicitms at the hands of bloodthirsty soldiers. (An interesting ruse, considering that the Guyanese government had been quite accommodating to Jones' personal slave colony from beginning to end.) It was therefore, he told them, time to die, so as to deprive the supposedly invading forces of their opportunity for tyranny. Suicide as a "revolutionary act".

The tragedy of those who intended the Jonestown Agricultural Project to be some kind of utopian community stands as a brutal reminder of the capacity for human self-delusion, and how that delusion is like putty in the hands of men like Jim Jones. Men who lack any soul, and so commit their lives to collecting the souls of others. If Ayn Rand had written a horror novel, no doubt its villain would have resembled Jones. The guy was Ellsworth Toohey with fangs.

But it must always be remembered that it is this capacity for delusion, a blind faith that paradise on Earth can almost be willed into existence, that is the blood that satiates the vampires of this world. Even though Jones had clearly demonstrated his ruthlessness on many occasions during the years he and his followers spent together in Indiana and then in California, nearly 1,000 people followed him into the deep, dark heart of a distant South American jungle anyway.

It would appear that his message and mission was appealing to some as an odd sort of "idealism," the kind of idealism that was best expressed in his temple's Marxist motto, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need." People who do not recognize this credo as the language of slavery are doomed. From whose abilities, and for whose "needs"? And to what ends? And who is to decide all that? The man who preaches this gospel to others has every intention of enslaving them, one way or another.

I sometimes silently chuckle to myself when I hear friends and neighbors who remember this shocking tragedy "tsk! tsk!" as they declare they could never even conceive of something so horrible.

And yet Americans solemnly commemorate each year the thousands of men who years ago had blindly cast themselves into the maw of self-destruction on the beaches of Normandy. Many applauded George W. Bush's paradoxical calls for self-sacrifice as a means of insuring freedom, while others admired him for thanking dismembered war veterans for giving up their own limbs in the process of sacrificing the lives of others. And in Chicago's Grant Park just a few weeks ago, thousands of people wept for joy and cheered for Barack Obama's call for sacrifice in exchange for a conformist unity. His own chief of staff-designate has previously declared his fervent desires to legislate self-sacrifice as an American way of life.

So, of course the People's Temple was just some bizarre cult that spun out of control in the hands of their madman leader, in spite of their good, noble, idealistic intentions. Civilized people, however, would never even dare to think of willingly subjugating themselves to someone else's peculiar utopian visions, certainly not to the point of sacrificing their own lives.

Right?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Left-Libertarians at the Gates


For some time I have come to the conclusion that the grave deficiency in the current output and thinking of our libertarians and “classical liberals” is an enormous blind spot when it comes to big business. There is a tendency to worship Big Business per se...and a corollary tendency to fail to realize that while big business would indeed merit praise if they won that bigness on the purely free market, that in the contemporary world of total neo-mercantilism and what is essentially a neo-fascist “corporate state,” bigness is a priori highly suspect, because Big Business most likely got that way through an intricate and decisive network of subsidies, privileges, and direct and indirect grants of monopoly protection.
-- Murray Rothbard in private correspondence, 1966 (posted by Peter Klein)

The Libertarian Left has of late been been making some tremendous inroads.

First, a belated congratulations to Keith Preston on winning the Libertarian Alliance's essay contest, "Is Big Business Part of a Free Market?", last month. Preston explains in his prize-winning piece, "Free Enterprise: The Antidote to Corporate Plutocracy", that...
There remains the question of how this relationship [between state and capital] has subsequently been maintained over the past two centuries. Gabriel Kolko’s landmark study of the historic relationship...traced the development of this symbiosis from the “railroad government complex” of mid-nineteenth century America through the supposed “reforms” of the so- called Progressive Era to the cartelization of labor, industry and government by means of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. At each stage of this development of American state-capitalism, members of “the capitalist class”--bankers, industrialists, manufacturers, businessmen--adamantly pushed for and were directly involved in the creation of a state-managed economy whose effect would be to shield themselves from smaller, less politically connected competitors, co-opt labor unions and generate a source of monopolistic protection and cost-free revenue from the state. Similar if not identical parallels can be found in the development of state-capitalism in the other modern countries.

Indeed, parallels can also be drawn between the structures of contemporary state-capitalism and historic feudalism. Since the High Middle Ages government has been transformed from its earlier identification with a specific person or persons into a corporate entity with a life and identity of its own beyond that of its individual members.

More recently, just weeks after Preston stormed the gates of the Libertarian Alliance, Roderick Long stormed the gates of the Cato Institute. His piece "Corporations vs. the Market, or Whip Conflation Now", is the latest entry in the institute's Cato Unbound series.

Long writes:
Defenders of the free market are often accused of being apologists for big business and shills for the corporate elite. Is this a fair charge?

No and yes. Emphatically no—because corporate power and the free market are actually antithetical; genuine competition is big business’s worst nightmare. But also, in all too many cases, yes —because although liberty and plutocracy cannot coexist, simultaneous advocacy of both is all too possible.

First, the no. Corporations tend to fear competition, because competition exerts downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on salaries; moreover, success on the market comes with no guarantee of permanency, depending as it does on outdoing other firms at correctly figuring out how best to satisfy forever-changing consumer preferences, and that kind of vulnerability to loss is no picnic. It is no surprise, then, that throughout U.S. history corporations have been overwhelmingly hostile to the free market. Indeed, most of the existing regulatory apparatus—including those regulations widely misperceived as restraints on corporate power—were vigorously supported, lobbied for, and in some cases even drafted by the corporate elite.

Corporate power depends crucially on government intervention in the marketplace. This is obvious enough in the case of the more overt forms of government favoritism such as subsidies, bailouts, and other forms of corporate welfare; protectionist tariffs; explicit grants of monopoly privilege; and the seizing of private property for corporate use via eminent domain (as in Kelo v. New London). But these direct forms of pro-business intervention are supplemented by a swarm of indirect forms whose impact is arguably greater still...

A response to Long's essay has been posted by Matthew Yglesias, and responses by Steven Horwitz and Dean Baker are scheduled to follow.

Each piece makes its own very fine case against the currently existing statist, highly regulated, privilege-riddled, unfree market. If you haven't already, you should read both immediately and share with all your friends and neighbors. Uncle Bob's libertarianism, it ain't.

I have just one quibble, however. There are points where the authors make certain predictions about what an economic system minus government privilege would look like--that is, with privileged mercantilist plutocracy finally relegated to the dustbin of history--that I doubt anyone without a crystal ball containing a portal into an alternative universe is really equipped to make. For example, Preston writes toward the end of his essay (emphasis is my own):

An economy organized on the basis of worker-owned and operated industries, peoples’ banks, mutuals, consumer cooperatives, anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, individual and family enterprises, small farms and crafts workers associations engaged in local production for local use, voluntary charitable institutions, land trusts, or voluntary collectives, communes and kibbutzim may seem farfetched to some, but no more so and probably less so than a modern industrial, high-tech economy where the merchant class is the ruling class and the working class is a frequently affluent middle class would have seemed to residents of the feudal societies of pre-modern times.

Long writes in his piece that

In a free market, firms would be smaller and less hierarchical, more local and more numerous (and many would probably be employee-owned); prices would be lower and wages higher; and corporate power would be in shambles. Small wonder that big business, despite often paying lip service to free market ideals, tends to systematically oppose them in practice.

I have to wonder if both authors aren't getting a little ahead of themselves with their predictions.

While I have no doubt that there would be greater opportunity for the kinds of economic arrangements Preston lists, i.e., worker-owned enterprises, peoples' banks, co-ops, etc., and there's certainly nothing to object to from a principled libertarian standpoint with regards to those kinds of enterprises (provided that they're not initiating some form of aggression, coercion or fraud to keep themselves in business), I think he gets ahead of himself by predicting that the stateless economy would be "organized on the basis of" such arrangements.

If we're ever so fortunate as to see the day the state collapses, we will see that markets will then be much freer to spontaneously self-organize without systematic coercion or threats and intimidation of such coercion interfering, so it may very well be true that those who value what those enterprises have to offer will have a much wider berth in which to take a shot at employing them and consuming from them, a window of opportunity that they lack at present due to all the government-enforced privileges that exist for big corporate players at the expense of consumers and smaller scale producers. At the end of the day, however, those enterprises, in a truly freed market, will prove to be only as sustainable as the extent to which their customers value their goods and services over those of competing enterprises. I see no method by which anyone could confidently claim, a priori, that the truly freed market would be organized on the basis of peoples' banks, consumers' cooperatives, worker-owned businesses, anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, etc., etc., etc.

Long doesn't get nearly as detailed as Preston when it comes to making predictive claims as to the specific features of the freed market, but he similarly claims that firms in such a market would be "more local" and that "many would probably be employee-owned."

To be sure, the claim that firms in a truly liberated economic system devoid of any coercive privilege would, just as Long predicts, be smaller, more numerous, less hierarchical, have relatively lower prices and relatively higher real wages, thus rendering big business to the boneyards, is a wholly convincing one. Any self-described libertarians who scoff that a truly free market would yield such results have either not read or have completely forgotten the late Murray Rothbard's extensive research into the history of big business' various political machinations to collude with big government in bringing about the myriad government rules, regulations, licensure requirements, and other cartelizing methods of the state that impose crippling restrictions and higher costs on their smaller competitors, resulting in prices being artificially elevated for the privileged players. (Or perhaps such libertarians are simply skeptical of Rothbard's claims, a discussion of which is well beyond the scope of a blog post.) Such eminent libertarian scholars as Joseph Stromberg and Roy Childs both published extensive scholarship on big government's propping up of big business as well.

Anyone on the left who is skeptical of such claims seem to be unaware of similar scholarship undertaken by such New Left academics as William Appleman Williams and Gabriel Kolko (as mentioned by Preston) that reached similar conclusions (scholarship that was often cited favorably by Rothbard).

But to claim so confidently that the businesses comprising the freed market's more decentralized system would be more likely to produce for local consumption, and would more likely be employee-owned--let alone that they would mostly be co-ops, people's banks, anarcho-syndicalist unions and so forth--as though one is merely explaining that the sun will eventually rise in the east after setting in the west is, again, to make predictions that would require a degree of knowledge and information that nobody presently possesses.

Particularly problematic is the claim that a freed market system would be dominated by local enterprises producing for local consumption. If this is true, then come the revolution, a lot of localities will be in for a world of hurt. This claim is fortunately unfounded, however, and so I fear not the revolution.

Most, if not all, local communities, towns and cities import many, many goods from other communities, towns, cities, and indeed countries, many, many miles afield because, for whatever the reasons unique to each locality, they lack the resources and/or means necessary to produce the imported goods locally. Were they not to import those goods, or if they could not import them, their inhabitants could possibly starve and/or lack clothing and shelter, depending on what locality one is discussing. Sure, there could be relatively more businesses producing for local consumption without government-subsidized and privileged corporations muscling into a local market, depending on what industry and locality is under discussion, but to go so far as to claim that a freed market would be organized on the basis of local production for local consumption, as Preston does, is seriously flawed.

As for the predictive claim that most, or many more, enterprises would be (or would probably be) worker-owned, couldn't it be just as likely that most of the smaller and more numerous enterprises in our freed market scenario would retain an ownership structure roughly similar to what exists at present, only with far better working conditions for more workers? Why would workers in a free market necessarily have to own the businesses?

A free market with many more competing producers may mean far more employment opportunities, as well as more opportunities for self-employment and independent contracting, and thus a labor market could evolve in which, as Kevin Carson has often said, jobs would be competing for workers, instead of workers competing for jobs. That in itself would make firms less hierarchical, as owners, managers and employees in this scenario would be on a far more equal footing bargaining-wise. Worker ownership in a freed market, however, is neither essential or inevitable. How many workers would even want to own the means of production? But more importantly, how can anyone at present predict what kind of ownership structure would prevail in a liberated future market? How is that bridge built?

Put more simply, the negative claim that currently state-privileged and state-protected big business would not be able to sustain itself in a truly freed market seems far more demonstrable, but the positive claim that a network of anarcho-syndicalist enterprises and local farm co-ops would take its place in such a market is murky at best. The most accurate claim that could probably be made in regards to one's prospects in a freed market is that one would have relatively more freedom as to what, how, where and when to produce and consume than one has in the currently existing economic order, and that would certainly be reason enough for libertarians to celebrate. But to predict the detailed characteristics of that freed market is to assume that one has access to a somewhat synoptic vantage point, making such claims presumptuous at best.

I wouldn't say, however, that worker ownership is not possible to any degree, or that the concept is unworkable or undesirable. Those libertarians who sneer at the very idea of even discussing the concept of workers owning the means of production may be surprised to learn that they share a viewpoint held by none other than the granddaddy of big business unionism, Samuel Gompers, a founder of the AFL side of the AFL-CIO. Gompers was also contemptuous of worker ownership, and he anointed himself capital's--and big government's--caretaker of the labor force, successfully ingratiating himself to the statist power structure. Thus, he took every available opportunity to collude with government officials in thwarting more radical, decentralized and egalitarian "wildcat" unions, such as the Industrial Workers of the World (or "Wobblies," as they were more popularly known), who held up worker ownership as an ultimate goal.

It may be worthwhile to consider and discuss the possibility that worker ownership may be conducive to certain values that may be important to the overall libertarian project. (This could perhaps be referred to as "entailment thickness" or "conjunction thickness" in Long's and Charles W. Johnson's conception of "thick" libertarianism.) The values to be achieved could possibly include greater self-reliance, greater individual autonomy, and an improved efficacy in regards to workers' own chosen goals. In short, worker ownership could help lead to the kind of self-realization and human flourishing necessary to the establishment and maintenance of a truly libertarian order. Such a discussion in libertarian circles could prove to be productive on a number of levels, and that's a discussion I'd like to see. The sustainability or success of such enterprises in a free market, however, would be a distinctly different discussion, and I for one hope to see more thoughtful libertarian debate along those lines as well.

In any case, my criticisms aside, please read Preston's and Long's essays post haste, if you have not already done so, and distribute widely.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Highway Robbers' Plan to "Shore Up" Socialist Security

The U.S. congress is seriously thinking about confiscating 401(k) retirement accounts and converting them to "Guaranteed Retirement Accounts" (GRAs) managed by the Social Security Administration in order to protect workers from the hardship of making their own investment choices in planning for retirement. The impact of the recent financial crisis on retirement savings--a crisis created by stupid government policies in the first place--is being cited as the pretext for this latest power-grabbing scheme, which was recently recommended in congressional hearings by Teresa Ghilarducci of New York City's New School for State-Socialist Research. It's funny, though, how this idea is being floated at a time when the Social Security pyramid scheme is pretty much running on fumes.

If you currently have a 401(k) and this proposal is adopted, you will have 5% of your annual pay deducted and deposited into the newly established GRA--with your employer contributing an equal amount--on top of the Social Secruity and Medicare taxes that you and your employer already pay. (Your employer will no longer be allowed to write off their contributions to your retirement account.)

You will be "guaranteed" a whopping 3% rate of return, though Ghilarducci herself has admitted that even that paltry rate can't be guaranteed in the long term. And instead of the tax breaks you currently get for the contributions you make, you would receive a $600 annual payment from the government. Even if your annual contributions to the account total less than $600, Uncle Sam will rob someone else to make up the difference.

(Thanks to Rob Moody of Strike-The-Root.com for passing along the story.)

Meanwhile, Robert Higgs asks if the U.S. could now be reasonably described as communist. His conclusion: "[C]lose enough to communism for government work," though in his opinion our economic system more closely resembles fascism.

Now whatever gave him that idea?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Uncle Jesse Has Spoken

So I was flipping through the channels last night, and I stopped when U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. caught my eye on D.L. Hughley's show on CNN. Jackson is widely rumored to be one of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's top picks to occupy the U.S. senate seat that president-elect Barack Obama will soon be vacating.

Jackson told Hughley, right there on national television, and with the most smugly paternalistic air about him, that from now on black people are representing the president of the United States every morning they step out the door. That's not an exact quote, but it's pretty close. It took me about five minutes to pick my jaw up from off the floor.

To hear a white supremacist bigot espouse such racial collectivism in the early 21st century would be frustrating enough, but for a black man to spout that kind of line without a hint of irony, and with the show's black host smiling and nodding in agreement, is truly mind-blowing.

How Barack Obama is somehow the very emodiment of black America, or how black people can be the natural extensions of Barack Obama and his policies, or be drafted as his personal ambassadors to non-blacks, was never quite explained by Jackson, of course.

Friday, November 7, 2008

...and here's your "change." Thanks, and please come again. (We're sure you will.)

Feel the change, people:

Obama had initially spoken of a 16-month timetable for removing all combat troops from Iraq, but later predicated that on assessments from military commanders. Now it seems, with violence down and Iraq eager to set a deadline to be rid of the troops, the senior commanders are going to tell Obama that his 16-month timetable is “physically impossible.

This would seem to explain the assurances from US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and assessments from Iraqi officials predicting that there will be no significant changes to the current administration’s Iraq policies when Obama takes over. One Iraqi official explained the perception by saying “most of Obama’s speeches were only for campaigning.”

Promises are made to be broken, it would seem. But with the ink on the paper ballots scarcely dry from Tuesday’s election and over two months remaining until the new President-elect is inaugurated, it would be awfully soon for the centerpiece promise of his campaign to be dead in the water.

I would say that the Obamacrats should read it and weep, but I honestly think the only tears most of them can shed are those of gushing joy for their Dear Leader's victory.

More on the coming Obamatopia at a later date.