Volatility

August 30, 2011

Time Banking Within the Natural History of Debt

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Anthropological research has established what philosophers knew for thousands of years – money and monetary debt arose not out of any economic necessity, but as instruments of domination. Their source was in violence and they comprise the sublimation of violence, which is the nature of all government/corporate power. This is part of what I’ve meant when I call today’s forms of money command currencies. By its empirical definition, money is created and enforced by a command economy.
 
So it’s not only false that today’s financialization performs any constructive social function. It’s false that finance in any form ever performed any necessary function. (Acting to maintain and manage an unnecessary structure is obviously not to do anything necessary.) It’s never been anything but the tool of empire, the better to subjugate its own populace and force these to serve as the fuel of empire.
 
Anthropologist David Graeber has researched this and recently compiled his findings in his book Debt: the First 5000 Years. He featured his basic idea in this post at Naked Capitalism.
 
It goes: First, and for the vast majority of humanity’s natural history, organic communities based themselves upon close social networks, moral relations, and the sense of community obligation, including in transactions among individual community members.
 
Then, nascent elites, previously basing their power on direct violence and plunder, saw how they could accelerate class stratification and magnify their power by sublimating this violence by formalizing exchange and debt. To do this, they came up with money, and began measuring transactions and recording debts based upon it.
 

How did this happen? Well, remember I said that the big question in the origins of money is how a sense of obligation – an ‘I owe you one’ – turns into something that can be precisely quantified? Well, the answer seems to be: when there is a potential for violence. If you give someone a pig and they give you a few chickens back you might think they’re a cheapskate, and mock them, but you’re unlikely to come up with a mathematical formula for exactly how cheap you think they are. If someone pokes out your eye in a fight, or kills your brother, that’s when you start saying, “traditional compensation is exactly twenty-seven heifers of the finest quality and if they’re not of the finest quality, this means war!”

Money, in the sense of exact equivalents, seems to emerge from situations like that, but also, war and plunder, the disposal of loot, slavery. In early Medieval Ireland, for example, slave-girls were the highest denomination of currency. And you could specify the exact value of everything in a typical house even though very few of those items were available for sale anywhere because they were used to pay fines or damages if someone broke them.

But once you understand that taxes and money largely begin with war it becomes easier to see what really happened. After all, every Mafiosi understands this. If you want to take a relation of violent extortion, sheer power, and turn it into something moral, and most of all, make it seem like the victims are to blame, you turn it into a relation of debt. “You owe me, but I’ll cut you a break for now…” Most human beings in history have probably been told this by their creditors. And the crucial thing is: what possible reply can you make but, “wait a minute, who owes what to who here?” And of course for thousands of years, that’s what the victims have said, but the moment you do, you are using the rulers’ language, you’re admitting that debt and morality really are the same thing. That’s the situation the religious thinkers were stuck with, so they started with the language of debt, and then they tried to turn it around and make it into something else.

 
Thus we have top-down formal money, formal credit, formal debt, as opposed to the bottom-up vernacular manifestations of these, as the organized crime outgrowth of much less organized direct violence. This command economy is embodied violence.
 
Then, at the opposite end, where this system starts to break down, we start to find the popular conception of “barter” – the direct exchange of goods on a mercenary basis. But this is just the aftertaste of the money-driven market, not a primal inefficiency that money once improved upon way back when. That popular conception is simply a lie told by today’s economic elites.
 

So really, rather than the standard story – first there’s barter, then money, then finally credit comes out of that – if anything its precisely the other way around. Credit and debt comes first, then coinage emerges thousands of years later and then, when you do find “I’ll give you twenty chickens for that cow” type of barter systems, it’s usually when there used to be cash markets, but for some reason – as in Russia, for example, in 1998 – the currency collapses or disappears.

 
(This also refutes the scam of plunking the idea of barter into the middle of an otherwise globalized, “capitalist” environment, and then triumphantly declaring it unworkable. Well yes, but that’s because barter is the attempted continuation of that same framework, not because that framework works.)
 
In the same way that Somalia is not “anarchy”, but the result of the collapse of capitalism, so the inefficiencies of barter as we know it are just the inefficiencies of the market and its mores, carried over to a post-money environment. The true primeval exchange was enfolded within ongoing community relations, and could function perfectly well under community debt auspices. Today co-production and time banking constitute an attempt to develop a new version of that ancient socioeconomic network.
 
We have a vicious circle of money/debt backed by violence. This dominates all human relations and disintegrates community, civil society, and democracy. The liquidation of these in turn tends to generate ever more mercenary and nihilistic attitudes which then intensify the horrors of money/debt servitude and accelerate money’s assault on all human relations. This is the circle.
 
(We see how debt inevitably compounds to the point that it destroys civilization. At this point jubilee, one way or another, is the only possible outcome. It’s similar to how capitalism naturally stagnates and must repeat the primitive accumulation, i.e. the massive plunder grab to provide the seed capital, or else break down completely.
 
We also see how taxes serve no economic purpose but are only weapons to enforce this command economy of money and debt. The MMTers, who wish to continue with all this but in a “reformed” version, are at least honest about using taxation as a mode of social control.)
 
One possible way to break free of the whole viciousness is by renouncing money and monetary debt (which ought to be common sense, as the amount and preponderance of money we have available plummets ever more steeply). One alternative is time dollars and time banking.
 
Time banking is a formal framework for organizing the true economy (everything devalued by the money/debt system, including what’s written off as the “informal economy”) along the lines of reciprocal gifting of work. It’s especially versatile for the exchange of services, but can be used for goods as well with a version of the labor measure of value. Goods can be valued according to the time that goes into manufacturing them.
 
This framework is enfolded within the concept of co-production, which is a transitional concept between capitalism and full economic democracy. Time banking as a framework and time dollars as a measure are part of this transition to such consciousness of economic community and freedom that we can dispense with formal measurement completely and restore the wholesome primal system of social credit which originally preceded money for tens of thousands of years.
 
As Graeber describes:
 

Anyway it only makes sense if you assume those premises; that all human interaction is exchange, and therefore, all ongoing relations are debts. This flies in the face of everything we actually know or experience of human life. But once you start thinking that the market is the model for all human behavior, that’s where you end up with.

If however you ditch the whole myth of barter, and start with a community where people do have prior moral relations, and then ask, how do those moral relations come to be framed as ‘debts’ – that is, as something precisely quantified, impersonal, and therefore, transferrable – well, that’s an entirely different question. In that case, yes, you do have to start with the role of violence.

…in my own way I think of myself as working very much in the Maussian tradition. Mauss was one of the first anthropologists to ask: well, all right, if not barter, then what? What do people who don’t use money actually do when things change hands? Anthropologists had documented an endless variety of such economic systems, but hadn’t really worked out common principles. What Mauss noticed was that in almost all of them, everyone pretended as if they were just giving one another gifts and then they fervently denied they expected anything back. But in actual fact everyone understood there were implicit rules and recipients would feel compelled to make some sort of return.

 
So the natural history of debt, as documented by the evidence, is that exchange was naturally enfolded within networks of social bonding and mutual obligation. State money and the formalization of debt only arose later as instruments of domination.
 
Since time banking and co-production seek to create new networks of such bonding and obligation, they’re basically an attempt to reconstitute primal modes of reciprocal community exchange. Time banking is a transitional framework between formally quantified mercenary exchange and this primal quasi-reciprocity. So there’s the context of time banking within the natural history of humanity.
 
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August 27, 2011

Time Dollars vs. Command Money (2 of 2)

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This continues my description (part one here) of the ills of command money, how relocalization and time dollars (T$) can solve these problems and replace them with a humanly beneficial order, and how T$ can help foster relocalization itself.
 
4. Money is “egalitarian”, and not in a good way (though corporate liberals and conservatives often try to confound money’s freedom and human freedom, when the two are practically antitheses). This false egalitarianism of elites is summed up with the phrase, “one dollar, one vote”, and this is the election which acts so ruthlessly to diminish the quality of our lives every day. Cahn uses the example of how children have to compete with money-making for their parents’ attention, and lose. This negative egalitarianism manifests everywhere in every kind of race to the bottom. The chasing after money undermines family, community, democracy, as we simply lack time for them (at best), and at worst have our characters corroded by it as well, like with any other harmful addiction.
 
Money is also inherently anti-labor, since it necessarily privileges capital over labor. Everywhere it seeks its own aggrandizement. Financialization was not some exotic invention, but is inherent in the logic of money itself.
 
Perhaps nothing is more insulting to human dignity than the forms of freedom without the reality, rendering the forms a mockery. Unless we have equality and freedom in active reality, they don’t exist. C-P and T$ are truly egalitarian in reality. Even in their reformist manifestation they declare capital and labor to be equal. In principle they declare all hours of work to be equal, and reject the measure of the unequal dollars those hours can or cannot extract from the market. 
 
In their full practice, they’ll not only reject the marketplace but supersede it, and “co”-production shall become just plain production on a fully democratic basis.
 
We don’t need command money. T$ would make for a far more productive labor force, as there would no longer be ratholes, rents, parasite extractions. T$ would empower the democratic elitism of decency over the crackpot egalitarianism of money.
 
By stripping money of its power T$ also subvert globalism and assist relocalization.
 
5. The real goal of the “invisible hand” (really the easily visible hand of the corporatist command economy) of price is to generate scarcity out of plenty in order to extract extortionate rents from this scarcity. Price seeks to extend this artificial scarcity to everything it can. Food, water, clean air, shelter, farmland, education, even human values like community involvement and helping others – all have been corporatized or are targets for this corporatization.
 
Cahn repeats the lie, “Price brings supply into line with demand”. What really happens is that coercive power controls supply to manipulate price. (And “demand” is defined as merely being able and willing to pay the extortionate price.)
 
We don’t need or want pricing which emphasizes artificial scarcity. Our emphasis must be on abundance. With T$, value is measured by real benefit. T$ attack and subvert rationing by price (i.e. by money wealth). All hours are equal. Our compensation includes building a community which shall bring the greatest prosperity to all and the enrichment of our humanity.
 
6. Money is often called “efficient”, but it’s really efficient only from the point of view of criminal extraction. The price mechanism systematically omits negative externalities, the cost of a massively bloated support system which does nothing but uphold the system, all the costs of civil destruction and inequality. At the same time money price elides the accounting for these, it also systemically aggravates them.
 
This “efficiency” is inefficient in any true sense. It, like all other normative claims made for money, is “good” only from the criminal class war perspective. But we the people would be better off without money’s version of efficiency.
 
We want and need efficiency according to the true goods of freedom, equality, justice, friendship, family, community, democracy. What’s efficient toward maximizing these is truly efficient in every sense, since the society which values these will be the most productive society in every practical sense as well.
 
T$ are truly efficient in upholding these human values, as well as toward the more strict types of efficiency such as resiliency, robustness, system redundancy, self-sufficiency of nodes and decentralization amid those nodes. Relocalization = real efficiency, and T$ shall help render all things more humanly efficient.
 
7. The fact that money’s main action is to make more money is the driver of the finance tyranny. Thanks to command money, 80-90% of transactions have no actual value, but are purely financial. Every one of these financialized transactions is, however, a theft from human beings who produce real value. Money, and the parasites who manipulate it, is cancer.
 
We don’t need this worthless and destructive thing. Would anyone claim we need cancer? Or want it? We’d be better off without it.
 
We must value only real work. T$ will purge all the “secondary modes of exploitation” (Marx), which are the main ones we face today. They’ll allow no interest, no usury, no commodification rents, and can be used only for constructive purposes. They’re inflation and deflation proof. An hour remains always an hour, and anyone able and willing to work always has time to give. Recessions and depressions would be impossible with T$, since no artificial money barriers would stand between the workers and the work. All anyone would need to do is fill the time with work, and the work would be done.
 
Relocalization will of necessity value real work over parasitism and theft, since the true economy will be based upon this work and depend on it. Since T$ naturally drive toward this effect, T$ and relocalization shall act in mutually enhancing tandem.
 
8. The government, legal system, bureaucratic and professional structures, etc. have a pro-profiteering bias. Therefore the contractual enforceability touted for command money is also biased against the people.
 
Even prior to the full development of kleptocracy, the system generally had a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose functioning wherever corporations and concentrated money went up against individuals, small groups, or the public interest.
 
We don’t need this kind of “law” and “contract” which is applicable only to an anti-human (and Oil Age) system. It’s anachronistic and predatory. We’ll be better off without it.
 
C-P and T$ shall work toward rebuilding a community network of mutual obligation where your word is your bond, and what goes around truly does come around, for good or ill. T$ themselves are no legal contract. They constitute a moral obligation in an environment where morality and one’s word matter. This is an environment radically different from that of the system, where nothing but money matters, and one can violate every precept of morality and break one’s word at risk of nothing more than a nominal money penalty (and often not even that).
 
If you want a human community, which would you rather rely on, top-down law or bottom-up community morality? In a human community, community-enforced obligations are part of the social bonding. “Debt” itself exists as a social bond, not as the class war meat-grinder it’s become.
 
Relocalization must emphasize social obligation and morality over formalized law, as the former are the glue of community, while the latter necessarily tends toward bigger, artificial, synthetic groupings, and seeks to dissolve community mores themselves.
 
We need to dissolve system structures and replace them with new mores.
 
9. Where money is the measure of value, the real economy is enslaved by a fake one of dollars, stocks, financial “products”, useless wealth hoards, parasitic and predatory power.
 
This measure of “value” doesn’t measure value. We don’t need it. We’re better off without it.
 
Only real assets have value. To distill it further, only people have value. The Kantian morality, that people must always be only ends in themselves, never means toward an end, is mutually exclusive with money, under which people can never be anything but means.
 
(And yet, as Cahn says, “money would have no meaning in a world denuded of people”. So what does it mean that people, i.e. their labor, their community, their very humanity, are being liquidated? We see how this subhuman force cannibalizes itself.)
 
Where we organize our economies according to cooperation and social credit, it becomes impossible for nonexistent or worthless and destructive things to be valued. T$ will organize the true economy on a true value basis.
 
Under money, “work” is defined as having a paying job. This work is subject to the most viciously imposed scarcity of all. The result is tremendous suffering, pain, stress, unhappiness, waste, inefficiency, lost productivity, neglect, destruction, nihilism.
 
With T$, all are workers at will, all are employed, all have jobs, all contribute equally and benefit equally. The result shall be the greatest good for all working people and all democratic citizens.
 
We’ll revitalize our families, friendships, communities, societies, democracies. Productive, fulfilling work and citizenship shall be the true centers of our human being, and all human values and institutions shall fruitfully ramify from them.
 
Co-production and time banking shall be tools of our progress toward this great democratic goal. They’ll negatively help us break free of the pathologies of command money, and affirmatively help us build new networks of mutual obligation and benefit. This is part of the practice, how we’ll actually do all this.
 

August 26, 2011

Time Dollars vs. Command Money (1 of 2)

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I’ve written before about our imperative and ability to Take Back Our Money. There I only touched on the capacity of time dollars (T$) to replace “normal” command currency, realizing what are only alleged to be its good traits while abolishing its bad ones. The voluntary nature of co-production and time banking represents a great human advance over the intrinsically coercive and tyrannical nature of centralized currency imposed as part of a command economy. That’s a usually neglected part of the definition of the term fiat itself. As with everything else, the first psychological step is to recognize money as something artificial, contingent, a choice society has made or had imposed upon it, not a law of nature the way people tend to view it (and the way system propaganda represents it).
 
Money imprisons our minds, constricting our sense of what’s possible. But as part of our transitional progress from capitalism to economic democracy, we can transcend the rut of implicit faith in money, analyze what it really is, what it does, and how alternatives are better. Most people don’t consciously want to destroy family, friendship, community, civil society, democracy. Yet their surrender to the money imperative, at whatever economic level, turns them into de facto cadres bent on the destruction of all these things, since money as deployed by corporatism is primarily an agent of destruction, just as capitalism itself is by far history’s most destructive force. 
 
The alleged good qualities of money are all instrumental and have all been outfitted for class war duty. The bad effects are actually the intended effects. Meanwhile even as we allow money to help destroy all the things which make us human, we try to use money to buy their semblances. But by their nature such things can’t be bought. They can’t exist on a mercenary basis. We must resume our responsibilities as citizens, rather than remaining the mere consumers of pseudo-community, pseudo-democracy, pseudo-humanity.
 
We’re familiar with the most basic traits of money – unit of account, medium of exchange, store of value. In No More Throw Away People, Edgar Cahn further divides these into nine traits, the better to highlight how destructive command money is, and how T$ is a superior alternative. I’ll go through each of these, adding to Cahn’s transitional analysis how relocalization renders destructive money obsolete, how we don’t need the destructive money measure, and how T$, a tool of relocalization, help further it.
 
The nine traits are: Money’s all-purpose purchasing power, its mobility, how it motivates people, its alleged egalitarianism, the way it imposes price as a yardstick for everything, its alleged efficiency, how money makes money, how it’s enforced as a contract, and money as the measure of value.
 
For each of these I’ll describe how the alleged benevolence of the effect is in practice malign, how T$ are a much better way to achieve good effects, and how T$ are most effective as part of relocalization, which itself helps break the tyranny of money. In some cases, the bad effect of command money regards something necessary which T$ can turn to good. In others, we can say without further ado that we’d be better off without money’s effect, period.
 
1. Money’s all-purpose purchasing power, supposedly good for being so versatile, actually means that literally everything’s for sale, including every kind of vice and crime, while all that’s intrinsically useful or good tends to be perverted to bad uses.
 
By its very nature money empowers the rich and big corporations while disempowering anything else. One good example, relevant especially for reformists who still believe in Better Elections, is the campaign finance issue. Why is it so hard to figure out how to reform campaign finance in practice? Because you want a system which exalts money in principle (as your capitalist representative government does), but in specific ways you want to buck its overwhelming trend toward monetizing everything it possibly can. A reformist, as usual, labors under a schizophrenic disconnect between alleged ends and actual means. Citizens United, so deplored by reformists and true citizen activists alike, is actually inherent in money, and therefore in any philosophy which exalts command money, no matter what that philosophy claims to want in theory.
 
But we don’t need to prostitute every interaction to the dominion of money. Family, friendship, community, democracy can’t really be bought, only preserved, enhanced, or destroyed. Only the true, human economy can deal with these, and only a true economic measure can tally them. The core economy of all the things we do for one another, all the work done in the home, family care, neighbor mutual help – a real economic measure will measure all real work and nothing but real work.
 
We don’t need the money measure, because we can have an economy where all transactions can be constructive and mutually beneficial. We can have an economic measure which tallies all these construcitve transactions. T$ can provide this measure, and in doing so help build this true economy and overcome the false one. Unlike with the false versatility of money, which is really an elitist promiscuity, T$ serve a limited purpose, practically and morally. They’re necessarily limited to what’s practically useful/beneficial and broadly acceptable on the level of civil morality. They can encompass all real services, and perhaps goods as well. (There’s been many experiments with how to adapt T$ to procurement of goods. One idea which is theoretically intriguing is to measure a good according to the time that went into producing it, and pricing it at that number of T$. This is time banking’s version of the labor theory of value.)
 
2. Money’s superior mobility, supposedly a social boon, really means that real wealth is stolen from most communities and regions and concentrated in a small handful of parasitic ones. Globalization’s ravages are inherent in it. (Yet even many nominal anti-globalizers want to continue with centralized money.) It uproots al stability, all community. It’s capitalism and money which most of all give the lie to “conservatism”, since nothing’s more radically destructive of all existing institutions and values, and for such a nihilistic non-purpose.
 
Money empowers corporatism and leads logically to kleptocracy.
 
We don’t need such mobile money. Globalization, including its historical forerunners, was always about luxuries, never about anything we need. Markets, especially those for food and other core necessities, are naturally and sufficiently local/regional.
 
T$ are locally anchored and therefore are truly conservative of community and society, and the infrastructure of trust necessary to maintain them. Money’s mobility encourages mercenary and aloof attitudes among transaction participants. It encourages an extreme atomization, as each transaction is a discrete granule. T$ are necessarily part of locally anchored socioeconomic networks and ongoing relationships requiring trust and building acquaintance, neighborliness, and often friendship.
 
T$ necessarily stay in the community. By definition, they stay in the time bank. Therefore they’re better suited to natural and rational economic and political arrangements, which must be relocalized. They work toward self-sufficiency at the individual, family, community levels. They’re closer to venerable and time-tested arrangements for social credit and barter. (T$ can become interchangeable between regions, but only through the democratic deliberation of the time banks involved. This would constitute the rational form of trade where trade supply meets actual demand, instead of the way “trade” under capitalism debouches in the aggressive forms of dumping and other assaults on competition and community.)
 
3. Money instills and enforces pathological forms of motivation. It rewards at best instrumentality and more often greed, lying, fraud, aggression, sadism, hatred. Everyone expects to be bribed. Gresham’s Law runs, “bad money drives out good”. But really it just describes the way money logically functions. Money also rewards specialization, with all its distortions, perverse effects, and vulnerabilities.
 
This is purely destructive. We can do far better. T$ prizes internal motivations over bribes. It rewards decency, caring, learning, civic participation, and everything else associated with volunteering, and does so as the basis of the economy. Co-production and time-banking, by equating all hours, comprise a generalizing trend. Rather than a loose aggregation of specialized atoms, this economy is a resilient network which sums up to a robust generalism. In this way T$ help build relocalization. (In his discussion, Cahn depicts this as a sort of conflict between maximizing material return vs. inner reward. But in fact, as I’ve often stressed with for example food sovereignty, emphasizing and enhancing the latter will also maximize the former. But not vice versa under capitalism.)
 
(Just to dispose of the dregs of Galtism, if there really do exist people who are such indelible psychopaths that even amid a fair, prosperous democracy they’d still demand greed-based incentives, then we could happily kick them out. A human community would be far better off without the likes of them.)
 
In part two I’ll complete the discussion of the remaining six traits.
 
(BTW, the administrative page informs me this is my 500th post.) 
 

August 23, 2011

Democracy Truths (Stuff Which Can Never Be Said Enough)

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1. The call for true economic democracy is often depicted as a call for utopian selflessness and altruism. We’d all have to be saints, and human beings even at their best sure ain’t saints, ergo anarchism can’t work.
 
But the truth is the opposite. Democracy doesn’t call upon people to be pure altruists. On the contrary, among all economic philosophies only anarchism makes a healthy appeal to self-interest as well as community. It’s economic democracy which says: You do all the work, and you know that you and your fellow workers can run things better than the elites. So shouldn’t you have complete self-management of the economy, including full disposal of 100% of the produce on a democratic basis?
 
Whatever the argument counter to that would be, it sure wouldn’t be an appeal to the workers’ self-interest. On the contrary, it’s capitalism, economic elitism, which calls upon the workers to be saints of self-sacrifice, willing to toil under ever-worse conditions while an ever-growing portion of what they produce is taken from them. “Capitalism and egoism for me, anarchism and altruism for you.” In today’s intensified form, “austerity” and the politicians’ call to “self-sacrifice” means nothing but, “Austerity and sacrifice for you, robbery and luxury for me.”
 
Without the entrenched power of capitalism to give it a fraudulent patina of inevitability, who would ever consider it more plausible, tenable, or pragmatic than economic democracy? Who, having to choose and then roll the dice to decide one’s own position in the hierarchy, would ever choose capitalism over anarchism?
 
That capitalism and economic elitism have any public support at all is more path dependency and ideological sunk costs than anything else. (Reformism wants to further entrench this dependency.)
 
2. Isn’t it weird that even after such complete proof has piled up, people still buy into the notion that we should be ruled by political elites, politicians? Here too, we know that we can rule ourselves better than any elite can, while to allow anyone to have power over us only leads to our harm and eventual destruction. Power naturally tends toward tyranny. The first stage of the American Revolution taught that the only way to preserve liberty was for the citizens to maintain a bottom-up vigilance toward concentrated power. As we know, this vigilance was disparaged and misdirected almost immediately upon the colonial elites’ acceding to power.
 
Today we know that the only way to maintain this vigilance is to prevent power from concentrating in the first place. Nothing but narrow authority, consultative only, subject to recall, should ever be federated upward.
 
We also know that power concentrations serve no constructive purpose, but only seek to aggrandize and enrich themselves.
 
The call for true democracy is often depicted as “impractical”. But what could be less practical than continuing with the status quo? And what could be more practical than liberating ourselves from the cause and/or aggravator of all our problems, the driver of the entire world crisis?
 
So since political elites are worthless, destructive, and congenitally tyrannical, why should we tolerate them at all, let alone empower them? We should make a clean sweep and declare our movement to be anti-politician as such. This should be one of our first self-identifications in most contexts.
 
Again, who that has any sense of self-interest would still support politicians of any sort, other than out of a weary sense that there’s no alternative?
 
We see the universal pattern here – just as neither Republicans nor Democrats even try to argue their own worth, but only the greater wickedness of the other, so the status quo has no argument on its own behalf other than its current power, which it tries to depict as a law of nature, or at any rate as something entrenched beyond the possibility of dislodging.
 
But the truth is that we the people can dislodge these criminals at will. We just have to build the will. Our ideas are the right ones, morally and practically. We can triumph with them. The only question still unanswered is whether our practice will be good enough.
 
3. The people are inherently sovereign. The notion that any elite should extract our political sovereignty, use it for their own benefit, and then at best trickle some of it back down upon us, should be abhorrent to any human being. I for one will never accept anything short of 100% self-rule.
 
At long last, shouldn’t we have faith in humanity? After thousands of years of experience, and the full experience of modernity, to still believe the people aren’t capable of ruling themselves, politically and morally, betrays a profound misanthropy. If not now, when?
 
This gives the lie to the self-proclaimed “progressives”. It reveals their very name to be a lie. How could it be possible to believe in progress, yet still think we’re not capable of ruling ourselves? To still think that, as unanimously atrocious as the record of elites is, that’s still the best we can do? On the contrary, this reveals the elemental conservatism of liberals/progressives. Liberalism is simply another version of conservatism. It’s just as pessimistic, just as cynical, just as elitist.
 
Is this too mostly path dependency? Among the “progressives”, I think not. They constantly demonstrate that they intellectually recognize the nature of kleptocracy. It seems that their congenital hankering after “better elites” (and even “better Democrats”, in spite of how often they blather about having finished with the Dems once and for all) is simply an emotional character flaw. They’re simply incapable of renouncing faith in elites and taking responsibility for themselves. Ironically, progressives may be the only group which is incapable of self-rule.
 
But anywhere else, in all other contexts, humanism can have only one principle and one imperative. If humanity is a concept with any content, then it has to mean we’re ready to rule ourselves without the “guidance” (but of course really the predation and parasitism) of elites.
 
The call for true democracy is sometimes called “childish”. But what could possibly be more childish than today’s unreconstructed elitism? To still believe we need “adults” to rule over us is to remain morbidly childish. To still want elites is to have the mind of a child. It’s clinically retarded. And it betrays a radical irresponsibility, which in turn justifies the elites who want to deny our rights.
 
Rights have meaning and legitimacy only where founded upon responsibility. But no one who still wants to abdicate our sovereignty, our human birthright and the very thing that makes us human, can make any claim to responsibility at all. And this in turn renders his claim to have “rights” nonsensical.
 
This is also part of the fundamental fraud of representative false democracy. It’s a contradiction in terms to build a system of civil (let alone human) rights upon a structure of political abdication and irresponsibility, which is the essence of “representation”. We see now how this was really a roundabout way of getting us to surrender both our sovereignty and our rights. In the corporatist kleptocracy, whatever rights still exist in name, their reality is rapidly approaching the vanishing point. Once again we see the fundamental truth – he who would give up his freedom for security or hedonism will end up with neither. Every variation on this distills to: A people which gives up its sovereignty for irresponsibility will end up with slavery.
 
The call to democracy is the call to responsibility, and therefore it’s the call to redeem our rights. It’s the call to what’s practical as well as the call to aspiration. It’s the call to what’s best for oneself and one’s family as well as to what’s best for the community. The democratic movement is by now synonymous with humanism itself. It’s no longer possible to believe in humanity but still support elitism. These are antithetical. Elitism itself implicitly concedes this by no longer trying to justify itself on the merits. It can rely only on force, and in the end on the lassitude of the masses. In the end, elitism can exist only if it’s correct after all, that humanity really doesn’t exist at all.
 
The great goal of the democratic movement is, negatively, to prove this wrong and overcome this anti-human excrescence. Affirmatively, our goal is to take humanity’s full potential, as finally gathered by the forces of modernity, and render it kinetic in the form of democratic society, which means nothing more or less than full democratic participation in our economies and polities. Thus we shall finally build, not a utopia, but a deeply human society. 

August 21, 2011

Democracy vs. Consumerism, Movement vs. Movement

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It’s dubious that kleptocracy can muster large-scale physical support on anything other than a mercenary basis. This is one of the structural weaknesses of aggressively destroying all forms of social cohesion while propounding a viciously materialistic and mercenary ideology. Even those subjectively sympathetic to the system, the indelibly authoritarian dregs among any populace, will likely remain a rabble under any circumstances, even if someone tried to organize them along classically fascist lines. That’s part of why I don’t think the kleptocracy will be able to muster the affirmative idealism of a mass movement on its behalf, but will just have to rely on physical strength and divide and conquer, for as long as it can.
 
But I wonder if consumerism itself by now comprises the passive equivalent of a movement consciousness? If we look at the traits of a movement Eric Hoffer describes, in The True Believer, we can see how many of them apply.
 
Consumerism uses many forms of propaganda, from “home ownership” to the mythology of capitalism itself, to try to generate a collective identification. Its specific propaganda forms (advertising) provide unlimited ways for the cloddish consumer to cast himself in some fantasy role. Its ideology of debt (and particularly running up debt for the sake of worthless luxuries like ever bigger TV sets and dubious career accouterments like a college degree) may seem to exalt the present over the future, but in a deeper way it deprecates the present in favor of a mythologized future by playing to the fraud that someday we’re going to be rich. (Not, of course, everyone. But me, I’m going to be rich.) Consumer debtism draws from and helps perpetuate the same delusion which causes victims of corporatism to still identify with it and fail to resist it – because they hope/”expect” to someday be one of the bigshots themselves.
 
Consumerism is based on many Big Lies, for example that it’s physically sustainable and morally defensible. The trickle-down lie operates on two levels. It tells us that as passive consumers and periodic “voters” we’re actually more empowered than we’d be as active producers and citizens. And it tells us that those from whom we steal (to the extent we’re middle class Western consumers), at home and around the world, somehow also benefit from this robbery, or at least that in the end they too will all achieve the middle class blessing we now know. At any rate, doctrine tells us that this order of things is an immutable law of nature, that there’s no alternative, that however busted our hand seems to get, and however much it may look like even our own middle class status is being liquidated, we have no choice or desire but to double down on that busted hand.
 
Does consumerism arouse fanaticism? What are examples of a blurring of the lines between brand identification (such as the bizarre willingness and desire to be a walking corporate logo and even pay for the privilege) and quasi-nationalistic fervor? Being a sports fan is one. Soccer hooligans are just an extreme example of fandom. What does it means to be a passive yet fervent “fan” of something where one doesn’t also participate in the activity on a significant level? This is a form of fanaticism, however picayune.
 
While consumerism may not directly generate hatred of others, it mobilizes vast elements of shallow disdain. From my TV-watching days years ago (I’d bet things are even worse today) I remember how strongly it struck me how much advertising involved oneupmanship and using one’s consumerist prowess to be “better than” others, rather than buying something because it was actually good in itself. The appeal was very often not to potential happiness, but to a combination of contempt (for those who lacked the good/service) and fear (lest you remain one of those losers). This, of course, also reinforces conformity to system imperatives, particularly those involving getting a “job” and maximizing money-making. How much consumerism encourages us to imitate others, to imitate the mass, in particular to imitate elites, is too obvious to need further comment.
 
So there’s a brief sketch of consumerism as forming a loose, not formally hierarchical, movement structure. If this depiction is accurate, then it follows that this movement and its propaganda structure can be overcome only by a more potent idea and movement framework. This is another reason relocalization cannot triumph as nothing more than an improvised rhizomatic spontaneity, but why it will also need an overarching message and structure. (Of course, I don’t mean top-down hierarchy. I mean a real federalism. I briefly described part of what I mean in numbers 6-8 of my Basic Movement Strategy.)
 
So we need to seek answers to such questions as: Does advertising appeal to those who are basically frustrated? As a substitute for something real in modern life, everything the corporate system lacks and destroys? A democratic movement could fill this void.
 
If it’s true that propaganda in itself doesn’t have a deep, lasting effect, but must be backed up by coercion and fear, then does it follow that the consumerist propaganda will wear off as the pseudo-middle class continues to be liquidated? (That is, will kleptocracy be able to deploy the amount of direct coercion necessary to force continued belief in the propaganda, or will it continue with its largely inertial economic assault, thereby leaving the propaganda on its own and therefore unable to sustain itself? We already saw the many ways in which kleptocracy fails to look to its own base, and indeed liquidates it.) On the other hand, is the fact that the system is starting to attempt to impose forced markets (the classical example thus far being the health racket Stamp mandate) a sign that it’s losing confidence in its ability to continue to get people to believe its propaganda? This is certainly an attempt to back up propaganda with coercion.
 
We also see how advertising/propaganda has become far more aggressive (in quantity and quality) as the system has shifted from “normal” corporatism (largely accepted by the people, often passively welcomed) to neoliberalism (without exception rejected wherever the people understood it or intuitively sensed what it was; never once has even representative pseudo-democracy voted for neoliberalism over any other option).
 
Most important of all, how does a democratic relocalization counteract and overcome the consumerist mindset? The appeal must be on the political and spiritual level. These are certainly strong points for us if we can get a hearing in the first place, though we start from such a disadvantaged position. Here as in everything else, we face a long struggle and lots of hard work. We can search for the magic message which will help us reach the tipping point, but in the meantime we simply have to try everything, probe everywhere, and wherever something is working, double and redouble our efforts at that point. Only this active idea and force of an idea shall break though the obscurity of the passive darkness which enfold us, to the affirmative light.

August 19, 2011

We’re All Lumpenproles Now (Part 3)

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A capitalist class is in theory (even Marxist theory) creative, constructive, innovative, for a period. Then it reaches its decadent/malevolent stage and becomes purely predatory and parasitic. Colonialism and imperialism always displayed this decadent and malevolent predation and parasitism from the outset. This is part of why almost from day one critics in the home countries feared an eventual boomerang effect on the polities and economies at home. This predicted corrosion of minds and brutalization of practices, the ruling class becoming a mere stupid thug, by turns incompetent, half-assed, and vicious, has indeed come true, although the oil surplus postponed its full advent.
 
A flip side of this, as described by Fanon in Wretched of the Earth, is how the native ruling classes of countries recently liberated from colonization remain fully beholden to the Western capitalist class. Having known nothing but the most stupid and inefficient exploitation, the “national bourgeoisie” is itself nothing but a gang of uncreative, unproductive thugs engaging in conspicuous consumption.
 

The national bourgeoisie in the underdeveloped countries should not be combated because it threatens to curb the overall, harmonious development of the nation. It must be resolutely opposed because it serves literally no purpose. Mediocre in its winnings, in its achievements and its thinking, this bourgeoisie attempts to mask its mediocrity by ostentatious projects for individual prestige, chromium-plated American cars, vacations on the French Riviera and weekends in neon-lit nightclubs.

 
The comparison with the post-capitalist, purely globalist worthless thug-and-slave decadence of Dubai is clear. And this is where we’re headed everywhere.
 
What would happen when Western exploitation had reached the limits of what it could extract around the world, through direct imperialism, post-colonial exploitation in the form of globalization, and the neocon attempt to revive a more direct imperial extraction regime? And what would happen when the exploiters reach the full colonial level of exploitation within their own Western countries? We’d have the full decadence and malevolence of the colonial extraction regime on every economic, political, and cultural level. The same worthless stupidity and brutality, the same barbarism which is even more profound than what even Fanon still considered a bad interlude on the way toward a progressive future.
 
Today we know the full scale of post-civilizational barbarism, as capitalism reaches its twin final limits of Peak Oil and the physical/socioeconomic limits of the Earth itself. Where can it go from here? Nowhere – it can only temporarily zombify and cannibalize itself, and then collapse. In the meantime its unproductive and vicious character will go from bad to worse, and it will do all it can to corrupt all of humanity with its own absolute cultural disease. Part of our task, we lumpenproles relative to their measure, is to refuse this “honor”, resist this Sodomite corruption, and assert our core humanity.
 
Meanwhile, part of this corruption is the system’s attempt, including and especially by the “better elites” for whom our good liberals so desperately yearn, to prop up the zombies of consumer debt and the “ownership society”. Even after all that’s happened, they have good prospects in their attempt to restore the self-destructive faith in the mortgage system, to even further indenture the pseudo-middle class and hasten its liquidation.
 
To be clear, the mortgage regime was context-specific to the heyday of the oil surplus and then to the exponential debt scam of neoliberalism. Neither applies any longer, so it follows that the mortgage regime is unsustainable. (And after you destroy everyone’s jobs, who’s supposed to be able to afford these mortgages?) If people are going to continue to inhabit the land at all on any basis other than as debt serfs, we’ll need a whole new dispensation. We have to abolish bank control over the land. But this restored serfdom is, of course, the system’s real goal.
 
What would be the economic basis for the continuation of the mortgage regime? What was ever its productive basis? As I said, it was never built on any economic productivity whatsoever, but merely on the oil surplus, debt, and sand.
 
To put it in terms from Russian history, it’s like we’ve gone through the entire process of Stolypin’s reform plan (to build a peasant middle class by giving a portion of them a stake in the land). We’re now being spit out the other side – the system which went to so much trouble to build a middle class bulwark against revolution is now assiduously demolishing that bulwark and liquidating that middle class.
 
(The suburban middle class was a variation on Stolypin. Instead of a peasant middle class, we had an employee middle class. Any nascent farmer middle class was forestalled and ruled out long ago. The middle class of workers and flunkeys would be liquidated all the more easily in the end, as it has no landbase. Suburbia by design never had a chance of establishing a landbase. On the contrary, even as it astroturfs the shallow ideology of “home ownership” and “having land”, it eradicates all sense of the land, all ability to use it constructively, all responsibility and loyalty to it. This is part of how we’re all lumpenproles now. Even the suburban peasantry which still nominally “owns” its own plots is really vagrant and rootless at heart already. This is the atomization capitalism always sought to bring about even in the heart of the “ownership society”. The atoms will feel even more unanchored as that other ownership bastion, pensions public and private, are revoked.)
 
So if the question is, how can we make America productive, to want to zombify the ownership society is non-responsive. Since the inefficient, unproductive, criminal nature of the economic dispensation is obvious, it follows that to be non-responsive to the question is implicitly to support the status quo finance tyranny. So to want to restore faith in mortgages is to answer the question of American productivity and prosperity as such in this way: “I don’t want America to be productive or prosperous, ever.”
 
How about this: Mortgage holders should jubilate the debt, stop paying, stay in the house, keep paying property taxes (for now), become intensely involved in the community, especially working for economic and political relocalization, based upon Food Sovereignty.
 
Food Sovereignty in turn implies the abolition of land propertarianism. Land ownership is obviously illegitimate on the rational and moral levels. We can add that agronomy has proven that smallholder organic agriculture outproduces corporate monoculture, and that this difference will become extreme as Peak Oil and energy descent set in. So if we plan to continue to eat, we’ll need to transform our food production system to smallholder agroecology.
 
But this won’t be possible where the land is hoarded by corporate and wealthy parasites. If we want to prosper we need to restitute the land to those who will work it on autonomous and cooperative stewardship bases. (This is no descent from some fancied “higher” middle class existence. On the contrary, agroecology is highly skilled work.)
 
So land propertarianism is not only morally and rationally invalid, but doesn’t work on a practical level either, for this definition of “work”: The people have food to eat, and from there achieve democratic prosperity.
 
The hardest part of the moral transformation I’ve often touched upon but not yet systematically discussed will be to propagate among the still-clinging middle class the truth that their “ownership” is a mirage, that if they keep clinging to that illusion they’ll end up losing it all, while if they give up the propertarian delusion they’ll get back far more in return, stewardship and productive use of all the land, toward a vastly more prosperous future than that we know today. It’s like a handful of sand. Hold it gently, and it stays in the hand. Try to squeeze, and it all runs through your fingers.
 
I’ll add the four principles and imperatives of co-production: First, we are all worthy human beings, our work our most precious asset. Any economic system not based upon this truth is illegitimate. Second, we must revalue our work, recognize it as our worth and as our core humanity. To block us from our work is to block us from ourselves. This is nothing but a crime and must be dealt with as such.
 
(Part of this revaluation will be organizing the core economy outside and against the market. I’ve written extensively about co-production and time banking. Another phenomenon is the unionization of so-called “informal economy” workers.
 

Ironically, she recalls three decades later, I first glimpsed the vastness of the informal sector while working for the formal sector.
Over the next thirty years, SEWA became a cluster of three types of membership-based organizations of the poor: first, a union—by 2004, the largest primary union in India—of a variety of informal trades—rag pickers, home-based chindi and garment stitchers, bidi rollers, vegetable vendors—bargaining with buyers, contractors and municipal authorities over piece-rates and pavement space; second, a coalition of dozens of producer co-operatives, producing shirt fabrics, recycling waste paper and cleaning offices; and third, several institutions of mutual assistance and protection, including a SEWA bank and health cooperatives, organized around midwives who were themselves part of the informal sector.

A key part of its history has been a struggle over representation. When someone asks me what the most difficult part of SEWA’s journey has been, Bhatt writes,

“I can answer without hesitation: removing conceptual blocks. Some of our biggest battles have been over contesting preset ideas and attitudes of officials, bureaucrats, experts and academics. Definitions are part of that battle. The Registrar of Trade Unions would not consider us ‘workers’; hence we could not register as a ‘trade union’. The hard-working chindi workers, embroiderers, cart pullers, rag pickers, midwives and forest-produce gatherers can contribute to the nation’s gross domestic product, but heaven forbid that they be acknowledged as workers! Without an employer, you cannot be classified as a worker, and since you are not a worker, you cannot form a trade union. Our struggle to be recognized as a national trade union continues.”

SEWA rejected the rhetoric of the informal sector that dominated official discourse: dividing the economy into formal and informal sectors is artificial, Bhatt argues, it may make analysis easier, or facilitate administration, but it ultimately perpetuates poverty: to lump such a vast workforce into categories viewed as “marginal”, “informal”, “unorganized”, “peripheral”, “atypical”, or “the black economy” seemed absurd to me. Marginal and peripheral to what, I asked . . . In my eyes, they were simply “self-employed”. Indeed the women street vendors who were among the first to build SEWA called themselves traders.

 
There’s great potential here as well, if such labor organization is done on a democratic rather than capitalist basis.)
 
Third, we owe mutuality, honor, loyalty, reciprocity among ourselves. Our unemployability from the system point of view is itself an element of our honor. Fourth, trust, decency, community, democracy constitute our best and most constructive social assets.
 
Meanwhile our proper attitude toward the enemy can always be encompassed within the concept and practice, Work to Rule. We should have endless gift-giving virtue among our families, friends, and communities, and nothing at all for the system except under duress.
 
These are among the values which can help us rebuild our humanity even as the kleptocracy seeks to disintegrate us. There’s the spirit in which we can move forward. 
 
In the meantime, I’ll complete the answer to the question with which I opened. What happens when kleptocracy, itself a symptom of desperation (a parasite who’s in a good position doesn’t kill its host), reaches the limits of what’s a closed system after all? It collapses, that’s all. Our task is to prepare to carry ourselves through this collapse, preserve and defend all we can of ourselves and our preparations for a democratic future, resist all attempts to drag us down into this collapse, do what we can to hasten it, and seize any opportunities to assert democratic power as the collapse takes place.

August 17, 2011

Seed Savers Exchange, Svalbard, and Corporatism

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I’ve been uncertain what to think about the power struggle at the Seed Savers Exchange, the deposition of its co-founder and longtime executive director Kent Whealy, the charges and countercharges of mismanagement, Leader arrogance, and lack of transparency and democracy (there seems to have been quite a bit of these on both sides), and the SSE’s peculiar partnership with the globalization seed vault at Svalbard.
 
One thing that’s clear is that the Svalbard relationship is gratuitous and cannot have been undertaken for the reasons current management claims, that it represents an increased resiliency for the SSE’s stocks. If that were really the intent they’d have expanded and distributed their own network and facilities (like the way a plant would with its own seeds), not have sought further concentration in a corporate fortress.
 
This is true even if the claims of Whealy and others about the contract between SSE and Svalbard are exaggerated. Whealy claims that the varieties reposed at Svalbard cannot easily be repossessed, nor are there barriers to Monsanto and others using them for proprietary research. Worst of all, Svalbard can now demand access to and possession of any and all seeds in the SSE library. SSE would have to comply with any such demand laundered through Svalbard by Monsanto and other rackets.
 
Torgrimson and the rest deny these claims. They and the NordGen managers of the vault say they can take back their deposits any time they want, that nobody can do anything with those deposits without their OK, and that nothing in the contract gives Svalbard any right to anything other than what’s been deposited in the vault.
 
My own reading of the contract is that it’s intentionally vague and can possibly be interpreted the way Whealy claims. Anyone who knows the history of globalization knows how these things are likely to work, so it’s reasonable to be suspicious of anything vague. But of course a pollyanna liberal (or someone pretending to be that; Whealy’s own interpretation of his nemeses is that they’re mostly stupid starfuckers who don’t know how they’re being manipulated by corporatism – see below for the latest on this) would argue that the contract’s fine.
 
(I wrote more on the War on Seeds here and here.)
 
I repeat that no one trying to set up a network of seed banks for democratic and relocalization purposes would have anything to do with centralized system vaults like Svalbard. If you fear for the safety and viability of the seeds at any one location, then spread them among hundreds, thousands. This year I’m making a (so far very modest) start at beginning a seed library as a project of our relocalization group. We’ll see what kind of help I get this fall from the community garden, etc. But a corporatist vault is dubious on its face, the contract language gives grounds for further suspicion, these are enough to make the decision that such collaboration is likely to cost far, far more than one might gain, and it’s unnecessary from any legitimate point of view. (For more on Svalbard’s backers, see for example the donor list at the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Monsanto’s not explicitly listed, but most of the rest of the gang’s there – Syngenta, Dupont/Pioneer, the Gates Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the World Bank CGIAR, etc.)
 
And now for the latest, the most clear window yet on SSE’s corporate liberal treachery. They’re now crowing about a visit from none other than their president Obama. I’ll spare you excerpts from their sickening paean to a mass murderer and co-conspirator in the looting of tens of trillions of dollars from the American people. But masochists can read it here. Note how all the happy talk about seed saving is 100% from their side, while Obama evidently didn’t even pretend to respect SSE’s mission.
 
There’s good reason for that. Monsanto is one of Obama’s favorite corporations, according to the record of his actions. Anyone who knows anything about seed saving knows that Monsanto is dedicated to a totalitarian purge of all non-proprietary seed use from the face of the earth. Over ten years ago it commissioned Enron collaborator Arthur Andersen to reverse-engineer a strategy for literal world domination based on control of the food supply, through a monopoly on all seeds. Anyone who cares anything for SSE’s mission regards Monsanto as enemy #1.
 
Obama, meanwhile, has appointed and promoted more Monsanto cadres in his administration than Bush did in 8 years. Most notoriously, he elevated Monsanto lobbyist Michael Taylor to the anti-democratic post of Food Czar, with vague but vast theoretical administrative power over our food and seeds. The recently passed and Obama-supported Food Control bill is intended to legislatively validate an administrative dictatorship over food. Monsanto wrote much of this bill. Obama is Monsanto’s president.
 
The SSE Leadership knows all this, yet chooses to welcome this arch-criminal and lie to its membership about what it means. This is the strongest evidence yet that Whealy is right about the “seat at the table” corporate liberal sellout attitude among SSE’s management, or perhaps something more sinister. Since Obama certainly wants organizations like SSE to cease to exist, it follows that if traitors within wanted to dissolve the project (not overtly, but by gutting it from within), they’d try to astroturf the membership into thinking Obama’s their ally, and that the organization should fall into line with administration directives. For example, there haven’t yet been any new FDA rulings on seeds based on the new legislation, but they’re probably coming.
 
This would then put the Svalbard collaboration in a more explicable, evil perspective. 
 

MMT Housekeeping (The Lost NC Comments)

Filed under: Reformism Can't Work, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , , — Russ @ 1:49 am

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Sorry to indulge myself, but blogger’s prerogative, reasons of state, force majeure and all:
 
It’s insufferable when NC goes haywire and absolutely refuses to post a comment (and no one ever plucks it out of moderation limbo, where I know this one was). And it’s never what I consider a throwaway comment, but one I consider worthwhile, in this case about the proper use of MMT.
 
Replying to this comment (my other comments are there in the thread) :
 
 

addictedsays:

Except NYT commenters (and readers) DONT know the basics of MMT (and if they did, then this blog post wouldn’t even be necessary). Again, there are a set of regular commenters, who would essentially post the same comment on every blog post of his, nearly every time, claiming, as Krugman states, that deficits don’t matter, without the inflationary qualifier.

But either way, your comment “No matter how much everyone involved knows the basics of a point, unless its advocate explicates each and every one of those basics in each and every comment, its detractor is justified in claiming he doesn’t imply the omitted basics” applies to Yves’ blog post equally.

Bottom line is that Krugman, in this instance (he may have on other instances), wasn’t mischaracterizing MMT. He was correctly characterizing the position explicated multiple times, by “MMT types” in his comments.***

My reply:

Maybe we’re talking about a different line of argument. The fact is, deficits don’t matter, period. And everyone knows it.
 
Can you name anyone whose actions indicate he believes deficits matter? Certainly no one in government or the political class, who all advocate ever-bigger government and ever-bigger deficits, but only for corporate welfare.
 
The “deficits matter” Big Lie is only trotted out to give a pretext for gutting public interest spending. So “deficits matter” is only asserted by deficit terrorists who don’t actually believe it, but are merely lying as part of a political attack.
 
So perhaps these commenters you refer to are merely using MMT to bolster a broader argument. (And why not? Shouldn’t MMT serve some constructive purpose instead of just fueling the fantasies of unreconstructed statists?)
 
Or perhaps, on the contrary, they’re pro-banksters who are merely slandering the MMT idea by intentionally misrepresenting it. (In which case, why would Krugman go along with this sham rather than counterattack it? Unless he actually agreed with it.)
 
Either way, I stand by my initial assessment that the commenters know the basics, and Krugman knows they know.
 
***
 
Same thing next day, this thread.
 
 
My comment quoted part of someone else’s comment to which I was replying:
 
“in MMT we behold yet another ideological motif in the political tendency known as bourgeois reformism, which claims that the evils of capitalism can be mitigated or done away with altogether while keeping intact the rule of capitalism as a system.”
 
Yes, that’s evidently the MMTer psychology. The “theory” is really just a vehicle of unreconstructed statist fantasies. Fantasies of “good government” and so on. It’s another way of zombifying faith in “better elites”. It’s another Special Case economics.
 
But in practice, what they really picture happening or actually propose always falls far, far short of the soaring theoretical potentialities (for example, taken to its logical consummation, MMT is inherently anti-propertarian). Their indelible reformist meagerness comes through in things like proposed “Jobs Guarantees” which would guarantee only minimum wage makework which scrupulously avoids competing with the private sector.
 
Such picayune proposals demonstrate how MMTers are really the same old craven reformists in practice, who merely want to dress up their paucity with a highfalutin “theory”. Show me an MMTer who openly says that MMT means the store of value function is illegitimate, from which it follows that all hoarded property is illegitimate, and that policy should follow from that truth, and I’d say now we’re cooking. But I won’t hold my breath.
 
Any constructive use of the MMT idea will come independently of, and probably counter to, the intentions of the establishment MMTers themselves. But “MMT” as a pseudo-radicalism which will always be used to herd people back toward paltry reformism is a pernicious thing.

August 16, 2011

We’re All Lumpenproles Now (Part 2)

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I’ve had people accuse me of “Manichaeism”, and while I used to bother to dispute this, there’s actually a truth to it. Not that I’m the Manichaean (and not that I claim to represent the absolute Good), but that I recognize the fundamental assault of Evil on everything outside itself including everything I value.
 
(Of course, I’m also not Manichaean in the technical sense that I don’t recognize this evil as being some necessary element of the universe. On the contrary, I recognize it as gratuitious, pointless, worthless, easily rid of if we only found the will to rid ourselves of it, and we’d be infinitely better off if it ceased to exist. That’s a major part of what’s so obscene about it. Like the Ancien Regime Tocqueville described, its wickedness is exceeded only by its worthlessness.)
 
Contrary to the lies propagated by system hacks and “progressives” in unison, we’re not at all “in this together”. Even Marx thought the capitalist was integral, played for a time a progressive role, and was only at the time of his writing (in Europe) reaching the decadent/malevolent stage. But unlike in regular Marxist analysis, under colonialism capitalism was always purely alien and imposed itself by main force. Today Fanon’s mid-century analysis sounds more convincing. The world of colonialism/imperialism, and today globalization, has always been a Manichaean world. There’s no co-existence, let alone dialectic, only total, zero-sum war.
 

The “native” sector is not complementary to the European sector. The two confront one another, but not in the service of a higher unity. They follow the dictates of mutual exclusion: There is no conciliation possible, one of them is superfluous…

The colonial world is a compartmentalized world. It is obviously as superfluous to recall the existence of “native” towns and European towns, of schools for “natives” and schools for Europeans, as it is to recall apartheid in South Africa…

The colonized world is a world divided in two. The dividing line, the border, is represented by the barracks and the police stations. [I add: Today it’s more sublimated – the credit card and privatization fire line. But de jure violence is always ready to provide support.] In the colonies the official, legitimate agent, the spokesperson for the colonizer and the regime of oppression, is the police officer or the soldier…

This is why a Marxist analysis should always be slightly stretched where it comes to the colonial issue. It’s not just the concept of the pre-capitalist society which needs to be reexamined here. The serf is essentially different from the knight, but a reference to divine right is needed to justify this difference in status. In the colonies the foreigner imposed himself using his cannons and machines. Despite the success of his pacification, in spite of his appropriation, the colonist always remains a foreigner. It’s not the factories, the estates, or the bank account which primarily characterize the “ruling class”. The ruling species is first and foremost the outsider from elsewhere, different from the indigenous population, “the others”…

The colonial world is a Manichaean world.

The Wretched of the Earth pp. 3-6.

 
We can look to Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism to find the mortal peril of the economically superfluous, those even the capitalist cannot and does not want to economically exploit. These are in imminent danger of becoming the targets of genocide. This is technically our position today, any of us. When those who rejected Obama’s health racket bailout would say of it that its real policy was, “If you’re not rich, then either don’t get sick, or else die”, this was no exaggeration. Death to the non-rich in a very literal sense is the ideal goal of the elites.
 
It’s unlikely the enemy can directly exterminate overwhelming numbers of us, and anyway they have us earmarked for restored serfdom in the post-oil fields (where vastly more manual labor, backbreaking work to maintain the corporate mode of agriculture by hand, will be necessary). But any particular minority, however defined, which they find obnoxious, will be in immediate danger of literal extermination.
 
Isn’t all this already visible in outline? There’s no doubt about the nature of imperialism. Nor is there any doubt that this imperialism has fully come home, as its critics were warning it would eventually do since the latter 19th century. Yes – the banks, the corporations, their thug-and-bagman government, are worthless to the people. They’re nothing but alien parasites and predators. They do nothing but steal and destroy. They partake nothing of indigenous family, community, civil society, democracy, landbase. On the contrary, they viciously assault all of these with the goal of eradicating them completely. The land is stolen, the people driven off, and the productive essence of the land itself then destroyed. There’s zero relationship between these aliens and the people. We’ve been internally colonized.
 
But we are the humans of this land, and this land is the landbase of our humanity. Our families, friendships. communities, society, democracy, morality, humanity are the natural and rightful shoots from this soil. We can’t conceive or have any order or prosperity other than those native to our land and ourselves on this land. Today we’ve been driven into the political and legal shantytown of being mere vagrants on our own land, and increasingly we’re being driven into physical ghettos. It’s a purely foreign excrescence which is perpetrating this infinite crime, a vile disease rotting on the face of the earth. We can free ourselves, restitute and cleanse our great land, re-assert our humanity, restore our prosperity, redeem our democracy. To do so, we must recognize our human imperative, and denounce everything superfluous to it, and everything harmful to it.
 
Our fight shall, on the strategic and tactical level, mostly be one of building outside the colonial structures, renouncing, refusing, withdrawing to build elsewhere, where necessary evading or resisting. But in principle this is total war to the most bitter zero-sum end. We didn’t start it, but we must finish it. Either kleptocracy or humanity must perish completely from the face of the earth. This shall be the great question which settles the fate of the earth itself.
 
 

August 15, 2011

We’re All Lumpenproles Now (Part 1)

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The rudiments of shantytownism have always been the flip side of agricultural capitalism, starting with the enclosures usually still ascribed to classical feudalism but actually a feature of the “capitalist” phase. These enclosures always, by design, generated a vast horde of economically obsolete people, who were from the start stigmatized as criminal “vagrants”. Henry VIII hanged tens of thousands of them. They were also favorite prey for press gangs and indentured servitude in the colonies.
 
This process of driving people off the land and cutting them off from their landbase continued on a steady pace through the 19th and first half of the 20th century. Liebig and Marx included this in their analysis of the metabolic rift between country and town, exposing the physical and human wastage involved in driving large numbers of agricultural workers into the cities reserve army of the unemployed.
 
Even as late as the Great Depression, however, there were still enough farmers and people with farmers in the family that there was more of an option for the unemployed to still go back to the farm, however economically fruitless in many other ways such a step was under depression conditions.
 
The metabolic rift as a modern crime against humanity really escalated with post-war colonialism, now intertwined with rationalized globalization, the so-called “green revolution” (one of whose main features was replacing better-paid agricultural work with fossil fuels), and the joint capitalist-communist push to force all agriculture into the commodification strait jacket.
 
The generation of a permanent mass class of unemployment, gross underemployment, “informal economy” work, living amid squalor, is a function of the rise of globalized corporate agriculture. Today we see how permanent mass unemployment as an intentional, premeditated policy is entwined with pro-bankster economic policy (which seeks to put all the land into the hands of the new feudal barons) as well as policy like the government’s attack on alternative food production, the Food Control bill, and the health racket bailout. These are all geared to escalate and aggravate the crisis while rendering the existence of the victims untenable (cutting off all alternative routes), impossible, and criminal (rendering him an existential debt offender). The criminalization of poverty proceeds every step of the way.
 
The goal is simple and evil: Drive everyone off the land and make it impossible to eat or live. Almost everyone is slated for this fate.
 
We need to face the facts. This system is a game completely rigged against us. It’s literally insane for anyone not rich to play by its rules or recognize any aspect of its claims or values. Within this system, we are useless, worthless, superfluous, unemployable, alien, foreign, the wretched refuse, despised and rejected, the dregs, the lowest of the low. We’re born criminals, objective enemies, existential scum. We’re told by every spewing propaganda pipe to be ashamed at our vileness. When they tell us to get rich or die we should do the world a favor and die quickly. And if we don’t have the good taste for that, at the very least we should shut the fuck up, since criminals have no right to a voice. That’s why even the pretenses of democracy and the rule of law are obsolete – it’s disgusting for a decent system to even pretend it any longer deals with citizens rather than scum.
 
Do we agree with this way of looking at things? The passivity of the masses indicates that all too many implicitly do. Or perhaps they just don’t yet see another option? One of the signs that the elites aren’t all that confident in the self-evident truth of their virtue and our vice is how relentless and shrill their propaganda is, at the same time that their media aggressively suppresses or distorts all the news that contradicts it. All the news which seems to indicate the opposite – the criminality of the elites and the innocence of the dispossessed, who from that point of view look not like vicious cretins but like crime victims. And this suppressed news also indicated the possibility of alternatives to kleptocracy. Alternatives which are available to any people which chooses to seize them.
 
The mendacity of the propaganda and the clear bad faith of the censorship regime are just confirmations of what we, to the extent we retain our humanity, already knew. It’s precisely our indelible humanity, our inability to serve as docile cogs rather than shackled slaves, our incapacity for compliance, which forces the kleptocracy’s dehumanizing hand. But rather than accept their measure of shame, we should take pride in this. We should be proud of the system’s contempt, and earn its fear and hate. Our very worthlessness and viciousness from the system’s point of view proves that we’re the torch bearers of whatever’s left of humanity.
 
Our countermovement needs only to turn all this right side up. We stand for humanity and embody it in all its virtues of morality, family, friendship, community, democracy. We are humanity, while it’s the elites and their flunkeys who are the infinitely hateful and wretched parasite scum of the earth.
 
As for the Earth itself, we the people own it.
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