Volatility

August 12, 2011

Co-Production and the Core Economy

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You support the money economy? But don’t you have less and less money for what you need? Don’t you have to work harder and harder for less? Isn’t your continued loyalty to a paradigm which is steadily eroding your happiness and quality of life a bad bet?
 
So wouldn’t you be interested in an alternative to centralized money? And if we could do away with such money completely, wouldn’t that improve our position?
 
Co-production (C-P) can reward decency, caring, cooperation, reason, sanity, morality, democracy as efficiently as the market rewards aggression, greed, selfishness, wastefulness, vandalism, sociopathy, cruelty, tyranny. (The market is truly efficient only at producing these vices and pathologies. The only way it’s ever “efficient” at producing anything else is because it doesn’t pay the costs of those pathologies, but shifts them to others, which is another pathology called an “externality”. That’s just a euphemism for another form of robbery.)
 
Time banking has already provided the accounting system which proves the principle on the demonstration level. Edgar Cahn’s book No More Throw-Away People includes in-depth descriptions of a long, varied list of time bank co-production projects which have created real benefits and solved real problems. These include health care plans in NY and Virginia, legal aid, juvenile court, and food bank programs in DC, public school tutoring in Chicago, a public housing rent program in Baltimore, a community services program in St. Louis, and many more.
 
We can see from this that co-production is a proven practical alternative to the market economy. But then, history has already proven this, since what we know as “the market” didn’t exist for the vast majority of humanity’s sojourn on this soil. The very word “economy” is derived from ancient Greek philosophy, where Aristotle’s oikonomia meant literally “management of the household” and referred to the economy of family and community, the core economy, what we today disparagingly call the “informal economy”. Meanwhile the rudiments of “the market” were relegated to a peripheral position, as they would be in any rational economy. Consider again the fact that food markets are naturally local/regional, with only a few luxury items naturally transported significant distances. The same is basically true of all sectors. (The Greek political ideal was similar. It wasn’t actually “democracy” in the standard connotation of that term today, but isonomy, literally “no rule”. Isonomy was the original ideal of the polis, while the term democracy was actually first coined by pro-oligarch elitists to connote “tyranny of the majority”. This was the same scam Madison and Hamilton were still pushing in the Federalist papers.)
 
To this day this core economy is far larger than the market economy, which merely free rides upon it while dominating it by forcing as much of it onto the market rack as possible, devaluing but depending completely upon the rest. It’s the basic phenomenon of “capitalism for me, anarchism for you” that we see everywhere. The core economy is expected to function selflessly, self-sacrificially, to help the market economy maximize its psychopathic selfishness. (Cahn asks, how much is the fact that an employer’s employees were previously toilet-trained worth to that employer? But the employer certainly never pays for all that arduous work. That puts the way employers often restrict employees’ bathroom breaks in a radical perspective, doesn’t it? Alinsky suggested some rather nasty tactics workers and citizens could deduce from this.)
 
The core economy promotes the self-sufficiency, resiliency, and therefore true efficiency of the unit. This unit may be the family, the community, or the democracy, and is most effective combining all three. It is normative and natural at the same time, in demanding and exemplifying fairness, cooperation, mutual moral obligation, justice. These are both human imperatives and have also been scientifically proven to be the real way of nature. (One of these days I’m going to write a post describing how the social Darwinists get everything exactly wrong, both according to basic Darwinism itself as well as the details as established by science. My post on Nietzsche’s will to power concept including common misconceptions of it is a start.)
 
The parasitic market, on the other hand, promotes specialization and maximum quantitative production (stripped of any real-world economic or social context) of an atomized product/service at the lowest cost to the producer only. This is the vaunted “efficiency” which really isn’t efficient at all. Meanwhile, its measure of all things – price – is based on generating artificial scarcity and forcing others to pay the cost of production and transaction. This again is fraudulently called “efficiency”. 99% of the time when you see the word efficiency in an economic or political context, it’s being used in this fraudulent way.
 
We must reject the negative and picayune terms “non-market” economy, “informal” economy, which implicitly enshrine the depraved and stupid market as the normative measure. No, we should use terms like core economy and true economy, and coin new, at first strange terms like “command currency” and “forced market” to accurately describe the tail which currently wags the dog. The basic fact is that the core economy is the most efficient at producing and distributing everything except perhaps some vanities, which by definition we don’t need and shouldn’t want.
 
So we know that the core economy is the much-abused and exploited economy we must liberate from the tyranny of the market and restore to its full health. A key line of attack must be reorganizing it along lines which are alternative to the use of command money. Money creates and drives all the problems it claims to fix. It’s actually money as such which creates the dependencies which are always argued against old-style liberal welfare programs. (Of course the kind of liberals who actually want such programs are very rare these days. But nevertheless we do still face those, in many NGOs and other kinds of service organizations, who want to throw money at problems. It’s just that they’re corporate liberals who want their own ratholes to go alongside the more conventional kind. Their brand of corporate welfare is a pea in the same pod.)
 
This is part of the overall fact that we cannot solve problems with the same practices that create them. More capitalism won’t solve the problems created by capitalism. (Except, of course, for its own internal contradictions and falling rate of profit; corporate welfare and the debt economy have so far been able to prop up the zombie.) More money won’t solve the problems created by money. More big-government liberalism won’t solve the problems created by big government (remembering that government, even the “socialist” variety, is inherently pro-capitalist). The market measure (GDP) is a complete scam, in the vast amounts of waste and destruction it counts and the even more vast amount of real work and value it excludes. So nothing which depends upon any market measure can ever be the mode of solving problems created by the market itself. Trying to rebuild our core economies, our communities, civil society, our polities, from outside what is indigenous to them, with the same alien market means that have so damaged them, will only reinforce every vicious circle.
 
Co-production is a philosophy and transitional mode we can use now to begin the process of organizing the reincarnating core economy (and polity) without the market and its measures (like cash), and against them. It can dissolve or overcome every problem of the market economy and invigorate every benefit of the core economy through its vastly superior practical efficiency and psychological holism.
 
It’s also a practical imperative in the sense that we have no choice. Like I said earlier, we have less and less money, and this deprivation (a systematic corporate-government policy) will only get worse. So long as we remain passive market atoms, the only economic increase we’ll experience shall be debt unto indenture, while all else, all we want and then all we need, dissipates to nothing. Look around and you’ll see I’m right. Where do you think any of this is going to end up, if we keep on running faster and faster but just keep losing ground?
 
We need an alternative. Can everyone agree on that? Good. So then the question is, what’s this alternative to be? What action can we start with which will put us on the right path? I’ve been arguing the case for co-production and time banking.
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16 Comments

  1. “The Greek political ideal was similar. It wasn’t actually “democracy” in the standard connotation of that term today, but isonomy, literally “no rule”. Isonomy was the original ideal of the polis, while the term democracy was actually first coined by pro-oligarch elitists to connote “tyranny of the majority”.”

    Isonomy definitely isn’t literally “no rule”- isos = equal, nomos = law. Arendt’s interpretation of isonomy as “no rule” by equality of freedom is interesting, but it seems to me that this is probably a romanticisation of the notion. I’ve been reading Thucydides a lot lately and he uses isonomy in a very different manner- as far as I know the only evidence for Arendt’s use of the term is a single passage from Herodotus. I don’t know what the “original ideal” of the the Greek polis could be said to be, if there was a homogenous one, but it seems clear that the polei were initially highly decentralised, and that the rise of tyrannies, oligarchies, “democracies”, and the like was a function of centralisation into urban areas, which is revealing. If we take Arendt’s meaning of the term, the archaic decentralised networks of villages probably embodied isonomy to a much greater degree than the classical polei ever did.

    Thucydides’ cynicism may be getting to me here, but lately I haven’t been finding as much inspiration in looking to ancient Greece. The Chinese Spring and Autumn period School of the Tillers seems to embody the ideals we’re trying to convey much more clearly, and the agrarianism of the American founders (as well as the Canadian agrarian movement) can be traced in a fairly direct line back to them, so I feel like that line of historical political thought should be pursued as well. Eventually I will try to write a bit of a thing about this, I just don’t have time right now.

    On another note, I feel like Graeber’s use of the term “human economy” is a good alternative to “core economy”, although they could mean somewhat different things. “Human economy” definitely puts the corporate economy in the correct light, anyway- it’s false, unnatural, inhuman.

    In any case, this is good stuff. I don’t know what other alternatives might be. We can’t really have a real gift economy just yet, in part because so few of us do our own production (and where we do, raw materials are frequently obtained from cash-economy sources). Operating on credit in imaginary “dollars” (where the value of the dollar is fixed so that things have prices people are used to), where no cash or banking institution is ever involved, and debts are payable only with other goods and services (denominated in “dollars”) might be another thing to do, but would probably require a community of organised shopkeepers, tradespeople, etc- maybe this is something that could arise out of a time bank.

    Comment by paper mac — August 12, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

    • That’s lots of interesting stuff, mac. I’ll put those on my list to research (I still have your suggestion about looking up the back-to-the-landers on the list, too; but it takes time to get to everything). I want to collect everything which can go toward a unified picture of the democratic movement throughout history.

      I’m not sure, but your imaginary dollars for real goods suggestion sounds like something closer to what the criminals would call taxable barter. The main thing which caused the IRS and its UK equivalent to issue rulings that T$ weren’t taxable was that they were strictly measured in terms of one hour = one hour with no reference whatsoever to the “market value” of the labor. Of course, those rulings came when T$ were an obscure novelty, and they basically still are today. But I’d expect that to be revisited if and when time banks really start spreading and working against the system for real. We need to prepare to resist that.

      Needless to say, T$ are not legitimately taxable, and I don’t recognize the right of tax cadres to “rule” on them in the first place.

      So you were able to surmise that I got isonomy from Arendt? Yes, I admit On Revolution is the only place I’ve encountered the word rendered that way. I don’t remember seeing the word itself in Thucydides. Am I right to infer that you read it in the original? My volume is the Rex Warner translation. One of my all-time favorite books, and my favorite from ancient Greece itself.

      When the Corinthian ambassadors are telling the Spartans about the inherently aggressive nature of Athens, it’s like talking about the US government/corporations today.

      Comment by Russ — August 12, 2011 @ 5:53 pm

      • “isonomy” occurs in Thuc. III.62.3. I don’t have my copy on hand, so I forget how it was rendered there, but in this online version: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=thuc.+3.62.1 it’s rendered as “laws common to all” in the context “neither by an oligarchy with laws common to all (i.e. an isonomous oligarchy), nor by a democracy;”. It seems pretty clear from that passage that Thucydides must be using isonomy in its literal sense, and not as some tangential reference to a once-existing form of anarchy or decentralised democracy. That makes sense to me, whereas Arendt’s interpretation seems idiosyncratic. I think isonomy was probably viewed as a precondition for, or being related to, democracy, but I don’t know of any historian of ancient Greece who’s made Arendt’s case, so my guess is that it’s an anachronism which serves as a vehicle for her philosophy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, necessarily, but I think the term anarchy is probably better. In any case, I’m really enjoying reading Thucydides, and I agree that it’s extremely relevant to modern events and political arrangements.

        I didn’t consider the taxable barter issue- that’s a good point. I guess it would have to be finessed around those laws. I guess the major thing for me with time dollars is that it’s not clear to me how you would use them to, say, obtain food or buy scrap metal or something like that. Or just labour that’s more costly to the labourer than your average core economy-type labour, like a mechanic who needs tools, parts, whatever. I think we’ve discussed this before, but I’m not sure if the solution is trying to wrap T$ around those types of exchanges, or to have some kind of community credit system, or what.

        Comment by paper mac — August 13, 2011 @ 4:47 pm

      • An Arendt interpretation idiosyncratic? That doesn’t sound like her. 😉

        I didn’t recognize isonomy for being one of those, but I’m familiar with those idiosyncracies. But most of what she writes is profoundly true and of the type. In footnote 11 for chapter one, Arendt cites Herodotus III 80-82 as her authority for isonomy.

        On the other hand, if Thucydides rendered all these speeches as truthfully as possible like he claims (not literally word for word, but their content and tone), then what does that mean for how much we can trust the Theban speaker’s characterization of terms in such a critical speech? I don’t know.

        I also found this piece

        http://users.ox.ac.uk/~jrlucas/libeqsor/isonomia.pdf

        evidently written by some kind of pseudo-egalitarian liberal. But it also seems to see isonomy as more of an anarchic vision. (It mentions the Thucydides usage, but implicitly calls T the idiosyncrat.) As usual, Plato and Aristotle are the elitist bad guys. (But the author applauds them.)

        You may be right about the urge to find too much continuity with Ancient Greece. For all that he wrote about the Greeks, Nietzsche decided they really didn’t have much to teach us, precisely because their world was so bizarre and alien to ours. He thought the Romans were far closer to us.

        Afterward I felt cheesy for having gone right to fear of the taxman. I didn’t mean to criticize a good idea with progressive-style fearmongering. Rather, I often have resistance and evasion on the brain, and this time I let that train of thought be my reply.

        Actually, there already exist plenty of schemes which basically involve trading T$ for goods. It avoids being barter because the T$ aren’t pegged to the command $ price of the stuff. Nominally, a merchant agrees to make a donation to some non-profit etc. in the form of accepting T$ it issued. This combines volunteering with material charity, both on a co-production basis.

        The same can occur within service organizations themselves. To take your food example, there’s a DC program where members of a time bank can use their T$ to receive food from the food bank. There’s plenty of other examples where an organization that used to just give away things (a one-off, non-communal transaction with no follow-up, no sense of how constructive it was) now redeem T$ for them. The point is to continue with the service, but do it in such a way that the recipients work to earn what they get, building their skills, self-respect, and self-confidence, and do so as part of an ongoing network of relationships.

        I’m not sure about how to get spare parts, but there do exist tool banks. The idea’s clear enough, and I’ve read about some groups which have put it into practice, alongside/integrated with a time bank or by itself.

        I got together with our web administrator today, and he told me a lot about the conference last weekend. He’s going to edit his notes and send me a copy, but he said the thing was very fruitful, both in exchange of ideas and the people he met. I asked him about the proprietary nature of the site, and he said he thinks the cost is reasonable. I didn’t explicitly ask about the possibility of rent-seeking once we’re locked into path dependency, but he volunteered that they’re talking about moving more to open sourcing in the future, so he seemed to guess what I was thinking.

        Comment by Russ — August 13, 2011 @ 6:13 pm

      • It’s possible that Thucydides’ usage is idiosyncratic, since his Greek is generally idiosyncratic, although I feel like interpreting the word literally is the safer route. I think Herodotus and Thuc. are the two major sources from Athens that mention it, so clearly there was some flexibility in its use. In any case, I think looking to ancient civilisations is an incredibly powerful story-telling tool. I think N might be right that the Greeks were too alien to teach us much- Graeber points out that democratic Athens was a society where women were expected to be veiled in public and forbidden to participate in the public sphere, obviously they were unabashed slavers, and their social mores were different as well.

        I think the problem is that the people who were organising and governing themselves in ways that we would recognise as just and humane weren’t the ones doing much of the writing. I’ve long been interested in the social and political organisation of the Celts, but they didn’t write much down. Where they did, it’s pretty strange stuff- my mother’s side traces their ancestry to the Picts, and the Picts were apparently more interested in carving baffling symbols and pictures of animals, hunting, sailing, war, etc, than they were in leaving anything comprehensible for posterity. Many of their social practices are likewise pretty alien- many (most?) Celt societies practiced headhunting extensively, for instance (there’s a pretty gruesome Pictish symbol stone depicting a noble mounted on a horse next to a pile of what must have represented hundreds of severed heads). So if there were relatively egalitarian, peaceful, democratic Celtic societies, we don’t know much about them, as the people carving monuments were the brutal warlord types (funny how often this happens).

        The School of the Tillers I mentioned above (the Chinese agriculturalists- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculturalism) is pretty interesting because it’s one of the few documented ancient political philosophies which is basically cognate to what we’re describing here, and its adherents (as far as we know) didn’t practice slavery, headhunt, fight vicious wars, etc. Unfortunately the Qin legalist purges destroyed whatever writings they had, but we know a significant amount about them via the criticisms of some of the other Schools. I think there might be some later echoes of the Tillers in some of the agricultural manuals of the Yuan and Ming dynasty which still survive (eg the Nong Shu, written by this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_Zhen_(official)). A friend of mine and I are going to take a crack at translating some of the passages about the field systems to see if there’s anything interesting there- for some reason most of the classical Chinese texts don’t have English translations yet. In any case, it might be a little perverse to look for echoes of a pre-Qin movement in a Yuan dynasty text, but that’s what happens when the real anarchists either don’t write anything down or get their works purged…

        Regarding the T$ stuff, I didn’t see your response as fearmongering, just explicating the tactical realities. I think that’s important for us to do here as often as possible. It’s pretty interesting that people have already got goods exchanges going with T$. I don’t know if I missed this, but do T$ circulate, or are they extinguished when redeemed? Like if someone took care of an elder for an hour, earning a T$ (I guess this would be the point of monetary creation), and then redeemed it at a farm for a basket of food, could the farm turn around and use the T$ to get an hour of labour on the farm? Or would it be removed from the ledgers once it’s redeemed for the food?

        Comment by paper mac — August 14, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

      • I’m not sure about that T$ example, since it’s mixing different kinds of exchanges I haven’t seen mixed before. The examples of exchanging T$ for goods or, more often, entertainment terminated the T$ at that exchange point, so I guess we’d say it was retired. The merchant or entertainment establishment didn’t then use the T$, so far as I could see. But I’ll get back to you on that when I read some more. I definitely didn’t see any examples of for-profit businesses using T$ to receive labor, though there’s plenty of examples of non-profits doing so. Indeed, one of the most common and vaunted forms of co-production is for a service organization to enlist the “clients” (ugly word, that) to help it achieve the mission of helping those same people, in part by doing work for the organization itself. But they’re also encouraged to help one another in neighbor-to-neighbor exchanges. One of the safeguards which is supposed to help prevent exploitation is that NGOs involved in C-P are supposed to assess themselves, and demonstrate to others, on how much they encourage the clients to help one another directly, help other organizations, etc.

        In general, a time bank member is always supposed to be spending or earning T$ unless his account’s currently zeroed out, in which case he also needs to spend or earn to resume his account’s activity. Are you referring to the minority of time banks which actually print out paper certificates? I don’t know what their mechanisms are for retiring the certificates. That’s another thing I can try to look up. (I do know it’s expensive for them to print out professional ones which are hard to counterfeit.) Most banks just count the T$ as hours, digits on the website, but don’t actually exchange paper money.

        Thanks for those examples from China. Looks like a fruitful line of inquiry.

        Comment by Russ — August 14, 2011 @ 4:44 pm

      • I guess my question is, for the merchant (or whoever) who is accepting T$ in exchange for material goods, if the T$ is extinguished, is there some monetary inducement from the gov’t or NGO or whatever to get them to take T$ in lieu of currency? It seems to me that if you want to erode the use of command currencies, it would be good to have circulating T$ in order to get people using them for other kinds of transactions, but I’m not sure what kind of problems you might run into with this.

        Comment by paper mac — August 15, 2011 @ 12:56 am

      • I’ll look for more info on that today. I’d guess that if there’s a monetary inducement, it’s the same tax deduction as with other donations to non-profits, but I’m not sure yet. Stay tuned.

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 1:57 am

      • OK, here’s some real-life examples of exchange of goods/professional services for T$, as well as hypothetical examples, all from the books I have. Most of the real world examples are relatively small, so that it’s more the potential being discussed so far.

        Actual:

        *** DC youth court, teenage jurors in an early intervention program for youthful offenders earn T$ they can use to obtain refurbished computers.

        (These recycled computers are an item commonly available in such programs.)

        *** Chicago public school tutoring: Tutors earn T$ for computers.

        *** DC example of a deal between a food bank and a charter school*, brokered by a neighborhood organization. Seniors earn T$ making sandwiches at the food bank. Schoolchildren can use T$ earned by participating in an afterschool homework and tutoring program to buy the sandwiches as well as refurbished computers.

        [*I don’t know if the charter school exploits this in any way.]

        *** “Members of a Time Dollar exchange earned Time Dollars and building supplies by clearing litter from a Home Depot parking lot. The building supplies were used to fix up the homes of elderly members of the Time Dollar exchange.”

        While I don’t know how much of a donation HD really made (as opposed to what it would have paid in wages for the same work), at any rate the whole thing is organized in as constructive as way as can be (given the circumstances), including a social network and a community-building plan, so for the workers it’s far better than doing the same work but as atomized individuals for a minimal wage.

        *** Abriendo Puertas children’s mental health clinic in Miami made a deal with a food bank. One hour’s work for the food bank earns one T$ plus ten pounds of food.

        *** Baltimore public housing project. T$ earned volunteering on-site can be used for part of the rent, bus passes, discounts at shops to buy furniture, clothes, etc.

        *** In St. Louis a service organization runs T$ stores stocked with donated merchandise, including food, soap, toys, and educational materials.

        *** Cahn’s proud of how he personally negotiated a deal for Holland & Knight, “one of Washington’s major blue chip law firms” (I’m going to go do a search for them at Naked Capitalism and see if anything comes up 🙂 ), to provide legal services for a poor neighborhood in exchange for T$ earned by neighborhood volunteers cleaning up streets, school playgrounds, etc.

        So there’s a few examples of programs which existed or had existed at the time the books were published. I’ll need to look for websites with more current information to see how much it’s spread in the last few years.

        General examples of programs includes an agency charging in T$ for goods or services it used to give away; membership in T$ clubs to receive trips, movie tickets, restaurant meals, food from food banks, clothes, medical equipment, and of course refurbished computers; T$ stores, or local stores offering discounts on some stuff for T$ (“this would be the store’s way of committing support to the building of community and generating good will with [the service agency’s] clients, and it might build up their customer base at the same time”); discounts on community college tuition; bus passes; tool exchanges with the hiring fee in T$; T$ for participation in training programs.

        So there’s a basic rundown on the possibilities for using T$ to receive goods and professional services.

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 9:08 am

      • I looked at your links. The School of the Tillers looks right up my alley! I’m going to research that further. The Wang Zhen link is also interesting. I noted his distinction of the dryland agriculture of the North from the irrigated agriculture of the South. That put me in mind of Wittfogel’s thesis of the hydraulic society. Are you familiar with it? Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire, about that thesis and how the American West was really built (do you need more than one guess between rugged pioneer individualists or massive corporatism?), is an awesome and profound book. That was the first environmentalist book I read which really turned on the light bulbs in my head. (It’s about far more than environmentalism.)

        http://www.danallosso.com/history/reading_files/e22f612adeeaa9563408d2c23967f959-147.html

        I don’t know if you saw this comment

        http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/08/freedom-versus-markets.html#comment-444426

        I’ve only skimmed the links so far, and they’re not directly about the subject matter, but the whole notion looks interesting.

        Add: I just came across the name Clifford Simak, described as an “agrarian science fiction” writer with an anti-capitalist sensibility. I don’t know him, and this

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clifford_D._Simak

        doesn’t give any obvious indication about that characterization, but I thought I’d mention him, since fiction is also a realm we need to look into. (Though I don’t think I’m up to it myself; my attempt at writing a novel didn’t seem to be going well, and I let it slide.)

        Comment by Russ — August 15, 2011 @ 2:32 pm

      • Thanks for those T$ examples, that helps me see how people have implemented this stuff a lot more clearly.

        If you’re interested in reading about the Tillers, I’ve put a decent article about the evidence concerning them up here:
        The article is older and uses an archaic (and semi-inconsistent) romanisation system for Chinese, but is otherwise pretty good. I’m particularly interested in the notion that the School of the Tillers arose from utopian peasants and declasse intellectuals and officials who became disillusioned by the politics and warfare of the Warring States and returned to the land. In any case, the evidence that exists shows that the Tillers had a pretty inspiring story, which is really not too dissimilar from the kind of thing we discuss here: http://www.mediafire.com/?9f2187789x9ugt4

        “The claim that it was easy to rule the empire while tilling one’s own fields seems at first sight extraordinary. Surely Mencius was right in thinking it impossible ? However, we are beginning to see the Utopia of Shen-nung in a clearer perspective. It is an empire of small self-sufficient fiefs or states (kuo ), the lords of which, like their suzerain, presumably work their own fields. At every level government has been divested of every function which would be unwelcome to a peasant; the emperor and his lords do not raise taxes (at any rate for their own support), go to war, build palaces stuffed with ‘commodities difficult to obtain’, make laws, or inflict punishments. The single task of government is to ensure a flourishing agriculture; and its first responsibility, laid down in the ‘Prohibition of Shen-nung’, is not to disrupt production by interfering with the work demanded by the seasons. The question then is not how the ruler finds time to labour in the fields but what else there is left for him to do.”

        Obviously we’re hostile to the notion of “rulers” at all, but the Tillers’ “ruler” is essentially just the wisest farmer in the land, whose job is to ensure that agriculture proceeds smoothly in a federation of small communities, by distributing grain to those who need it, and stockpiling it in times of excess, and that’s about it. So, I think there’s a lot there to draw from.

        I’m vaguely familiar with Wittfogel through his “Oriental Despotism” hypothesis. I think Wittfogel definitely has a point about control of water supplies being an essential facet of empire-building, but I think China provides a good example of the shortcomings of the hypothesis. For one thing, control over water in China was historically highly decentralised. Additionally, as you note, the North is characterised by dry land agriculture, the South by extensively irrigated rice paddies and so on. Interestingly, the most autocratic, repressive, authoritarian regimes in Chinese history were almost without exception based in the North (and were often headed up by nomadic invaders)- the Qin, the (Jurchen) Jin, the (Mongol) Yuan, the Ming, the (Manchu) Qing. By contrast, the more diverse, liberal, cosmopolitan regimes were mostly Southern (if not in where they sited their capital, in where their populations and officials were drawn from)- eg Han, Tang, Song. It’s pretty interesting that the Tiller described in the paper I linked above, arguing with Mencius, is described as being a “Southern barbarian”, in that context.

        I’ll check out those links, thanks. I think you’re right about science fiction. My favourite SF material is usually pretty dystopian, and I don’t know how great that is for constructing a sort of mythology to look to, though. It occurs to me that it would be pretty interesting to re-cast the Warring States period in the near future and show the various schools of thought (ancient + modern? lots of possibilities) grappling with the hardships of that kind of fragmentation. Makes me wish I could write dialogue worth a damn!

        Comment by paper mac — August 15, 2011 @ 10:56 pm

      • Thanks for the article.

        the Tillers’ “ruler” is essentially just the wisest farmer in the land, whose job is to ensure that agriculture proceeds smoothly in a federation of small communities, by distributing grain to those who need it, and stockpiling it in times of excess, and that’s about it.

        That sounds like a withering away of rulership to a status involving no coercive power, but only authority based upon proven merit, which is the direction where we ought to be headed. All those decisions eventually need to be made on a democratic basis, not by any kind of alleged benevolent Leader, hierarchical or not.

        I’m particularly interested in the notion that the School of the Tillers arose from utopian peasants and declasse intellectuals and officials who became disillusioned by the politics and warfare of the Warring States and returned to the land.

        That sounds like the standard revolutionary mix. Still no sign yet of those defecting from the system, alas.

        Dialogue was one of my stumbling points as well.

        Comment by Russ — August 16, 2011 @ 2:48 am

  2. I still don’t know enough about time banks to be strongly for or against, but support the idea for the reasons you list, Russ. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel reticent about time dollars because of how homogenous they necessarily are. Equality is an illusion. It was money the concept which introduced the idea of homogeneity so necessary to nailing value down to some measurable unit. The idea of a unit is made possible by money: coins of different weights or fineness can equal the same amount of that currency because of some stamp or seal. And yet elsewhere in nature we find no two of a kind anywhere. Everything is unique. Money ignores this in the interests of trade and ‘control’, and that troubles me. A ‘no rule’ society (which means no explicit, vested-interest, institutionalized rule I guess) is attractive to me precisely because it allows people the space to become, to experience, enjoy and struggle through unique lives. It must have faith in the bounty of Universe and cannot seek to call this or that absolute better or worse than anything else; or rather, it seeks no idols.

    But getting from our frightfully immature system to isonomy (new term to me, thanks Russ, and thanks paper mac for a very interesting comment) requires stepping stones. Time banks are absolutely one of the things I will be looking into upon departure from my job end of October, but so will I explore other alternatives. Bernard Lietaer has done interesting work on resilience, which ‘proves’ multiple paths from here to there is the best way of resisting attack from The System (I’m paraphrasing heavily), an attack which must become more and more explicit as the alternative becomes potently viable.

    Comment by Toby — August 13, 2011 @ 3:57 am

    • Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel reticent about time dollars because of how homogenous they necessarily are. Equality is an illusion.

      Equality is an illusion in principle, but what’s destructive is how illusions that purported to measure it have so far been dedicated to increasing inequality in practice. The point of T$ is to provide a new measure (during the transitional phase where we still need formal measures at all) whose effect is to move us toward material equality in practice. So stepping stones is, I think, the right way to look at it.

      A big part of living the most realized life is finding the right “illusions” that have the most constructive and invigorating practical effects. That’s one of the many clinics one attends when reading Nietzsche. Sorel’s social myth doctrine is a politicized version of this. Capitalism and its “money” has been by far the most successful myth of all at serving the criminal elites who propagated it. The trickle-down part of it has always remained what it started out as – a myth. (The temporary mass middle class was the result of the oil surplus and the capitalists’ political choice to compete with communism by temporarily spreading out the stolen wealth among the complicit part of the working class.)

      It’s good that you’re looking into this. I checked the http://www.timebanks.org/ website to see if they had any listed for Germany, but they didn’t. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ones there which aren’t part of this particular network.

      Comment by Russ — August 13, 2011 @ 6:23 am

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