August 14, 2011

My Basic Plan

Filed under: Food and Farms, Freedom, Relocalization, Time Banking and Co-Production — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 5:16 am


I’m convinced that co-production as a transitional principle and practice, time banks as a transitional form, have great transformational potential. That’s why I’m working out a philosophy for this transitional front. I’m in it for the long haul. My plan is to work out my ideas on this and put them together with food sovereignty and food relocalization. These can go side by side as well as in synergy. Once the ideas and the mode of expression is complete, I’ll be ready to evangelize for them. (In this so far obscure way, at this blog and some other places online, I’m already trying to do so.)
In putting these things into practice, we’ll do so as democratically as possible. (“We” being those who think this is the right way to go.) That means we’ll strive to run everything ourselves on a democratic basis. Where necessary we may look “upward” for consultation, but we’ll never under any circumstances willingly accept decrees or control from above. In our minds we must always be true economic and political democrats, and in our actions we must live up to this as much as possible, bowing only to force and only where necessary.

August 13, 2011

Freedom, Responsibility, and Material Equality


This is adapted from a comment this morning on this thread at Naked Capitalism, because it goes to what we’ve been discussing here lately.

What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents.

This, I would suggest, is real liberty at work. And it is probably an early example of what I expect will become an increasingly political debate, rather than a managerialist debate, about the direction of developed economies.

(Actually, the last I heard Iceland’s Leaders still wanted to go along with the neoliberal game plan, but the people were simply refusing. It was a stand-off, since Iceland’s consciousness still hasn’t yet advanced to the point of dispensing with Leadership completely. That post is from over a year ago, but I haven’t heard that anything’s changed.)
This is certainly a debate which will need to begin. This has long been nothing but politics, but there’s been no debate, just a unilateral assault by the rich and big corporations on the people, those who actually work, on civil society, on democracy, and on all freedom. This means the assault has been upon politics itself, to abolish it and replace it with direct administrative rule on behalf of corporations (globalization cadres like the WTO and IMF), wherever the corporations don’t exercise direct dictatorship.
The market ideology is simple: Only the rich and big corporate persons exist at all as citizens or even as human beings. They have infinite rights and zero responsibilities or risks.
Meanwhile human beings, except insofar as they have sufficient money, are not citizens or human at all, have zero rights, but do have infinite responsibilities to respect the prerogatives of their overlords. (The piece itself implicitly agrees, as we see with its drive-by attack on the uprising. More lies about alleged responsibilities of the poor to “society”. I’d say they have responsibilities to their own communities, and to their fellow impoverished elsewhere, but to nothing and no one else. Everyone else is simply part of a massive crime wave against them.)
The truth is the opposite. Freedom can exist only among peers. Being peers includes rough material equality. By definition it’s impossible for freedom, contracts, etc. to exist wherever there’s a significant material or other power differential. If you’re on the wrong side of such a differential, you’re already disenfranchised and dispossessed. You’ve already had your freedom and citizenship stolen, and probably far more. You’ve already been stripped of your rightful society (this was at the core of the Greek political concept of tyranny: the tyrant was one who usurped the entire political realm by setting himself above others and making political peer relations impossible). You certainly can’t have responsibilities to things that don’t exist. And you certainly cannot have rights under such conditions.
So why not live up to our human responsibilities, our responsibilities to ourselves, our friends and families, our communities, our lost democracy, by asserting our right outside this criminal system, and wherever possible against it? Toward it and all who support it, indeed, we should mirror its purely mercenary policy.

August 12, 2011

Co-Production and the Core Economy


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.

August 10, 2011

Urban Uprising (London) and Implications for the New Movement Morality

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Disobedience, Internet Democracy — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 1:46 am


One of the most interesting things about the London unrest, and of similar outbreaks in the past, is the way people loot corporate retailers in direct imitation of those corporations themselves, turning the exploiters’ own looting practices against them. I welcome every sign that the people are learning to give back to the system as they’ve received from it. This is the attitude we need to cultivate toward the real Work to Rule tactics and overall mindset.
While I’m not kidding myself that these demonstrations are on the whole politically conscious or guided by a strategy, they still evince a fierce energy ready to reject meek compliance with the system and lash out in some direction. (There’s also evidence that even “rioters” like these are mastering the techniques of the tactical use of communications media like Blackberries and Twitter to coordinate actions and fight the police in classic asymmetrical style. Pretty soon we’ll have a full-blown tactical doctrine for this stuff. Maybe someone’s already written it.) The will to renounce the system-imposed identity, to embrace something new (but the new something still being indeterminate), the readiness and ability to fight, the rage, the numbers – these are all a latent force, up for grabs.
The imitation of capitalism in the happy willingness to loot* foreshadows the bigger question of the willingness to imitate the system on the part of those called by many names in many national economies, the lumpenproles of Marxism. We can look with expectation to their frequent willingness to attack the system (during the first stage of the Egyptian Revolution shantytown dwellers attacked police stations in some smaller cities), doing so primarily based on a mirroring of the system’s own aggressive materialism. But at the same time we must beware of their propensity to let themselves be astroturfed by the system itself as mercenaries and thugs. So we face the question which has loomed for us at least since the mid 19th century. As Fanon put it, if the revolution doesn’t organize the lumpenproletariat, the counter-revolution will.
[*While in a perfect world an urban uprising would refrain from looting its own neighborhoods but systematically range into the commercial and residential neighborhoods of the enemy, the crowds seldom achieve that level of coordination at first. The opportunities immediately available for the people rising up include looting corporate stores, thereby striking a blow against globalism and at the same time acquiring often useful material things they couldn’t otherwise afford, but to which they have a perfect right given how these goods are the embodied form of their stolen labor and destroyed jobs. In that case, looting those stores is a moral and rational act. We could wish they’d refrain from attacking their own local businesses, but this isn’t always honored. That’s part of the imitation of the indiscriminate destruction of capitalism.]
Part of this goal is the new morality we need to build among the oppressed, which by now includes not just impoverished urban dwellers but all the non-rich, all of whom are on a direct downward vector to serfdom, no matter what their material status today. (As I wrote before, we’re all lumpenproles now.) This nothing but the same old Golden Rule morality among ourselves, Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you, but with the added emphasis on community and democracy, for by now we know it to be a law of history that if we don’t hang together we’ll all hang separately. So the community-building and positive democratic morality is not only affirmatively a wonderful thing. It’s a self-defense imperative. (One of the purposes of my posts on co-production and time banking is to go toward building the ideas and forms of this new morality.) 
This leads to the corollary, Do unto others as they’ve always done to you. This must dictate all our relations with the system, which in principle we must renounce completely with loathing and contempt. This must dictate our relations with government, capitalism, corporation, employer, property. (In all these I’m talking about the big, powerful manifestations. Small manifestations of these should be seen as conscripted and exhorted to identify not with the elites, who are the enemy of the small businessman just as much as of the worker, but with the people. But if in his conduct a small actor or local politician proves his pro-elite malevolence, he should be regarded and treated accordingly.)
This will include mustering our own resolve, relentlessness, indefatigability, to match those of the system and its cadres. Since we’re driven by an ideal and by physical necessity, our will to fight should be more than a match for those who are actuated by purely mercenary concerns. (It’ll also mean that the erstwhile “rioters” we can bring to our side as true activists will be worth far more to us than those the enemy is able to astroturf as thugs will be worth to them.)
It’s important to start getting the ideas out there, fastest with the mostest. Here the perfect, as in waiting to perfect doctrine and strategy, will be the enemy of the good if the quest for such unachievable perfection turns into an excuse to procrastinate. We don’t need to struggle endlessly to achieve this. We only need to attain critical mass to achieve a tipping point at which point the movement ideal starts to exponentially propagate itself. This mass may be as low as 10% of the population.
There will certainly be vast convulsions in the mass psychic energy, and the forms this will take, the conscious ideas people will formulate, will depend completely on what ideas are available, what ideas are speaking to the suffering and fear and rage they feel. These go far beyond the inner cities. The arc of their explosion is longer among the incipient ex-middle class lumpenproles, but shall be the decisive detonation. This is where we must make the great push, where democracy will prevail or wither, where feudalism shall be resurrected or remain a corpse, where humanity shall triumph or perish.

August 9, 2011

The Political Philosophy of Co-Production


According to Edgar Cahn, co-production (C-P) has three forms. It’s a philosophy which refers to previously unmeasured and unvalued work, which seeks to raise the measure of this work to parity with the world of money, market, professionals. (I add, parity as a transitional stage toward overcoming and transcending all of these.) In the same way, it seeks to bridge and then transcend the market and non-market economies.
It’s the process and practice of achieving and then transcending this parity. This process may be collaborative or dialectical with elements of confrontation and conflict with the system economy and polity.
Finally, it’s the set of standards and goals. The four imperatives: Assets, revaluation of real work, mutuality, and the building of a new community, civil society, democracy. Cahn claims, and I agree, that these four values are largely universal. All citizens of a human society agree upon them, all who believe in democracy, fairness, justice, which are beliefs comprising the very essence of being a human citizen.
He compares the core economy to the autonomic nervous system or the environment – things most people tend not to notice until something goes wrong with them. C-P wants to emphasize, focus upon, cultivate, and maximize the fruitfulness of the core economy. (The core economy is AKA the “informal” economy, although I’d expand the definition of core to comprise both the informal economy and the real work which is contained in the market economy but underpaid by it. Cahn, like most reformers (cf. the MMTers), seems to carefully avoid directly treading on the market’s turf, so his definition of “core” and undervaluation tends to ignore work which is actually paid but lowballed. No Marxist analysis here.)
The four imperatives of C-P combine to define a virtuous circle. The time bank member’s individual capacity is empowered to help others. This contribution is valued equally with other contributions in building a network of mutual benefits and obligations, and all these actions and relationships together help build new cooperative communities and strengthen civil society and democracy. This stronger social world is all the more favorable to the individual seeking to realize his potential, and so on.
This not only transforms our economies but helps bring out and strengthen the truly democratic nature of polities as well. The giver enjoys the Aristotelian ideal (in his famous description of man as a political animal) where politics and core values are to be “seen, heard, recognized, recorded, rewarded”. This political manifestation is an added spur to the recipient who already wanted to overcome the feeling of dependency on a personal level by becoming a giver himself. Now he also can attain a public political identity as a cooperative activist. C-P is dedicated to the individual’s need to be needed, to reintegrate the lonely, atomized individual who feels useless, and who is in fact useless from the point of view of the capitalist system, into a network of community and mutual giving. In this way C-P is trying to reinvigorate a largely destroyed tradition which has previously existed in such forms as tribal potlatch, while it’s also an expression of the ancient democratic political philosophy.
From there C-P tries to transform all socioeconomic and eventually all social relations by at all points empowering the passive recipient (of anything, nominally good or realistically bad) and turning him into an activist and giver. It would turn all economic relations into public goods. All relationships which have any aspect of hierarchy, like for example that between professional and non-professional recipient, are to be transformed, first to parity/mutuality, and then to full democratic self-management. All of this is to be done within a framework of social justice and according to the imperatives of this justice.
As Cahn says, C-P as an ideal has arisen in the same way as such ideals as democracy, free speech, due process, while the fight for it arises out of the same pain and outrage as was the wellspring for the abolitionist, civil rights, suffrage, labor, anti-war, environmental, and other movements.
The negative definition of justice is the fight to prevent or rectify injustice. Similarly, C-P’s negative fight is to prevent and rectify what violates social justice: The devaluation of the core economy, this monumental robbery of the people.
Affirmatively, we must fight to ensure that all real work is fully honored, legitimated, and compensated. This compensation will be the ongoing experience of living as a true citizen in the human community we now set out to build, where all who work are guaranteed their fair share. Basic, decent food, shelter, health care, leisure, amenities, and respect, to go along with the opportunity for political and economic participation to the extent of one’s desire, shall be the compensation afforded by this community. As for the interim, we’ll strive to build this world among ourselves and expand its spirit and practice to all who want to be part of it. Toward the system, on the other hand, there too we must reciprocate. We must deal with it as it deals with us. We must attain a permanent Work to Rule attitude and, as much as possible, practice. Toward the capitalists and mercenaries we must have nothing but a purely mercenary attitude.
But among ourselves, our friends and allies of good will, we shall cultivate and express the gift-giving spirit and the democratic revival. These can be helped along their way with the concept of C-P and the form and practice of time banking.

August 7, 2011

Values and Imperatives of Co-Production


As Edgar Cahn worked to interest foundations, NGOs, and governments in time dollars (T$), in every context he found that what people thought was lacking in the existing social service paradigm was a parallel self-help effort on the part of those ostensibly being helped. In the broadest sense, individuals seemed unwilling to rouse themselves to even call for appointments or come to critical meetings, while community support was hard to muster. Specifically, everyone from service NGOs to police to teachers to doctors had the same observation – “We can’t succeed because we can’t get the participation we need from the very people we’re trying to help”.
From this Cahn derived what he calls a universal constant – that nothing works without “labor from the consumer”. Anything that works does so because the people involved work for themselves. This truth is of course as old as history, and nothing new to economic democrats and many others going back centuries. Cahn’s epiphany was also, as we can see from this description, elite-centric to a bizarre extreme. But that’s the world he knew, what he was used to, and in his way he was trying to break out of that mindset. Heading in the direction of a more democratic idea, he now developed the concept and term co-production to describe a new paradigm wherein the consumer of social services, whether that be the citizen served by public employees in a regular way or an imperiled client served by some helping organization, becomes a participant in the action, and in that way helps render the service effective, in the process building up his own sense of taking constructive responsibility for himself and his community.
This labor from the consumer is a factor of production. That’s why they named this new distribution of participatory work co-production. C-P seeks to alter the relationship between producer and consumer, elite and peasant. In Cahn’s own vision, it’s a shift between professional and consumer/client. The consumer would now be involved in the creation of value. To him C-P isn’t necessarily seeking equality (the professional is still to remain in overall charge; hierarchies are still to exist; it’s all to still exist within the capitalist and representative framework), but a “rough parity” on the operational level at least. (Though he does say that in theory he wants the helped to be real participants at all levels of the system, including real decision-making.)
We can see from this why C-P can be a transitional phase only. What we really need and desire is to abolish both consumer/client and professional completely, and replace them both with citizen workers. We want to subsume consumption in participation and labor, the worker and citizen consuming his rightful share as essential to her being a worker and citizen. (Dialectically, C-P wants to give added emphasis to the participation antithesis but maintain both it and the elitist thesis, with the thesis still predominant, while true economic democracy wants the full synthesis, which is simply the form of the antithesis (participation by the people) stripping away all artificial social distinctions still maintained by the elite-citizen dichotomy.)
Having induced this general truth, Cahn and his fellow time bank activists realized that C-P in turn implied basic principles and values. They articulated four:
1. Assets. We all have them, at least as potential. Real wealth is people and the work they do, nothing else.
2. Redefining work. What’s considered “work” has to be removed from the perverse definitions of the economists and practices of the market, and redefined to encompass the entire core economy, all activity which is constructive, meaningful, and which tends toward democracy and social justice.
3. Reciprocity. The distribution of work needs to emphasize mutual assistance and cooperative giving.
4. Social capital. We require a social infrastructure just as much as a physical one. Social networks need constant investments of trust, mutuality, civic engagement.
(I loathe the term “social capital” myself, but I included it here because that’s the way the co-productionists talk, and since for now I’m primarily describing the concept, I’ll sometimes use their terminology. But it’s really just a capitalist-centric term for democracy, civil society, community, and the work to create, build, and enhance these.)
Through the deployment of these values in the form of C-P, people working for themselves will attain civic self-respect, political self-confidence, and better outcomes. (I add that one of these better outcomes will be to use this newfound self-confidence toward a more intrepid and assertive pro-democracy politics.)
To his credit, Cahn was aware from the start of the danger of co-optation. He identified several specific dangers. Citizen action often subordinates itself to professional advice, letting itself be manipulated or diverted to ineffectuality. Volunteers and civic groups often crave recognition and approbation from the system and end up corrupted by the hankering after it. (This is Kent Whealy’s explanation for the sordid power plays among the leadership of the Seed Savers Exchange, culminating in its disturbing and destructive collaboration with Svalbard.) Bottom-up participants often let their participation be organized and structured by professionals. They often crave merely “a seat at the table” of power. They end up relegated to trivia, misdirected into nonsense. An obvious example is much of what passes for “student government”. Much of these phenomena also goes into the Warren cult, and the fetish of “better elites” in general. Needless to say, many among the professional class and NGO Leadership consciously and malevolently seek to bring about and exploit these phenomena.
This danger is grave enough that some of Cahn’s associates thought C-P was inherently co-optation waiting to happen. He realized that the only possible way to prevent this was to overtly dedicate C-P to the cause of seeking social justice and instilling a sense of vigilance in all participants, to beware of anything which sought alleged expediency to the detriment of what’s morally and democratically right. Such amorality will never lead to morality, and it’s never even expedient, except for those who want to hijack our best impulses. Such criminals need to be identified and shunned.
C-P can’t be just about a bureaucratic inventory of assets (this bureaucraticism is the most common form of co-optation and incipient exploitation). It has to aggressively emphasize the practice of exchanges between people, and the principles of social justice. Always action and principle, never principle without action.
From here the four C-P values are transformed into imperatives. (Cahn phrases them as negative imperatives. I’ll add the affirmatives.)
1. Assets. “No more throw-away people.” No more tragic waste of human potential while so many needs go unmet. We must always strive to maximize participation, action, self-management; to do these on a democratic basis; to focus them on our civic and socioeconomic needs.
2. Redefine work. No more stealing labor from anyone. No more free rides on the core economy for “the market”. Those who work must hold and distribute 100% of the produce among themselves. He who does not work shall not eat.
3. Reciprocity. Stop creating dependencies and devaluing those you pretend to help while profiteering off them. (This applies to capitalism in general and to service professionals in particular.) Work and society must be based on constructive cooperation and ordered accordingly.
4. Democracy, civil society, community (“social capital”). No more economic and social strip-mining. Work and society must function for humanity, and for no other purpose. (I include things like being good stewards of the environment under humanism even though some might object, because in the end people will do what’s right only because it’s also right for people.)
Again we see the implicit (and sometimes explicit) radicalism of co-production and time banking. Cahn himself says time banks, if they are to succeed, must be dedicated to the fight for these radical outcomes. In the end all must pick a side, or else be drafted by the wrong side.
I’ll close by once again citing the great truth, to will the end you must will the means. Just as I wrote in my posts on the Federalist papers that Madison and Hamilton would have to agree with us today on the second American Revolution if they were sincere in what they wrote about the first, so anyone who truly believes in participatory democracy, self-management, cooperative action, and social justice, would have to agree that co-production (and related constructs/practices) is only transitional toward full economic democracy. We know that the hopes for reform are vain. This is terminal kleptocracy with the end goal of totalitarian feudalism. So anyone who wants to achieve the great goals we’ve been talking about must respond in kind and seek the complete transformation. This is the only way to deploy C-P’s imperatives in a productive way, and its the only way to make C-P’s values reality. All transitions must be aggressive vectors toward positive democracy.

August 6, 2011

Time Banking and the Concept of Debt

Filed under: Nietzsche, Relocalization, Time Banking and Co-Production — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 1:36 am


Time banking’s concept of debt emphasizes mutual exchange within a network. (Although I haven’t seen it written explicitly this way, an implication is that a time bank member, given finite time to give to others, should make fellow network members the top priority, especially if one’s account is “in the red”.)
It also emphasizes “indebtedness” (within the network, and within community relations in general) not as something to be viewed as a chore or drain, but as an opportunity and spur to one’s own giving.
Some people who are naturally prone to volunteerism and see themselves as givers are uneasy or even hostile to the formalized mutuality of a time bank. But the way they should look at it is that within a time bank network, their giving could help provide others with the opportunity to give. If you help to build up that network by being a member and regularly transacting within it, you help provide those opportunities for people whose normal experience may be more passive, who may want to give more but don’t see how to do so given the resources they have available, who may even be reluctant to accept help they need on account of this sense of being unable to reciprocate.
A time bank and the “debt” system it creates isn’t the final form of a cooperative society, but it can be a transitional form, for purposes of education, providing a temporary structural framework, and perhaps even as a politico-economic nucleus like I described in this post.
I used the term debt in this comment, but that term’s not frequently used in time bank literature, because the emphasis is always on actions of giving. A debt is just an opportunity to give. Obviously that’s not the nature of system debts, class war debts, the ones we’re most familiar with in a criminal system. Since co-production implies a kind of social contract, it follows that according to co-production principles the government and corporations of this system are illegitimate, and no one can actually owe debts to them. (That’s another implication the literature doesn’t make explicit so far as I’ve read. Well, it does now.)
Since history’s record proves that this illegitimacy is the normal state of power structures, we can induce a general debt principle: Debt can be meaningful and valid only among peers. All other contracts are by definition unconscionable contracts of adhesion. (That’s another anarchist idea which is implicit in Nietzsche, given his frequent contrast of peer relationships with relationships that involve some power differential. But he didn’t phrase it that way either.) 

Farmers’ Market

Filed under: Food and Farms, Relocalization — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 1:05 am


Good news and bad news about the weather.
The good news was that we finally had a market day which wasn’t in the 90s.
The bad news was that it rained almost the whole time. Off and on at first, steadily (at times heavy) for the latter part of the day.
So again the final result was a disappointing turnout (in an absolute sense). We got a great surge for the first hour, which we think may have been people trying to beat the rain. Then the customer flow plummeted.
Still, for a crappy weather day, the turnout wasn’t (relatively) bad. Indeed, people who weren’t there were surprised to hear that we did as well as we did.
The latest issue is that our anchor produce vendor is complaining about doing poorly. He blames lower turnout and especially the competition from our two new produce vendors.
While the depressed turnout is in part on account of the uncooperative weather, it’s also true that the customers love the two new vendors, and they’re almost certainly taking business away from the older one.
This vendor probably wasn’t helped by the fact that he had an issue for a few weeks with what some people were calling a poor layout, and an obnoxious employee. He seems to have become aware of that, since his layout and customer service have been improved in the last two weeks.
Still, this brings up a question about the market itself. The vendor having issues is an established, larger-scale operation with high overhead. The two new vendors are small, low-overhead, staffed by the farmers themselves. I still think the basic principle of striving for greater variety among multiple vendors, which we all agreed upon during the off-season at least where it came to produce, is the right one. Our admittedly clumsy customer survey had also indicated that people want greater variety. But our having offered this doesn’t seem to have caused the customers to buy much more in the aggregate. Instead, they’re spreading out the buy among the vendors to some extent.
It’s possible that for the time being our market has, given the local demographics, the competition, and the state of the economy, reached a customer traffic plateau for the foreseeable future. If that’s true, then maybe smaller operations like those are a better fit than bigger-overhead ones.
That’s just a question toward developing a strategy for the future.

August 4, 2011

Taking Stock


If anything, the stock market is even more fictive as an issue than the federal debt. And a stock market crash ought to have no more significance for real people and their real work than deficits and debt ceilings.
To be clear, gambling with stocks (everything that happens on “the market”) has nothing to do with investment even in principle. The capital was already raised with the initial offering. From then on the stock is just batted about unproductively by a bunch of scammers trying to get something for nothing. A lot of foolish ones lost a lot of paper money yesterday. (I’m sure the banksters will do just fine.)
If, as capitalist propaganda would have it, stocks are supposed to be productive investments in the real economy, then the stock market shouldn’t exist at all. So there’s my remedy. The big bucket law I’ve proposed so many times, to outlaw (in the sense of declaring the “contracts” unenforceable) all sorts of gambling, would encompass the stock market itself.
(Even better would be to simply get the government out of contract enforcement period. Which would mean getting rid of centralized government as such.)
Unfortunately, the finance sector has used the government to impose a parasitic tyranny on the core economy. That means that bizarre reifications like stocks and deficit ceilings become real forces wreaking havoc on real people and real work. As we continue our descent into a Depression far worse than that of the 1930s, we’re passing the same milestones of mass unemployment and wastage of labor goodwill, which is really the wasting of lives, alongside bountiful production which is promptly thrown worthlessly down ratholes, and even more production potential which simply goes to waste.
This waste, which is the result of nothing but intentional policy on the part of criminal elites, is just as profoundly destructive as the murder of physical bodies. This is the murder of souls.
Is there any way out of the trap? It’ll have to include breaking free of the command cash economy of the financializers. Those who will be capable of taking in hand the stagnant potential and rendering it kinetic, in order to meet the needs of those in material peril, at the same time they uplift these needy masses and turn them into kinetic producers for themselves, and who will do all this without resort to cash, taking it for granted that there’s no need for it – who will they be? Is it possible that the time banks which are sprouting up everywhere can function as training programs for such cash-transcending cadres? And could the time banks themselves function as such revolutionary nuclei?
That’s a lot to ask of something starting out so modestly. But then, vision must see as far as the circumstances of the day compel it. Today we must look to everything with only one question – what role can this play toward our liberation and transformation? 

Capitalism as Disguised, Oil-Drenched Feudalism

Filed under: Corporatism, Freedom, Marx, Neo-feudalism, Peak Oil — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 4:59 am


We often encounter those who argue that what we have now “isn’t capitalism”, isn’t a real free market, but that if we get rid of corporatism (which they often stupidly call “socialism”, even though by definition socialism means at least public ownership of the means of production, though unfortunately not necessarily worker self-management and control) and have “real” capitalism, then we’ll have utopia.
(This is absurd. What’s called capitalism has been in the full deployment stage long enough and universally enough and with the same result everywhere that we know for a fact that whatever it’s always been in practice, that’s what it will always be in practice. That’s the only thing it can be in practice. Pro-capitalists are always quick to accuse those who advocate alternatives of being utopian, but what could possibly be more of a fantasy than still believing in ivory tower textbook depictions of an Immaculate Capitalism?
Anarchism, by contrast, has often gotten off to promising starts but was always destroyed by violence before it had time to develop a long track record. So to believe that in the long run it would work well is far more legitimate than to believe that real textbook capitalism can ever exist.)
To put it in Marxian terms, these advocates argue that the bourgeois revolution stagnated and regressed in many feudal ways, and now needs to be completed. That’s the end goal for them.
But the fact is that the “bourgeois revolution” was always a misunderstanding (for example on Marx’s part) and often a scam.
In this two-part post I argue:
1. Economic elites never wanted to abolish feudalism, but rather wanted to modify it in order to partially rationalize the economy. This modification started in the 18th century.
2. They wanted to do this in order to maximize the energy returns on fossil fuel extraction, their extraction of the fossil fuel surplus, and their extraction of the surplus of the Industrial Revolution fossil fuels made possible.
3. Therefore we had the interim period, the Oil Age, the ahistorical energy surge which came from drawing down the fossil fuel principal. During this period, the global economy was a hybrid of feudalism (mostly in the form of corporatism) and textbook capitalism. The former was always maintained as much as possible, and always predominated.
4. Now that we’ve reached Peak Oil, and the return on investment of fossil fuels will inexorably decline, it’s time to fully restore feudalism. No admixture of “real” capitalism will increase extraction for the elites, and they also think they can dispense with it politically. On the political front, the neoliberal strategy will try to zombify representative pseudo-democracy for a while yet.
But economically, we’ll see nothing but an accelerating race to abolish all phenomena except rent extraction points and coerced debt indenture.
Therefore, to still dream of a restored capitalism (remembering it like it never was) is to dream foolishly, wastefully, self-destructively. Conservatives, liberals, “progressives”, all reformists go into this category. (The same goes for dreaming of renewed representative government, and “better elites” in general.)
In reality, we face a stark, simple choice – to submit to a reactionary feudal indenture (far worse than the medieval one, since it’ll be under totalitarian technology and organizational methods, and lack even the consolation of medieval Christianity), or to wage a revolutionary struggle against it. If we choose the latter, we can and will win through to a completely different future, that of positive democracy. At the very least, we must start with a vow never to submit, to choose death over submission. That’s the first step toward choosing to live.
So there’s Peak Oil’s strange attractor. Two possibilities. History will be fine with either. But the future of humanity, to triumph or perish, is what’s really at stake.
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