Volatility

August 3, 2018

How the Supply-Driven Economic Society Works

Filed under: Dance of Death, Globalization, Mainstream Media — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 3:58 am

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How the economic society works. This describes all societies based on productionism, which means all of modern civilization.
 
1. Get subsidies to build a factory and to destroy parts of the Earth by extracting “resources” and/or spewing poison.
 
Meanwhile productionist-consumerist indoctrination begins early in childhood and never lets up. The supplementary propaganda also begins early and never lets up. (It’s telling how relentlessly the dose needs to be repeated to keep humans within this mindset. That’s strong evidence that none of this is a major part of human nature.)
 
2. Overproduce. Destroy parts of the Earth with pollution.
 
3. Launch a propaganda campaign (i.e. advertising) to convince consumers that they need and want the thing you overproduce.
 
4. Use the revenue to further concentrate your wealth and power.
 
5. Use this wealth and power to lobby for further subsidies, to destroy more earthly “resources” and build more factories, to overproduce more, and to directly destroy parts of the Earth purely for the sake of destruction.
 
 
I can’t think of any aspect of the economic society, any corporate sector, which isn’t summed up here.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

April 10, 2012

Time Banking in Relation to “Job Creation”

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Some people worry that time banking will “compete with job creation”. Someone in my time banking google group just mentioned encountering that argument again. So although time presses at the moment, I wanted to jot a few notes on this. This is a work in progress.
 
It’s usually better to lead with an affirmative argument, and add any negative argument to that. Even if I thought, “what we have is terrible, and so I want to try something different for its own sake, even though I don’t know if this would be any better”, I wouldn’t want to put it that way. But I do think time banking is actively better than the cash economy, and not just different. Therefore:
 
1. To be part of a time bank network is more fulfilling and resilient than to hold a job which earns you some cash. You not only have the benefit of a plethora of offered services (just like if you held cash), but you gain the benefits of giving to others as well, and you have all of this within a human framework which can build community, social life, and has many possibilities for strengthening political and spiritual life as well.
 
2. As for well-paying jobs, those aren’t coming back anyway. The 1% has been permanently destroying them for decades now, toward its goal of restoring a feudalism far more vicious than the medieval variety. The pace of this destruction has accelerated in recent years. To look at time banking as competing with a hope which is a pipe dream is to look at things wrongly. Whether we have time banks or not, those jobs are gone forever. The system which controls “job creation” wanted them gone, and they’ll remain gone. Time banking, on the other hand, is completely in the people’s hands, and we can make of it whatever we wish.
 
We can add, as a preliminary or supplementary argument, if it seems necessary: There’s no evidence that time banking hinders job creation. Jobs are created or destroyed according to the imperatives of Wall Street. For example, “offshoring” was never actually more efficient from a textbook capitalist point of view than keeping manufacturing jobs within Western countries. But Wall Street wanted those jobs destroyed and rewarded or punished stock prices accordingly, so offshoring became the standard practice.
 
***
 
Philosophically, we should be clear that it was never legitimate for elites to enclose our human work as their “property” and then parcel it back to us in the form of “jobs”. This is immoral and irrational, in addition to not working on a practical level. (The definition of something that works: That it increases the general happiness, freedom, prosperity, social stability, and decreases unhappiness, decreases tension and stress, decreases violence. By these measures, capitalism and its “employment” model are dismal failures, and abominable hypocrisies.) It’s also an unhistorical anomaly. For the vast majority of humanity’s natural history our labor power was nestled within community networks, and inextricably bound with social and spiritual relations.
 
The employment model as such is unnecessary, immoral, undesirable, and doesn’t work according to its own premises.
 
So for these reasons I’m clear that time banking and other relocalization actions and structures aren’t trying to “co-exist” with or merely supplement capitalism or the employment model, let alone be just a temporary band aid to tide us over until those are restored to some spurious notion of health. With these actions we’re trying to build the new within the crumbling structure of the old, to survive its collapse, to do whatever we can to help undermine it, and most of all to have the new networks in place to replace it. That’s what I mean when I say time banking is on a vector away from capitalism, toward full economic democracy. That’s what I mean when I call for all things to be measured according to their democratic vector. 
 
 
 

April 7, 2012

What Is Capitalism?

Filed under: Neo-feudalism, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 3:26 am

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We could have markets without it. If there was a network of producers/customers who exchange among themselves, each seeking the things he needs, each seeking only the fair value of his work, that would be a market, but not a capitalist one.
 
Capitalism is when one of them decides the fair value of his work isn’t enough, but that he wants something extra on top of that. He wants a “profit”. In other words, he wants to steal and be a leech. If enough of them can impose this system of swindling and extortion in place of the system of fairness and sufficiency, the rest have no choice but to reciprocate bad for bad, also become some level of profiteers, also seek to steal. Most people would rather not be this way, and to the eternal credit of humanity, most do not seek every profit opportunity, but on the contrary do their best to maintain human cooperation amid this harsh anti-human environment. But nevertheless we’re all forced into all sorts of degrading compromises which attempt to dehumanize us. Dehumanization is always the goal of capitalism at all times.
 
Again, to boil it down to a sentence, capitalism is where someone doesn’t want what’s fair, but is greedy for more.
 
Really, it’s where someone doesn’t want to work at all, where he wants to be a worthless rent-extracting parasite. It is essentially antisocial and anti-human.

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September 3, 2011

Peak Oil and Kleptocracy (The Theory of Kleptocracy)

Filed under: Corporatism, Globalization, Neo-feudalism, Peak Oil, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 7:26 am

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The other day in a comment thread I saw someone asking for a theory of kleptocracy. I think one of the things I’ve accomplished here is to elaborate such a theory. The most relevant posts can be found in places like my Corporatism and Neoliberalism pages.
 
But I thought I’d briefly sum it up:
 
1. Non-kleptocratic government (the liberal welfare state; representative government which was responsive and accountable at all; periods of actual reform, the Progressive Era, etc.) was a manifestation of the Oil Age. These phenomena never existed prior to it (the ideas did, ineffectually). They won’t exist after it. This was all ahistorical and context-specific.
 
2. The fossil fuel surplus was so extravagant that, given real competition from communism and nationalism, the path of least resistance for capitalist governments was to actually spread some wealth, allow a temporary mass middle class to arise, and pretend to be accountable.
 
3. I’ll add here that under regimes of economic competition, the Rule of Rackets always applies – no one is willing to capitalistically compete for one day longer than he has to. The day he can switch to racketeering – using market muscle to suppress competition and get favorable government intervention in the form of subsidies and pro-oligopoly courts, laws, and regulations – he does so.
 
Then we have the fact that any power concentration automatically tends toward looting and tyranny. Modern modes of organization and technology have exacerbated this.
 
4. So those are the universal structural parts. Specific to the capitalist age, the maturation of all sectors and subsequent fall of the profit rate requires that all these oligopoly/kleptocratic effects be imposed in a more intensive form.
 
5. Peak Oil looms. The US oil Peak in 1970 was a wakeup call. If the elites were to complete the looting of the entire fossil fuel surplus in time, they had to start then with dismantling the welfare state, demolishing all reforms and social advances which had been achieved, eradicating all actualities of government responsiveness and accountability, and imposing the forms of the neofeudal tyranny which would succeed the Oil Age.
 
6. Finally, capitalism itself was never anything but a modification of feudalism. Feudalism was just temporarily refitted for the fossil fuel age. The system’s real nature remained feudal throughout. Corporatism and financialization, imperialism and globalization, have been the most clear manifestations of this.
 
Now that the fossil fuel age is ending, the goal is to restore full feudalism, in an even more vicious and exploitative form than that which existed previously.
 
So there’s a basic theory of kleptocracy. I didn’t include subjective greed, powerlust, sadism, hatred on the part of cadres and elites. But since the system selects for these, these too become a structural, objective feature.

August 4, 2011

Capitalism as Disguised, Oil-Drenched Feudalism

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

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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.

July 7, 2011

The Nietzschean Ascent to Democracy (2 of 2)

Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Nietzsche — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 4:19 am

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In part 1 I discussed Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power as it could be applied to political sublimation toward democracy, opposed to the currently prevailing gutter manifestation of this will in politics and the economy.
 
The highest human embodiment of this sublimated will to power would be what Nietzsche called the Ubermensch, often grandiloquently translated as “Superman”, although N’s translator Walter Kaufmann has explained why “Overman” is a better rendering. The Ubermensch has sublimated his will to power because he’s able to organize his inner energies and exert them toward a unified creative goal. The same can be true for peoples and for humanity as a whole.
 
The most concise description of the concept appears in “Zarathustra’s Prologue” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
 

I teach you the Overman. Man is something that shall be
overcome. What have you done to overcome him?
All beings so far have created something beyond themselves: and you
want to be the ebb of that great tide, and would rather go back to the
beast than surpass man?
What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock, a thing of shame. And just
the same shall man be to the Overman: a laughing-stock, a thing of
shame.
You have made your way from the worm to man, and much within you is
still worm. Once you were apes, and even yet man is more of an ape than
any of the apes.
Even the wisest among you is only a conflict and a cross between plant
and ghost. But do I bid you become ghosts or plants?
The Overman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: The
Overman shall be the meaning of the earth!
I conjure you, my friends, remain true to the earth, and don’t believe
those who speak unto you of otherworldly hopes!….

What is the greatest thing you can experience?
The hour when you say: “What good is my happiness? It is poverty
and pollution and wretched contentment. But my happiness should
justify existence itself.”
The hour when you say: “What good is my reason? Does it long for
knowledge as the lion for his food? It is poverty and pollution and
wretched contentment.”
The hour when you say: “What good is my virtue? As yet it hath not
made me rage. How weary I am of my good and my bad. It is all
poverty and pollution and wretched contentment.”…
Not your sin but your thrift that cries out to heaven.
Where is the lightning to lick you with its tongue? Where is the
frenzy with which you should be inoculated?
Lo, I teach you the Overman: he is that lightning, he is this
frenzy!….

Man is a rope stretched between the animal and Overman – a
rope over an abyss.
A dangerous crossing, a dangerous wayfaring, a dangerous
looking-back, a dangerous trembling and halting…

It is time for man to set a goal. It is time for man to plant
the seed of his highest hope.
Still is his soil rich enough for it. But that soil will one day
be poor and exhausted, and no great tree will any longer be able to
grow from it.
Alas! there cometh the time when man will no longer launch the arrow
of his longing beyond man
I tell you: one must still have chaos in one to give birth to a
dancing star. I tell you: you still have chaos in yourselves.
(sections 3-5)

 
Humanity has reached a crossroads; we can transcend ourselves, or ebb and regress. Our concern with a narrow notion of “the soul” at the expense of the body has brought about a fetishism of shallow notions of happiness, reason, virtue, justice, pity. All these are comprehended in a narrow, doctrinaire, stultifying way. We need a new vision and a new sense of meaning.
 
At all times we’re a potential as well as something actual, suspended over a dangerous spiritual abyss, where our spirit is tested. This test is an existential reality, not some religious abstraction. When Thomas Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls”, he meant that in a very earthly way. We must fully exert all our capacities to meet the challenge of this trial. Our will to power decrees that we wish only to give, to release, to expend ourselves, to perish and be renewed.
 
We must set a goal, we must “plant the seed of our highest hope”. Time is critical. The present moment shall never be repeated. If we squander it, we shall squander our very humanity forever. Nietzsche’s term for the “Last Man” who willingly squanders his humanity is the Untermensch.
 
But if we could overcome our childishness, profligacy, idiotic dogmas, petty and self-hobbling resentments, if we could assume adult responsibilities and become more rational and scientific (but also recognize the limits of reason and science), we’d transcend ourselves. If we, passionate beings, could live a fuller life of passion controlled and mediated by reason, passion sublimated as spirit and creativity, we’d transcend ourselves. This fuller, richer, more intelligent, more creative human being would be an “Overman” compared to the flawed, childish, dogmatic person of today, vacillating between hating his passions and being their slave; between the nihilistic worship of science and reason and the nihilistic rejection of them.
 
Thus humanity strides a tightrope between beast and self-transcendence, self-overcoming.
 
Again, with Nietzsche such concepts are always to be taken primarily in a spiritual sense. The Overman is not pictured as a political or economic tyrant. He’s master of his own inner drives and energies. The Ubermensch, if he existed in perfect form, would probably be someone we’d never hear of. He’d be self-contained, self-sufficient, spiritually unified, all his energies self-organized into a symmetric whole. There would be no excess energy. As I discussed in the post on the will to power, the whole spectrum of externalized action, from animal violence to the most rarefied heights of art and philosophy, is the externalization of energy the organism wasn’t strong enough to organize within itself. Even the greatest artists and philosophers were imperfect, too weak not to achieve such things.
 
So the Overman wouldn’t have an exoteric being which compels public action, and of course he’d never strive for money or power. In this existing configuration of civilization (if it weren’t a kleptocracy, which I’ll get to in a moment), he might be a teacher, or a small farmer, or a craftsman/artist. He wouldn’t be a campus activist, or in agribusiness, and he wouldn’t be a “driven” creative artist (since he wouldn’t have that drive to externalize in the first place). In a different, Uber-civilization, he might be different. There he might be like an ancient Greek, a thinker strolling the marketplace.
 
So that’s the individual according to Nietzsche. He also applied the concept to history. We can look at it this way. Humanity experienced its childhood, which was characterized by a religious outlook. Then there was its adolescence of the secular faith in progress, reason and science, representative government, capitalism. Now the modern age has brought our knowledge and ideas to the point that humanity, to use a biological metaphor, has reached the age of adulthood, and we’re ready to assume adult responsibilities. For Nietzsche, since the spiritual and intellectual were always paramount for him, this meant dispensing with both religion and scientism to evolve a mature philosophy of controlled spirituality and passion and respect for reason as a tool but nothing more. This is what Nietzsche called the Dionysian. By contrast, those who still adhere to religion have the minds of children, while those who still cling to Enlightenment myths about society and science are arrested adolescents.
 
To this we political animals can add the transcending of all belief in elites. Nietzsche’s call to reject the authority of priests and system philosophers has its parallel in the call to reject the fraudulent authority of politicians and capitalists. In the political and economic realm, reaching adulthood and assuming adult responsibilities means taking responsibility for our own rule, in our polities and economies. Here again, to slavishly follow a Leader is a symptom of retardation, while to still believe in “responsive” government and “accountable” elites indicates one’s adolescent mindset. Nietzsche himself didn’t care about economics and politics, but if we apply ideas like the Ubermensch, we discover its anarchist implications.
 
To give one specific example, capitalism means that an ever greater proportion of people are unable to survive independently. This is true in both the physical and intellectual senses (and usually in the spiritual as well). This includes families, communities, whole regions as well. It seeks to reduce us to the state of helpless children (where it will then abuse and starve us). So it follows that capitalism = infantilization, regression; while to overcome capitalism = to assume adult responsibilities. This overcoming simply means taking economic responsibility for oneself.
 
The same is true of representative government and the incapacity to take political responsibility for oneself.
 
Everything in history, if it evolves for long enough, evolves through a cycle of stages, from Discovery to the Progressive stage to the Decadent stage to the Malevolent stage. The Hebrew scriptures already knew this as written in their book of Ecclesiastes. This too is part of Nietzsche’s idea (though that way of phrasing it is my own). All aspects of elitism are long past any Progressive stage they may ever have had. Today elitism is Decadent at best (in the arts, philosophy, and all the things Nietzsche valued most), and in most cases Malevolent (in politics, the economy, science/technology, intellectuals insofar as they are political flunkeys).
 
Meanwhile democracy remained for thousands of years in the Discovery stage. It has endured these millennia of false starts, hijackings, diversions, misdirections. 1788 was a pivotal example. Only now is democracy ready to come into its own, to reach its full Progressive stage, which it can do only if we among humanity are ready to take up the torch and bear it ourselves.
 
I’ll close with another quote from Nietzsche, where he lays out what he considers the ethic of the Ubermensch, the gift-giving virtue.
 

It is your thirst to become sacrifices and gifts yourselves: and
therefore you have the thirst to pile up all riches in your soul.
Insatiably your soul strives for treasures and jewels, because your
virtue is insatiable in desiring to give.
You force all things to flow towards you and into you, so that
they shall flow back again out of your well as the gifts of your
love.
Verily, such a gift-giving love must approach all values like a robber;
but wholesome and holy I call this selfishness….

Remain true to the earth, my friends, with the power of your
virtue. Let your gift-giving love and your knowledge serve
the meaning of the earth…
Bring back to the earth the virtue which has flown away – back to the
body, back to life: that it may give to the earth its meaning, a human
meaning!…

And once again shall you become my friends and the children of
one hope: then I’ll be with you for the third time, to celebrate the
great noont with you.
And it is the great noon when man stands in the middle of his
way between beast and Overman and celebrates his way to the
evening as his highest hope: for it is the way to a new morning.
At such time will he who goes under bless himself for being one
who goes over and beyond; and the sun of his knowledge will stand
at high noon for him.
“Dead are all the Gods: now we want the Overman to live.”- On that
great noon, let this be our final will.

 
When we try to picture the basis of a truly democratic society, here’s one vision we can consider.

June 26, 2011

The Nietzschean Ascent to Democracy (1 of 2)

Filed under: American Revolution, Corporatism, Food and Farms, Freedom, Globalization, Nietzsche, Peak Oil — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 10:27 am

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One of Nietzsche’s core ideas, and one of his most misunderstood, is the will to power. Expressed most simply, this refers to an organism’s imperative to organize and exert its energy in such a way as to maximize the attainment of its goals. (Nietzsche actually expanded the idea to non-living phenomena as well, but for our purposes we’ll stick with life.) Essential to the idea is that the successful exertion is a value in itself, at least as important as the actual content of the goal. (We see already the affinity with anarchism, which always has the dual goal of living as democratically as possible, as a way of life which is a value in itself, at the same time one seeks to create a truly democratic society.)
 
In particular, the will to power in its grand form is no picayune struggle for survival, but an affirmative will to create something new beyond oneself as the totem of one’s overflowing existence. This is the true exertion of one’s power.
 
Here’s a few quotes which express the idea, by way of refuting Darwin’s thesis of a “struggle for existence” as the main phenomenon of life.
 

Physiologists should think before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is will to power. Self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent results.(Beyond Good and Evil, section 13)

 
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As for the famous “struggle for existence”, so far it seems to me to be asserted rather than proven. It occurs, but as an exception; the total appearance of life is not the extremity, not starvation, but rather riches, profusion, even absurd squandering – and where there is struggle, it is a struggle for power. One should not mistake Malthus for nature.
(Twilight of the Idols, “Skirmishes” section 14)

 
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The wish to preserve oneself is the result of a condition of distress, of the limitation of the fundamental instinct of life which aims at the expansion of power and frequently runs risks and even sacrifices self-preservation. It should be considered symptomatic when some philosophers – for example, Spinoza who was consumptive – considered the instinct of self-preservation decisive and had to see it that way; for they were individuals in conditions of distress.

…[I]n nature it is not conditions of distress which are dominant but overflow and squandering, even to the point of absurdity. The struggle for existence is only an exception, a temporary restriction of the will to life. The great and small struggle always revolves around superiority, around growth and expansion, around power – in accordance with the will to power which is the will to life.
(The Joyful Science, section 349)

 
(Compare, for example, the evident decadence and exhaustion of the “progressives”, who think only in terms of survival. Or the AARP’s recent parroting of the progressives, admitting it’s been degraded to the point that its only goal is a “seat at the table”.)
 
As always, any normative content Nietzsche had for this was meant to be taken in a sublimated sense. It referred to one’s spiritual power, one’s intellectual and artistic power. The “growth and expansion” are to take place in the soul and in our cooperation, not in a temporal sense. That’s the highest form of the will to power, which also unfortunately manifests itself at the base animal level of power-seeking, money-grubbing, violence, war, shallow and vicious materialism, all the traits which are subhuman where we let them dominate us. It’s at this gutter that the idea is most often hijacked, distorted, slandered. But N never meant to exalt such psychopathy. He wanted to inspire us to exert our energies toward making ourselves ever more human. This is his idea of the Ubermensch, often called the “superman”, which I’ll discuss in part 2 of this post.
 
This debased form of the will to power is actually apropos for the critique of capitalism, since capitalism has the same character as the misconception of evolution described in those quotes. Capitalist economic theories lie when they claim to be all about scarcity and the struggle to allocate scarce resources. Capitalism is really about material plenty and how to monopolize as much of the plenitude as possible, thereby artificially generating scarcity which then justifies the fraudulent theory, is the basis of economic power imbalances, and enables the monopolist to extract even more from what little the worker and consumer still have. Peak Oil is also a scarcity gambit of capitalism, because only capitalism demands growth. So it’s not “growth demands oil”, but “capitalism demands oil”. We know for example that we can organize food production such that we can feed everyone using vastly less fossil fuels. But that would require the overthrow of corporate agriculture.
 
This is the “will to power” indeed, but at its lowest, ugliest, most vulgar, most destructive level.
 
So in the same way that Nietzsche criticized Darwinism for promoting a tendentious interpretation of nature which emphasized struggle and scarcity over nature’s real profligacy, we can criticize capitalist ideology for its lies about economic scarcity. (Although Darwin himself rejected Spencer’s social Darwinist ideology, this socioeconomic interpretation was actually implicit in Darwin’s interpretation of nature. And although N didn’t care about economics, nevertheless his description of the will to power and his accompanying criticism of Darwinism are easily transposed to the critique of politics and economics. At least I hope I’m accomplishing that in this post.)
 
Let’s briefly apply the lesson to food:
 
1. The goal of capitalism is to generate artificial scarcity out of natural and worker-made plenty. It’s the exact opposite of the Big Lie of economics, all the nonsense about allocating scarce resources.
 
2. In this case, even though the world produces far more than enough food for everyone to eat a basically good diet, capitalism strives to generate mass scarcity and therefore mass hunger. This was always a key goal of globalization, for example in the way the IMF targeted for eradication public agricultural investment in developing countries.
 
3. Similarly, food markets are naturally local/regional. Food commodification is naturally a small appendage of the market. To put it another way, a “free market” in food would be overwhelmingly local/regional.
 
But corporations and governments have systematically forced all food markets into the artificial strait jacket of commodification. This has artificially rendered food prices volatile and susceptible to non-linear jumps from relatively small inputs. The ethanol onslaught (another massive government intervention) has aggravated the whole effect.
 
Food commodification and its effect on all food markets is the tail wagging the dog, just as the finance sector has done with the real economy.
 
4. So this sector’s food speculation is the tip of the tail wagging the whole thing. It’s the most pure distillation of the logic of food commodification in general.
 
To put it in Nietzschean terms, the corporatists exercise their malevolent, debased form of the will to power in the form of political and economic aggression. Part of this will to overpower is the structure of lies they propagate, about how disappearing jobs, skyrocketing prices, ever-diminishing opportunities and freedom, and ever-tighter strangulation are all the result of some natural “scarcity”. That is, to serve their own aggrandizing will to power, they propagate the lie about our struggles really representing some “struggle for existence”, rather than the struggle for power which it really is. They want us to see our world as naturally caving in around us, rather than how we’re actually under artificial attack. They want us to struggle among ourselves for the few crumbs they toss to us, rather than comprehend how their class war has hoarded a vast bounty, all of it produced by us, all of it available to us for our prosperity, for our true exercise of power, the moment we realize what’s happening and choose to take back what’s ours.
 
There’s one sense in which the Darwinistic paradigm applies. Where a species is under assault by a homicidal parasite, it either fights back to destroy that parasite (including relinquishing old adaptations which have become maladaptive; I’ve discussed such political forms as representative government and ideologies like progressivism), or it perishes.
 
If we want to survive as a people, if we want democracy and freedom to survive, we must adapt to the new circumstances. So for example to smash the banksters would be Darwinism at its finest. That’s because under the corporate tyranny freedom, democracy, justice, morality, humanity are all being selected out.
 
Of course those most enamored of competition metaphors want this competition to occur only among the parasites themselves. The victims are never supposed to be allowed to “compete” back. It’s the standard “egoism for me, altruism for you”; “capitalism for me, anarchism for you”.
 
We’re currently mired among one of the “exceptions” Nietzsche described in the quotes above; we are struggling for existence. But this struggle is self-inflicted; it prevails because we choose to set our sights so low and accept the lies we’re told about the limits to our possible action. The moment we choose to disbelieve in these limits, they will no longer exist. The moment we stop begging for crumbs and demand the entire Earth, we shall have it.
 
We must perform a Darwinist turning of the tables and fight back against the enemies of humanity with all the ferocity nature can muster. Now that would be the people finally finding our true will to power.

May 1, 2011

May Day

Filed under: American Revolution, Relocalization — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 3:15 am

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The other day, in response to a question about the morality which must fuel a transformational movement, I answered

Anarchism and direct democracy have always been founded on a moral basis. One basic principle, going back thousands of years in moral philosophy, is that human beings are ends and that anything which treats them as means (as all of today’s politics and economic policy does) is morally despicable.

The other is that the people have the right and responsibility to rule themselves, and that only those who work have any right to the management and distribution of the produce. Again, everything we have today directly contradicts this, as both conservatism and liberalism agree that parasitic “elites” should steal this produce and then trickle some of it back down.

The fact that corporatism is nothing more or less than robbery is first and foremost a moral fact.

Affirmatively, the morality of economic democracy is that the purpose of society is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the economy must be organized to maximize these. That means the purgation of evils like property and other hoarding beyond one’s fair share based on one’s actual productive work, wage-based employment, the commodification of any commons, any policy which generates artificial scarcity. Beyond that, the moral goal is to purge all forms of exploitation and coercion, replacing them with the cooperation and freedom which are proven to prevail and to work once such exploitation and coercion is removed.

All of this is nothing new. It’s the same economic morality as that of “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” More recently Kant updated this as, “Act as if your action would enshrine a universal law.” Again, these are anathema to capitalism and representative pseudo-democracy, which explicitly want to divide humanity into parasitic elites who do no work and monopolize the production, vs. the productive people who do all the work and control nothing, and receive an ever diminishing share of what only they produced.

Our morality will restore a unified humanity by causing these criminals and their vicious ideology to cease to exist, and replacing their cesspool with a human society based on cooperation, fairness, justice, citizenship, and community.

There, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will finally be the real goals of humanity, after so much wasted time and effort and blood. 

Where it comes to the categorical imperative, I’m not as pedantic as Kant himself was in demanding its rigorous application in detail. On the contrary, this would be impossible and undesirable. That was one of Nietzsche’s main criticisms of it. (And I don’t share Kant’s naivete about the alleged impossibility of there ever being a conflict of duties.)
 
But it can and must be applied it at the broadest level of humanism and justice. And anyone must live up to it where it comes to the basic principles one proclaims; otherwise one is a criminal.
 
To give history’s most evil example, capitalism is a moral abomination: Because it is robbery, because all its promises are lies, and because it flouts the categorical imperative. In spite of its lies, it does not in fact want egoism as a universal principle. It wants egoism to be a monopoly of the elites. On the contrary, it wants the great mass of productive people, those who do 100% of the productive and valuable work, to be pure altruists.
 
How else can we characterize an ideology which tells the producer: “You should toil and then surrender what you produce to a parasitic system (to which you should also surrender your political sovereignty) which will monopolize and distribute all you produce primarily for the benefit of its own power and luxury. It will then let you have back what little is left over, and this little bit will get smaller and smaller. We used to lie and claim that this would actually lead to greater prosperity for you than if you kept the fruits of your labor (and your political sovereignty) for yourself in the first place. By now we all know that was a lie and is a complete failure, and we seldom even bother to tell that lie any more. (Our corrupt media still does, and those cretin corporate liberals seem to actually still believe it.) But we still implore you to continue with the elitist system. You should do it out of pure altruism toward us parasites who claim to be your betters. We deserve to accumulate such vast wealth and power at your expense, simply because we’re entitled.”
 
I can’t imagine what else corporate capitalism, a proven failure and world-historical crime, has left to say by now. It’s making the most utopian appeal to pure altruism and suicidal selflessness which has ever been issued. A general ordering troops over the top of the trench into a machine gun barrage could hardly be making a more stark call to self-destruction in the name of sacrificing everything for the sake of those who do and give nothing.
 
We can see how, if we step outside the system and its brainwashing, how truly radical it is. We can see how bizarrely utopian economic and political elitism are in their call for such endless self-sacrifice on the part of the vast mass of humanity, for nothing in return. This is history’s most spectacular example of the Status Quo Lie, whereby the status quo, no matter how unnatural and radical and driven by extremist ideology, is represented as the normal, natural, moderate, apolitical, non-ideological baseline; while any alternative, any proposal for change, no matter how intrinsically rational, moderating, practical, common-sensical, is slandered as radical, extreme, and an illegitimate “politicizing” of things on behalf of “ideology”.
 
By contrast, any way of looking at things which incorporated common sense and self-interest in a healthy way with altruism would condemn this kleptocratic and destructive system and demand that economic and political power be redeemed by those who are solely responsible for the existence of an economy and a polity in the first place, the productive people. Reason and morality, philosophy and practicality, egoism and altruism, common sense all lead to one conclusion: Positive democracy, economic and political.
 
Anarchism is in fact the only rational combination of self-interest and altruism, since it recognizes that cooperation and respect for the freedom of others is also the only road to the greatest prosperity for all. This altruism is therefore also in our best self-interest. Anarchism, AKA true democracy, is therefore the only coherent political philosophy. All others are incoherent because they must pretend to seek universal prosperity while they really seek the aggrandizement of criminal elites. This is the fundamental lie of all elitism by now. (Though as I mentioned above, often today’s kleptocrats aren’t even bothering with a political ideology anymore, but are recrudescing to naked assertions of might makes right. This is another signpost on the road back to feudalism.)
 
The right response to this is the Work to Rule philosophy as a way of mind and life. Work to Rule, in the strict tactical sense, is a form of slow-down strike where workers pedantically adhere to their job descriptions and to the letter of any rule, policy, etc. The employer then learns how much the smooth operation of the business depended upon the creative improvisation of the workers and their performing duties above and beyond their nominal responsibilities. Production and the operation of the workplace declines in quantity and quality. We see how much the functioning of egoistic capitalism depends upon the generous lubrication of anarchistic altruism. If all workers went on a general work-to-rule strike, the system would quickly collapse. The same applies to the functioning of the government. (Although there the ideology does call for a modicum of “good civics” behavior on the part of the citizen even while the system completely disenfranchises and dispossesses him.)
 
We should strive to rebuild our sense of community, the healthy mix of altruism and self-interest, among ourselves. This is the moral project of relocalization. But in all our upward dealings, all our dealings with economic and political elites, big capitalism and big government, we should strive for Work to Rule. We should teach and train to deploy it as a discrete tactic in all kinds of disputes with predators and parasites. But even more importantly, we should enshrine it as a way of life and thought in all our dealings across this class war abyss the criminals unilaterally tore open. It should become a permanent general quasi-strike, for as long as the kleptocracy continues to exist. Even a partial institution of this general quasi-strike will be another severe drag on the already overloaded system, helping to accelerate its collapse. In the meantime, affirmatively, it’ll be an exercise in building moral discipline and political self-respect, which are the two most necessary things we most lack. Build those, and it’ll almost be enough in itself for our self-liberation.

March 8, 2011

Capitalism = Corporatism = Oligopoly = Rentier Stagnation

 

In theory capitalism was supposed to unleash such innovation and efficiency that in every sector the optimal combination of quality and quantity would soon be achieved. Capitalism was also supposed to tear down all barriers to marketplace entry, and all these innovations and efficiencies would eventually become standard practice (IP was never meant to do anything but give a particular innovator a temporary advantage, as a finite reward for his innovation).
 
What was the result of this supposed to be? If all went according to theory (if everyone really acted as a good capitalist, a fair competitor), each sector would eventuate in the sale of undifferentiated commodities. Since no one would be able to charge more for his product than his competitor did for the identical product, the price of everything would fall to cost. This is capitalism’s inherently declining rate of profit. Profit is in fact supposed to wither to the bare minimum necessary to keep business functional at all. That’s what would have happened by the 1970s in most sectors, and by today in all of them, if capitalism functioned in reality the way it does in theory.
 
But as we know it never functioned this way in reality. In practice, there’s no such thing as a “capitalist”, if the definition of that is one who competes and wants to compete according to the textbook rules. In practice, no competitor ever competes for a single day longer than he has to. The moment he achieves sufficient leverage to use his market muscle to engage in every kind of anti-competitive behavior and in particular to get support from the government goon, he does so. This is what I call the Rule of Rackets. In practice all capitalists are actually aspiring racketeers.
 
So in capitalist reality the tendency has always been toward oligopoly and monopoly. This was always desirable for profitability reasons. And since modern capitalism’s profit rate reached its dead end, oligopoly has become a necessity if firms are to remain profitable at all. By now capitalism is not just in a struggle for power, but a struggle to survive. This is related to the fact that it’s also no longer possible for capitalism to rob one population and/or resource base, achieving a capital accumulation, in order to market to another consumer base. All consumer bases are now exhausted, and there are no new resource bases. The only enclosure left is the terminal one, restoring feudal calcification. So this too dictates stagnant oligopoly as the only order which can still extract profit.
 
I contend that corporations have always been the main instrument of this drive toward oligopoly, and they have been the only significant modern form of it. It would have been difficult if not impossible for Oil Age economic actors to achieve oligopoly if not for the way the corporate form tilted the playing field and rigged the markets. Cheap, plentiful oil in itself would have been a radically democratizing force. (Who knows? Perhaps textbook “free markets” could even have thrived.) Only a severe artificial restriction on economic freedom could ever have enabled oligopolies to cohere. This artifice was the corporation.
 
Similarly, modern technology, whatever its other issues, would have been a tremendously liberating egalitarian force if not artificially enclosed and controlled. The corporate form was the main mode of this enclosure.
 
In all ways legally and politically possible, corporations have monopolized the vast bounty and freedom which fossil fuels and the modern human mind held in potential. Privatization of public commons like the resources of the earth, including fossil fuels, is at one, physical extreme. The radical extension of the IP regime to the point that it constitutes a new enclosure of a potentially infinite public commons is at the other extreme of intellect and spirit. In both cases, and all in between, there’s been little of private individual involvement. In every case I can think of, the corporate form is preferred. Certainly if the genius of capitalism could conceive of a non-corporatized way to compete, someone would be doing it.
 
Not only is the corporation the most efficient wealth-extracting machine. By design it’s forbidden to do anything but all it can to maximize its extractions. According to the responsibility of management to shareholders, a corporation is required to subvert the rules of capitalist competition. If the more effective expenditure for short-term gain in lobbying for anti-competitive legislation or regulatory treatment, that must be chosen over longer-term research investment. Same for the mergers and acquisitions and offshoring which we know are so destructive and serve no purpose even from the “capitalist” point of view, but which can accomplish a short-term goosing of the stock price.
 
It’s clear that in reality capitalism always seeks oligopoly; that corporatism is the only viable form of oligopoly under the conditions of the Oil Age and now energy descent; and therefore that capitalism is synonymous with corporatism. And as corporations become dominant, and as they’re purely artificial, the sum result is that corporatism is a command economy, every bit as much as that of the Soviet Union.
 
And what’s the result of this command economy devoted to unproductive extraction? Even as permanent mass unemployment becomes politically normalized, and we’re bombarded by vicious “austerity” assaults and their accompanying deficit terror propaganda, corporations continue to report record “profits”. These profits are all fraudulent. They’re the result of straight accounting fraud (all bank “profits”, for example), the fraudulent return on looting the taxpayer (the Bailout, Pentagon budgets, and all other corporate welfare), and cannibalization – cutting jobs, “consolidation”, spin-offs or M&A money shuffles, tax scams, etc. I don’t know how many years it’s been since I saw a corporation of any significant size report an actual profit, and the looting regime has only become more brazen since the intentionally triggered crash. What we’ve seen since 2008 has been nothing but disaster capitalism, disaster profiteering, disaster looting, disaster rioting. That the banks, or any corporation, are paying dividends at all under depression circumstances is proof that they serve no constructive social or economic purpose and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to exist at all. Who can possibly argue a rationale for corporate profit-taking, dividend-paying, and cash-hoarding even as they cut jobs and government slash spending? On its face, if nothing else this proves the corporate worthlessness. It proves they existentially comprise a bottleneck preventing the solution of any of civilization’s problems. They comprise a roadblock against the further evolution of civilization. 
 
Corporations are responsible for all of this, and all of this is their characteristic activity. They are oligopolist and rent-seeking by design.
 
So it follows that if we wish to economically liberate ourselves, whether we dream of economic cooperation or of true markets (I don’t claim the two are necessarily incompatible), either way we face the same enemy and the same imperative. We must break corporate power. At the very least we must radically restrict corporate prerogatives and abolish all corporate constitutional “rights”. Better, we should abolish corporations completely. We no longer need even original-style corporations. We can maintain whatever infrastructure we still need democratically. Things like railroads and canals were always built as joint public-private enterprises anyway, with the corporation’s main role being to parasitically extract the profit after the public pays for everything and does all the work. Most R&D today is in the same category. Democracy doesn’t need corporations, and cannot coexist with them.
 
The American revolutionaries sensed all of this. They were leery of federalized corporate chartering power, and of corporations in general. They experienced at first hand the aggressive monopoly of the British East India Company. They saw Thomas Hutchinson try to make his sons and cronies the monopoly distributors of price-dumped tea.
 
So they physically dumped it instead, and then kept corporations out of the Constitution.
 
Today we know how right they were, and how pathetically our own vigilance has flagged. If we’re to take back our country, we’ll have to reinvigorate the original spirit of the constitution and the revolution. Among other things, that means smashing the corporations. Shattering that blockage may in itself be sufficient to liberate our polities and economies, letting us resume our freedom and prosperity. It is certainly necessary.

March 4, 2011

Corporatism Has Been A Neofeudal Coup (2 of 2)

Filed under: Corporatism, Land Reform, Law, Neo-feudalism, Peak Oil, Sovereignty and Constitution — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 1:07 pm

 

One of the features of the Land Scandal has been the gutter sleaziness of the many of the bottom-feeder participants. According to Naked Capitalism, a lawsuit seeking class action status alleges that two leading mortgage service providers, Lending Processing Services and Prommis, in addition to all the usual crimes, also engaged in systematic fraudulent and illegal extraction of legal fees. The allegation is that when a mortgage mill retained by one of these service providers to do the legal work filed its fee request with the court, it would inflate the request and then kick back over two thirds to the service company. This is illegal fee-sharing and practicing law without a license.
 
Prommis has tried to pull the typical trick of claiming it’s just a holding company with no responsibility for its subsidiaries or contractors.
 
In another post Yves ponders how robo-signing, another typical piece of sleaze, became such a universal practice. After discussing how rampant it was at the Stern mill in Florida, she discusses the example of Fairbanks, a servicer who got very big very fast by buying a laundry list of other servicers along with their mortgage lists.
 

Tom Adams, a mortgage securitization expert, has suggested that the significance of miscreant servicer Fairbanks has not been recognized. Law professor Kurt Eggert provides a good overview in his 2007 article, “Limiting Abuse and Opportunism by Mortgage Servicers.” In 2003, Fairbanks had become the biggest subprime servicer in the US by acquiring other subprime servicers. Some of the servicers it had bought were affiliated with originators that had overstated property values and engaged in lax underwriting. That meant a lot of the loans were due to go bad. Fairbanks came under pressure, via litigation, downgrades in servicer ratings, FTC and HUD investigations, due to widespread evidence of serious servicing abuses.

 
So according to this interpretation Fairbanks undertook a rampage of M&As which no one could conceivably argue served any constructive purpose, solely in order to get big fast. Then when it inevitably found itself having bought all these junk loans perilously high, it was driven by the logic of its own criminality to undertake massive robo-signing binges. This, along with the same practice at dark slimy mills like Stern, contributed to the practice achieving critical mass and becoming the industry standard.
 
These are just two normal, everyday crimes in the MBS biz. Relatively minor details, really, of the overarching kleptocratic mortgage system. Here we see a similar mode of organization at a larger scale: The way (in theory, certainly seldom in practice) each loan had to go through the steeplechase of originator -> sponsor -> depositor -> trust. This was in order to ensure bankruptcy remoteness. In other words, participants were intending to go bankrupt and leave plenty of debt and liability on the table, while the assets would be long gone. IBGYBG. I’ll Be Gone, You’ll Be Gone. That’s how it’s meant to be. The banks were simply engaging in a shell game.
 
What’s the common organizational feature here? The corporate form enables a criminal to launder a criminal act or debt exposure through a series of corporate entities to push it as far away from his person as possible. He is personally the criminal, he is personally the debtor. But the corporation was formed to immunize him from these responsibilities, even as it multiplies his individual rights.
 
In particular, here we see examples of how the holding company, and the general policy of allowing one corporation to own stock in another, are meant to function. Probably most people think this practice is normal and natural. But it’s actually a radical innovation which was intended to revitalize the corporate form as a weapon of feudal privilege. Starting in the 1860s, this and several other key measures which empowered the hitherto weak and constrained corporation turned this musty antique vestige into a crypto-feudal dynamo. The comprehensive result of these radical policy changes over several decades can be summed up as a neofeudal coup against democracy as well as against capitalism according to classical economic theory. The result was to empower the corporate form as the vessel of rentier privilege and prerogative during the age of cheap, plentiful fossil energy and industrial abundance, forces which should have been aggressively egalitarian.
 
Before describing how this coup happened, let’s do a quick comparison of, in Ted Nace’s terms, the classic corporation (pre-1860) vs. the modern corporation (by 1900).
 

 

TABLE 7.1
Differences between the Classic Corporation (before 1860)
and the Modern Corporation (after 1900)
Attribute Classic Corporation Modern Corporation
Birth Difficult: requires a custom charter issued by a state legislature Easy: general incorporation allows automatic chartering
Lifespan Limited terms, usually 20-30 years No limits
“Shape
Shifting”
Corporations not allowed to own stock in other companies; restricted to activities specified in charter Corporations free to pursue acquisitions and spin-offs
Mobility Usually restricted to home state No restrictions
Adaptability Restricted to activities specified in charter Allowed to pursue multiple lines of business and initiate or acquire new ones at company’s discretion
“Conscience” Actions constrained by shareholder liability and by threat of charter revocation Fewer constraints due to limited liability, disuse of charter revocation, and tort reforms
“Will” Managerial action hampered by legal status of minority shareholders and of corporate agents Legal revisions enable consolidation of management’s power            
Size Limited by charter restrictions Asset limits removed; anti-trust laws generally not effective
Constitutional Rights Functional only Steady acquisition of constitutional rights from 18861986

 

 
In each of these cases, corporations used the clout and wealth they gained through Civil War profiteering and control of war infrastructure to launch a campaign for legalized corporate power aggrandizement at the expense of democracy and the people. As Nace says, each step is a redistribution of power and rights from citizens to the corporation.
 
The most important elements of this coup were (1) changes in state chartering legislation which triggered a race to the bottom, (2) as I mentioned above, allowing corporations to own stock in other corporations, (3) the rise of management power at the expense of the shareholders, (4) the invention of fraudulent corporate “rights” by rogue courts.
 
1. The most important conceptual changes were automatic general incorporation in place of the individualized state charter which once had to be issued, and incorporation for any purpose in place of the restrictions* on corporate activity which were originally the norm. Corporations were only supposed to be chartered in sectors like capital infrastructure, for projects like canals and railroads which allegedly were too big for families and partnerships to tackle. Often the very existence of non-corporate going concerns in a sector was sufficient proof that incorporation was unnecessary and therefore disallowed*.
 
New York was the first to allow general incorporation in 1846, and was also the first to allow incorporation “for any purpose” in 1866. But NY still imposed other restrictions. It was New Jersey in 1889 who was first to combine general incorporation, all-purpose incorporation, and the lack of all other restrictions. From there the race to the bottom commenced in earnest.
 
[*When we use terms like “disallowed” in this context, we should always keep in mind that this never refers to state-imposed restrictions on economic activity. Anyone was always free to go into any business as a sole proprietor or partner. It only refers to the limits on the special privilege that the would-be incorporator is demanding from the state at the expense of the non-incorporated and the citizen. It’s the corporate practitioner who wants big, aggressive government. He wants it in order to hold a neofeudal privilege. Only we who oppose corporations and want to limit or abolish them are true advocates of shrinking government.]
 
2. It was Pennsylvania in 1871, at the behest of Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which first legalized the holding company.
 

The fissures that ultimately cracked the containment vessel originated without notice in the back rooms and committee chambers of state capitols during the early 1850s, as lobbyists for the newly emerging railroad corporations began exacting concessions from state legislatures. Scott, a legislative manipulator without peer, was responsible for one such concession, which at the time seemed hardly earth-shattering. It was quite simple: convincing the Pennsylvania legislature to relax the long-standing prohibition against one corporation owning stock in another corporation. Perhaps it is fitting that Scott was a math prodigy in his youth. This inconspicuous change – one corporation owning stock in another – is something like the introduction of the zero by unknown Arab mathematicians: a minimalist placeholder, but nevertheless a monumental invention.

 
This simple expedient of the corporation being allowed to own shares in another corporation made possible all the subsequent machinations and criminal laundering and legalized abdication of responsibility which became the everyday practice of corporations in the 20th century. It also went a long way toward the monumental growth in corporate size and power, as one invested corporate dollar could amass far more shareholder power than that of a single individual.
 
This difference between individual shareholders and corporate shareholders was at least a momentous as the more recent “innovation” of corporate political speech and the corporation’s “right” to give money to political candidates.
 
Here too, this holding company power was first combined with complete license and lack of any other restriction in NJ in 1889 and 1890.
 
3. New York in 1890 was the first to absolve corporate management of the common law “right of unanimous consent”, by which significant changes in a corporation, especially sale of assets, had to be approved by the unanimous consent of the shareholders. Federal court decisions had been heading in this direction since 1884.
 
This represented a huge transfer of power from shareholders to management. Here too a race to the bottom ensued among the states. This played a big role in corporate concentration.
 
4. The door to corporate Constitutional rights was first opened with 1819’s Dartmouth vs. Woodward. Some further “rights” gradually accrued until the 1886 watershed Santa Clara vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, which snuck “corporate personhood” into constitutional jurisprudence through a shadowy back door.
 
Within months the SCOTUS was openly citing this fraudulent “personhood” precedent, and for the next fifty years the phony rights piled up. Case after case expanded corporate rights and restricted citizen and human rights where those conflicted with corporate arrogations.
 
From 1937 through the early 60s was a hiatus, and then the process crept forward again, debouching with the 1970s’ “speech is money” and “corporate speech” decisions. (The ACLU’s aggressive anti-democratic role in this has been despicable from the start. That’s more evidence for how existing groups, even the best of them, are fundamentally against the people.) From then to this day the anti-democratic, anti-constitutional onslaught has advanced tempestuously. Citizens United was just the latest atrocity.
 
Putting all this together, we see how the postbellum era was the time of corporate consolidation. Rentier neofeudalism wanted to preserve itself throughout the life cycle of capitalism. It would do so primarily through the instrument of the corporation as empowered and unleashed in those decades following the Civil War, which in retrospect we can see as having been fought to clear the way for them. The increasingly corporatized industrial power of the US put through a coup in the state legislatures and federal courts to protect monopoly rentierism against the creative destruction fossil fuels, industrialism, and capitalist theory could unleash upon it. This is the true core of the term and concept, conservative. At the deepest level, it meant conserving as much of feudalism as possible through the storm decades of capitalism; the disruptive forces of bountiful energy, cheap technology, and easy innovation; the cohering political consciousness of the proletariat and its subsequent labor activism, as foreseen by Karl Marx; the political and organizational need, in cheap oil’s heyday in the mid-20th century, to allow a mass middle class to arise in the West; the inevitable death of capitalism at the hands of Peak Oil and the maturity of all economic sectors. Any and all of these were mortal threats to the feudal prerogative.
 
Today we see the results. Wealth inequality and concentration of real assets have reached disastrous levels, and continue to get worse. Social mobility continues to deteriorate. The position of all workers has eroded in recent decades, while the mobility of unskilled labor has been rendered extremely flexible at the command of the top. (Mobility of labor is a capitalist rather than feudal phenomenon. But the system carefully controls this mobility through debt policy and immigration policy. It stands poised to restore feudal restrictions on mobility at any time.) Privatization has largely restored much of the phenomena of feudal fiefdoms, from private police forces to HOA constraints on behavior. I would not be surprised to hear of an HOA which requires church attendance. We have the classic feudal two-track legal system, one for the rich and one for the poor. The kleptocracy no longer even bothers to conceal this anymore. We have onerous taxes on labor with little or none on capital, land, inheritance, and other parasitism. This last, a licentious parasite-heir policy including an absurdly low parasite tax, has played a major role in the de facto restoration of hereditary aristocracy. The political system is also meant to entrench this, as both corporate-owned political parties serve as nepotistic conveyor belts.
 
Feudal recrudescence is most stark where it comes to the terminal enclosure process the globe is now undergoing. The IP regime is just the space age version of the age-old enclosure of land, resources, and all real assets which is now recurring. The only difference is that whereas the original European enclosure was meant to provide the original accumulation for the rise of capitalism, this final enclosure is intended to be the permanent restoration of a calcified landed nobility, but in the form of corporate CEOs and large shareholders. Finally, we’re seeing the restoration of a regime based on debt slavery.
 
Corporate form and corporate power played a major role in making all this possible, and they must play the pivotal role in completing the final refeudalization process.
 
The rise of corporatism was, therefore, a neofeudal counterrevolution within the revolutionary age of fossil fuels, industrialism, capitalism, and democracy. Just as those, including the birth of the democratic consciousness, were features of the Oil Age, so was corporatism a necessary countermeasure if the feudal parasites were to carry their poisoned chalice through the dangerous age.
 
Now all of those except one must decline and perish. In prospect we perceive the feudal core now rising again in the form of post-capitalist corporatism, and we experience whatever’s left of the democratic consciousness which is the one shining legacy of the fossil fuel age, the greatest lesson humanity has ever learned, the most marvelous gift we bestowed upon ourselves out of the seemingly endless and pointless travails of history. It’s now up to us to either embrace this democratic heritage and go forward boldly living it, or reject it and adhere to the noxious residue as eternal slaves in the darkness.
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