November 3, 2011

Redolent of Olduvai

Filed under: Peak Oil, Relocalization, Tower of Babel — Tags: , — Russ @ 8:18 am


I haven’t read Richard Duncan’s Olduvai theory in a long time, but over the last few days I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It’s a Peak Oil theory which forecasts a pretty rapid collapse of civilization. One of its novel features is the prediction that blackouts of increasing frequency and length will plague technological societies. When we see these occurring, that should be taken as a milestone along the road to collapse. The proximate cause of this or that blackout isn’t what’s important according to the theory. The point is that as fossil fuels becomes harder and more expensive to extract, energy harder and more expensive to deliver, the likelihood of any particular event causing a blackout will increase, and the likelihood of that blackout being severe in range and duration will increase.
This is an anecdotal post along the lines of my previous one on Hurricane Irene. Last weekend the region experienced a snowstorm. I’ll grant that it was unseasonal and unexpected until a few days before, and the snow was pretty thick, but there wasn’t that much of it, and rapidly warming temperatures quickly melted most of it in most places. Yet it’s left many places without power entering the sixth day now. It’s simply astounding how the “greatest civilization on earth” looks utterly incompetent to even keep its lights on the moment a few flakes fall and a little wind blows. Based on what I’m told by people I know who lost power, they can’t get accurate information when they talk to the utilities, only optimistic timetables whose deadlines come and go. One town seems able to restore electricity by the street, seemingly at random, but has a long way to go to get everyone up. The main impression one gets of the “authorities” is of desperate, confused struggle. I say again, we got one snowfall over c. 12 hours, with nothing but beautiful weather since then.
Nor should repair efforts be much hindered by traffic, since the roads ought to be less traveled considering how many other systems were shut down. Many corporate schools remained closed, mostly on account of lack of power, for days. My nephew only finally went back to school on Wednesday, and with a delayed opening on that day. (Meanwhile, my friend’s home-schooled children didn’t miss a single day, even though they too still have no electricity. They’ve also endured the electricity loss with little trouble, while others I know, corporatized types, had to flee their houses as refugees to sleep on couches.)
Meanwhile I saw several towns which looked like disaster zones. Traffic lights out, clearly insufficient police to direct traffic at major intersections, traffic snarling at those intersections, the back roads filled with cars trying to avoid these snarls, and topping it all, major emergency roadwork, detours, and “Local Traffic Only” signs everywhere you looked. We couldn’t figure out what it was all about, but it must have had something to do with the storm. A little snow, and everything looks like an anthill kicked over.
I know this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. I recall sneers and complaints about how people were becoming prone to panic over a little snow as early as the 90s. But as I recall, that was mostly just the psychological aspect. As my friend commented the other day, they jam the stores to stock up on bottled water, and not because they think the taps will run dry, but because they can’t conceive drinking tap water for a few days. We’ve long seen this psychological decadence.
But this menagerie of blackouts and incipient infrastructure collapse does look more recent to me. I grew up used to big snowstorms in suburban areas, and it doesn’t seem like it used to be this way, that a lesser storm has such crippling effects.
So it was while surveying all this that I thought of Olduvai again. It does seem like more and more this extremely top-heavy tower is unstable, tottering, and finding it harder and harder to right itself given the slightest breeze.
Of course, we’re talking mostly about the infrastructure and neighborhoods of the 99%. No doubt anything the “public authorities” needed to do for the 1% was done crisply, well ahead of time. Looking at my friend’s generator, it occurred to me for the first time that for someone from a suburb to feel the need to buy a generator is a form of covert privatization. One is implicitly conceding that one has to go to a private market to actually obtain a service one’s public taxes already paid for. The list, of course, could be multiplied forever, starting with her needing to home school in the first place. Here again we see what I’ve written about many times before, how the taxes on the 99 are merely extortions by the 1.
I’m not saying I’ve changed my mind and become a believer in the fast crash scenario. I still think it’ll be a tortured process taking decades. But this confirms my existing prediction of a weaker form of the thesis, that degradation will be much faster in some areas than others, and that lumpensuburbia and its desperate corporatism-hangers-on will be especially vulnerable.
Meanwhile, as I’ve alluded to here, those of us who are already trying to build lives outside the system are already giving some proof of principle, that we’re better off physically and psychologically.

July 19, 2011

Freakshow: Deficits, Taxes, Austerity

Filed under: Neo-feudalism, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: , — Russ @ 1:28 am


I haven’t been closely following the latest magic show in Washington. I’m aware of the same old maelstrom of lies, fake struggle, phony digressions, dire predictions. The truths are clear: The deficit and the debt are not real issues. No one within the system who claims to care about them actually cares about them, and there’s no reality-based reason anyone should care about them. There’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans on this, although each pretends there is. Of course, if Obama wanted the political/media discussion to be about job creation and not about deficits, that’s what the discussion would be. But just as much as the Reps, he’s focused only on austerity for the people. This is a kleptocratic imperative.
Meanwhile we have digressive, misdirectional nonsense like debates over the legality and/or constitutionality of the debt ceiling, philosophical hand-wringing over the very concept, speculation over how Obama can/ought to do end runs around the law and constitution (thus the liberals get a whack at aggrandizing the imperial presidency). All this is absurd since this government recognizes no “law” in the first place. If it wants to borrow, it’ll borrow. If it wants to print, it’ll print. It’ll deal with this law the same way it deals with every other law, acknowledging its authority or flouting it (brazenly or clandestinely) based purely on what brings the outcome most congenial to kleptocracy.
(Of course the US government is hardly unique in this. It’s cute the way European governments, none of whom, including the Germans and French, adhered to the debt-to-GDP requirements of the Eurozone, are pretending to agonize over this latest example of US banana republicanism. I think there’s plenty of bananas to go around.)
The point of the foregoing was to describe how this is a completely phony debate. As always, the government will do exactly what it wants to do, regardless of the law.
What about the alleged substance of the issue – are deficits and debts really a problem? MMT says no. In an economy this depressed, government can and should run deficits as long as the spending is on constructive things. The current political reality is a funhouse mirror image of this. Everyone in Washington, all elites, agree that the government can and should borrow and spend infinitely on corporate welfare. (And this is without reference to the economy’s operation relative to capacity. No political/media elite thinks corporate welfare should be cut even if the dreaded inflation monster did show itself.) Somehow, deficits are only an issue, and the fear of inflation is only an issue, where it comes to public interest spending. This really means that it’s not deficits or inflation which is the real issue, but the public interest itself. Today’s elites are dedicated to destroying government as something which benefits the people in any way, while maintaining it (in an extremely big, aggressive form) as the machine of corporate tyranny and looting.
This leads us to taxation. Like austerians elsewhere, Obama keeps intoning that we must have “shared sacrifice”, which is of course code for 100% sacrifice for the non-rich, 0% for the rich. What would happen if he were forced to listen to actual citizens demanding to know, “You can actually stand there and claim we haven’t sacrificed enough already? Do you have even the slightest shred of decency or shame?” But he clearly has neither. Part of this demanded sacrifice is raising taxes on the non-rich, even as government abdicates all responsibilities to us, once and for all. On the contrary, we’re to be taxed to fund bureaucratic and police assaults on us, and to facilitate the “privatization”, that is robbery, of our public property.
It’s clear that whether or not taxation on the non-rich ever had any legitimacy in the past, it no longer does. Philosophically, we do not have a legitimate government. This is a kleptocracy which recognizes only the rich and big corporations as citizens, as persons at all. It does nothing other than for their benefit. From the point of view of the actual citizens, people who actually do work, this government is nothing but a parasite and a predator. It will never inaugurate a new public interest program, but only continue to destroy the ones which still exist. To the extent any still exist, this is only out of inertia and political duress.
(As for entitlements, these aren’t legitimately part of any discussion involving deficits and debt, because we the people already paid for them with dedicated taxes. We must refuse to allow that they’re touchable even in principle. We must reject immediately anyone who participated in embezzling those funds for other spending (or who supported such embezzlers) and who now wants to turn around and claim those programs are debt-drivers that need to be cut.)
As a practical matter, people who are struggling, people who face even more severe economic tyranny further down the road, and especially people who are fighting to relocalize their economies and rebuild their communities, need every cent we can get, and we can use that cent far more effectively if we do it directly by ourselves than if it’s “trickled back down” to us by alleged good government, and if we do it now rather than at some indeterminate time in the future. For both of these reasons any taxation upon us robs us of precious resources we can’t afford to lose.
And then there’s the fact that the money taken from us isn’t merely handed over to the corporations and the rich to be thrown down a rathole never to be seen again. That would be bad enough. But much of it is then used by these predators as a weapon against us. This is war, and ammunition stolen from us and handed over to the enemy will then be used to shoot at us. That’s the effect of the government policy of redistributing wealth upward. That’s the effect of all taxation. To the extent that taxation touches the non-rich at all, it is regressive by definition. Viciously so.
That’s why it’s stupid to still argue about “making the tax code more progressive”. One, kleptocracy would never do that. Two, even if this system ever did make the income tax, and even payroll taxes, nominally more progressive, that would make no difference. The rich would continue to evade these taxes, and anything taken from them in taxes would be handed right back to them anyway, since the government’s policy is to benefit them in any way it can. (“Trickle down” really would work for the rich.)
So we’ve disposed of taxation as such, and of the progressive-vs.-regressive misdirection ploy. We’re left with a clear, stark position:
No Taxes on the Non-Rich.
We must furiously resist any tax increases upon us (any hike in existing taxes, any new taxes like a VAT), and fight to have existing taxes removed. Every cent we redeem for our own use in this way is a pure gain. Under this system we’ll never do any better with the diminishing money we have.
(Previous posts on my No Taxes position include No Taxes on the Non-Rich and End All Taxation.)
There’s no point fearing that without taxation the criminals will have a pretext to gut Social Security and Medicare. They already want to do that and will do so whenever it’s politically possible. The presence or absence of any given level of tax revenue won’t change that. No, here we must make another stark demand:
Total Austerity for the Criminals, Not One Cent More From the People.
Including the rock that SS and Medicare are untouchable. Absolutely no cuts to them. (On the contrary, we should be demanding Medicare expansion, Medicare For All, single payer. We should always take the offensive.) They’re perfectly solvent. They’re not part of the deficit. We the people already paid for them. To even suggest compromising them is to advocate robbery plain and simple.
So there’s the clear, simple position: No taxes, no cuts in anything but corporate welfare.

December 21, 2010

No Taxes On the Non-Rich

Filed under: Reformism Can't Work — Tags: , — Russ @ 2:26 am


We must get over any and all fixations on “good government”. We face a terminal kleptocracy. That means lots of things, including the fact that all the nice-sounding things in the civics textbooks and progressive training primers are no longer valid. They’ve been hijacked.
It’ll never happen again that this government will extract taxes and then trickle the money back down in a fair, constructive way. From here on, any taxation will only go down the corporate rathole. Every cent taken from the productive people is stolen. So a basic slogan and absolute demand must be:
No Taxes On the Non-Rich.
That means no new taxes (e.g. a VAT), no expansion of existing taxes. It means we should seize anything like a payroll tax holiday as a good thing (though of course we shouldn’t be grateful to the criminals who “let us keep” a little extra of the wealth we and only we produced, and did so only under extreme political duress).
That doesn’t mean we have to accept social spending cuts. As MMT has demonstrated, the government has no constraints on spending under these economic conditions. As their corporate welfare-laden budgets have proven all along, the elites themselves recognize no such constraints and feel total freedom to print and spend.
So when we combine the tax imperative with the austerity imperative:
Total Austerity for the Criminals [banks, corporations, the rich], Not One Cent More From the People.
No Taxes On the Non-Rich.
We see the clear policy platform. We demand full payouts along with no taxes. It turns out the much-maligned tax protestor types were right about that all along. (They were always wrong in their sycophancy and bootlicking for the corporate elites, and they remain wrong. They only have half the picture, No Taxes. They must learn: Total Austerity for the Criminals.)
Here’s the facts:
1. There will never again be progressive taxation under this system.
2. Even if there were a relatively progressive new tax increment, the revenue extracted will never go to the constructive good of the people. It will go down the corporate rathole, and to build up the police state.
3. If the government ever chose to engage in constructive social spending, it can do so at will simply by crediting accounts. It never has to tax to do that.
4. So taxation really serves no purpose but to keep us shackled to the dollar economy.
For these reasons its a tactical error to be dragged into the argument about progressive vs. regressive taxation. Such distractions exist only in the wonk textbooks. In reality all income and payroll taxes are objectively regressive by now, no matter what their nominal form.
There is one constructive way to argue and advocate taxation: We can classify all taxes as being on productive work or on rents. We must demand as close to 100% taxation as possible on all land and interest rents, all large-estate inheritance, and all finance sector transactions. We must demand and support this vector of lessening taxation on productivity, increasing it on parasites. We should represent this as an excise tax, meant to punish parasitism and encourage productivity.
In practice this system will almost certainly never shift taxes that way. So, that exception aside, let’s reject all taxes. All new taxes, all tax increases, all taxes. In an earlier post I said “let’s be neo-Norquists.” But unlike those liars, who claim to want small government but really want an extremely big, aggressive government to serve as corporate thug and bagman, we really do want to get rid of corporatism completely. We want the complete end of big corporations and big government.
That means, not “we want to drown government in a bathtub”, but we want a tsunami to wash away the whole rotten structure.