Volatility

September 4, 2012

Occupy and Occupation

Filed under: American Revolution, Civil Liberties, Freedom, Land Reform — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 6:18 am

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It lately occurred to me (correct me if lots of commenters have already had this idea, but I haven’t seen it) that there’s a nice symmetry between the Occupy terminology and the use of occupation as a term for “job”, what one does.
 
Since we need to transcend and abolish the whole malign employment model, we have use for a term which can replace “job” (too laden with cash-seeking implications), connoting the entire scope of the human economy, the whole world of our natural, rightful work, and also adding how we must take back our work from those who stole and enclosed it, in the same way we must take back physical space. Occupy has become the seminal term for this physical campaign. So we could revalue and insist upon occupation as the plan to take back our work, the actions of doing so, and the sum of whatever meaningful work we now do, whether monetarily “paid” or not.
 
We must Occupy our Work, we must Occupy our Occupations. This is a core democracy value and practice, living and working one’s ideal, at the same time that one’s work seeks to fully attain this ideal in every realm including the political.

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.
 
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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. 
 
 
 

March 22, 2012

Our Real Job

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Where it comes to fossil fuel use, it’s superfluous to “advocate” this or that; the end of cheap oil is a fact. Most of the population of future societies will be agricultural workers, as is the historical norm. The legacy of the modern age is our newfound democratic consciousness and a large accumulation of agronomic knowledge. We can choose to use these to establish agroecology as the basis of truly democratic economies and communities. That’s the real goal of the food sovereignty movement, to establish itself as the basis of post-fossil fuel societies.
 
It’s not an argument against any of this to say that non-mechanized farming is physically more laborious than industrial agriculture. That’s never been true for farm laborers under capitalism. Nor, on the other hand, was it necessarily true from the other point of view. Medieval peasants worked less than modern industrial workers, for example. Even non-industrial agriculture, if democratically organized and purged of all parasites, can produce more than enough and still leave far more leisure time than we have today with the “job” model. Meanwhile life expectancy is now headed back down in the West. Under capitalism, the mass availability of modern medicine was a temporary feature of the Oil Age. Society is certainly supposed to continue spending ever more obscene amounts on the “health care” system. But more and more this will simply go down corporate ratholes, and to prop up luxury care for the 1%. In the hands of the 1% even seemingly good things like modern medicines become fraudulent and weapons against us.
 
The fact is that where it comes to medicine or something like renewable energy, even if their promises were physically possible post-oil (but they’re not), these promises are actually lies, as these sectors, like all others, are to be completely enclosed for the benefit of the 1%. To believe in a renewable energy utopia is just like continuing to believe in the liberal welfare state. This welfare state was a feature of the Oil Age, a temporary concession on the part of the 1%. It’s now being rolled back across the board, and as we see everywhere, any attempt to hold a “reformist” line somewhere is immediately obliterated. Reformism is simply a misdirectional ploy. We can have freedom and prosperity, but only by eradicating the 1% and its hierarchies completely. We can’t have the rancid liberal utopia of reformed capitalism and state.
 
As for the actual nature of the work, physical labor is not “bad” and a chore to be avoided. On the contrary, all able-bodied citizens must do their fair share of the physical work. He who does not work shall not eat. Work is something we’ve only been indoctrinated into thinking is an undesirable chore. It certainly is that under any hierarchy, and anyone who willingly works for a boss and considers that desirable is a scab. Historically people have always sought to avoid that, and the modern mass willingness to do so is yet another bizarre, ahistorical trait of industrialization and capitalism. As Marx analyzed, modern “workers” with “jobs” are systematically alienated from their work, robbed of both the physical produce and the spiritual satisfaction. By design, people are driven to hate work and seek ways, as individuals, to shirk it. They’re supposed to want to individually rise to petty bourgeois status and then fight furiously against anything which might level them with those who still do the hated physical work. Thus they’re acculturated to support the hierarchy which oppresses them all, for the sake of its false promise that their slightly higher position will be maintained. As we’re seeing today, this was always a lie. The mass middle class was a temporary concession on the part of the 1%, affordable on account of the oil surplus. This middle class is now being liquidated.
 
But it remains humanly true as ever that work undertaken on one’s own and for one’s family, friends, community, however physically hard, is fulfilling and even enjoyable. I usually enjoy the physical work I do in my garden and for our various relocalization projects. And even where the work is unpleasant in itself, it’s still ultimately satisfying, as it’s toward a cooperative democratic goal. That could be the nature of all work, where it’s finally liberated from the control of criminal elites.
 
We stand here, ready and able to work. Our work is there before us. The only thing in our way is a barbed wire fence which a few gangsters have strung between us and our work. They now force us to pass through checkpoints in the fence to get to our work. We need passes, in the form of “jobs”, to be let through. Almost all that we produce we must leave on the criminals’ side of the barbed wire, taking home only a meager portion in the form of “wages”.
 
There’s a similar fence between us as political animals, and our political sovereignty. There we may pass through the checkpoints only as “voters”.
 
No amount of dreaming about better checkpoint procedures will avail. We’re dispossessed, disenfranchised, alienated, enslaved. It’s this barbed wire enclosure which does it all. And in turn, all we need to do, and all we can do, is to tear down this fence between us and our human birthright. Our entire birthright.
 
It’s the only thing that’s necessary, and the only thing that’s sufficient. Tear down all system fences. Tear down all enclosures.

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August 15, 2011

We’re All Lumpenproles Now (Part 1)

Filed under: Food and Farms, Globalization, Land Reform, Mainstream Media, Marx, Neo-feudalism — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 1:25 am

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

March 14, 2011

Corporatism is Legalized Crime

 

As Ted Nace points out early in his survey of corporatism, Gangs of America, the worst crimes of corporations seldom involve technical breaking of the law or the personal evil of corporate executives, but the pattern of destructive anti-social activity which corporatism (and its corrupted system of “law”) enshrines in principle as normal and normative. Corporatism is in fact the ideology and practice of formally enshrined organized crime.
 
The banks recently crashed the real economy, and permanent joblessness (including the waste of life termed “underemployment”) creeps toward and over 20% according to the measure. This destruction of the basis of our lives is a calculated, intentional corporate-dictated policy. Today we see quarter after quarter of corporations reporting record levels of “profit”, building up record cash hoards, and their executives personally looting these corporate hoards in the form of “bonuses”. All this even though the original stated purpose of the Bailout was to get liquidity circulating again. Today, not only does the government tolerate what’s obviously fraudulent accounting, disaster profiteering, and the obstinate refusal of corporate elites to live up to the terms of the Bailout. (I include all corporate sectors among the bailed out, since the bankster and government allegation was that all sectors would perish unless the TBTF banks were bailed out, and no other sector dissented from this, because they all expected the Bailout to trickle down to at least their own stock prices and exec comp.)
 
Not only does it do this, but it proclaims that this “jobless recovery” is in fact the real recovery they intended all along. Thus we have the same history as in Iraq: The initial rationale is proven to have been a Big Lie. The government then starts inventing new rationales ad hoc, temporarily proclaiming victory according to each, until forced by reality to move on to the next, further attenuated rationale and metric.
 
So we have Sodom-like corporate profiteering as the real economy continues to deteriorate, indeed in inverse proportion to the rising calls for “austerity”, that public amenities and civil society need to be gutted because there’s not enough existing wealth to support them.
 
Corporate profiteering and personal looting by executives, vs. austerity. This ratio is a direct metric of organized crime. It’s nothing but monumental, capital crime. Corporatism is the system of command economy, and trickle-down is ideology meant to justify it. But corporatism is nothing but robbery, and trickle-down nothing but the verbal part of fraud. Advocacy of it abets capital robbery. This incriminates both Washington gangs, the entire MSM, most of academia, and conservatism and liberalism as a whole.
 
In a formula:
 
Capitalism = corporatism and trickle-down = organized crime.
 
This is not a new kind of corporate behavior. Privateering, the formal charter to commit crimes, goes back to the 16th century, the dawn of the corporate form. Corporations were envisioned in the first place to help enable “violent crime grafted onto trade”, as Nace put it. The very term “free trade” originally referred directly to freedom from the law. Or as Hannah Arendt wrote in Origins of Totalitarianism, legalized gangsters sought to use politics to regulate their bloodshed. The British East India Company’s violent lawlessness is exactly mirrored today in the form every sort of corporate thuggery and the way corporate crimes are generally considered above and outside the law. Blackwater, explicitly declared above the law and granted a charter to literally perpetrate massacres, is merely the distillation of the way every large corporation is empowered to act, and the way they usually do act. Indeed, in principle this is the way they are required to act according to the core principle that profit-seeking is the only acceptable value. (The question of what kind of sick society would ever have enshrined such a sociopathic form in the first place I’ll leave for another time. But I’ll say here that the very existence of profit-seeking corporations reflects a self-loathing and self-destructiveness on the part of civilization itself.)
 
Today’s “free trade” has exactly the same criminal nature, but the term has been sanitized to refer to an economic theory rather than a legal concept of chartered outlawry.
 
Today it’s true in a precise sense that corporations are formally legalized criminal organizations. Take for example the repeal of the bucket laws, which used to recognize gambling as gambling whether done over dice in a back alley or stocks on an exchange. A bank couldn’t ask the state to enforce a wager any more than a two-bit hood. But these sane laws started being repealed in the 1980s. The process culminated in the CFMA in 2000. Now what was naturally unproductive antisocial gambling was legalized as a “contract”. The result was massively bloated bank profits and hideous distortions of the economy, climaxing in the crash of the real economy. (This is the intended culmination of financialization itself.) The crash was then used as the pretext for the Bailout and austerity. This entire process was premeditated and had its origin in the legalization of what are naturally outlawed acts. The massive conspiracy, dating back to the 90s, to fraudulently induce mortgages was enabled by this original legalization. And the rest of the crimes were piggybacked on these.
 
This is both the most extremely destructive and the most typical of the formal legalizations of organized crime which are bound up in the corporate form. While many of the subsequent crimes may still technically be illegal, they were enabled by the underlying legalization of gambling. (And once the government has been corrupted enough, even existing laws are no longer enforced, as we see every day. This is simply the de facto legalization of corporate crime.)
 
Yet today most people fail to see this. The magnitude of the crime, and the government imprimatur accorded it, is such that it becomes hard to register. Pro-corporate propaganda and indoctrination reinforce this self-obfuscation. This is what Hitler intended with his doctrine of the Big Lie. (This same magnitude of crime enabled by the hijacked law and corrupted polity also renders it impossible for the existing system of law to rein such crimes back in and impose any deserved justice. When the day comes that the people finally take back their country from such criminals, nothing short of a Nuremburg-level proceeding is sufficient to the task of justice.)
 
So we have a regime where responsibility for every crime, the robbery of trillions, international murder, slavery, the ravaging of the environment, conspiracies against plant genomes, and anything else profitable, are either directly legalized at the corporate behest or else laundered through the corporate form and dissolved.
 
All this is within the prescribed use of corporations. These are not “abuses”.
 
Here’s another example. Corporations serve as the underlying for the stock market. The stock market has a fraudulent basis in the first place, since only the first offering actually raises capital. The rest is just the same legalized gambling. It has never been anything but socially and economically destructive. And by what reality-based measure does stock price reflect value at all? Yet once you enshrine it as the most important measure of value, control fraud becomes ideologically justified. From there the next step is to change the law and/or regulation itself. Again, organized crime becomes legalized.
 
One of the ways the law gets changed is through pro-corporate SCOTUS decisions, like the recent one striking down most of the enforcement potential* of the “honest services” law, which was a modest attempt to retain some criminal liability for the most egregious executive fraud. This is just one example of how corporate power has corrupted our institutions, that even in the rare cases where the legislative branch tries to do part of its job, the judiciary blocks it.
 
[*In my previous corporatism post I referred to the double standard of law and jurisprudence enshrined by the SCOTUS where it comes to corporate speech. Corporate speech “rights” are interpreted extremely loosely, while at the same moment, in the same cases, corruption is interpreted with extreme pedantry. If there’s not a physical sack with a dollar sign drawn on it, it’s not corruption.
 
The SCOTUS just applied this same strict standard of “corruption” in the honest services case, declaring that the law is constitutional only where applied to explicit kickbacks and such. Obviously, this is meant to gut the law in practice, since today’s corruption is generally more sophisticated than that. But SCOTUS jurisprudence is designed to let all implicit corruption elude accountability.]
 
We’ll soon find out what’s the latest from the SCOTUS on unconscionable contracts of adhesion, extortionate “contracts” forced upon us through the coercion of monopoly and artificially created economic hardship. These strong-arm contracts are increasingly popular, and are imposed anywhere the corporations attain the position of dominance which enables them. In theory such contracts, just like gambling, are supposed to be unenforceable, uncontracts. But here too the SCOTUS has usually served as the corporate goon. The Lochner era was based upon the legalization of “contract” extortion, and although the court nominally abandoned this doctrine in 1937, in practice courts almost always still find such contracts valid. In the case of AT&T vs. Concepcion, AT&T’s thefts were so outrageous that the lower courts found the contracts it imposed, forestalling its victims to combine to sue as a class, to be unconscionable. But this will be the SCOTUS’ big chance to restore Lochner as official court doctrine. 
 
Meanwhile government contractors, starting with the weapons rackets, are implicitly encouraged to bilk the taxpayer out of billions. By now it’s not conventional corruption but systematic corporatist robbery, with the DoD and other agencies as bagmen. Robert Gates once explicitly told an audience of weapons racketeers that where it comes to the military Obama’s top priority is an ever-escalating Pentagon budget as such, as a value in its own right.
 
Those are just a few examples of systematic corruption, i.e. organized crime. The term kleptocracy should be understood in a profound way. Corporatism comprises a new paradigm of criminal practices, and the pro-corporate mindset is a characteristic, immutable criminal mindset. It’s not just a set of criminal actions, but an indelible criminal essence. It’s the mindset that we can no longer exist at all without being totally controlled by corporations, having all we produce monopolized and stolen by corporations, and submitting at every moment to corporate imperatives even in our very thoughts. The elites, for obvious reasons, believe this themselves. The system they’ve set up is dedicated to enforcing this corporate totalitarianism from the top down. The corporations themselves have no purpose at all except to preserve and intensify this kleptocracy, and to keep stealing.
 
But we know that we don’t need corporations to have a vibrant, productive economy. We know we’d be far more productive without them. Without them we would restore our prosperity, our communities, our social morality, and our democracy. The only thing in the way of our redeeming our humanity and saving our lives and freedom are a few gangsters, organized as big corporations. The corporate form is what enables this in the first place. Let’s abolish it. 

February 10, 2011

The Revolution of Food

 

Two years ago a hideous surge in food prices triggered spontaneous crowd scenes the MSM termed “food riots”. These stout writers and editors didn’t let us know how they think they’d fare if they and their families were being intentionally starved amid plenteous food, on account of purely artificial scarcity generated by purely political choices made by criminals. Today this food stagflation is upon us again, and this time it looks permanent.
 
We’ve long known the nature of these political decisions. It’s fundamental to capitalism that scarcity be generated amidst plenty. This is accomplished by stealing the vast majority of what the productive people grow and craft. In the case of agriculture, the basic mechanisms of this crime were land enclosure in the West and globalization for much of the global South. The result in both cases was to drive vast amounts of people off the land, generating mass migrations similar to the barbarian migrations into Europe in the first millennium. This migration headed to the shantytowns of the cities (and their ghetto and project and trailer park, and now tent city, equivalents in America). In the wake of globalization, in line with the new feudalism, the South is undergoing a new onslaught of land enclosures, as regional kleptocracies “sell” vast amounts of land in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and elsewhere to corporations and conglomerates from places like Sweden, the UK, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and of course Wall Street.
 
The number one reason for this new colonial land grab is to grow jatropha and palm oil feedstock for biofuels. This is just the latest and most malevolent result of the West’s biofuel mandates, a policy as wicked as it is irrational. Within a country like the US, ethanol mandates are pure corporate welfare, and globally they serve only to degrade the environment, cause further rainforest destruction and greenhouse gas emissions, and drive up the price of food by diverting it from the mouths of billions of the most vulnerable to the gas tanks of the richest and fattest. Now they’re also the engine of the new feudal enclosures.
 
These assaults on the Southern farmer are the latest depredation of the same globalization in agriculture which has dumped subsidized Western commodities on the domestic markets of almost every country. The goal here was to force all agriculture on Earth, the vast amount of which is logically subsistence agriculture and agriculture grown for local and regional markets, to conform to the practices, prices, and power relations of globalized corporate commodity agriculture. At the same time the IMF, as part of its structural adjustment assaults, forced most of these countries to dismantle their well-functioning state investment programs whose explicit goals had been to assure decent prices for their farmers and make affordable credit available to them. This helped keep much of the wealth generated by small farmers in the hands of those farmers. (If one chose, one could cite this as an example of a liberal government program which worked well. In that case, the Western liberals’ betrayal of such enlightened Southern governments in favor of Western globalization and agribusiness is just another on the ledger of their great crimes.) Today the dumping includes subsidized GMO crops as well as the proprietary seeds, which cabals like Bill Gates’ AGRA (Alliance for A Green Revolution in Africa) are trying to force upon these already beleaguered farmers, to further enforce this global indenture.
 
Another major driver of grain prices, similar to biofuel mandates, is the diversion of grain from food to feed for livestock. As more people in the East can afford to eat more meat, this generates more demand for the inefficient use of grain to feed cattle and pork rather than be used directly for food. The conversion rates are c. 7 grain calories to produce 1 calorie of beef; for pork it’s 4-5:1. People wanting to eat more meat isn’t intrinsically wicked the way using food to fuel one’s SUV is. What is evil is the CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) mode of animal farming which has been designed to foster this conversion process. Everywhere CAFOs exist they’ve destroyed all independent cow and pig farmers and radically accelerated the food conversion process and concomitant structural price increase for grain. This process, too, has been subsidized by Western governments. 
 
Today every survey of food stagflation cites biofuel mandates, CAFOs (though they usually blame the consumers themselves; this was Bush’s favorite culprit) and the decline of agricultural investment as two of the main drivers. Over the last ten years, we can add food speculation to the indictment against Western capitalism. There’s been a lot of controversy lately over how much of an effect on prices food speculators really have. It’s true that they don’t have the same structural effect as subsidized commodity dumping, subsidized proprietary inputs and seeds, the forced privatization of investment, and biofuel mandates. These are all structural crimes. In light of these, speculators may serve as a scapegoat for some who want to politically shield these interests. Then we have globalization ideologues like Paul “It’s not class warfare” Krugman who are ardent to absolve all direct criminal actors of blame. So in desperation he blames poor harvests, this time in Russia, which are perhaps effects of climate change and its volatile weather patterns. He claims that the absence of evidence of significant grain hoarding proves his case. He trots out his stupid supply-demand graph which conveniently assumes and therefore conceals all the structural criminal aspects of the system, the crimes he spent years fighting to see committed. “Once we ignore the artificial scarcity built into the system, and all the rents it extracts, then we can call it a ‘market’. And once we’ve rationalized, moralized, normalized the status quo in this way, it’s easy to see that speculators can’t have any effect compared to a failed harvest.” 
 
But this whole line of argument is ridiculous. The very fact that climate change may be affecting harvests renders the effects of speculation all the more destructive, as the margin is that much more thin. The market already teeters on the brink of a price explosion even under the best conditions, on account of the system’s already being a hostage to global commodification in all its aspects. Under these conditions of structurally hardwired volatility, how much would a speculator have to hoard in order to drive up prices enough that his bets would win? I bet it’s not much. What other manipulations could a player like Goldman Sachs perform?
 
It’s common sense that if banksters start messing around with a market and the price explodes, they played a role in it, even if exactly how they did it isn’t always immediately clear. As Sherlock Holmes said to Watson, “If I asked you to prove two plus two is four you might have some trouble doing it, even though you know it’s true.”
 
So we have permanent food stagflation afflicting billions in the non-West as well as, increasingly, the West itself. We know this is not the result of supply-demand fundamentals, since supply has been grotesquely manipulated by power. Subsidies in the form of direct payments, tariffs, IP policy, and one-way globalization “treaties” which boil down to “free markets for me, prostrate victimization for you”, more than make up for any revenue which would otherwise be lost according to textbook supply inefficiencies. Globalization was never anything but colonialism by other means. And just as the original imperialism eventually came home politically to Europe in the form of totalitarian politics, so today’s globalization is coming home in the form of totalitarian corporate economic rule.
 
This is the essence of globalization, and it’s the structural reason for food stagflation as we descend into global depression and permanent mass unemployment (also an intentional policy). Food speculation is the last straw added to the already burning pile. Given how the banksters were the ones who coordinated the globalization onslaught, set in motion the process of mass permanent job destruction, and have now intentionally crashed the world’s real economy and used this as the pretext to steal trillions more in the form of the Bailout, it’s not surprising that their speculation in food is the most inflammatory element of the price explosion, even if relative to the structure its effect is supplementary. In essence, speculating in food, just like any predatory manipulation of food supplies, is a crime against humanity. All of commodity agriculture, and all proprietarianism related to it (it’s conceptually impossible to have a property right in any food plant, since commercialized plant varieties are already the result of thousands of years of grower selection and breeding, and any new work is merely a miniscule add-on, like placing a pebble on a mountain; any intellectual property is already long since hardwired into its public domain existence), is such a crime. So if food speculators are becoming the public face of infamy, this is really an armed robber and mass murderer being hanged for one of his lesser muggings. He still deserves it, of course. I’ll go along with whatever’s most politically effective, since it’s the same capital criminal. But our analysis should identify what’s fundamental (globalization itself, capitalism itself) and what’s ancillary. 
 
The peoples of the world know these crimes for what they are, evidently far better than those of the West itself. It makes sense – they have far more experience as the victims of these crimes. Unlike in 2008, they’re reacting to this new, permanent round of food price crime, not with “food riots” but with revolutions. I have high hopes that we’re finally seeing the anti-colonial movement resuming after so many decades of having been hijacked and subverted. This time the people of the world won’t fall for the lies of the West. They’ve been through this too many times before. This is the final bid for liberation, and although many of its initial demands will be political, it’s more profoundly about the people taking control of their economies. Most of all, it’s about food. These are lessons we’ll have to bring home to ourselves to meet the totalitarianism now coming home to us. Here too, it’ll be about food.
 
Meanwhile, I haven’t been seeing much of the MSM calling this a food riot anymore. That must be why they sound so confused, tentative, disgruntled – such easy dismissals will no longer be easy for them. Oh no! Somebody’s actually making them work! Horrible. Hopefully we’ll soon be making them work as well.

January 16, 2011

They Admit It

Filed under: Neo-feudalism, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 5:19 am

 

So they admit it.
 

And yet a number of economists seem determined to find some kind of supply-side explanation for low employment. Via Scott Sumner, I see that Tyler Cowen has been suggesting that workers are unemployed because there’s literally nothing they can do — that they have a zero marginal product. I also gather that this is what the Austrians are saying these days.

 
They admit that capitalism has definitively failed in all its promises, and that we’re at a dead end with it. Therefore we must get rid of it and start anew. What other purpose can civilization itself have, but the well-being of the productive people?
 
See also this piece. Here too they admit trickle-down 1. is a failure, 2. is a scam. (I also have a comment to that effect in the thread there.)
 
This is the only takeaway from every single word conservatives (and most liberals) say. Capitalism is a failure which belongs on the trash heap of history. They admit it.

January 15, 2011

The Federalism of Republicans and Democrats

Filed under: Disaster Capitalism, Neo-feudalism — Tags: , — Russell Bangs @ 6:04 am
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First the federal government collaborated with the Wall Street banksters to systematically destroy the real economy, culminating in the intentional crash. Then, by prearrangement, this federal government embraked upon a Bailout which has stolen over $14 trillion to hand it over to the banksters, and there’s no end in sight to the robbery. Among the victims are the mass permanent unemployed, 20% of the workforce and counting. The intentionally destroyed jobs will never come back for as long as this system exists. On the contrary, it will continue until ALL jobs are destroyed. (First they came for the blue collar workers, and the white collar workers and “professionals” did nothing, but uh oh! Now it looks like they’re coming for you too!) Among the victims are also the states, who were forced to borrow money to pay unemployment benefits from the same government which caused the unemployment. And now this same federal government, which can print the money at will, instead plans to bill the dying states for the interest. They’re gonna break our legs.
 
This is intentional, forced starvation. The federal government wants to crush the states completely. It’s an intermediate stage toward the totalitarian debt indenture which is the end goal of this central government.
 
A sane state would get out now. We now know that becoming a parasite on the federal welfare train was always a suicidal luxury. And now we face the fact that nothing which comes from Washington is anything but poison. The states should stop taking from the central government, stop remitting to it, renounce odious debts to it, and go their own way.
 
What else can one do in the face of such a monstrous structure which has such an openly vicious loanshark attitude? There’s no way anyone in Congress doesn’t know how pro-cyclical, anti-stimulative, depressive it is for the government sovereign in its own currency to demand interest payments from lower-level governments which are not currency-sovereign. Everyone in Congress knows that such “austerity” is purely destructive, and that’s what they intend for it to be. Economically, politically, democratically, and humanly they want nothing but scorched earth. They want nothing but devastation and despair.
 
These are history’s most evil criminals. They are hideous beyond the power of words to express. That’s both Washington parties, Republican and Democrat. They are both nothing but criminal enterprises. They are proper subjects for RICO.
 
At the new Nuremburg, we must indict not only all Republican and Democratic leaders as capital larcenists and criminals against humanity. We must also indict the two parties themselves as criminal organizations, just as the First Nuremburg indicted and convicted the Nazi party, the SS, and other organizations.
 
In the meantime, all citizens must recognize these criminals for what they are. Since there’s nothing further justice can do at the moment, we must shun them as vile beyond tolerability.

December 24, 2010

What Does the Class War Mean for Research and Development?

 

We have a permanent Depression setting in, the normalization of 20%+ unemployment, and it’s clear that the kleptocracy views the health care system as nothing but a rent extraction machine. The legislated policy is to use the IRS as a strong-arm goon to extort protection money in exchange for a worthless Stamp, while there will be no credible cost controls or realistic regulatory restraints on the health insurance rackets.
 
Under those circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how, for as long as this system endures, the actual care available to the non-rich won’t continue to rapidly deteriorate.
 
So we must ask about something like medically necessary research (publicly subsidized, of course): What difference does any medical advance make if it will increasingly be the monopoly of the predatory rich? In that case, don’t even medical advances become weapons against us? Weapons we pay for, to add insult to injury. Gibbon depicts the plight of conquered people doing forced labor in metal shops, “forced to forge the implements of their own destruction”. Is this the case with all technological R&D by now?
 
Do alleged advances really still advance us? Does the African farmer benefit by being driven off his ancestral land, which is then converted to corporate biofuel production to feed Western cars? No honest person would try to argue that. Yet isn’t that the core logic of neoliberalism, which is increasingly coming home to the West itself? Those same biofuels have been driving up the price of our food for three years now, even as our jobs vanish and the cost of living soars in every other way. Is the ethanol mandate, and the cost it imposes on us, different in kind from the looming health racket mandate? Aren’t all these mandates really the same thing?
 
African agro-imperialism is only a seemingly extreme, but really typical example of how this system allocates its research and the output of this research. None of it is intended to benefit the people. The people are only there to be mined and exploited, or just driven out to die. The only intent, anywhere, is corporate rent extraction. “Profit”. We are those dispossessed tribal farmers. We can see it everywhere already. Their enemies are our enemies. We’ll end up exactly as they are.
 
In the end, all the mid-century liberal advances were fruit of the cheap oil surplus. With Peak Oil, that period has come to an end. That’s part of why in the 1970s the power structure switched over from normal exploitation, which could include the concessions* that enabled the rise of a mass middle class, to neoliberal kleptocracy, through which those concessions have been rolled back and that middle class is being liquidated.
 
So everything has changed politically. The kleptocratic process is intended to be terminal toward the the restoration of feudalism. 
 
[*I use the word concession with deliberation. Liberalism, as an elitist trickle-down ideology, never contested the right of predatory elites to steal the labor and produce of the productive people. At its best, what liberalism did was beg for some concessions to be trickled back down. Today it no longer even does that.]
 
At the same time, physical resource limits are imposing a great change, the end of “growth”. A different way of putting what I said above is that it was easier for the corporatists to concede more wealth equality when the pie was growing thanks to cheap, plentiful oil. But now that the pie must contract, and the oil surplus recede, we’re headed back to history’s normal economic course, the course prior to the drawdown of the fossil fuel principal.
 
It’s up to us whether we let ourselves be driven back into serfdom, or whether we take all we’ve learned from the Oil Age, politically and economically, and use it to build a wiser, more prosperous world.
 
That requires the relentless fight against corporatism on every possible front. This fight must supersede all other concerns, since the progress of the fight dictates the status of those concerns. Even issues which are ambiguous in themselves will often become clear once placed in the corporate war context. We have to oppose the redistribution of wealth upward in all its forms, including the use of public money for alleged social goods which will really be rationed by ability to pay in an extremely wealth-concentrated environment.
 
When I say “fight” I’m thinking of the likelihood that it’s far more possible to block bad government actions than to induce it to perform good ones. I’ve long considered the latter impossible, and that it’s a waste of effort to beg the system for the good. But maybe it’s still possible for citizen pressure and resistance to block some of the bad. On that front, we have to be obstructionists wherever possible.
 
We can no longer afford to contemplate the intrinsic ambivalence of things. The struggle against corporatism and for direct democracy dictates most positions out of its own imperatives. Few things now are significant in themselves.
 
So that’s what I meant when I started out expressing skepticism about system research, and obviously all proprietary research. Like so many things which look intrinsically benevolent from the ivory tower, removed from the real world context (cap and trade? electric cars? a VAT?), it becomes far less so in practice if undertaken under kleptocratic auspices.
 
So that’s why by now my default position is: Political transformation first, even at the temporary expense of things which may be theoretically beneficial but are not so under this dispensation. 

December 6, 2010

The Bridge

 

The Western elites used the industrial revolution and the fossil fuel heritage to organize the amassment of a vast wealth and power surplus. Their goal was always to steal as much of this surplus as they could, using the wealth and power they amassed to organize themselves to use Peak Oil itself as the ultimate opportunity to steal the rest.
 
First they used the power to force the Global South to pay the costs of the West’s post-war affluence. Cheap oil and the fact that non-Westerners were providing most of the resources, doing most of the work, and bearing most of the costs, enabled the West to temporarily distribute the fruits of this crime fairly widely among the populace. Out of that we saw the temporary rise of the mass middle class. As the oil crunch began in the 1970s, this middle class was carried further by the exponential debt system.
 
Now that cheap oil and exponential debt are over, the elites intend to clutch at 100% of the deteriorating wealth and power, forcing all the austerity of the end of cheap oil onto the Western peoples, just as they stole all the surplus in the first place. (They’ll also continue to exploit the non-Western peoples as much as possible, although the end of cheap oil will render such imperialism increasingly untenable.) Permanent mass unemployment in itself is an intentional policy goal. It’s part of the winding down of the “growth” economy which will no longer be able to grow, post-Peak Oil.
 
The point of “austerity” is to steal while the stealing’s good the last public pensions and other social property afforded by the oil surplus. It won’t be possible to resume productive growth. There hasn’t been any real economy growth in over ten years now as it is. All the paper growth was just fraudulent FIRE sector “growth”, and whatever gains are being temporarily measured during the phony “recovery” are of the same character. That’s why corporations are merely hoarding cash and looting “bonuses”. This is the robbery end game, while most of the people are still foolish enough to believe we’re headed for growth recovery, or that such recovery is possible at all.
 
Since programs like Social Security will also not be sustainable in the long run, the only question is whether to restore them to the people as they’re liquidated by the end of growth, or for the elites to liquidate them and steal them for their own benefit. It’s always been true that whatever the limits of resources, scarcity has always been the result of artificial, system-imposed political choices. The very basis of capitalism is artificially-generated scarcity. That’ll remain true post-Peak, for as long as the system of false scarcity prevails. The pensions of the oil surplus are not sustainable in the long run, but they do exist in the shorter run. Their mode of winding down can be done in a way fully for the benefit of the people. This can alleviate the energy transition civilization must undergo post-Peak. That’s also why we should institute Single Payer. Not because it’s long-run sustainable, but because in the medium run it would be a constructive use of the diminishing oil surplus. (I used the term “sustainable” in this paragraph, but see below for why going forward we shouldn’t use it in this context.)
 
Post Peak Oil, for many years to come, it will still be a question of the scarcity of necessities, which the political system will always try to drive ahead of the energy scarcity itself, vs. the winding down of luxuries. Political choices will largely dictate this. The elites will try to maintain their luxuries and impose total scarcity upon the people. The people should focus on winding down luxuries in favor of preserving as much material necessity as possible. The very existence of the elites is, of course, the most bloated, wasteful, parasitic, obscene luxury.
 
Permanent mass unemployment is now a structural imperative under the framework of continued neoliberalism. The political normalization of it has been the main political task of the Obama administration. As difficult as it will be for the system, this is the only way to minimize their political risks. Our task is to maximize their political risks.
 
So we need our own strategy for political and policy advocacy for cheap oil’s end times. It’s not easy to formulate – one seems to have to constantly switch back and forth between those discussions and advocacies which are conscious of Peak Oil, and advocacies which don’t know about it or pretend it doesn’t exist. The same is true of exponential debt/growth itself, which was also unsustainable even uncoupled from Peak Oil, since capitalism’s very capacity for real growth has long since been exhausted. All sectors are mature or nearly mature, and the profit rate should fall to nearly nothing according to their own textbooks.
 
It seems that we face two hierarchies of ideas/facts:
 
1. Awareness of Peak Oil – awareness of the end of exponential debt – the business as usual (BAU) mindset.
 
2. Political and economic transformation – reformism – denial, passivity, defeatism, selling out.
 
We recognize:
 
A. Cheap fossil fuel, and therefore this level of energy consumption, is unsustainable. So the only fully valid political awareness is Peak Oil awareness.
 
B. Exponential debt is in itself unsustainable, on account of the structure of capitalism itself.
 
C. Reformism cannot work, because of corporatism’s war of attrition, and often because of A and B.
 
D. For all three of these reasons, transformation is the only political alternative to neo-feudalism and restored serfdom.
 
Nevertheless, some reformist ideas, although not forever sustainable in themselves, can be sustained for some length of time during the transformation. We can picture a transition period where a full employment program, Single Payer, and the still-intact (non-austeritized) Social Security are still operating, as a temporary bridge to the post-oil civilization.
 
So that’s the first reason we must fight for them: To construct that bridge.
 
The second reason is that neoliberalism, like all forms of fascism, and like growth itself, must keep moving forward, “winning”, destroying. As I mentioned above, its political existence depends upon normalizing mass unemployment. We must deny them the reality and just as important the political semblance of victory in this. That’s one example of a severe political blow we can strike.
 
Then there’s the fact that for the moment it seems the true post-oil positive democracy sounds so different juxtaposed with the corporate reality. To the casual observer it sounds like a Utopia. The most important work to be done here is democratic education. We must somehow revive and propagate the ideas of true democracy, since no one in the schools or media is going to do it. Quite the contrary. So the policy bridge is also a psychological bridge. So we make such policy demands also as part of the movement psychology within which the real transformative action takes place. (All political action exists within a psychological framework.)
 
It’s a tremendous leap from soil to soil, across a seemingly uncanny abyss. That’s true physically, where it comes to energy, transportation, social and economic infrastructure, and it’s true psychologically. So both of these needs must be served by one span across the abyss. Then we can feel fully liberated to embark upon the bridge as if every aspect of it were sustainable.
 
Consider this by Zizek:
 

In the domain of socio-economic relations, our era perceives itself as the age of maturity in which humanity has abandoned the old millenarian utopian dreams and accepted the constraints of reality—read: capitalist socio-economic reality—with all its impossibilities. The commandment you cannot is its mot d’ordre: you cannot engage in large collective acts, which necessarily end in totalitarian terror; you cannot cling to the old welfare state, it makes you non-competitive and leads to economic crisis; you cannot isolate yourself from the global market, without falling prey to the spectre of North Korean juche. In its ideological version, ecology also adds its own list of impossibilities, so-called threshold values—no more than two degrees of global warming—based on ‘expert opinions’.
It is crucial to distinguish here between two impossibilities: the impossible-real of a social antagonism, and the ‘impossibility’ on which the predominant ideological field focuses. Impossibility is here redoubled, it serves as a mask of itself: that is, the ideological function of the second impossibility is to obfuscate the real of the first. Today, the ruling ideology endeavours to make us accept the ‘impossibility’ of radical change, of abolishing capitalism, of a democracy not reduced to a corrupt parliamentary game, in order to render invisible the impossible-real of the antagonism that cuts across capitalist societies. This real is ‘impossible’ in the sense that it is the impossible of the existing social order, its constitutive antagonism; which is not to imply that this impossible-real cannot be directly dealt with, or radically transformed.

 
It’s clear that we have no idea what’s possible until we try it, while all such assertions of impossibility are lies told by those who want to inter humanity forever. It is in fact the kleptocracy which is truly impossible: morally, rationally, in practice.
 
So all our advocacy and demands shall exist on a triple track: Peak Oil awareness; the Bridge; non-Peak populism. Since most people still dream of reform, we need to speak to that while the educational work is conducted toward looking fully at the future and the truth. So my proposal is to bridge these two, which are not mutually exclusive but may sometimes be in tension. For example, when I’ve advocated Single Payer I’ve said things like “we need it as we enter the post-oil age”, or just left energy issues out of it. For wherever we discuss policy I recommend verbiage like that, rather than ever conceding, “it’s not sustainable in the long run”. That’s too easily misunderstood or twisted. “We need it as we enter the post-oil age” is both true and open-ended in terms of what it really means. It’s inclusive rather than exclusive. It’s a way of talking about Peak Oil and other resource limits, and advocating policy in accordance, while maintaining a positive, affirmative tone.
 
So here’s the basic situation:
 
1. We don’t expect the government to do anything good, and don’t advocate sitting around waiting for good government. We should take direct relocalization action in every way possible as quickly as possible.
 
That’s why, for example, I advocate the bottom-up debt jubilee and organized land redemption, rather than festering obediently for a real HAMP, for the government and banks to graciously do principal writedowns and allow bankruptcy cramdowns (to give “reform” examples which are at the outer limits of acceptable media discourse).
 
2. But we can also agree in principle that such reforms would be good. We agree for the benefit of those who still believe in these reforms, even as we suggest to that audience that reform is in fact impossible, and anything the system claims it’s doing in that direction will always be a scam.
 
3. There’s also some defensive political fights we have to undertake. Where it comes to net neutrality and civil liberties there’s no substitute for directed political pressure on the system.
 
And while I think we’ll have to directly fight for our Food Sovereignty on the ground, and the fight won’t work short of mass defiance and resistance, here too there’s evidence that political pressure can have some effect. The system’s united front on this and some other issues isn’t as solid as where it comes to the banks.
 
I’ll conclude by giving a few examples of the likely long-term reality, vs. the medium-term bridge possibility, vs. normal political demands which are free to us regardless of resource realities, since they don’t contradict them.
 
I mentioned Single Payer as a possible bridge, as well as a policy which is manifestly true given existing politics. People claim to be worried about deficits? Single Payer would save vast sums over the status quo, while Obama-Republicare will cost even more than the status quo.
 
Social Security is the ultimate bridge, and given existing politics it’s perfectly solvent. That there’s any SS “crisis” is a pure Big Lie. Speaking generally, it’s always morally and practically correct to reject any and all “austerity”. Total Austerity for the Criminals, Not One Cent More From the People.
 
As for the money itself, I just wrote a post which describes a money creation bridge, while my earlier money posts (parts one and two) describe the right policy from any point of view.
 
The right food policy is clear. You want better food safety? Decentralized production and more sustainable, non-industrial agricultural practices are the answer. Ban CAFOs and GMOs, which are proven threats to public health. You’re worried about how to feed the world? Organic methods consistently produce higher yield per acre than any industrial practice, including GMOs. How can we reinvigorate the economy? Food relocalization. Those are all mainstream reform questions, and all receive their true answer.
 
And when people who understand energy issues ask, “How will we feed ourselves once fossil fueled agriculture is no longer sustainable?”, what’s the answer? Decentralized production. Organic production, which we’ll now realize is really just normal production as history always knew it.
 
So whether it’s normal politics, the bridge, or full Peak awareness, the food answer is the same: Food Sovereignty and relocalization of production and distribution. That’s the most scalable policy truth of all.
 
We can see how for all these things the reformist position merges nicely with the bridge position. There’s no inconsistencies.
 
I hope these notes help toward the goal of developing a policy strategy for the movement going forward. I think the basic concepts and method are broadly useful, and are based on both physical and political truth. This can help toward our moral imperative to liberate ourselves and embrace our human destiny as a positive democracy. 
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