The Coercive Power of Capitalism

Roughly two months ago, I wrote about how from reading between this lines of media reports that unseen pressures were at a much higher level than usual:

The feeling I have is that of generalized tension, the social/political equivalent of the sort of disturbance that animals detect in advance of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, of pressure building up along major fault lines. The other way to articulate this vibe is that it is as if events are being influenced by a large unseen gravitational or magnetic force, as if a black hole had moved into the ‘hood. We can’t see the hidden superdense object, but we can infer that it’s distorting the space around it.

Now if you just want to go with the “maybe this is just your neurosis” view, we are in the midst of a counterrevolution, and it’s not exactly cheery to be watching its progress on a daily basis.

This week has had an outbreak of events that could be read as concrete manifestations, including the revelation that the US has listened in on 35 head of state, which is producing a diplomatic uproar (Merkel and Hollande are demanding personal explanations from Obama) and former NSA director Michael Hayden giving “on background” interviews critical of the Administration on the Acela, which were then live-tweeted. But for my money, one of the most telling manifestation was a BBC interview of comedian Russell Brand discussing revolution going viral. That was the result of another remarkable development, that Brand was invited to guest edit the New Statesman. Mind you, Brand has written top-notch political commentary. But the New Statesman having him edit an entire edition devoted to the topic of revolution (see his essay) is a double-dip into what Daniel Hallin called the sphere of deviance.

They may have had the unfortunate side effect of overshadowing some very important pieces by Ian Welsh on developing a new ideology. I wanted to flag one of the important issues he discusses in the his first one, since the number of comments on it in the Links section where I included it led me to believe most readers skipped past it.

One issue I’ve long been bothered by is the libertarian fixation on the state as the source of coercive power. The strong form version is that the state is the only party with coercive power (and please don’t try denying that a lot of libertarians say that; there are plenty of examples in comments in past posts). Libertarians widely, if not universally, depict markets and commerce as less or even non-coercive.

What is remarkable is how we’ve blinded ourselves to the coercive element of our own system. From Robert Heilbroner in Behind the Veil of Economics:

This negative form of power contrasts sharply with with that of the privileged elites in precapitalist social formations. In these imperial kingdoms or feudal holdings, disciplinary power is exercised by the direct use or display of coercive power. The social power of capital is of a different kind….The capitalist may deny others access to his resources, but he may not force them to work with him. Clearly, such power requires circumstances that make the withholding of access of critical consequence. These circumstances can only arise if the general populace is unable to secure a living unless it can gain access to privately owned resources or wealth…

The organization of production is generally regarded as a wholly “economic” activity, ignoring the political function served by the wage-labor relationships in lieu of baliffs and senechals. In a like fashion, the discharge of political authority is regarded as essentially separable from the operation of the economic realm, ignoring the provision of the legal, military, and material contributions without which the private sphere could not function properly or even exist. In this way, the presence of the two realms, each responsible for part of the activities necessary for the maintenance of the social formation, not only gives capitalism a structure entirely different from that of any precapitalist society, but also establishes the basis for a problem that uniquely preoccupies capitalism, namely, the appropriate role of the state vis-a-vis the sphere of production and distribution.

What struck me about Heilbroner’s discussion, as if he was tip-toeing around the issue, and it was not clear whether because he could not formulate a crisp description of the power relationships, or that it was clear to him but he really didn’t want to come out and say what he saw.

Ian Welsh ventures where Heilbroner hesitated to go:

The fundamental idea of our current regime is one that most people have forgotten, because it is associated with Marx, and one must not talk about even the things Marx got right, because the USSR went bad. It is that we are wage laborers. We work for other people, we don’t control the means of production. Absent a job, we live in poverty. Sure, there are some exceptions, but they are exceptions. We are impelled, as it were, by Marx’s whip of hunger. It took a lot of work to set up this system, as Polyani notes in his book “the Great Transformation”, but now that it has happened, it is invisible to us.

We have to sell our labor (or be supported by someone who does that) as a condition of survival. Now that may not seem peculiar since that has been the state of affairs in most advanced economies for generations. The seeming exceptions, like farmers and even fishermen, are now little capitalists; they own equipment and sell their goods to wholesalers of various sorts. This order was imposed after the feudal era. As Yasha Levine explained, citing Michael Perelmen’s The Invention of Capitalism:

Faced with a peasantry that didn’t feel like playing the role of slave, philosophers, economists, politicians, moralists and leading business figures began advocating for government action. Over time, they enacted a series of laws and measures designed to push peasants out of the old and into the new by destroying their traditional means of self-support.

“The brutal acts associated with the process of stripping the majority of the people of the means of producing for themselves might seem far removed from the laissez-faire reputation of classical political economy,” writes Perelman. “In reality, the dispossession of the majority of small-scale producers and the construction of laissez-faire are closely connected, so much so that Marx, or at least his translators, labeled this expropriation of the masses as ‘‘primitive accumulation.’’

Perelman outlines the many different policies through which peasants were forced off the land—from the enactment of so-called Game Laws that prohibited peasants from hunting, to the destruction of the peasant productivity by fencing the commons into smaller lots—but by far the most interesting parts of the book are where you get to read Adam Smith’s proto-capitalist colleagues complaining and whining about how peasants are too independent and comfortable to be properly exploited, and trying to figure out how to force them to accept a life of wage slavery.

And this might put the “failure of capitalism” theme in context. If you have a system that requires that people sell their labor as a condition of survival, yet fails to provide enough opportunities to sell labor to go around, you have conditions for revolt. Hungry, desperate people having nothing to lose. That, and not charity, is the root of the welfare state, to provide a buffer for when the capitalist system chokes up and presumably on a short-term basis, fails to provide enough jobs (that and to provide for people who are infirm, handicapped, or otherwise cannot work, which communities in England did in the early modern era).

So you can see the obvious tension: the capitalist classes in America, to increase their riches further, have been squeezing workers harder by not hiring as they did in the past. We’ve never had a “recovery” in the post-WWII era with so little of GDP growth going to labor (meaning both hiring and wage increases). In the past, the average was over 60% and the lowest was 55%. I haven’t seen a recent update, but the last figures I saw was that the level for this “recovery” was under 30%. Yet simultaneously, theres’s a full-bore effort on to gut the remaining safety nets. If this isn’t a prescription for social and political instability, I don’t know what is.

And Welsh gives some clues in a must-read new post as to why we are in a mess:

Basically, being a hunter-gatherer is about as good as it gets for most of human existence. There are some better agricultural societies to live in for brief periods (certain periods of Roman history, say) but they are rare. Industrial society produces better medicine and goods, but we work harder and have vastly more chronic disease even at the same age, and industrial society includes as its concommitent things like the widespread rape in the Congo and African poverty: that’s a requirement of our society, is not incidental.

But hunter-gatherers lose confrontations with pastoralists and agricultural societies. It’s a great way to live, but more dense societies were better at violence, so hunter-gatherers were forced to the margins….

If you want a society, then, which is prosperous and egalitarian, with the proceeds of increased production going to everyone and not just a few, you must have an internal structure of power which gives ordinary people quite a bit, makes concentration of power in private hands difficult, makes the government unable to use too much power against its own citizenry while (and this is the important bit) still being able to defend itself externally, and able to resist internal putsches. Egalitarian societies which cannot defend themselves get overwhelmed by hierarchical societies which are better at violence.

This extends to monetary matters. If outsiders with money can buy up your society and upset your internal political and productive relationships because they are more efficient, or just bigger, or have their capital more concentrated: if you will let them buy you up because some part of your society wants to cash out, then whatever internal relationships you have are vulnerable. This has happened to vast swathes of the third world, where Westerners come in and buy out traditional relationships. NAFTA pushed millions of Mexicans off their farms, made Mexico weaker because those people now needed to pay for food (often foreign, and also less nutritious) and made Mexico, objectively, worse off than before NAFTA. But some Mexicans got very rich by selling out…

We think of irrationality as bad, but rational decision making leads to be betrayal. If someone’s going to offer me more than I can otherwise earn to betray the rest of my people, a lot of folks are going to take that deal unless they have the irrational belief that it’s wrong, and a rational belief that if they do it, those who have an irrational belief in the system will hurt them, or even kill them.

This is ideology. Any ideological system that doesn’t produce people willing to die and kill for it, will lose to an ideology that does. The question is not whether violence is permitted, the question is when it is permitted. Most of us want to live in a peaceful society, I certainly do. But that peace is always and everywhere undergirded by rules about when to commit violence, a willingness to do so and an ability do it well. Societies and ideologies that do not do violence well exist at the sufferance of those who do, and live under the conditions and in the places that those good at violence permit. Generally very bad conditions.

This is a very nasty conundrum at the root of power that few like to discuss so directly. It should not be surprising that there are no easy answers, and even enlightened compromises are difficult to keep in balance over time.

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274 comments

  1. Steve H.

    The System seems to do a pretty good job of squeezing every drop out of the milk cow, rather than just outright slaughtering it. In the Ultimatum Game, equilibriums are ignored and offers rejected when below 20%. If you offer 25%, and make it clear rejection will be crushed, Loss Aversion doubles the offer and makes it seem like 50%, considering the alternatives.

    So as long as people have something, many to most will be concerned with keeping what they got. I have a concern that when speculation drives up land prices, and property taxes are based on the market value, there is a break point where only the wealthy can afford the taxes, and the property transfer is managed through the state. At that point, ideology without resources results in pointless concussions.

    On a more positive not, Robert Paterson is a former banker with a reasonably productive view on how things can work out better. May I encourage folks to take a look at what he has to say about social networks, community and work.

    http://smartpei.typepad.com/robert_patersons_weblog/

    1. Generalfeldmarschall von Hindenburg

      “. I have a concern that when speculation drives up land prices, and property taxes are based on the market value, there is a break point where only the wealthy can afford the taxes, and the property transfer is managed through the state…”

      Just ask Diocletian about that. I’m sure he could commiserate. He’d add a couple points about a military industrial complex that had an insatiable appetite for funds that were less and less available.

      1. mc2264

        If speculation drives up land prices, and property tax rates are reasonably high, the taxes will check the speculation and keep prices in range of poorer buyers.

        The formula is V=a/(i+t) where a is the annual income, i is the cap rate, and t is the tax rate. Clearly the higher t, the less speculation can raise prices.

  2. s spade

    What American history is really about is a land grab. First, removal of the natives. Then, transfer of the public lands to speculators on the inside of Hamilton’s finance scheme, who made giant profits reselling to settlors on mortgage credit. Afterwards, came another grab by railroad financiers, more resales on mortgage and then mortgage foreclosure during the twenty-five year depression which followed resumption of specie payments. The coup de grace was the Great Depression, which eliminated most of the remaining small fry who had somehow managed to hang on to their land.

    The recovery begun by WWII was mostly suburban. Land was acquired in small building lots, on mortgage, and the prosperity of the owners was dependent on holding a job. It is interesting that this period 1946-1973 is revered as the most prosperous in our history, since that prosperity was almost entirely purchased by the surrender of economic independence. What has happened since 1973 is simply the death of money coupled with a cycle of manic speculation, leaving the most recent generation of speculators holding the bag and finding debt service insupportable in a world of vanishing jobs and shrinking real wages.

    1. Banger

      That’s an overly simplistic view. Much happened in between these sorts of macro events. Womens suffrage, the labor and civil rights movement, the arts in all their glory, the growth of academia (particularly after WWII), psychedelics, yoga, Buddhism, sushi—you get the picture. We had the opportunity to build a very spectacular culture with room for wommen, gays, minorities but we lost our nerve and were encouraged and goaded to live in fear, particularly after 9/11 which was more than merely an “attack.”

      1. diptherio

        Come on man…all the issues that Welsh points to were around long before 9/11.

        When, exactly did WE have the opportunity to build the wonderful culture you speak of? Before I was born, apparently, because I can’t think of a single moment during my lifetime when real social revolution seemed like a possibility in this country.

        1. Banger

          Certainly these issues didn’t just appear but the politica situation changed dramatically. Repeal of major U.S. treaty commitments, massive breakage of international law, repeal of not just parts of the Bill of Rights butndestructive habeas corpus as well, the largest amount of financial fraud perpetrated in the modern era (as far as I know) and dramatic growth of the national security state, end of posse commutators and so on. Major change.

        2. Jeremy Grimm

          I am plenty old enough to remember a time when I felt a real social revolution was possible, even occuring. Then I started working for a living.

          In my long ago youth not only our society but Science seemed to stand at the brink of transcendent discoveries in biology, medicine, chemistry, and physics. That time was the mid-point of the neo-liberal ascendency that’s lead us to our present times. Science became a mis-treated hand-maiden to Defense and worse, to Corporate goal based research. Instead of new and wonderful combinations of fruits and vegetable, we discovered how to make potatoes that incorporate their own insecticide and seeds that don’t germinate. Instead of discovering, producing and distrubuting medicines to cure age-old diseases, we discovered new drug analogs to extend expiring Pharma patents. Instead of advancing outcomes, our Medicine discovered the wonders of arbitrarily setting the price for treatments claiming the “market made me do it”. While big Insurance carefully ensnared the medical industry and big Banks indentured our future doctors along with a large part of the most promising in our next generation, thanks in part to the industrialization and price gouging of big Education, including our State Colleges and Universities. I paid taxes for years educating other people kids so that my state could pull out its support when I need to send my kids to college.

          In a couple of decades I went from the hope of leaving my children a better life to hope that they might somehow leave them a somewhat decent life. What optimism I may have had for our future must now also contend with the global warming catastrophe, the looming depletion of our chief energy source, coupled with a substantial increase in population — though I can’t complain that these last two disasters weren’t anticipated.

          As if that weren’t enough, I’ve spent the last 20 years fighting to hang on to the fairly well-paying job I hold and watched as the public schools made the final transition to robot factories and public services deteriorated while my taxes held or increased. To add to this, my country, something I once was proud to be part of, has consistently instigated chaos in the world and worked to eliminate the few abrogated freedoms we still enjoyed in my youth.

          This last decade, even the last three years, have stepped up the processes of decay to the point that I don’t know what to think and I don’t know how to respond. I was heartened that we avoided entering yet another stupid war by stepping into the unrest in Syria. I fear that may be a fiasco dodged only for the moment. I voted for Obama as the lesser of two evils. I’ve always voted, considering it a duty and a right, but after 2008 there is no lesser of two evils. Stubborn democrat as I’ve been since Adalai Stevenson, I am no more (and Republican? I don’t know how any person capable of self-interest could vote for that party if they aren’t pulling 7-figures and probably better.

          Finally, in answer to the question that Yves re-posed — yes I feel a great and growing disturbance in the force, far greater than when the question was first asked. I don’t know what result might come of it but I’m ready to run for hills. Ideology is swell, and I think it’s important, but I’m afraid it won’t help much against the chaotic forces I sense in the wind.

          1. Dan H

            Well written and touching. It almost makes me sad for the impending doom of Amerika. But given the rarity of any other posts even approaching the level of yours, I will continue to watch our implosion with a morbid sense of glee. We deserve this shit.

            Be a loose rivet. Let this thing rattle apart.

          2. armchair

            I love the vivid description of what you have witnesses. I also like that you point out the population increase, a ‘foreseeable’ crisis.

      2. s spade

        Touchie feelie stuff, Banger. Without land people have no control of their own lives. Sure, they can practice the stuff you glorify in their spare time, but only if the Man leaves them any.

        Sorry for the simplistic view. How do you characterize yours? IMHO, it needs music from Weil and a score by Brecht.

        1. susan the other

          I like your view, Spade. The descent of value. Probably accounted for in the story of Cain and Abel. Where Abel, the farmer, gave god an offering of wheat and god was pleased. Cain, the hunter, gave god an animal (?) as an offering and god rejected it. So Cain got jealous and we know the rest. Did I get this story right? Anyway it is the devolution of value. From feet-on-the-ground basic value like living off the land to the gradual transfer of this value into enterprise and money, a mere symbol of value, which money then took on a life of its own appropriated politics and social power. Makes sense to me.

          1. charles sereno

            Susan, you confirm my observation — Cain was the farmer.

            charles sereno
            January 2, 2012 at 3:19 pm
            In my experience, when I ask people who are only vaguely familiar with the Cain and Abel story — “Who was the farmer and who the herder?” — they invariably guess wrong. We generally associate farming with civilization. There is a simpler explanation for the story. The nomadic Israelites who invaded the sedentary Canaanites identified with the pastoralist Abel.

            1. susan the other

              Thanks Charles. Clearly I do not read the Bible. This blows my theory then. But I still think that enterprise has replaced birthright. You can include the enterprise of war and tribal raids. I think we are very primitive.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            You’ve got it wrong. Abel gave some sort of animal (a kid?) and Cain, who was the farmer, gave only vegetables. God deemed Cain’s gift to be inferior. Cain was jealous of and made at Abel (who I believe was a shepherd or herd owner, in any event, each gave stuff from their day job and Abel’s was better). So Cain killed Abel to eliminate the competition.

  3. Jim Haygood

    ‘The strong form version is that the state is the only party with coercive power.’

    Government has arrogated to itself a monopoly on violence, taxation and (since 1970) fiat currency creation.

    Financial theory explicitly cites the latter two as the basis for Treasury debt serving as the ‘risk-free’ reference rate for all borrowing, while the state’s monopoly on violence is implicit to enforcing the exorbitant sovereign privilege of legally collecting money at gunpoint from reluctant donors.

    As an imperative, hunger unquestionably exerts its own coercion, whether we’re talking about the former USSR or the Swiss family Robinson. But when one examines the 100 million souls swept off by organized state violence (war) in the 20th century, it’s pretty clear which source of coercion stands at the top of the heap.

    Instead of ‘your money OR your life,’ the state often wants ‘your money AND your life.’

    Abolish the freaking Fed, the fount of permanent war finance.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Not true. Henry Ford had a private army that would beat up on union organizers and break up labor actions, quite brutally.

      1. Schofield

        Indeed was William The Conqueror not merely a private entrepreneur like Henry Ford with a band of mercenaries who got paid with English land? Having conquered William became the state, the government. Neither the state nor the private sector are inherently good or bad but both are vulnerable to sociopathic manipulation.

        1. anon y'mouse

          William the Conqueror was simply the CEO of a multinational of his day. his ‘vast tracts of land’ were merely the capital holdings of his time.

          power assumes new clothes and new legal instruments and new modes of ‘wealth’ distinction but it is always the same.

          under William, did not the English become second-class citizens in their own country? and that was at the level of the nobles. imagine how far down the villeins were.

          and the church was hand in hand with all of this, or better yet, the church betted on all sides and made sure that regardless of who would win, they would come out ahead.

    2. Walter Map

      You’re very strangely excluding the coercion, corruption, capture, and control of governments by monied interests. Presidents have warned of it and deplored it throughout U.S. history.

      How did you manage to miss that?

    3. from Mexico

      • Jim Haygood says:

      Government has arrogated to itself a monopoly on violence, taxation and (since 1970) fiat currency creation.

      Fiat currency yes, but fiat private-bank money creation no. And as this graph shows, it is in private-bank money creation, and not government currency creation, where the real money creation action has been. Currency represents only about 5% of the total money supply:

      http://dollardaze.org/blog/posts/00578/TotalMoneySupply.png

      The Fed stopped publishing M3 in 2006, but as Shadowstats shows, M3 really skyrocketed after 2006:

      http://static3.businessinsider.com/image/4d75fa48cadcbbd066060000/chart.gif

      As Dan Kervick has so aptly noted:

      The financial collapses of the 19th century weren’t caused by a government-backed banking cartel. And the collapse of 2007/8 emerged from the shadow banking system that had escaped from the government-run system.

      http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2013/10/market-myths-real-drivers-american-progress.html#comment-440067

      • Jim Haygood says:

      Financial theory explicitly cites the latter two as the basis for Treasury debt serving as the ‘risk-free’ reference rate for all borrowing, while the state’s monopoly on violence is implicit to enforcing the exorbitant sovereign privilege of legally collecting money at gunpoint from reluctant donors.

      And just how much do you believe those private banks’ deeds of trust and liens would be worth without the state’s monopoly of violence to enforce them?

      1. Walter Map

        The mafia shark has enforcers, the bankster has sheriffs. The one operates under color of law, the other is a wannabe.

        The cosa nostra is terribly jealous, and it was a mistake to legalize loan sharking.

    4. Ned Ludd

      The state is a baton that the powerful use to beat the rest of us down. It is important to get rid of the baton – but, once gone, the person who was holding it will grasp for another weapon, such as private armies or security forces.

      The pernicious aspect of the state, as you allude to, is that it claims for itself a monopoly on “legitimate” violence. The state can act immorally, violently, and barbarically – on behalf of powerful factions – while still maintaining a façade of legitimacy.

      “So long as there’s broad support amongst a people, it can be argued there’s a level of legitimacy even to the most invasive and morally wrong program, as it was an informed and willing decision,” he said.

      As for the Fed and fiat currency, these are weapons that elites use to maintain power. However, in a capitalist system, the elites are able to turn almost anything into a weapon to maintain their power – newspapers, unions, progressive groups, political parties, schools, scientific research, etc.

    5. jrs

      Yes it’s hard to top a state gone wrong in raw violence. Violence if not death toll (the death toll question is open because of people who will die from climate change, people who die from horrible working conditions (mines that explode and factories that collapse on them), people who die from lack of having thier basic needs met etc.. That’s the current economic system whatever name you want to call it.

      The point made in the article I think is coercion isn’t always just it’s worst possible manifestation.

      If your point is just that states gone wrong go horribly horribly wrong, agreed, but hey people willing reelect Mr Kill List. I mean what can one even do when that is our politics. Scream.

      1. sierra7

        Any “state” will only get away with what it does because it’s citizenry allow it to.
        Whether they are cowed or whether they enjoy the pain……
        Until the citizenry are enough repressed will they revolt.
        Apparently in the US, we are not ready……yet.
        And, just saying, millions tried to stop the 2003 invasion of Iraq…where did that get us??????

    6. redleg

      History lesson:
      Please review the history of the East India Company (etc.) before pinning the monopoly of violence, money creation, etc. as a purely state function. History shows that private corporations can rule large areas exactly like a state with similar, if not equal, results.

      1. sufferinsuccotash, stupor mundi

        Interesting that you should mention the East India Company. The word “loot” got into the English language because of what the Company did in Bengal after getting political control over it in the 1760s. Problem was, the company’s finances got into such a mess as a result that it was virtually bankrupt by the early 1770s. The British government had to impose stronger control over the Company’s business and also had to bail it out. The feature was giving the Company a monopoly to sell its otherwise unsalable surplus tea to those 13 colonies. The rest, as we say in the history biz, is history…

  4. proximity1

    In the passage cited (“The capitalist may deny others access to his resources, but he may not force them to work with him”)
    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/10/the-coercive-power-of-capitalism.html#SU9QYqsxKrCJAOHv.99, “force” should be read literally. Heilbroner is contrasting the power to directly coerce labor on a specific personal level–as feudal lords and those above them could do–with a different and more diffuse form of control and coercion in which laborers have little or no recourse to doing other than selling their labor to someone but, in most cases other than a single-employer locality, not to any one particular employer.

    Heilbroner was certainly acutely aware that people who are wage laborers are indeed faced with what is undooubtedly a form of coercion under which they must one way or another work, steal or beg their living. Heibroner was neither naive about that nor an apologist for laissez-faire capitalism. He was far more realistic about such truths than many economists–then or now.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you read the book. He does tip-toe around it. He talks around this issue for over two full pages; I had to work to find the core bits to extract. He looked very reluctant to state his point crisply. Was it out of concern about looking too Marxist?

      1. Tom Hickey

        Afraid of being too Marxist? After what happened to Lorie Tarshis? Of course.

        Here is Randy Wray — Let me go back to 1997 when I was finishing up my book titled Understanding Modern Money and I sent the manuscript to Robert Heilbroner to see if he’d write a blurb for the jacket. He called me immediately to tell me he could not do it. As nicely as he could, he said (in the most soothing voice), “Your book is about money—the most terrifying topic there is. And this book is going to scare the hell out of everybody.”

      2. proximity1

        I did read Behind the Veil of Economics — as well as his The Worldly Philosophers, Marxism: For & Against, An Inquiry Into the Human Prospect, The Nature and Logic of Capitalism and The Crisis of Vision in Modern Economic Thought –this last written with William S. Milberg.

        Heilbroner was too astute not to have recognized that laborers are very often coerced, living habitually under coercive circumstances which they submit to because they have little or no other alternative; his writings–when considered beyond a handful of selected passages from a single work–indicate that.

        I don’t claim that his work is faultless or that since his work other of advances in a critique of capitalism haven’t been presented by others– advances which are absent from or not particularly pronounced in his writings. But the fault you find, asserting here that he took such a naïve view of the relations between employers and their hired labor, is a disservice to the work of Robert Heilbroner since it misrepresents his views on this particular point.

        In dealing with a thinker of Heilbroner’s calibre, a reader ought to try and find a reasonable interpretation first, before supposing that an interpretation which leads to something easily seen as ridiculous was in fact the import of his words.

        I could not agree more with you when you write that,

        “I’m sick of the free pass given the libertarian blather, “The state is the only source of coercive power.”

        Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/05/earth-to-libertarians-private-parties-have-coercive-power-too.html#rgxQuPEgklls2LYZ.99

        Heilbroner, too, understood that “the state is not the only source of coercive power” –very, very far from it. The very thesis and motive of Behind the Veil of Economics springs from an effort to strip away the surface deceptions of economic theory to find what actually lies “behind the obscuring veil.”

  5. larry

    A good complement to your discussion I think is Albert Hirschman’s The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism Before its Triumph (Princeton Classics 2013 ed.; 20th Anniversary ed. 1977). He argues that the early supporters of capitalism were so because they felt that pecuniary interests would deflect people from exercising more destructive passions, which he says are quite unlike the justifications used for it today. He is interested in this history of ideas because, in his view, “illusory expectations that are associated with certain social decisions at the time of their adoption help keep their *real* effects from view”. In particular, he tries to show how and why the Montesquieu-Steuart vision of capitalism failed to materialize.

    1. anon y'mouse

      “He argues that the early supporters of capitalism were so because they felt that pecuniary interests would deflect people from exercising more destructive passions, which he says are quite unlike the justifications used for it today.”

      how conclusively does he argue it? do you buy it? don’t you think that perhaps that those are simply the justifications that they used then–more moneymaking ability=morality? it’s awfully self-serving. if the original capitalists had something so clearly beneficial in their pocket, why didn’t the brutish peasants want any of it? if there are clear benefits that only some are seeing, how come those are not self-evident to the rest of us?

      we peasants simply don’t know what’s good for us? we are too tied to irrational superstition and religion (morality by another name, but not necessarily always equivalent)? we just don’t like ‘change’ because we’re stubborn?

  6. David Lentini

    Welsh’s posts are indeed excellent, Yves, and I’m happy that you took the time and effort to give them the emphasis they deserve. One of the aspects of the so-called “progressive” movement that I have found frustrating is the lack of a cohesive ideological expression, if not a true expressed ideology. I think this was both a strength and weakness of the Occupy movement: A strength in that the élites couldn’t find a clear villian to gin up and then slay; but also a weakness in that it’s tought to generate general public support if there isn’t any “there” to point to. And given the decades and billions of dollars spent by the élites to elevate themselves to ruling status by making an ideology of the most viscious form of capitalism and destroying the ideas of community and charity, we desperately need to start describing a better vision. I think Welsh has done us all a favor by taking a giant step forward in that direction.

    But I would suggest that Welsh’s rational-irrational dichotomy is false; in fact, it’s a chimera offered up by the neo-classical economists to con everyone into thinking that capitalism is somehow a scientifically demonstratble law of nature like Newtonian physics. The general definition of “rational” emphasizes the primacy of scientific and mathematical fact over emotion. But anyone who really acted in a solely “rational” manner would soon be found crazy. The truly “rational” are people like Ted Kaczynski. Who would call Swift’s Dr. Pangloss sane? Even Mr. Spock had to have his hyper-rationality tempered with a set of (half-) human emotions. Most utopias are models of rational thinking, and they yet they all turn out to be fantasies and nightmares.

    In short, to be truly rational, one has to embrace one’s own irrationality, because human brains can’t be divided into isolable pockets of “rational” and “irrational” thought. We each have a brain that is the seat of our intellect; our thoughts encompass all of the activities of our brains, including those that cannot be consciously identified or expressed in formalized scientific of mathematical expressions. When we do that, we necessarily include such “irrational” thoughts such as love, empathy, caring, kindness, which are the basis for most moral codes.

    In short, we have to deny the false rational-irrational dichotomy and embrace our intellects in all their complexity. Only when we accept our truly complex intllects can we then find a way forward to a peaceful society.

    1. BITFU

      David, your mind may be playing tricks on you, so it isn’t necessarily in your best interests to trust your perceptions completely.

      We should consider other methods of solving problems that confront society. If people would only lighten up a little, the solution will emerge! Things are too polarized and people are working especially hard to “make something happen”. There has got to be a better way.

    2. from Mexico

      David Lentini says:

      But I would suggest that Welsh’s rational-irrational dichotomy is false; in fact, it’s a chimera offered up by the neo-classical economists….

      I agree.

      Welsh, like Richard Dawkins, seems to be in love with individual-level selection. He makes this very apparent when he writes:

      Egalitarian societies which cannot defend themselves get overwhelmed by hierarchical societies which are better at violence.

      Individual-selection in evolutionary biology goes hand-in-hand with neoclassical economics since both consider only the fitness of the individual and not of the group.

      Multi-level selection, however, takes into account not just the fitness of the individual but also that of the group. The rub is that group fitness comes at the expense of individual fitness. So there is a trade-off at work here.

      Peter Turchin makes the case in War and Peace and War that nothing destroys group fitness — cooperation, unit cohesion, the “glue” that holds the group together — quicker than inordinate selfishness and inequality. The competing theory to that espoused by Welsh is that concepts like fairness, justice and equality enhance group fitness. In times of war, groups with greater group fitness outperform those with lower group fitness.

      1. diptherio

        Uhh, Mex, Welsh is specifically discussing group selection here. “Egalitarian societies…”

        And I think you may be mis-characterizing Welsh’s position. He seems to be saying that more egalitarian societies, in the past, have tended to be worse at “violence” than more hierarchical ones. The Plains Indians were much more egalitarian than the Anglo invaders, but that didn’t make them better at war. In fact, because among the Lakota, for instance, there was little in the way of hierarchical structure, the young men often decided to attack white settlers against the better judgment and advice of their elders. This led to division within the tribe as well as retaliation from the whites.

        If egalitarian societies do better at war than hierarchical ones, what happened to all the egalitarian societies? Oh yeah, they were destroyed by hierarchical societies…

        What Welsh is stating here is a difficult truth for pacifists to accept. If you can’t defend yourself from violence, you will be subsumed by it. Just because we have an egalitarian mindset, we are not freed from the necessity of being able to kick some ass when the situation requires it. If we can’t, we’ll end up enslaved (or employed) regardless of how much fellow-feeling we have.

        1. TomDority

          No offense but – what does ‘better at war’ mean? – especially in regards to civilization.
          Just because one is better at war, in my mind, does not mean one is better.

        2. anon y'mouse

          then we need the armed men to come to ‘our’ side.

          they understand these issues.

          the problems are—they need to understand that they have no better right or ability to determine what comes after than any of the rest of us.

          healthily being able to take and receive power, and take and receive instruction when one is out of one’s depth, is a sign of psychological maturity. we need the most mature to realize that they are working for the -wrong- purposes.

          don’t ask me how to do this. I can’t even do this in my own family. or really, don’t want to harangue the beleaguered. and most of them are pretty beset by difficulties when they come out of the armed forces. that’s why I think most of them want to go back IN to it as soon as they can, if they were not severely damaged in the first round.

        3. David Lentini

          I’m not sure I’d use “ass-kicking” and “pacifism” to characterize Welsh’s point. I think Welsh is trying point out that societies require an ideology that sustains their values: A society that values peace has to commit itself to an ideology that supports peace, which, as I agree, would emphasize communities at the cost of individualism and selfishness. The community would have to be willing to defend the ideology against challenges.

          Of course, that may include ass-kicking and warfare, but it also would include less violent means. The point is that those of us who want a peaceful society can’t expect it to happen natrually, and we can’t just accept destructive actions made in the name of “freedom”. We have to understand what it costs to create and mantain a peaceful society; we have to commit ourselves to that effort; and we have to defend the society against attack from within and without. A highly individualistic culture won’t work. In a world full of people who think they should be Hitler the real thing is bound to prevail.

          I’ve often argued that if we want to have a real, robust democracy, then we will likely need high taxes, limited inheritance, controls on commercial speech, and clear limits on what is acceptable political organizing and campaigning. In short, “democracy” is not “freedom” (as in unfetter action), a point people realize once they remember that the three most freee men of the 20th Century were Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. To have a viable democracy, we have to commit ourselves to having a viable democracy, and not simply assume that everyone will just play along.

          1. diptherio

            “A society that values peace has to commit itself to an ideology that supports peace…”

            Agreed, but also an ideology that inspires arational devotion (which I like better than Welsh’s ‘irrational’) and the willingness to lay down one’s life in it’s defense.

            I think justice, not peace, needs to be the foundation of a better ideology. When there is justice, peace will be the natural result.

            And no, I don’t think being better at war, i.e. more capable of enforcing their will through force, makes a society “better” (of course not!). But, sadly, societies with more effective militaries have seemed to dominate ones with less effective militaries in the past. Therefore, having an effective military would seem to be necessary for the long term survival of any society. Would that it were otherwise…

            1. Whistling in the Dark

              I am cueing in on the key word: “justice.” … And, this is not flippant…. but what does that mean? Is it one of those “you know it when you see it” kind of things, or do we need some “44 theses,” if you like, to capture it?

              I mean, I get that it’s a nice slogan. But what are the aims underlying it? You know, because if I am being asked to carry one side of the banner, it might be nice to agree on the meaning of the thing scrawled on the billboard I am hoisting. .. Of course, little doubt we could debate the thing all day, yadda, yadda, and, so the argument goes, the time is now for marching instead of settling each and every iota in our universal manifest of our public intentions.

              If you like, I can accept that it is a secretly negative value, in the sense that the word is prompted out of some sense of the thing having been violated — meaning, it is not immediately possible to articulate what the thing itself is.

              Anyway, what? I am serious: Can you put the thing into definite terms? Again, I am okay if you do so in some sort of negative or otherwise clever manner. But the word itself — it’s just a token!! — is dangerous. I mean, as dangerous as any secret sign would seem to the uninitiated. As dangerous as any cipher passing through neutral hands. As dangerous as those hideous radio jingles that worm their way into your head and then erupt like Athena or that thing from Alien — fully-intact, with all its attention-face-sucking presence — inside our skulls at some random, vulnerable moment. “Justice fruit is gonna move ya…” “If they could see me now, out on the justice cruise,” Yeah, you know, every successful movement ends up being touted by some thumbtack-smile Kathie Lee replacement at an advanced enough stage in its evolution. I hate to see that happen to a perfectly well-intentioned talisman.

              To put another way: Let’s say you get a nice parade going under this banner. What’s to stop some malevolent being from jumping in front of that thing simply because they have the right words pasted on their lips?

        4. from Mexico

          • diptherio says:

          Uhh, Mex, Welsh is specifically discussing group selection here. “Egalitarian societies…”

          Let’s stick that back into the complete context from which it was extracted:

          Egalitarian societies which cannot defend themselves get overwhelmed by hierarchical societies which are better at violence.

          Those like Turchin who believe in multiple-level selection assert the very opposite of what Welsh does, and that is that egaliatrian societies with more advanced systems of justice and fairness are the ones which are better at organizing to defend themselves.

          • diptherio says:

          And I think you may be mis-characterizing Welsh’s position. He seems to be saying that more egalitarian societies, in the past, have tended to be worse at “violence” than more hierarchical ones. The Plains Indians were much more egalitarian than the Anglo invaders, but that didn’t make them better at war. In fact, because among the Lakota, for instance, there was little in the way of hierarchical structure, the young men often decided to attack white settlers against the better judgment and advice of their elders. This led to division within the tribe as well as retaliation from the whites.

          If egalitarian societies do better at war than hierarchical ones, what happened to all the egalitarian societies? Oh yeah, they were destroyed by hierarchical societies…

          You and Welsh seem to be in love with an idea that has almost no relationship to reality. Primitive socities were actually very adept at both inequality and domination by violent means, even if this conflicts with certain deeply-held libertarian ideologies of both the right and the left. Azar Gat explains in War in Human Civilization that

          Contrary to the Rousseauite imagination, the evidence of historically observed hunter-gatherers and, more dimly but increasingly, that of paleo-archaeology shows that humans have been fighting among themselves throughout the history of our species and genus, during the human ‘evolutionary state of nature’…. Competition for survival over scarce resources and women — with all its behavioral derivatives and myriad refractions — dominated life, often turning violent. In historically observed hunter-gatherer socities (as among primitive horticulturalists) the rate of violent death among men appears to have been in the region of 25 per cent, with the rest of them covered with scars and society as a whole overshadowed by the ever-present prospect of conflict. Such a violent mortality rate is much higher than those registered by state societies and is approximated only by the most destructive state wars…. Indeed, the curious belief by many scholars that in the extremely competitive evolutionary state of nature human fighting (when it is admitted to have existed) occurred ‘just so’, to satisfy ‘psychological’ needs — that it was essentially non-adaptive and only began to ‘pay off’ with the coming of agriculture and the state — stands in stark contradiciton to everything we know empirically about nature and the human state of nature, while also constituting a breathtaking negation of the evolutionary logic.

          • diptherio says:

          What Welsh is stating here is a difficult truth for pacifists to accept. If you can’t defend yourself from violence, you will be subsumed by it. Just because we have an egalitarian mindset, we are not freed from the necessity of being able to kick some ass when the situation requires it. If we can’t, we’ll end up enslaved (or employed) regardless of how much fellow-feeling we have.

          Au contraire. It is you and Welsh with your highly romanticized but totally unrealistic notions of primitive man who are guilty of, as Gat puts it, “breathtaking negation of the evolutionary logic.”

          1. diptherio

            I can’t speak for Welsh but I, for one, am under no illusions as to the amount of conflict in gather-hunter cultures. Take Chief Yellow Tail, of the Brulee Lakota, for instance. He made peace with the whites after being taken east, as a captive, and realizing that his society would never be able to resist the Anglos militarily.

            But while he was a peace-maker between his people and the invading, highly hierarchical and highly militant, culture, he was far from being a peaceful man. His greatest joy in life, according to him, was killing any member of an enemy tribe, man, woman or child, that he could find. The name of the particular tribe escapes me, but the reason they were hated so much by the Lakota was their unsavory practice of sacrificing captives.

            So yeah, violence. And that’s my point. Regardless of the society you’re living in, it needs to be able to defend itself against other aggressive societies (and there will probably always be such). What I think Welsh is saying is that having an ideology that people are willing to die and kill for is extremely helpful in providing for that defense.

            1. from Mexico

              diptherio says:

              So yeah, violence. And that’s my point. Regardless of the society you’re living in, it needs to be able to defend itself against other aggressive societies (and there will probably always be such). What I think Welsh is saying is that having an ideology that people are willing to die and kill for is extremely helpful in providing for that defense.

              I think you, Welsh and I all agree that “having an ideology that people are willing to die and kill for is extremely helpful in providing for that defense.” I’m just not sure we’re in agreement as how to get there.

              What’s better? An ideology which holds that a fair, just and more or less egalitarian society produces the best defense? Or an ideology which holds that an unfair, unjust and highly inegalitarian society produces the best defense?

              1. diptherio

                As I wrote above, in response to Dave:

                “I think justice, not peace, needs to be the foundation of a better ideology. When there is justice, peace will be the natural result.

              2. Whistling in the Dark

                “I think you, Welsh and I all agree that “having an ideology that people are willing to die and kill for is extremely helpful in providing for that defense.” I’m just not sure we’re in agreement as how to get there.”

                Yikes.

                Count me as willing to die for the cause of your seeing that there-in the agreement that you have just arrived at lies abject erasure, an eternal redscreen of death (and other asymptotically approximables.)

                “Die for.” Yeah, sure. Well, then, explicit articulation of ideology is de trop. One can die quietly, and be forgotten: this can also be heroic and fantastic and all that good stuff. “Kill for.” ZZztttt!!! Seriously? That’s what all this beautiful talk about justice and the like has come to? This is the result of years of desperate and earnest efforts of reading, analyzing, thinking all in the name of trying to ameliorate the many wrongs of the situation we find ourselves? Yeah, let’s kill some jerks. Problem solved. I met a talking hyena once. He caught my attention by his baleful imitation of a human laugh. I turned my eyes on him and he stared back with startling intelligence, and then shocked my heart as he spoke: “Just as the humans have for millennia scratched out our likeness into the echoing cave halls, within which their messge is transported utterly unchanged in its form across arbitrary spans of time, we too do our best to maintain a remembrance of encounters with the humans alive but in our oral traditions, in our laughs. At the end of our lives in the open, we lay down in some small depression, low from the sweep of wind and lion’s gaze, wallowing in the comfort of warm and decaying leaves. The earthen smell consumes us as we are carried to an afterlife of which you will never know. But, part of us lives on in the echoes of our laughs, which continue to resound off the surrounding mountainsides. The human too, finds his final home in a hollow, and his sounds reverberate through the centuries. And while a man is also capable at imitating our speech, the difference between I, the primum mobile, and you is this: While the human being has a soul and, as such, is an empty vessel, we are always filled until our last communion with the earth–and that with different shades of fear. But, in our last moments, as we lay down in the bosom of a fetid hole, we pause in reflection of this fact, which is our timeless cause of bewilderment and consternation: the human is an immortal echo chamber.”

                Let your last moments of martyrdom, should it all come to that, as you have charged, be that of childlike astonishment!

                Love,
                Whistling

            2. from Mexico

              And to reiterate David Lentini’s original point, I’m not the least bit inclined to grant neo-classical economists ownership of the word “rational,” what with their grotesquely deformed definition of the word, which Peter Turchin describes here:

              During the twentieth century, the ideas of Mandeville, Smith, and many others have been developed and systematized into what is now known as “the theory of rational choice.” The core of the theory is the postulate that people — “agents” — behave in such a way as to maximize their “utility function.” In principle, the utility function could be almost anything, but in practice almost all applications of the theory in the mainstream economics equate utility with material self-interest. In the most basic version, the utility is simply the dollar amount that an agent expects to get as a result of a certain action. The agent then should perform the action that yeilds the greatest payoff — this is what “maximizing utility” means. Agents that behave in ways that maximize their utility functions are “rational.”

              –PETER TURCHIN, War and Peace and War

              Multiple-level selection theory is antithetical to the theory of rational choice, because according to multiple-level selection theory individual fitness must be balanced against group fitness. Fairness, justice and equality are required to maximize group fitness, whereas the very opposite behaviors — greed, self-centeredness and unbridled pursuit of self-interest — are required to maximize individual fitness. Groups which are low on group fitness don’t put up good defenses: they are very vulnerable to being conquered.

    3. Banger

      Good points. The American left is very confused philosophically but that’s not the direct cause of its weakness. Certainly the history of 20th century philosophy (sadly there is virtually no 21st century philosophy that is understandable) has shown that if you follow rationality faithfully we arrive at paradox and the conclusion that rationality is very limited. Quite simply, reason is a tool not a project or cause in itself–those hyper-rationalists among us, like Dawkins (who is wrong on rational grounds) are just very naive philosophically.

      1. MikeNY

        You made me think of Pascal (always a good thing):

        “Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things beyond it.”

      2. s spade

        The left has always been confused because its soldiers have been driven largely by envy. The leaders have recognized that if you don’t supply carrots you must employ sticks. Every workers’ paradise ends in slavery. It is mystifying why intellectuals cannot understand that a few tweaks to the property system would do the trick. Less intellectually satisfying, of course, but a good deal more liberating.

        For example, imagine the world since 2008 if the bailout of the banks had been instead diverted to the general population. The bankers go broke and many go to prison. The mortgagees use the bailout to pay off their debts and everyone goes back to work older but wiser. Why didn’t this happen? Because our government is controlled by kleptocrats and operated by charlatans.

        1. steve from virginia

          @spade:

          ” … imagine the world since 2008 if the bailout of the banks had been instead diverted to the general population.”

          The funds would have wound up at the banks anyway, the public would still be broke, it would have taken a little longer … then again, maybe not.

          When you are paid, what is it you are actually paid with? Someone else’s bank loan … maybe your bosses’ or his company’s customers … or their bosses’ companies customers.

          The problem is not with the system’s components but with the system itself.

          The system is built around resource waste taking the place of careful husbandry … all agents are fully invested in the waste continuing at ever-increasing rates. Such a system invariably and inevitably bankrupts itself whether it is labeled left or right, socialist or libertarian, liquidationist or stimulative.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I don’t see why amassing great wealth is any more virtuous than hoarding kleenex boxes or old newspapers. Why would I be envious of somebody who hoards kleenex boxes?

            1. anon y'mouse

              newspapers can be burned in the winter. we used to do that in our woodstove growing up, before the landlord took it (dual gas/wood) and gave us a crappy electric-ignition stove instead.

              Kleenex boxes are great when you have a cold and you need a handy place to stash those nasty tissues (doubles as a mini portable garbage bin). that said, you don’t need 5,000 of them.

              almost anything is useful if you look at it right. well, except old broken plastic crap, and machinery that they don’t (and never intended to) sell the parts for, and a lot of ‘old’ electronic equipment seems to have very little use except as a paperweight.

    4. ChrisPacific

      I’m glad someone pointed this out. Welch’s columns are good, but in his definition of rational/irrational he is unconsciously adopting the language of economics (Keynes’ remark about practical men being unconscious slaves to defunct economists springs to mind). I don’t accept “behaves in accordance with the assumptions of neoclassical economics” as a definition for ‘rational,’ and I don’t think that Welch should either. ‘Greedy and amoral’ might be a better term.

      I do agree with his point on ideologies. In a sense they are lies that only come true if enough people believe in them. The more powerful your lies, the more people are willing to die for them, and the stronger your society. Terry Pratchett put it well in the Hogfather when he suggested that we are brought up believing small lies (Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy) as practice for believing the big ones later in life (“Justice. Mercy. Duty. That sort of thing.”)

  7. Moneta

    While Americans are still trying to understand what is happening and the anger is directed toward the elite, in the ROW the anger is toward America or will be since a lot of the elite throughout the world are propped up by the US.

    The ROW does not really think about poverty in the US because the media does not really share it. What we see are shows that depict blue collars in McMansions… the kind of houses and cars that only top executives here in Canada could buy just a few years ago before our dollar soared and real estate bubbled. But it is starting to get talked about.

    Here in Canada, wealth concentration has increased but the population does not recognize it yet because our houses are still up in the stratosphere. So the 1% is perceived as a US thing. I think the younger generation has started to catch on because our university system is starting to follow that of the US. But most adults are still blind to the problem and think the kids are entitled.

    Countries will do what they can to protect themselves and since the US has the reserve currency, it will be them against the US…so not much sympathy for the American middle class.

    Here in Canada, we can talk about Marxism and other isms without getting slammed but I have to admit that over the last decade or 2, as people have become “richer” thanks to their house, one who uses those words is instantly considered a whiner. But my gut tells me the reaction will not be like in the US when real estate collapses or people realized how debt has shackled them. My prediction is that Quebec will look at what is happening in France, and blame the evil Anglo bankers in Toronto.

    The US middle class will probably need the help of the ROW so needs to look outside its borders, something it has never really had to do. Just bringing an outsider’s POV.

    1. from Mexico

      Moneta says:

      Countries will do what they can to protect themselves and since the US has the reserve currency, it will be them against the US….

      I disagree. This is one of those half-truths that leads one to entirely wrong conclusions.

      Welsh fills in the the other half of the story which you omit:

      If outsiders with money can buy up your society and upset your internal political and productive relationships because they are more efficient, or just bigger, or have their capital more concentrated: if you will let them buy you up because some part of your society wants to cash out, then whatever internal relationships you have are vulnerable. This has happened to vast swathes of the third world, where Westerners come in and buy out traditional relationships. NAFTA pushed millions of Mexicans off their farms, made Mexico weaker because those people now needed to pay for food (often foreign, and also less nutritious) and made Mexico, objectively, worse off than before NAFTA. But some Mexicans got very rich by selling out…

      1. Moneta

        It could go your way, but Rome did break up.

        In Canada, we are following the US way because it seems to have worked for us up to now. House prices are up and most Canadians still believe they will be getting their pension. What is happening in the US can not happen in Canada in most Canadians’ minds because we are a fair and well managed country!

        I want to believe that the middle class will unite when their eyes open up. I truly believe that Canada can not survive as a country without socialism. There is NO way East-West relations can be profitable on an economic basis. If we focus on economic efficiency à la America, Canada will die.

        I obviously want to believe there is hope or else I would just join the 1%.

        1. steve from virginia

          Successful countries in 2013 are energy suppliers or have enough domestic energy resources to be able to maintain a more-or-less positive trade balance.

          Look @ southern Europe to see the outcome of negative trade balances both within and outside the euro-zone … and the future of every industrial country as resource depletion is relentless.

          At some point Canada’s bitumen will become too expensive for its external customers and Canada will become like Greece even as Greece becomes more like Egypt … which will become Yemen, as that country becomes more like Somalia or Afghanistan and those last become aggregations of hostile tribal duchies.

          1. Moneta

            Canada already has a current account deficit! Debt is building up in oil companies as they ramp up production of more expensive stuff. Then they want to spend more billions building pipelines… Canada is not out of the woods.

            Then I think of all the pools that get heated until October!

            To make matters worse, the East is getting older faster while the young are going out West to work in the oil patch. Of course Alberta is not enthoused about sending money out East…

            We are not out of the woods yet… that’s why I think Quebec will create problems sometime in the near future while everyone seems to believe they are done with their independence blather.

            1. Jeremy Grimm

              Look on the bright side. Global warming shifts the U.S, temperate climate towards Canada. If you can avoid polluting all your fresh water or if you can become efficient at captureing the rainfall coming your way Canada, should do very well in the future. Food prices will be going up and Canada will become even more productive.

              Besides, as an American I like to believe that the Canadians have a better society, whose people are indeed more equitable and cohesive. Don’t dispel my delusions! I need some safe haven to flee to when things totally fall appart here in the United States.

              1. Moneta

                At the core, I believe we are a more fair society. For example, I believe that the most important thing in life is health and I am ready to pay taxes to pay for other Canadians’ health care within reason of course… then we can have a whole debate on defining reason. But I think most Canadians think like this too.

                Like Yves showed in her above text, the whole world is being forced into neoliberalism (in Canada we don’t really distinguish the shades of conservative because the vast majority of Americans fall to the right of Canadians and Canadians are pretty naïve when it comes to politics*) which is helping some well placed people cash out. It’s happening for real and most Canadians don’t see it yet.

                As for weather, we are getting an increasing number of weird weather patterns such as destructive thunderstorms. Even in the winter! I don’t think the climate change will be a walk on the beach.

        2. Roland

          Canadians themselves are going to sell Canada out. Really, the sell-out began in earnest after the pivotal 1988 federal election, but the whole dismal process has yet a considerable way to go.

          1. Our elites have gone totally neoliberal and globalist. There is no longer any Canadian nationalist elite as there was as late as the 1960’s or ’70’s. There used to be influential nationalist factions in both the Conservative and Liberal parties, but nowadays both parties are entirely made up of the generic global neoliberals of the sort who infest political life throughout the developed world.

          2. There is no political left-wing in Canada. The NDP and PQ have explicitly abandoned their social democratic heritage. Every election cycle they cleverly triangulate themselves more to the right, while the whole time wondering why there is a steadily mounting percentage of non-voters in the country. Idiots.

          3. Meanwhile, the typical Canadian “Green” would gladly turn the entire environment into private property. Canadian Greens are in as big a hurry to sell out Canada as anybody else here.

          4. Too many Canadians still think that owning a heavily mortgaged residence somehow makes them “middle class.” Even after the housing bubble bursts, most Canadians will cling to whatever pathetic tatters remain of their shredded social status. As I’ve often said before: nobody ever wants to admit that he’s a prole.

          5. How many Canadians would willingly suffer a significant loss of living standard in exchange for a stronger national sovereignty? I think too many would sooner make the so-called “rational” choice and go full-out Quisling.

          6. All this is not to say that Canadians won’t still love the flags and dotted lines. Canadians will never be so proud of their flags and dotted lines as they will be when they mean absolutely nothing. Stephen Harper seems to have figured that out.

  8. DanB

    Yves writes, “If you have a system that requires that people sell their labor as a condition of survival, yet fails to provide enough opportunities to sell labor to go around, you have conditions for revolt.” This is the core contradiction of the (now) dominant system. It “works” if the economy is expanding. Currently, the 1% are siphoning, extorting, etc. wealth from the 99% to themselves aided and abetted by the government. From their warped perspective the economy is still expanding, and I want to suggest that any attempts by the 1% to buy off a portion of the 99% to maintain control -through various forms of repression and suppression- of the political/economy might work in the short term. In the long term, however, it confronts the limits to growth, i.e., not enough net energy flow to run, maintain and expand the economy. I seriously doubt they can preserve a “stable” politically repressive and economically unjust society as degrowth unfolds.

    1. Moneta

      A growing number of countries are reeling as they drop like flies. There will be a tipping point where they will probably form alliances against the country with the reserve currency.

    2. Walter Map

      The techniques and technologies now exist for controlling overexploited populations without having to buy off the cooperation of the overexploited. They no longer have much need to offer subsistence pay or social safety nets to prevent revolt and maintain domination.

      Your overlords (and overladies) have only acquired those means in the last couple decades, and now that they have them it very much appears that they are going to keep using them. Their domination can now be undermined only by economic and ecological collapse, and even those are not likely to break it.

      1. DanB

        Technologies consume energy; they do not create it. And technologies of repression and are embedded into systems reliant upon energy inflows as well as the cooperation of those running these technologies to serve the political/economic elite, who are, after all, parasites in an economic sense. As energy decline progresses more and more energy will be required to control the masses. And what if more Edward Snowdenesque multiples start popping up?

        1. Pokey

          Consider the first world experience with revolution since 1800. The only successful effort was the result of war and its undermining of state power. As the power of the state has grown, the chance of any direct internal attack has diminished, in this country to zero. Not that many years ago one could walk around the capital building in DC in the late night without incident. The White House was not a military compound, and courthouses across were freely accessible.

          We easily overlook the familiar, but when traveling it can be something of a shock to see the elaborate security employed to protect our publicly owned buildings. Casually passing a government in Philadelphia, likely containing the federal court, I was impressed with the length to which we taxpayers have gone to protect these bureaucrats from us. It was like the movie image of a maximum security prison, but designed to keep the rabble out rather than protect society.

          Power sensed the threat of discontent long before it could become harmful, just as it foresaw economic disaster in the 2005 amendments that exempted certain derivatives and financial transactions from the automatic stay of bankruptcy and the principle of equal distribution among creditors.

          The only way to effect any meaningful change before some cataclysmic event is to redirect the legitimate rage of the teabaggers toward the villain under discussion, an unlikely event without powerful simple-minded expressions and a national soapbox like Fox.

          1. Kate

            True. The uglification of federal courthouses throughout America is remarkable. Oklahoma/McVey led to many protective bollards, federal marshalls, gates and cameras internal and external, fear and its architecture and appliances. Washington used to have a grassy open feeling in its public places. Gone forever? I hope not….but I don’t see how a reversal of today’s dreadful encampment will emerge.

          2. Yves Smith Post author

            I disagree.

            First, the revolutions of 1848 did produce lasting changes. The French Second Republic market the final end of the monarchy (although the coup by Louis Napoleon in 1951 put an authoritarian in charge and he was not displaced until the Third Republic). Even thought the rebels did not achieve the sort of structural change they hoped for, it’s a mistake to write them off. From Wikipedia, emphasis mine:

            In the post-revolutionary decade after 1848, little had visibly changed, and most historians considered the revolutions a failure, given the seeming lack of permanent structural changes.

            Nevertheless, there were a few immediate successes for some revolutionary movements, notably in the Habsburg lands. Austria and Prussia eliminated feudalism by 1850, improving the lot of the peasants. European middle classes made political and economic gains over the next 20 years; France retained universal male suffrage. Russia would later free the serfs on February 19, 1861. The Habsburgs finally had to give the Hungarians more self-determination in the Ausgleich of 1867. The revolutions inspired lasting reform in Denmark, as well as the Netherlands.

            Second, I’m not sure I buy how you draw the line at “first world”. India’s rebellion against Britain was against a first world power.

            1. Roland

              I don’t think India is a good example because as a matter of fact, India’s independence was achieved through an enormous amount of anti-British armed violence.

              That anti-British armed violence was not done by Indians, of course. Instead, the massive acts of anti-British armed violence were performed by Britain’s various enemies during the World Wars–Turks, Italians, Japanese and, most of all, the Germans.

              By 1947, Britain was reluctant to go to war over Indian independence. By that time Britain’s biggest jingos were buried in Flanders, while much of Britain’s treasure lay in thousands of shipwrecks at the bottom of the oceans.

              I’m not saying that Gandhi might not have won independence for India without WWII. Maybe he could have, maybe not. History is not a science. No one can test that proposition.

              But I do think that Indian independence must first be seen as a part of the cataclysmic geopolitics of its time.

              On the same note, WRT the Russian Revolution, it must be observed that the most dedicated cadres of the Tsarist regime suffered severe losses at the hands of the Central Powers. The class of Russian gentry from whom were drawn most of the junior officers was the class upon which the Romanovs most depended to stay in power. That was the class which suffered the heaviest proportional losses on the battlefields of Galicia and Poland.

        2. James Levy

          Big picture, I agree, but the Power Elite has the ability to triage those remaining sources of energy and they can spin them out for a few decades at least, pushing the pain down the ladder. The army won’t care if gasoline has a real price of $800 a barrel on the open market, because there won’t be an open market and the army will take the gasoline.

          We have to avoid falling into the easily refuted trap of saying that energy resources are running out. Cheap energy resources are running out (and they never tell you that shale oil is only profitable at prices of $90 or more a barrel). If TPTB need energy resources, they will get them, at least for the next century if they want to use coal liquefication like the Nazis did. It will be destructive and hugely expensive, but if they want it, they’ll get it.

      2. from Mexico

        Walter Map says:

        The techniques and technologies now exist for controlling overexploited populations without having to buy off the cooperation of the overexploited. They no longer have much need to offer subsistence pay or social safety nets to prevent revolt and maintain domination.

        Your overlords (and overladies) have only acquired those means in the last couple decades, and now that they have them it very much appears that they are going to keep using them.

        Well the neocons seem to have thoroughly convinced themselves that that is true. As Hans Morgenthau explains:

        The neo-conservatives’ faith in the efficacy of bandwagoning was based in good part on their faith in the so-called revolution in military affairs (RMA). In particular, they believed that the United States could rely on stealth technology, air-delivered precision-guided weapons, and small but highly mobile ground forces to win quick and decisive victories. They believed that the RMA gave the Bush administration a nimble military instrument which, to put it in Muhammad Ali’s terminology, could “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.”

        The American military, in their view, would swoop down out of the sky, finish off a regime, pull back and reload the shotgun for the next target. There might be a need for US ground troops in some cases, but that force would be small in number. The Bush doctrine did not call for a large army.

        http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-americanpower/morgenthau_2522.jsp

        It’s a tyrant’s wet dream come true. He no longer needs the mass mobilizations of the great unwashed to fight his wars for him. And there’s an added benefit: he can turn the new and advanced tools of violence on his own people. If the neocons are right, it is the solution to the problem which has plagued aspiring tyrants for millenia:

        No government exclusvively based on the means of violence has ever existed. Even the totalitarian ruler, whose chief instrument of rule is torture, needs a power basis — the secret police and its net of informers. Only the development of robot soldiers, which, as previously mentioned, would eliminate the human factor completely and, conceivably, permit one man with a push button to destroy whomever he pleased, could change the fundamental ascendancy of power over violence.

        –HANNAH ARENDT, On Violence

        I would argue, however, that the actual experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan offer some pretty compelling counterfactuals to the neocons’ wet dreams of tyranny.

        1. Ulysses

          A fascinating trilogy of novels that captures the mood of desperate resistance to corporatist tyranny is by John Twelve Hawks: The Traveler, The Dark River, and the Golden City. These novels, written between 2004 and 2009, show a keen awareness of the surveillance state powers employed by the plutocrats to maintain control. Long before anyone had heard of Ed Snowden, these books brought into sharp focus the dangers posed to us by the forces of the “Vast Machine”.

        2. Walter Map

          A misunderstanding on your part. The conquests of Iraq and Afghanistan have been enormously profitable, and therefore successful, and promise to continue to be. Military victory is not actually relevant.

          Once Amerikans are reduced to the economic condition of Afghans TPTB will again congratulate themselves on their success. The occasional drone extermination of the odd wedding party should keep the indigneous in line, just like Afghanistan. The conquered will mostly cooperate according to the logic of empire.

          Keep in mind that the Reich and the Rising Sun could not have been defeated absent U.S. involvement, and also note that the Amerikan Empire has no such opposition. So as I said, you’re left with the dark prospect of economic and ecological collapse to loosen up the chains, but unfortunately those would have to be sufficiently severe to collapse civilization as well and risk losing most of the human population in the developed world. Given the quality and quantity of their resources, defeating TPTB must be expected to be terminally expensive.

          It gets worse the more you look at it.

          1. from Mexico

            As a counterbalance to you Borg-like faith in the neocon and neoliberal project, I would offer this from the Mexican politlogue Alfredo Jalife-Rahame (my translation):

            The electoral triumphalism of the Republican Party is on a collision course with a multitude of symptoms that throw in doubt the future of Thatcherian neoliberalism and the survival of global finance….

            To many out-and-out US-centricists, accustomed to thinking unilaterally, it is undoubtedly perturbing to reflect on the inescapable decline of the United States…..

            [….]

            The last superpower cannot dictate or control global and regional events like it used to. In spite of its exaggerated techno-military power, it cannot control events in Irak or Afghanistan to bring forward stability and peace. The events in these countries move towards greater instability and chaos.

            This fact brings with it regional and global implications and repercussions. The aura of the virtually omnipotent American, supported by his unequaled military power, has been severely sullied and is collapsing. For the entire world, this amply shows the inability of the military of the last superpower to subdue and control, in the post-invastion phase, two small and relatively insignificant powers: Irak and Afghanistan.

            http://www.voltairenet.org/article121931.html

            1. Walter Map

              Brave words, but Voltaire didn’t overthrow the ancien regime with brave words. That was accomplished by an irate populace, and there’s no real reason to believe that would be effective now. I see no evidence of any reversal of capitalist totalitarianism, although I’m sure you would have posted some if you really had any. I’m sorry, but saying so cannot make it so.

              1. steve from virginia

                The end product of the ancien regime was not revolution but Bonaparte and the ultimate restoration of the French monarchy.

                French republic(s) came later, enduring French republics much later still.

                Revolution is a silly idea as it is one faction of elites against others seeking the largest slices of resources for themselves at the expense of other elites.

                The irony of the Bolshevik Revolution was the primary impetus was to end Russian participation in the First World War against Germany. The outcome was that Russia was at war involving most of the European combatants — including the United States — on its territory four years after the Armistice. The end product of the Bolsheviks was Stalin and a restoration of the Tsarist monarchy … up to- and including Putin.

                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allied_intervention_in_the_Russian_Civil_War

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  Bonaparte set in place many of the features of modern bureaucracy, including universal education with great attention to finding people of talent and tracking them to the grandes ecoles; the formation of administrative jurisdications (arrondissements), and most important, per Wikipedia:

                  The Napoleonic code was adopted throughout much of Europe, though only in the lands he conquered, and remained in force after Napoleon’s defeat. Napoleon said: “My true glory is not to have won 40 battles…Waterloo will erase the memory of so many victories. … But…what will live forever, is my Civil Code.”[154] The Code still has importance today in a quarter of the world’s jurisdictions including in Europe, the Americas and Africa.[155]

                  Dieter Langewiesche described the code as a “revolutionary project” which spurred the development of bourgeois society in Germany by the extension of the right to own property and an acceleration towards the end of feudalism.

                  So perversely, I’m not sure modern democracies would function as well as they have absent the adoption of Napoleon’s innovations. One, whether you like it or not, was the idea of a highly trained elite to run the bureaucracy:

                  Under the new system, elementary schools (écoles populaires) were to be the responsibility of the local municipalities. Napoleon had relatively little interest in this level of education, and was not firmly committed to the mass education that would result from a state-wide elementary education system. As a result, the religious schools were to share a significant amount of the responsibility for elementary education. Secondary education, however, was the base education for the future leaders of the nation, as well as members of the bureaucracy and the military; hence, Napoleon’s greater interest. The state had a strong interest in the curriculum being presented, and control would be easier if they established a system of secondary schools under the direction of a central authority. Many of these secondary schools would be established by private initiative, including clerical, but all such schools were controlled by the state. Covering students roughly from age 10-16, they would provide a level of education designed to provide students for higher levels of education. Indeed, some bonus plans were established for teachers who had large number of students qualifying for advancement.

                  The heart of the new system was the establishment of thirty lycées, which provided educational opportunities beyond the secondary schools and replaced the écoles centrales. Every appeal court district was to have a lycée, and they were to be completely supported, and controlled, by the state. Scholarships were provided, with about one-third going to sons of the military and government, and the rest for the best pupils from the secondary schools.

                  http://www.napoleon-series.org/research/society/c_education.html

                  While this may not look pretty to modern readers, it was a considerable improvement on rule by aristocrats, and for generation, the French schools were the model to the world in the consistency and generally high caliber of their education and the fact that boys from very humble backgrounds could and did rise though the education system and the Grandes Ecoles to assume important positions in the government.

                  1. sleepy

                    As a graduate of a Louisiana law school and a member of the Louisiana bar, I always loved the Louisiana Civil Code, a direct descendent of French civil law.

                    Of particular historical note, one of the first articles in the Louisiana Code dealing with property (called “things” in civil law)—

                    to parapharase:

                    “The former distinction of things into things sacred and secular, and the inalienability of those sacred things, is hereby abolished”.

                    Well, in one sentence Napoleon ended any special status for church lands and another blow at the feudal order.

                    That article was altered or amended at some point in the 1980s.

                  2. anon y'mouse

                    tangential to your point, I would definitely recommend both Gatto’s “Underground History of American Education”, and Bill Reading’s “University in Ruins”.

                    the structure of education changes to suit its ends, which are grounded in its particular time, place and culturally-mandated necessities. we are changing the education system now, and we should ask right away whose ends this new education system will serve. our own individual, social and familial one or that of some technocratic elite class?

            2. James Levy

              In Iraq and Afghanistan the US military did not unleash 1/100th the firepower it could because, as Gabriel Kolko and others have pointed out, the PTB fear public awareness and agitation and therefore want to use force as sparingly as they can with as little attention to that violence as possible. Hell, the Mongols raised Bagdad to the ground without B-52s or tactical nukes. The Americans are not nicer or more humane, they just understand that if they want to keep the war going and the money pouring into the coffers of their masters, they have got to be careful about their PR.

              In a civil war or domestic insurgency situation, no constraints would be necessary or tolerated, as the level of violence, in Clausewitzian terms, would rise as the threat rose. Iraq ad Afghanistan can be bombed and plundered as a low intensity, long-term operation. Revolt here in the US would be met, as it was met in 1861-65, with all necessary force, including bombing cities off the map and the use of nerve gas and chemical weapons. The American Power Elite is not going to go gently into that good night.

              1. from Mexico

                YESTERDAY James Levy said:

                …when I used to talk to…military historians, I did not sense the intentionality which you ascribe to them. When they defended…military interventionism, I got no sense that they had an agenda beyond their belief that these were good things that made life better for people…..

                http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/10/the-man-who-won-a-nobel-prize-for-helping-create-a-global-financial-crisis.html#comment-1532820

                TODAY James Levy said:

                The Americans are not nicer or more humane, they just understand that if they want to keep the war going and the money pouring into the coffers of their masters, they have got to be careful about their PR.

                In a civil war or domestic insurgency situation, no constraints would be necessary or tolerated, as the level of violence, in Clausewitzian terms, would rise as the threat rose. Iraq ad Afghanistan can be bombed and plundered as a low intensity, long-term operation. Revolt here in the US would be met, as it was met in 1861-65, with all necessary force, including bombing cities off the map and the use of nerve gas and chemical weapons. The American Power Elite is not going to go gently into that good night.

                Is anybody else gobsmacked by the level of inconsistency between these two statements?

                From what I recall Walter Map is far more consistent, and the consistent message is:

                We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships…. Your culture will adapt to service us. Reistance is futile.

                http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSCe40HMv1c

                1. Walter Map

                  Your misunderstanding is deliberate. I’m looking for hope. It’s hardy my fault that you have none to offer.

                  Obscure quotational pomposities don’t count except as vacuous egoisms, but apparently that’s all you’ve got.

                  1. charles sereno

                    Walter Map, I applaud your brevity and directness and personal reasoning. I follow your comments and never thought them lacking hope. I hope any further retorts you receive (and there’s certainly space for that) will employ similar argumentation and less “quotational pomposities.” (A zinger!)

                    1. Dan H

                      Seconded. I usually am able to glean some point from fM’s posts….today his content has seemed explicitly contrarian for its own sake.

                2. James Levy

                  I was quite specifically talking about military historians, and said so, not the operators of the military industrial complex. They are not the same set of people. You took what I said and distorted it. It seems you have an overwhelming need to try and put people down. It must be hard living with your own infallibility.

            3. Roland

              Victory depends on how you understand the war aims.

              If the aim of the US war in Iraq was what told the US public, then obviously the war was a fiasco. No WMD, no democracy, no stability–case closed.

              But what if the aim was merely to smash an independent Iraq, as an example to any other minor power that might get out of line? Mission accomplished!

              Also remember: the Iraq War cost the USA’s ruling class very little. The US central bank has printed the money to pay for the war several times over. Bourgeois all over their world, in their haste to subscribe the unending US imperial debt issues, heedlessly tread over the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

        3. s spade

          You ought to consider the possibility that US military objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq have been successful from the point of view of those running the show. Iraq, for example, was the world’s second largest oil exporter at the turn of the Century, and Saddam’s unending demand for cash was threatening the price of oil, which as I recall was then hovering at $20/bbl. The war took Iraq out of the oil price equation, and now we have oil approaching $100/bbl. Who benefits? Energy and banking interests. Can anyone spell B-U-S-H?

  9. Paul Tioxon

    Well aren’t you the little commie pinko today! If a conservative is a liberal who got mugged, who mugged Yves to drive her into the arms of revolution? Oh yea, that whole total collapse of banking thing. I digress.

    Jim Haywood seems to attribute the state’s power to tax, as something exclusive. The nation-state is freedom killing and the market is the great liberator. In the case of pre-constitution America, the Articles of Confederation did not allow for anyone to legally commit the nation, such as it was, to take responsibility for the foreign debts used to finance the war against the king of England. William Morris formed the Bank of North America and personally signed on the loans to our government from France. What drove us to a more perfect union, among other things, was the need to collect taxes, in the form of silver, to pay back loans. Without this formal governmental capacity, sovereign loans to the new nation state were not really feasible without a mechanism for repayment. The nation state had to be structured in way to accommodate the modern financial system of the capitalist world of Europe, and by do so, incorporated the USA into the capitalist world. If we wanted to be a functioning nation state such as England or France, we had to pay to play. Or, we could have wound up like Haiti.

    1. Moneta

      We need a balance between centralization and decentralization. Right now there is too much centralization and not enough decentralization. Proof = TBTF banks. Communities are suffocating as the systems have gotten too big for the human mind.

      That’s why the right is foaming at the mouth. This excessive centralization that has brought on TBTF is pushing them to propose radical utopic ideologies such as no government and free markets.

      There needs to be a redefinition of the role of government and social assets.

      For example, oil reserves should be a national asset where the drillers can get paid for extracting the oil but the profits go to the people not only to the drillers, 1% and those who have a pension.

      As you can imagine, this redefinition will not be easy task since there are many ways to define fairness.

      1. Moneta

        A few months ago I attended a conference. The first speaker was a politician. The first thing he did was show us a brick of laws. He gave us a nice sentimental story about how, when he graduated it was possible for the average Canadian to be on top of the law. But now, the system is out of control. The situation has gotten so out of control that it is impossible for Canadians to know all the rules and regulations. Look, there are now over 30,000 rules in this brick!

        I look around, everyone in the room is nodding.

        And he’s our savior because he’s managed to cut rules and regulations by something like 30%.

        I look around, now the audience is clearly impressed.

        Of course, what he does not tell us is that the laws that were cut were done so as to privilege the bigger players.

        So, I’m waiting for the punch line… he surely has a goal in mind. And I soon found out.

        All this was to introduce his ideology on the subject of dairy products. His goal was to convince his audience that we need to kill the supply management in the dairy industry by opening our borders to US and European dairy producers.

        That’s how the little players get squashed time and time again.

        1. anon y'mouse

          this is why I rail against the push for technologic development. it is one component of the ever-growing complexity in our societies. complexity itself is a kind of infrastructure that all of us must pay to support, and I find it mosty unnecessary and insupportable.

          complexity of knowledge is one thing. but think about any small item in your house and all of the locations, people, systems that had to operate to get it to you in its final state. this is the root not only of our societal problems, but also our environmental ones. and it is psychologically damaging to anyone who doesn’t damp themselves down into the -unaware consuming- role. call me a control freak if you will, but i’d rather know exactly what and where the things necessary for my living came from, or go and get them myself. everything is beyond control and portrayed as ‘not worth thinking about’. as long as the food trucks arrive, and you can get a new fancy can opener at ikea, keep your mouth shut and keep working to pay your bills.

          you frequently talk about the overkill lifestyle of the masses. it’s not overkill in anything that they could really use, they are just conditioned to it. hence our earlier little discussion re: quality vs. quantity. and yet, this crazy complicated system, which allows all of us to be passive and unknowing keeps it all going. somebody has to be in control of it. most of us surely aren’t. we’re just like the little kid at the dinner table told to clean our plates & eat all of our peas, and then go watch tv for awhile in the family room.

          1. Moneta

            I believe the progressives don’t understand how their ways created the monster mess we have now and the conservatives how their no government, free market and self sufficiency mantra just can’t work with 7 billion people on the planet.

            Technology got us to 7 billion. Take it away and we get an apocalypse.

      2. Butch In Waukegan

        William Morris might have provided the wallpaper for the Mellon bank later in the 19th century.

        Robert Morse, after participating in the financing of war as you describe, went on to become the largest landowner in the United States. He eventually went bankrupt, ending up in jail.

          1. Paul Boisvert

            Glad you guys finally got that right. I worked at Robert Morris College in Chicago for more than a decade, always bemused that it was proudly named after a man who ended up in debtor’s prison. It was the McDonalds of higher education, and largely financed by student debt, and when a bunch of us got fired for trying to organize a union, my dismay eventually gave way to gratitude that they kicked me out, to a better life at a unionized public community college.

            I might as well take a moment to irritate many readers and point out that Yves and many commmenters have the same problem that Heilbroner is accused of: there’s a lot of incisive criticism of capitalism on NC, but most skirts the overarching issue: capitalism is the problem, as the critiques so clearly show. By definition, things that are the problem aren’t the solution. So we need to change to a new system, and the systems that advocate real (hence robust) democracy are (democratic, not totalitarian) socialist ones.

            It’s funny, Marx spent his life trying to “expose” the naked truth about capitalism, but NC, as it similarly (and accurately) lays capitalism out naked for examination, has little discussion about a different (not just tweaked) system. Marx is often mentioned by Yves and commenters with a sort of nostalgic sympathy, but if you’re really sympathetic to Marx’s remarkable achievement, an understanding of the fundamental and irremediable injustice of capitalism as a system of undemocratic exploitation, then you’re a socialist. Period.

            Because you realize that capitalism is one dollar one vote, which can never be, in any form, no matter how tweaked, democracy. The latter is one person one vote. If your dollars buy you power (of any kind) over other human beings, then you do not live in a democratic society.

            All the partial and hence partially contradictory critiques of capitalism on NC have been worked through thoroughly in serious socialist literature for decades now. Seeing them naively recapitulated here at NC without any recognition that they inevitably lead to a socialist conclusion is a bit frustrating, though of course expected, as no ideology has ever successfully obfuscated reality as well as capitalist ideology. NC’s heart is certainly in the right place, but the 1% just chuckle into their champagne glasses (privately, while feigning horror publicly) at any reformist critiques other than taking dead seriously the need for an actual, non-capitalist, democratic socialist alternative. There are plenty of good, non-utopian models…here on Earth, a Google Planet, they’re not hard to find… Nor, of course, are the straw men and other logical fallacies that crop up from capitalist apologists along the way…but NC folks are quite good at detecting such diabolically intricate contradictions, and that’s the real intellectual joy of the effort–one that NC folks are lucky to still have before them. Happy critical thinking!

            1. s spade

              The basic rule of socialism is: you don’t work, you don’t eat. Socialism eliminates property from the equation, because there isn’t any. Nobody owns anything. This is attractive to those who own nothing with things as they are, but it doesn’t appeal to those who have managed to acquire a bit of property, one way or another. So the elite has broad based support when intellectuals start in on the mantra that the problem is capitalism. Those demonstrating the inevitability of revolution with endless quotations will have to be satisfied with proving how smart they are, at least until we reach the point that the entire middle class has evaporated. In their way, they are just as foolish as the elite austerians who are determined to cook their own goose by carrying the looting and stealing farther than is good for even them.

              1. Moneta

                WRONG!

                Socialism can exist on a spectrum.

                Let’s take water for example. A case could be made to socialize it. A nation can determine what the minimum amount of water is necessary for a base lifestyle and make sure that everyone gets that share.

                However, other sectors that fall into the realm of discretionary could stay private.

                1. anon y'mouse

                  and yet…as our technologically based ability to alter the environment increases, the example you use provides one serious example of how you can’t allow ‘discretionary use of water’ to be totally in private hands.

                  water pollution. once someone releases something into the water, that’s it. currently, people are releasing a vast number of hormones and pharma medications into the water system which is causing severe trouble for the ecosystem. therefore, we either have to collectively invent solutions to these problems or ban the pollution of water with these agents. that’s just one side. the other side is industrial pollutants.

                  everyone wants to be able to pollute the water in their own individual way, and thinks that they should have the right to do so. the problems this creates are sent around the entire world in the water system, so the entire ecosphere has to bear the brunt of this.

                  as our numbers increase, as our technologies (including chemistry, bio/genetic engineering and such) increase, our ability to cause ‘unintended’ consequences increase. therefore, public limitations on private actions increase.

                  one can’t ever have their cake and eat it to. someone is always downstream. unless we invent the private bubble/spaceship which is totally self-contained and does not communicate its waste products with the outside world.

                  stillsuits, anyone?

              2. Paul Boisvert

                First, I never said revolution is inevitable–the power of the capitalist class is great, and may continue to oppress people for the forseeable future. But if you want to eventually solve the problems caused by capitalism, you have to recognize the causes, and actually oppose capitalism.

                Second, you raise a straw man–socialism is about the public, democratic ownership and control of the means of production, not necessarily of personal property. But a moment’s thought reveals that ownership of personal property isn’t the issue anyway–many people lead fine lives leasing everything, owning no substantial property. They rent apartments, lease their car, etc. The question is, do they have the income to lease nice stuff, or not? We are trying to create societies where people can lead good lives–that’s about good income, not the particular form (leased or owned) of one’s consumption afforded by the income.

                People support capitalism not because they own a house or car, but because immersion in capitalist propaganda and ideology have convinced them that the problems of capitalist society have nothing to do with capitalism, are largely insoluble, and that there is no alternative to capitalism other than the Soviet Gulag. All that is false, and if and when people realize that, they will want to change it. Don’t know when that will be, but since the problems are massively harmful, I try to encourage people to realize it as soon as possible.

                1. JTFaraday

                  That’s not what they said. In a nutshell, what they said was:

                  “Capitalism makes many unfree laborers– and socialism makes even more.

                  To those who have managed to wiggle a bit free under capitalism, through the acquisition of property, that sounds like bad idea!”

                  Around here more generally, we find the Lord Keynesian strain of economics, that is:

                  “Capitalism makes many unfree laborers, therefore subjecting the unemployed to unfree labor sounds like a good idea!”

                  1. Paul Boisvert

                    Not sure why you’re against “subjecting the unemployed to… labor”. Are you against subjecting the hungry to food? Labor is how people earn the money to buy food, and, in general, live. How do you propose to solve unemployment–give the unemployed “property” to enable them to “wiggle a bit free”? Fine by me–but it sounds pretty socialistic to me… :)

                    Yes, I know you added the adjective “unfree” to the labor–again, though, not sure what on earth you’re talking about. Democraatic socialists, like MMT’ers, are in favor of providing opportunities for unemployed people to work at jobs society has democratically deemed valuable. They will have a choice whether to take those jobs or not. What is the difference between a “free” job and and “unfree” job?

                    1. anon y'mouse

                      one you’ve chosen of your own free will, hopefully.

                      unemployed people and those signing up for foodstamp benefits have to undergo a period where they are mandated to ‘search for work’ and keep records of same. they will penalize you if you do not take the very first offer of employment that comes your way.

                      the latest change to SNAP indicates the same kinds of restrictions, coupled with a kind of gov’t provided “temporary agency”. in other words, the government farms you out (and you appear to have very little choice about to whom and for what) and if an employer on one of these forays offers you a position, you MUST take it.

      3. sue

        wrong again, Moneta-

        The “right” is not “foaming at the mouth” over “events” they perpetrated-witness Bush empowering, 2005, credit card lobbyists to re-write bankruptcy laws. It is ridiculous, so given, to espouse they did not know what was going on, or coming on.

        Sheila Bair describes their “blame government” (which they controlled at the time) for Wall Street “criminogenic accounting fraud” (WK Black). Bair is a lifetime republican, yet in charge of FDIC, she stood her ground against political capture of government auspices=OCC, Treasury, continued after Paulson by Geithner.

        The right is “foaming at the mouth” because propaganda tells them to-while regarding about Wall Street economic debacle.

        Anyone who believes “the right” is upset regarding “deficits” is absurdly blindered, and should pursue 30’s depression era historical documentation.

        Scapegoating and blame-gaming were evident then (as was TP parallel), and whistleblowers abused. “The right” simply does nothing to substantiate their argument-are completely unable to follow the money-as you have proven, personally, again and again.

        Please take time to do so-prove me wrong.

    2. Walter Map

      Look at what you’re saying here, Paul:

      The nation-state is freedom killing and the market is the great liberator.

      Whatever it is you’re smoking has made you get it exactly backwards. A nation-state answerable to the people is the great liberator and is specifically mandated to enforce the rights of the people. Rigged markets kill freedom. Banksters interested in rent extraction and debt peonage never liberated anybody.

      Contrary to libertarian propaganda, the government is not the problem. Government corruption is the problem, but you studiously avoid the issue of government corruption.

      Worse, you seem to have deliberately forgotten that the reason the U.S. government was formed was to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. It has worked in many countries and still does. It even used to work in the U.S., but that was before the financiers slipped their leashes and upped their corruption, before We the People became We the Corporatists.

      You go on to compound your error:

      The nation state had to be structured in way to accommodate the modern financial system of the capitalist world of Europe

      So the American colonies fought off the political domination of the British Crown because they were eager to enter into debt slavery under European banksters. That’s nonsensical. Maybe you should put the bong down for a while before posting these things.

      1. DolleyMadison

        All this arguing over the state vs. the ‘free market’ neglects the fact that there is no free market; the state and the government are one and the same.

        1. Walter Map

          There is no such thing as a “free market”. Either a market is regulated or it is dominated by its largest players. Either way the market is not “free”.

          What Adam Smith referred to as “free markets” were those freed from monopolistic or oligarhic control, usually by aristocrats and sometimes by the Crown, but rigged in any case to establish insurmountable barriers to entry to entrepreneurs like himself. Our contemporary corporatists have naturally corrupted this understanding to mean markets that are freely available for them to rig, which is the opposite of what Smith meant.

          Of course, the “state” conventionally refers to the federal government.

          1. sue

            Walter-you appear to ignore the entirety of FDR (Pecora Commission) regulatory
            establishment, which held Wall Street banks in check over 60 years, in “stability”.

      2. bh2

        To bleed a nation, bankers must secure allegiance of the state, which arrogates to itself sole legal authority to exercise coercive power to order its own citizens about and make war on other nations.

        Bankers have neither of these powers on their own. They are only counterfeiters on the make. And their target is always the government. (The people will pay the cost, of course, but it’s the government that wants to run up the bill.)

        Indebted government will do the bidding of the bankers to maintain and expand its own power. The greater grows the debt of government to the banks, the less can government resist bankers’ demands: more debt, more privileges. The hand that feeds also holds the choke leash, it turns out. Naifs are shocked to learn that’s how the world really works.

        It does not matter if the sovereign is an hereditary monarch or a free people. If the sovereign’s government is permitted to make war, it will be very profitable for the few (1%) but eventually impoverishing for the many who survive the conflicts.

        The cost of war is never entirely repaid because spending becomes a comfortable habit of government, along with accumulation of ever greater power it demands to assure “safety”, and government also accumulates greater debt to provide that “safety”, which requires eventually more new debt to roll over the old. Etc. ad nauseum.

        This game almost always works for the bankers and war profiteers riding their coat-tails.

        The notable exception among nations is Switzerland, which profits by housing the top-most banking elite of the world, requires military duty of all able males and assault rifles in their closets, has a low crime rate, has the highest per-capita income among Western industrial nations, has never made war on anyone in centuries, and has never been attacked during even the most horrible modern European wars which consumed millions. And the trains seriously run on time, to boot.

        You might think other nations might wish to learn from this empirical example of what works and what doesn’t.

        And you would be wrong.

        1. okie farmer

          bh2
          You described Switzerland perfectly:

          “This game almost always works for the bankers and war profiteers”

          that’s all that Switzerland is. Banker thieves stealing from everyone who comes into their sphere. They also financed both sides in both wars. Nasty country.

          1. bh2

            TBTF banks are parasites in every country where they hang out.

            The only question is whether each local host country will volunteer to be bled to death on command of the banksters by steadily going deeper in debt to them.

            The Swiss have immunized themselves against that kind of racketeering, so it doesn’t matter how many bloodsuckers are swarming when none can bite local residents.

    3. Cassiodorus

      The nation-state created property and the market as instruments of oppression, and American libertarians are the enemies of freedom and the avant-garde of neoliberalism. Let’s start with property — its definition was the beginning of the idea of slavery, and the Founding Fathers (every American libertarian’s favorite historical fetish-topic) not only owned people but beat their bodies sadistically. It took a war and the triumph of evil Big Government (see e.g. Federalism) to liberate a whole class of people from being property.

      Now, let’s go on to the market. The government defnes markets by arranging transportation, standardizing bureacratic rules for accounting, defining property, fraud, debt, and marketplaces, creating media for exchange (see e.g. money), and imposing a whole set of other rules without which markets would simply not function. The market is a conduit for the megalomania which the Romans achieved through the brute force of centurion armies and through which the generation of the sacred Founding Fathers achieved by exchanging smallpox-laced blankets to the natives for large tracts of land (which said natives didn’t regard as objects of ownership).

      As for debt, well, the act of exchange was once a mere border ritual between members of different tribes, and so debt redefined this border ritual as a marker of social classes, distinguishing the class of creditors from the class of debtors, and thus the class of aggressors from the class of victims. The society of mere individuals who trade is thus a society of people who belong to no tribe, nor to each other, and are thus divided against each other and ripe for conversion into a debtor class, a group of people who are unfree because they must work for the creditor class. David Graeber deals with it admirably in his book on debt.

      1. Saddam Smith

        Bingo!

        The market-state dichotomy is also false. They are not enemies at the fundamental level, even though things can be dressed up to look (very convincingly) as if the twins are indeed enemies. I see it as one to the great ideological coups of all time, that the market is seen as this natural, organic manifestation of ‘freedom’, where all are welcome, all equal, chances are equally distributed and your money is your vote. Genius deception, I know of no better.

        Once we get past that and see the underlying elitist and exploitative dynamic that unites both market and state, with money as the ultimate control tool, we can then (and only then) start to talk about viable alternatives. Until that time we are playing their game by their rules, and the house always wins.

      2. Banger

        The nation-state used whatever was at hand to garner power for itself. Louis Quatorze did not decide to use markets to oppress anyone–he used the power of the state to create infrastructure that enabled a more efficient market-based economy and state controls of that markets which guaranteed some stability. More trade, more taxes was the mantra of the new nation states that emerged in Europe.

        Markets are not by themselves oppressive it is political systems that are oppressive. There is nothing resembling a free market in the U.S. at least (a free market is a theoretical construct that cannot, by itself, exist). Our problem, in my view, is not basic capitalism, but the fact we have not moved capitalism in the direction of social democracy and, eventually, post-capitalism which both of us favor. The left has failed and rather than critique capitalism as a system we need to understand why the natural evolution failed in this country and how we failed to offer the people a credible alternative to the current version of predatory/crony/neo-feudal evolution of capitalism we see today.

        1. skippy

          The opposite side of aggregate wealth failed, nay its was beaten, shot, denied basic needs, incarcerated, vivified by news print owned by aggregate wealth, incorporated in school books as the evil people, et al.

          Skippy… Fail?

        2. taunger

          I think skippy’s right; it seems entirely credible that the fascists, I mean financiers, I mean . . . well, they were just better at beheading the left movement in the U.S., and around the globe, than the left was at beheading the capitalist movement.

          1. skippy

            FYI in studying ancient literature and the crafting of narrative, it is objective to understand that 90%+ of it is an attempt to suspend belief aka lower ones critical thinking. In order to allow the craft’er of the narrative to manipulate the audiences mind. Then the subtle process of framing the – chosen reality – can begin.

            skippy… Totality of Thought… eh. I smell it a lot these days… product of fear… methinks

        3. sue

          Simple answer, Banger-the “right” held the purse of power, including media=propaganda.

          Ayn Rand-Milton Friedman-Greenspan philosophy of “free market” ignored monopoly, special interest (including crossover-lobbying-between govt.-economics), and most especially, inside information.

          Ayn Randism has not been subjected to these criticisms, as those who controlled “free market” are aware it undermines their argument.

          Rand espoused equal access and empowerment to all involved in “free market”-which has never been, and never will be more than fantasy.

    4. from Mexico

      Paul Tioxon says:

      In the case of pre-constitution America, the Articles of Confederation did not allow for anyone to legally commit the nation, such as it was, to take responsibility for the foreign debts used to finance the war against the king of England. William Morris formed the Bank of North America and personally signed on the loans to our government from France. What drove us to a more perfect union, among other things, was the need to collect taxes, in the form of silver, to pay back loans. Without this formal governmental capacity, sovereign loans to the new nation state were not really feasible without a mechanism for repayment. The nation state had to be structured in way to accommodate the modern financial system of the capitalist world of Europe, and by do so, incorporated the USA into the capitalist world. If we wanted to be a functioning nation state such as England or France, we had to pay to play. Or, we could have wound up like Haiti.

      It’s funny, but Jacques Barzun tells a completely different story:

      Pierre Augustin Beaumarchais relished the idea of a people set free from tyranny…. Freedom and justice in his heart, and aware of how divided English politicians were on the American issue, Beaumarchais wanted France to supply the means of the colonies’ liberation. The royal council rejected his proposal for fear of war with England….

      With a renewed plea Beaumarchais offered a new scheme. Let the government give him a million and he would do the rest — in a word, privatize the pro-American campaign. This time the minister agreed. Beaumarchais became the imaginary firm of Rodrigue, Hortalez, and Company. Its activities were officially forbidden, but it was to supply the Continental Congress with 200 cannon, with mortars, with 25,000 firearms and ammunition in scale, including 200,000 pounds of powder, besides clothing and camping equipment for 25,000 men. All this was to be so secretely collected that the English ambassador and his staff in Paris would not hear of it….

      The score of ships that played their part at a critical moment in the war of indendence were indeed Beaumarchais’ in the literal sense: the agent of Congress had promised to send back produce — chiefly tobacco — in exchange for the war supplies. Nothing came from America. Beaumarchais had to borrow the money for his shipments, which on arrival brought him no thanks. At long last, three and a half years after his first move, Beaumarchais received from John Jay, president of the Congress, a letter of thanks and the promise that measures would soon be passed to repay the debt that was owed….

      The whole saga was worthy of a real-life Figaro. Its contribution to the success of America’s war of liberation was surely as great as that of Washington’s aide-de-camp, Marie-Joseph de Lafayette….

      [W]hen 40 years later Beaumarchais’s daughter, who had fallen into poverty, petitioned Congress for the 2.25 million francs still owed her father Congress replied: “Take one third or nothing.”

      1. from Mexico

        And I would add that the following assertion of yours also has no basis in reality:

        The nation state had to be structured in way to accommodate the modern financial system of the capitalist world of Europe, and by do so, incorporated the USA into the capitalist world. If we wanted to be a functioning nation state such as England or France, we had to pay to play. Or, we could have wound up like Haiti.

        The machinations of the Federalists, including the collection of taxes, had nothing to do with paying back loans to foreigners. What it did have to do with was making money for themselves by insider dealing. Kevin Phillips explains in Wealth and Democracy:

        On becoming the first secretary of the treasury in 1789, Alexander Hamilton presented Congress with a bold economic program. To secure the creditworthiness of the new U.S. government, he called for redeeming at full face value not only U.S. wartime debts and certificates but the debt instruments of various states.

        [….]

        “Assumpiton and funding,” as Hamilton’s debt redemption provisions were called, provided the nation’s first cornucopia for financial speculators. From New Hampshire to South Carolina, cliques of wealthy Federalist supporters and officeholders, using traveling agents, had bought as many of the federal and state debt instruments as possible at cut-rate prices. Massachusetts seems to have had the largest block of holders, original and speculative, many from among the privateering, supply, and Continental loan elites. Bingham of Pennsylvania was also prominent. Lesser profit-seekers prowled through the backcountry, buying up old, unpaid certificates from veterans, widows, and storekeepers. A group of New York investors, given early information on Hamilton’s plans in mid-1789 by his deputy, William Duer, collected for as little as ten cents on the dollar some $2.7 million worth of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia state Revolutonary debt. This was about one-third of the three states’ total.

        The government’s choice to pay for the refunding through new exise taxes, heaviest on the Appalacian backcountry — whiskey was one of western Pennsylvania’s biggest exports — added to the regional bitterness. In Congress, northerners from coastal and commercial districts lopsidely supported both the bank, debt assumption, and tax provisions. Rural mem and Southerners led the opposition. James Madison failed with his compromise to redeem at less than face value paper held by speculative (rather than original) purchasers. Still, the whole arrangement was in doubt until Hamilton made a deal with Jefferson, who later admitted not understanding what was at stake. In return for assumption, the captial would be moved from New York — Jefferson called it “Hamiltonople” — first to Philadelphia and then farther south.

        Details are few on who eventually collected what. However, of the $1.2 million paid out in 1795 to redeem federal notes, for which tabulations have been made, almost two-fifths went to the four New England states. Massachussets alone received more than all the states south of the Potomac River. Of the overall $40-$60 million distributed by the federal treasury under the debt assumption and funding program, about half is thought to have gone to speculators. To emphasize its enormity, $40 million would have been almost 15 percent of the estimated U.S. gross domestic product of 1790! Just $20 million to speculators would have exceeded the entire $18 million take of Revolutionary privateering and three thousand captured ships.

        1. taunger

          couldnt you both be right? It seems entirely possible that a necessity to payoff foreign debt presented a fantastic opportunity for Hamilton to take his cut? Isn’t this the same type of action we see in markets all the time? (that last question was real – is this issue similar to any form of contemporary market action?)

        2. JerseyJeffersonian

          And the Banksters worked a similar scam in the Global Financial Crisis, getting the US (in the person of the citizenry) saddled with the resulting debt obligation to redeem obligations of TPTB at a sizable fraction of their purported value via bailouts. Of course, most of that purported value of the debts was bunkum, as the debt was mostly conjured up through control frauds, but in return, TPTB got a huge dollop of money along with impunity from criminal prosecution (at least for long enough that the statute of limitations could take effect, with the costs incurred from civil penalties collected as a smokescreen being but a flea on an elephant compared to the take from the scam), as Bill Black laid out in his recent post here.

          Sure, the details were different, but the pattern remains the same. Some scams just never get old, do they?

        3. s spade

          It was these speculators who bought up the Federal lands west of the Alleghenies, because they were the only ones with cash. Land speculators made enormous profits on the resale to the actual settlors, many of whom had been recipients of the paper floated to finance the War, so the people were screwed over twice within twenty years, and what they had to show for their revolutionary effort was taxes and debts, along with the dubious right to send dunderheads and charlatans into the Congress, but at least they also had some land to show for the exercise and quite a few of their heirs became rich if they were somehow able to hang on to it.

      2. Paul Tioxon

        You’re correct, Barzun does tell a different story. It is an anecdote about an unsung hero from France. It IS a MUCH different story, hardly an analysis of the capitalist world system incorporation of our USA and demonstrating the coercive power of capitalism, not just on individuals, but entire societies. From P.403 of “FROM DAWN TO DECADENCE” BY J. BARZUN: “the agent of Congress had promised to send back produce — chiefly tobacco — in exchange for the war supplies. Nothing came from America. Beaumarchais had to borrow the money for his shipments, which on arrival brought him no thanks.”

        Reliance on a romantic opera composer, no matter how iron willed and how much he did in fact accomplish, does not constitute the emerging capitalist order. Asking for tobacco in trade for arms in not an example of the coercive power of capitalism. It certainly was a ray of hope revealing the human spirit and not cold hearted raison D etat. Tobacco for arms is not even a financial transaction of the kind that rapidly expanded the British and French Empires. What forced the US Government to rewrite its formal doctrine of nationhood, moving from a weak state, not at all a sovereign nation, but a collection of 13 independent states, to a poltically and economically integrated nation state with a strong central government with the power to tax all of the citizens of the states within the nation and borrow on behalf of the nation as a whole without the consent of the states? I say, the coercive nature of capitalism. The Office of the Comptroller is named by the Lingua Franca of statecraft, emulating the French bureaucracy. Comptroller French, Controller English, same thing. A. Hamilton urged that the United States move beyond the weak formulation of the Articles of Confederation. He argued with others but his vision was driven by his understanding of finance as the powerful platform of the British Empire, the means by which its navy and army ruled the lands and seas of the world.

        Hamilton also wanted the Federal government to assume the debt of the states for the war. Most of this money was put up by the wealthy residents of those states and by shifting the debt to the central government, those bond holders would have a financial stake in the success of the new Federal government. The Northern states held this debt, the Southern states paid it off. Hamilton had to craft a deal to ensure a tax in the form of import tariffs be collected to service the national debt. To the South, he promised the location of the Nation’s capitol, to Philadelphia, a 10 year deal where it was the Capitol while Washington DC was being built. With the deal in place, the tax was passed. And the Northern State went debt free.
        ———————————————————-
        “When it was clear that the revenue stream from the tariff was more than adequate to service the new debt, the bonds became sought after in Europe. In 1789, the US had been a financial basket case, its obligations unsalable, its ability to borrow nil. By 1794 it had the highest credit rating in Europe…

        Tallyrand, the future French foreign minister, then in the US to escape the Terror, explained why. The bonds, he said,
        were ‘safe and free from reverses. They have funded in such a sound manner and the prosperity of this country is growing so rapidly that there can be no doubt of their solvency.”
        “EMPIRE OF WEALTH” BY J.S. GORDON P.74-75
        ——————————————————–

        The US Constitution was written to create a more perfect union. The USA became a sovereign, with the power to tax individuals, land within states and to borrow as a sovereign with the full faith and credit of the US, backed by its strong central government’s capacity to tax in order to service debt. It abandoned what was no more than contractual obligations among sovereigns in order to form a larger sovereign entity, the Federal Government of the USA, an entity unto itself. It became capitalist by uniting the interests of the wealthy with the structures of the nation. See Sect 4 of Article 14 of the US Constitution, the public debt shall not be questioned. Creditors will paid, people will be taxed, and all will be right with the world. Of course, you need someone to have a paying job in order to collect anything from them.

        From: “ALEXANDER HAMILTON” BY RON CHERNOW, P.158

        1. anon y'mouse

          and Hamilton’s face gets younger and more aesthetically beautiful with every reissue of the bill that bears it.

          the real father of our country and originator of many of our ills.

          so, the south mostly paid off our debts? did this come back to haunt during the civil war period? I’ve never heard this history….

          1. Paul Tioxon

            The 13 colonies acted together as well as they could, while fighting a war. The correct portrait of debt would to divide it into 2 categories, as far as government debt for financing the war is concerned. The states held debt. The United State held debt. By the time the war was over, and the US adopted the Constitution, many Northern states still owed money for the war, mainly to the wealthy residents of those states. Robert Morris of PA loaned personal money. Some was loaned to the state and some to the US government. The Southern states, had paid back the wealthy lenders from their states, people like Jefferson were paid back. They also depended upon imports from Europe for iron farming equipment, nails, etc. The Southern states were debt free, and did not want to pay higher prices via tariffs on what they consumed in imports. The Northern states still carried owed money, as did the US government. The deal that was struck was to move the debt off of the books of the states and onto to the national government, giving everyone a stake in the Federal enterprise of national government. So, the South did not pay off the North’s debt, the Southern states paid off their creditors, and with Hamilton’s deal, the Federal government of the US paid off the remaining state debt, mainly benefiting the North, since the Southerners had already resolved this issue for themselves. It was a movement of debt from states to the national level, along with taxation on the national level to service that debt in a dependable way that lenders in Europe would feel confident about. This is beginning of incorporation of the USA into the capitalist world on better footing than that of dependency.

  10. Dan Kervick

    Note that in Welsh’s picture of how people lose political power, the loss comes about entirely through the gradual corrosive effect of ordinary market transactions. The role of the state in that process is simply to defend the rights of property market participants acquire and the terms of binding contracts that they make.

    The natural tendency of the system of free enterprise and free market transaction is toward monopolistic and oligopolistic organization of production, the concentration of wealth and economic power, the unemployment of large parts of the surrounding population, and the political destruction of democratic communities.

    Human beings are political animals. They almost always have states of some size and type, and the states always have rules and formal relationships that are enforced, coercively where necessary. We live in a state now whose system of laws puts an excessive emphasis on the economic liberty of individuals and firms, and neglects the preservation of social and political equality and the provision of community ends and needs. People need to get themselves into the mindset of privileging democratic political communities and durable civilized societies over the creative destruction of market freedom of individuals and firms; they need to re-form the rules of their communities to embody those priorities, and they need to be prepared to enforce the rules vigorously. Greed, avarice, exploitation, deceit and violence were’t invented by some evil modern state. They are permanent potentialities of human nature, and building societies in which those potentialities are checked and suppressed is hard work with an inherently coercive element.

    The neoliberals are preparing to do to large parts of the planet the same thing they did to the Rust Belt and to Detroit: destroy them, not thorough some deliberate plan of destruction, but simply by adhering to a market system in which such results in some places are a natural and predictable result. They want a global regime built on the free mobility of capital and labor, where societies and political communities are seen as temporary structures like firms, that crumble away leaving only the failed, abandoned and destitute behind. For neoliberals, a country or a community is just a kind of temporary flophouse of wandering individuals seeking the main chance.

    As Welch indicates, societies need to be able to defend themselves against both predation from within and predation from without. That requires a system of law and organization that favors the preservation of democracy and equality, and that deliberately builds and supports the foundations for humane civilization. Private property relations and some creative destruction and innovation have a useful internal role to play, but that role is a subsidiary role. The number one directive of the community must be the integrity and preservation of the community, and the preservation of real and functional (not symbolic) political equality of its members.

    1. Banger

      I have a question for you. What you describe and what is generally talked about here is fairly obvious. Capitalism today is what it is. Capital flows to where it can be increased. If something does not make money then you move elsewhere. It’s sort of like the weather. The left, on balance, tends to decry the weather–we have no alternative that appeals to anyone because we are all in the midst of trying to survive, raise our families maintain our communities. So then, how do we solve this? How do we establish areas wherein human values rather than the cruel values of the market prevail? Where to we find shelter from the storms? Since 1968 I’ve argued for creating alternative institutions and communities but, other than the brief and failed communal movement of the early to mid-seventies this has been ignored as a possibility.

      1. James Levy

        I think you know the answer, because you’ve expressed it in different ways. People have to stand up for a set of values that sound silly: people over profits (not necessarily surplus, but profits); justice as fairness; never leave a comrade behind; “You have heard that it was said, `Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you: Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” You know, stuff like that.

        We cower before the firm, inflexible assertions of the powerful, and none of us, especially the well educated, what to sound silly or naïve. We hide our values because they embarrass us. Well, we’ve got to get past the embarrassment, and start standing up for what we believe. People may pay attention to a person who states their values with conviction. They have no time for half-hearted rebuttals of firmly stated ideas–and the Right is great at firmly and insistently stating their ideas (as facts, no less).

        1. Banger

          Of course–but people who believe all that need to come together with others and I don’t really see that happening–yet. I think it will happen, btw.

          1. MikeNY

            I’m expecting someone with the charisma and moral light of an MLK or Gandhi to arise, somewhere — and I hope I’ll be a glad follower. In the meanwhile, I do what I can, as posters below have mentioned, and I seek out like-minded people. I found that my local soup kitchen seems to attract a lot of people who “get it”. It creates a sense of community and caring.

      2. Anarcissie

        ‘… Since 1968 I’ve argued for creating alternative institutions and communities but, other than the brief and failed communal movement of the early to mid-seventies this has been ignored as a possibility.’

        Actually, I believe these ideas are permeating the population, especially among younger people, and if so, will probably manifest themselves on a large scale rather suddenly. If, as I guess, the process is surreptitious, this is for best, because if the ruling class perceived their development as a threat they would try hard to wipe it out.

        I have found that you have to do more than argue; you have to demonstrate. Hence I am currently working with Food Not Bombs, free stores, and some offshoots of the Occupy movement.

        There are some steps that middle-class people can take now which are less radical but in the same direction, like moving their money into credit unions and otherwise supporting and using cooperative institutions and relations.

        1. just_kate

          This is exactly right – walk the walk and don’t be cowed by the social pressure. Be a freak a wierdo a loser a radical an embarassment, a whatever name others want to label you with. It can be extremely difficult, especially if your personal circle gives little/no support, but also liberating once you can live honestly and openly act like you actually give a shit about other people more than you do money/status/things.

        2. Banger

          Yes, I agree with you. I think some of the youth I know are doing exactly that but need a lot of support and encouragement. There are lots of “green shoots” on both the left right and neither the left or right from dumpster-divers to Christians attempting to live a life focused on the New Testament rather than the usual bigotry taught by churches–I thin Pope Francis is one of these figures, btw.

          1. sierra7

            One of the largest offshoots of the Occupy movement has been a greatly expanded “return to the community” all across this country.
            If you have not been paying attention, this is the manifest “….attempt at dettachment” from the primary financial intercourse” that represents this corrupt system.
            Look at the enormous expansion of community gardens, sef-help meetings, outright revolts in the streets of many communities against corporations like Monsanto, GE, Lockheed….you get the point.
            While too many are making philisophical discussions about naton states, libertarianism, other “isms”….a great part of the population of this country is really doing “things”…that they feel will enhance their lives; away from the incredible vaucous single minded narcissism that is blasted at them 24/7 from every orifice of the MSM.
            Progress is being made……
            The 1% will not know what hit them……

      3. jrs

        “we have no alternative that appeals to anyone because we are all in the midst of trying to survive, raise our families maintain our communities. So then, how do we solve this? How do we establish areas wherein human values rather than the cruel values of the market prevail? Where to we find shelter from the storms? Since 1968 I’ve argued for creating alternative institutions and communities but, other than the brief and failed communal movement of the early to mid-seventies this has been ignored as a possibility.”

        You’ve answered your own question. It’s hard to balance trying to survive with creating alternative institutions and communities. Very little exists that provides a real alternative to working for the Man, but the Man demands long hours, long commutes, constant connectivity, or for some to work several jobs to survive. Ok that last group have no hope of doing much more than surviving and the former, well it tends to drain time nad energy away from creating alternatives. So unless alternatives spring fully hatched, it’s difficult. Who will give MORE time to them than they do working for the Man? (and thus enriching the Man more and more) Those with nothing left to lose? (I’ve heard it’s another word for freedom) The young who can’t find jobs anyway? Perhaps.

        I criticize because I like the the idea. Everyone and their brother finds the idea fashionable to give lip service to now, that’s why I’m serious about the reality of it, nuts and bolts, and dollars and cents, and survival, and not just mouthing sweet nothings.

        1. Banger

          Yes, we have little time or space to make change but we can gradually sharpen our wits and organize for effective action. What I’ve noticed is an unwillingness among critics of our situation to actually come together with others and give up some wealth and some time usually spent watching movies or whatever. We need to connect. My wife, argued this morning, that people should be having a lot more sex, by which she meant that we need to learn to connect and that’s one way of getting used to it (she doesn’t mean the type of sex that is wham-bang-thank-you-mama or just done to score points).

      4. Dan Kervick

        Well, I guess what I think is needed is something like a “cultural revolution”. But part of that is just recovering certain ideals and traditions that have deep roots in American society, but which are ignored and despised by our commercial and plutocratic culture, and the grotesque garbage-dispensing media that heralds its messages.

        Perhaps our secularized age, with its weird and degenerate anti-Christian forms of Christianity, threw out too many babies with the bathwater of superstition. The savage impulses of capitalism were once held in check by religious ideals and churches that most people attended, and where they heard ideals of humility, neighborliness, brotherhood and sacrifice preached routinely. The churches – which in America derived mainly from radical English and northern European Protestant churches forged by social revolution and infused with a self-governing democratic ethos – were often the very same places as the public meeting houses, and formed the foundation of the instinctively democratic communities that Americans tended to build wherever they spread.

        Now libertarians want us to imagine that democracy was never a big deal in America. But that’s completely wrong. Democracy was never a big deal among the aristocratic and commercial elites who comprised those most illustrious “founders” who are on all of the money, but those guys were always trying to put a cap on a burgeoning, flourishing, grass roots democratic culture that was unstoppable, and turned the US into a much more democratic country than the founders wanted.

        I think we all probably need to stop yelling on the internet and rediscover civic organizations and face-to-face discussions, gatherings, celebrations. That involves creating the time for those things as well.

        1. Klassy!

          “Indeed, our own state is testimony of a potential civility in all states, which we must keep in mind when we judge the peoples of the plutocratic world, and especially the American people, who are above all others the devotees and exemplars of the plutocratic ideal, without limitation by any aristocracy, theocracy, or monarchy. They are purely commercial, and the thing that cannot be bought and sold has logically no place in their life.”
          –William Dean Howells Through the Eye of the Needle

        2. Banger

          Amen to most of what you wrote–well put too. I’m not sure what you mean by libertarians not being fond of democracy–certainly anti-democratic elements are woven into our political ideologies. Certainly, I’m skeptical of democracy because much depends on culture and how the system is constructed.

        3. Malmo

          Dan nailed it. I grew up Presbyterian. I’m no longer a part of that tradition, but those who I had the privledge of knowing were some of the most thoughtful and humane people I’ve ever witnessed.

        4. paul boisvert

          Dan, when precisely were the savage impulses of capitalism held in check (more so than today) by religious feeling? Capitalism’s savagery consists of exploiting people, leaving them unjustly poorer and worse off than they should be. What holds this partially in check is regulation and a safety net–social security, disability, welfare, food stamps, unemployment insurance, health insurance, labor bargaining power, OSHA safety laws, food inspection, etc. All products, in any systemic, society-wide form, of the last 80 years or so, and many of the last 40 or 50, at best.

          You are engaging in false nostalgia. You wish to believe that capitalism once wasn’t very bad, but now has for (inexplicable or random) reasons unrelated to its essential processes, become evil. How about some dates when the working class and poor had it better than they had it today? Maybe from 1965 to 1975…when else would you rather have been unemployed or sick or poor? When there were no child labor laws? When there was no public sanitation? No Medicaid? No minimum wage? In the Jim Crow South? In the long depression of the late 1800’s? When…?

          If you’re going to say that long ago there were churches and extended family and some “help your neighbor” initiatives that helped ameliorate conditions for those savaged by capitalism, fine–but all those still exist today. I donate money several times a year to food banks and other charities–they are all over the place. The difference is that now we ALSO have a huge public social safety net as well–under attack for several decades, but still far better than in the golden, “religious” mists of the distant past.

          It’s still not nearly enough, of course–but that’s because capitalism is still irremediably savage, which is the point. But I’d like to see the gritty, working class and poverty-stricken details of whatever golden age you seem to envision. Going back to a capitalist paradise is as much a fool’s errand as going forward to one…the savagery is the problem, not the bandages we put on some of the wounds…

    2. tim s

      the USA HAS a system of laws that is to protect the people from exploitation, both from without and within. It worked reasonable well at times in the past, certainly relative to our current time. Any system is only as good as the people who make up the system. When a population allows, through fear or ignorance, a small minority to undermine those protections, then what can be done? A seismic shift must occur to change the trajectory that the population is on – something that generally borders on horrible.

      This comes back to culture, as was brought up in a recent post by Yves this most outstanding blog. Or maybe more correctly the rise-decline-resurrection(or replacement) of a civilization,

    3. susan the other

      If there is a force at play that centralizes wealth away from people we need a countervailing force to distribute it again. Directly and accurately; and in a timely manner.

  11. Z

    There must be some zeitgeist going on. I usually read Ian but haven’t had a chance to read his latest essay since I’ve been so busy this week, but this was exactly what I was thinking about on my own last night. I think the zeitgeist is based on the growing realization that the corruption between “our” government and the corporations and their chieftains is so intertwined and embedded that the only thing that can change it is by forcing a major recalculation of the risk-reward dynamics on the actors who are imposing this struggle for survival on the working class in order to serve their own greedy ambitions.

    Z

    1. Z

      Though this has been clear to me for quite some time and I’m sure with Ian and many others as well.

      Z

  12. craazyman

    Just think how bad it was for Cornell Wilde in NAKED PREY. It’s not really about capitalism or govermint, even though people bounce off those words the way a fly bounces off a window screen on a summer day. People need to understand the door and fly through it, but they need to develop their perceptual faculties to see it.

    it cracks me up the way those morons think you can get “rid” of government. Government is just a set of ideas that regulate how people interact within a society, those ideas will exist, quite forcefully, whether there is a government or not. You can’t have a vacuum there. something will fill it — some form of force, whether it is acknowledged in words or not — and you can call it goverment or culture or religion or the jungle or the market, but it will be filled with something, solid.

    1. craazyboy

      Coercive corporate power can get pretty bad.

      The novel “Flashback” by Dan Simmons takes place in a near term post peak everything dystopia. Shopping malls have been converted to small apartment complexes, the US is down to 42 states (Texas and a few others seceded), the Federal government has shrunk down to almost nothing, drug cartels run the southwest, but the main power running the N. American continent are the Japanese Multinationals. (Abe must have read this book)

      Each Japanese corporation has a Ninja Warrior subsidiary that handles day to day business enforcement activities.

      For more intimidating displays of force, they have co-operated in building satellite space stations that are armed with depleted uranium kinetic energy spear weapons which can be dropped from space and wipe out large parts of any city they wish.

      This novel was not light reading. If you take it too seriously, that is.

  13. BITFU

    Glorified astrology.

    “The feeling I have is that of generalized tension…”

    You’re putting forth vague,”essences”–because they aren’t coherent thoughts–that could just as easily be applied to several other ideologies and the following decades in the past 100 years: 1910s, 1930s, 1940s, 1960s, 1970s, 2000s.

    Yet, you’re acting as if there is some meaningful correspondence between your take on the daily news (which is the previously mentioned “essences”) and your socio/political/economic philosophy.

    And to support all this you’re using Russell Brand and his call for a “revolution of consciousness”—whatever the hell that means—to make a statement on the coercive power of capitalism. Whatever the hell that means.

    Go ahead and read today’s horoscope and recognize the parallels:

    http://my.horoscope.com/astrology/free-daily-horoscope-aquarius.html

    If you still doubt this, then check out my astrological response to David Lentini’s comment above. I got is straight from My Horoscope. I simply changed a few words, yet notice how well it flows into this overall narrative.

    Again, this is all just glorified astrology.

    1. Moneta

      Most human thought happens in the subconscious brain which is THE master computer. The answer gets pushed out to the conscious.

      It’s garbage in, garbage out.

      So, when people have no data or bad data in their brain, then we can call it astrology. When people put decades of good data in their brains, I tend to listen to their hunches.

      1. sue

        Good grief Moneta,

        The “limbic node” is not the center of thought. It is the center of “fight or flight”.

        Abstract “good-bad” dichotomy is not relevant. This is simply duality. We cannot discuss without specific issue orientation-documentation.

        Yves topic issue here is extremely relevant to our point in time. We cannot reduce it to duality.

        1. Moneta

          You keep on asking for proof, well here are some of my references:

          How Unconscious Mechanisms Affect Thought
          http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-unconscious-mechanisms

          You don’t think about moving your legs when you want to walk. You recognize a smell which brings back an old memory… certainly not decided by your conscious brain. Light and sound do not travel at the same speed… So you can imagine the spooling going on in your brain to keep those data packets in order when you are watching someone taking to you… you are definitely not consciously doing all that work!!!

          The society of mind
          http://www.amazon.ca/Society-Mind-Marvin-Minsky/dp/0671657135/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1382842528&sr=8-1&keywords=society+of+minds

          Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid
          http://www.amazon.ca/Godel-Escher-Bach-Eternal-Golden/dp/0465026567/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1382842752&sr=8-7&keywords=Escher

          1. Moneta

            Food for thought:

            If you read with 1 eye only you probably won’t have the same thoughts as if you read with both eyes open.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Sue,

          That’s not quite right. The fight or flight part of the brain in in the brain stem. Even reptiles have that. It does not depend on emotions that relate to association (liking or disliking), all that mamallian child nurturing, pair bonding, group behavior stuff (the innate sensitivity to fairness, my cats have that BIG TIME).

          Limbic brain governs that. Reptiles don’t have that.

    2. anon y'mouse

      everywhere I go, people are talking about how bad it is. a bus driver the other day said he spent his vacation travelling through 15 states. Portland is known (during the spring/summer especially) as the homeless capital of the western U.S. he said he saw homeless everywhere he went. what we have here is “the tip of the iceberg”. then he proceeded to talk about how the new management of the public transit system wanted to cram down the wages, remove the benefits and replace the pension. “should I retire in the next 4 months before they yank my pension?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that they want the transit system to run in the black because they’ve set it up for the same kind of privatization that has happened in England. it would’ve capped his day in possibly the worst way.

      this is just one datapoint, but all you have to do nowadays is open your mouth in any group of people about financial/job/health difficulties, and it all comes pouring out. it is bad out there. it is not so bad that people are starving in the streets, but it is bad enough that the topic is readily on people’s tongues. they’re keeping up a good front, going to work and doing their duty hoping that the bad thing won’t befall them too, but it is like a mouse scurrying for cover in the field while trying to dodge a great hawk, on a clear blusky day.

      oh, and what MOneta said. I’ve heard it said that when we reach our techno(dis)utopia, the only thing left for humans to do will be to make these kinds of ‘leaps of faith’ using our master-computer brains. it’s something we do well. intuition should not be disparaged just because it is wrong some of the time. intuition = implicit learning.

      1. Moneta

        I believe that intuition is a powerful tool that has been disparaged because there is no extensive work on when to listen to it and when to dismiss it.

        Maybe someone on this board will have a title to propose.

        A large percentage of people keep on listening to the intuition of people who have spent decades putting all the wrong data in their brain. No wonder they are disappointed!

        1. sue

          Moneta,

          J. Krishnamurti logics out “intuition” into thoughtful reality. Rather than mind-body dichotomy, we must include “neural system”-connectivity between mind-body.

          I have recently mentioned “way”s to work with-on, said “intuitive” perception, which can be developed. Some have practiced so doing over lifetime.

          Primary difficulty is objectivity of Socratic truth. We cannot rationalize our considerations or observations-we must prove them, in actions-interactions.

    3. Jerome Armstrong

      Yea, I think the whole “glorified astrology” debasement has been happening here since at least the breakout of the beats (have been reading about the influence of Cayce on Cassady), if not longer, with the existential atheism declaring itself the arbiter of all that is factual. But, I think you could take a look at science now and get quite a different look at what is going on.

      “If thought affects the molecular structure of water, then what effect might thought have on the human bodies?” RE the Emoto water tests, http://deanradin.blogspot.com/2009/01/water-crystal-replication-study.html

      I grant that Russell Brand is pretty pathetic with his predominate sexual posture (and humorous), but that does let him into the door of wider pop culture, and what he states about the left is right on. I chuckled about the part where he’s dropping the shopping bags of clothes that MTV is purchasing, to join the riot on the London streets. He should have answered the purist that proclaimed to him, “I know you, you’re on MTV, what are you doing here?” condescendingly, with “Well, you watch MTV so what the fuck are you doing here?”

    4. Banger

      Revolution in consciousness is an essential ingredient in any change movement and part of that is the area of “feelings”, intuitions and so on. Even if you are a hyper-rationalist you have to accept the existence of the unconscious and, furthermore, that it is a very large and somewhat difficult to understand entity. The whole project of consciousness expansion is to increase our awareness of what is going on in the system we call the self and the existence of what may be beyond the self.

      Purely on practical grounds if you don’t know that you can be easily manipulated using symbols, impressions then you are more vulnerable than those of us who can feel the effects, very quickly, of such attempts through the discipline of self-observation and expanded consciousness.

  14. Banger

    I think you get the “libertarian” position wrong. First of all the libertarian movement is precisely that a “movement” so it moves and evolves and, moreover, is very diverse. I believe that movement is coming to understand what I understand which is the state has become, largely, a tool for the richest and most powerful corporations to limit competition and create a neo-feudal system of what Lambert calls a “market-state.” The function of the state is to pick the winners and then guarantee their success (through the financial regulatory structure, Obamacare and so on) through law. Also, generally, libertarians believe the functions of government should be very limited because of the temptation to become coercive and totalitarian. American libertarians are reacting to the American situation and that is what government has become in part, due to sabotage by Republican neo-libertarians like Reagan and his progeny.

    I say this as someone who believes, still, that the ideal governing system is social democracy with a highly democratic voting system and near-universal (real) public education none of which is the reality in the United States.

    We live in a state that is now structured to be Center Right or Right (in the traditional sense, not libertarian) with very limited democratic institutions (there is still no guarantee elections are honest) limited to two political parties and dominated by money. The fact of the matter, for all the endless complaints on the left, it is only the libertarian right that is, at this time, a force for major change that has some kind of mass appeal. People who fear for their jobs are not flocking to the Green Party or the Democratic Party but to the new-right. People like Alex Jones (who has left-revolutionary types like Chris Hedges and Russel Brand on his show as well as the nuttier right-wing types) and Paul Craig Roberts are important voices in any new revolution because they bridge left and right and are the ones making common cause against the corporate state.

    None of us will get any traction until we finally agree to ally ourselves with the libertarian right where we agree. We should have joined the RP, for example, in scuttling the ACA but we all rallied round the false flag of Obama.

    1. Walter Map

      Your understanding of libertarianism is severely flawed.

      Libertarians oppose the “oppression” of government corporate regulation and government-imposed social obligations. They oppose government “oppression” of the rich. When libertarians talk about “free markets” they do not mean “fair markets”. They mean markets “free” for them to rig, monopolize, exploit, and pillage.

      Libertarians do not oppose government-backed oppression by corporatists at all. If you can find an example of such a thing, please post it.

      We’ll wait.

      1. Banger

        I gave you examples. Alex Jones interview of both Brand and Hedges—weren’t you reading my post? Or go to the Daily Paul for things like this where there is a vid of Brand: http://www.dailypaul.com/303458/russell-brand-may-have-started-a-revolution-last-night.

        Frankly, I’m not going to waste my time trying to educate you on the complexity and rapidly changing turmoil on the libertarian right. Yes, they are confused, yes they lack much philosophical rigor but they are, unlike most people on the left, open to new ideas and new frameworks and, more significantly, their view RESONATE with the American public. Get out of your intellectual ghetto and look around and, as Brand suggests open your heart.

        1. James Levy

          Banger, I’m sure you are right but I have to say that every time I’ve tried to engage a libertarian all I got was a string of slogans and a heapin’ helpin’ of angry white guy rage and bigotry. Perhaps this is because they are lower middle class people (those are the people I grew up around and have lived among most of my life). They are not educated or subtle thinkers. They know that things have gone south for them and they think libertarianism provides them with the culprits: government, government handouts, blacks, and women stealing their jobs. If we could just cut taxes and end affirmative action and “get the government off our backs” then they’d be back on top and the proper order of things restored. What’s going on at conferences and in journals may be very different from this, but this is what I hear when I open my ears and try to engage people.

          1. Banger

            Good point–under different circumstances they would have been waving around Mao’s Little Red Books. We are in a state of flux politically. Eventually people will come to the conclusion that most of the political actors on the visible stage are bogus and a new politics will emerge, I hope, that is based on something closer to reality.

        2. John Mc

          Banger,

          A couple of points to debtate:

          TOPIC – LIBERTARIANS
          “Yes, they are confused, yes they lack much philosophical rigor but they are, unlike most people on the left, open to new ideas and new frameworks and, more significantly, their view RESONATE with the American public.”

          My understanding from this article “The Coercive Power of Capitalism” is that Yves is making the point very few of us on the left believe government to be without blame for coercion or obdurant ommissions. However, your claim about Libertarians being open to new ideas does not address her major point, which is the reticence by libertarians to accept that “markets or commerce are non-coercive”.

          To be blunt, your point does very little to do with Yves post (“Libertarian confusion or lack of philosophical rigor”), but it does confirm a central piece of ideology which causes libertarians to minimize private capital risk. And since we have seen so many abuses in this domain (too many to list here), it might behoove your argument to demonstrate some specific aspect of this “open to new ideas” thesis. As currently, you are neither citing evidence nor addressing the article’s content.

          TOPIC – THE NEW RIGHT
          “The fact of the matter, for all the endless complaints on the left, it is only the libertarian right that is, at this time, a force for major change that has some kind of mass appeal. People who fear for their jobs are not flocking to the Green Party or the Democratic Party but to the new-right.”

          I cringe when someone writes “the fact of the matter”. First, most matters have multiple facts. Second, it is usually a platform from which to express a seemingly emotional plea for acceptance through a weak writing and sales practice called assumed consent.

          Banger, could you find some evidence of Libertarians being “the only force for major change” at this time. Could it be that you are one person and capable of seeing a limited number of events to project upon to an entire society? Or should we, now, bestow upon the libertarians — “our last great hope” title (like former boxer Gerry Cooney without the white)?

          1. Banger

            I had an answer to you but it hasn’t shown up yet. So I’ll just address what I left out. Maybe or maybe not it will show up.

            My objection to the theme of the essay is that I don’t believe that capitalism is by itself oppressive. I think all systems can be oppressive or not depending on culture and who is running that system. I believe ideology is not as important as many people who comment here believe. The current system has been gamed. I believe it achieved a good balance after FDR and now that balance was broken because, in my view, the left failed to mobilize, failed to make alliances with the white working class because of its obsession with political correctness and currently won’t make the obvious alliance with the libertarian right to begin to limit the control of the state–I consider the NDAA much more serious than the usual shenanigans of criminals like J. Dimon. I consider the national security state and the imperial project that has largely deleted the Constitution and rule-of-law from this society to be more of an enemy than even the ghouls in the insurance industry. In fact, it is the state that has the ultimate power here–the power that comes out of the mouth of a gun. The corporate elite use the state, of course, because it is for sale. So any argument that the state should do x, y or z falls on deaf ears because most Americans know the fix is in–that the markets are rigged and that something is rotten in Denmark. The left ought to be taking advantage of the situation rather than still looking for ideological purity, which, BTW, I’ve seen no epistemological foundation for.

            1. John Mc

              Banger,

              “I don’t believe that capitalism is by itself oppressive.
              I think all systems can be oppressive or not depending on culture and who is running that system.”

              This is odd. Banger seems to make the distinction between the system and system participants. However, when we mix culture/power with capitalism together, we get child labor, slavery, predation, inequality, exploitation and ecological damage that are particularly unique to the elevation of capital above labor. This seems to comparmentalize risk away like in a CDO, but calling it something else like Strawberry Pie.

              “I believe ideology is not as important as many people who comment here believe. The current system has been gamed.”

              Actually, there is an ideological belief system for this. Game Theory.

              “In my view, the left failed to mobilize, failed to make alliances with the white working class”

              Who plans for the inquisition? – Mel Brooks

              I consider the NDAA much more serious than the usual shenanigans of criminals like J. Dimon. I consider the national security state and the imperial project that has largely deleted the Constitution and rule-of-law from this society to be more of an enemy than even the ghouls in the insurance industry.”

              By the time both are corrupted (the merger of state-industry)it is pretty irrelevant to argue percentages of blame. The central issue is that their relationship is unhealthy for labor, the ecology, and people opposed to violent problem-solving.

              “In fact, it is the state that has the ultimate power here–the power that comes out of the mouth of a gun. The corporate elite use the state, of course, because it is for sale. So any argument that the state should do x, y or z falls on deaf ears because most Americans know the fix is in–that the markets are rigged and that something is rotten in Denmark.”

              This appears to me to be incomplete in this section… During a period of globalization, and the overall movement to one world market, the importance of individual nation-states is seen as less valuable to the vaunted corporate entities which are the engines of productivity among the elite. There are only so many powers that the state has over us: legal, taxation, military/defense/police, and information.

              And in these examples, it is the corporations that doing the work to secure this power. The want laws changed (Citizen’s united), then it gets changed. Corporations want less taxes for themselves and high-end income earners, then so be it. Global executives move to seize Iraqi oil and demonstrate their influence across the globe, then help Saudi Arabia. And on and on….

              1. Banger

                And if citizens that opposed the crony-capitalist kleptocracy organized and made some of these regulators, media whores, politicians and corporations suffer even just a little then room would be made for our interests. The facts we don’t do the essential political work of organizing and putting a hurt on somebody can’t be blamed on the oligarchs.

                1. anon y'mouse

                  I’ve asked you again…how can we ‘hurt’ people like that?

                  they bet on both sides. they always come out winning.

                  boycott? what, exactly? every damned thing?

                  how does any of us put a hurt on the national security state? voting people out? making it clear we will? they are the iron hand behind the velvet throne.

                  i’m not angry at you, you just say a lot of really negative crap about “the left” and a ton of positive crap about “the right”. the right are playing a game that justifies what their leaders have already determined they want to do. it’s a puppet dance.

                  you want to know why the REAL left doesn’t engage? my guess would be that no one in it wants to play any oligarch’s puppet, and dance to his tune so that his politicians can play scared.

                  other than “coming together” what is there to do?

            2. EmilianoZ

              I consider the national security state and the imperial project that has largely deleted the Constitution and rule-of-law from this society to be more of an enemy than even the ghouls in the insurance industry.

              The military/security state and the big corporations are not two separate things. The aim, the “raison d’etre” of the military/security state is to protect the big corporations at home and their assets abroad. To protect the US from invasion from Canada or Mexico, a much smaller military would do.

              In fact, it is the state that has the ultimate power here–the power that comes out of the mouth of a gun. The corporate elite use the state, of course, because it is for sale.

              From the second sentence the state is merely a tool, mercenaries payed by the corporate elite. So, who has ultimate power? The mercenary or the mercenary’s boss?

              Is it a chicken or egg problem? Maybe states have always been created by elites to protect themselves, enslave their fellow countrymen and plunder the neighbors.

              1. Banger

                The national security state and the financial elite are not the same thing. They are usually allies but they are different people with different agendas. The system we live under is not a single hierarchy it is an emergent structure that comes out of a complex number of networks. Unlike strong hierarchies it can be disrupted if you know where to put pressure. This emergent system can change abruptly and can be joined by any group that understands the nature of power.

        3. Walter Map

          Please, Banger, the Pauls and Alex Jones are both sponsored by the Kochs. Perhaps you were unaware of that, or were unaware that such sponsorship automatically discredits them and proves my point besides.

          Got anything else?

          1. Banger

            Well, that’s the perfect argument. Everybody is Kochian just as in the fifties everyone is communist–get a better argument. So Jones who is making tons of money doing his own thing as he always has (btw, I don’t agree with him a lot of the time) but trust him because he admires people I admire

            So you’re saying that Alex’s respectful and 100% accord with Chris Hedges is a plot by Koch? Jones provides more air time to real progressives than any relatively large other media outlet I know of. Or is Hedges a secret Koch-ite?

            Here is a group of people working everyday to attack the imperial project, the NDAA and other police-state policies while the left swallowed the Obama kool-aid and is now just waking up to the reality of what happened? These people are potential allies–they arent’ right on the macro level–but unless we attack the authoritarian class we are screwed.

            How about Lew Rockwell then?

            1. Walter Map

              My argument doesn’t need to be perfect. It only needs to be enough to blow yours out of the water. As it is, I don’t need to convince you of the evils of libertarianism. They can do that themselves with no help from me.

              1. Banger

                Is this a pissing contest? Or whatever? Look, what you and many people who are on the internet miss is that none of us, by ourselves, knows very much–like the Blind Men and the Elephant. Our task is to be open, to accept data that comes from people with different perspectives and engage in some kind of dialogue while, at the same time, holding ourselves upright.

                As for ego battles, I hate them. I prefer plain old fist fights though I may be now too old for them now (sigh).

                1. skippy

                  Libertarianism is just a front for the corporate agenda (horded resource owners), big psyop.

                  The Chicago school was not the end product of academic study, its origins were funded with intent.

                  Skippy… a story as old as our species… methinks.

                  1. Banger

                    Socialism exists in a wide spectrum and libertarianism does as well. The Chicago school is one part of that spectrum and is basically centered in the limited field of economics. I believe the growing edge of libertarianism is in the political realm–pro Bill of Rights, anti-imperial and anti-big state, anti-crony capitalism. Just go find Karl Denninger (one of the founders of the Tea Party movement before it was hijacked by K St. PR firms) and what he said during the financial crisis and he’s hard core libertarian.

        4. Dan Kervick

          I used to try to engage more with libertarians, but found it very difficult. I used to check in on some of the sites like Bleeding Heart Libertarians and try to discuss things, but I was put off very much by their radically individualistic and selfish outlook that in the end it was hard for me to find anything in common with them. The “bleeding heart” business was only a highly self-conscious and cynical sales pitch that they use to package libertarianism in ways that might be attractive to center-left liberals.

          At bottom the libertarians seem hostile to democracy, hostile to community, hostile to any concepts of social obligation and self-sacrifice, hostile even to the rule of law. Most of them also, these days, seem to hate their country profoundly, which they cover up with fawning worship of various Founding Fathers – who are all conveniently dead. They claim to love a romanticized Neverland version of the US, which never actually existed, but hate almost every aspect of America’s concrete historical embodiment.

          1. Banger

            I think this is changing–or at least that’s my experience. Often, yes, they tend to be rather authoritarian and close-minded and often very naive and uneducated. However, I don’t find them that different from Daily Kos people who can get very mean, nasty, and authoritarian if you step outside the bulbble of political correctness. Human beings today are deeply distrustful and upset and not particularly open to complex arguments. The internet tends to encourage “us” and “them” thinking.

            1. Dan Kervick

              Well, these guys weren’t uneducated. They were highly educated academic political theorists and philosophers at places like Brown, Georgetown and other major institutions. The thing that ultimately turned me off entirely was their interest in “epistocracy” – the doctrine that society should be ruled by those who possess knowledge, and that democracy is an infringement on one’s right to be so ruled. Even those who did not defend epistocracy seemed quite fond of every kind of anti-democratic argument that has even been offered, basically seeing democracy and democratically-enacted laws as an infringement on the rights of individuals.

              There are other libertarians, of course, who are just fools. But I see them as all coming from roughly the same place. It seems like almost all of them are white and male, which tells you something about the underlying impulse I believe. The whole phenomenon is one of spoiled white boy brats, who grew up as the willful little princes of American society, doted on my their mommies, provided for by their daddies. They can’t get over the fact that they are now adults who live in a world in which they have to share power and responsibility with others, cooperate with others, sometimes even sacrifice for others. They are angry that their wives and girlfriends don’t answer to their beck and call. They don’t really understand history, and where the hard-won good things in life actually come from and what it takes to sustain them. They are fundamentally lazy, and so don’t want to shoulder the responsibilities of governance. They think the world revolves around them, and that if they have some good thing in their lives, that is because they made it all by their special little selves. They are narcissistic monsters of ego retarded at an adolescent stage of emotional development, and so the very existence of laws and rules irks them tremendously.

              1. John Mc

                Wow, thank you for the cultural crystalization.

                One wonders if a larger distinction can be made about a second class of Libertarians living in the archetypal bubble of the fraternity of financialization

                1. Dan Kervick

                  Well with those guys I would just say that thieves and avaricious predators never like the lawmen. It’s not really ideology, just the zeal for gain and domination.

              2. anon y'mouse

                “They think the world revolves around them, and that if they have some good thing in their lives, that is because they made it all by their special little selves. They are narcissistic monsters of ego retarded at an adolescent stage of emotional development, and so the very existence of laws and rules irks them tremendously.”

                glad someone else noticed this. the problem is, then they position themselves so that some area of their expertise gives them a boost over others. it’s a combination of ability, luck etc. which they attribute to their ‘natural superiority’ and proof that they should rule.

                they are the wanna-be elites. and yet here comes someone like Banger trying to make us ‘understand’ them and implying that those of us who don’t buy their junk are narrow-minded and class warfarists.

                it doesn’t take Madames Desfarges to see that these guys hate those above and below: those above for being “unfit” for proper rule and those below for thinking that they have any “rights” not confirmed on them by pseudo-natural fitness.

                I think this is why this philosophy is particularly appealing among the techno-heads. i’m from that part of the world. these people are the nerds. they think that, instead of money ruling those with technical “abilities” (which I can’t help conflating mostly with cab-apps and drones) should ensconce them in the top position.

              3. Banger

                Ok, I see what you mean–I have encountered people like that just as I encountered the nastiest leftist you can imagine where everything is twisted into endless knots and at the end of a conversation not unlike some of the scenes from The Life of Brian.

    2. sue

      By whom, Banger? Banger said:

      (American libertarians are reacting to the American situation and that is what government has become in part, due to sabotage by Republican neo-libertarians like Reagan and his progeny.)

      Check out this:

      http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=1582343896

      “Investigative reporter Gus Russo returns with his most explosive book yet, the remarkable story of the “Supermob”–a cadre of men who, over the course of decades, secretly influenced nearly every aspect of American society. Presenting startling, never-before-seen revelations about such famous members as Jules Stein, Joe Glaser, Ronald Reagan, Lew Wasserman, David Bazelon, and John Jacob Factor–as well as infamous, scrupulously low-profile members–Russo pulls the lid off of a half-century of criminal infiltration into American business, politics, and society. At the heart of it all is Sidney “The Fixer” Korshak, who from the 1940’s until his death in the 1990s, was not only the most powerful lawyer in the world, according to the FBI, but the enigmatic player behind countless 20th century power mergers, political deals, and organized crime chicaneries. As the underworld’s primary link to the corporate upperworld, Korshak’s backroom dominance and talent for anonymity will likely never be equaled. And as Supermob proves, neither will his story.”

  15. eeyores enigma

    The one thing that those with capital/wealth have in common with the poor or the wage slave is without money….you DIE.

    I know a lot of very wealthy people and believe me they are as clear as a poor person on that score and indeed even the wealthy understand that it can all go away in a blink. In fact the system guarantees that if you are not growing your wealth you are loosing it. So from that perspective there is never enough.

    We have structured humanity under a system that is guaranteed to bring out the worst behavior our species is capable of. We rationalize it away with the misquote, “Its a dog eat dog world”.

    Well it takes a hell of a lot of negative conditions for a dog to actually eat another dog but I suppose it happens. Humans have the ability to avoid those conditions but we find ourselves structured in such a way as to guarantee them.

    They don’t call it cost of living for no reason.

    1. Moneta

      I’d be willing to bet that those with money are more fearful than those without.

      They need money to give themselves a sense of value.

  16. John Doe

    The term revolution is being tossed out again and again by various people in many posts. But what might spark this revolution (and what kind of revolution) of which you speak? Or a better question who might start a revolution. I dare say that if a revolution is going to take place it will not be started by the men of the working class but by the women workers. They now account for more people working, they have a stronger sense of ‘fairness’, and are taking a lead role in activism of all sorts. This means the revolution will be different for the revolutions of the past. Maybe it will sneak up on the monied interests before they see it coming.

    1. Moneta

      It’s already starting in many countries outside the US!!!

      Many countries have barely spent anything on the military for decades because the US has been the protector… spending money on it would have been seen as a waste and their currency would have tanked…

    2. eeyores enigma

      The reason that there has been little or no real revolution is because whenever people hear about the call to revolution the first thing they think about is the fact that they have to go to work in the morning so thats not going to happen.

      Secondly it is perceived that all the rallying points for revolution reduce the ability for most to make a “living” let alone make a “killing”.

      As Celente keeps saying revolution won’t happen until everyone has lost everything and have nothing else to loose. Unfortunately that will take a long time and many will fall before we reach the tipping point.

      All this just reenforces the understanding that if you don’t have money you must die. In fact it ensures that that game becomes even more cruel and violent as we are seeing and discussing daily on the blogs.

      1. Banger

        Revolution, when it comes, will happen in a new way as an emergent rather than a planned system. That is, revolutionaries do not need to destroy the system the system itself, being unsustainable will change and those that care enough will, collectively reshape it into either a more human or less human system (the world according to those who believe in “the Singularity”).

  17. John Mc

    Two comments

    First, I am struck by Daniel Hallin’s “spheres” of media coverage and the congruent fit between coercion, propaganda and shaping/disciplining in our culture: Consensus, Legitimate Controversy and Deviance.

    I think this speaks to a sensitivity referred to by Yves in this piece about unseen pressures, or cracks in the cultural capitalists controls. When Charlie Sheen, Anthony Weiner or Miley Cyrus hover over a two-week news cycle for some “sensational” behavior while significant/multiple crises are occurring, then the invisible becomes apparent and the consensus spheres shift from/to deviance for a distraction or an amplification.

    Second, I think the concept of an “externality” is critical in showing how both irrational and rational relations divide an egalitarian community. The neoliberal extraction machine is predicated on getting information/access to resources in the promotion of competition, individualism, hyperproductivity, and eventual monopoly ownership (Hochschild). If Welsh and Marx are correct (and I think they are), then we have to get better at defending:

    1) Our information (social, demographic, desires)
    2) Access to egalitarian internal relational networks
    3) Community rules (from which they can suborn)
    4) Ownership as LT accountability and stewardship
    5) Construction of continuous social supports in community
    6) Collective visible investments belonging/sharing

    Yves, much gratitude for this post today.

    1. John Mc

      Upon further thought, this also explains why certain technologies/products become ubitquitous and needed by all and why others do not.

      Facebook —–> great tool of the NSA to study the intersection of consumption/psychology/economics in relationships

      Twitter ——> great tool to test and study public reactions, language, communication and resistance in a limited, measurable context

      IPhones ——-> GPS tracking, data mining, photography, recording, and wallet-mimicking consumption

      Internet Traffic —-> Acxioum Profiles of Consumer Spending Habits (global data wholesaler)

  18. Richard Lyon

    While I certainly agree that the economic/political structure in the US has been becoming increasingly unbalanced for a long time, I seem no evidence what so ever that a revolution is going to happen. The American public is being carefully and effectively managed. The most likely forces for change are the greater competition that the US must face with emerging nations for global dominance. I have no idea as to what kind of change that will create, but it likely means that resources will be spread more evenly around the world.

  19. tim s

    You’re right Yves, that Brand interview was something. Halfway through I was thinking “eh”, but once he got going, he really nailed it, completely overpowering the typical deflection-of-sentiment protectionary questioning that attempts to diffuse any type of guest who argues against the powerful status quo.

  20. Paul

    “…Libertarians widely, if not universally, depict markets and commerce as less or even non-coercive…”

    You must be joking. Many of the most aggressive capitalists I have met just dream of the day they can corner a market – whatever market – and have a *captive* pool of forced customers (mandatory insurance comes to mind here).
    Rent seeking has been discussed ad nauseam here and on http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/.
    It is time that the ordinary folk understand that we are all being forced through a metaphorical meat grinder and that for the lower and middle class there is little or no use to support the coercive freemarketeers…

    1. Banger

      I would go further–the most aggressive types are the same or worse than criminals–and I’ve known both fairly well.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I never said libertarian = capitalist. But they do overlap. And as I discuss in ECONNED (Chapters 4 and 5), the “free markets” ideology that libertarians tout leads directly to more concentrated economic power by businesses.

      1. skippy

        Libertarianism was founded by marginally wealthy – heraldic academic servants boot licking they way up the *value* chain… to the Powertarians.

        skippy… History does not rhyme… it echos…

  21. washunate

    I heartily agree that government is coercive. That’s the point. Social norms without such formalized coercion quickly break down in large societies. Because of this, limited government is very important. We want the smallest government possible that delivers the desired services.

    The desire for control over others is not healthy (assuming we value democracy and human rights and so forth, of course).

  22. Eureka Springs

    Yves, Great post! This is the blogosphere utilized at its best. There are and has to be alternatives. Thank you so much, Yves, Ian, Russell. Btw, It’s Ian Welsh, not Welch.

  23. Douglas Lindsay

    Patriarchies out-compete matriarchies in violent competition due to out-breeding fits into the hunter-gatherer vs agriculturalist comparison.

    Are matriarchies better at providing human happiness in a non-violent environment?
    Dunno.

    Let’s find out?

  24. Pelham

    Truly great article.

    Another interesting point made in either Perelman’s book or another I’m reading is that the land grab and peasant dispossession necessary for the launch of capitalism couldn’t proceed too quickly, otherwise you’d impoverish too many people all at once and have no market.

    I hesitate to mention Slavoj Zizek as he’s such a polarizing figure these days, but one of the points he makes is that the left should be just as willing as capitalists to engage in absolutely ruthless behavior. This is something many on the left reject, fearing that if we did “we would become like them.”

    I’d say that’s a legitimate fear and something to be wary of but it shouldn’t immobilize us. It’s imperative that we be precisely as ruthless as our overseers.

  25. anon y'mouse

    the -problem- with the Welsh piece, at least the first, is that it all seemed like the most reasonable, rational softening the mark for later installments of what the author believes the ideology should be. I agreed with everything he said, nonetheless. it’s just very difficult because ideology–examining that of others, that of one’s own, getting to the roots and determining what all of the window dressing is really hiding up, is exhausting. it smells like that article that talks about how Libertarians were turning their gullible marks with salesmanship tactics.

    yes, we all have an ideology and without a unifying idea there isn’t anything to fight for nor a vision of what SHOULD be but is not, which is why we are fighting in the first place. it just seems that any idea worth dying for would really be trivial in light of the sacrifice one is asking individuals to be ready to make. the only thing that I can see myself dying over is “no more death & destruction!” an affirmation of life, and the life-giving impulses which have been degraded, set aside for convenience or ‘efficiency’, perverted, or simply lost in the fugue of The New.

    our system is death. it is entropy made manifest. it is cruelty and hate with a veneer of rationality and “for your own good”. the only countervailing ideology I can see would be a directly opposed one.

    how much ideology is necessary? don’t ideologies eventually give birth to the same perversions as those who have ‘won’ by utilizing them try to consolidate and keep their power? it’s a two-edged sword. brainwash yourself lest you be diverted from your purpose. i’d prefer to be a shapeless target, I guess. make it difficult for the other side, whatever that is, to figure out much less co-opt, defuse, and stamp out.

  26. jrs

    Everybody knows it intuitively. They get lost in abstract discussions of freedom. Ok everyone knows freedom isn’t being locked up indefinitely by state oppression (also all legal in our lovely new world of course).

    But everyone ALSO KNOWS that freedom is not spending most of the hours of your life doing what someone tells you to in order to survive. Everyone knows in intuitively, with their feelings and senses, and probably have since the earlieset age. They have to forget what freedom means, and that wage slaves are not free men and never were – wage slavery is noones idea of freedom (even the libertarians if they are honest with themselves probably).

    1. anon y'mouse

      far be it for me to say what libertarians think, but what they appear to think is that they have no intention of being anyone’s slave, but that they ‘earned’ the right to dictate to those who did not prove themselves somehow superior in the madscramble social Darwinist mode.

      in other words, you earn the right to become autonomous by being better. that ‘better’ comes in forms that are usually cast as “hard work”, “education”, “marketable skills” and so on. really a lot of this is only half-true. many wouldn’t have had the chance to obtain any of those if they were not white, mostly men and mostly at least middle class. the lower classes are not barred, but since it is harder to bootstrap up from nothing, their members are lauded as the proof that anyone with the ‘right’ combo can do it. bootstrap stuff. let’s not discuss the fact that abilities don’t confer imperviousness to other societal, personal and economic problems which can keep you somewhat occupied treading water for your whole lifelong, which means luck also plays a heavy part.

      at least, this is the stereotype that appears evident whenever I examine that kind of stuff. it’s what we have now, on steroids.

  27. b2020

    “We think of irrationality as bad, but rational decision making leads to be betrayal.”

    This is as intellectually corrupt as it is grammatically wrong. We do not need new ideologies – even Greer has it right pointing out the failed attempts to create “better” religions. All you need – aside from love – is enlightened self-interest. We are suffering a lack of enlightenment, not an overdose of rationality. The core insight of the US experiment in constituional republicanism was that we are, individually and collectively, fallible, and that we create institutions and procedures to mitigate and reduce the impact of our fallibility. Enlightenment in the original sense does not turn us into rational participants in “efficient” markets, it teaches us that we will continue to act irrational (even if we accoutn for that) and need to seek checks and balances, and it teaches us that efficiency is far from resiliency.

    Reason will not lead you astray, as long as you begin with the assumption that your ability to reason is very limited and inadequate. The solution is not to dismiss reason, it is to work harder, because at the end of the day, against the problems we are facing, reason is all we have. If you wish to reason your way towards dismissing individual or collective reasoning, or manipulate others – by ideology or other constructs – into unreasoning compliance with your own preferences, then we part ways. Democracy is the worst form of government, and reason is the worst tool for problem solving, except for all the alternatives. It is all we have, and reality will not be cheated by our attempts to find shortcuts.

    1. Mel

      There’s a different set of definitions going around lately. I didn’t like them much when I found them in John Ralston Saul’s _Voltaire’s Bastards_, but there is a use for them.

      You start with the term “rationality”, but you continue with the term “reason”. Lately these are a dichotomy. It’s not reasonable to sell your entire birthright for a mess of pottage. But somebody will offer you a great deal on axioms that will make it logical to do just that. “Rationality” in this new sense is drawing logical conclusions within a particular ideological framework. You get whatever conclusions the framework supports. A key book here might be Iain McGilchrist’s _The Master and his Emissary_; I’ll know better once I’ve got my hands on a copy.
      Despite confusion in the new definitions, they let you throw light on some of the logical decisions you see people making.

  28. clarence swinney

    Income disparity between CEO’s & average workers in Japan is 11:1, in Germany it’s 12:1, in France 15:1, Britain 22:1. In Latin America, with a legacy of latifundia and plutocracy, in Mexico it’s 47:1, and in Venezuela it’s 50:1.
    In the U.S. it is 475:1. This obscenity is a very recent occurrence, resulting from policies implemented by the GOP “from” the time of the administration of President Reagan in 1981. The wealthy 10% have been relieved of their fair share of taxes, and immediately off-shored the wealth, while cutting jobs.
    58,000 plants were closed in the first decade of this century.
    Over 4.000 jobs were shipped to “just” China
    They are the opposite of “job-creators”. The best job-creators by far were the middle class small businesses, and they were destroyed en masse during the Bush II administration 2001-2009. That period was the hey-day of Bain Capital and other de-jobbers, the job-exporters.

  29. steve from virginia

    From earlier this year:

    “– Oil producing states tend to be autocratic: look for Norway, Denmark, the US, Canada and Mexico to become single-party states like Saudi Arabia or Iran. Because of autocrats ability to control access to energy, they will gain ascendancy with their populations’ eager consent. What is at stake for Americans and the West is democracy itself: a choice between the right to have a say in our own affairs versus the false-promises of energy-driven ‘prosperity’ offered by autocrats … the choice between driving a car or having a functioning republic.”

    http://www.economic-undertow.com/2013/01/23/net-energy-end-game-theory/

    Pay attention to the ‘Triangle of Doom’ which is what Yves is ‘feeling’.

    http://www.economic-undertow.com/2013/10/04/the-defunct-politics-of-more/

  30. Synoia

    I suggest y’all read “A History of the English Speaking People” which discusses the concent of the King’s peace in Vol 1, and “Cannibals and Kings,” which is a somewhat gloomy treatise on democracy and rule.

    The King’s Peace

    The English, not the British, formed a social contract with the Crown. The Crown would enforce the peace (laws) and the people wuold obey them (more or less), becuase the alternative, lawlessness was very much worse.

    Which goes to Welsh’s conundrum on violence.

    Cannibals & Kings

    Winston Churchill, a pragmatist, said “Current democracy is the least worst form of government.”

    One of the most egalitarian countries in Switzerland, where the federal Gov is weak. However, their ability to maintain a weak fereral (central) government is based, I believe, on two concepts:

    1. Every male (probably every person today) fights invaders.
    2. Rocks go downhill (strategic advantage to the populace when invaded).

    I suspect the Swiss form of governemt is not possible were a strong central state is required to beat off invaders or organized banditry, such as states basen in the N European Plain (Germany, Poland, etc) states without mountains.

  31. Thomas Lord

    A focus on “ideology” seems wrong to me.

    People will often say otherwise but for the most part nobody’s actions are explained by their ideology. People learn ideological theories in school or church or whathaveyou. They deploy ideological rhetoric (often nonsensically) in their discourse. In some areas (as when someone salutes a flag) people will enact rituals that symbolically represent an ideology.

    But I don’t think there is anything so simple as an ideology governing society or ordering society. I don’t believe in the possibility of a program where we envision a better system of economic relations, construct an ideology that (on paper) generates these relations, and then deploy that ideology. Certainly nobody has yet presented a convincing account of the ideology that explains, in detail and specifity the USSR or the US. Ideology does not drive the order of society — it is a component of limited function.

    One piece of evidence that makes me disbelieve in that role for ideology is the simple diversity of opinion, understanding, and worldview within allegedly ideologically homogenous societies. You know, for example, we live in a capitalist society of a certain sort if the only people you ever listen to and talk with are a handful of VCs; we live in a very different capitalist society if you talk to the bankers; a different one still if you talk to my middle class neighbors; a very different society still if you talk to the people in poor neighborhoods around here. Even within those groups you will find that a shared ideological foundation among people is much more exception than rule.

    Ideology often forms a system of “just so” stories. A think tank, for example, can allege that it possessses a clear view of an ideology and simply refer to that to gloss over claims they make that are unsupported. I mean to point out that, yes, “ideology” is sometimes politically potent.

    What I deny, though, is Welsh’s seeming underlying belief that by inventing or creatively conjuring up a superior ideology that somehow this can lead to a reform of society in a targeted, intentional direction. I reject that coming up with an ideology is necessary, sufficient, or even particularly helpful in the kinds of big-scale political projects he is aiming at.

    It is simply not psychologically plausible. That’s not how people behave. That’s not how social/economic order emerges and reproduces itself over time.

    We are indeed in a material bind in this sense: It looks from many perspectives like building a sustainable, survivable future requires an urgent shift to such things as highly distributed and decentralized production. It looks for a country like the US like it involve some pretty serious shifts in how most people live and experience their day to day lives. It requires, in other words, a huge reform of established economic relations.

    But it is implausible that that reform can be captured by some top-down set of ideological ideas. That which blocks people from locally “seizing the means” is not, by in large, a missing ideology but instead is the distribution of stakes and power in existing relations.

    I think the path to mass-scale reform involves a lot of local, site-specific tactical innovation with attention being paid to what tactics can be adapted and reproduced elsewhere, and what the long-term strategic implications seem to be for various tactics.

  32. charles sereno

    I’ve seen a lot of references to the Swiss in this post. One doesn’t always have to approve of some things that are hilariously funny. What a combo in “The Third Man” — Graham Greene, Orson Welles, Carol Reed.

    Harry Lime: “Don’t be so gloomy. After all it’s not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love – they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

    And here’s the theme played by the composer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8jN1treRKQ

    1. JTFaraday

      I was going to say that’s not a nice way to be talking about Jean Jacques, but on second thought he was a bit of a cuckoo clock…

  33. Jim

    The more orthodox progressive/left tends to spend its days and nights dissecting the coercive powers of capitalism (which is, of course, immense) while a few other somewhat less orthodox progressive/left thinkers also throw in the coercive power of the state, media, Fed, education, surveillance etc.. and etc.

    But what if modern power is less an institution, less a structure and much more diffuse ( a more decentralized private-public mix) more continuous but yet largely invisible without a real center or outside—seeming to embrace everything and coming from everywhere?

    The left/progressive community still seems to be thinking and talking about the representation of power as involving the necessity of cutting off the head of the king, or the major bankers, or NSA leaders, etc. and etc—or as power simply administered from above.

    But what if a totally unorthodox left/progressive community begins to reject this monarchy centered conception of power from above (with all of its different dimensions of coercion) and begins to argue that our individual claims to freedom and self-determination are not suppressed by such power games from above but are, instead, are perhaps–enabled—because power forms the ground from which a free person moves?

    What if the unorthodox left/progressive community begins to argue that we are much freer than we sometimes feel or believe–and that our job is develop the discipline and practices of self-transformation and truth-telling which will bring a new self and society into existence.

    The constituency for such a mobilization in the US could be huge and the possibilities enormous—think the cultural politics of the TV show Biggest Loser.

    1. anon y'mouse

      you’ve said this before. could you elucidate for the truly dumb?

      what the heck is it about The Biggest Loser? don’t watch it, couldn’t tell you anything about what its ‘cultural politics’ represent.

      trying to be truth-telling at work will get you fired, bro.

    2. Banger

      Jim, this is what I’ve been trying to say, more or less, in many fora for years. We do have more freedom and a great opportunity before the door slams shut to create new institutions if we can only come together in a concerted and dedicated way. Sadly, people who are on the political left tend to believe in moving towards collectivism but we are, usually, too individualistic to cooperate together to do so. Until we take that step we’ll go on arguing about labels and miss the real dynamic power of political life.

  34. Edward Lowe

    Yves, you can’t make sense of capitalism mere by focusing on the capital-labor relations. It’s how capital flows and grows that matters. It has been a very long time since capital could grow and offer survival wages for labor … there is a very good literature on this that dates as far back as the 1880s in England. As a result, capital is as dependent on labor as labor is on capital. Second, you cannot make sense of this unless you view capital growth as as inherently unstable , with crises of capital (including the idling of labor) as regular occurances and how crises of capital have been resolved historically through state intervention and urbanization, only to set up another boom-bust pattern at a later date. You should read David Harvey’s the limits of capital again, particularly the circuits of capital sections.

    Your sensing the onging crisis … have a stiff drink and go to bed early. It will be here again in the morning.

    1. skippy

      Energy and Water are increasingly scarce.

      skippy… those are the two basic pinnacles of capital formation… will – I thunkit – Ideology… win the day… or the Universe.

  35. Hugh

    What we have is kleptocracy. Perhaps this is a natural consequence of capitalism. I don’t know. I do know every -cracy and every -ism should be measured against the society we want to live in, that is the society we want not just for ourselves (enlightened self-interest) but each other (social justice).

    What we have now in both our politics and economics exists precisely because social purpose has been divorced and excised from them.

    On a different note, parts of this post reminded me of Niebuhr’s discussion of the privileged classes in Moral Man and Immoral Society. I especially like this passage which fits into the topic of creating and enforcing wage slavery:

    When the bill which provided for supported schools was before the English Parliament in 1807, a Mr. Giddy, afterward President of the Royal Society, raised objections which could be matched in every country: “However specious in theory the project might be of giving education to the laboring classes of the poor, it would be prejudicial to their morals and happiness; it would teach them to despise their lot in life instead of making them good servants in agriculture and other laborious employments, instead of teaching them subordination it would render them fractious and refractory as was evident in the manufacturing counties; it would enable them to read seditious pamphlets, vicious books and publications against Christianity; it would render them insolent to their superiors and in a few years the legislature would find it necessary to direct the strong arm of power against them.”

  36. C

    Speaking of blind spots don’t forget that Ludwig von Mieses, patron hero to the libertarians, stated that Agusto Pinochet was bringing true liberty to Chile. Pinochet whose men killed men women and children in the thousands often by unceremoneously dropping them from helecopters into the ocean. In the libertarian view Pinochet was not employing force but bringing “freedom”

    According to the Mieses institute his death should be mourned but his victims should not:

    The General is denounced again and again for the death or disappearance of over 3,000 Chilean citizens and the alleged torture of thousands more. It may well be that some substantial number of innocent Chilean citizens did die or disappear or otherwise suffered brutal treatment as the result of his actions. But in a struggle to avoid the establishment of a Communist dictatorship, it is undoubtedly true that many or most of those who died or suffered were preparing to inflict a far greater number of deaths and a vastly larger scale of suffering on their fellow citizens.

    Their deaths and suffering should certainly not be mourned, any more than the deaths of Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler, and their helpers should be mourned.

    Note that they provide no evidence that the dead were communist revolutionaries.
    http://archive.mises.org/6032/general-augusto-pinochet-is-dead/

    This is what I always consider when a libertarian speaks of “freedom”.

  37. JGordon

    As for you characterization of libertarians believing that all force comes from the government… well for me that’s a bit of a strawman. As far as I’m concerned Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan are part of the government: the part that tells the executive and legislative branches what to do. And I’m not saying that as some sort of figurative statement. I mean that it is literally the case that these corporations are our government.

    Therefore what many libertarians have an issue with is not Obama and the EPA and FDIC, etc. It’s the fact that Obama, and the EPA and FDIC, etc, are all owned by corporations. And it is the corporate structure itself, as chartered by the state, that must be killed off–before reform at the state level can proceed. A lot of all the evil and nastiness in the world today would be immediately wiped away if we just got rid of the corporate structure.

    1. bh2

      “I mean that it is literally the case that these corporations are our government.”

      Do you continue voting the same bastards into power every election under the delusion they are no longer lying and you’ll suddenly get a different result?

      You are merely getting the government you deserve.

  38. Jeremy Grimm

    Regardless of idealogy, whatever revolution or chaos comes had best take a lesson from our recent wars. Direct confrontation proved disasterous. Our enemy developed what’s called ‘assymetric’ warfare to counter our superior fire power and coordination in responding to a direct confrontation. I am growing of the opinion that there’s very little difference between our police forces and the troops fighting in our foreign wars. I fear that the difference is a matter of a few years of experience and successful adjustment to whatever kind of violence the State orders.

    1. anon y'mouse

      there is very little difference.

      who do you think gets hired by police forces? what is one of the first stops at least some of the former military make in their search for a new employment?

      my brother would be a cop now, if not for some kind of undisclosed crisis (cast as budgetary, but I suspect it had something to do with background checking. can you justify hiring the son of a drug dealer, even one who never spent a day in jail, to be a cop? doubtful!). he completed the academy, and was halted at the door. how many jumped this hurdle?

  39. steve from virginia

    What Ian Welsh says is not important, it’s stupid and illogical. This is from Welsh’s article …

    “Hunter-gathering, if the land-capacity isn’t close to carrying capacity, is usually a pretty good way to live.”

    How do you know?

    “What we see in the archeological record is that when the land gets close to carrying capacity, there is ton of violence,”

    How much violence is a ton? What if there was less?

    ” … the number one cause of death of adult males becomes violence.”

    How do you know? Believe it or not, the number one cause of death is birth.

    “Enough below the carrying capacity and there is very little violence. This is a generalization, there are exceptions, but the data seems to indicate it is generally true.”

    What data?

    “Hunter-gatherers are, generally speaking, healthier than agriculturalists and pastoralists.”

    Some of them were and some of them weren’t. Hunter gatherers — whatever they might have been — died out, there aren’t any. They cannot have been healthier than those who have supplanted them, that this is so is self-evident.

    “They live longer, suffer less from disease, are taller, their women have wider hips and suffer less from childbirth, they have better dentition and so on.”

    Yes, and some of them suffered more and were shorter, had narrower hips, were overweight, were toothless, had blue eyes … and others didn’t.

    “The societies, again with some exceptions, are more egalitarian than most agricultural societies (though very early agricultural societies are more egalitarian than late hunter-gatherer societies, again, in general). They also have vastly more free time than agriculturalists.”

    And maybe the hunter-gatherers, whomever they might have been, were bored silly because there was so little to do. After all, the agricultural societies invented writing, books, pianos, sailing ships, buttons, tapestries, oil painting, architecture, stained glass windows, canals, etc.

    “But hunter-gatherers lose confrontations with pastoralists and agricultural societies. It’s a great way to live, but more dense societies were better at violence, so hunter-gatherers were forced to the margins.”

    Wrong, pastoralists and agricultural societies were — and are — better at husbandry and agriculture, that is their advantage. The successful pastoral entities — whether they are empires or duchies — successfully avoid or maneuver around conflicts that dissipate the resources of less imaginative neighbors. Restraint and collaboration allows these advantages to bear fruit successfully over long periods as the restive and warlike fall by the wayside.

    The problem with narrative history (and narrative sociology) is that it is written for the benefit of politicians who view themselves as lead actors in a form of theater. History becomes a parade of battles. Social success or failure occurs between the battles, power or coercion is at best presumptuous, at worst self-defeating.

    If Welsh is trying to make that point he’s doing it the absolute wrong way.

    The large problem is the backdrop of determinism and the ‘immutable law of nature, red in tooth and claw’. This is ‘Mein Kampf’ in drag, please give it a rest.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m not in a position to look into all of Welsh’s claims, but you are being awfully obtuse on his hunter-gatherer v. early agriculturalist issue.

      The record is unambiguous that average lifespans shortened with the cultivation of grain. The reason posited is lower diversity of diet and loss of key nutrients. The calorie source was more predictable but was of lower quality.

      The fact that they “died out” PROVES Welsh’s point. Settled communities that cultivated had more complex social structures, and typically also had defensible boundaries. They more often acted on a group basis. They also began to cultivate new tools (in additions to ones used by hunter-gatherers) and began to trade. All those things (for instance, access to new materials or new tool-making techniques, all that Early Bronze Age stuff) would have given them an advantage in combat over hunter-gatherers.

  40. Ellen Anderson

    Yes – Marx says that Capitalism sows the seeds of its own destruction. Capital tends to concentrate in a few hands and you get the 1%. But we could and have moderated that trend when we had the resources. We could afford to share enough of the profits with the laborers that they would keep coming to work.
    Now, because industrial capitalism relies upon a “precious resource in and garbage out” ie – waste based system – capital is being destroyed. That is something that the left, the right and the middle don’t want to know.
    Lots of folks are getting that uneasy feeling. There won’t be any significant social change until most of us see that we have nothing left to lose.
    We won’t call it revolution. We will call it collapse. If anyone is left to pick up the pieces they had better be in a sustainable and pastoral frame of mind.

  41. Jack Diamonn

    I disagree with the premise that Capitalism is evil. It is socialism that is the true evil. History has taught us that the increased standards of living came from periods when entrepreneurs and people who risked their own capital were less constrained. History also shows what happens when socialism rules, and entrepreneurs and capital risk takers are constrained.

  42. Whistling in the Dark

    “We work for other people, we don’t control the means of production. Absent a job, we live in poverty…. We are impelled, as it were, by Marx’s whip of hunger.”

    True.

    Don’t know bout the rest of what Walsh has to say, but at least that part is worth noting! So, this doesn’t seem right, does it? Here’s what it looks like from where I live:

    I don’t have direct access to farmland, though I do to a small bit of garden. Perhaps could do more with it. Then, there is infrastructure upkeep needs, health care, and all the rest. I’m not going to use the word “self-sufficiency,” but what would it take for me and my family to feel assured about our material needs without the middleman of a job, a currency, and all the rest? There are plenty of farmers around! (We live in South Carolina, which is chock full of ’em.) What do I have to offer them?

    This is my desire! A gradual weaning, on the part of everyone who is willing, from the wider material regime that we all live under, which includes this not-so-distant whip of Marx at our backs.

    Let’s think in terms of graded and overlapping tiers or bubbles of relative self (nay, there is a better word for this)-sufficiency! A farmer supports his family and has plenty of left over and so he sells his surplus. It’s a rather small bubble and only relative self-sufficient! They occasionally have medical needs for instance. Well, doesn’t his local GP occasionally also like to eat food? … Yadda, yadda. …. How many people would the farmer have to know in order for them to meet most of his daily and yearly needs, carpenters, doctors, electricians, musicians, and all the rest. How would this number relate to the number of people which the farmer can feed using the lots which he currently owns?

    Anyway, so there are lots of things to say and consider along these lines. And none of them involve anything very rarefied — quite the opposite!

    For starters, I would love to barter goods and services with people, and expand these little dyadic partnership to some nice larger spheres! How many people would I need to know in order to run across a diesel mechanic who would be willing to meet my desire of learning more about DIY-car-care, with an eye toward non-petroleum based living (or would this be soon rendered superfluous by my friendship with a mechanic?) in exhange for helping his children with their math homework? And why can’t I just pay some good old chap to do the same? Because I don’t fukking want to.

    Anybody interested in starting some sort of happy-time-collective in the Midlands? There probably already is something of the sort out there like that, which apathy or, you know, stupid busyness, or, hmm, cowardice and things, have prevented me from locating.

    .. And in time, these little bubbles of self-sufficiency (which will naturally overlap and interlace, etc.) will naturally make up a sort of tiered system of governance. I can’t imagine this being anything less than a gradual thing. But, you know, one foot in front of the other. My marketable skill, i.e.: math tutoring, is probably geared toward a niche existing within the glorious power structure of today, which seems to require young people to get college degrees in order that they might go out and get either a thankless, a cutthroat, or a not-so-well-paying job in order to have the free time and resources to fukk people on the weekends and go to parties where people can compare and compete in their various abilities to enjoy their toys, and, you know, cultural consumables. Sucks for me. I’ll be a dinosaur if the revolution happens in a twinkling, huh. Maybe not. But my point is, there are lots of impediments to sudden upheaval (of course, material circumstances may necessitate it some day!!), so the “tiny bubbles” idea of gradual withdrawal from our mass capitalist addiction may be a nice one. Maybe it can be explained better than I have.

    1. anon y'mouse

      doesn’t this all depend upon what standard of living everyone involved intends to maintain? what is necessary? what is superfluous? how self-sufficient? how technologized?

      you obviously don’t intend for your local GP to practice brain surgery, but deal with typical injuries and so on. what does (s)he really need to keep their ‘business’ going? is the idea to try to attract ‘vital’ services?

      why would a hierarchy gradually be established? isn’t this what people are trying to get away from? if we want to be brutally realistic, isn’t keeping your doctor around and happy a lot more important than field hand 0473? isn’t this the idea that some people (or really, their skills) are much more essential than others?

      this could very quickly turn into a ‘more vital’ vs. ‘less vital’ kind of feudal system, couldn’t it? I think this is why a some of these ‘intentional communities’ have offered a buy-in price that was relatively high. meaning, if you can make 500k, then you’re probably someone educated/enlightened and whose services are of value. not to mention, if you buy and own your little piece, no one can really just boot you out.

      isn’t that the real problem we are experiencing in our world today? that some people, no matter how hard they work or how much they try, do not currently produce enough ‘value’ for the rest of society?

      our betters have decided that so many of us don’t produce anything like enough value that they have started the massive disinvestment in those segments of society. social services are for them, mostly to keep them from suffering from their own lack of economic value. old people, poor people, the badly educated. it seems that the higher ups figure, if you want it badly enough you will climb to the pile of rats and make yourself of value to them, somehow. the rest can get by on crumbs. where do the old people fit in such a community? and what if you can’t keep the young around, like the Amish? very problematic.

      what if you had to live with a random assortment of people and just make do? I bet you everyone would find their niche in no time flat.

      1. Whistling in the Dark

        Hi,
        Thanks for replying.

        Here’s what I really mean:

        I definitely do not have a broad and all-encompassing plan for the construction of a reasonable, just, etc. society. (Actually, the brain surgeon conundrum is one I had in mind and was only lazily acknowledging with hedges like “relatively…” and so on.)

        However, like you, like this whole accidental online NC community — as best as I can tell — I am uncomfortable with the way our present system works.

        And, I am willing to immediately to begin withdrawing my various manners of support of this system — by weaning myself from it! To be concrete, I would like to not only buy and eat local, but also know the folks who supply me with these things. I would also like to pay them not in money — because it makes me uncomfortable for whatever reason — but through trade, whenever possible. I mean, cash can be kind of fun, I admit. But something seems rotten in our den-marks, maybe. Also, at least partially community-supported health care does not seem so pie-in-the-sky. (Although, the question of how many brain surgeons we need per capita, is an interesting one — etc.)

        But I find it to be rather challenging. For instance, all-out-DIY is unlikely to work! For instance, I will forego learning brain surgery. I would like to take up — along with as many friends and relations as possible!! — as many of the means of production necessary for life. (Ah, what kind of life, you say? A simple one, please. A peasant one would be fine, in fact. Not a middle class one. But, hey, is that just me? Whatever.) And I find it rather difficult to do, as some heroic individual. I need more friends, who share the outlook that I have mentioned (a negative one): The current situation does not seem… right.

        This was all I was asking for. … A Jeffersonian-hippy utopia? Yeah, sure, I guess. I don’t care what it is. Do we all need land? Yeah. Can it be communally or universally owned or whatever? Yeah, I don’t care. Keep your dreams, ideas and questions coming! In the meantime, I would very much like to quit working for money for a living. This is not easy to do!

        Now, I sympathize with the desire to find the-be-all-end-all program for human happiness, peace, and justice.

        If you don’t mind my veering off into sci-fi poetry rather than the immediate-minded stuff that I am more interested in… This be-all-end-all will only come about from careful study of the human animal, no? We quantify all of these things which we have listed as our demands. We devise an algorithm to administer it. I don’t know the details, but I do hope the algorithm is called “Linnaeus.” But, even then, my own study of human nature predicts that ther will be some contrary souls who refuse to subscribe to the grand calculations. Be it form spite or scorn or greed or simple orneriness, some people will refuse to go along, and they will, of course, have to be dealt with. I will be one of those people. But, I hope, I will at least give you the charity of trying to express exactly where and what it is that I object to, so that at least you will know. Or, if not that, that, so that I will feel less alone, on the day of my execution I would be greeted by the crowd of spectators with cries of hate.

        ‘Scuse me while I go and put on my daily Robert Smith eyeshadow now.

        1. anon y'mouse

          you aren’t going to get around working ‘for money’ in both the individual sense and the collective sense, not as long as the rest of the world is pre-occupied with it.

          if you mean a back to the land collective of individuals, then it will take the amount of land necessary to provide ‘most’ of the goods for the standard of living you wish to adhere to. I’ve heard numbers all over the place for this regarding acreage, anywhere from 10-40 acres for the average 4-5 person family. as I say, a lot depends upon the standard of living one intends to keep. regardless, land is expensive and I have no idea where you could get it that you would not have to pay the taxman in cash. he isn’t going to take your 3 bags full of lambswool in exchange.

          as far as I can tell, most of these types of things are run as collective farms in which they sell the products, and/or also run permaculture or building-type workshop vacations for interested parties (bring your own sleeping bag or tent and be willing to work for food). I knew at one time a group of hippy-types who bought an old apple orchard, and sold the annual produce for a cider outfit. each family had their little square in the orchard to build their own house on. everyone seemed to have at least one family member working outside the home for cash for all of their daily living needs, and it appeared to me that the orchard co-op was merely for paying the taxes and allowing the families to live out in a semi-natural setting in a very expensive region of California without too much ‘land/location’ cost.

          surfing blogs, it seems that many people can be ‘mostly’ self sufficient running farming outfits. and they tend to do this better in a community where other people are doing the same and specializing in different types of farming products (meat from this farm, jams & jellies from that kinda thing). but still, tools, building materials (depending. you can live in a mud hut if you like, but what about windows? heating/cooking stove?) and probably clothing. not to mention keeping a vehicle running, because being out in the rural areas still requires a vehicle to get to town, and all that goes along with that.

          there are quite a few communities in England & Scotland and so on, if that’s what part of the world you’re in. you might want to look them up. some of them have been around for quite awhile, so it must work for them.

          1. Whistling in the Dark

            I am thinking something more along the lines of whatever and whoever kind of people — not necessarily hippy-types — who are doing things to become more self-sufficient as a community or cohort or bloc, etc., although beginning right where they already stay (but god bless those hippy types). A dream: Wal-Mart goes out of business because people stop shopping there (and not because they went to Target or online instead). Yeah, right. But, dreams are great, aren’t they?

            In fact, yes, all kinds of math could be brought to bear — perhaps some noble things, such as localization of health care, could be shown to be money-saving to the average middle class type. I don’t immediately see how its possible, now, let me admit — but, you know, while we’re dreamin. Local food and clothing and all the rest is great, too. What about local health care? You know, it’s a biggie — so, it’s a sign of the biggie’s power over those who participate in said system, that we wouldn’t forego the care of the massive system despite whatever moral pangs and twinges we might suffer as a result.

            Full disclaimer: I don’t believe any of these beautiful towers of Babel can actually be built, and I think it would falsify my ostensibly core beliefs or whatchamacallit if they were. But I am still eager to try for some funny reason. Somehow, I guess, it is about trying with all your might and heart, but probably failing in the most tragic/comic of ways, should it come to that. This is what we all ought to strive for. Tilting at every windmill we can find, and all that.

            You know, keepin it topical and all — Ian Welsh and these folks seem to be in it to win it. Well, I say that we may regret what it is that we win, or the cost, etc. Who knows. Big ideas are messy anyway. Better to start messing around — fruitlessly, even — with dumb little details, in a humble way. Knocking on doors and all that horribly difficult and unrewarding stuff. I tried cooking these tiny little acorns yesterday. Utter failure — couldn’t get the tannins out after many repeated boilings. (Must be red oaks.) But, man, it sucks to try to figure all that out on your own, even with the help of the friendly old internet.

            By the way, the deep state — by way of prophecy, of course — is eagerly awaiting an honest-to-goodness leftist revolt to squish (why have all these nice toys if…?). I bet they will use provacateurs and more to stoke a truly violent manifestation of revolt, so as to turn popular sentiment against it. Then the serious counter-revolution can commence! Anyway, these big ideas are a big mess. Who knows?

            1. Whistling in the Dark

              Here are some more thoughts along the original line in which I was only lazily heading — in the form of questions:

              How many people would it take to “support” a hospital (to a large degree) in the sense that they would work at it, furnish it with many day-to-day needs (what proportion is a mystery) as well as be its patients (but this might be two groups I am talking about). Would make sense for these two (or more ?) groups to together own the hospital in the sense that they are guaranteed its services and manage all of its income or assets. Obviously, there are insanely many details here. It would be a fun and concrete project to consider: how to increase the extent to which a hospital is community-owned and operated and supplied, etc. Perhaps the community’s size — in order to meet some gross 85% of the hospital needs — would be 100,000, I don’t know. That 15% remaining may still be difficult for 100,000 people to furnish. Anyway, it would be fun to look at all the details.

              Graded, locality-tiered socialism of a sort, eh?

        2. anon y'mouse

          here’s some food for thought. if you can get it, download it, nab it, or borrow it, watch this:

          http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1683876/

          pay attention to all of the things that these people need to maintain what we westerners would consider a partially subsistence poverty existence. granted, they are in one of the more extreme climates with short growing season. the men appear to spend all winter trapping to afford the amenities of life that can’t be produced locally (pay attention to the wheat delivery). I have no idea how they afford petrol up there, but they must be using that or vodka to get the boats/snowmobiles going.

          1. Whistling in the Dark

            Yeah, nice folks. I did happen to watch that on some old internet TV service recently. Herzog is a goof. :)

  43. allcoppedout

    These arguments are good to see, but about as relevant as Russell Brand is to particle physics. In the middle somewhere, Mexico gets biology wrong again with Dawkins fixated on individual something or another. The Cardinal (as Dawkins is known) is useless once he leaves biology, but the theories of reproduction he has popularised (he isn’t an original thinker) are not about any static individual. Biology has at least 21 definitions of what is being considered the individual in its arguments. Dawkins even wrote a boring book on the phenotype (an idea from 1911).

    Mein Kampf in drag is well-chosen. One wonders why we have to advance ‘argument’ against war and elitism when we have been so dumb as to treble global population and pollute the atmosphere just as we developed the technology not to. We need to be talking about radical change and understand how dire our chatter is. Given what we don’t know about biology, sociology, anthropology and economics one might think we hadn’t been to school at all. Something that should set us pondering what they did do to us in schools. I seen to remember dross about the civilising Roman Empire and Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 53BC. Against our massive indoctrination, knowledge that Britain wasn’t subject to Roman conquest until Claudius is a tiny shred of truth. What we want is the welcome news of armies that shake hands and then turn on the leaders. Or my friend Mexico learning some actual biology!

    When worker bees turn forager to nurse or vice versa their genetics change, almost like changing an electrical system by throwing DIP switches. Human beings go to war on the basis of rational argument! You just have to laugh – which is more than Russell Brand has achieved in my case. Humanity occasionally rises to points Mexico quotes, but is mostly insane. In the West most of us went to the same schools, watched the same television and so on “yet” are in the same dire social mess, believing more education a cure!

    Hunter-gathering has sometimes beaten farming – Jared Diamond on the Greenland Vikings. We are in an ‘arms race in coevolution’ but does this mean war we can stop in a sensible society is justified by the ‘brains’ of bacteria and virus? Many of the correctives in recent books were available long before we went to school (I’m 60) including devastating critique of neo-liberal and neo-classical power and economics. What slow learners we are – and even if we achieve some change, are we likely candidates to lead new peace?

  44. proximity1

    To further illustrate my points, above, let’s reconsider R. Heilbroner’s excerpt and compare it to the excerpt of Mr. Welsh, which is supposedly offered in contrasting opposition to Yves’ interpretation of the excerpt of Helibroner’s text–

    When read correctly, through an understanding of the positions long argued and defended by R.H., there is no essential difference in the point in this, by Heilbroner

    “This negative form of power contrasts sharply with with that of the privileged elites in precapitalist social formations. In these imperial kingdoms or feudal holdings, disciplinary power is exercised by the direct use or display of coercive power. The social power of capital is of a different kind…. The capitalist may (i.e. can) deny others access to his resources, but he may not force them to work with him. Clearly, such power requires circumstances that make the withholding of access of critical consequence. These circumstances can only arise if the general populace is unable to secure a living unless it can gain access to privately owned resources or wealth…

    The organization of production is generally regarded as a wholly “economic” activity, ignoring the political function served by the wage-labor relationships in lieu of baliffs and senechals. In a like fashion, the discharge of political authority is regarded as essentially separable from the operation of the economic realm, ignoring the provision of the legal, military, and material contributions without which the private sphere could not function properly or even exist . In this way, the presence of the two realms, each responsible for part of the activities necessary for the maintenance of the social formation, not only gives capitalism a structure entirely different from that of any precapitalist society, but also establishes the basis for a problem that uniquely preoccupies capitalism, namely, the appropriate role of the state vis-a-vis the sphere of production and distribution.”

    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/10/the-coercive-power-of-capitalism.html#dY5seZB0mD3PAt2t.99

    and this, from Welsh :

    “Absent a job, we live in poverty. Sure, there are some exceptions, but they are exceptions. We are impelled, as it were, by Marx’s whip of hunger.”

    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/10/the-coercive-power-of-capitalism.html#dY5seZB0mD3PAt2t.99

    Heilbroner’s point, then, is not that the Capitalist regime –employed expressly by him to emphasize the coercive power at work in it–doesn’t imply the use of force; it is rather that this force is accomplished in a manner which is different in its mode of operation from that found in pre-capitalist societies. Standard capitalist economics would have it appear that “economic activity” is to be regarded as distinct from political affairs; Heilbroner points out that the typical economist’s view of “wholly ‘economic’ activity” leaves aside the political uses of coercive force. But this is a distinction which Heilbroner makes it his business here to refute and oppose. His view is that the “economic” is inevitably bound up with the political– with matters concerning power relations.

    In other words, Yves has interpreted Heilbroner to intend the very opposite of the point he was arguing. That happened because she didn’t grasp the import here:

    …”These circumstances can only arise if the general populace is unable to secure a living unless it can gain access to privately owned resources or wealth”

    There, “…can only arise if…” doesn’t mean “typically does not arise in fact”. It means, instead, that the forceful aspect once seen as directly applied by feudal power is indeed found in the Capitalist arrangements, and this “only if” –that is, “due exclusively to” the fact that “the general populace is (indeed nearly always or always in fact) unable to secure a living unless it can gain access to privately owned resources or wealth” ….

    ———–

    By the way, Welsh seems to me to have misunderstood what Polanyi was indicating as being the referent in Polanyi’s title, “The Great Transformation.” Welsh writes,

    “We are impelled, as it were, by Marx’s whip of hunger. It took a lot of work to set up this system (?), as Polyani notes in his book “the Great Transformation”, but now that it has happened, it is invisible to us.”

    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/10/the-coercive-power-of-capitalism.html#dY5seZB0mD3PAt2t.99

    To what does “this system” there refer? If, as it seems to me, it refers to some exploitive and coercive system of a thorough going capitalist order, then that is emphatically not what Polanyi’s “Great Transformation” refers to. The terms refer instead to a system in which there comes to be, by processes which are democratically determined and directed, a socialist welfare state and in which humane priorities and imperatives derived from it have replaced a system in which political power is practically monopolized by a political system based on and in the interests of private owners and their exercise of power.

    Hence, “The Great Transformation” refers to a vision of a social order which Polanyi prematurely and erroneously believed to have come about as part of the consequences of the social upheavals which he had lived through and witnessed and was in his book attempting to interpret and explain. That makes it a title which is, from our perspective, full of irony.

  45. Roger Erickson

    There is too much self-defeating Semantics displayed here.

    We can’t recruit 315 million people – in thousands of distinct sub-audiences – to progress until we AT LEASTcease, forever, calling self-investment a “deficit” in fiat.

    What the hell does a deficit in fiat even mean? (And policy arguments are full of other examples of broken semantics.)

    This is like converting Priests to be atheists, by constantly telling them there is no God, there is no Devil, there is no Heaven, and that they won’t go to Hell.

    At the end of the day, all you’ve done is reinforced the exact, limiting concepts you want them to get past, and free themselves from.

    Semantics and propaganda: Every word you utter delivers an emotional impact, long BEFORE the concept delivered by the full sentence is fully parsed. Broken semantics is like running in quicksand. It’s self-defeating. Long before the neocortex engages to consider new concepts, you’ve mobilized the brainstem emotional circuits to fully oppose the logical explorations you ostensibly desire.

    What part of shooting ourselves in the semantics don’t we understand?

    If you want people to explore new options, quit referring to the old impediments. Refer ONLY to the new Desired Options, so they can engage their brains WITHOUT actively recruited prejudice.

  46. Tom Damon

    In order to discuss something, one must define one’s terms. What Yves has been calling “capitalism” is nothing of the sort; she is describing fascism or corporatism. Capitalism is nothing more than the embodiment of “the right to life, liberty AND THE PURSUIT of happiness”. Coercion, whether it takes the form of forcibly denying a livelihood to someone via licensure laws or by forcibly taking a portion of a person’s labor (taxes) to redistribute to others, is anti-capitalist.

    Corporatism or fascism, whatever you want to call it, but PLEASE stop calling it capitalism; it’s not.

    1. proximilty1

      You can propose and defend a definition but, in this case, you don’t get to design your own private idea of “capitalism” as an exclusively benign affair, excluding damage and social harm as due to other evils which are called “anti-capitalist”. While the terms are subject to abuse, they’re not simply catch-all notions which everyone may cut to suit his own favorite prejudices. However the term is defined, Capitalism’s defenders advocate–either openly or dissimulated under euphemistic terms and phony claims– many things which they call capitalism and among those are practices which are inimical to sane and humane human society.

      Word-play does not disguise those realities.

      Your attempt there is special pleading. The same circumstances, the same actors, the same power relations, etc. are enthusiastically claimed by self-described capitalists and their admirers to be “capitalism” ‘s works and products whenever the results are such that they can be made to seem–even when falsely and dishonestly–to be “beneficial” as these defenders of capitalism see and define that.

      Economic systems are variable and thus 2fluid”. But there is something characteristic in each of the various forms, however they vary over time and in specifics of human societies. You haven’t, by the way, either defined your idea of capitalism for us nor explained why its harmful outcomes aren’t fairly attributable to the systems–called captitalist–which produce them.

      For detailed exampled critiques of versions of contemporary capitalism and its harms, See Ha-Joon Chang’s Twenty Three Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, ( 2010, Penguin Books. )

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha-Joon_Chang

      23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism (Penguin Books Ltd; 2010) ISBN 978-1-60819-166-6

      and, for a detailed view of the especially destructive contemporary U.K. version, dominant since at –which has come to rival and surpass the callous cruelty and brutality of Victorian Britain, See:

      Ed Howker and Shiv Malik — “Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth“, revised & updated edition, 2013, Publisher Icon Books Ltd.,
      ISBN 9781848316232

      http://www.jiltedgeneration.net/about/

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