In 1970 country singer Lynn Anderson had a hit recording of a Joe South song that opened with the line:
I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.
I often think of that song in connection with the libertarian philosophy. You may be asking: for heaven’s sake, why?
Because it’s what I want to say to people who seem annoyed that freedom would neither cure all existing social ills immediately nor prevent new ones from arising. It’s a strange demand to make on a political philosophy — that it instantly fix everything that the opposing philosophy has broken. Moreover, I’m concerned that some libertarians, in their justifiable enthusiasm for “the market,” inadvertently lead nonlibertarians to think that this unrealistic expectation is part of their philosophy. Of course, that is not good because nonlibertarians won’t believe that the market would make all things right overnight, and so they’ll write off all libertarians as dogmatists.
Libertarians of all people should understand that decades — indeed, centuries — of government intervention have distorted society and the economy considerably. It’s safe to say that both would look different had that intervention not occurred. To pick one American example, the creation of an integrated continent-wide national market in the United States was in large part consciously planned by government officials (most prominently Abraham Lincoln, who embraced Henry Clay’s corporatist American System) and their corporate cronies, especially but hardly exclusively through transportation subsidies. (This is not to say they were able to dictate developments in detail; moreover, zones of entrepreneurial freedom existed, constrained though they were.) This system is American capitalism, which is to be distinguished from the spontaneous, decentralized free market.
Wouldn’t the market have tended toward greater integration if left free? I believe so, but the differences would have been substantial. In a freed market, costs are internalized. Expanding trade across a continent would require private risky investment in the means of transportation — canals, roads, railroads, etc. No government land grants or other subsidies would be available. If a firm wanted to ship its products cross-country, it initially would have to bear the shipping costs, which would be reflected in consumer prices. Consumers, choosing in a competitive marketplace, would then be free to decide if the products were worth the price asked compared to those of more-locally produced products, whose manufacturers did not have high transportation costs to recoup. (They may have disadvantages due to their small size, but diseconomies of scale, as well as economies of scale, exist.) Consumers might be happy to pay the higher prices, but it’s up to them. “National” firms would not have the advantage that government intervention has afforded them historically. (Today, repairs to the taxpayer-financed interstate highways is disproportionately paid for by private automobile operators. Owners of big rigs don’t pay their share of the upkeep.)
The whole point of a government-led effort to create a national market was to impose costs on taxpayers, who had no choice in the matter, rather than have businesses charge consumers, who would have had a choice, at the checkout counter. Since national firms’ retail prices don’t have to reflect the full cost of production, consumption is distorted and smaller firms are harmed. We cannot say exactly how things would look had the government not instituted this corporatist policy, but we can say that things would be different. To claim otherwise is to suggest that government interference with economic activity is inert. Libertarians should know better.
While some people have benefited unjustly from this “nationalization” policy, others have been unjustly harmed, at least relative to what their position would have been in a freed market. There’s no way to put things as they would have been had the policy not be adopted — bygones are bygones. Radically freeing the market wouldn’t immediately remove the lingering injustice of past policy; it wouldn’t repeal what Kevin Carson calls “the subsidy of history.”
The upshot is that the cleanup, to the extent that it can take place, would take time. “I beg your pardon. I never promised you a rose garden.” Libertarians promise freedom and the prospect of improving one’s lot in life, but not instant rectification of past injustices.
As I say, some libertarians strangely seem to want to downplay the deep distorting effects of government intervention and act as though the free market would make things right almost instantaneously. So, for example, when they talk about abolishing welfare-state programs, they imply that a seamless transition to a fully voluntary “safety net” would follow. But for decades the welfare state has made people (low- and middle-income) dependent on the government for, say, retirement benefits and medical care, and it has accustomed others to believe that the government will take care of people who can’t look after themselves. While I have no doubt that some voluntary help would kick in quickly were welfare programs canceled abruptly, we can’t be confident that it would be enough or soon enough. Transitions take time because they consist in human action, and people don’t always respond to other people in trouble immediately. For one thing, the free-rider phenomenon exists; an individual can easily believe that enough others will help and that his or her contribution would be too small to make much difference anyway. (However, the response after a natural disaster is typically quick and impressive. Perhaps the dramatic nature of a natural disaster helps to override the free-rider problem. Would the abolition of the welfare state have the same attention-getting drama?)
We see a similar downplaying of distortions whenever a government shutdown looms during a budget battle. It’s one thing to applaud an impending shutdown (except that the worst parts of the state never shut down), but it’s quite another to imply that no hardship will result. Since government creates dependency, a libertarian can’t consistently claim that no one will be harmed even in the short term when government offices close. For one thing, since everyone knows those offices will reopen before long, we can’t reasonably expect a constellation of alternative voluntary organizations to fully take up the slack. Some hardship will occur.
I don’t offer this as an argument against abolishing “entitlement” programs or closing down the government. I’m simply cautioning libertarians against suggesting that should this happen, no innocent person would be at a disadvantage.
Similarly, a freed society and freed market don’t guarantee that nothing bad would ever occur. Nonlibertarians often ask libertarians what would happen with neglected and abused children or mistreated animals — the list of possible abhorrent acts is endless. Our interlocutors are unfazed by the fact that all societies have such problems, even those with the most activist governments. It’s always possible for unfortunate people to fall into the cracks, so it is no blemish on the libertarian philosophy that it can’t offer an ironclad guarantee against such things. All it can assure is that wrongdoing won’t be paid for by taxpayers (because no one will be a taxpayer). We anarchists can also assure that, for obvious reasons, no abuse will be committed by government officials.
Libertarians can be confident that voluntary organizations will exist (as they do to some extent today) to minimize such wrongdoing and to act appropriately when it occurs. Let us not underestimate the ability of free people to respond to problems when left to their own devices. Social cooperation is potent, and a freed society would contain the seeds of the solutions to problems, thanks both to the lure of entrepreneurial profit and to what Adam Smith called “fellow-feeling.”
But while we tout the virtues of freedom, let us not overestimate how quickly such an environment of mutual aid and charity would succeed the old order. Things take time.
Unlike other political philosophies, libertarianism does not promise that a New Person will emerge when society is freed. For good and ill, people will still be people. However, we can be comforted that without the state, a major encouragement to the worst in people will be gone.
“The U.S. Navy … has dispatched the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt toward the waters off Yemen to join other American ships prepared to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the rebels, U.S. officials said,” the Chicago Tribune reported on Monday.
Iran has not been found shipping arms, but you won’t learn that from mainstream news accounts. Nor do the media ask why the United States and its allies — but not Iran — may intervene in Yemen.
The Tribune, like all mainstream news outlets, refers to “Iran-backed Shiite rebels,” that is, the autonomy-minded and long-burdened Houthis, who are portrayed without evidence as agents of the Islamic Republic. The media are mere conduits for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab Gulf states, which have an interest in falsely portraying the turmoil in Yemen, long racked by civil war, as an instance of Iranian expansion. The Sunni Arab states don’t want Shiite Persians playing a prominent role in the region and becoming friendlier with the United States, while Israel uses Iran to take the world’s mind off the Jewish State’s brutality against the Palestinians. All this goes on while the United States negotiates curbs on a nonexistent Iranian nuclear-weapons program — to Saudi and Israeli consternation.
While the media fill American minds with almost nonstop propaganda about Iran’s ambitions, the U.S. intelligence agencies have their doubts. Why don’t the media report this, considering that Obama has facilitated the Saudis’ naval blockade against Yemen and its off-again/on-again bombing campaign? As a result of this war, Yemen suffers a humanitarian catastrophe, complete with refugees, food shortages, and the slaughter of civilians.
Fortifying doubts about Iranian backing of the Houthis, the Huffington Post, citing “American officials familiar with intelligence around the insurgent takeover,” reports that “Iranian representatives discouraged Houthi rebels from taking the Yemeni capital of Sanaa last year” (emphasis added).
This conflicts with the popular belief that the Houthis, who practice a Shiite offshoot that differs significantly from Iranian Shiism, moved on the capital under orders from Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“The newly disclosed information casts further doubt on claims that the rebels are a proxy group fighting on behalf of Iran,” continue the authors, Ali Watkins, Ryan Grim, and Akbar Shahid Ahmed, “suggesting that the link between Iran and the Yemeni Shiite group may not be as strong as congressional hawks and foreign powers urging U.S. intervention in Yemen have asserted.”
Do congressional hawks and foreign powers, that is, Israel and Saudi Arabia, care what the facts show? Facts have nothing to do with this. Iran is the bogeyman, so all troubles must be traced to its door. Nothing — especially the truth — can be allowed to stand in the way.
The article adds that “the revelation that the Houthis directly disobeyed Iran gives credibility to the White House’s argument that Iran is not directing the rebels” (emphasis added). It quotes Bernadette Meehan, a National Security Council spokeswoman, who says, “It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen.”
To drive the point home, the authors quote a U.S. intelligence official: “It is wrong to think of the Houthis as a proxy force for Iran.”
So why does Obama help the Saudis murder Yemenis?
Directing the Houthis and aiding them are two different things, of course, but Iranian support in the face of long-standing Saudi and U.S. intervention hardly seems remarkable. Reuters reported in December 2014 that “exactly how much support Iran has given the Houthis … has never been clear.” Moreover, the ships “suspected” of carrying arms are probably part of Iran’s anti-piracy patrol.
And let’s face it: the U.S.-backed Saudi war creates opportunities for al-Qaeda in the Iraqi Peninsula (AQIP) and ISIS, which the Houthis oppose.
The United States risks unlimited war with Iran by interfering in a civil war on behalf of malign outsider objectives. (It’s been droning Yemen since 2001.) By seeing the conflict through the Saudi and Israeli lens, Obama magnifies the human catastrophe.
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Manorialism, commonly, is recognized to have been founded by robbery and usurpation; a ruling class established itself by force, and then compelled the peasantry to work for the profit of their lords. But no system of exploitation,including capitalism, has ever been created by the action of a free market. Capitalism was founded on an act of robbery as massive as feudalism. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable.
The current structure of capital ownership and organization of production in our so-called “market” economy, reflects coercive state intervention prior to and extraneous to the market. From the outset of the industrial revolution, what is nostalgically called “laissez-faire” was in fact a system of continuing state intervention to subsidize accumulation, guarantee privilege, and maintain work discipline.
Most such intervention is tacitly assumed by mainstream right-libertarians as part of a “market” system. Although a few intellectually honest ones like Rothbard and Hess were willing to look into the role of coercion in creating capitalism, the Chicago school and Randroids take existing property relations and class power as a given. Their ideal “free market” is merely the current system minus the progressive regulatory and welfare state — i.e., nineteenth century robber baron capitalism.
But genuine markets have a value for the libertarian left, and we shouldn’t concede the term to our enemies. In fact, capitalism — a system of power in which ownership and control are divorced from labor — could not survive in a free market. As a mutualist anarchist, I believe that expropriation of surplus value — i.e., capitalism — cannot occur without state coercion to maintain the privilege of usurer, landlord, and capitalist. It was for this reason that the free market anarchist Benjamin Tucker — from whom right-libertarians selectively borrow — regarded himself as a libertarian socialist.
It is beyond my ability or purpose here to describe a world where a true market system could have developed without such state intervention. A world in which peasants had held onto their land and property was widely distributed, capital was freely available to laborers through mutual banks, productive technology was freely available in every country without patents, and every people was free to develop locally without colonial robbery, is beyond our imagination. But it would have been a world of decentralized, small-scale production for local use, owned and controlled by those who did the work — as different from our world as day from night, or freedom from slavery.
The Subsidy of History
Accordingly, the single biggest subsidy to modern corporate capitalism is the subsidy of history, by which capital was originally accumulated in a few hands, and labor was deprived of access to the means of production and forced to sell itself on the buyer’s terms. The current system of concentrated capital ownership and large-scale corporate organization is the direct beneficiary of that original structure of power and property ownership, which has perpetuated itself over the centuries.
For capitalism as we know it to come about, it was essential first of all for labor to be separated from property. Marxians and other radical economists commonly refer to the process as “primitive accumulation.” “What the capitalist system demanded was… a degraded and almost servile condition of the mass of the people, the transformation of them into mercenaries, and of their means of labor into capital.” That meant expropriating the land, “to which the [peasantry] has the same feudal rights as the lord himself.” [Marx, “Chapter 27: The Expropriation,” Capital vol. 1]
To grasp the enormity of the process, we must understand that the nobility’s rights in land under the manorial economy were entirely a feudal legal fiction deriving from conquest. The peasants who cultivated the land of England in 1650 were descendants of those who had occupied it since time immemorial. By any standard of morality, it was their property in every sense of the word. The armies of William the Conqueror, by no right other than force, had compelled these peasant proprietors to pay rent on their own land.
J. L. and Barbara Hammond treated the sixteenth century village and open field system as a survival of the free peasant society of Anglo-Saxon times, with landlordism superimposed on it. The gentry saw surviving peasant rights as a hindrance to progress and efficient farming; a revolution in their own power was a way of breaking peasant resistance. Hence the agricultural community was “taken to pieces … and reconstructed in the manner in which a dictator reconstructs a free government.” [The Village Labourer 27-28, 35-36].
When the Tudors gave expropriated monastic lands to the nobility, the latter “drove out, en masse, the hereditary sub tenants and threw their holdings into one.” [Marx, “The Expropriation“]. This stolen land, about a fifth of the arable land of England, was the first large-scale expropriation of the peasantry.
Another major theft of peasant land was the “reform” of land law by the seventeenth century Restoration Parliament. The aristocracy abolished feudal tenures and converted their own estate in the land, until then “only a feudal title,” into “rights of modern private property.” In the process, they abolished the tenure rights of copyholders. Copyholders were de jure tenants under feudal law, but once they paid a negligible quit-rent fixed by custom, the land was theirs to sell or bequeath. In substance copyhold tenure was a manorial equivalent of freehold; but since it derived from custom it was enforceable only in the manor courts. Under the “reform,” tenants in copyhold became tenants at-will, who could be evicted or charged whatever rent their lord saw fit [Marx, “The Expropriation…”].
Another form of expropriation, which began in late medieval times and increased drastically in the eighteenth century, was the enclosure of commons–in which, again, the peasants communally had as absolute a right of property as any defended by today’s “property rights” advocates. Not counting enclosures before 1700, the Hammonds estimated total enclosures in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries at a sixth or a fifth of the arable land in England [Village Labourer 42]. E. J. Hobsbawm and George Rude estimated enclosures between 1750 and 1850 alone as transforming “something like one quarter of the cultivated acreage from open field, common land, meadow or waste into private fields….” [Captain Swing 27].
The ruling classes saw the peasants’ right in commons as a source of economic independence from capitalist and landlord, and thus a threat to be destroyed. Enclosure eliminated “a dangerous centre of indiscipline” and compelled workers to sell their labor on the masters’ terms. Arthur Young, a Lincolnshire gentleman, described the commons as “a breeding-ground for ‘barbarians,’ ‘nursing up a mischievous race of people’.” “[E]very one but an idiot knows,” he wrote, “that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.” The Commercial and Agricultural Magazine warned in 1800 that leaving the laborer “possessed of more land than his family can cultivate in the evenings” meant that “the farmer can no longer depend on him for constant work.” [Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 219-220, 358]. Sir Richard Price commented on the conversion of self-sufficient proprietors into “a body of men who earn their subsistence by working for others.” There would, “perhaps, be more labour, because there will be more compulsion to it.” [Marx, “The Expropriation….”].
Marx cited parliamentary “acts of enclosure” as evidence that the commons, far from being the “private property of the great landlords who have taken the place of the feudal lords,” actually required “a parliamentary coup detat… for its transformation into private property.” [“The Expropriation….”]. The process of primitive accumulation, in all its brutality, was summed up by the same author:
These new freedmen [i.e. former serfs] became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire [“Chapter 26: The Secret of Primitive Accumulation,” Capital Vol. 1].
Even then, the working class was not sufficiently powerless. The state had to regulate the movement of labor, serve as a labor exchange on behalf of capitalists, and maintain order. The system of parish regulation of the movement of people, under the poor laws and vagrancy laws, resembled the internal passport system of South Africa, or the reconstruction era Black Codes. It “had the same effect on the English agricultural labourer,” Marx wrote, “as the edict of the Tartar Boris Godunov on the Russian peasantry.” [“The Expropriation…”] Adam Smith ventured that there was “scarce a poor man in England of forty years of age… who has not in some part of his life felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements.” [Wealth of Nations 61].
The state maintained work discipline by keeping laborers from voting with their feet. It was hard to persuade parish authorities to grant a man a certificate entitling him to move to another parish to seek work. Workers were forced to stay put and bargain for work in a buyer’s market [Smith 60-61].
At first glance this would seem to be inconvenient for parishes with a labor shortage [Smith 60]. Factories were built at sources of water power, generally removed from centers of population. Thousands of workers were needed to be imported from far away. But the state saved the day by setting itself up as a middleman in providing labor-poor parishes with cheap surplus labor from elsewhere, depriving workers of the ability to bargain for better terms. A considerable trade arose in child laborers who were in no position to bargain in any case [the Hammonds, The Town Labourer 1:146].
Relief “was seldom bestowed without the parish claiming the exclusive right of disposing, at their pleasure, of all the children of the person receiving relief,” in the words of the Committee on Parish Apprentices, 1815 [the Hammonds, Town Labourer 1:44, 147]. Even when Poor Law commissioners encouraged migration to labor-poor parishes, they discouraged adult men and “Preference was given to ‘widows with large families of children or handi-craftsmen… with large families.'” In addition, the availability of cheap labor from the poor-law commissioners was deliberately used to drive down wages; farmers would discharge their own day-laborers and instead apply to the overseer for help [Thompson 223-224].
Although the Combination Laws theoretically applied to masters as well as workmen, in practice they were not enforced against the latter [Smith 61; the Hammonds, Town Labourer 1:74]. “A Journeyman Cotton Spinner” — a pamphleteer quoted by E. P. Thompson [pp. 199-202] — described “an abominable combination existing amongst the masters,” in which workers who had left their masters because of disagreement over wages were effectively black-listed. The Combination Laws required suspects to answer interrogations on oath, empowered magistrates to give summary judgment, and allowed summary forfeiture of funds accumulated to aid the families of strikers [Town Labourer 123-127]. And the laws setting maximum rates of pay amounted to a state enforced system of combination for the masters. As Adam Smith put it, “[w]henever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between the masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters.” [p. 61].
The working class lifestyle under the factory system, with its new forms of social control, was a radical break with the past. It involved drastic loss of control over their own work. The seventeenth century work calendar was still heavily influenced by medieval custom. Although there were long days in spurts between planting and harvest, intermittent periods of light work and the proliferation of saints days combined to reduce average work-time well below our own. And the pace of work was generally determined by the sun or the biological rhythms of the laborer, who got up after a decent night’s sleep, and sat down to rest when he felt like it. The cottager who had access to common land, even when he wanted extra income from wage labor, could take work on a casual basis and then return to working for himself. This was an unacceptable degree of independence from a capitalist standpoint.
In the modern world most people have to adapt themselves to some kind of discipline, and to observe other’ people’s timetables, …or work under other people’s orders, but we have to remember that the population that was flung into the brutal rhythm of the factory had earned its living in relative freedom, and that the discipline of the early factory was particularly savage…. No economist of the day, in estimating the gains or losses of factory employment, ever allowed for the strain and violence that a man suffered in his feelings when he passed from a life in which he could smoke or eat, or dig or sleep as he pleased, to one in which somebody turned the key on him, and for fourteen hours he had not even the right to whistle. It was like entering the airless and laughterless life of a prison [the Hammonds, Town Labourer 1:33-34].
The factory system could not have been imposed on workers without first depriving them of alternatives, and forcibly denying access to any source of economic independence. No unbroken human being, with a sense of freedom or dignity, would have submitted to factory discipline. Stephen Marglin compared the nineteenth century textile factory, staffed by pauper children bought at the workhouse slave market, to Roman brick and pottery factories which were manned by slaves. In Rome, factory production was exceptional in manufactures dominated by freemen. The factory system, throughout history, has been possible only with a work force deprived of any viable alternative.
The surviving facts… strongly suggest that whether work was organized along factory lines was in Roman times determined, not by technological considerations, but by the relative power of the two producing classes. Freedmen and citizens had sufficient power to maintain a guild organization. Slaves had no power — and ended up in factories [“What Do Bosses Do?“].
The problem with the old “putting out” system, in which cottage workers produced textiles on a contractual basis, was that it only eliminated worker control of the product. The factory system, by eliminating worker control of the production process, had the advantage of discipline and supervision, with workers organized under an overseer.
The origin and success of the factory lay not in technological superiority, but in the substitution of the capitalist’s for the worker’s control of the work process and the quantity of output, in the change in the workman’s choice from one of how much to work and produce, based on his preferences for leisure and goods, to one of whether or not to work at all, which of course is hardly much of a choice.
Marglin took Adam Smith’s classic example of the division of labor in pin-making, and stood it on its head. The increased efficiency resulted, not from the division of labor as such, but from dividing and sequencing the process into separate tasks in order to reduce set-up time. This could have been accomplished by a single cottage workman separating the various tasks and then performing them sequentially (i.e., drawing out the wire for an entire run of production, then straightening it, then cutting it, etc.).
Without specialization, the capitalist had no essential role to play in the production process. If each producer could himself integrate the component tasks of pin manufacture into a marketable product, he would soon discover that he had no need to deal with the market for pins through the intermediation of the putter-outer. He could sell directly and appropriate to himself the profit that the capitalist derived from mediating between the producer and the market.
This principle is at the center of the history of industrial technology for the last two hundred years. Even given the necessity of factories for some forms of large-scale, capital-intensive manufacturing, there is usually a choice between alternate productive technologies within the factory. Industry has consistently chosen technologies which de-skill workers and shift decision-making upward into the managerial hierarchy. As long ago as 1835, Dr. Andrew Ure (the ideological grandfather of Taylorism and Fordism), argued that the more skilled the workman, “the more self-willed and… the less fit a component of a mechanical system” he became. The solution was to eliminate processes which required “peculiar dexterity and steadiness of hand… from the cunning workman” and replace them by a “mechanism, so self-regulating, that a child may superintend it.” [Philosophy of Manufactures, in Thompson 360]. And the principle has been followed throughout the twentieth century. William Lazonick, David Montgomery, David Noble, and Katherine Stone have produced an excellent body of work on this theme. Even though corporate experiments in worker self-management increase morale and productivity, and reduce injuries and absenteeism, beyond the hopes of management, they are usually abandoned out of fear of loss of control.
Christopher Lasch, in his foreword to Noble’s America by Design, characterized the process of de-skilling in this way:
The capitalist, having expropriated the worker’s property, gradually expropriated his technical knowledge as well, asserting his own mastery over production….
The expropriation of the worker’s technical knowledge had as a logical consequence the growth of modern management, in which technical knowledge came to be concentrated. As the scientific management movement split up production into its component procedures, reducing the worker to an appendage of the machine, a great expansion of technical and supervisory personnel took place in order to oversee the productive process as a whole [pp. xi-xii].
The expropriation of the peasantry and imposition of the factory labor system was not accomplished without resistance; the workers knew exactly what was being done to them and what they had lost. During the 1790s, when rhetoric from the Jacobins and Tom Paine were widespread among the radicalized working class, the rulers of “the cradle of liberty” lived in terror that the country would be swept by revolution. The system of police state controls over the population resembled an alien occupation regime. The Hammonds referred to correspondence between north-country magistrates and the Home Office, in which the law was frankly treated “as an instrument not of justice but of repression,” and the working classes “appear[ed]… conspicuously as a helot population.” [Town Labourer 72]
… in the light of the Home Office papers, …none of the personal rights attaching to Englishmen possessed any reality for the working classes. The magistrates and their clerks recognized no limit to their powers over the freedom and the movements of working men. The Vagrancy Laws seemed to supercede the entire charter of an Englishman’s liberties. They were used to put into prison any man or woman of the working class who seemed to the magistrate an inconvenient or disturbing character. They offered the easiest and most expeditious way of proceeding against any one who tried to collect money for the families of locked-out workmen, or to disseminate literature that the magistrates thought undesirable [Ibid. 80].
Peel’s “bobbies” — professional law enforcement — replaced the posse comitatus system because the latter was inadequate to control a population of increasingly disaffected workmen. In the time of the Luddite and other disturbances, crown officials warned that “to apply the Watch and Ward Act would be to put arms into the hands of the most powerfully disaffected.” At the outset of the wars with France, Pitt ended the practice of quartering the army in alehouses, mixed with the general population. Instead, the manufacturing districts were covered with barracks, as “purely a matter of police.” The manufacturing areas “came to resemble a country under military occupation.” [Ibid. 91-92].
Pitt’s police state was supplemented by quasi-private vigilantism, in the time-honored tradition of blackshirts and death squads ever since. For example the “Association for the Protection of Property against Republicans and Levellers” — an anti-Jacobin association of gentry and mill-owners — conducted house-to-house searches and organized Guy Fawkes-style effigy burnings against Paine; “Church and King” mobs terrorised suspected radicals [Chapter Five, “Planting the Liberty Tree,” in Thompson].
Thompson characterized this system of control as “political and social apartheid,” and argued that “the revolution which did not happen in England was fully as devastating” as the one that did happen in France [pp. 197-198].
Finally, the state aided the growth of manufactures through mercantilism. Modern exponents of the “free market” generally treat mercantilism as a “misguided” attempt to promote some unified national interest, adopted out of sincere ignorance of economic principles. In fact, the architects of mercantilism knew exactly what they were doing. Mercantilism was extremely efficient for its real purpose: making wealthy manufacturing interests rich at the expense of everyone else. Adam Smith consistently attacked mercantilism, not as a product of economic error, but as a quite intelligent attempt by powerful interests to enrich themselves through the coercive power of the state.
British manufacturing was created by state intervention to shut out foreign goods, give British shipping a monopoly of foreign commerce, and stamp out foreign competition by force. As an example of the latter, British authorities in India destroyed the Bengalese textile industry, makers of the highest quality fabric in the world. Although they had not adopted steam-driven methods of production, there is a real possibility that they would have done so, had India remained politically and economically independent. The once prosperous territory of Bengal is today occupied by Bangladesh and the Calcutta area [Chomsky, World Orders Old and New].
The American, German and Japanese industrial systems were created by the same mercantilist policies, with massive tariffs on industrial goods. “Free trade” was adopted by safely established industrial powers, who used “laissez-faire” as an ideological weapon to prevent potential rivals from following the same path of industrialization. Capitalism has never been established by means of the free market, or even by the primary action of the bourgeoisie. It has always been established by a revolution from above, imposed by a pre-capitalist ruling class. In England, it was the landed aristocracy; in France, Napoleon II’s bureaucracy; in Germany, the Junkers; in Japan, the Meiji. In America, the closest approach to a “natural” bourgeois evolution, industrialization was carried out by a mercantilist aristocracy of Federalist shipping magnates and landlords [Harrington, Twilight of Capitalism].
Romantic medievalists like Chesterton and Belloc described the process in the high middle ages by which serfdom had gradually withered away, and the peasants had transformed themselves into de facto freeholders who paid a nominal quit-rent. The feudal class system was disintegrating and being replaced by a much more libertarian and less exploitative one. Immanuel Wallerstein argued that the likely outcome would have been “a system of relatively equal small-scale producers, further flattening out the aristocracies and decentralizing the political structures.” By 1650 the trend had been reversed, and there was “a reasonably high level of continuity between the families that had been high strata” in 1450 and 1650. Capitalism, far from being “the overthrow of a backward aristocracy by a progressive bourgeoisie,” “was brought into existence by a landed aristocracy which transformed itself into a bourgeoisie because the old system was disintegrating.” [Historical Capitalism 41-42, 105-106]. This is echoed in part by Arno Mayer [The Persistence of the Old Regime], who argued for continuity between the landed aristocracy and the capitalist ruling class.
The process by which the high medieval civilization of peasant proprietors, craft guilds and free cities was overthrown, was vividly described by Kropotkin [Mutual Aid 225]. Before the invention of gunpowder, the free cities repelled royal armies more often than not, and won their independence from feudal dues. And these cities often made common cause with peasants in their struggles to control the land. The absolutist state and the capitalist revolution it imposed became possible only when artillery could reduce fortified cities with a high degree of efficiency, and the king could make war on his own people. And in the aftermath of this conquest, the Europe of William Morris was left devastated, depopulated, and miserable.
Peter Tosh had a song called “Four Hundred Years.” Although the white working class has suffered nothing like the brutality of black slavery, there has nevertheless been a “four hundred years” of oppression for all of us under the system of state capitalism established in the seventeenth century. Ever since the birth of the first states six thousand years ago, political coercion has allowed one ruling class or another to live off other people’s labor. But since the seventeenth century the system of power has become increasingly conscious, unified, and global in scale. The current system of transnational state capitalism, without rival since the collapse of the soviet bureaucratic class system, is a direct outgrowth of the seizure of power “four hundred years” ago. Orwell had it backwards. The past is a “boot smashing a human face.” Whether the future is more of the same depends on what we do now.
Ideological hegemony is the process by which the exploited come to view the world through a conceptual framework provided to them by their exploiters. It acts first of all to conceal class conflict and exploitation behind a smokescreen of “national unity” or “general welfare.” Those who point to the role of the state as guarantor of class privilege are denounced, in theatrical tones of moral outrage, for “class warfare.” If anyone is so unpardonably “extremist” as to describe the massive foundation of state intervention and subsidy upon which corporate capitalism rests, he is sure to be rebuked for “Marxist class war rhetoric” (Bob Novak), or “robber baron rhetoric” (Treasury Secretary O’Neill).
The ideological framework of “national unity” is taken to the point that “this country,” “society,” or “our system of government” is set up as an object of gratitude for “the freedoms we enjoy.” Only the most unpatriotic notice that our liberties, far from being granted to us by a generous and benevolent government, were won by past resistance against the state. Charters and bills of rights were not grants from the state, but were forced on the state from below.
If our liberties belong to us by right of birth, as a moral fact of nature, it follows that we owe the state no debt of gratitude for not violating them, any more than we owe our thanks to another individual for refraining from robbing or killing us. Simple logic implies that, rather than being grateful to “the freest country on earth,” we should raise hell every time it infringes on our liberty. After all, that’s how we got our liberty in the first place. When another individual puts his hand in our pocket to enrich himself at our expense, our natural instinct is to resist. But thanks to patriotism, the ruling class is able to transform their hand in our pocket into “society” or “our country.”
The religion of national unity is most pathological in regard to “defense” and foreign policy. The manufacture of foreign crisis and war hysteria has been used since the beginning of history to suppress threats to class rule. The crooked politicians may work for the “special interests” domestically, but when those same politicians engineer a war it is a matter of loyalty to “our country.”
The Chairman of the JCS, in discussing the “defense” posture, will refer with a straight face to “national security threats” faced by the U. S., and describe the armed forces of some official enemy like China as far beyond “legitimate defensive requirements.” The quickest way to put oneself beyond the pale is to point out that all these “threats” involve what some country on the other side of the world is doing within a hundred miles of its own border. Another offense against fatherland worship is to judge the actions of the United States, in its global operations to keep the Third World safe for ITT and United Fruit Company, by the same standard of “legitimate defensive requirements” applied to China.
In the official ideology, America’s wars by definition are always fought “for our liberties,” to “defend our country,” or in the smarmy world of Maudlin Albright, a selfless desire to promote “peace and freedom” in the world. To suggest that the real defenders of our liberties took up arms against the government, or that the national security state is a greater threat to our liberties than any foreign enemy we have ever faced, is unforgivable. Above all, good Americans don’t notice all those military advisers teaching death squads how to hack off the faces of union organizers and leave them in ditches, or to properly use pliers on a dissident’s testicles. War crimes are only committed by defeated powers. (But as the Nazis learned in 1945, unemployed war criminals can usually find work with the new hegemonic power.)
After a century and a half of patriotic indoctrination by the statist education system, Americans have thoroughly internalized the “little red schoolhouse” version of American history. This authoritarian piety is so diametrically opposed to the beliefs of those who took up arms in the Revolution that the citizenry has largely forgotten what it means to be American. In fact, the authentic principles of Americanism have been stood on their head. Two hundred years ago, standing armies were feared as a threat to liberty and a breeding ground for authoritarian personalities; conscription was associated with the tyranny of Cromwell; wage labor was thought to be inconsistent with the independent spirit of a free citizen. Today, two hundred years later, Americans have been so Prussianized by sixty years of a garrison state and “wars” against one internal enemy or another, that they are conditioned to genuflect at the sight of a uniform. Draft dodgers are equivalent to child molesters. Most people work for some centralized corporate or state bureaucracy, where as a matter of course they are expected to obey orders from superiors, work under constant surveillance, and even piss in a cup on command.
During wartime, it becomes unpatriotic to criticize or question the government and dissent is identified with disloyalty. Absolute faith and obedience to authority is a litmus test of “Americanism.” Foreign war is a very useful tool for manipulating the popular mind and keeping the domestic population under control. War is the easiest way to shift vast, unaccountable new powers to the State. People are most uncritically obedient at the very time they need to be most vigilant.
The greatest irony is that, in a country founded by revolution, “Americanism” is defined as respecting authority and resisting “subversion.” The Revolution was a revolution indeed, in which the domestic political institutions of the colonies were forcibly overthrown. It was, in many times and places, a civil war between classes. But as Voltairine de Cleyre wrote a century ago in “Anarchism and American Traditions,” the version in the history books is a patriotic conflict between our “Founding Fathers” and a foreign enemy. Those who can still quote Jefferson on the right of revolution are relegated to the “extremist” fringe, to be rounded up in the next war hysteria or red scare.
This ideological construct of a unified “national interest” includes the fiction of a “neutral” set of laws, which conceals the exploitative nature of the system of power we live under. Under corporate capitalism the relationships of exploitation are mediated by the political system to an extent unknown under previous class systems. Under chattel slavery and feudalism, exploitation was concrete and personalized in the producer’s relationship with his master. The slave and peasant knew exactly who was screwing them. The modern worker, on the other hand, feels a painful pounding sensation, but has only a vague idea where it is coming from.
Besides its function of masking the ruling class interests behind a facade of “general welfare,” ideological hegemony also manufactures divisions between the ruled. Through campaigns against “welfare cheats” and “deadbeats,” and demands to “get tough on crime,” the ruling class is able to channel the hostility of the middle and working classes against the underclass.
Especially nauseating is the phenomenon of “billionaire populism.” Calls for bankruptcy and welfare “reform,” and for wars on crime, are dressed up in pseudo-populist rhetoric, identifying the underclass as the chief parasites who feed off the producers’ labor. In their “aw, shucks” symbolic universe, you’d think America was a Readers Digest/Norman Rockwell world with nothing but hard-working small businessmen and family farmers, on the one hand, and welfare cheats, deadbeats, union bosses and bureaucrats on the other. From listening to them, you’d never suspect that multi-billionaires or global corporations even exist, let alone that they might stand to benefit from such “populism.”
In the real world, corporations are the biggest clients of the welfare state, the biggest bankruptcies are corporate chapter eleven filings, and the worst crimes are committed in corporate suites rather than on the streets. The real robbery of the average producer consists of profit and usury, extorted only with the help of the state — the real “big government” on our backs. But as long as the working class and the underclass are busy fighting each other, they won’t notice who is really robbing them.
As Stephen Biko said, “The oppressors most powerful weapon is the mind of the oppressed.”
The Money Monopoly
In every system of class exploitation, a ruling class controls access to the means of production in order to extract tribute from labor. Under capitalism, access to capital is restricted by the money monopoly, by which the state or banking system is given a monopoly on the medium of exchange, and alternative media of exchange are prohibited. The money monopoly also includes entry barriers against cooperative banks and prohibitions against private issuance of banknotes, by which access to finance capital is restricted and interest rates are kept artificially high.
Just in passing, we might mention the monumental hypocrisy of the regulation of credit unions in the United States, which require that their membership must share some common bond, like working for the same employer. Imagine the outrage if IGA and Safeway lobbied for a national law to prohibit grocery co-ops unless the members all worked for the same company! One of the most notable supporters of these laws is Phil Gramm, that renowned “free marketeer” and economics professor — and foremost among the banking industry’s whores in Congress.
Individualist and mutualist anarchists like William Greene [Mutual Banking], Benjamin Tucker [Instead of a Book], and J. B. Robertson [The Economics of Liberty] viewed the money monopoly as central to the capitalist system of privilege. In a genuinely free banking market, any group of individuals could form a mutual bank and issue monetized credit in the form of bank notes against any form of collateral they chose, with acceptance of these notes as tender being a condition of membership. Greene speculated that a mutual bank might choose to honor not only marketable property as collateral, but the “pledging … [of] future production.” [p. 73]. The result would be a reduction in interest rates, through competition, to the cost of administrative overhead — less than one percent.
Abundant cheap credit would drastically alter the balance of power between capital and labor, and returns on labor would replace returns on capital as the dominant form of economic activity. According to Robinson,
Upon the monopoly rate of interest for money that is… forced upon us by law, is based the whole system of interest upon capital, that permeates all modern business.
With free banking, interest upon bonds of all kinds and dividends upon stock would fall to the minimum bank interest charge. The so-called rent of houses… would fall to the cost of maintenance and replacement.
All that part of the product which is now taken by interest would belong to the producer. Capital, however… defined, would practically cease to exist as an income producing fund, for the simple reason that if money, wherewith to buy capital, could be obtained for one-half of one per cent, capital itself could command no higher price [pp. 80-81].
And the result would be a drastically improved bargaining position for tenants and workers against the owners of land and capital. According to Gary Elkin, Tucker’s free market anarchism carried certain inherent libertarian socialist implications:
It’s important to note that because of Tucker’s proposal to increase the bargaining power of workers through access to mutual credit, his so-called Individualist anarchism is not only compatible with workers’ control but would in fact promote it. For if access to mutual credit were to increase the bargaining power of workers to the extent that Tucker claimed it would, they would then be able to (1) demand and get workplace democracy, and (2) pool their credit buy and own companies collectively.
The banking monopoly was not only the “lynchpin of capitalism,” but also the seed from which the landlord’s monopoly grew. Without a money monopoly, the price of land would be much lower, and promote “the process of reducing rents toward zero.” [Gary Elkin, “Benjamin Tucker — Anarchist or Capitalist“].
Given the worker’s improved bargaining position, “capitalists’ ability to extract surplus value from the labor of employees would be eliminated or at least greatly reduced.” [Gary Elkin, Mutual Banking]. As compensation for labor approached value-added, returns on capital were driven down by market competition, and the value of corporate stock consequently plummeted, the worker would become a de facto co-owner of his workplace, even if the company remained nominally stockholder-owned.
Near-zero interest rates would increase the independence of labor in all sorts of interesting ways. For one thing, anyone with a twenty-year mortgage at 8% now could, in the absence of usury, pay it off in ten years. Most people in their 30S would have their houses paid off. Between this and the nonexistence of high-interest credit card debt, two of the greatest sources of anxiety to keep one’s job at any cost would disappear. In addition, many workers would have large savings (“go to hell money”). Significant numbers would retire in their forties or fifties, cut back to part-time, or start businesses; with jobs competing for workers, the effect on bargaining power would be revolutionary.
Our hypothetical world of free credit in many ways resembles the situation in colonial societies. E. G. Wakefield, in View of the Art of Colonization, wrote of the unacceptably weak position of the employing class when self-employment with one’s own property was readily available. In colonies, there was a tight labor market and poor labor discipline because of the abundance of cheap land. “Not only does the degree of exploitation of the wage-labourer remain indecently low. The wage-labourer loses into the bargain, along with the relation of dependence, also the sentiment of dependence on the abstemious capitalist.”
Where land is cheap and all men are free, where every one who so pleases can obtain a piece of land for himself, not only is labour very dear, as respects the labourers’ share of the product, but the difficulty is to obtain combined labour at any price.
This environment also prevented the concentration of wealth, as Wakefield commented: “Few, even of those whose lives are unusually long, can accumulate great masses of wealth”. As a result, colonial elites petitioned the mother country for imported labor and for restrictions on land for settlement. According to Wakefield’s disciple Herman Merivale, there was an “urgent desire for cheaper and more subservient labourers — for a class to whom the capitalist might dictate terms, instead of being dictated to by them.” [Maurice Dobb, Studies in the Development of Capitalism; Marx, Chapter 33: “The New Theory of Colonialism,” in Capital Vol. 1].
In addition to all this, central banking systems perform additional service to the interests of capital. First of all, the chief requirement of finance capitalists is to avoid inflation, in order to allow predictable returns on investment. This is ostensibly the primary purpose of the Federal Reserve and other central banks. But at least as important is the role of the central banks in promoting what they consider a “natural” level of unemployment — until the 1990s around six per cent. The reason is that when unemployment goes much below this figure, labor becomes increasingly uppity and presses for better pay and working conditions and more autonomy. Workers are willing to take a lot less crap off the boss when they know they can find a job at least as good the next day. On the other hand, nothing is so effective in “getting your mind right” as the knowledge that people are lined up to take your job.
The Clinton “prosperity” is a seeming exception to this principle. As unemployment threatened to drop below the four per cent mark, some members of the Federal Reserve agitated to raise interest rates and take off the “inflationary” pressure by throwing a few million workers on the street. But as Greenspan [Testimony of Chairman Alan Greenspan] testified before the Senate Banking Committee, the situation was unique. Given the degree of job insecurity in the high-tech economy, there was “[a]typical restraint on compensation increases.” In 1996, even with a tight labor market, 46% of workers at large firms were fearful of layoffs — compared to only 25% in 1991, when unemployment was much higher.
The reluctance of workers to leave their jobs to seek other employment as the labor market tightened has provided further evidence of such concern, as has the tendency toward longer labor union contracts. For many decades, contracts rarely exceeded three years. Today, one can point to five- and six-year contracts — contracts that are commonly characterized by an emphasis on job security and that involve only modest wage increases. The low level of work stoppages of recent years also attests to concern about job security.
Thus the willingness of workers in recent years to trade off smaller increases in wages for greater job security seems to be reasonably well documented. For the bosses, the high-tech economy is the next best thing to high unemployment for keeping our minds right. “Fighting inflation” translates operationally to increasing job insecurity and making workers less likely to strike or to look for new jobs.
The patent privilege has been used on a massive scale to promote concentration of capital, erect entry barriers, and maintain a monopoly of advanced technology in the hands of western corporations. It is hard even to imagine how much more decentralized the economy would be without it. Right-libertarian Murray Rothbard considered patents a fundamental violation of free market principles.
The man who has not bought a machine and who arrives at the same invention independently, will, on the free market, be perfectly able to use and sell his invention. Patents prevent a man from using his invention even though all the property is his and he has not stolen the invention, either explicitly or implicitly, from the first inventor. Patents, therefore, are grants of exclusive monopoly privilege by the State and are invasions of property rights on the market. [Man, Economy, and State vol. 2 p. 655]
Patents make an astronomical price difference. Until the early 1970s, for example, Italy did not recognize drug patents. As a result, Roche Products charged the British national health a price over 40 times greater for patented components of Librium and Valium than charged by competitors in Italy [Raghavan, Recolonization p. 124].
Patents suppress innovation as much as they encourage it. Chakravarthi Raghavan pointed out that research scientists who actually do the work of inventing are required to sign over patent rights as a condition of employment, while patents and industrial security programs prevent sharing of information, and suppress competition in further improvement of patented inventions. [op. cit. p. 118] Rothbard likewise argued that patents eliminate “the competitive spur for further research” because incremental innovation based on others’ patents is prohibited, and because the holder can “rest on his laurels for the entire period of the patent,” with no fear of a competitor improving his invention. And they hamper technical progress because “mechanical inventions are discoveries of natural law rather than individual creations, and hence similar independent inventions occur all the time. The simultaneity of inventions is a familiar historical fact.” [op. cit. pp. 655, 658-659].
The intellectual property regime under the Uruguay Round of GATT goes far beyond traditional patent law in suppressing innovation. One benefit of traditional patent law, at least, was that it required an invention under patent to be published. Under U.S. pressure, however, “trade secrets” were included in GATT. As a result, governments will be required to help suppress information not formally protected by patents [Raghavan, op. cit. p. 122].
And patents are not necessary as an incentive to innovate. According to Rothbard, invention is rewarded by the competitive advantage accruing to the first developer of an idea. This is borne out by F. M. Scherer’s testimony before the FTC in 1995 [Hearings on Global and Innovation-Based Competition]. Scherer spoke of a survey of 91 companies in which only seven “accorded high significance to patent protection as a factor in their R & D investments.” Most of them described patents as “the least important of considerations.” Most companies considered their chief motivation in R & D decisions to be “the necessity of remaining competitive, the desire for efficient production, and the desire to expand and diversify their sales.” In another study, Scherer found no negative effect on R & D spending as a result of compulsory licensing of patents. A survey of U.S. firms found that 86% of inventions would have been developed without patents. In the case of automobiles, office equipment, rubber products, and textiles, the figure was 100%.
The one exception was drugs, in which 60% supposedly would not have been invented. I suspect disingenuousness on the part of the respondents, however. For one thing, drug companies get an unusually high portion of their R & D funding from the government, and many of their most lucrative products were developed entirely at government expense. And Scherer himself cited evidence to the contrary. The reputation advantage for being the first into a market is considerable. For example in the late 1970s, the structure of the industry and pricing behavior was found to be very similar between drugs with and those without patents. Being the first mover with a non-patented drug allowed a company to maintain a 30% market share and to charge premium prices.
The injustice of patent monopolies is exacerbated by government funding of research and innovation, with private industry reaping monopoly profits from technology it didn’t spend a penny to develop. In 1999, extending the research and experimentation tax credit was, along with extensions of a number of other corporate tax preferences, considered the most urgent business of the Congressional leadership. Hastert, when asked if any elements of the tax bill were essential, said: “I think the [tax preference] extenders are something we’re going to have to work on.” Ways and Means Chair Bill Archer added, “before the year is out… we will do the extenders in a very stripped down bill that doesn’t include anything else.” A five-year extension of the research and experimentation credit (retroactive to 1 July 1999) was expected to cost $13.1 billion. (That credit makes the effective tax rate on R & D spending less than zero.) [Citizens for Tax Justice, GOP Leaders Distill Essence of Tax Plan].
The Government Patent Policy Act of 1980, with 1984 and 1986 amendments, allowed private industry to keep patents on products developed with government R & D money — and then to charge ten, twenty, or forty times the cost of production. For example, AZT was developed with government money and in the public domain since 1964. The patent was given away to Burroughs Wellcome Corp. [Chris Lewis, “Public Assets, Private Profits“].
As if the deck were not sufficiently stacked already, the pharmaceutical companies in 1999 actually lobbied Congress to extend certain patents by two years by a special act of private law [Benjamin Grove, “Gibbons backs drug-monopoly bill“].
Patents have been used throughout the twentieth century “to circumvent antitrutst laws,” according to David Noble. They were “bought up in large numbers to suppress competition,” which also resulted in “the suppression of invention itself.” [America by Design, pp. 84-109]. Edwin Prindle, a corporate patent lawyer, wrote in 1906:
Patents are the best and most effective means of controlling competition. They occasionally give absolute command of the market, enabling their owner to name the price without regard to the cost of production…. Patents are the only legal form of absolute monopoly [America by Design p. 90].
Patents played a key role in the formation of the electrical appliance, communications, and chemical industries. G. E. and Westinghouse expanded to dominate the electrical manufacturing market at the turn of the century largely through patent control. In 1906 they curtailed the patent litigation between them by pooling their patents. AT&T also expanded “primarily through strategies of patent monopoly.” The American chemical industry was marginal until 1917, when Attorney-General Mitchell Palmer seized German patents and distributed them among the major American chemical companies. DuPont got licenses on 300 of the 735 patents [America by Design pp. 10, 16].
Patents are also being used on a global scale to lock the transnational corporations into a permanent monopoly of productive technology. The single most totalitarian provision of the Uruguay Round is probably its “intellectual property” provisions. GATT has extended both the scope and duration of patents far beyond anything ever envisioned in original patent law. In England, patents were originally for fourteen years — the time needed to train two journeymen in succession (and by analogy, the time necessary to go into production and reap the initial profit for originality). By that standard, given the shorter training times required today, and the shorter lifespan of technology, the period of monopoly should be shorter. Instead, the U.S. seeks to extend them to fifty years [Raghavan, Recolonization pp. 119-120]. According to Martin Khor Kok Peng, the U.S. is by far the most absolutist of the participants in the Uruguay Round. Unlike the European Community, and for biological processes for animal and plant protection [The Uruguay Round and Third World Sovereigntyp. 28].
The provisions for biotech are really a way of increasing trade barriers, and forcing consumers to subsidize the TNCs engaged in agribusiness. The U.S. seeks to apply patents to genetically-modified organisms, effectively pirating the work of generations of Third World breeders by isolating beneficial genes in traditional varieties and incorporating them in new GMOs — and maybe even enforcing patent rights against the traditional variety which was the source of the genetic material. For example Monsanto has attempted to use the presence of their DNA in a crop as prima facie evidence of pirating — when it is much more likely that their variety cross-pollinated and contaminated the farmer’s crop against his will. The Pinkerton agency, by the way, plays a leading role in investigating such charges — that’s right, the same folks who have been breaking strikes and kicking organizers down stairs for the past century. Even jack-booted thugs have to diversify to make it in the global economy.
The developed world has pushed particularly hard to protect industries relying on or producing “generic technologies,” and to restrict diffusion of “dual use” technologies. The U. S.-Japanese trade agreement on semi-conductors, for example, is a “cartel-like, ‘managed trade’ agreement.” So much for “free trade.” [Dieter Ernst, “Technology, Economic Security and Latecomer Idustrialization,” in Raghavan Pp. 39-40].
Patent law traditionally required a holder to work the invention in a country in order to receive patent protection. U.K. law allowed compulsory licensing after three years if an invention was not being worked, or being worked fully, and demand was being met “to a substantial extent” by importation; or where the export market was not being supplied because of the patentee’s refusal to grant licenses on reasonable terms [Raghavan pp. 120, 138].
The central motivation in the GATT intellectual property regime, however, is to permanently lock in the collective monopoly of advanced technology by TNCs, and prevent independent competition from ever arising in the Third World. It would, as Martin Khor Kok Peng writes, “effectively prevent the diffusion of technology to the Third World, and would tremendously increase monopoly royalties of the TNCs whilst curbing the potential devel- opment of Third World technology.” Only one percent of patents worldwide are owned in the Third World. Of patents granted in the 1970s by Third World countries, 84% were foreign-owned. But fewer than 5% of foreign-owned patents were actually used in production. As we saw before, the purpose of owning a patent is not necessarily to use it, but to prevent anyone else from using it [op. cit. pp. 29-30].
Raghavan summed up nicely the effect on the Third World:
Given the vast outlays in R and D and investments, as well as the short life cycle of some of these products, the leading Industrial Nations are trying to prevent emergence of competition by controlling… the flows of technology to others. The Uruguay round is being sought to be used to create export monopolies for the products of Industrial Nations, and block or slow down the rise of competitive rivals, particularly in the newly industrializing Third World countries. At the same time the technologies of senescent industries of the north are sought to be exported to the South under conditions of assured rentier income [op. cit. p. 96].
Corporate propagandists piously denounce anti-globalists as enemies of the Third World, seeking to use trade barriers to maintain an affluent Western lifestyle at the expense of the poor nations. The above measures — trade barriers — to permanently suppress Third World technology and keep the South as a big sweatshop, give the lie to this “humanitarian” concern. This is not a case of differing opinions, or of sincerely mistaken understanding of the facts. Setting aside false subtleties, what we see here is pure evil at work — Orwell’s “boot stamping on a human face forever.” If any architects of this policy believe it to be for general human well-being, it only shows the capacity of ideology to justify the oppressor to himself and enable him to sleep at night.
Spending on transportation and communications networks from general revenues, rather than from taxes and user fees, allows big business to “externalize its costs” on the public, and conceal its true operating expenses. Chomsky described this state capitalist underwriting of shipping costs quite accurately:
One well-known fact about trade is that it’s highly subsidized with huge market-distorting factors…. The most obvious is that every form of transport is highly subsidized…. Since trade naturally requires transport, the costs of transport enter into the calculation of the efficiency of trade. But there are huge subsidies to reduce the costs of transport, through manipulation of energy costs and all sorts of market-distorting functions [“How Free is the Free Market?”].
Every wave of concentration of capital has followed a publicly subsidized infrastructure system of some sort. The national railroad system, built largely on free or below-cost land donated by the government, was followed by concentration in heavy industry, petrochemicals, and finance. The next major infrastructure projects were the national highway system, starting with the system of designated national highways in the 1920s and culminating with Eisenhower’s interstate system; and the civil aviation system, built almost entirely with federal money. The result was massive concentration in retail, agriculture, and food processing.
The third such project was the infrastructure of the worldwide web, originally built by the Pentagon. It permits, for the first time, direction of global operations in real time from a single corporate headquarters, and is accelerating the concentration of capital on a global scale. To quote Chomsky again,
The telecommunications revolution… is… another state component of the international economy that didn’t develop through private capital, but through the public paying to destroy themselves… [Class Warfare p. 40].
The centralized corporate economy depends for its existence on a shipping price system which is artificially distorted by government intervention. To fully grasp how dependent the corporate economy is on socializing transportation and communications costs, imagine what would happen if truck and aircraft fuel were taxed enough to pay the full cost of maintenance and new building costs on highways and airports; and if fossil fuels depletion allowances were removed. The result would be a massive increase in shipping costs. Does anyone seriously believe that Wal-Mart could continue to undersell local retailers, or corporate agribusiness could destroy the family farm?
Intellectually honest right-libertarians freely admit as much. For example, Tiber Machan wrote in The Freeman that
Some people will say that stringent protection of rights [against eminent domain] would lead to small airports, at best, and many constraints on construction. Of course — but what’s so wrong with that?
Perhaps the worst thing about modern industrial life has been the power of political authorities to grant special privileges to some enterprises to violate the rights of third parties whose permission would be too expensive to obtain. The need to obtain that permission would indeed seriously impede what most environmentalists see as rampant — indeed reckless — industrialization.
The system of private property rights — in which… all… kinds of… human activity must be conducted within one’s own realm except where cooperation from others has been gained voluntarily — is the greatest moderator of human aspirations…. In short, people may reach goals they aren’t able to reach with their own resources only by convincing others, through arguments and fair exchanges, to cooperate [“On Airports and Individual Rights“].
The logjams and bottlenecks in the transportation system are an inevitable result of subsidies. Those who debate the reason for planes stacked up at O’Hare airport, or decry the fact that highways and bridges are deteriorating several times faster than repairs are being budgeted, need only read an economics 101 text. Market prices are signals that relate supply to demand. When subsidies distort these signals, the consumer does not perceive the real cost of producing the goods he consumes. The “feedback loop” is broken, and demands on the system overwhelm it beyond its ability to respond. When people don’t have to pay the real cost of something they consume, they aren’t very careful about only using what they need.
It is interesting that every major antitrust action in this century has involved either some basic energy resource, or some form of infrastructure, on which the overall economy depends. Standard Oil, AT&T, and Microsoft were all cases in which monopoly price gouging was a danger to the economy as a whole. This brings to mind Engels’ observation that advanced capitalism would reach a stage where the state — “the official representative of capitalist society” — would have to convert “the great institutions for intercourse and communication” into state property. Engels did not foresee the use of antitrust actions to achieve the same end [Anti-Duhring].
The leading sectors of the economy, including cybernetics, communications, and military industry, have their sales and profits virtually guaranteed by the state. The entire manufacturing sector, as a whole, was permanently expanded beyond recognition by an infusion of federal money during World War II. In 1939 the entire manufacturing plant of the U.S. was valued at $40 billion. By 1945, another $26 billion worth of plant and equipment had been built, “two thirds of it paid for directly from government funds.” The top 250 corporations in 1939 owned 65% of plant and equipment, but during the war operated 79% of all new facilities built with government funds [Mills,The Power Elite p. 101].
Machine tools were vastly expanded by the war. In 1940, 23% of machine tools in use were less than 10 years old. By 1945, the figure had grown to 62%. The industry contracted rapidly after 1945, and would probably have gone into a depression, had it not returned to wartime levels of output during Korea and remained that way throughout the Cold War. The R & D complex, likewise, was a creation of the war. Between 1939 and 1945, the share of AT&T research expenditures made up of government contracts expanded from 1% to 83%. Over 90% of the patents resulting from government-funded wartime research were given away to industry. The modern electronics industry was largely a product of World War II and Cold War spending (e.g., miniaturization of circuits for bomb proximity fuses, high capacity computers for command and control, etc.) [Noble,Forces of Production pp. 8-16].
The jumbo jet industry would never have come about without continuous Cold War levels of military spending. The machine tools needed for producing large aircraft were so complex and expensive that no “small peacetime orders” would have provided a sufficient production run to pay for them. Without large military orders, they would simply not have existed. The aircraft industry quickly spiraled into red ink after 1945, and was near bankruptcy at the beginning of the 1948 war scare, after which Truman restored it to life with massive spending. By 1964, 90% of aerospace R & D was funded by the government, with massive spillover into the electronics, machine tool, and other industries [Noble, Forces of Production pp. 6-7; Kofsky, Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948].
Infrastructure and military spending are not the only examples of the process by which cost and risk are socialized, and profit is privatized — or, as Rothbard put it, by which “our corporate state uses the coercive taxing power either to accumulate corporate capital or to lower corporate costs.” [“Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal“]. Some of these government assumptions of risk and cost are ad hoc and targeted toward specific industries.
Among the greatest beneficiaries of such underwriting are electrical utilities. Close to 100% of all research and development for nuclear power is either performed by the government itself, in its military reactor program, or by lump-sum R & D grants; the government waives use-charges for nuclear fuels, subsidizes uranium production, provides access to government land below market price (and builds hundreds of miles of access roads at taxpayer expense), enriches uranium, and disposes of waste at sweetheart prices. The Price-Anderson Act of 1957 limited the liability of the nuclear power industry, and assumed government liability above that level [Adams and Brock pp. 279-281]. A Westinghouse official admitted in 1953,
If you were to inquire whether Westinghouse might consider putting up its own money.., we would have to say “No.” The cost of the plant would be a question mark until after we built it and, by that sole means, found out the answer. We would not be sure of successful plant operation until after we had done all the work and operated successfully…. This is still a situation of pyramiding uncertainties…. There is a distinction between risk-taking and recklessness [Ibid. pp. 278-279].
So much for profit as a reward for the entrepreneur’s risk. These “entrepreneurs” make their profits in the same way as a seventeenth-century courtier, by obtaining the favor of the king. To quote Chomsky,
The sectors of the economy that remain competitive are those that feed from the public trough…. The glories of Free Enterprise provide a useful weapon against government policies that might benefit the general population…. But the rich and powerful… have long appreciated the need to protect themselves from the destructive forces of free-market capitalism, which may provide suitable themes for rousing oratory, but only so long as the public handout and the regulatory and protectionist apparatus are secure, and state power is on call when needed (Chomsky, Deterring Democracy p. 144].
Dwayne Andreas, the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, admitted that “[t]here is not one grain of anything in the world that is sold in the free market. Not one. The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.” [Don Carney, “Dwayne’s World“].
Big business also enjoys financial support through the tax code. It is likely that most of the Fortune 500 would go bankrupt without corporate welfare. Direct federal tax breaks to business in 1996 were close to $350 billion [Based on my crunching on numbers in Zepezauer and Naiman, Take the Rich Off- Welfare]. This figure, for federal corporate welfare alone, is over two-thirds of annual corporate profits for 1996 ($460 billion) [Statistical Abstract of the United States 1996].
Estimates of state and local tax breaks is fairly impressionistic, since they vary not only with each critic’s subjective definition of “corporate welfare,” but involve the tax codes of fifty states and the public records of thousands of municipalities. Besides money pimps in the state and local governments are embarrassed by the sweet deals they give their corporate johns. In my own state of Arkansas, the incorruptible Baptist preacher who serves as governor opposed a bill to require quarterly public reports from the Department of Economic Development on its special tax breaks to businesses. “[K]eeping incentive records from public scrutiny is important in attracting business,” and releasing “proprietary information” could have a “chilling effect.” [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette 3 Feb. 2001]. But state and local corporate welfare could easily amount to a figure comparable to federal.
Taken as a whole, direct tax breaks to business at all levels of government are probably on the same order of magnitude as corporate profits. And this understates the effect of corporate welfare, since it disproportionately goes to a handful of giant firms in each industry. For example, accelerated depreciation favors expansion by existing firms. New firms find it of little benefit, since they are likely to lose money their first few years. An established firm, however, can run a loss in a new venture and charge the accelerated depreciation against its profits on old facilities [Baratz, “Corporate Giants and the Power Structure“].
The most outrageous of these tax expenditures is the subsidy to the actual financial transactions by which capital is concentrated. The interest deduction on corporate debt, most of which was run up on leveraged buyouts and acquisitions, costs the treasury over $200 billion a year [Zepezauer p. 122-123]. Without this deduction, the wave of mergers in the 1980s, or the megamergers of the 1990s, could never have taken place. On top of everything else, this acts as a massive direct subsidy to banking, increasing the power of finance capital in the corporate economy to a level greater than it has been since the Age of Morgan.
A closely related subsidy is the exemption from capital gains of securities transactions involved in corporate mergers (i.e. “stock swaps”) — even though premiums are usually paid well over the market value of the stock [Green p. 11]. The 1986 tax reform included a provision which prevented corporations from deducting fees for investment ‘banks and advisers involved in leveraged buyouts. The 1996 minimum wage increase repealed this provision, with one exception: interest deductions were removed for employee buyouts [Judis, “Bare Minimum“].
Right-libertarians like Rothbard object to classifying tax expenditures as subsidies. It presumes that tax money rightfully belongs to the government, when in fact the government is only letting them keep what is rightfully theirs. The tax code is indeed unfair, but the solution is to eliminate the taxes for everyone, not to level the code up [Rothbard, Power and Market p. 104]. This is a very shaky argument. Supporters of tax code reform in the 1980s insisted that the sole legitimate purpose of taxation was to raise revenue, not to provide carrots and sticks for social engineering purposes. And, semantic quibbling aside, the current tax system would be exactly the same if we started out with zero tax rates and then imposed a punitive tax only on those not engaged in favored activities. Either way, the uneven tax policy gives a competitive advantage to privileged industries.
In times of unusual popular consciousness and mobilization, when the capitalist system faces grave political threats, the state resorts to repression until the danger is past. The major such waves in this country — the Haymarket reaction, and the red scares after the world wars — are recounted by Goldstein [Political Repression in Modern America]. But the wave of repression which began in the 1970s, though less intense, has been permanently institutionalized to a unique extent.
Until the late 1960s, elite perspective was governed by the New Deal social contract. The corporate state would buy stability and popular acquiescence in imperialist exploitation abroad by guaranteeing a level of prosperity and security to the middle class. In return for higher wages, unions would enforce management control of the workplace. But starting during the Vietnam era, the elite’s thinking underwent a profound change.
They concluded from the 1960s experience that the social contract had failed. In response to the antiwar protests and race riots, LBJ and Nixon began to create an institutional framework for martial law, to make sure that any such disorder in the future could be dealt with differently. Johnson’s operation GARDEN PLOT involved domestic surveillance by the military, contingency plans for military cooperation with local police in suppressing disorder in all fifty states, plans for mass preventive detention, and joint exercises of police and the regular military [Morales, U.S. Military Civil Disturbance Planning]. Governor Reagan and his National Guard chief Louis Giuffrida were enthusiastic supporters of GARDEN PLOT exercises in California. Reagan was also a pioneer in creating quasi-military SWAT teams, which now exist in every major town.
The wave of wildcat strikes in the early 1970s showed that organized labor could no longer keep its part of the bargain, and that the social contract should be reassessed. At the same time, the business press was flooded with articles on the impending “capital shortage,” and calls for shifting resources from consumption to capital accumulation. They predicted frankly that a cap on real wages would be hard to force on the public in the existing political environment [Boyte, Backyard Revolution pp. 13-16]. This sentiment was expressed by Huntington et al. in The Crisis of Democracy (a paper for the Trilateral Institution — a good proxy for elite thinking); they argued that the system was collapsing from demand overload, because of an excess of democracy.
Corporations embraced the full range of union-busting possibilities in Taft-Hartley, risking only token fines from the NLRB. They drastically increased management resources devoted to workplace surveillance and control, a necessity because of discontent from stagnant wages and mounting workloads [Fat and Mean]. Wages as a percentage of value added have declined drastically since the 1970s; all increases in labor productivity have been channeled into profit and investment, rather than wages. A new Cold War military buildup further transferred public resources to industry.
A series of events like the fall of Saigon, the nonaligned movement, and the New International Economic Order were taken as signs that the transnational corporate empire was losing control. Reagan’s escalating intervention in Central America was a partial response to this perception. But more importantly the Uruguay Round of GATT snatched total victory from the jaws of defeat; it ended all barriers to TNCs buying up entire economies, locked the west into monopoly control of modern technology, and created a world government on behalf of global corporations.
In the meantime the U.S. was, in the words of Richard K. Moore, importing techniques of social control from the imperial periphery to the core area. With the help of the Drug War and the National Security State, the apparatus of repression continued to grow. The Drug War has turned the Fourth Amendment into toilet paper; civil forfeiture, with the aid of jailhouse snitches, gives police the power to steal property without ever filing charges — a lucrative source of funds for helicopters and kevlar vests. SWAT teams have led to the militarization of local police forces, and cross-training with the military has led many urban police departments to view the local population as an occupied enemy [Weber, Warrior Cops].
Reagan’s crony Giuffrida resurfaced as head of FEMA, where he worked with Oliver North to fine-tune GARDEN PLOT. North, as the NSC liaison with FEMA from 1982-84, developed a plan “to suspend the constitution in the event of a national crisis, such as nuclear war, violent and widespread internal dissent or national opposition to a U.S. military invasion abroad.” [Chardy, “Reagan Aides and the ‘Secret’ Government“]. GARDEN PLOT, interestingly, was implemented during the Rodney King Riots and in recent anti-globalization protests. Delta Force provided intelligence and advice in those places and at Waco [Rosenberg, The Empire Strikes Back; Cockburn, The Jackboot State].
Another innovation is to turn everyone we deal with into a police agent. Banks routinely report “suspicious” movements of cash; under “know your customer” programs, retailers report purchases of items which can conceivably be used in combination to manufacture drugs; libraries come under pressure to report on readers of “subversive” material; DARE programs turn kids into police informers.
Computer technology has increased the potential for surveillance to Orwellian levels. Pentium III processors were revealed to embed identity codes in every document written on them. Police forces are experimenting with combinations of public cameras, digital face-recognition technology, and databases of digital photos. Image Data LLC, a company in the process of buying digital drivers licence photos from all fifty states, was exposed as a front for the Secret Service.
It is almost too easy to bring back Bob Novak and Secretary O’Neill for another kick — but I can’t resist. “Marxist class warfare?” “Robber baron rhetoric?” Well, the pages above recount the “class warfare” waged by the robber barons themselves. If their kind tend to squeal like pigs when we talk about class, it’s because they’ve been stuck. But all the squealing in the world won’t change the facts.
But what are the implications of the above facts for our movement? It is commonly acknowledged that the manorial economy was founded on force. Although you will never see the issue addressed by Milton Friedman, intellectually honest right libertarians like Rothbard acknowledge the role of the state in creating European feudalism and American slavery. Rothbard, drawing the obvious conclusion from this fact, acknowledged the right of peasants or freed slaves to take over their “forty acres and a mule” without compensation to the landlord.
But we have seen that industrial capitalism, to the same extent as manorialism or slavery, was founded on force. Like its predecessors, capitalism could not have survived at any point in its history without state intervention. Coercive state measures at every step have denied workers access to capital, forced them to sell their labor in a buyer’s market, and protected the centers of economic power from the dangers of the free market. To quote Benjamin Tucker again, landlords and capitalists cannot extract surplus value from labor without the help of the state. The modern worker, like the slave or the serf, is the victim of ongoing robbery; he works in an enterprise built from past stolen labor. By the same principles that Rothbard recognized in the agrarian realm, the modern worker is justified in taking direct control of production, and keeping the entire product of his labor.
In a very real sense, every subsidy and privilege described above is a form of slavery. Slavery, simply put, is the use of coercion to live off of someone else’s labor. For example, consider the worker who pays $300 a month for a drug under patent, that would cost $30 in a free market. If he is paid $15 an hour, the eighteen hours he works every month to pay the difference are slavery. Every hour worked to pay usury on a credit card or mortgage is slavery. The hours worked to pay unnecessary distribution and marketing costs (comprising half of retail prices), because of subsidies to economic centralization, is slavery. Every additional hour someone works to meet his basic needs, because the state tilts the field in favor of the bosses and forces him to sell his labor for less than it is worth, is slavery.
All these forms of slavery together probably amount to half our working hours. If we kept the full value of our labor, we could probably maintain current levels of consumption with a work week of twenty hours. As Bill Haywood said, “for every man who gets a dollar he didn’t sweat for, someone else sweated to produce a dollar he never received.”
Our survey also casts doubt on the position of “anarchist” social democrat Noam Chomsky, who is notorious for his distinction between “visions” and “goals.” His long-term vision is a decentralized society of self-governing communities and workplaces, loosely federated together — the traditional anarchist vision. His immediate goal, however, is to strengthen the regulatory state in order to break up “private concentrations of power,” before anarchism can be achieved. But if , as we have seen, capitalism is dependent on the state to guarantee it survival, it follows that it is sufficient to eliminate the statist props to capitalism. In a letter of 4 September 1867, Engels aptly summed up the difference between anarchists and state socialists: “They say ‘abolish the state and capital will go to the devil.’ We propose the reverse.” Exactly.
Morton S. Baratz. “Corporate Giants and the Power Structure,” in Richard Gillam, ed., Power in Postwar America (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1971).
Harry C. Boyte. The Backyard Revolution: Understanding the New Citizen Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980).
Don Carney. “Dwayne’s World,” at http://www.motherjones.com/mother_jones/JA95/carney.html
Alfonso Chardy. “Reagan Aides and the ‘Secret’ Government” Miami Herald 5 July 1987, at http://www.totse.com/en/conspiracy/the_new_world_order/scrtgovt.html
Noam Chomsky. Class Warfare: Interviews with David Barsamian (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1996)
Chomsky. How Free is the Free Market? Resurgence no. 173. http://www.oneworld.org/second_opinion/chomsky.html
Chomsky. World Orders Old and New (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).
Citizens for Tax Justice. “GOP Leaders Distill Essence of Tax Plan: Surprise! It’s Corporate Welfare” 14 September 1999, at http://www.ctj.org/pdf/corp0999.pdf
Alexander Cockburn. “The Jackboot State: The War Came Home and We’re Losing It” Counterpunch 10 May 2000, at http://www.counterpunch.org/jackboot.html
Maurice Dobbs. Studies in the Development of Capitalism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd, 1963).
Gary Elkin. Benjamin Tucker–Anarchist or Capitalist? at http://flag.blackened.net/davo/anarchism/tucker/an_or_cap.html
Elkin. Mutual Banking. available through http://www.subsitu.com
Friedrich Engels. Anti-Duhring. Marx and Engels, Collected Works v. 25 (New York: International Publishers, 1987).
Edgar Friedenberg. The Disposal of Liberty and Other Industrial Wastes (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1976).
Robert Goldstein. Political Repression in America: 1870 to the Present (Cambridge, New York: Schenkman Publishing Co’, 1978).
David M. Gordon. Fat and Mean: The Corporate Squeeze of Working Americans and the Myth of Management Downsizing (New York: The Free Press, 1996).
William B. Greene. Mutual Banking (New York: Gordon Press, 1849, 1974).
Benjamin Grove. “Gibbons Backs Drug Monopoly Bill,” Las Vegas Sun 18 February 2000, at http://www.ahc.umn.edu/NewsAlert/Feb00/022100NewsAlert/44500.htm
J.L. and Barbara Hammond. The Town Labourer (1760-1832) 2 vols. (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1917)
Hammonds. The Village Labourer (1760-1832) (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1913).
Michael Harrington. Socialism (New York: Bantam, 1970, 1972).
Harrington. The Twilight of Capitalism (Simon and Schuster, 1976).
Hearings on Global and Innovation-Based Competition. FTC, 29 November 1995, at http://www.ftc.gov/opp/gc112195.pdf
John Judis. “Bare Minimum: Goodies for the Rich Hidden in Wage Bill,” The New Republic 28 October 1996, in Project Censored Yearbook 1997 (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1997).
Frank Kofsky. Harry S. Truman and the War Scare of 1948 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993).
Peter Kropotkin. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1909).
William Lazonick. Business Organization and the Myth of the Market Economy (Cambridge University Press, 1991).
Lazonick. Competitive Advantage on the Shop Floor (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 1990).
Chris Lewis. “Public Assets, Private Profits,” Multinational Monitor, in Project Censored Yearbook 1994 (New York: Seven Stories Press, 1994).
Tiber Machan. “On Airports and Individual Rights,” The Freeman: Ideas on Liberty. February 1999.
Steven A. Marglin. “What Do Bosses Do? The Origins and Functions of Hierarchy in Capitalist Production–Part I” Review of Radical Political Economics 6:2 (Summer 1974).
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Capital vol. 1, Collected Works v. 35 (New York: International Publishers, 1996).
Seymour Melman. Profits Without Production. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983).
C. Wright Mills. The Power Elite (Oxford University Press, 1956, 2000).
David Montgomery. The Fall of the House of Labor (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
Montgomery. Workers Control in America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
Richard K. Moore. “Escaping the Matrix” Whole Earth (Summer 2000).
Frank Morales. “U.S. Military Civil Disturbance Planning: The War at Home” Covert Action Quarterly 69, Spring-Summer 2000, at http://infowar.net/warathome/warathome.html
David F. Noble. America By Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1977).
Noble. Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984).
Martin Khor Kok Peng. The Uruguay Round and Third World Sovereignty (Penang, Malaysia: Third World Network, 1990).
Chakravarthi Raghavan. Recolonization: GATT, the Uruguay Round & the Third World (Penang, Malaysia: Third World Network, 1990).
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Paul Rosenberg. “The Empire Strikes Back: Police Repression of Protest From Seattle to L.A.” L.A. Independent Media Center 13 August 2000, at http://www.r2kphilly.org/pdf/empire-strikes.pdf
Murray Rothbard. “Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal,” in Henry J. Silverman, ed., American Radical Thought (Lexington, Mass.: D.C. Heath and Co., 1970).
Rothbard. Man, Economy, and State: A Treatise on Economic Principles (Los Angeles: Nash Publishing, 1952, 1970).
Rothbard. Power and Market (New York: New York University Press, 1977).
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E. P. Thompson. The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1963, 1966).
Benjamin Tucker. Instead of a Book, by a Man Too Busy to Write One (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1897 1969).
Immanuel Wallerstein. Historical Capitalism (London, New York: Verso, 1983).
Diane Cecilia Weber. “Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments” Cato Briefing Paper No. 50, 26 August 1999, at http://www.cato.org/pubs/briefs/bp-050es.html
Mark Zepezauer and Arthur Naiman. Take the Rich Off Welfare (Odonian Press/Common Courage Press, 1996).
The Center for a Stateless Society is delighted to announce that our parent institution, the Molinari Institute, has been declared by the IRS to be a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; hence donations to the Molinari Institute – and thus to the Center for a Stateless Society as well – are tax-deductible.
To quote from the IRS’s determination letter, dated 2 April 2015:
We’re pleased to tell you we determined you’re exempt from federal income tax under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 501(c)(3). Donors can deduct contributions they make to you under IRC section 170. You’re also qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts under Section 2055, 2106, or 2522. … We determined you’re a public charity under the IRC section [509(a)(2)].
The mission of the Molinari Institute is to promote understanding of the philosophy of market anarchism as a sane, consensual alternative to the hypertrophic violence of the State. The Molinari Institute hosts an online open-access library of rare libertarian classics, including new translations of 19th-century French works, and publishes two periodicals: a magazine, The Industrial Radical, and an academic journal, the Molinari Review. The Molinari Society, a daughter organisation, hosts annual symposia at the Eastern and Pacific Divisions of the American Philosophical Association.
The Center for a Stateless Society (C4SS), an autonomous extension of the Molinari Institute, develops and publishes timely written commentary on current events, research pieces and other content from a market anarchist perspective. Each week the Center submits several op-ed pieces to thousands of newspapers and other media outlets globally, and has received about 2500 mainstream media pickups since 2010. The Center’s student affiliate network, the Students for a Stateless Society (S4SS), offers opportunities for campus outreach and activism.
Future projects for both the Institute and the Center include book publishing (both classic and original works), conferences, courses (online and otherwise), new translation projects, and media presentations.
Both the Institute and the Center are part of the Alliance of the Libertarian Left, which opposes statism, militarism, cultural intolerance, and the prevailing corporatist capitalism falsely called a free market. The Alliance’s Distro, in partnership with the Institute and Center, produces and distributes zines and booklets on anarchism, market anarchist theory, counter-economics, and other movements for liberation.
Tomorrow, C4SS and ALL will be teaming up to provide good quality but still dirt cheap literature for ALL to enjoy at the anarchist book fair in New York City.
Darian Worden of C4SS, myself and others will be under the NJ Alliance of Libertarian Left banner as per usual so look for us under that name. We hope to present an alternative to both communist and capitalist forms of anarchism.
In pursuit of this goal, we’ll have copies of the Market Anarchy Series as well as Industrial Radical, Markets Not Capitalism and much more. There will also be some cheap pins and free pamphlets to round out our inventory.
You can find the book fair at the Judson Memorial Church, which is located near the Washington Square Park and Manhattan.
If you’re considering going, I’d personally recommend attending the following talks: “The Brooklyn Solidarity Network: Anarchism in Practice”, “Books that Burn: Radical Publishing Today and Tomorrow?”, Decentralism, Direct Democracy, and Federalism”, What Makes a Queer Relationship Queer?” and “Spreading the Anarchist Movement”.
For a full listing of vendors check out the Facebook event page.
Hope to see you there!
On April 15, I sent the following letter, accompanying my filled-out 1040 Form, to the Tax Collector:
The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America establishes a bill of particulars in regard to intolerable infringements, abuses, and denials of political power which belongs to the people.
The Federal government of the United States of America today is guilty of exactly every sort of infringement, abuse, and denial stated as intolerable by the Declaration of Independence.
I cannot, in conscience, sanction that government by the payment of taxes.
Further, the Federal government of the United States of America has established as a principle, and ruthlessly by the power of its officials enforces as a practice, that it can demand the primary loyalty of the people, that it can exercise all political power on their behalf, that it can wage war without their approval, and that it can and should establish the standards of their behavior and the goals of their lives.
I could not in conscience sanction such a government by the payment of taxes.
Finally, the Declaration of Independence, in the clearest possible language, tells Americans that when a government becomes destructive of the ends of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that it is the right and the duty of the people to abolish such government, to “throw off such government.”
It is in the spirit of that Declaration, and in comradeship with men everywhere who seek freedom and to throw off such governments, that i now refuse to pay the taxes demanded by the government in the attached form.
Originally published in The Libertarian (Forum) Vol. I, No. III May 1, 1969
Understanding history as best we can is important for obvious reasons. It’s particularly important for libertarians who want to persuade people to the freedom philosophy. In making their case for individual freedom, mutual aid, social cooperation, foreign nonintervention, and peace, libertarians commonly place great weight on historical examples most often drawn from the early United States. So if they misstate history or draw obviously wrong conclusions, they will discredit their case. Much depends therefore on getting history right.
Libertarians naturally sense that their philosophy will be easier to sell to the public if they can root it in America’s heritage. This is understandable. Finding common ground with someone you’re trying to persuade is a good way to win a fair hearing for your case. Well-known aspects of early American history, at least as it is usually taught, fit nicely with the libertarian outlook; these include Thomas Paine’s pamphlets, the opening passages of the Declaration of Independence, and popular animosity toward arbitrary British rule.
The problem arises when libertarians cherry-pick confirming historical anecdotes while distorting or ignoring deeper disconfirming evidence. The drawbacks to grounding the case for freedom in historical inaccuracies should be obvious. If a libertarian with a shaky historical story encounters someone with sounder historical knowledge, the libertarian is in for trouble. The point of discussing libertarianism with nonlibertarians is not to feel good but to persuade. If the history is wrong, why should anyone believe anything else the libertarian says?
The damage done to a young person new to libertarianism is particularly tragic. Discovery of the libertarian philosophy, especially when combined with the a priori approach of Austrian economics, can make young libertarians feel virtually omniscient and ready for argument on any relevant topic. When such libertarians venture into empirical areas — such as history — they are prone to use ideology or the a priori method as guides to the truth. If libertarians with this frame of mind run into serious students of history, the results can be traumatic. The disillusionment can be so great that a young libertarian might decide to keep quiet from then on or give up the philosophy entirely. A libertarian who might have become a powerful advocate is lost to the movement. Thus we owe young libertarians the most accurate historical interpretation possible. Gross oversimplification sets them up for disaster. It’s like sending a sheep to the slaughter.
Where are libertarians likely go wrong when it comes to history? By and large, it’s in presenting American history as an essentially libertarian story. (This goes for the industrial revolution in England also.) We’ve all heard it: British imperial rule violated the rights of the American colonists, who — fired up by the ideas of John Locke — drove out the British, adopted limited government and free markets through the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and pursued a noninterventionist foreign policy; this lasted until the Progressives and New Dealers came along. It’s not that everything about this overview is wrong; it contains grains of truth. Americans were upset by British arbitrary rule (which violated the accustomed “rights of Englishmen”), and Lockean ideas were in the air. But much of the rest of the libertarian template is more folklore than history.
For one thing, the early state governments were hardly strictly limited. Libertarians too readily confuse the desire for a relatively weak central government with the desire for strict limits on government generally. For many Americans a strong central government was seen as an intrusion on state and local government to which they gave their primary allegiance. But that is not a libertarian view; it depends on what people want state and local governments to do. (Jonathan Hughes’s The Governmental Habit Redux is helpful here.)
Libertarians also wish to believe that the early national government was fairly libertarian-ish. With the exception of slavery and tariffs, it is often explained, government was strictly limited by the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Slavery of course was an egregious exception, which was enforced by the national government, and passionate opponents agitated against it. Tariffs were part of a larger system of government intervention, which many libertarians simply ignore. Nor were these the only serious exceptions to an otherwise libertarian program. But before getting to that, we must say something about the Constitution.
Libertarians of course know that the Constitution was not the first charter of the United States. But many of them rarely talk about the first one: the Articles of Confederation, which was adopted before the war with Britain ended. Under the Articles the weak national quasi-government lacked, among other powers, the powers to tax and regulate trade, which is why I call it a quasi-government. It obtained its money from the states, which did have the power to tax. So while it could not steal money, it nonetheless subsisted on stolen money. (The Articles were no libertarian document.)
Advocates of a unified nation under a powerful central government, such as James Madison, tried immediately to expand government power under the Articles but got nowhere. The centralists eventually arranged for the Federal Convention in Philadelphia, where the Constitution — the acknowledged purpose of which was to produce more, not less, government — was adopted. The libertarian Albert Jay Nock called the convention a coup d’etat because it was only supposed to amend the Articles. Instead, the men assembled tore up the Articles, crafted an entirely new plan that included the powers to tax and to regulate trade, and changed the ratification rules to permit merely nine states to carry the day, instead of the unanimous consent required for amendments to the Articles.
The Constitution that was sent to the state conventions for ratification drew the opposition of people who soon were known as Antifederalists. (Those who favored the Constitution’s strong central government were the real antifederalists, but they grabbed the popular “federalist” label first.) The Antifederalists lodged many serious objections to the proposed Constitution, only one of which was the lack of a bill of rights. They saw danger in, among other things, the broad language of the tax power, the general-welfare clause, the supremacy clause, and the necessary-and-proper clause — all of which, in their view, harbored unenumerated powers, contrary to Madison’s declaration. The Bill of Rights, which the first Congress later added to the already-ratified Constitution, did not even attempt to address the Antifederalists’ major objections. (History, I submit, has confirmed their predictions of tyranny.)
Many libertarians who presumably know this story are strangely silent about it. On the rare occasion they mention the Articles, they say little more than that unspecified problems with them prompted the Philadelphia convention and adoption by the assembled demigod-like Founding Fathers of that ingenious architecture of limited government we know as the Constitution. Then, the story continues, the libertarian masses’ objection to the lack of a bill of rights led to the adoption of the first ten amendments to protect our liberties. All was well until …
One would expect a “government” that lacked the power to tax and regulate trade to be of more interest to libertarians. One would also expect libertarians to be suspicious of plan to address those alleged deficiencies. Instead, the Articles typically are shunted aside and the Constitution is lauded as a historic achievement in the struggle for liberty. That is odd indeed.
I think we can explain this lack of interest in the Articles by noting that it fits poorly into the mainstream libertarian narrative about America. After all, it would be hard to praise the Constitution as a reasonably good attempt to limit government while acknowledging that it replaced a political arrangement under which the government could neither tax nor regulate trade. In that context the Constitution looks like a step backward not forward.
This also explains an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon: the lack of interest among many libertarians in the most libertarian of the early Americans: the Antifederalists. (Admittedly, not all Antifederalists were as libertarian as the best of them were.) Libertarians who have what has been called a Constitution fetish could hardly embrace the principled libertarian opponents of their beloved Constitution. The story wouldn’t make sense. (See Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s “The Constitution as Counter-Revolution” [PDF].)
Many libertarians also like to paint the early national period in pacific colors, quoting Washington, Jefferson, and Madison against standing armies, alliances, and war. In contrast to today, we’re told, the American people and their “leaders” hated empire and imperialism. But this is misleading. From the start America’s rulers, with public support, were bent on creating at least a continental empire, including Canada, Mexico, and neighboring islands. Some had the entire Western Hemisphere in their sights. Americans were not anti-empire; they were anti-British Empire — or, more accurately, anti-Old-World Empire. They did not want to be colonists anymore. America’s future rulers saw their revolution as a showdown between an exhausted old imperial order and the rising imperial order in the New World. (Of course, it was called an Empire of, or for, Liberty.) Continental expansion — conquest — required an army powerful enough to “remove” the Indians from lands the white population coveted. “Removal” of course meant brutal confinement — so the Indian populations could be controlled — or extermination. This government program constituted a series of wars on foreign nations in the name of national security.
Continental expansion also was accomplished by acknowledged unconstitutional acts, such as the national government’s acquisition of the huge Louisiana territory from Napoleon, which placed the inhabitants under the jurisdiction of the U.S. government without their consent. The War of 1812 was motivated in part by a wish to take Canada from the British. (See my “The War of 1812 Was the Health of the State,” part 1 and part 2.) A few years later, American administrations began to built up the army and navy in order to bully Spain into ceding another huge area. The U.S. government thus gained jurisdiction over a vast territory reaching to the Pacific Ocean, from which the navy could project American influence and power to Asia. (In light of this empire-building, the Civil War can be seen as empire preservation.)
National security was always on the politicians’ minds: the exceptional nation, whose destiny was manifest, could never be safe if surrounded by Old World monarchies and their colonial possessions. American politicians generally hoped to acquire those possessions through negotiation, but war — which major political figures believed was good for the national spirit — was always an option, as Secretary of State John Quincy Adams let the Spanish know in no uncertain terms in the years before 1820. Had Spain been more defiant of Adams, the Spanish-American War would have occurred 78 years earlier than it did.
We can acknowledge that leading politicians were domestic liberals, relatively speaking, in that they did not want the national government to intrude (as the British did) arbitrarily into the private affairs of Americans. The resulting personal freedom can account for the rising prosperity. But libertarians tend to push this point too far. In fact, with the War of 1812 — slightly more than two decades after ratification of the Constitution — America’s rulers, including former Jeffersonians, favored expanded powers for the national government, including a central role in the economy to create a national market and a national-security state. A pushback by the older Jeffersonian wing of the American political establishment took place briefly, but the centralists soon won the day for good. Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay were surely smiling.
The government’s role in the economy came in the form of aggressive trade policy, internal improvements (with land grants to cronies), and more. The trade wars preceding and associated with the War of 1812 convinced most Americans that government was indispensable to making the United States a global commercial power. Free trade did not mean the laissez faire of Richard Cobden but rather a comprehensive government effort to open — by force if necessary — foreign markets to American merchants. In short order the objective changed from open markets and reciprocity to neomercantilism. Privileges for well-connected business interests were present all along the way. (Grover Cleveland complained about this in 1888.)
I am not saying that if early Americans could have been seen today’s America, they would have been pleased. Some clearly would not have been. I am saying that what they favored — national and commercial greatness — prepared the way for what America has become — whether or they would have favored it. If you will the end, you will the means. You cannot build a continental empire and a worldwide political and military presence without planting the seeds of powerful government at home, a national-security state, and all that they require, including income taxation, regulation, central banking, and a welfare state to ameliorate the worst hardships of the system’s victims, if only to tamp down radical resistance.
If libertarians mischaracterize this history, they discredit the case for liberty not only by appearing uninformed, but also by associating the freedom philosophy with a story that is more corporatist and imperialist than libertarian. As I’ve said before, the good old days lie ahead.
Primeiramente, peço desculpas a quem apoia o C4SS pelo atraso no meu relatório da coordenação de mídias em português. Os últimos dois meses foram um tanto caóticos (por conta de minhas obrigações acadêmicas), mas a partir de agora devemos continuar nossas operações normais.
Em fevereiro e março, publicamos 16 artigos. Foram 10208 envios jornais e sites e 49 republicações.
Surpreendentemente, as curtidas em nossa página do Facebook caíram no último mês. Em fevereiro, já passavam das 4010. Caímos a 3970, mas estamos, agora, em 4001. A explicação para isso foi que o Facebook passou a excluir perfis falsos ou inativos. A maior parte desses perfis são feitos para produzir likes no maior número de páginas possível e não são pessoas reais que interagem com nosso conteúdo. Dado que os posts aparecem apenas para uma fração das pessoas que curtem nossa página, essa medida garante que a interação com nossos posts aumente, já que eles devem aparecer para pessoas que de fato demandam nosso conteúdo.
Como sempre, nós pedimos a sua doação. É ela que mantém o nosso centro em funcionamento!
No decorrer dos próximos meses, nós disponibilizaremos pagamentos em real no PagSeguro e no PayPal, para facilitar suas doações — principalmente para quem deseja contribuir mensalmente.
Coordenador de mídias
Centro por uma Sociedade Sem Estado
Portuguese Media Coordinator Update: February-March 2015
First of all, I would like to apologize for putting the Portuguese Media Coordinator Report up so late. The last two months were quite hectic for me (due to my academic duties), but everything should be smoother from now on.
In February and March, we published 16 articles in Portuguese. There were 10208 submissions and 49 pickups.
Surprisingly, our Facebook page likes dropped last month. In February there were already over 4010. We fell to 3970 but we’re now again at 4001. The explanation for this is that Facebook has been cleaning up fake or inactive profiles. Most of these profiles are like farming and not interacting with our content at all. Since our posts only appear on a few of our followers’ timelines, this measure should actually help us get more engagement our of our content, ensuring they are being fed to people who demand C4SS.
As always, we ask you to donate. It’s your donation that allows us to keep fighting the good fight!
Center for a Stateless Society
Essentially, the tragedy of past revolutions has been that, sooner or later, their doors closed, “at ten in the evening.” The most critical function of modern technology must be to keep the doors of the revolution open forever! –Murray Bookchin
Part of the dissolutionary strategy advocated by C4SS is called Open Source Insurgency or embracing institutional, organizational or technological innovations — low-tech or high-tech — that render centralized or authoritarian governance impossible (or so damn costly as to be regarded as impossible). One of these innovations is Tor. And, so, C4SS maintains an always-on Tor Node. But we need your help.
C4SS has maintained a Tor relay node for over three years. This is our second quarter fundraiser for the project. Every contribution will help us maintain this node until July 2015. Every contribution above our needed amount will be earmarked for our second quarter fundraiser.
We encourage everyone to consider operating a Tor relay node yourself. If this, for whatever reason, is not an option, you can still support the Tor project and online anonymity with a $5 donation to the C4SS Tor relay node.
C4SS maintains a Tor relay node with a freedom friendly data center in the Netherlands. The relay is part of a global network dedicated to the idea that a free society requires freedom of information. Since June 2011 C4SS has continuously added nearly 10 Mbps of bandwidth to the network (statistics). Although we can’t know, by design, what passes through the relay, it’s entirely likely that it has facilitated communications by revolutionaries, agorists, whistleblowers, journalists working under censorious regimes and many more striving to advance the cause of liberty and the dissolution of authority.
If you believe, as we do, that Tor is one of the technologies that makes both state and corporate oppression not only obsolete, but impossible, please consider operating as a Tor relay or donating to support the C4SS node.
The State is damage, we will find a route around!
- Internet Security Is Our Responsibility
- Tor: The Onion Router
- Tor Is For Everyone: Why You Should Use Tor
- 7 Things You Should Know About Tor
- Using PGP Encryption To Communicate Privately
- Keeping Your Cryptocurrency Safe
- Dark Wallet: New Weapons for Old Wars
If you are interested in learning more about Tor and how to become a relay node yourself, then check out our write up on the project: Stateless Tor.
Bitcoin is also welcome:
To get a sense of how badly the regime in Iran wants sanctions relief for the Iranian people, you have to do more than contemplate the major concessions it has made in negotiations with the United States and the rest of the P5+1. Not only is Iran willing to dismantle a major part of its peaceful civilian nuclear program, to submit to the most intrusive inspects, to redesign a reactor, to eliminate two-thirds of its centrifuges, to get rid of much of its enriched uranium, and to limit nuclear research — it must do all this while being harangued by the nuclear monopolist of the Middle East — Israel — which remains, unlike Iran, a nonsigner of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and faces no inspections or limits on its production of nuclear weapons.
This is something out of Alice in Wonderland. The Islamic Republic of Iran, born in 1979, has not attacked another country. (With U.S. help, Iraq attacked Iran in 1980.) In contrast, Israel has attacked its Arab neighbors several times its founding, including two devastating invasions and a long occupation of Lebanon, not to mention repeated onslaughts in the Gaza Strip and the military occupation of the West Bank. Israel has also repeatedly threatened war against Iran and engaged in covert and proxy warfare, including the assassination of scientists. Even with Iran progressing toward a nuclear agreement, Israel (like the United States) continues to threaten Iran.
Yet Iran is universally cast as the villain (with scant evidence) and Israel the vulnerable victim.
You’d never know that Iran favors turning the Middle East into a weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone (a nuclear-weapons-free zone was first proposed by the U.S.-allied shah of Iran and Egypt in 1974), and beyond that, Iran over a decade ago offered a “grand bargain” that contained provisions to reassure the world about its nuclear program and an offer to recognize Israel, specifically, acceptance of the Arab League’s 2002 peace initiative. The George W. Bush administration rebuffed Iran.
At the last NPT review conference in 2010, Iran renewed its support for the zone, the BBC reported at the time: “Tehran supports the ‘immediate and unconditional’ implementation of the 1995 resolution [to create the zone], declares the [then] president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.”
The United States and Israel claim in principle to support having the Middle East free of nuclear weapons — but not just yet. The Israeli government said in 2010 that implementation of the principle could occur “only after peace agreements with all the countries in the region.” ABC News quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that Israel might sign the NPT “if the Middle East one day advances to a messianic age where the lion lies down with the lambs.”
That is classic Netanyahu demagoguery. As noted, the Arab League in 2002 — and again in 2007 — offered to recognize Israel if it accepted a Palestinian state in the occupied territories and arrived at a “just solution to the Palestinian Refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” At that point the Arab countries would “consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region”; i.e., they would “establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.”
Thus Netanyahu’s position is a sham. He could have peace treaties in short order if he wanted to. But, as he said before the recent elections, he will never allow the Palestinians to have their own country.
For its part, the United States “broadly agrees with Israel that conditions for a nuclear-weapons-free-zone do not yet exist in the Middle East,” the BBC reported. In other words, the Obama administration slavishly takes the Israel-AIPAC line.
While politicians and pundits lose sleep over an Iranian nuclear-weapons program that does not exist — are they having nightmares of the United States being deterred by Iran? — they support Israel, the nuclear power that brutalizes a captive population, attacks its neighbors, threatens war against Iran, and refuses to talk peace with willing partners.
Welcome to Missing Comma, the new, official C4SS Media Coordinator blog.
Thomas Knapp stepped down as Media Coordinator for the Center for a Stateless Society last week, leaving the job to me. He has been a force to be reckoned with here for the past five years, and his work has taken the Center from a tiny blog in an even tinier corner of the Internet to an outlet that regularly gets published by newspapers and websites around the world. Tom laid the groundwork for a lot of what we’re able to do at the Center, and without him, we likely wouldn’t be where we are today.
I worked with Tom for about three weeks before the end of March, getting ready to take over from where he left off. While no transition is ever perfectly clean, Tom has made sure that this one has been as close to perfection as he could get it. I’m eager to really start getting a good work-flow going and hopefully improving upon the work Tom did.
Ideally, I’d like to begin leaving weekly updates here. These updates will include a rough total of submissions for the week, an equally rough number of pickups and mentions, and a digest of the various works our writers have published since the last update. At the end of each month, I will still be publishing a Media Coordinator Update that includes cleaned up submissions totals and a solid accounting of how and where C4SS appeared in the world at large.
But that’s not all I’d like to do with this space. Missing Comma was originally set up as a sort of unofficial public editor blog for the Center; now that I’m Media Coordinator, I’m hoping to transition it into the actual public editor blog here. If I’m able to do so, this blog will not only become the public-facing place for weekly publishing updates, with luck – and your participation – it will become a conversation hub where C4SS Fellows and readers alike can discuss the impact our writing has – or should have – on the world.
Ethics in journalism in general is still a major focus for me and for this blog, and it’s something I’m still very much interested in covering in this space. As I ease into the role of Media Coordinator, I will be returning to a regular blogging schedule that includes articles on major journalism-related issues of the day. In fact, I’m busy writing one such article now.
As always, the reason we’re here is because of your support. You, the reader, keep us going; I and the rest of the Center for a Stateless Society thank you for what you’ve helped us accomplish over the past five years. With any luck, we’ll be able to keep the momentum going and take the next five years by storm.
Center for a Stateless Society
Last week I set out Auburn University philosopher Roderick Long’s argument that libertarianism can’t be reasonably dismissed as strange. (A modest objective, to be sure.) After all, Long writes, mainstream libertarianism holds that each individual has a right not to be aggressed against, aggression being defined descriptively (not normatively) as the initiation of physical force. What’s weird about that? To those who object that libertarians believe in only that right and no others, Long responds that other alleged rights, say, positive welfare rights, would have to conflict with the right not to be aggressed against, making for an incoherent theory. As I summed up the argument:
If people had rights in addition to the right to be free from aggression, that would indicate that they had enforceable claims against others whose alleged rights violation did not entail the use of aggressive force. (If it did entail the use of aggressive force, we would … not be talking about an additional right.) That would in turn indicate that the one whose alleged other right is violated could legitimately use force to compel others to act in a certain way. (Remember, that’s an important part of what it means to have a right.) But since by stipulation those others had not used aggressive force, the force used against them in defense of the alleged other right would itself entail aggression.
In other words, Smith’s right to be free from aggression would clash with Jones’s proposed other right. That is incoherent, unless we dump the right not to be aggressed against — which would open up a horrendous can of worms.
But that was only one half of Long’s paper. It’s worthwhile to look at the second half.
Long begins by addressing a claim that critics of the libertarian theory of property rights often make, namely, that using a resource in someone else’s possession without consent does not constitute aggression:
Libertarians, notoriously, condemn as unrightful any interference with private property. But how is this connected with the libertarian position on aggression? After all, someone could acknowledge a right to be free from initiatory force, but deny that seizing someone’s external possessions counts as initiatory force, or indeed as force at all.
(Matt Bruenig makes this objection to libertarianism, to which I respond here.)
This is an important matter for libertarians, as Long explains: “Since libertarians accept the Positive Thesis” that human beings have only the right not to be aggressed against, “they can acknowledge a right to control external resources only insofar as interference with such control would constitute initiatory force.”
But how can interference count as initiatory force when perhaps no force at all is used? If I see your bicycle leaning up against the fence at your home and use it, without asking, to run errands, how can it be said that I have initiated force against you? I don’t seem to have used force at all.
To see why libertarians reasonably interpret this as aggression, Long asks us to
Imagine a world in which people freely expropriate other people’s possessions; nobody initiates force directly against another person’s body, but subject to that constraint, people regularly grab any external resource they can get their hands on, regardless of who has made or been using the resource. Any conception of aggression according to which the world so described is free of aggression is not a plausible one.
In a note Long embraces “a broadly Lockean account in which a person’s right to exclusive control over her possessions is seen as closely analogous to her right to exclusive control over the molecules currently composing her body.” But he hastens to add that “I do not take my present argument to depend on the correctness of this account, since at the moment my thesis is not that the libertarian view of property is true, but rather that it is, while the welfare-statist view is not, intelligible as an application of the Positive Thesis,” that is, that persons have a right not to be aggressed against.
Thus, Long continues, some uses of external possessions would have to count as aggression, and stopping such uses would therefore not count as aggression; in fact it would be permissible under the libertarian theory of rights, since rights entail the permissibility of using force against violators. “In short,” Long writes, “we are committed to a system of property rights – that is, a set of principles determining when one may, and when one may not, interfere with a person’s control over some external resource.”
As already indicated, Long’s purpose is not to show that libertarian rights theory is “decisively superior” to a theory of welfare rights, but only that welfare-rights theory has serious problems not found in the libertarian theory.
We must back up a step. Long notes that welfare statists are not committed to rejecting property rights. Rather, the welfare statist believes that when government transfers resources from one person to another, it is simply recognizing and enforcing the recipient’s (alleged) rightful property claim to those resources. That is, the welfare statist “is asserting a right, on the part of one group, to exercise control over certain resources that have heretofore been under the control of another group. Hence the libertarian and the welfare-statist disagree, not about the existence of property rights, but about the transfer conditions of those rights.”
Indeed. Libertarians hold that resources may be transferred only by consent. But, Long notes, “for the welfare-statist, such a transfer of property rights can be triggered not only by mutual consent, but also by, e.g., Y’s need, regardless of X’s consent.”
The question is whether the welfare-statist approach has serious flaws that the libertarian theory escapes.
Keep in mind that mainstream libertarian property-rights theory gets off the ground with the Lockean labor-theory of just initial appropriation. This then leads to what Long calls “justice in transfer (mutual consent), and justice in rectification (say, restitution plus damages).” He continues:
I count as initiating force against a person if I seize an external resource that she is entitled to by the application of those three principles. If she is not entitled to the resource under these principles, but is in possession of the resource anyway, then my seizing the resource counts as force, but not as initiatory force, so long as I am acting on behalf of whichever person is entitled to the resource; otherwise I am initiating force against that person.
For Long, “this is at least a possible and coherently intelligible way of instantiating that right” to be free from aggression — which is more than can be said for the welfare statist’s theory of rights. I refer you to Long’s paper for the details. Suffice it to say here that problems abound with a theory which holds that a person can be transformed from a legitimate holder of a resource to an aggressor with respect to that resource without having done anything at all.
Moreover, the welfare statist doesn’t say that individuals in need have a right to appropriate resources directly. Only the government has that right.
But now it is the government’s right to control … resources that stands in need of justification. Since governments, on any liberal view, are not mystical bodies of social union but are simply collections of individuals, on an equal moral footing with the individuals they govern, a government can have no rights in excess of the sum of the rights of the individuals composing it.
Thus “the libertarian’s ethical and political commitments should now be, if not compelling, then at least comprehensible” — which is what Long sought to accomplish with his paper.
American politicians frequently declare that the government’s first duty is to protect us from foreign threats. If that’s so, why have they embroiled us in the Middle East?
Instead of keeping us safe, they seem to strive to put us in harm’s way by provoking one side or the other in sectarian, ethnic, tribal, and political conflicts. With one glaring exception — Israel versus Palestine — the U.S. government has been on almost every side of these complicated conflicts at one time or another, depending on the geostrategic context.
Considering that record, maybe we should reassess this thing called government. Perhaps if we didn’t have it, we wouldn’t need it.
Following his predecessors, Barack Obama today has us ear-deep in the old conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as in the overlapping political friction between Arabs and Iranians (Persians) for regional dominance. What makes this all the more bewildering is that the Obama administration isn’t firmly on one side or the other. In Syria it is officially against Shiite Iran’s ally President Bashar al-Assad, a position that objectively helps Sunni ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate, which also oppose Assad. But in neighboring Iraq, Obama is de facto allied with Iran and its Shiite ally-regime in Baghdad against ISIS. (George W. Bush’s overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein guaranteed that Iraq and Iran would be allies.)
The latest wrinkle is now occurring in Yemen, a country long plagued by sectarian, tribal, and political turmoil. The United States has aggravated the conflicts through drone warfare, by engineering the replacement of one leader with another, and by its intervention and distribution of arms throughout the region. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula did not exist before the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The Houthis, who practice a form of Islam, Zaidi, that in some ways resembles Shiism and in other ways Sunnism, have taken control of parts of Yemen. But how is that a threat to us? These opponents of al-Qaeda are said to be backed by Iran, though this is undoubtedly an exaggeration, if not a fabrication, because the dispute appears to be internal. Nevertheless, for the ruling elites in the United States, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, Iran is the bogeyman, so it’s threatening everywhere. Patrick Cockburn, a reporter familiar with the region, warns that U.S. backing of Sunni Arab intervention in Yemen could produce a self-fulfilling prophecy by driving the Houthis firmly into the Iranian and Shiite camps.
The question is: why must Americans be embroiled in this civil war, as well as the wars in Syria, Iraq, and Libya? If Iran and Saudi Arabia want to contend with each other for dominance in the Muslim world, what business is that of ours? All we can do is worsen the violence. No wonder so many people wish us ill.
Some might reply that neglecting the region would create breeding grounds for terrorism. But it’s intervention that breeds hatred of and possibly violence against Americans. Oil isn’t a good answer either. Whoever controls the oil will sell it — if not to Americans, then to others who will then sell it to Americans in the global market. When you factor in the high cost of the American military, oil isn’t so cheap.
And while we’re questioning the sense of putting Americans in the middle of foreign conflicts, let’s not forget U.S. policy toward Israel. Israel was founded mostly on land seized illegitimately from Palestinian Arabs — Muslim and Christian — and its occupation of additional Palestinian territory is now almost 50 years old. Whether American politicians have had self-serving or humanitarian motives, their policy, pushed by Israel’s Jewish American lobby, has underwritten brutal injustice.
Thus U.S. intervention in the Middle East has made enemies for the American people, putting them at risk unnecessarily. This was blindingly clear on 9/11, the perpetrators of which cited America’s alliance with Israel against the Palestinians among their grievances. Today we live with the threat (however exaggerated) that terrorism could again come to United States. This is a direct outcome of the American presence in a range of conflicts.
For this we may thank the largely unaccountable people who make foreign policy. We’d be safer without them.
In a book review of Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual (which I confess I haven’t read), Roger McKinney — evidently following Siedentop — trots out the hackneyed claim that individualism is a product solely of the West, and specifically of the post-pagan West.
In response to the first claim, I’ll simply point to the many anticipations of libertarian ideas that are to be found in ancient China, particularly among the early Confucians. Ideas of liberty, equality, universal justice, and the value of commercial activity — all of which McKinney rightly associates with individualism — can also be found in ancient India and the medieval Islamic world.
But for present purposes I want to focus on what McKinney says about ancient Greece and Rome. To deny the Greeks and Romans a conception of individualism seems startling, since many of the most individualistic features of modern law have their roots in Greco-Roman traditions, and because most Greek and Roman philosophers made the pursuit of one’s own happiness and self-realisation the core of their ethical outlook. (Of course Greco-Roman individualism was not atomistic or antisocial; but that’s surely a feature, not a bug.) So what does McKinney have in mind?
To start with, he writes:
[In Morocco] cheating others is not considered unethical at all but a sign of an astute businessman. … Moroccan business ethics might be appalling to westerners, but ancient Greeks and Romans would have understood and applauded them ….
I’m not sure how appalling such conduct is to my business ethics students, many of whom readily agree with Albert Carr’s defense of relaxed ethical standards for business life as opposed to family life. In any case, the applause from ancient Greeks and Romans would hardly have been universal. One of Rome’s leading thinkers, Marcus Tullius Cicero, wrote a whole book, De Officiis (usually translated either asOn Offices or as On Duties), which is essentially a treatise on business ethics. In it he records some of the leading debates among Greek and Roman thinkers as to what sort of conduct is and is not permissible in commercial transactions. While a variety of views are canvassed, none of them fits McKinney’s description; and Cicero himself insists firmly that justice and fair dealing are owed to all human beings. (Cicero also argues in the same work that each of us has a responsibility to fulfill the demands not just of universal human nature but of our individualised nature, which certainly seems like a kind of individualism.)
Like Moroccans, ancient Greeks and Romans cared little for non-family members. Those “… outside the family circle were not deemed to share any attributes with those within. No common humanity was acknowledged, an attitude confirmed by the practice of enslavement.”
The attitude described here certainly existed (and continues to exist today; indeed it fairly describes u.s. foreign policy), but the suggestion that this view was all-pervasive and unchallenged in Greco-Roman antiquity is a mistake. The Cynics and Stoics defended a vision of all humanity as a single community, a cosmopolis; and even the less cosmopolitan Aristotle, who defended slavery on the basis of bullshit theories of racial inferiority, insisted that foreign races that were not inferior (and he granted that there were some) could not justly be conquered or enslaved. On this basis Aristotle condemned societies with aggressive foreign policies. Aristotle also insisted (NE 1108a9-28, 1126b19-1127a2, 1155a16-31) that we have duties of friendship toward strangers and foreigners. The legitimacy of slavery was also challenged by thinkers from Alkidamas to Zeno of Citium.
For the ancient Romans and Greeks society consisted of a collection of extended families. The heads of the families, including family-based clans and tribes, held all the power and made all of the decisions. Only the heads of families could become citizens in the polis.
Sure, for the most part – though again hardly confined to antiquity, since even the supposedly egalitarian John Rawls in the first version of his 1971 Theory of Justice had “heads of families” as the contracting parties behind the Veil of Ignorance. But likewise again, this perspective was not exactly unchallenged; Plato famously advocated an independent political role for women in his Republic, as well as the abolition of the family; and similar views were defended by the Cynics and early Stoics (and arguably Xenophon to some extent).
Antiquity had no notion of the powers of the government being limited by the rights of individuals, even for family heads.
The entire Athenian legal system was a vast contrivance to limit governmental power. Ancient constitutional thought focused heavily on the idea of structuring the balance of power between different classes so as to prevent any one class from being in a position to impose injustice unchecked on another. And the idea that individuals have claims of justice that states are bound to respect was defended by nearly every ancient political theorist, including Aristotle and Cicero. (For Aristotle, see Fred Miller’s book Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics; for Cicero, see his discussion of natural law in De Republica and De Legibus.)
Consider also Pericles’ funeral oration, as recorded or invented (or some of each) by Thucydides, in which tolerance and respect for individual choice are lauded: “in our private business we are not suspicious of one another, nor angry with our neighbor if he does what he likes.” Of course Athens did not live up consistently to this ideal (nor do modern so-called liberal societies live up to it today), but the ideal was clearly recognised and formulated.
The ancients had no concept of the equality of man, either. Even for Plato and Aristotle, a natural hierarchy of humanity existed, much like the caste system of India. Some were born to rule, others to serve or fight.
Certainly Plato and Aristotle believed in political hierarchies based on allegedly natural inequalities. But they were not the only political thinkers of Greco-Roman antiquity. The Cynics and early Stoics (such as Zeno of Citium) defended a vision of society in which all hierarchical distinctions of rulers and subjects, masters and slaves, males and females would be abolished. Some Epicureans (like Diogenes of Oenoanda) held similar views. (And turning our gaze momentarily eastward: the caste system in India had its early critics as well, notably among Buddhists.)
Politics and war became the noblest occupations while commerce was held in contempt.
Held in contempt by whom? Successful merchants enjoyed enormous social prestige in Greece and Rome; and Hesiod’s praise of industry and commercial competition is justly famous. As for the philosophers, Plato and Aristotle did disparage commerce (though Aristotle disparaged warfare as well – as did the Epicureans), but again, they were not the only philosophers in classical antiquity. The Stoics in particular were vigorous defenders of commerce, as was Xenophon; and then of course there’s Cicero, whose book on business ethics I’ve previously mentioned. I challenge anyone to read Cicero and come away with an impression of a thinker who is valorising warfare and downgrading commerce. Individualism may not have reigned supreme in antiquity (nor does it today), but its basic concepts were formulated and defended by a good many influential thinkers.
For more on classical Greek and Roman individualism, see my various discussions here.
Dear C4SS supporters,
Welcome to my final media coordinator report. Not THE last media coordinator report, just MY last media coordinator report. After not quite five years in this position, I’ve decided it’s time to move on (amicably — I remain a senior fellow at the Center and an advisor at our parent organization, the Molinari Institute). It’s been a pleasure working with all of my comrades at the Center and for all of you who support our efforts. Thank you for a wonderful and rewarding experience!
And, of course, congratulations to my successor in the position, Trevor Hultner, who has spent most of this last month getting up to speed on the various tasks involved. When the C4SS phone rings now, it’s Trevor who answers it. He’s been handling final editing/proofing of our op-eds for a couple of weeks and took over submissions yesterday. I know you’ll treat him as well as you’ve treated me.
Because of the overlap involved in a change of this kind, and because I messed up a text file I’ve maintained, this month’s figures are a little fragmented.
For example, I know that I’ve made 35,529 submissions of Center op-eds to 2,578 publications worldwide this month — but that figure is low because Trevor has made and/or will today make, several thousand more. The real total for March will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 submissions.
I also know that I identified and logged AT LEAST 50 pickups of C4SS material and three mentions/quotes/cites of C4SS material this month.
I can’t blame Trevor or the changeover for the vagueness of that number. I apparently forgot to hit “save” the other day on the text file I use as a counting tool. I know this because the three mentions/quotes/cites I found aren’t there, even though I typed them in. There may be some missing pickups as well, but 50 is the number showing and the number I’m certain of.
The reason I have always kept a running log of pickups/mentions is that tracking this stuff is a sort of “rolling” thing. A piece that gets published and submitted on February 25th might well not be picked up until February 28th and might not show up in the search engines and get noticed and logged into the press room page by me or my successor until March 8th. So I can’t just go back to the press room and grab a number for a given month. The pickups are all logged there with publication date, not the date they were found. Sorry about that.
Anyway — around 40k submissions this month, and more than 50 pickups/mentions this month. Not bad! As always, I hope and expect that number to increase over time … but as of the moment I hit “publish” on this report, that’s out of my hands and in the (capable) hands of others. Once again, it has been a privilege to work with and for all of you.
Yours in liberty,
Center for a Stateless Society
Call for Abstracts
for the Molinari Society’s next Eastern Symposium, to be held in conjunction with the American Philosophical Association Eastern Division meeting, January 6-9, 2016, in Washington DC. (Note that this meeting is the week after New Year’s, rather than, as in past years, just before New Year’s. This later time is expected to be the new normal for the Eastern APA henceforth.)
Police Abuse: Solutions Beyond the State
18 May 2015
Abuses of power by police officers, especially abuses motivated by racial bias, are at last beginning to receive increased public scrutiny. Anarchists have long regarded police misconduct as a deep-rooted and systemic problem, one requiring radical rather than reformist solutions, but have not always agreed about what a radical solution should look like. Some anarchists have advocated a system of private security firms held in check by market competition; others have looked to volunteer and mutual-aid watch groups responsible to the communities they patrol; still others have rejected both models as insufficiently different from the government police system they’re supposed to replace.
Would/should there be police, or something like police, in an anarchist society? If so, how might they be restrained from abuses? If not, what institutions or practices might secure protection from invasive behaviour instead?
Abstracts should be submitted for the 2016 Eastern Symposium by 18 May, 2015. Submissions from any point of view (anarchist or otherwise) are welcome. Please submit an abstract only if you expect to be able to present the paper in person at the Symposium. (Final papers should be of appropriate scope and length to be presented within 15-30 minutes.) Submitting authors will be notified of the acceptance or rejection of their papers by 31 May, 2015.
Submit abstracts as e-mail attachments, in Word .doc or .docx format, PDF, or ODT, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For any questions or information, contact Roderick T. Long at the above email address.
(In other news, the Molinari Symposium originally scheduled for this year’s Pacific APA in Vancouver has been postponed to next year in San Francisco; details to follow in due course.)