To-day in Anarchist history: The pacifist-Anarchist Gustav Landauer was martyred 90 years ago today, on 2 May 1919, when he was imprisoned and then stoned to death by soldiers sent on the orders of state socialist politician Gustav Noske, to crush the independent Bavarian worker’s councils and force the Bavarian Free State back under the political control of
One can throw away a chair or destroy a pane of glass; but those are idle talkers and credulous idolators of words who regard the state as such a thing or a fetish that one can smash in order to destroy it. The state is a condition, a certain relationship among human beings, a mode of behavior between human beings; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another…. We are the state, and we shall continue to be the state until we have created institutions that form a real community and society of people.
—Gustav Landauer, Schwache Stattsminner, Schwacheres Volk, in Der Sozialist (June, 1910).
To-day in Right to Keep and Bear Arms history: On May 2, 1967, 42 years ago today, the California State Assembly debated the Mulford Act, a bill to ban the open carrying of firearms. In response (since the bill was largely targeted at criminalizing their practice of openly carrying while on cop-watching patrols), the Black Panther Party staged a march to the state capital and walked onto the Assembly floor openly carrying rifles, shotguns, and holstered handguns. (The weapons were unloaded and were kept pointed either at the ceiling or at the floor.) Bobby Seale then read a declaration written by Huey Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, urging that
The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls upon the American people in general and the black people in particular to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which is now considering legislation aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder, and repression of black people.After they left the capitol building and began to head home, they were surrounded by a battalion of cops and arrested en masse for
conspiracy to disrupt a legislative session.
anti-gun-controlconservative politician-saint Ronald Wilson Reagan was governor of California at the time all of this went down. When the Panthers showed up, Reagan ran and hid inside the capitol building. Shortly thereafter, he showed his commitment to the right to keep and bear arms by signing the Mulford Act after the state legislature passed the bill.
traditional marriage, women’s property rights, and conservative mythistory-as-justification: killjoy, wreckage found floating (2009-04-19): daily dose of stoopid
On bottom-line principles for a constructive secessionism: Carol Moore, Vermont Commons (2009-04-16): SECEDE & SURVIVE: Prepare to be Overwhelmed by Secession
On Leftist anti-statism and the class structure of the State: Chris Dillow, Stumbling and Mumbling (2009-04-17): Shrink the State: A Leftist Aim
On assumed audiences and gender politics in FLOSS and web development: Shelley Powers, Bb RealTech (2009-04-29): Open Arms
On the literacy monopolists and popular writing tools: BLDGBLOG (2009-04-22): How the Other Half Writes: In Defense of Twitter
On Enron, corporate privateers and
deregulatoryrhetoric: Jesse Walker, Hit & Run (2009-04-03): The Smartest Guys in the Tomb. Jesse mentions along the way:
Leftists and liberals have a word for polluters who pose as careful environmental stewards: greenwashing. We need a similar word for times when the eager beneficiaries of the corporate state pose as free-market entrepreneurs. A word, that is, for propaganda like the Enron ad.
Of course, I’ve promoted the use of the word privateering for something that’s roughly in the neighborhood, but
privateeringis really suited to a different purpose (it has to do with a critique of phony
privatization, which is often bundled with, but not identical to, phony
deregulation; and it focuses on the phenomenon, not the use of rhetoric around it). So, what’s your best suggestion for a left-libertarian counterpart to
greenwashing,when state capitalist firms pose as free-market entrepreneurs?
My own best effort, to date, is
gold-plating.Thoughts? Comment away.
Here’s a short bit from
Against All Flags a generally excellent
Nervous Interview sort of article by Jesse Walker, on piracy, international government-to-government aid, imperial
failed state policy, and anarchy in Somalia.
But when the troops pulled out, didn’t everything go to pot?
You’ve got it backwards. The U.S./U.N. intervention made things worse: It undercut local farmers by dumping free food into circulation, herded self-reliant nomads into disease-ridden refugee camps, and disarmed civilians while leaving the warlords’ stockpiles largely untouched. At every point during the country’s crisis in the early to mid 1990s, the most constructive responses came from the Somalis themselves. (The local Red Crescent Society was responsible for more successful relief than all the foreign efforts combined.) When the outsiders left, the peacemaking elements of Somali society were able to reassert themselves, with elders arbitrating truces between the clans and entrepreneurs establishing a growing economy.
Wait. Back up. America aided the warlords?
Yes. The Bush administration worried that jihadists were seeking shelter in Somalia, so it allied itself with secular Somalis, who styled themselves the “Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-Terrorism.” They included some of the very same figures the U.S. had battled in the early ’90s.
How did that work out?
The warlords used the aid to pursue their own agendas, and the fighting ramped back up. The chaos pushed ordinary Somalis into the arms of the Islamic Courts Union, a confederation of sharia-based arbitrators that gradually took over roughly half the country, including the nominal capital, Mogadishu.
Displeased with this result, Washington backed an Ethiopean invasion and occupation of the country. This was supposed to establish a central government for once and for all. Instead it was a gory failure whose chief effect was to rip apart civil society and turn the country into a violent free-for-all. As Human Rights Watch reported in 2008, “the last two years are not just another typical chapter in Somalia’s troubled history. The human rights and humanitarian catastrophe facing Somalia today threatens the lives and livelihoods of millions of Somalis on a scale not witnessed since the early 1990s.” [Ed.: That is, not witnessed since the last time people were pushing hard to get a government established in Somalia. —R.G.]
One effect was to push more people into desperate and risky ways of making a living. Such as piracy.
Let me get this straight. To combat communism in east Africa, the United States propped up a Marxist dictator. After sending troops to battle the warlords, it intervened again to assist the warlords. It did this about-face to stanch the growth of Islamism, but the effect was to put an Islamist group in charge of the country. And after Washington backed an invasion and occupation of the nation to end the Islamic Courts Union’s control, the result was a government run by a former commander of the Islamic Courts Union?
You can see why I’m skeptical about a war on the pirates. It’ll probably end with Obama dedicating a 60-foot statue of Blackbeard in the middle of Mogadishu.
One of the things about studying philosophy is that it dramatically alters the way you listen to people talk. If you’re doing it right, the kind of
little words and phrases that most people would scan over without consciously noticing them suddenly become show-stoppers. For example, one of the things I usually hone in on in any conversation are the little emphatic words —
understandably, and so on — that mark out what the speaker is dialectically positioning as certain or obvious or needing no explanation. Logically, it’s important for structuring arguments. In a broader sense, you want to think about what sort of thought, and what sort of lived experience, is being confessed when a speaker marks out what they take as the given, the immediately comprehensible, the commonplace, the sure ground on which they stand.
For example, there’s something fascinating about the kind of life you glimpse when Woody Harrelson says,
With my daughter at the airport I was startled by a paparazzo, who I quite understandably mistook for a zombie.
On the social engineering of the governmentalist Left and the social engineering of the governmentalist Right
What gets people upset, and rightfully so,President Barack Obama declared last week,is executives being rewarded for failure. Especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.Pounding his fist, he announced that the flood of federal money into corporate hands would cease, effective immediately.
Ha! No, of course he didn’t say that. He announced that henceforth, when taxpayers subsidize a failing Wall Street firm, the company will have to cap the boss’s pay at $500,000 a year.
It was merely the latest effort to expand the bailouts into a behavior modification program. When Democrats proposed a subsidy package for Detroit last year, for example, the plan included another set of limits on executive pay. Not to be outdone, the Republicans countered with a requirement that union workers agree to wage cuts. But for the most part, the idea of using the taxpayers’ money as a Trojan horse for new controls has been a Democratic enthusiasm, not a Republican one.
Or at least that’s how it’s been during this crisis. In the early and mid-1990s, it was Republicans who called for social engineering via the public purse, and it was Democrats who served as inconsistent opponents. That time, the money wasn’t destined for banks and auto giants. It was earmarked for poor people, and the instructions attached to the money involved working, going to school, or taking birth control. The most extreme proposal, endorsed by James Q. Wilson, Myron Magnet, and other neoconservative social critics, would have required many welfare mothers to live in group shelters. Magnet was willing to achieve this through directly coercive means. (In his 1993 book The Dream and the Nightmare, he proposed thatif mothers refuse to enter the group homes and fail to support the children, then the state will intervene to take the children away.) But Wilson framed the proposal the same way Obama framed his Wall Street plan. Interviewed by Reason magazine in 1995, he said his systemwould be voluntary in the sense that, if you want public support, that’s the way you get it. You don’t have to go there. But you won’t get any money and you won’t get any housing units.
That suggestion never became law, but a host of milderworkfareandlearnfareproposals were enacted on the state level. And in 1996, of course, Bill Clinton signed the federal welfare reform bill, which established new work requirements for people on the dole and strengthened social workers’ surveillance of their lives.
I haven’t yet had the chance to read Michele Boldrin and David Levine’s Against Intellectual Monopoly. Ideas may not be subject to economic scarcity, but my time to enjoy them — alas — is. But it looks really promising, and exciting, judging from some of the excerpts and commentary I’ve seen about it online. I look forward to digging in soon.
In the meantime, besides tantalizing discussions, the online commentary has also offered a perfect opportunity for students of economics to witness the ridiculous sight of self-proclaimed free marketeers dragging out all the crassest sorts of corporate protectionism to apologize for actually-existing forms of economic privilege. And for students of logic to enjoy a few choice specimens of the contra-sequitur in its natural habitat.
Thus, for example, consider the reader comments on Jesse Walker’s notice of the book at Hit and Run:
Fluffy | January 16, 2009, 5:11pm | #
Fine — but without the ability to file a patent and make money off it, would James Watt have even bothered to invent the condenser that everyone else’s steam engine used?
Wah wah wah we could introduce innovations faster without patents!Maybe, but who would bother? Owner/operators only.
We already experienced a time without intellectual property. It was called the Middle Ages. And while the Middle Ages were not a completely backward time as imagined by the public and were marked by the gradual introduction of many important technological innovations in agriculture, mining, metallurgy, transport and power generation, just about all innovation came from owner/operators or their equivalent, and the pace of innovation and adoption of new technologies was brutally slow, despite the really high marginal utility that even the smallest advance brought under those conditions.
Of course, whatever you may think of the Middle Ages, some other eras without anything remotely like modern copyright or patent law have been called
Shakespearean England, and
the Scientific Revolution. But never you mind that. The important thing is this: if it weren’t for copyrights and patents, technological innovation might not be profitable for large corporations to pursue. Heaven forbid; some business might have to be carried on by somebody other than large for-profit corporations. Similarly:
Hazel Meade | January 16, 2009, 8:46pm | #
Episarch. I think the idea is more that with IP rights someone else couldn’t simply take your cold fusion device apart, figure out how it works, and start manufacturing knock-offs. Unless they altered the design in a way that improved it.
The problem is that development of new technologies often takes years of research. If others can copy your designs, it makes it unprofitable to bother.
Automobile factories take years of capital-intensive construction and immense amounts of labor. If other corporations can just push cars into the market willy-nilly, it makes it unprofitable to bother. Without a protective tariff, who in their right mind would invest in American automobiles? In a free market, who would be in charge of making all the shoes?
If there is one thing that government can and ought to do, it is to make sure that no large business ever has to fundamentally rethink their business model, ever. I mean, sure, consumers and investors may have a different idea of how much art or R&D is
enough art or R&D for them; they may decide they want to pay for other things on the margin — for example, they may want to put more efforts into derivative, marginal improvements rather than fundamental redesigns; or they may just want to spend some of that money on little fripperies, like food, clothing, or shelter. But if government isn’t there to force the prices of everything upward, then that may mean that corporate investment in some highly visible, culturally prestigious set of goods and services (like literary works, or mechanical devices, or Kenny G. albums) might possibly falter or fail when people want to pay for other, different things. Good lord, if nobody can make a profit from selling the easily-reproducible products of their creativity and thought, then thinking and creating might even be left to academics. Or to a bunch of rank amateurs.
Before I continue to the next argument, I want to mention, in all earnestness, that there is a common problem with all of these arguments. The problem is that they attempt to support intellectual enclosure on explicitly protectionistic grounds: they begin from the premise that there is some level of innovation or artistic production which, somehow or another, they presume to know perfectly well to be the
right amount. Then they offer a pseudo-economic argument intended to show that absolutely free exchanges in products that depend on intellectual discovery or creativity would fail to funnel enough money into the purses of discoverers or creators to produce the level of production that they’ve deemed the
right level. Thus, they conclude, you ought to institute government restrictions on free exchanges just in order to make sure that enough money is pried from out of buyers’ hands to encourage the level of production that the protectionists have deemed the
right one. The problem with all this is, first, that the Intellectual Protectionists are ignoring the invisible cost of this visible subsidy; whatever extra money buyers are forced at bayonet-point to spend on nifty inventions or works of art is extra money that would have gone to other productive purposes — like living our lives, or working on projects of our own, or gaining the leisure to put some of our own thought and creativity to work. Like all forms of protectionism, Intellectual Protectionism engages the force of the State in subsidizing some politically-favored goods (or, rather, politically-favored producers) at the expense of other goods or producers, which happen to be economically popular but looked down on by politicians. And this form of inequity and privilege — enforced through government coercion — is in fact utterly arbitrary — arbitrary because Intellectual Protectionists never offer any non-arbitrary basis whatever for their judgment of what the
right levels of their favored goods would be. Non-protectionists have a perfectly good standard: we figure that the right level is the level that free people would freely choose to get for themselves, if left alone to make their own decisions. But Intellectual Protectionists cannot appeal to anything of the sort, since the whole idea is to override the normal processes of free exchange. They just know, by some kind of revelation, which they more or less never spell out in any detail, that the right level is something more than that, and thus the need for a command economy, controlled by the legally-privileged copyright- or patent-holders — usually, as a matter of fact, giant, bureaucratic corporations (Apple, GE, AOL Time Warner, Pfizer, and the like) that can sustain big-time R&D departments and, just as importantly, can pay for the small army of lawyers needed to effectively manage their politically-fabricated portfolio.
I took the time out to say all that, with my face as straight as I could make it, because most of this post has involved an argument wrapped up in a lot of ridicule and facile sarcasm. But sometimes people say things that make ridicule and sarcasm simply beyond the point. Like this:
TallDave | January 16, 2009, 11:31pm | #
IP should expire (we don’t need Michael Jackson owning the Beatles’ albums 30 years late), but we need some kind of IP rights or there will be nothing but monopolies exploiting their entry barriers and stealing ideas. Yes, it’s less efficient in some ways, but that’s true of most any private property (public transportation vs. owning your own car, etc.).
Want to know what a world without IP looks like? It’s Microsoft. Wordperfect, Lotus 1-2-3, Netscape… all reverse-engineered and shoved down the OS marketing channel.
Some things you can reply to. Some things you can ridicule. Other things you can only repeat.