Posts tagged Kevin Carson

Direction of Fit (Progressive President Edition)

In a recent Change You Can Believe In piece, I linked to this video, tagging it with a rather bitter joke: Man, this guy sounds pretty awesome. I hope he runs for President in the next election, so we can have a chance to change this Administration’s increasingly repressive policies.

Barack Obama (2007)

Over on Twitter, Kevin Carson (@KevinCarson1) re-worked the joke into 140 characters or fewer, like this:

Charles Johnson: Vote — to replace Obama with this guy!

But of course the real bitterness of the joke comes from the fact that it is a trick. The real trick is that actually you could not possibly vote to replace President Obama with that guy. You can only vote to make that guy into President Obama. And that has made all the difference.

Toward A Really Social Safety Net

These are consolidated from a pair of comments that I made in a thread back around last November on Thaddeus Russell’s Facebook wall. The thread was originally about some silly noise that comes up about once every four years, but it branched out into some interesting discussions about the left, individualist and libertarian perspectives, and so on. My interlocutor’s questions unfortunately seem to have disappeared from the thread, and I hate leaving writing locked up in a web silo, especially in the middle of a big, gradually composting discussion thread, so I’ve tried to condense it into a post here.

I’ve often been asked — by friendly-but-skeptical leftists, and even sometimes by fellow anti-capitalist anarchists — why market libertarians — who may be opposed to the government war machine, police, prisons, and all the other obviously destructive and repressive and regressive things done by the state, for fairly obvious reasons — are also so opposed to, and so hard on, social programs, like TANF, food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, Social Security, etcetera. (The question is usually posed in terms of contrasting government programs that hurt and kill people with government programs that, at least in principle, are supposed to be helping people.) And there are different ways to think about this. To a great extent, left-wing market anarchists don’t spend a lot of time focusing on social programs, and generally insist on prioritizing the core state violence and primary interventions of war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, and bail-outs as categorically more important than, say, opposing Medicaid or complaining about government spending on food stamps. And as a matter of strategic priorities, I agree — opposing the crowbars will always be more important to my idea of liberation than imposing the crutches. But I don’t think that means that there is nothing to say about problems that are inherent to the welfare state and government social programs, or that they ought to be considered as neutral or benign. Left-wing market anarchists have important reasons to oppose them — reasons to oppose governmental social programs, not from the economic Right, but from the radical Left.

So when I am asked, what I can say is that this doesn’t have all of the reasons, but it does have some of them:

. . . The key to an understanding of relief-giving is in the functions it serves for the larger economic and political order, for relief is a secondary and supportive institution. Historical evidence suggests that relief arrangements are initiated or expanded during the occasional outbreaks of civil disorder produced by mass unemployment, and are then abolished or contracted when political stability is restored. We shall argue that expansive relief policies are designed to mute civil disorder, and restrictive ones to reinforce work norms. In other words, relief policies are cyclical—liberal or restrictive depending on the problems of regulation in the larger society with which government must contend. Since this view clearly belies the popular supposition that government social policies, including relief policies, are becoming progressively more responsible, humane, and generous, a few words about this popular supposition and its applicability to relief are in order.

There is no gainsaying that the role of government has expanded in those domestic matters called social welfare. One has only to look at the steadily increasing expenditures by local, state, and national governments for programs in housing, health care, education, and the like. . . . But most such social welfare activity has not greatly aided the poor, precisely because the poor ordinarily have little influence on government. Indeed, social welfare programs designed for other groups frequently ride roughshod over the poor, as when New Deal agricultural subsidies resulted in the displacement of great numbers of tenant farmers and sharecroppers, or when urban renewal schemes deprived blacks of their urban neighborhoods. . . . As for relief programs themselves, the historical pattern is clearly not one of progressive liberalization; it is rather a record of periodically expanding and contracting relief rolls as the system performs its two main functions: maintaining civil order and enforcing work. . . . But much more should be understood of this mechanism than merely that it reinforces work norms. It also goes far toward defining and enforcing the terms on which different classes of people are made to do different kinds of work; relief arrangements, in other words, have a great deal to do with maintaining social and economic inequities. The indignities and cruelties of the dole are no deterrent to indolence among the rich; but for the poor person, the specter of ending up on the welfare or in the poorhouse makes any job at any wage a preferable alternative. And so the issue is not the relative merit of work itself; it is rather how some people are made to do the harshest work for the least reward.

— Francis Fox Piven & Richard A. Clower (1970)
Introduction to Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare

The left-wing market anarchist addition to this leftist analysis is, first, to point out the extent to which the forms of structural poverty, deprivation, marginalization, concentrations of wealth and ultimately the desperation and civil unrest that social programs are designed to mute, are not simple or inevitable offshoots of market profit-taking, but rather themselves manufactured by the political entrenchment of capitalism and constantly reinforced and sustained through precisely the core state violence and primary interventions — the war, police, prisons, prohibitions, borders, bail-outs, military-industrial complex, monopolies, and other regressive and repressive functions of government — that we prioritize. (On which, see Markets Not Capitalism, etc.) And, second, to insist on the essential importance of positive grassroots, community-based alternatives rather than trying to save or liberalize institutionalized government programs.

Social programs administered by government are a weak and alienating substitute for the grassroots, working-class institutions of mutual aid, labor solidarity and fighting unions that they were largely designed to crowd out, replace, or domesticate. Grassroots social movements aimed to provide relief and person-to-person solidarity by creating alternative institutions that would be in the hands of workers themselves, so that they could better take control of the conditions of their own lives and labor. Government social programs have systematically aimed to monopolize the relief while abandoning any effort at worker control, instead transferring power into the hands of a politically appointed bureaucracy, and largely leaving working folks’ interests at the mercy of party politics. See, for examples, David Beito’s From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State and Paul Buhle’s Taking Care of Business, or, more recently, scott crow’s Black Flags and Windmills or Occupy Sandy, etc.

So (as a left-wing market anarchist) I am all for social programs and a social safety net — but I should like them to be really genuinely social, rather than governmental. So in my view, a libertarian view on markets needn’t, and shouldn’t, have anything to do with economic Rightism or corporate power; it can just as easily mean advocating militant industrial unions, strikes, sit-ins, Food Not Bombs, neighborhood mutual aid, lodge practice contracts, Panther breakfasts, women’s self-help clinics, Common Ground, Occupy Sandy, etc. as models of grassroots social change. And — holding that these are models that are preferable to the politically-controlled, professional-class-dominated and highly paternalistic bureaucracies — OSHA, TANF, WIC, EEOC, Medicare, PPACA, FEMA, etc. — that political progressives are too often inclined to treat as the non-negotiable defining commitments of the economic Left.

* * *

In the original conversation that inspired this note, a friendly-but-skeptical progressive said that she appreciated the focus on grassroots, community-based forms of mutual aid, labor solidarity, and participatory safety nets; but wanted to know whether government programs might have a role to play given that grassroots organizing is always going to demand a very high level of social participation, and sometimes people might be looking for institutions that can handle some problems without everyone in the community constantly having to be constantly involved in everything that anyone might need. It was a good question, and I definitely understand the desire to be able to take a step back in some cases. (It’s certainly something I’ve often felt, as I’m sure anyone who’s ever done a lot of participating in a community effort or an activist project eventually does feel.) But what I’d want to say is that the important thing about grassroots, non-governmental group is not so much the fact of constant participation (I sure hope I don’t have to do that!) as the constant possibility of participation. And the possibility of withdrawal is if anything just as important (so if the local Food Not Bombs or Common Ground clinic becomes completely dysfunctional you can always leave and start devoting your efforts to something else more worthwhile. But if a county social-services office becomes completely dysfunctional, they typically stay paid regardless, since you don’t have any way to redirect how your personal tax dollars are allocated. That’s controlled by a political process and a fairly elaborate set of rules for evaluating civil-service performance, which are an awful lot of degrees removed from the people most aware of and directly affected by the dysfunction.)

In any case, as far as participation goes, sometimes you want to take a step back and let others do a lot of the work, and of course that can happen. (The lodges had officers and divided up organizational work among the members, Panther breakfasts and FNBs and free clinics served a lot of people in the community, some of whom volunteered to help out, lots of whom didn’t, and lots of whom would spend some time on and some time off.) But all of this is an important difference from the politically controlled programs, where there’s no opportunity to step up and take a participatory role, even if you want to; where if they are seriously underserving or misserving or treating their clients in manipulative or exploitative ways, there isn’t any real remedy because they hold all the power in the relationship and the only voice you have in the proceedings, if any at all, are the incredibly attenuated processes of trying to vote in different political parties, etc.

I don’t know how much that answered the question, in the end; but I hope it at least points in a fruitful direction for thinking about what an answer would look like.

Also.

M@ Mailed Monthly (May 2011): Ideas and Letters, Natural Liberty and Artificial Scarcity

tl;dr. Two beautiful new booklets are available for ordering to-day from the ALL Distro — this month’s Market Anarchy, with an article on intellectual property and this month’s Anarchist Classic with two letters from Lysander Spooner to Congressman Thomas F. Bayard. You can get one free sample copy of either series (or both) to check out, if you’re considering a monthly subscription for individual copies or monthly packs to distribute in the radical space of your choice. Sound good? Contact me for details.

Scatter tracts, like raindrops, over the land….

— William Lloyd Garrison, The Liberator, March 1831.

To-day, I am happy to announce that earlier this week I mailed out the first orders of this month’s newest additions to the Alliance of the Libertarian Left Artwork & Agitprop Distro. Issue #19 (May 2011) of the monthly Market Anarchy Zine Series is a tract from Kevin Carson on the authoritarian nature and structural effects of so-called intellectual property rights. Issue #7 of the Anarchist Classics Zine Series is a fine little edition of a pair of letters to a Congressman — Congressman Thomas F. Bayard, the chosen recipient of two memorable letters from Lysander Spooner, Challenging His Right — and That of All the Other So-Called Senators and Representatives in Congress — to Exercise Any Legislative Power Whatever Over the People of the United States in light of natural justice, natural liberty, and the inalienable equality of every individual person.

Market Anarchy #19 (May’11). Intellectual Property is Theft!

How Copyrights & Patents Impede Competition

Kevin Carson (2009)

In Intellectual Property is Theft! Kevin Carson exposes so-called intellectual property as a law-made monopoly, upholding corporate privilege and consolidating economic control at the expense individual ownership of real, tangible property. Copyrights and patents lock in inefficient, privilege-ridden business models based on command and control, and enable corporations to capture outsize profits from the economic rent on innovations. Copying is not theft. But monopoly is.

Real, tangible property rights result from natural scarcity and follow as a matter of course from the attempt to maintain occupancy of physical property that cannot be possessed by more than one person at a time. Intellectual property, on the other hand, creates artificial scarcity that does not naturally exist and can only be enforced by invading real, tangible property and preventing the owner from using it in ways that violate the supposed intellectual property rights of others …. Intellectual property also serves as a bulwark for planned obsolecence and high-overhead production.

Corporations rely on increasingly authoritarian legislation to capture value from propriety information…. Privileged, state-connected economic interests are becoming increasingly dependent on such controls. But unfortunately for them, such controls are becoming increasingly unenforceable thanks to Bittorrent, strong encryption, and proxy servers…. This has profoundly weakened corporate hierarchies in the information and entertainment industries. In this environment, the only thing standing between the old information and media dinosaurs and their total collapse is their so-called intellectual property rights. … Without intellectual property, in any industry where the basic production equipment is widely affordable, and bottom-up networking renders management obsolete, it is likely that self-managed, cooperative production will replace the old managerial hierarchies.

$1.25 for 1; 75¢/ea in bulk.

Anarchist Classics #7 (May’11). Letters to Thomas F. Bayard

in which an Anarchist writes his Congressman, Challenging His Right — and That of All the Other So-Called Senators and Representatives in Congress — to Exercise Any Legislative Power Whatever Over the People of the United States

Lysander Spooner (1882, 1884)

Lysander Spooner’s first and second Letters to Congressman Thomas F. Bayard (D-DE) challenge all government with the standard of natural law and natural liberty. Spooner’s work was widely circulated and admired among the individualist anarchists in the late 19th and early 20th century. Later, the first letter to Bayard was widely reprinted and became incredibly influential in the intellectual revival of individualist anarchism during the 1960s. Whereas the first Letter to Bayard is one of Spooner’s best known works, the Second Letter to Bayard is a lost treasure recovered from the archives, until now very difficult to find in print. Together, they are one of Spooner’s sharpest attacks on the usurpation of legislators and the fraud of the legal Constitutions that are supposed to authorize, and yet somehow also limit, the arbitrary dominion of the State and the men who control it.

No man can delegate, or give to another, any right of arbitrary dominion over himself; for that would be giving himself away as a slave. And this no one can do. Any contract to do so is necessarily an absurd one, and has no validity. To call such a contract a Constitution, or by any other high-sounding name, does not alter its character as an absurd and void contract. No man can delegate, or give to another, any right of arbitrary dominion over a third person; for that would imply a right in the first person, not only to make the third person his slave, but also a right to dispose of him as a slave to still other persons. Any contract to do this is necessarily a criminal one and therefore invalid. To call such a contract a Constitution does not at all lessen its criminality, or add to its validity…

All this pretended delegation of legislative powr — that is, of a power, on the part of the legislators, so-called, to make any laws of their own device, distinct from the law of nature — is therefore an entire falsehood; a falsehood whose only purpose is to cover and hide a pure usurpation, by one body of men, of arbitrary dominion over other men….

$2.00 for 1; $1.50/ea in bulk.

As I’ve mentioned in past months, both the Market Anarchy Zine Series and the new Anarchist Classics Zine Series have become regular monthly publications. One issue in each series is published every month. New issues are announced during the first week of each month, and mailed out during the third week of the month. You can pre-order individual copies or contact me to sign up for a regular subscription, either for personal reading or bulk orders for distributing, tabling, or stocking local infoshops and other radical spaces. If you’re considering subscribing, you can contact me to request a free sample copy for you to check out, compliments of the Distro; then, if you like it, continue the subscription for the rest of the year at the following rates:

Market Anarchy Zine Series

Delivered each month

Individuals Bulk Distribution Packets
$1.50/issue
(= $18/year)
No. of copies ✕ 80¢/issue
(= N ✕ $9.60/year)
Anarchist Classics Zine Series

Delivered each month

Individuals Bulk Distribution Packets
$2.25/issue
(= $27/year)
No. of copies ✕ $1.25/issue
(= N ✕ $15/year)

For details on all your options (including ready-to-print electronic versions, customization with local contact information, and discounts for quarterly shipments), see Market Anarchy Mailed Monthly.

Prices include shipping & handling costs. If you decide not to continue the subscription, the sample issue is yours to keep. Intrigued? Contact me forthwith and we’ll get something worked out.

That’s all for now. Next month, you can look forward to a Market Anarchist defense of the commons, some bomb-throwing revolutionary mutualism, and (I hope?) an appearance by the ALL Distro at the Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair. Until then—read and enjoy!

See also:

Sentences I didn’t expect to read when I woke up this morning.

They include:

My alleged defects are an interest in the work of Kevin Carson and the other mutualist libertarians, and accusations that I am a national socialist.

— Sean Gabb, The Libertarian Alliance: A Plain View of What Has Happened, Free Life Commentary 203, 10th February 2011

Friday Lazy Linking