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Posts tagged Counter-economics

Rad Geek Speaks: Motorhome Diaries interviews me on agorism and counter-economics

It’s been a couple days since I was hepped to the fact that this video has gone online; but I’ve been delayed by travel and other considerations. Anyway, here is a video of Jason Talley’s interview with me in Las Vegas back in April, focusing on anarchism, agorism, and counter-economics. Judging from the closing title card, it looks like the MD3 have decided to break out the material from the interview on anarchism into a separate video, presumably forthcoming. But, in the meantime, this video has the segments of the interview where our discussion focuses on building the counter-economy as an alternative to electoral politics. Enjoy!

The one thing which I regret not having the time to discuss during the interview — which I would have done my best to break down, were I not already taxing Jason’s very generous allowance of time in what are typically very concise interview segments — is how my sympathies for mutualism and wildcat unionism influence my understanding of the agora, and of the sort of counter-economy that we should work to build: why, in short, I think that libertarians should be especially interested in building, so to speak, Black-and-Red markets. (Red as in workers-of-the-world-unite. Not, of course, as in Konkin’s notion of red market mafiosi.) Of course, Konkin’s original-flavor agorism is already very much in favor of the informal sector, and opposed to the state-collaborationist, state-supported corporate economy; but I think that agorists would do well to look at the kinds of counter-institutions that have historically been associated with the anti-statist and anti-authoritarian Left: fighting unions, direct action on the shopfloor, grassroots mutual aid networks, worker and consumer co-ops, neighborhood permaculture projects, community free clinics, participatory indymedia, CopWatch as a means of community self-defense, LETS trading networks, small-scale gift economies based on gleaning and homesteading (Food Not Bombs, Homes Not Jails, free stores, etc.). And so on, and so forth. To the degree that State privilege and State subsidy have artificially roided-up the rentier-centric, cash-lubricated, centralized, formalized bidniz economy, we can expect the counter-economy (which is the embryonic new society, being built within the shell of the old) to form up in opposite tendencies: egalitarian and decentalized exchange (which Konkin rightly predicted and emphasized), and also significantly more emphasis on informal connections, often based not on contracts or cash-on-the-barrelhead exchanges but rather on practicing solidarity, mutual aid, gleaning, homesteading, and other cashless forms of value-creation and social exchange (which I think Konkin underemphasized and overlooked in various ways). (I hardly expect cash, let alone simple quid-pro-quo exchange, to disappear; I’m certainly not interested in any dogmatic campaign to rub them out. But I do expect the counter-economy, and future fully-freed markets, to emphasize them much less intensely, and much less monomaniacally, than the current state-approved official economy does.) All of which underlines why I think it’s important for radical libertarians to see ourselves as part of the Left; and for that understanding to cash out in serious efforts to work together on countereconomic projects with the folks who ought to be our primary allies — that is, other anarchists — rather than working on the familiar set of conventional-delusional electoral projects together with conservatives and conventionally pro-capitalist minimal-statists, which all too many good radical libertarians have, due to a combination of cultural comfort zones, and statocentric models of political change, wasted their time and resources on in the past.

Anyway, like I said, there may be another interview segment forthcoming focusing on anarchism; if so, I’ll let you know when it drops.

Shawn Wilbur on counter-development strategery

In some neighborhoods in North Portland, where the gangs are gone and the worst of the development is not yet arrived, there are a number of attempts to organize local defense against the displacement of businesses and residents. Small, independent business and poor residents are, naturally, particularly at risk. People of color will bear a disproportionate burden as previously “bad” or transitional neighborhoods start to look good to developers. Some of the efforts are pretty obviously too little, too late. We’re talking about trying to secure property with rising values, at a time when pocketbooks are pretty bare for the at-risk segments of the population. And securing property has not necessarily been a priority among activists, many of whom have some basic issues with property in the first place. In Portland, motiveSpace, a radical architectural collective, promoting citizen-driven development, seems to be one of the more interesting voices in the conversation, with at least a general sense that this sort of civilian defense is going to require a variety of skills not necessarily found in the average radical toolbox, along with an ability and willingness to bring in some cold, hard cash to get things done. And they have been eager to reach out to other radical community groups. Only time will tell, I suppose, what can actually be accomplished, and to what extent the creation of new urban refugees can be stemmed.

Citizen-driven development–counter-development–is a skillset that counter-economic activists, of whatever particular school, are going to have to acquire, if we not simply to cede vast portions of the country to the other side. If we can’t find a way to make securing property a part of our strategy, then all our debates about the elasticity of land supply and the like will be essentially academic. Mutualist occupancy and use is precisely pie in the sky until we can secure territorial control somewhere, and any sort of homesteading is as unlikely as it is likely to be a mere stop-gap, given the dimensions of the broader housing crisis. There are probably still places where stands can be made, but we should be trying to identify them, while they remain.

— Shawn Wilbur, In the Libertarian Labyrinth (2008-11-08): Counter-development or Bust!

Read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.

See also:

Lazy Linking of the Libertarian Left

  • If you’ve decided that you’re not interested in helping limited-governmentalists make the trains run on time, one of the first replies you are always going to get from minarchists and minarcho-enablers is some snide remarks about how you must advocate doing nothing out of a prissy or sanctimonious concern for ideological purity. Of course, this reply is usually plain nonsense, since it depends on the completely unargued, and in fact easily refuted, principle that the only alternatives on the table are (1) partisan politicking in government elections, or else (2) doing nothing. Of course these are not the two options, and the only reasons that you would act as if they are is (a) if you are wearing the conceptual blinders of statist political analysis, or else (b) you don’t have a clear or concrete enough conception of what someone might put down for option (3). I tried to make my point clear about problem (a) in my follow-up post; but for a more straightforward approach to the problem, see also this great post tackling problem (b) from Francois Tremblay at Check Your Premises (2008-01-22): Eight ways you can personally help to smash the State: One of the problems with Anarchism is that, unlike other political ideologies which rely on the system, the courses of actions one can take are not obvious. People who are convinced by the arguments are discouraged by the notion that there??s nothing I can do, and new Anarchists, not seeing any way out, turn to political means as the only solution. … So what can we do to resist? Not as a movement, but personally? There are a number of things that a single individual can do that brings concrete, if small, change. Read the whole thing, and note especially numbers 5–8.

  • Thomas Knapp, a market anarchist and sometime Libertarian Party activist, who has used the freedom train metaphor often in the past (and who I quoted in Take the A-Train), has a lot of thoughtful remarks in reply to my criticism, in KN@PPSTER (2008-02-01): Train kept a-rollin’, part 1 of ???. There’s some good points here, both by way of objection and by way of agreement, which I should have linked some time ago, and which provide a lot of great discussion-fodder and deserve a reply when my brain is a bit less fried than it is right now. I’m not especially convinced by some of Knapp’s rejoinders — e.g. I think that the claim that it’s easier to get from Anarchotopia once the train has already pulled in at Minarchistan is refuted by, or at least faces an as-yet unanswered challenge from, precisely the points that I raised in my follow-up post. But while I unfry my brain enough to talk at more length, you should definitely read the whole thing.

  • Mutualists and counter-economists alike may find something of interest in Michel Bauwens’s mention of the unMoney Convergence – a conference on money, liberation and systems change, to be held in Seattle April 14–16. The convergence will discuss the emergence of alternatives to government money (community currencies, Internet currencies, open currencies, etc.); the development of open, peer-to-peer infrastructures for gifting, sharing, and exchange; and efforts to move to open money systems over the next ten years. (The convergence will no doubt include plenty of crankery and rubbish along with plenty of genuinely good discussion and perhaps even mildly thrilling developments. But that’s par for the course. Again, more stuff that I’d be interested to talk about and hash out — e.g. the tensions between genuine mutual money and community exchanges, and progressive Monopoly-money deliberately obstructing non-local use — once back in a post-brain-fried state.) Anyway, read the whole thing and follow the links.

  • Finally, for a change of speed, we have the latest Radical Healthcare Reform proposal from New York Times humor columnist Paul Krugman (2008-02-04): Clinton, Obama, Insurance, in which it is revealed that the most significant policy difference between Hillary Rodham Clinton’s scheme for massive government subsidies to third-party health insurance bureaucracies and Barack Obama’s scheme for massive government subsidies to third-party health insurance bureaucracies is that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s plan would force everybody to buy health coverage from a big corporate insurer, whether it’s in their financial best interest or not; whereas Barack Obama’s plan, although forcing everyone to subsidize other people’s use of big corporate insurers through taxes, would at least give each individual person some choice over whether or not it’s in their own best interest to buy corporate health insurance for herself. Krugman then suggests that reveals a major defect in Obama’s plan and a major virtue of Clinton’s plan. Because, apparently, the purely statistical achievement of universal coverage is an obvious good, regardless of what that coverage amounts to or what the cost of achieving it is, whereas the notion that a bug-government-mandated captive market for big, bureaucratic insurance companies might not always be the best way for each and every one of 300,000,000 very different people with very different needs to get their healthcare costs covered, is an idea that could only be advanced by the dupes or hirelings of the same insurance firms that stand to massively profit from this subsidy program (!).

    This is, apparently, what passes for Leftist economics among the professional statist-blowhard class in America. Libertarian mutualists, i.e. the genuinely Leftist alternative to the corporate liberal managerialism and progressive statism fraudulently passed off as Leftism today, know that radical healthcare reform would mean something very different — the abolition of government obstacles in healthcare and the emergence of grassroots networks and institutions for mutual aid among the working class, not a massive effort by the policy elite to universalize and ossify the existing boss-and-bureaucrat model of third-party healthcare coverage.

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