On that photo…

No, not the one of Scarlett Johansson.

First up, a warning. I have long been beaten to the post on this one. Nothing I say will be original. Most of it won’t even be clever. No matter!

This picture has been doing the rounds on various news sites, including Lew Rockwell, Pileus blog, the Mises Inst blog, and probably a lot of others, many of which I would predict have a conservative bent.

In his first post (before the 55 comment long stink started), Prof. Long argues this picture is fallacious because:

A picture like this could of course be made for libertarians too – showing libertarians with tax-funded educations walking on tax-funded streets, contacting each other via government postal monopoly, paying for their lunches with federally issued currency, etc.

Various commenters have either defended the principle behind the picture, or defended Long’s accusation of unfair practice. The main argument from the former group went along lines such as that taken by Grover Cleveland at Pileus:

But my first reaction to your [It's not mine, I merely quoted Prof Long- Mr CL.] reply was that libertarians don’t really have much of an alternative to using the post office for petty first class mail and tax-funded streets and federally-issued currency since these are government monopolies (for the most part since there are private roads in some places) and so the state crowds out or makes illegal real alternatives. On the other hand, these protestors could pretty easily avoid using corporate products without impinging on basic needs even in a modern economy (unlike in the cases Rod points to such as driving to work or using money!)

When I did click on the link, I saw that someone named Cal had basically said something similar (though I’ll admit I didn’t have time to read that whole debate) so I figured I’d quote it here: “As Plauché correctly indicated, Rod, the two are not comparable given anti-state protestors necessarily did not voluntarily purchase any of the state goods or services. Conversely, absolutely everything in the WallSt photo (other than the city road sign) was voluntarily purchased by those individuals who had many immediate alternatives to those purchases, almost always including versions of the same item not made by big evil nasty corporationy corporations . . .”

Ok, well, I’m not really on board with this line of thought. As a Left Libertarian, I sometimes make the point that the largest sectors of certain businesses benefit disproportionately from government interventions. In the case of the camera, iPod and other technical gizmos highlighted in the picture, intellectual property is no doubt a big player here. And so on and so forth, yes? Well,  although it would be quite a stretch for me to claim this makes Sony or Canon “An extension of the State” per se, (and there are those who would strawman people of my position in such a way), I do believe these quite numerous legally enforced “privileges” act to make certain sectors a de facto State enabled body. I don’t see how many would survive a transition to a “freed market”. What difference does this make? Well, it’s the “voluntary purchasing of corporate goods” argument that this effects.  Economic interaction can only be free and voluntary if all parties start from a position of equal liberty and ability to enter whatever business they chose- one in which barriers to entry are not raised above their natural points. If that were a true description of the economy, I would concede that dealing with large, State benefited business is “voluntary”.

But it isn’t a true description of the economy- big players start from a position of privilege, one which much of the “99%” can never hope to achieve. This means any claim of voluntary economic action with large companies- many of whom have monopolies over various technologies, methods of distribution largely than would normally be born by the market, and much greater bargaining power- suffers accordingly. When only a small number of companies are able to produce goods such as high tech cameras, thanks to an artificial shrinking of consumer choices thanks to State policy, it’s futile to criticize a person for buying that camera. So, I think this argument fails. Try again when we are under a genuine situation of voluntary economic exchange.

Another point: the Occupy Wall Street movements all around the US are, like the Tea party, made up of campaigners on a collection of issues, yet somehow manage to come to a reasonably identifiable and agreed upon stance. Many of these campaigners are upset not just about the large influence on government policy that big business has (who then fall for this fallacy), but are also upset on the large influence such a small number of firms have upon the economy. Corporate goods are ubiquitous. As much as there are those who would tell us we have the option of buying goods from non “corporationy corporations”, the reality is more often than not, we don’t. Much as you can’t send a letter by anything other than a State owned post service, it’s hard to survive modern day life without the influence of artificially large and powerful corporate interests. There are those who would mourn one of these two facts, yet use the other to demonstrate the benevolence or efficiency of their preferred economic system- be it the wonders of State mail services, or the wonders of Silicon valley firms. If you only believe one, but not the other, sorry buddy, you probably need to get your thinking straight.

 

The ubiquity of corporate made goods being used even in a scenario where people wish to express ill will towards the corporate producers of those goods not only fails to properly criticise those people, it actually builds upon their reasoning behind the rage. I quote one of Rad Geek’s comments from Prof Long’s blog:

You know, it strikes me that if your aim is to use visual rhetoric to lodge a criticism of the people at Occupy Wall Street, then an image whose upshot is, roughly, “the activities of giant corporations inescapably pervade absolutely every aspect of your everyday life” … may not actually be as effective a criticism as you think it is.

 

Well, yeah. If you don’t accept that logic, don’t expect sympathy when you scream bloody murder about how much is sucks there’s only one Royal Mail. The Statements “You claim to have the State, yet use roads, water supplies and Royal Mail” and “You claim to hate corporations, yet own an iPod, mass produced clothes and own a car” are on equally bad footing. Both the State and corporate interests are omnipresent in modern society. That’s not a testament to the benefits of omnipotent government or omnipotent capitalism. It’s a central part of the critique of both.

Oh, and by the way, before anyone points it out… find me a pic of tea partiers with captions on every government influenced service, and the point still stands. Both the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street movements have it right. It’s only a false dichotomy of left against right that prevents any sort of synthesis or collaboration from happening.

 

See also: The Corporate Alarm Clock, by Kevin Carson at c4ss.

Tweets of Epic Asshole-itude 3

The Triumphant Comeback edition.

I will refrain from any sort of repeated commentary on Richard Murphy, partially because a) Tim Worstall has that pretty much covered and b) I’d rather not turn into Tim Worstall. This one, however, is of particular interest to me…
Photobucket
The reason it interests me is that Dickie is taking what is, in my experience, a quite unique statement. I have never before heard an argument that even approaches the angle Murphy is taking- that the State taxes for its own sake. Or at least, I have never heard this argument as anything other than a critique of the State. In all statist ideologies I know of, the State is designed to be but an agent for the general well being of the population within its authority. It matters not if you deal with liberalism, socialism, conservatism- even fascism, in its own way, maintained this principle. The tweet that RJM is responding to reads “I think you meant taxpayer money. The state took it, but it’s not the states money.” Well, yes- I honestly would have though a person such as RJM who so strongly believes in redistributive and interventionist policies, and is such an avid campaigner on issues such as continued government provision of education, health care etc, to stand firmly behind this principle.  Apparently not.

Perhaps he felt by advocating the early tweet, he was somehow giving into those horrible “socially violent” libertarian’s rhetoric (or even worse, neo-liberal!) about the sovereignty of the individual over the collective, and that by agreeing with it he was somehow advocating the sort of minimal government worldview he so despises.

Sorry dude, wrong. Instead, you have come out as an advocate of oligarchy for its own sake. Well done.

This is primarily a “sorry for not posting more” post. Normally, I wouldn’t bother making one.

But I thought I’d give a status update, since there’s a decent possibility I will return to blogging now I am becoming increasingly more focused.

For those that haven’t heard, I recently started a Master’s Degree in International Human Rights Law at Exeter University. The result of this is that while, yes, a much greater portion of my time is spent to research, essay writing and studying in general, my thinking is becoming much more focused on this particular topic. Issues where in the past I would have but a passing interest are now becoming central to me.  I can foresee myself putting some of this new focus and energy into blogging. Maybe not- we will see.

For the record, here are my modules:

-The european convention on Human Rights (this one lasts all year)

-International Human Rights law (term 1)

-Theoretical perspectives in law (Term 1)

-Patent law and policy (term 1).

-Islamic Law and Human Rights (term 2)

-International Intellectual Property law (term 2)

On top of that, of course, I have the dissertation to write in the summer. The topic? No idea yet…

 

In the meantime, here’s what doesn’t happen when you legalize gay marriage.

A thousand words on State Capitalism

The old adage about a picture saying a thousand words has once again been proven true, with this billboard which perfectly demonstrates the nature of State Capitalism as it exists today. I present it without further comment.

“Conflationism” still haunts both left and right.

And yet, both remain utterly wrong. At least, the mainstream versions of both left and right- who, with their close proximity to power, have a vested interest in circumventing as much as possible the obviously truths that are coming to light from more honest sectors of both sides.
What I mean is, most recently, Julian Coman, and before that, Douglas Carswell and Charles Moore.

You see, both left and right make the same fallacies that the libertarian left do our utmost to expose.  Primarily, both are far too easily conflating two concepts which, although tied in the minds of many, are by no means inherently linked. These concepts are that of “capitalism” and “free markets”.

Both of these terms mean different things to different people. Austro-libertarians often mean them as synonyms; I do not; both mainstream left and right does. The problem is that although both austro-libertarians and people like myself are more careful to set out our definitions (reminder: for me, free markets mean an absence of state influenced or coercive transactions, capitalism means a State granted system of guaranteed privilege), the mainstream left and right are willing to mean two different things by the terms, conflate them, and apply them both, expecting the results to be either logical, consistent, or both. To quote Prof Long, who I linked to above:

Left-conflationism is the error of treating the evils of existing corporatist capitalism as though they constituted an objection to a freed market. Right-conflationism is the error of treating the virtues of a freed market as though they constituted a justification of the evils of existing corporatist capitalism.

When the average Statist left speaker talks of free market capitalism, they usually mean something along the lines of “a free market system in which the State intervenes for capitalists”. Take Coman’s column:

In America, the billionaire businessman, Warren Buffett, has demanded that he should be required to pay more taxes. “My friends and I have been mollycoddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress,” Buffet wrote in the New York Times last week. “It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.” Increasingly, it would appear that some of the chief beneficiaries and supporters of free market capitalism now believe it needs saving from itself.

The summer of 2011 may well be remembered as the moment at which it became clear that global free markets are as incapable of perfect self-regulation as the News of the World. For Ed Miliband and for Labour’s old crusade to make capitalism virtuous, it is a case of: “If not now, when?”

Another absolute howler is referring to Francis Fukayama, and his “End of History”, as a “final victory for the free market”. This only makes sense, as does the entire column, if you accept the definitions given by Coman- except even on the face of it, the definitions not only clash, but do not play out in real life. The history of capitalism as we know it has been the history of a powerful State class maintaining privilege for the unpowerful underclassess; as it was in feudalism, it still is in modern day, neoliberal State capitalism. The market is free only to the extent it benefits those with power; it is unfree where needed, by design. So why do people like Coman insist on conflating mutually exclusive concepts such as Capitalism (as he clearly means it, see above) and free market? It may well be confusion, or maybe he merely assumes the more commonly accepted definitions to be correct on the basis they are more commonly accepted; but it certainly is not dishonest.

In my last post, I argued briefly that the mainstream left are, far from being the anti-capitalist worker’s movement Coman describes, are in fact amongst the biggest advocates of the ideology that allows the corporate State to thrive. Realising the fallacy of conflation that exists at the centre of most of their analysis would be a major advancement for the left. Sadly, being mainstream, they would rather not rock the boat.

The left have a history of excellent criticisms of the vastly unequal economic and political world we live in; the problem is they are utterly wrong on the root causes, and therefore, solutions to these problems. The more honest conservatives and libertarians on the right are either on the left’s side, or coming around to it in this regard. The problem is that the right are taking from the left not just the good ideas, but also the bad ones. Conservatives and less clear thinking libertarians will still leap to defend not free markets; but state capitalism. The right are right that the left are right, and yet neither side has anything to offer.

The left and the corporate State

Briefly stated.

The left- and here I use the term to mean the mainstream left, for instance the Labour party, other Fabians, including some of the “harder left” varieties, arguably up to the Leninists, rather than any wider definition of the term- have long attempted to establish themselves as opponents of the corporate capitalist economy, and for equality, fairness, and so on. I think, on the other hand, they they are entirely characteristic of the corporate State, and are in fact allies of the conservatives that they despise so much, the political expediency of maintaining an appearance of hostility notwithstanding.

There are a number of features of the modern economy that act as the basis for ensuring that there are a certain few who always come out on top- those in political power, and those lucky enough to be in the corporate elite. They’re effectively a modernised and expanded version of what Benjamin Tucker called the four monopolies.

Firstly, the money monopoly. That is, the ability of the State to declare only their form of credit as legally acceptable. Excepting those who seek the abolition of money entirely, the left have no intentions of removing this fundamental barrier of free exchange, and in fact go to great lengths to defend it. Although I am no fan of the gold standard, their reluctance to even tolerate any releasing of the control of money from State hands demonstrates just how committed they are to State monopoly on credit.

Secondly, Tucker listed “the land monopoly”- the issuing of absentee rights to land. Not to mention the vast closing off of previously public lands in the enclosure- and so on. This is one area where the left almost begin to make some sort of progress towards libertarian values, in their slightly-less-than-the-right-has levels of tolerance for private ownership of land. But, they more often than not end up going entirely the wrong way in defending the “nationalisation” of land, rather than genuine public ownership. They thus reinforce and maintain the legal privileges that prevent people from obtaining the land necessary to provide for themselves, be it through farming, businesses, or whatever.

Third on Tucker’s list was the tariff; I’m going to extend this to not just economic protectionism, but regulatory cartelization, in the Rothbardian style. The Left have bought into the “virtues” of this process hook, line, and sinker; do you know of any other force in mainstream politics more in favour of the constant regulation, and re-regulation of industry in all its forms? The left believes strongly in a benevolent regulatory state. The right does too, free market rhetoric aside- in fact, the right commits all these sins as well- but we already knew the conservative right were shills for the corporate State.  The result of the regulatory State we are so indebted to the left for creating is an economy in which entering into business for oneself is much harder, or more expensive, or in need of licenses etc than they would be in a freed market. As such, most people have little choice but to turn to (I apologise to my Misesian friends for using the term as a pejorative here) a capitalist for work- made all the more harder, of course, by the State’s monopoly credit.

The last monopoly that Tucker wrote about was the patent monopoly. I extend this to include copyright also, and to a degree, trade secrets legislation, trademarks, etc. Although the damaging effects of the IP regime have been well documented, and not just by the wider libertarian movement (although we do it superbly), I have yet to see from the mainstream left a credible opposition to the intellectual property regime. After all, the Digital Economy Act was debated and given royal assent while we were still under a Labour government. The left have no answer to the subtle regulatory and inhibitive effects of the IP regime, and are in fact entirely on the side of the “Copyright fascists”.

Tucker did not write about the effects of transport cost subsidies. Carson, however has, and I agree with him that the effective subsidising of transportation costs makes “big box” retailers artificially more economical than local business. Not that roads are bad; but they should be paid for by those who use them- meaning Tesco, Wal Mart, etc, should, were there any justice in the world, be receiving some quite large bills for unpaid damage to “public” roads. Again- the mainstream left remain silent, preferring to allow the already entrenched advantages to continue unabated.

 

The obvious common theme in all five of these is that the left have no solution to them. They either disregard, or actively support- or, worse, are the biggest advocates of- the foundations of the corporate economy, which in their minds they are the opponent of. Despite this, they aren’t allowing themselves to see the sheer reckless stupidity of maintaining a Status Quo so firmly against their adopted values, instead opting to become the vanguards of the very thing most of them probably entered politics hoping to change.

Most people have some internal contradictions in their world view, simply because it’s near impossible to keep track of one’s on views on everything. The modern left, however, are one of the few ideologies I know of which attempts to base its entire world view on both eating their cake and having it too.

FAO: Met police

Hi.

 

Winehouse, death jokes, etc.

So, I’ve seen both people making jokes about Winehouse and people complaining about how distasteful making such jokes are. As someone who takes Winehouse’s death and lifestyle up to it quite seriously (Addiction ain’t a game, and ain’t a choice, kids) I’m actually more inclined to side with the former than the latter. Fact of the matter is, different people will react differently to the deaths of different celebrities. Just as I didn’t give a shit when Ryan Dunn died, but do now, another person may be the opposite. See also, the hysteria that still exists around Princess Diana. But to claim a general “Do not mock the dead” attitude is pious holier-than-thou moralising of the worst kind. If you cared about a celebrity, you’ll be less likely to find jokes about them funny, for the same reason you’d find jokes about cancer less funny if you have cancer. This is fine; but don’t pretend it’s some sort of moral imperative.


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