Varieties of Consensus

English: Flowchart of consensus based decision...

Flowchart of consensus based decision-making (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[Alternate title: Hacking Consensus]

Did consensus kill Occupy or are reports of its death greatly exaggerated–or both?

First of all, words like Occupy, consensus, capitalism, socialism, democracy, anarchy, liberal, conservative, and green all have one very important thing in common: each is, by itself, absurdly ambiguous. Each has a wide range of definitions, variations, and parts…some of which conflict with or totally contradict each other. Depending on the intended definition(s) (often absent or poorly specified) each term can represent a desirable set of ideals or a set of dreaded evils, or a mix of both.

For example, early capitalism was relatively democratic compared with the aristocratic manorial and feudal systems it emerged from. Many serfs and tenants evolved into self-employed freeholders. Eventually, however, that decentralized and egalitarian form of capitalism tended to morph into its own opposite: a system of concentrated  monopoly capitalism.  US capitalism returned, full circle, from its egalitarian, anti-feudal roots to a new iteration of top-down rule by a small, rich elite–in effect, neo-feudalism. So early capitalism was revolutionary while modern capitalism became mainly counter-revolutionary, both under the same banner, after numerous reversals of bias in the interim. Other minor but potentially competing or co-evolving variants include green, natural, ecological, and p2p capitalism.

Similar arcs, trend reversals, and full-circles can be found in the histories of  socialism, democracy, anarchy and most other “brands” of political and economic ideology and their many variants and hybrids.

Even within a single culture and a narrow historical period, simple one-word labels like capitalism and socialism, liberal and conservative, etc., conceal important variations and overlaps. Over time a brand like “Made In Japan” can go from signifying “inferior crap” to being associated with high-quality, high-tech gear. The fallacy of brand bias, whether for products or ideas, is partly a matter of intellectual fads and out-dated assumptions, and partly a matter of over-generalization.

As we are re-discovering today, largely thanks to the Occupy movement, effective political democracy and  economic democracy are mutually interdependent. Changes in economic bias, either democratic or anti-democratic (distributed or concentrated, egalitarian or authoritarian, etc.), sometimes precede corresponding  political shifts. Political trends may follow more “organic” grassroots economic trends. In other cases the chicken comes before the egg and economic trends follow political reforms. But in almost every case, it seems clear that political or economic extremes of any kind can lead to backlash: collapsing bubbles, revolutions, counter-revolutions, etc.

An interesting catalog of intellectual fads and over-generalizations related to common ideological brands is presented in Dave Pollard’s review of The Democracy Project  (a new book by David Graeber, prominent analyst of the Occupy movement and author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years). Pollard not only summarizes some of the key issues in Graeber’s  book; he adds important social, economic and political insights of his own including a “sketch of the ‘camps’ of political and philosophical movements of the 21st century; elaborated on here.”

Pollards New Political Map

Source: Dave Pollard, how to save the world

Intelligence vs Ideology

Both Graeber and Pollard point towards consensus decision-making, rather than obsolescent ideologies, as a basic common denominator of civic intelligence.

In Creating a World Citizen Parliament (published in Interactions, the magazine of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)), Douglas Schuler writes:

Building civic intelligence. The seventh, final, and probably most daunting challenge is building civic intelligence [22]. The goal of this project is to help make individuals, and especially groups, actually smarter in relation to our shared problems. This is the conjecture that motivates this project: We won’t successfully address our problems if we don’t increase our civic intelligence.

Civic intelligence is the ability of people working together to address shared problems. It’s a type of community capacity or collective intelligence focused on shared goals: the capability of addressing civic ends through civic means. Although this idea has been explored by countless authors (including, somewhat prominently, John Dewey), it has not historically been the orientating idea it needs to be.

–Douglas Schuler

Comparative Consensus

Many people insist that consensus is an all-or-nothing proposition, which is what distinguishes it from majority rule. This is the ideal or “pure” form of consensus. But if consensus is seen as relative (a matter of degree), rather than Boolean (true or false, all or nothing), then in some form, and and in some degree, it is common to any collective problem-solving or decision-making model. It is the basic currency of civic intelligence.

But many of the arguments for and against consensus just seem to beg the question: what is it? What forms can it take? What are its internal moving parts? The topic of consensus, like democracy, anarchy, capitalism, etc., covers both an abstract general notion (with varied definitions) and an evolving set of in vivo and in situ practices that are application-specific and context-dependent.

Like many movements before it, OWS bumped up against various practical limits of “pure” consensus. But Occupy’s process of innovation and work-arounds (hacking consensus) is ongoing. So reports of Occupy’s death are greatly exaggerated. In fact it has a growing number of definitions, variations, and moving parts. Its increasing diversity and complexity outpace the ability of activists, journalists, and scholars to connect all the dots.

The challenges of hacking consensus models might include:

  • inefficiencies of scale (numbers of people involved) and scope (number and complexity of issues)
  • resource constraints (physical space, infrastructure, time requirements, process proficiency levels, information distribution)
  • disruption by minorities
  • inequalities of access, influence, etc.
  • manufactured consent

I have a few opinions about consensus based on personal experiences but I’m not an expert on the subject. So I would love to see a broad comparative analysis of variations, case studies, and academic research on social/civic organizing and decision-making models that have, as a common theme, a significant bias towards consensus; but which also try to address the practical limits or failures of consensus. Can anyone suggest one or two of the best available resources on this topic?

Innovations in consensus processing

Automation might be one approach to minimizing some of the problems with consensus process. For example, a consensus status metric (the relative degree of consensus at a given point in time) might be generated from data mining using sources of “Big Data”  including opinion and preference data from social networks, consumer purchasing data, polling and petition data, referendum results, public comment data, etc.  Instead of starting from scratch with a blank slate on any topic (degree of consensus = zero or unknown), efforts at creating consensus on a given topic or set of topics might begin from a data-derived point of reference–a de facto initial consensus status benchmark. This might save a lot of the time and energy associated with seeking consensus, especially in the early stages of consensus processing.

Another example of automation might be a “human microphone (mic check)”  app for mobile phones. If lots of people in a general assembly could “conference” their mobile phones together in “speaker phone” mode, this might be a way of creating a mobile public address system on the fly.

Mobile and remote meeting apps might also address many other infrastructure and consensus-processing issues faced by online and in-person assemblies, committees, etc. For example, an “artificial intelligence immune system” for consensus-toxic behavior patterns might be able to minimize disruptions by minorities, reduce inequalities of access or influence, or produce antibodies against manufactured consent.

Innovation can have unintended negative consequences but Trial and Error is the Hinge of Evolution; and the perfect is the arch nemesis of  both the  individual and the Common Welfare even in the sometimes highfalutin’ world of consensus.

Poor Richard

LP: You favor consensus democracy with collective deliberation and equal participation. How can that operate at a large scale? What’s wrong with majority voting with rights?

DG: Majority voting tends to encourage maximizing the differences between people, rather than encouraging compromise, creative synthesis, seeking common ground, which is what consensus is designed to do. Majority voting also invariably needs some sort of coercive mechanisms of enforcement. Don’t get me wrong, nobody’s talking about absolute consensus, like they used to do, where just one person can block everything and there’s nothing you can do about it. Consensus is just a way to change proposals around until you get something the maximum number agree on, rather than our system, say, where practically 48-49 percent of voters each time always ends up crushed and defeated. And yes, when you get up to a larger scale, you can’t just rely on assemblies or spokescouncils. It does make sense to decentralize as much as possible. Consensus only works if you don’t have to ask for it unless you really have to. But as for scaling up: there are any number of possibilities.

One I’ve been studying up on of late is sortition. Through much of Western history, it never occurred to anyone that elections had anything to do with democracy — they were considered aristocratic. The democratic way of choosing officials, if you had to do it, was lottery. Give people basic tests for sanity and competence and then let anyone who wants to throw in their name have an equal shot. I mean, how can we do much worse than a lot of the people we have now? Sortition would be more like jury duty, except non-compulsory. But there are all sorts of other possibilities.

LP: Is democracy possible in America? If so, what might it look like?

DG: It’s possible anywhere. But it would take enormous changes in our economic and political assumptions. Myself, I’m less interested in mapping out a constitution for a truly democratic society than creating the institutions by which people can collectively decide for themselves what it might look like. The one resource in the world that’s absolutely not scarce at all is smart, creative, people with ideas we’d never have thought of. Solutions are out there. The problem is 99 percent of those people spend most of their lives being told to shut up.

Atheism 2.0

Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion

Alain de Botton is a philosopher with some very constructive suggestions for improving secular society by selectively plucking  useful heirlooms from the traditions, practices and organizations of religion while leaving the rest. He surveys the cultural and social capital of three major religions– Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism– and suggests some assets worth salvaging.

Leeds Student Radio Web page article about the...

(credit: Wikipedia)

Botton isn’t asking atheists and agnostics to kiss and make up with religion. He is a non-believer. He may not be the confrontational type, but he’s no double agent with a secret religious agenda, as some atheists might fear. His mission is to initiate a humanistic renaissance in secular society that will bring us up to speed in some areas where religions may have superior social and cultural know-how.

“The starting point of all religions is that humans are weak and vulnerable and needing direction, but as I look at secular society, I see how we’ve been abandoned to make our own way through life and how challenging that is.”

“Religion has a lot to say about how to live and love, caring for others, handling suffering, dealing with death and all the other universal experiences that make us human.”
“The error of modern atheism has been to overlook how many aspects of the faiths remain relevant even after their central tenets have been dismissed.”

- – - -

Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religion, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from it—because the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.(Amazon.com)

- – - -

Religion for Atheists

“It is when we stop believing that religions have been handed down from above or else that they are entirely daft that matters become more interesting. We can then recognize that we invented religions to serve two central needs which continue to this day and which secular society has not been able to solve with any particular skill: firstly, the need to live together in communities in harmony, despite our deeply rooted selfish and violent impulses. And secondly, the need to cope with terrifying degrees of pain which arise from our vulnerability to professional failure, to troubled relationships, to the death of loved ones and to our decay and demise.”

Note: I have not read the book (so it could be awesome or awful), but based on the interviews and articles below, I like this guy. I think he is measured, pragmatic, and non-polemical; and he has one of the most constructive arguments I’ve heard in a very long time.  It strikes me that the approach taken by Botton could go a long way towards ratcheting down the hostility between atheists, agnostics, and our superstitious brothers and sisters :). It is the kind of thing that might be a useful balm for folks in the Occupy and 99% movements who struggle to maintain solidarity with each other despite differences that are sometimes deeply rooted.

Interviews

My favorite interview is from C-SPAN’s Book TV. You can view the whole 58-minute  After Words interview with Chris Hedges here or watch a ten-minute segment below, followed by other interviews from You Tube.

BookTV: Alain de Botton and Chris Hedges

Alain de Botton on atheism 2.0 and what secular ideologies can learn from religion

Alain de Botton: Religion for Atheists

Philosopher and author Alain de Botton says non-believers can learn a lot from religion – without believing in God.

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

1. Believers 2. Religion 3. Atheists 4. Science

 

Occupy Whatever: Mic Check + Reality Check

Flowchart of consensus based decision-making

Generic consensus process

A trade-mark phrase all across the Occupy Stuff universe is “Mic Check!”.

Shouting “Mic check” means “everybody in earshot listen up and repeat after me…”

Many items of an OWS/99% reform agenda have been hammered out in countless hours of consensus-based “General Assembly” meetings around the US and around the world. “Mic Check” is about as good a phrase as any to represent the entire, evolving OWS consensus process or practice.

This consensus process as a whole, including all its rules and variations, represents the idealistic side of OWS. It has produced many fine ideas for social, political, and economic reforms. But to balance this “mic check” consensus idealism, OWS needs a complementary, pragmatic process that we might call a “Reality Check”.

What should an OWS “reality check” process consist of?

The academic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is about using a modern systems science approach: empirical evidence, quantitative measurement, quality control, continuous self-correction, etc. From that perspective the “reality check” process is about how OWS studies and corrects itself– how the movement observes, measures, interprets, documents, and improves itself inch by inch, day by day.

On the other hand, a more intuitive or poetic side of my nature would say that a “reality check” is all about ones instincts or “gut feelings”.

But gut feelings and scientific methods might seem at first glance to have little in common. How could both represent a coherent interpretation of “reality”?

They represent two different ways of empirically checking or verifying a particular interpretation of data.  The “gut feelings” approach (gut feelings about “truth” are sometimes referred to as a “bullshit meter”) is instinctive and fast, whereas the “scientific” approach is generally more formal, standardized, and tedious.

Although a gut feeling and a scientific measurement are both empirical, the former is more subjective and less rational, while the latter is both more objective and rational. We are equally “conscious” of  gut feelings and rational proofs, but we tend to feel more conscious of how we arrive at our scientific measurements and rational proofs–whereas we are often far less conscious of how we arrive at our gut feelings. Our gut feelings just arrive on the threshold of our awareness spontaneously. They are generated by various specialized parts of our brain that have evolved to rapidly respond to danger or opportunity. They do not depend on language or even on our conscious rules of logic or rational thought.

Each in its own way, both rational thought and gut feeling are subject to complex combinations of biases.

Because rational thought is represented in language, problems of language spill over into problems of thought. A given set of facts can often be woven into very different, sometimes diametrically opposed, narratives. Said another way, a given set of dots can often be connected in multiple ways that suggest different interpretations.

The biases involved in gut feelings are programmed into our nervous systems by eons of evolution and are not generally open to our casual self-examination. Science (as in evolutionary psychology) is gradually teasing out some of the common biases in our gut feelings, but what little is yet known is not yet known very widely.

Ultimately, rational analysis and gut feelings must serve as mutual cross-checks (reality checks) on one other.

But how does a reality check process relate to OWS specifically?

For example, there are numerous historical and cultural variations of the consensus process. The appropriate reality check has to do with making sure that the OWS version of consensus process actually works out well in practice. It means measuring actual facts or results (typically before and after activities, projects, or actions) and adjusting  actual practices over time and across local conditions. It means continuous observation, adjustment and improvement– that is, continuously revising theory, ideology, and methods to fit the facts on the ground, not the other way around. (Note: That does not in any way mean “the ends justify the means”. )

DDG_0615

Image by ArtistJ via Flickr

 

Reality Check: what does the latest phase of the “Arab Spring”, the “Arab Autumn”, especially the Egyptian “Second Revolution” against their military  establishment, mean for the OWS movement?

Gut feeling: don’t go home (leave the streets) before the revolution is really over. As soon as occupiers leave the streets the old rats start sneaking back into the halls and the seats of power.

Rational analysis: Moderate, mainstream, middle-class-leaning people are not really comfortable in the street for long. They aren’t all that comfortable with open social (class) conflict, much less civil disobedience. So the tendency may be for Occupy coalitions to weaken and unravel around effects of prolonged physical occupation and the status-quo backlash which may include police or military violence and other reprisals. The evidence seems to show that it is easier to mobilize an oppositional coalition against a corrupt and unjust status quo than to maintain a proactive coalition in support of a specific set of reforms or prescriptions.

Therefore, to maintain the broadest coalition for the longest time, OWS should limit the specific reform proposals to the lowest common denominators across 99% coalition communities.  Adopt narrower ideological agenda items only if and when those opposed to them have already left the coalition, not before.

I think we should reconsider and perhaps pare down the OWS reform agenda in this light.

In my opinion, the lowest possible common denominator for OWS is opposition to political corruption. No other specific reform of social or economic injustice is possible until the general level of corruption is drastically reduced. But getting money out of politics is fairly complicated and controversial in its own right, and that may already be a bigger reform bite than a 99% coalition can chew.

GOP, Tea Party (TP), and Libertarian Party (LP) objections to campaign financing reforms, election reforms, lobbying reforms, and ethics reforms center on conflating money and speech and on an excessive and indiscriminate objection to “regulations” of any kind on any thing. That extreme ideology is unrealistic and incompatible with a 99% coalition.

Its time to concentrate on populist narratives that  justify regulating political corruption as a lesser evil to rampant, unfettered corruption in and out of government. Every single law ever established, including each of the Ten Commandments, is a regulation. The GOP/TP/LP ideal of a tiny government and an unregulated free market economy is based on a premise that all market failures are caused by government regulation or interference. The reality is that unregulated markets also fail for a variety of reasons including information asymmetry (as in the principal-agent problem), game theory dilemmas, externalities, economic irrationality and behavioral idiosyncrasies; and they produce excessive concentrations of wealth and power in weak or failed states as well as in strongly regulated ones. The fact is that corruption, concentration, and abuse of power are problems that cross all public/private sector lines and all ideological lines. Limiting the corruption, concentration, and abuse of power to tolerable levels cannot be implemented simply by reducing the size of government. It requires a fair, balanced, and organic body of law, an impartial judiciary, and a strong but restrained arm of  enforcement.

Furthermore, the issue of systemic political and judicial corruption is one that fully justifies the tactics of non-violent civil disobedience.

The question is not whether we should have laws/regulations or not (that was generally settled several thousand years ago despite the persistence of a cranky minority), but what those laws should be.

Ultimately I agree with FDR:  economic security is just as much a basic a requirement for liberty as is the security of our property and our persons.

But for the present, it will be a miracle if we can all just agree that:

it’s time to GET MONEY OUT of politics.

Period.

(www.getmoneyout.com)

Poor Richard

The value of inefficiency

I think that class, culture, and ideology conflicts among the 99% tend to hurt us and help the 1%. Differences  don’t always have to lead to conflicts. Coalitions can transcend  differences and a coalition of the 99% has many differences to include and transcend.

The positions staked out by the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly all appear to be valid Constitutional, common law, and ethical positions to me.

But perhaps equally important, the 99% movement may offer us an opportunity to help each other to develop and mature psychologically and to evolve culturally.

I’m hoping for the OWS struggle to force us 99% to become more ideology-pluralistic. If we could figure out how to tolerate our diversity and agree to disagree on some issues, maybe we could develop enough common political ground to force the powers-that-be to reform in certain areas.

Beyond that, maybe each ideological group within the 99% can learn to better appreciate the value of diversity and good-faith opposition. Perhaps in some way such diversity and opposition is just a natural “separation of powers”.

In many countries, the principle of “separation of powers” is an important principle of governance.

Quoting from Wikipedia:

“The model was first developed in ancient Greece and came into widespread use by the Roman Republic as part of the unmodified Constitution of the Roman Republic. Under this model, the state is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility so that no one branch has more power than the other branches. The normal division of branches is into an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary. For similar reasons, the concept of separation of church and state has been adopted in a number of countries, to varying degrees depending on the applicable legal structures and prevalent views toward the proper role of religion in society.”

The implicit justification for separation of powers is the goal of a counterpoised balance between opposing forces that leads to a state of stable homeostasis. The point of separation is not to create efficiency but to create inefficiency. If efficiency were the goal, we might get rid of the messy legislature and judiciary and leave all government powers to a unified executive. The independence, equality, and mutual opposition of separate branches of government preserves various values and methods that we want protected. We don’t want one one approach to governance eclipsing the others.

The separation and contra-posed balance between the public and private sectors of an economy may have a similar utility.

I think that progressives err in the false hope that big government will automatically protect them from big business, and I think libertarians err in the false hope that small government will automatically free them from tyranny.

The greatest danger to liberty is not in the balanced opposition between the public and private sector but in their collusion.

In the article “Libertarians to Occupiers: Crony capitalism is the problem | Libertarian Party ” Libertarian Party Chair Mark Hinkle says:

“I have been following the Occupy protesters, who call themselves the ’99%’, with interest.

“It’s true that 99% of Americans do not enjoy the special benefits of crony capitalism. Crony capitalism is very different from real capitalism. In crony capitalism, government hands out special favors and protections to politically well-connected businesses.

“The TARP bailouts, Solyndra, and the military-industrial complex are all facets of crony capitalism.

“Libertarians love free markets and hate crony capitalism.

I agree about the negative consequences of “crony capitalism”. But is crony capitalism only defined as an unwholesome alliance between government and business? What about unwholesome alliances between businesses? Granted, the state can behave badly. Business can behave badly. Is the libertarian position that business behaves badly only when corrupted by the state? In the absence of state interference, in a “state of nature”, would business regulate itself in a way consistent with the public interest, the general welfare, and the pursuit of happiness by the weakest members of society?

The LP article says “A free market is where the government leaves businesses alone, does not attempt to pick winners and losers, does not stifle competition, does not hand out corporate welfare, and does not absolve businesses of liability for their actions. Most of our economy today does not resemble a free market at all.

Picking winners and losers, stifling competition, handing out corporate welfare, and absolving businesses of liability are things that government generally should not do, I strongly agree. But is opposing and correcting such abuses necessarily the same thing as “leaving business alone” entirely?

It is generally recognized that a free society is characterized by consent of the governed, and that such consent usually includes consent to a system of laws–the rule of law being a lesser evil to the rule of men or the law of the jungle (the “war of all against all” –Thomas Hobbes).

Most people agree that a free market is also a creature of law and not a creature of wild nature or of an oligarchy (a powerful or elite class). In nature, the wild marketplace is very free for the strongest but hardly so for the weakest. A market that is as free and fair for the weak as for the strong is a market of laws. A market of laws is a market with referees.

In libertarian theory, who are the makers of the laws and who are the referees if not the people’s elected representatives?

Human beings don’t live by ideology alone. They must also have peanut butter. The objective metrics of happiness and well-being are better in societies with bigger governments, higher taxes, and less disparity in wealth and income. Those things are not “natural”, nor are they good in and of themselves. We should only measure utility in pragmatic terms, in outcomes judged against our most important values and how well they are served by any particular institution, process, policy, or rule.

Where are the benefits of small government in failed states like Afghanistan, Sudan, or Somalia? Such places are ruled by tribal cronyism and corrupt warlords. I fear that a libertarian revolution would fare little better than communist revolutions have done.

Does that mean there is no room for capitalism in the US? Capitalism comes in many shapes and sizes. Libertarians and progressives can agree on the evils of crony capitalism. But other forms of capitalism also embrace questionable theories about the definition of freedom, the role of externalities, etc. It is all too common for theories of capitalism to incorporate euphamisms for injustice, theft, deception, etc. On the other hand, there are theories such as natural capitalism and cooperative capitalism that try to correct many of those faults. My own terminology for cooperative capitalism is Green Free Enterprise.

An evolving society should be an open laboratory where all economic theories (within reason) can be tested and compared. I would even like to see public and private solutions to providing goods and services compete side by side in the marketplace. Of course, to keep the public sector from taking unfair advantage over private enterprise we would need strict rules of fair play. I explore this in “Why can’t the public and private sectors just get along?

In modern society there is also room for many competing political ideologies, but there is no room for any single ideology to overpower the whole.  The US founding documents were amazingly ideology-agnostic for their time. I would like to see our future become increasingly pragmatic, utilitarian, and ideology- agnostic. But regardless, for the marketplace of ideas to stay open and free requires limits, rules, and honest referees.

A central thesis of mine is that the true backbone of human civilization and progress is not political theory or ideology but actually what is known as “common law“.

From time to time new states are formed (sometimes in revolution as was ours) and old states are re-formed to achieve closer conformity with the global evolutionary progress of common law, which traces back to pre-history, before the laws of Greece and Rome, even before the ancient code of Hammurabi. The common law represents a gradual, case-by-case resolution of tensions between conflicting rights, interests, values, and circumstances. That is the process which has produced those societies that are best and most convivial to live in today. I think that is the only process that is complex and inefficient enough to produce better societies in the future. Revolutions that have tried to establish states based on pure ideologies rather than on a reconciliation with the global progress of common law have failed.

Back to Occupy Wall Street

In the case of the Occupy Wall Street movement, I think we are hearing many diverse complaints, demands, and proposals from many sub-groups. But from the General Assembly I have seen a set of plainly and briefly stated, specific charges of abuses of power. I have not heard a call for revolution or an end to capitalism from the General Assembly. Only a list of obvious crimes and injustices and a call for redressing these grievances as simply and directly as possible.

In the US the right to petition is guaranteed by the First Amendment, which specifically prohibits Congress from abridging “the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The positions staked out by the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly are all valid Constitutional and common law positions.

In my opinion, the Occupy Everywhere Together movement is a kind of social and economic earthquake caused by an increasing fracture between layers of society based on common law and layers of powerful special interests. Those powerful special interests exert their power both upon and through government. The line between the public sector and the private sector is not the primary fault line causing this quake. The central fault line runs between the parts of society based upon thousands of years of civilization and common law principles of justice and equity; and those cancerous parts of our society that have grown disproportionately from special interests over the past few decades.

But the cancer has already metastasized and is widely spread throughout society, as the “Stockholm Syndrome” of the Tea Party and the “53%” illustrate. It isn’t just the 1% who are corrupt. The corruption has flowed into every organ and tissue of society where mass media and popular culture could carry it. There is no simple and efficient way of treating this cancer.  There is no neat, efficient  ideological or structural cure.

We are each going to have to battle this cancer of corruption within our selves, within our own beliefs, assumptions, and lifestyles. The Occupy movement may be a venue for this struggle, not just between the 1% and the 99%, but among and within ourselves. It will be best if the Occupy Movement lasts a very long time, if it burns slowly, and it forces us to get to know our own internal diseases very intimately.

Nothing about this can or should be efficient. Efficiency does not give us the space and the time to explore the hidden corners and crevices of our diversity, complexity, and dissonance.

That is the value of inefficiency.

Poor Richard

Related:

(blog.p2pfoundation.net)

Gideon Rosenblatt and Lawrence Lessig: What to think of the framing of the #OccupyWallStreet movement as a ‘Tea Party of the Left’?

Dave Pollard on the long term prospects of the ‘metamovement’

Tim Rayner on the characteristics of #OccupyWallStreet as a swarm movement

John Robb on Real Open Source Leadership at #OccupyWallStreet

Understanding the Consensus Methodology at Occupy Wall Street

Addendum:

swampland.time.com
Q11. IN THE PAST FEW DAYS, A GROUP OF PROTESTORS HAS BEEN GATHERING ON WALL STREET IN NEW YORK CITY AND SOME OTHER CITIES TO PROTEST POLICIES WHICH THEY SAY FAVOR THE RICH, THE GOVERNMENT’S BANK BAILOUT, AND THE INFLUENCE OF MONEY IN OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM. IS YOUR OPINION OF THESE PROTESTS VERY FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE, SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE, VERY UNFAVORABLE, OR DON’T YOU KNOW ENOUGH ABOUT THE PROTESTS TO HAVE AN OPINION?

VERY FAVORABLE 25%

SOMEWHAT FAVORABLE 29%

SOMEWHAT UNFAVORABLE 10%

VERY UNFAVORABLE 13%

DON’T KNOW ENOUGH 23%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 1%

Q12. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH THAT POSITION?
A. WALL STREET AND ITS LOBBYISTS HAVE TOO MUCH INFLUENCE IN WASHINGTON

BASE: FAMILIAR WITH PROTESTS (787)

AGREE 86%

DISAGREE 11%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 4%

Q12. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH THAT POSITION?

B. THE GAP BETWEEN RICH AND POOR IN THE UNITED STATES HAS GROWN TOO LARGE

BASE: FAMILIAR WITH PROTESTS (787)

AGREE 79%

DISAGREE 17%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 3%

Q12. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH THAT POSITION?

C. EXECUTIVES OF FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE FINANCIAL MELTDOWN IN 2008 SHOULD BE PROSECUTED

BASE: FAMILIAR WITH PROTESTS (787)

AGREE 71%

DISAGREE 23%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 6%

Q12. DO YOU AGREE OR DISAGREE WITH THAT POSITION?

D. THE RICH SHOULD PAY MORE TAXES

BASE: FAMILIAR WITH PROTESTS (787)

AGREE 68%

DISAGREE 28%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 4%

Q12A. IN YOUR VIEW, WILL THIS PROTEST MOVEMENT HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON AMERICAN POLITICS TODAY, A NEGATIVE IMPACT, OR WILL IT HAVE LITTLE IMPACT ON AMERICAN POLITICS TODAY?

BASE: FAMILIAR WITH PROTESTS (787)

POSITIVE IMPACT 30%

NEGATIVE IMPACT 9%

LITTLE IMPACT 56%

NO ANSWER/DON’T KNOW 6%

——————————————————–

Why the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street Should Cooperate (http://www.theatlantic.com)

“For all their disagreements, they share a belief that the relationship between finance and government needs reforming”

I discuss these questions further with my libertarian friend, Jeff:

Jeff wrote: “There are issues where the two sides could agree — ending corporate welfare, closing at least some overseas bases – to name just two. I think both groups span a broader spectrum than is being recognized. Some of those participating in OWS are actually advocates of less government interference in the economy — interference which invariably favors Big Business. And the TEA Party groups range from sincere advocates of a small, limited government to typical Romney-McCain Republicans.

PR: Well said, Jeff. Ending corporate welfare and excessive consolidation is as crucial to free enterprise as it is to democratic governance. IMO the global financial crisis is not just some random drive-by event, but is part of a criminal strategy of “robber baron” monopoly capitalism. Financial crises = budget cuts = mass privatization = neo-feudalism (global corporate governance). True free enterprise is the antidote.

I am frustrated by the difficulty my friends on the left have in seeing their entrepreneurial responsibilities and opportunities. I am also frustrated by the difficulty libertarians seem to have understanding the threat posed by concentrated wealth and power whether it be in the public or private sector. I think that progressives err in the false hope that big government will protect them from big business, and I think libertarians err in the false hope that small government will free them from tyranny.

It may well be that a cross-pollination between libertarians and progressives is the only way forward out of this mess. That is going to take depolarizing some class war and culture war biases on both sides. I have been as guilty of polarizing rhetoric as anyone, but I am rethinking my biases and trying to figure out how to mend my ways. You may be just the man to help me with that if you can overlook some of my inevitable old-guard-lefty rhetorical lapses.

I understand it is fairly common for libertarians to oppose corporate welfare, but how are libertarian positions spread on the consolidation of wealth and power in the private sector? IMO that is the more serious threat to liberty, fully equivalent to any threat from the state. As a progressive I might add that at least in the case of state power we still have some semblance of popular representation.

Jeff: “I believe a case could be made that most of the outrageous concentrations of wealth occur -because of, not in spite of, political interference in the economy. This is sometimes at the State and local levels, not just at the Federal level — for instance, a State might pass a statute setting such stringent requirements to sell health insurance within that State that only a few insurers can meet them; they then can divide up the market and charge much more than they could have in a free market. At the local level, even such weapons as zoning and sign control can lead to larger competitors getting larger still, and smaller competitors either shrinking or even going under. Note that -thoroughgoing- deregulation, not the faux kind such as the California electricity “deregulation” of several years ago, is almost always fought by the bigger entrants in a given field. Regarding government power, I would prefer to see legislative districts be smaller so that those not backed by Big Business have a chance of winning.

PR: I agree with all of the above except the possible implication that consolidation and concentration might magically disappear if not for the state. I’b be very skeptical of any such theory, but it’s probably moot. The state, like the poor, is always with us. In fact, I think most ideology is moot, since in the absence of a revolution we can never make over the status quo from top to bottom to meet the conditions required to test and either validate of falsify any ideology. Perhaps we can look around the world for real examples that might support or contradict a given theory. If I had to choose between Scandinavian counties where taxes and regulations were high, or African countries where taxes and regulations were low, I’d prefer the former.

Re: Libertarians to Occupiers: Crony capitalism is the problem | Libertarian Party,  (www.lp.org)

‎”It’s true that 99% of Americans do not enjoy the special benefits of crony capitalism. Crony capitalism is very different from real capitalism. In crony capitalism, government hands out special favors and protections to politically well-connected businesses.”

PR: I agree about the negative consequences of “crony capitalism”. But is crony capitalism only defined as an unwholesome alliance between government and business? What about unwholesome alliances between businesses? Granted, the state can behave badly. Business can behave badly. Is the libertarian position that business behaves badly only when corrupted by the state? In the absences of state interference business, in a “state of nature”, will regulate itself in a manner consistent with the public interest, the general welfare, and the pursuit of happiness by the weakest members of society?

The LP article says “”A free market is where the government leaves businesses alone, does not attempt to pick winners and losers, does not stifle competition, does not hand out corporate welfare, and does not absolve businesses of liability for their actions. Most of our economy today does not resemble a free market at all.”

Picking winners and losers, stifling competition, handing out corporate welfare, and absolving businesses of liability are things that government generally shouldn’t do, I agree. But is that really the same as “leaving business alone” entirely?

It is generally recognized that a free society is characterized by consent of the governed, and that consent usually includes consent to a system of laws–the rule of law being a lesser evil to the rule of men or the law of the jungle (the “war of all against all” (Hobbes)).

Most people agree that a free market is also a creature of law and not a creature of wild nature or of oligarchy. In nature, the wild marketplace is very free for the the strongest but hardly so for the weakest. A market that is as free and fair for the weak as for the strong is a market of laws. A market of laws is a market with referees.

In libertarian theory, who are the makers of the laws and who are the referees if not the republic?

Anyway, my own theory is that the real backbone of civilization and progress is not political theory or ideology but actually what is known as “common law”. From time to time new states are formed, as was ours, and old states are periodically reformed, to come into closer conformity with the evolutionary progress in the common law, which traces back to pre-history, even before the code of Hammurabi. The common law represents a gradual, case by case resolution of tensions between conflicting rights, values, and situations. That is the process that has produced those societies that are best to live in.

Jeff: “The libertarian view is that the only “regulation” should be that a business must not engage in force or fraud. Yes, businesses can sometimes for “unholy alliances”, but if they try to exploit that, then others can enter the market involved to compete with them. “Monopolies, trusts, etc. do not last long *if* they are not favored by government. Often, as in the case of the railroads or the phone companies, government will actually force smaller businesses to merge with the larger ones, to form a giant that would never have come about without political interference.

PR: I don’t buy that. What prevents a dominant player from continuing to buy up the competition? That requires neither force nor fraud, and has occurred many times. In fact, it would appear to be almost the rule. Government often gets bribed in to make the process go faster or cheaper for the predator, but is seldom really an essential or necessary accomplice.

Rockefeller and Standard Oil is the classic example where massive consolidation occurred rapidly in a largely unregulated market, but there have been plenty of other examples. Microsoft retarded the progress of computer technology by perhaps 20 years with no help from government. Government corruption often plays a role, but I see the role as secondary. In any case, I see the appropriate solution as eliminating corruption, not eliminating government.

People have a right to have an active, instrumental government and IMO that’s what most people actually desire. No self-sufficient minority will succeed in thwarting that desire very easily. That’s why I think libertarians waste a lot of energy and intelligence that should be invested pragmatically and creatively towards a libertarian sub-economy instead of trying to convert or reform the mainstream. The same goes for anarchists, agorists, mutualists, communists, socialists, etc.

I share your aversion to coercion and I think the mainstream should be forced to provide more “opt out” opportunities wherever practical, especially for taxes on services that someone never uses. One of the ironies I don’t understand is why some nominal libertarians complain about the poor not paying taxes. That whole strata of the economy is pretty libertarian, isn’t it?

Fortunately, despite the US leaning a bit toward central planning and regulation, there are numerous areas of the economy that are still fairly open and free, and I don’t think anyone is trying to exclude libertarians from those parts of the economy or from pursuing self-sufficient lifestyles. That is a route I’ve often taken.

An ideology- pluralistic 99% political coalition might also be used, albeit ironocally, to force the federal government to give each of our ideological subgroups undisturbed domains of the economy and culture within reason. We could almost do that now simply by each group aggregating in its own state, but perhaps we could enact a federally supported relocation program. This might really ease a lot of the tension and conflict between the more extreme or fundamentalist elements of the different ideological camps within the 99% and let the more moderate 78% get on with their lives in peace in the other 46 states.

How about:

  • Democratic Socialism Land: Hawaii
  • Libertarian Land: Texas
  • Commieland: Washington
  • Anarchy Land: Arizona

Backward Stumble in Laissez-Fairyland

Ron Paul and the TP are fond of saying you can’t spend your way out of debt. Or you can’t borrow your way to prosperity. There is a huge error hidden in a small truth there.

You can’t “spend” your way or “borrow” your way out of public debt crises, but you cannot cut or save your way out of them, either. You have to INVEST your way out of them. That’s how real capitalism is supposed to work. If you can’t borrow your way to prosperity, how did most of the now-thriving businesses in the world first get started?

Austrian/libertarian/laissez-faire/Tea-Party economics is wrong. Ron Paul is wrong.  But the Koch brothers hope you buy the deregulation, government is baad (ok?), every-man-for-himslef part of the story.

What progressives want to do is invest in new industries and enterprises that will create millions of good jobs and get revenue flowing into households first and then into the public treasury. The old, vested-interest money doesn’t want competition from green energy, local organic food, credit unions, housing coops, or any of that stuff, and that’s why they bankroll the libertarian/TP laissez-fairyland movements.

I think, I hope, that many in those movements just haven’t thought it all the way through. Some TP’ers only seem to think in terms of bumper-sticker slogans and sound-bite sized ideas. Others are extremely smart but may have arrested personality development (i.e. they are sub-clinical sociopaths).  A lot of young people seem to fall into that category. Self-absorbed and with chips on their shoulders to start with, they want nothing from the busy-bossy, self-absorbed establishment.  Some have conflicts between their financial interests and the better angels of their nature. Some are just decent, ordinary people who have been sold a huge load of crap. They are mad, but may not know who they should really be maddest at.

On the other hand, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that we went from a budget surplus at the end of the Clinton administration to where we are now entirely under GOP leadership. . .

Note: If you hold some of the Laissez-Fairyland beliefs but don’t think you fit any of those categories above, please let me know. I am open to finding common ground.

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2010 posts:

Libertarian Fundamentalism

Green Free-enterprise

Economical Bestiary

At Other Blogs:

Critiques Of Libertarianism

A great web site with the following topics and much more:

A Non-Libertarian FAQ [More...]

A general introduction to discussion with libertarians, with an extensive discussion of arguments commonly used by libertarian evangelists. This is the original FAQ, little changed from when it originated in 1994.
What Is Libertarianism?
Twenty views of the big picture of libertarianism.
Notorious Failures of Libertarianism
Claims widely adopted by libertarians that are spectacularly wrong.

(many more topics)

October 9, 2011, 3:14 pm

IS-LMentary

A number of readers, both at this blog and other places, have been asking for an explanation of what IS-LM is all about. Fair enough – this blogosphere conversation has been an exchange among insiders, and probably a bit baffling to normal human beings (which is why I have been labeling my posts “wonkish”).

[Update: IS-LM stands for investment-savings, liquidity-money -- which will make a lot of sense if you keep reading here]

———————

The following web site has some examples of how the super-rich pay for phoney academic opinions and propaganda to support their fraudulent financial schemes. (Entire universities are becoming little more than hired PR firms.) ~PR

———————

Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman school Tyler Cowan

There is a huge demand for rebuttals to Keynesian arguments about how to fix the economy. Anti-government right-wingers and libertarians oppose Keynesian interventions, and they have vast wads of money to throw at such issues.

Tyler Cowan, at the George Mason University Economics Department, is employed by the Kochs for just that purpose. Apparently, one of his jobs is to undermine rival economists’ arguments.

Now, it is well known that no economics model is perfect, and it is easy to assemble a list of problems and a list of people describing those problems. But the fallacy is to use this list to denounce an imperfect model in favor of worse models or none. Voltaire wrote “the perfect is the enemy of the good”, meaning that we should not discard effective solutions for pie-in-the-sky perfectionism.

It is interesting to note Cowan’s typical strategy, which like most public relations strategies is not aimed at “proof” but at convincing onlookers with incessant repetition of ideas such as “problems with IS-LM”. Cowan throws a bombshell, and then echos supporters without answering any questions about his own position at any point. A ploy to attempt to retain academic credibility in the midst of vigorous dog-whistling. He wishes to use his academic authority without being responsible to the academic community.

It looks to me as if Cowen has won. He has achieved his goal of repeating his memes numerous times and showing that there are other academic supporters of his criticisms. Basically, this is a variant of the tarbaby strategy from Uncle Remus. Trick your opponent into a fight with a tarbaby. The opponent may get in all the good licks and totally destroy the tarbaby, but afterwards you are exhausted, helpless, coated with goo, but the rabbit that set up the tarbaby is untouched and laughing.

(this web page has many links for the technically inclined)

Petition: protect #occupywallstreet

We petition the Obama Administration to:

Send the National Guard into New York City and elsewhere to protect the right of We the People peaceably to assemble.

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are being beaten, bloodied, pepper-sprayed, photographed, arrested, finger-printed and harassed by police and by counterintelligence agents.

The First Amendment guarantees “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The kinds of harassment and counterintelligence mentioned above abridge that right.

Local restrictions on assembly intended to keep good order in normal times should also be suspended in this instance.

Therefore, we petition our government to send the National Guard into New York City and anywhere else where police, agents of government, or thugs may abuse and abridge the civil rights of Occupy Wall Street and affiliated demonstrators.

Created: Oct 09, 2011
Issues: Civil Rights and Liberties, Human Rights

Signatures needed by November 08, 2011 to reach goal of 25,000: 24,999

Sign Here at WhiteHouse.gov

http://wh.gov/2XZ

Get Involved

Liberty Park Manifesto

This is the most important thing in the world.

Some musical accompaniment:

Thumbnail
Tracy ChapmanRevolution

The statement issued from Zuccotti (Liberty) Park by the general assembly at Occupy Wall Street:

“As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies. As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members. That our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors. That a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people, and the Earth, and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power.

We come to you at a time when corporations — which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality — run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here as is our right to let these facts be known.

They have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage.

They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give executives exorbitant bonuses.

They have perpetuated inequality and discrimination in workplaces based on age, the color of one’s skin, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.

They have profited off the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.

They have continuously sought to strip employees of the right to negotiate for better pay and safer working conditions.

They have held students hostage with tens of thousands of dollars of debt on education, which is, itself, a human right.

They have consistently outsourced labor and used that outsourcing as leverage to cut worker’s health care and pay.

They have influenced the courts to achieve the same rights as people with none of the culpability or responsibility.

They have spent millions of dollars on legal teams, but look for ways to get them out of contracts in regards to health insurance.

They have sold our privacy as a commodity.

They have used the military and police force to prevent freedom of the press.

They have deliberately declined to recall faulty products, endangering lives in pursuit of profit.

They determine economic policy despite the catastrophic failures their policies have produced and continue to produce.

They have donated large sums of money to politicians, who are responsible for regulating them.

They continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.

They continue to block generic forms of medicine that could save people’s lives, or provide relief in order to protect investments that have already turned a substantial profit.

They have purposely covered up oil spills, accidents, faulty bookkeeping, and inactive ingredients in pursuit of profit.

They purposefully kept people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.

They have accepted private contracts to murder prisoners, even when presented with serious doubts about their guilt.

They have perpetuated colonialism at home and abroad.

They have participated in the torture and murder of innocent civilians overseas.

They continue to create weapons of mass destruction in order to receive government contracts.

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City general assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble, occupy public space, create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard.”

————————–

Keith Olbermann reads the Zuccotti Park manifesto on air (also hundreds of viewer comments)

The resistance continues at Liberty Square and Nationwide!
#OCCUPYWALLSTREET is a people powered movement for democracy that began in America on September 17 with an encampment in the financial district of New York City. Inspired by the Egyptian Tahrir Square uprising and the Spanish acampadas, we vow to end the monied corruption of our democracy … join us!

Get Involved

Occupy Everywhere!!

Buffalo Springfield – Stop Children What’s That Sound

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me i got to beware

I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, now, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 642 other followers

%d bloggers like this: