Adam Smith on taxes, inequality of riches, regulating banks

adam smith on taxes“The subjects of every state ought to contribute toward the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of the state ….[As Henry Home (Lord Kames) has written, a goal of taxation should be to] ‘remedy inequality of riches as much as possible, by relieving the poor and burdening the rich.'” — Adam Smith

“Though the principles of the banking trade may appear somewhat abstruse, the practice is capable of being reduced to strict rules. To depart upon any occasion from those rules, in consequence of some flattering speculation of extraordinary gain, is almost always extremely dangerous and frequently fatal to the banking company which attempts it.” — Adam Smith

“The Tyranny of Structurelessness”


Jo Freeman by Carolmooredc

Jo Freeman by Carolmooredc

The Occupy Movement can take some pages from earlier movement struggles for civil rights and social justice.

“If the movement continues deliberately to not select who shall exercise power, it does not thereby abolish power. All it does is abdicate the right to demand that those who do exercise power and influence be responsible for it. If the movement continues to keep power as diffuse as possible because it knows it cannot demand responsibility from those who have it, it does prevent any group or person from totally dominating. But it simultaneously insures that the movement is as ineffective as possible. Some middle ground between domination and ineffectiveness can and must be found.”

Read the rest:

by Jo Freeman aka Joreen

Jo Freeman (Wikipedia)

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.

We have a bailout by the people, for the

We have a bailout by the people, for the people, coming up November 15th called the Rolling Jubilee. This is a project of the OWS affinity group Strike Debt where we buy debt for pennies on the dollar, but instead of collecting it, we abolish it.  The banks got bailed out. We got sold out. The 1% won’t sponsor a #PeoplesBailout. But we are the bailout we’ve been waiting for. Join us.

Rolling Jubilee logo image

We cannot buy specific individuals’ debt – instead, we help liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal. The Jubilee begins November 15
 with a variety show and telethon in NYC.
 All proceeds will go directly to buying people’s debt and cancelling it.

The banks got bailed out. We got sold out. The 1% won’t sponsor a #PeoplesBailout. But we are the bailout we’ve been waiting for. Join us.

Sign up, donate, more info…


Photo copyright Ian McCalister

What is peer-to-peer (P2P)  culture?

P2P culture is a post-capitalist socioeconomic framework which includes but transcends capitalism. It encompasses many varieties of open and closed, public and private, for-profit and not-for-profit, hierarchical and egalitarian associations (and hybrids of these).

Early P2P theory drew from experience gained in creating distributed computer networks and distributed organizations that developed open source computer software. These distributed systems of computers and programmers emphasized the role of individual peers–network nodes or people of roughly similar capability–which coordinated or negotiated their activity among themselves with little or no central authority or control. From those information system origins the application of P2P principles expanded to include many other kinds of distributed teams, organizations and activities.

P2P principles emphasize cooperation, openness, fairness, transparency, information symmetry, sustainability, subsidiarity, accountability, quality, and innovation motivated by a variety of human needs and values negotiated among peers.

IMO P2P principles and relations can operate in almost any economic or political theater if two specific rules are respected. P2P Capitalism, P2P Marxism, P2P Anarchy, or P2P whatever, must make every effort to respect:

  1. the moral and legal equality of every peer
  2. the fully informed consent of every peer

The relative degree to which these fundamental principles are followed is the relative degree of P2P-correctness, regardless of any other characteristics of a P2P model.

However, the simplicity of these two rules is deceptive because they have many corollaries and implications. And they don’t solve the problem of competing or conflicting rights and interests among peers–we must still have some form of contact, due process, conflict resolution, etc. for that.

In an ideology-agnostic nutshell, you might say the P2P framework is about cooperative individualism (this is precisely how Michel Bauwens describes peerism in “The Political Economy of Peer Production“).

Along with Thomas Jefferson, “I have sworn … eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Peers are interdependent but retain a self-identity, dignity, and an intellectual and moral agency. Any system which diminishes that diminishes itself.

A P2P peer is a mostly self-directed individual, voluntarily consenting to various cooperative social or economic contracts or arrangements.

A person’s success at being a peer and engaging with others as peers may depend largely on how well they absorb the ideas of intersubjectivity and enlightened self-interest.

individual -v- group

individual -v- group (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The mixture of individuality (selfishness) and sociality (cooperation) in each person reflects the multilevel interaction of individual and group selection in evolution. This often carries a level of social conflict and cognitive dissonance that each peer and peer group must grapple with.

Be sure to check out our Facebook P2P GroupMichel Bauwens’ Facebook page, and the Foundation for P2P Alternatives website for many more P2P related topics.

Poor Richard

Related PRA 2.0 posts:

The 99% Solution

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Sign of the Four opens with an alarming scene:

“Sherlock Holmes took his bottle from the corner of the mantel-piece and his hypodermic syringe from its neat morocco case.   With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.  Finally he thrust the sharp point home, pressed down the tiny piston, and sank back into the velvet-lined arm-chair with a long sigh of satisfaction.”

A little later in the story Holmes states, 

“It is cocaine,” he said, “a seven-per-cent solution.  Would you care to try it?”

Limitation of classical social movements

Classical social movements have often been limited by tunnel vision, cooptationastroturfing, diversion, attrition, intimidation, repression, legal injunction, corruption, constraints of philanthropy, etc. Meanwhile, today, the 1% (the looter elite), are attacking the 99% on every side,  capturing every institution of society, and privatizing every resource on the planet.

“America is in financial ruin. Europe and Asia are on the brink of self-annihilation. Chaos reigns. But like I’ve always said, there is opportunity in chaos.” (Xander Drax, The Phantom)

What cultural transformation has lacked is an organic form, an embodiment tailored to chaos: a stigmergic swarm, or a slime-mold for example.

“When food is abundant a slime mold exists as a single-celled organism, but when food is in short supply, slime molds congregate and start moving as a single body.” (Wikipedia)

A Slime mold growing on a beer can

A Slime mold growing on a beer can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The 99% Solution

  • The 99% Solution is not a “mob”. It is a self-organizing organism, a “complex adaptive system“.
  • The 99% Solution is an emergent cultural slime mold that can engulf countless separate islands of class, political identity, and single-issue activism.
  • The 99% Solution has the potential to initiate and sustain a fundamental cultural phase transition.
  • The 99% Solution can assimilate (but does not require) leaders, agendas, advisers, critics, and philanthropists. It only requires active participants.

“You will be assimilated. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile.”

(Star Trek)

Poor Richard

  • The Co-Intelligence Institute works to further the understanding and development of co-intelligence. It focuses on catalyzing co-intelligence in the realms of politics, governance, economics and conscious evolution of ourselves and our social systems. We research, network, advocate, and help organize leading-edge experiments and conversations in order to weave what is possible into new, wiser forms of civilization.


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.(

– – – –

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.


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


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