Violence, anyone?

“Ye shall know them by their fruits.” (Mat 7:16)

Corporate-controlled media, including the PBS News Hour, has made much of the “violence” committed by persons supposedly associated with the Occupy and 99% movements. PBS joined practically every commercial media outlet in linking the alleged May 1 Ohio bridge bombing attempt to Occupy Wall Street (OWS) via an absurdly sketchy association between OWS and “anarchy“.

Entrapping Occupy?

Apparently this intimidated Occupy Cleavland to abandon their May 1 rally. They made this statement:

OccupyClevelandLogo-White-Full

OccupyClevelandLogo-White-Full (Photo credit: crazy-jake)

May 1, 2012 – Cleveland – While the persons arrested Monday evening by the FBI have participated in Occupy Cleveland events, they were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland. Occupy Cleveland has affirmed the principles of non-violence since its inception on October 6, 2011.

Occupy Cleveland has spoken out and worked against violence in all its forms, including:

  • Wars and occupations
  • Economic violence of financial inequality, unemployment, debt, and foreclosure
  • Social violence of racism, sexism and homophobia
  • Environmental violence of global warming and fracking

 Occupy Cleveland believes the only way to respond to a violent federal and corporate state is through active non-violence.

Main$tream media routinely downplay the size and peacefulness of OWS turnouts and their many non-violence declarations and instead they highlight vandalism and try to tar whole protest movements with the actions of a few.  And some are quick to label vandalism as terrorism. The issues of justice and proportionality, and the distinctions between violence against property and violence against persons, usually get lost if not intentionally discarded. Though I’m strongly committed to non-violence, I’m not a pacifist and I tend to side with Occupiers who maintain a high tolerance for “diversity of tactics”. However, should high tolerance be UNLIMITED tolerance for all the flies, infiltrators, provocateurs, self-serving spokespeople, etc. attracted to the movement?

An Occupy blogger writes:

I was having a conversation with someone about what MLK and Malcolm X might have talked about… If MLK might have understood Malcolm’s approach . . . even if he could not publicly admit it. When posed the question, “Did Malcolm ‘help’ the civil rights struggle?” . . . the quick retort was, “Not near as much as Bull Connor.”

I think OWS, the 1%, and the security forces each want the other side to be violent enough to make their opponents look bad. The corporate security state also wants OWS to be both violent and non-violent (and they secretly promote both sides within OWS) so as to increase the division inside OWS. IMO neither the corporate state nor the bankers and other  plutocons are at all afraid of OWS violence. They welcome it so they can appear to be justified when they unleash their wildly disproportionate violence on the 99%. To an extent we also welcome the excessive police violence because it helps us recruit sympathy and support.

And let’s be perfectly clear–the OWS news I am most compulsively attracted to is news of vandalism, violence, etc. The human brain is wired this way and both the for-profit infotainment industry and the independent activist media exploit this in every way possible.

How non-violent can we be?

99% Solidatity.net bus ride agreement:

“As you prepare to Occupy and join the 99% Movement in Chicago for the People’s Summit and other actions and activities beginning on May 18, 2012 , please open yourself to the needs of others. Consider how your actions affect those around you who are also struggling for a new world.

I will refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart.

I will Remember that nonviolence seeks justice and reconciliation – not victory. We must overcome our desires to control and conquer, as this will only replicate the oppression we oppose.

I will Take care of myself and one another, Stay positive, practice self-care, and acknowledge the good work of those around me.

Safety + Solidarity = Success

By participating in the bus trips that are being provided to and from Chicago, I agree to participate in the People’s Summit March and Rally on May 18, 2012. I further agree that if I violate any part of this action agreement, I will not be allowed on the bus from that point forward or be provided with any other support for the remainder of the action and trip.”

I like the sentiment of this bus ride agreement and would not hesitate to assent to it in full good faith. However, it goes without saying that I reserve the right to act according to my conscience and best judgement from moment to moment, accepting responsibility for my actions, no matter what I have affirmed or promised in the past. That is the highest form of honor. We cannot eradicate complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity from real life. We all use rules and promises to help us live, but every moment that occurs has never happened before. Rules and commitments are good when they help us compensate for information we can’t get. They are bad when they encourage us to ignore new information as it arrives.

In some cases what passes for ethics can actually be a kind of corruption or irrationality. Instead of Primum non nocere (first, do no harm), we may sometimes need to settle for Vitare superfluum nocere (avoid unnecessary harm) to avoid falling into a Reductio ad absurdum (reduction to the absurd).

[Primum non nocere], is one of the principal precepts of medical ethics that all medical students are taught in medical school and is a fundamental principle for emergency medical services around the world. Another way to state it is that “given an existing problem, it may be better not to do something, or even to do nothing, than to risk causing more harm than good.” It reminds the physician and other health care providers that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do. It is invoked when debating the use of an intervention that carries an obvious risk of harm but a less certain chance of benefit.”(Wikipedia)

Disclamer: the views expressed in the following video do not represent me or PRA 2010.

I’m trying to be agnostic about the “black blocks” at this point, but this video raises a few questions. 1) Why characterize other groups (implying OWS?) as “just standing around with signs” ? That seems like a cheap (and false) shot. 2) Why step on the actions of other groups like OWS and union protests? 3) Are bb’s hostile to OWS? Is OWS a target of bb’s in some way?

State Violence, for and against

To some extent, the blame for state violence can be laid at everyone’s feet. We all ultimately foot the bill for it, we drive the demand for it with our consumerism, and most of us awkwardly tolerate or ignore it. The main reason I try to minimize my energy usage is that most fuel is paid for in part with violence. The way I think of it, every gallon of gasoline sold in the USA (and in many other places) contains a pint of blood and misery. A few drops of domestic blood, and whole lot of foreign blood.

In conflicts over resources, who are the attackers and who are the defenders? Who are the freedom-fighters and who the terrorists? As Fox News says, YOU decide.

LOWKEY – TERRORIST?

Solidarity Now: workers + cops + soldiers + anti-war activists + anarchists + poor + et alia  = 99%

The debates around war, Imperialism, reactions to Imperialism, and terrorism have been with us always and fill thousands of volumes. I include the topic here for perspective, because they go to the motives and the passions of those on all sides of the argument (and there are many sides). These issues can be sources of conflict within Occupy and the 99%, as well as between the 1% and the 99%.

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today–JFK

The “systematic use of violence and intimidation” is common to many states (including the US and the UK) and non-state actors, whether the target is a foreign enemy, a domestic  riot, or non-violent dissent.  But those who SIGN UP for conflicts might do it because of brainwashing, or thinking they are fighting for God and country, freedom, justice, good social order, etc.  Some people try to weigh the motives of combatants; others think that personal intentions or delusions are, once they sign up to kill, oppress, or exploit people for cash, religion, patriotism, or for just about any other motive, irrelevant. They are terrorists whether they wear bluejeans or a uniform.  By another definition a “terrorist” is anyone standing between the USA and “our” oil.

Scott Olsen
(credit: Jay Finneburgh / AP)

What about those who sign up for law enforcement or military service, not to oppress people for money,  but for honorable motives, including a desire to improve their institutions from within? I think there are far more service people than some peace activists or Occupiers may think who bring their consciences with them to work in many ways, including dissenting up the chain.

What about Bradley Manning and other military whistle-blowers? Did their military service make them terrorists or facists? Did their acts of conscience make them traitors? Or are they working class heroes?

What about Scott Olsen, the 24-year-old Marine who served two tours of duty in Iraq, then stood up for the Oakland and SF Occupiers and took some brain damage for it? Was he a terrorist, a military fascist, a traitor, or a hero?

What about 16-year-old Tariq Aziz, the US citizen killed by an unmanned US “Peace Drone?”

Terrorist or terror victim?

What about retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis,  arrested in full uniform at an Occupy Wall Street demo after branding fellow officers ‘obnoxious, arrogant and ignorant’?

Was he a terrorist, a traitor, a pig, or a hero of the 99%?

An Occupier comments:

“Personally, I am heartened by the participation of Veterans for Peace and Occupy Marines. But this national neurosis of “you are never allowed to criticize the military or question the virtue of soldiers” has got to stop.”

Many within the 99% take different sides on these questions. Like Fox News says, YOU decide. But consider this: some popular uprisings have succeeded only because large portions of the police or military forces sided with the people.

Occupy Violence

“I’m really frustrated that asking questions and wanting to discuss hypotheticals is construed by some as support for violent tactics. I have never seen a black bloc in action. I’m going on theory and hearsay. So far I refrain from condemnation because I have little information. I’m not going to call that support, and I can see both sides of the issue. But I am reasonably certain that a true commitment to strategic non-violence means having considered and understood the alternatives.” (an Occupy blogger)

Fair enough.

So is this violence?

credit: Citizen Kane (click image for source)

It is an act of vandalism of state property and an act of strong provocation towards the officer. Both may be acts of violence by some definitions. Is it justified?

Wikipedia says “Vandalism per se is sometimes considered one of the less serious common crimes, but it can become quite serious and distressing when committed extensively, violently or as an expression of hatred and intimidation.”

So vandalism is or isn’t ( more or less)  violent and/or intimidating by degrees depending on the circumstances.

By some definitions, something that creates intimidation and fear is violence. By that definition, the massive police presence in full riot gear at a gathering of unarmed protestors including seniors, children, etc. is itself an act of violence.

One Oakland Occupier said:

“I was a liberal reformist believing in the 99 meme until I went through the two destructions of the Oakland Commune and all the state repression brought to bear on us since, and, well, the 99 meme is over. Dead. Kerput. In fact we don’t even chant that anymore; we chant “We are the Proletariat!”

Trauma changes people on both sides of a conflict. It can bring people together in solidarity and it can break them up into factions, or both at the same time. Consider the Stanford prison experiment.

My thesis is that violence is a very complex issue that ALL of us oversimplify in various ways according to our biases and context. I consider mowing my own lawn an act of violence against nature, but I do it anyway because of a particular cost-benefit analysis.

We each must follow the laws of the land and the dictates of our consciences as best we can — or not — and live with the results. Hopefully when shit happens, when there is blow-back, when there is collateral damage to others, , etc., we learn from the consequences of our actions.

My dad was a career military man and I was a part of the 60’s counter-culture. That drove a deep wedge between us. That was all my doing, because I felt passionately that I had to stand up against US Imperialism. Looking back from the vantage point I have now, I know that he wasn’t an Imperialist. He was a brilliant, kind, sensitive, and funny man who made some difficult and brave choices and maybe some blind ones. He didn’t invent radar technologies and electronics countermeasures in order to harm others, but to protect us. How those technologies were used can be laid at all our feet.

It turns out my Dad was a decent guy that I never got to really know. That’s one reason I now embrace a 99% that is full of people I have disagreements with (including a lot of punks 🙂 ).  We shouldn’t  make the same mistake about our 99% brothers and sisters that I made with my Dad.

But one thing on which I differ with some proponents of vandalism and “revolutionary violence”  within the 99% is this: The 1% is not in any way afraid of nor intimidated by our violence. They welcome it. They want it. They deliberately encourage and provoke it. It works almost entirely in their favor and seldom gains us anything but negative press.

No doubt for some of the 99% it is a right of passage like “counting coup“. The analogy applies well because the 1% aren’t truly harmed. (Some property or pawns of the 1% might suffer some damage or intimidation, but the 1% themselves are never scathed.)

It may also be a bonding experience for groups like the black blocks. But at the same time it alienates others in the 99% (perhaps some of the “reformist liberal bourgeoisie”–i.e. anyone who disagrees with certain anarchists or Marxists 🙂 ) who are strangely more annoyed or embarrassed than impressed. . . .

This kind of violence (and far worse) is often used by a small resistance group against a superior opponent. But rebels and anarchists aren’t the only ones who try to “wag the dog“. Its a tactic favored by many fleas and underdogs. But the 99% is not a pack of fleas or underdogs. Acting together we are the Big Dog.

The tail wagging the dog is a concept used by an inferior side in asymmetrical conflict. The 99% includes many who see themselves as inferior in strength to the 1% and so act as inferiors and employ the tactics of asymmetrical conflict. That’s rational as far as it goes. On the other hand, the 99% is actually the biggest dog in the fight if it acts that way. In order to act that way it has to first think that way. As noted by Étienne de La Boétie (a 14th century anarchist) in Discourse on Voluntary Servitude, power has never originated from the inherent strength of tyrants. Great power may reside in the tyrant temporarily, but it has always derived, at its root, from the beliefs and behavior of the masses. If the masses (The Big Dog) awaken, they do not need to employ any asymmetrical, underdog methods.

credit: Wikileaks (Facebook)

A typical anarchist might say something like: “The specter of potential violence is the ONLY thing the oligarchy understands.”

Oh? The anarchist knows this how? I think the oligarchy also understands our franchise to vote, it understands non-violent civil disobedience (especially in large numbers), it understands an efficient competitor, it understands the power of the consumer purse, it understands a general strike, etc. Of all these things the “specter” of violence is probably the least of its worries. The biggest favor you could do the real oligarchs might be to blow up Wall Street or something big like that. The real oligarchs aren’t in NYC, and wouldn’t be touched. But thousands of dissenters-turned-“terrorists” would be in concentration camps within a month, and most of the 99% would have turned against them.

There is no final answer. There is no perfect solution. There is only practice.

Poor Richard

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves” (Matt 21:12)

click image for credits/source

Vandalism at the Boston Tea Party (Wikimedia)

Acknowledgement/disclaimer: I have included some publicly posted quotes, links and an image borrowed from Facebook friends without permission in the spirit of fair use. Opinions expressed herein or in linked-to blogs are those of the respective authors only.

ALEC envy

click for image credit

Lately I’ve been experiencing ALEC envy.

As we know, ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a shady organization that mass-produces canned legislation in service to the corporate neofeudalist agenda.

Friends, brothers, and sisters . . . I come not to bury ALEC but to praise it — not for its deeds, but for its design.

We often confuse the evil men do with the tools and logistics used. I don’t think many progressives yet see the potential for good and for actually promoting direct democracy hidden in the ALEC model because of how it has been abused. I think that’s why things like ALICE  (ALEC’s non-evil, progressive twin) aren’t getting more support.

When I look under the hood of the ALEC machine with a system analyst’s eye I see some things that I like. If the 1% plutocons had not invented the ALEC model, the 99% would need to do it. ALEC is to politics as genetic engineering is to old-fashioned selective breeding. It takes the process of creating legislation from being an art to being a science and technology. And as destructive as such political engineering can be in the wrong hands, its technical innovations are potentially a good thing for participatory democracy.

“ALEC’s astonishing influence exposes the progressive Achilles’ heel: a lack of a similarly entrenched, nationwide infrastructure of state and local policymakers and advocates that can create and support lasting change.” (Katrina vanden Heuval, Deepening the progressive bench, via The Democratic Startegist)

In politics, liberals are still bringing protest signs to what has become, in the era of ALEC and other authoritarian political innovations, a gun fight (sometimes literally). It’s hard not to envy the 1% such a big, swinging tool.

Of course the ALEC model, as implemented by the 1%, violates tax and lobbying laws. We need to bust them HARD on that. Common Cause is calling for a tax fraud investigation. Meanwhile, we need to copy, hack, and re-mix parts of the ALEC model into a new model that is a venue for creating public interest open source legislation.  The right-wing ALEC is run like a criminal conspiracy. A citizens’ Open Legislative Exchange Council (OLEC) can be run like a democratic cooperative. The old ALEC is sick in the original sense of the word but a new public-interest OLEC could be sick in a street way, yo?

Why bother? Many state legislatures still have part-time and/or unpaid lawmakers with small or shared staffs. This makes them very susceptible to lobbyists who will hand them ready-made bills on a platter (not that corporate-sponsored national legislators aren’t, too). And we still want to think that legislators should be regular people, 99% people, who need not be professional career politicians, insiders, or technocrats who are independently wealthy and technically capable of writing good legislation in their spare time.

Transparency vs Secrecy

What ALEC prefers to do with as much secrecy as possible, the 99% can do in full daylight. An open version of the ALEC model can give all stakeholders in the 99% community a fair place at the legislative drafting table and every stakeholder can have a  position on the people’s “open legislative assembly line”. Our legacy political institutions often failed to do that even before they were captured by 1%  money.

OWS and open-source legislation

Part of the Occupy Wall Street movement could undertake to re-engineer the ALEC model to be consistent with 99% values and methods such as crowd-sourcing and open source collaboration. I think such adaptations would actually increase the tactical power of the model. A green ALEC could research, engineer, and promote legislative projects that would implement much of the OWS 99% agenda through well-crafted, enlightened and responsible species of open-source legislation. Instead of being governed by and catering to profit-motivated corporations, Citizens’ OLECs would be  governed by and accountable to public interest groups and activists across the 99% spectrum.

Reddit community crowd-sources “Free Internet Act

“On January 18th, we saw a day of online protest that at least for now killed SOPA and Protect IP. The Reddit community was one of many that played a huge role in pressuring not only businesses like GoDaddy to change their stance, but also members of Congress like Paul Ryan. Now, the community has come up with a proposed plan to create a piece of legislation, called the Free Internet Act, Reddit Co-Founder Alexis Ohanian explains.”

e-democracy

The U.S. congress’s attempts at e-democracy have been a “baby step compared to what others have done around the world,” says Matt Lira, the digital communication director for Congressman Eric Cantor. For Lira, there are some key reasons why he’s had difficulty pressuring Congress to become more digitally savvy. He contends that the political party in power has little incentive to give up authority to an experimental process that may tip the balance of power. Congress’s two most significant e-initiatives have been launched by Republicans — America Speaking Out, an aggregation platform where users list and prioritize various social issues, and YouCut, an SMS-based voting system to select which programs a few Republican congressman will attempt to cut.  (mashable.com)

The Republicans may be slow to adopt e-democracy, but it seems they are way ahead of the 99%! Other countries, including Brazil, are ahead of us, too. We will need to elect more progressive legislators and get money out of the political process before we can make democracy much more participatory. But a tool like a citizens’ Open Legislative Exchange Council should be invaluable to a new class of 99% citizen-legislators and voters.

Poor Richard

Related:

Know the enemy and steal the advantage:

知彼知己,百戰不殆;不知彼而知己,一勝一負;不知彼,不知己,每戰必殆

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” (Sun_Tzu, The Art of War)

Addendum for techies What kind of technology platform do we need for open, crowd sourced legislation development? I hate to say it, but we probably need at least the same caliber of development tool-set used to build things like Linux or other huge software projects. It would be a highly integrated and graphical development environment with ungodly enterprise-class content management and project management capability. Last but not least you’d want a great semantic “legislation debugger”. After all, legislation is a hell of a lot like a giant  code repository. There would be a very large “legislation developer” community with different skill sets. It might take a half dozen different user interfaces for different classes of participants and different client devices (notebooks, tablets, smart phones, etc.) I think the shortest path might be integrating and customizing some of the open source enterprise-class applications out there like Eclipse and whatever the biggest CMS might be. Wikis have the scalability but not the ease of use necessary for all classes of users. It all has to run as web services so users only need a browser. I think we’re talking a chunk of change and a very good team to build something like that.  Any feedback would be nice.

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
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