Pondering Pax Americana and the government ‘shut-down’ | CONTRARY BRIN

lincoln gettysburg address

Going beyond the knee-jerk platitudes from the right and the left:

Pondering Pax Americana and the government ‘shut-down’ | CONTRARY BRIN.

“Pax Americana will be finished. Which has been the aim of Rupert [Murdoch] & Co., all along.” –David Brin

Presumably Pax Americana is to be replaced by some privatized, neo-feudal world order. What might be a good “Pax” name for it; and might it be a necessary evil given the limits to growth, human nature, etc.? Does liberal democracy require material abundance? Are humans ultimately too mad (irrational) to govern ourselves under precarious conditions?

Ben Franklin said:

“Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”


TULE: The Universal Legal Entity

Wenger Swiss Army knife, opened.

Wenger Swiss Army knife, opened. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Corporations are TULEs (the universal legal entities). They have become the Swiss Army Knives of legal hacking, government lock picking, treasury robbing, regulation cutting,  jury rigging, and democracy hijacking.

They are increasingly blurring all the  lines between the person, local government, nation state, and international entity. They have almost entirely rubbed out any lines between the private and public sectors.

A corporation can now emulate almost every legal attribute of a person. It can emulate almost every structural and legal detail of  a nation state, with the exception of a dwindling number of national legal powers. Governmental jurisdictions still have a degree of sovereignty or legal superiority over corporations, but things like “international free-trade agreements” are  whittling these governmental powers down.

In some respects the powers and authorities of corporations actually exceed those of nation states and even those of international legal bodies. The most powerful international legal bodies are in fact those constituted by the largest multinational corporations themselves.

All economic and political theories that stress or depend on any of the past distinctions between persons, corporations, and states have become (or are rapidly becoming) obsolete. Little things like democracy, justice, capitalism, socialism, markets, property, and commons, for example.

What does this mean? How does this affect us?

The corruption of campaigns, elections, and political leaders, and the corporate “occupation” of government bodies and agencies mean that  large corporations control the institutions of civil society and make the rules (or control the selective enforcement) of labor policy, taxation, government spending,  financial regulation, food and drug safety, the environment, and so on.

We now have a strongly bifurcated, two-tiered justice system–one set of laws for the rich and one for the rest of us. The laws for the rich give them cover to practice disaster capitalism, creating and/or exploiting economic bubbles or boom-bust cycles that enable the rich to vacuum up assets from all the lower classes and the commons at fire-sale prices.

The rapid co-evolution of corporation law and technology are making the practice if not the concept of governmental regulation obsolete. The majority of government regulations now have the effect if not the intent of granting monopolies, immunities, and other advantages to big corporations over small corporations, local governments, and persons.

The public sector and the commons are being privatized en route to becoming monopolized. In most cases that also means being undemocritized. This invasion of our governments and the commons is producing a new system of ownership and governance of society that in many ways resembles the feudalism and manorialim of the Dark Ages. This has been called plutocracy and neofeudalism.

All the progressive democratic revolutions of the past two thousand years including the Athenian democracy, the Magna Carta,  the European and US revolutions against monarchy, the revolutions of  labor unions against the Robber Barons, and the petit revolutions of social movements and civilian governments against the militarily-industrial-financial-surveillance complex (such as the New Deal, the civil rights movement, and the Watergate and Church Committee Hearings, etc.) are all being rolled back by this universal authoritarian counter-revolution.

Things that will never be the same:

  • elections
  • education
  • the middle class
  • the rule of law
  • law enforcement
  • justice & the courts
  • property
  • contracts
  • markets
  • commons
  • public services and utilities
  • privacy
  • equity
  • civil rights
  • you name it

And there’s no place to run. No place to hide.

Poor Richard

Network diagram showing interlocks between var...

Network diagram showing interlocks between various U.S. corporations/institutions, and four major media/telecom corporations (circled in red). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

the formula

Credit Default Swap cashflows, author Ramin Na...

Credit Default Swap cashflows, author Ramin Nakisa. Photo by Ramin Nakisa. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Formula #1

To get the total present value of the credit default swap we multiply the probability of each outcome by its present value to give

PV\, =\, (1 - p_1) N(1-R) \delta_1\,
+ p_1 ( 1 - p_2 ) [ N(1-R) \delta_2 - \frac{Nc}{4} \delta_1 ]
+p_1 p_2 ( 1 - p_3 ) [ N(1-R) \delta_3 - \frac{Nc}{4} (\delta_1 + \delta_2) ]
+p_1 p_2 p_3 (1 - p_4) [ N(1-R) \delta_4 - \frac{Nc}{4} (\delta_1 + \delta_2 + \delta_3) ]
-p_1 p_2 p_3 p_4 ( \delta_1 + \delta_2 + \delta_3 + \delta_4 ) \frac{Nc}{4}


Formula #2

financial crisis = capture government + privatize public assets

Notes on counter-counter-revolution

Start the Revolution Without Me
Image via Wikipedia

More than at any time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction.  Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly”—Woody Allen

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” — U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864 (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.” Dwight D. Eisenhower, From a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 16, 1953

“A strict application, let us say, of economic theory, at least as taught by Adam Smith, would be, ‘Let these people take care of themselves; during their active life they are supposed to save enough to take care of themselves.’ In this modern industry, dependent as we are on mass production, and so on, we create conditions where that is no longer possible for everybody. So the active part of the population has to take care of all the population, and if they haven’t been able during the course of their active life to save up enough money, we have these systems.” Dwight D. Eisenhower 1953 Press Conference

“[T]o attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason  is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” Dwight D. Eisenhower http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/presidential-papers/first-term/documents/1147.cfm

Sadly, Ike seems to have underestimated the psychopathic, animal cunning of these Texas millionaires (or now, as Dr. Evil might say, squirming and rubbing his palms together,  “multi-billion-trillion-zillion-gajillionaires“), the military-industrial complex they command, and their now global cohort of evil politicians, princes, despots, and puppet dictators. No doubt he also overestimated their decency and/or loyalty to country or humanity. And he seems to have badly overestimated the inclination or capacity of the public to act in their own self-interest.

And so, we are now faced with:

Chris Hedges: Neo-feudalism or Revolution

Chris Hedges has written a provocative denunciation of the present apocalyptic trajectory of corporate capitalism and call for resistance. It is a bleak vision, not just of what capitalism has to offer, but of the prospects for effective resistance, much less revolution.

“But none of this is going to change until we turn our backs on the wider society, denounce the orthodoxies peddled in our universities and in the press by corporate apologists and construct our opposition to the corporate state from the ground up. It will not be easy. It will take time. And it will require us to accept the status of social and political pariahs, especially as the lunatic fringe of our political establishment steadily gains power as the crisis mounts.

“The corporate state has nothing to offer the left or the right but fear. It uses fear to turn the population into passive accomplices. And as long as we remain afraid, or believe that the formal mechanisms of power can actually bring us real reform, nothing will change. The game is over. We lost. … Do not expect them to take care of us when it starts to unravel. We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to rapidly create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and cultural values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. It is either that or become drones and serfs in a global corporate dystopia. It is not much of a choice. But at least we still have one.”

A text and audio reading of the entire Hedges article is here:

Chris Hedges’s Endgame Strategy: Why the revolution must start in America.

[I think its unfortunate that Hedges talks about the revolution starting in America. That horse is already out of the barn and the barn door was perhaps  first opened in 12th century England and most recently again in the Arab Spring nations. Even in the category of contemporary counter-counter-revolution we are preceded by some of our Latin American and Middle Eastern friends and perhaps others that will come to mind.  But I agree with Chris in the sense that I think the US should by all means step up BIGTIME and try to set an example, provide support, and in some cases aspire to a leadership role in the world of progressive and non-violent democratic (and don’t forget green) counter-counter-revolution.  -PR]


Varieties of Revolutionary Experience

The revolution I have in mind is a mashup of the English Magna Carta of 1215, the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the  Arab Spring and all other revolutions based on establishing greater democracy, social and economic justice, civil rights, and the consent of the governed.

The counter-revolution is the ongoing corporate take-over of  government, the courts, civil society, and the commons all around the world.

The counter-counter-revolution includes Democracy Schools, Green Free-enterprise, and The Green Union. Some may resort to violence in self defense or in defense of civil liberties and the commons, but first let us pledge all our passion, cunning, assets, and industry to “be the change we want to see in the world” (Gandhi).

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete” – Buckminster Fuller

For those of us in the US, especially, but also for our friends around the world who share this sentiment with us, I think the time has come to solemnly reaffirm the exact, final words of the instrument that consecrated our founding revolution, the US Declaration of Independence:

…we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

And organic change begins within:

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires. That’s the only reason I can see why people in the US continue to vote against their own interests.” – John Steinbeck

Heller Communication Design » Blog Archive » The most important Design for Social Innovation is I

Lucretius “On the Nature of Things” (commentry via Renata McGriff)

An ancient poem that Steven Greenblatt brings back to life in the New Yorker, “On the Nature of Things,” was written by Lucretius, who was born about a thousand years before Christ. His principle vision was “of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe”, and if that were not prescient enough, he went on to argue that, “In a universe so constituted, it is absurd to think that the earth and its inhabitants occupy a central place, or that the world was purpose-built to accommodate human beings….There is no reason to set humans apart from other animals, no hope of bribing or appeasing the gods, no place for religious fanaticism, no call for ascetic self-denial, no justification for dreams of limitless power or perfect security, no rationale for wars of conquest or self-aggrandizement, no possibility of triumphing over nature. Instead, he wrote, human beings should conquer their fears, accept the fact that they themselves and all the things they encounter are transitory, and embrace the beauty and the pleasure of the world.”

Lucretius’ wild notion about atoms became scientific certainty 2,000 years later. On the other hand, his advice to us to see ourselves as part of the ecosystem of all creatures around us, stop fighting, conquer our fears and embrace the beauty and pleasure of the world is something that, as a species, we have so far failed.

The “living system” definition of identity has application far beyond the world of logos. It can be applied, as a design process, to all the potentially deadly forms of identity listed above. And it has the power to help create a larger and more diverse identity in which we can see others as part of ourselves.”


While building a new model– a diverse, grassroots, green counter-economy– and re-designing our own inner worlds, we must also cover our asses.

“Another example is the Ogoni people in Nigeria who were fighting against Shell. They lead a decade long campaign against the ecological catastrophe that Shell (amongst other petro-corporations) was perpetrating on the Niger delta. That non-violent campaign lead to mass murders of many Ogoni and the murder of Ken-Saro Wiwa (along with other Ogoni leaders). Now we have MEND (Movement to Emancipate the Nigerian Delta), who attacks oil platforms and kidnaps oil execs. Is this the answer in the long run? Of course not, it doesn’t address the huge damage already done to the ecosystem in Nigeria. However, Shell is now in the process of trying to get out of Nigeria, which is a major victory from the perspective of trying to heal that area.

“So while it would be nice to chill in our local organic permaculture gardens (which is arguably what the Ogoni people, and many others, had been doing for centuries), the fact of the matter is that the expansionist tendencies of the capitalist state are insatiable. If you go into the forest, they will come and clear cut it to plant monocrop (as you are fully aware I am sure). If you retreat to the mountaintop, they will surely violently evict you in order to extract XYZ mineral deposit.” —  Brian Brown

Now for something not completely different…

Response to The State as Scaffolding byVinay Gupta

(newpublicthinkers.org via The P2P Daily)

I rarely read a piece which suggests any rational basis for optimism. I appreciate Vinay Gupta’s non-ideological and historically informed approach.

While the ideal state protects its population from powerful special interests and private elites (robber barons, etc.), the irony is that the state also presents a relatively small target for special interests and elites to capture. In the US, the institutions of the state are now largely captive to the captains of “free market capitalism”. (Hmm… capture, captive, captains, capitalism…) Even the courts are being overrun. What has not yet been fully captured by these elites is our body of law which stretches from current statutes and common law back to prehistory. That is the legacy and common heritage of mankind. States may come and go, but the common law is our social DNA. Those of us who wish to save the state from sinking, scrape off its barnacles and so on, would do well to arm ourselves in a deep knowledge of law and the legal arts.

Response to Can the Commons Move from the Margins to the Mainstream? by David Bollier (stirtoaction.wordpress.com)

The corporate counter-revolution – Privatization

Privatization of

  • Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid
  • utilities: water, electric, gas, sanitation
  • hospitals, public health agencies, mental health services
  • schools and colleges
  • fire departments
  • police
  • jails and prisons
  • state and local courts (budget cuts, arbitration, corporate influences, corporate docket flooding)
  • roads
  • transportation
  • ports
  • parks
  • land use planning (corporate influence)
  • elimination of public media
  • resources: forests, grazing land, minerals, oil, gas, water aquifers, watersheds, broadcast spectrum
  • network infrastructure
  • proprietary electronic voting equipment
  • military outsourcing
  • national security outsourcing
  • local government administration (via “financial emergency laws” and other pre-emptions, corporate personhood, outsourcing)
  • legislatures (via corporate campaign funding, massive lobbying, corporate-drafted legislation, revolving door)
  • federal courts (packing with corporate activists)
  • federal administration (corporate campaign funding, lobbying, regulatory user fees, regulatory agency capture, revolving door,  outsourcing)

Attacking last vestiges of local control

Benton Harbor emergency manager strips power from all elected officials

Michigan’s Mackinac Center/Heritage/ALEC Behind EFM Law

The Ed Show: Ed Schulz and Andy Kroll of Mother Jones Magazine–Michigan’s Mackinac Center/Heritage/ALEC and Koch Bros Behind “financial martial law” bills.

Rachel Maddow’s report on “really big, take-over-your-town big government”:

No more New Deal: Dismantling the social safety net

MEDICARE: Broken Contract

The GOP lined up in near-unanimous opposition to the landmark Affordable Care Act, and they just as resoundingly embraced the utterly meritless notion that health reform violates the Constitution. Many GOP lawmakers go even further, claiming that Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP and any other federal health care programs are unconstitutional. And the GOP’s last campaign for the White House was built upon a plan to gut state laws protecting health insurance consumers and leave them to the mercy of the insurance industry. In other words, it’s clear that the Republican Party has wanted to dismantle the nation’s health care contract with all Americans for many years — they just finally got the votes to pass this radical agenda through the House.

U.S. Ranks Dead Last In Overall Social Spending,  By Ray Medeiros, April 16, 2011

The conservative pundits are trying to frame this debate along the lines that the deficit and debt of the United States was created by the liberal, nanny state programs. This is an outright lie they have drummed into the heads of the American people. Unfortunately, some of the pundits are trusted sources of information for millions of people.

The United States currently ranks thirty-fourth(34th) out of the thirty-four(34) members of the OECD in regards to spending on social programs, DEAD LAST.

Buying and rigging the electoral process

Can Democracy Survive Citizens United v. FEC? By Sam Fedele (about the author) opednews.com

proprietary electronic voting machines….

Programmer under oath admits computers rig elections

corrupt election officials….

Expanded probe of Waukesha County election procedures sought

Waukesha County – History repeats (and doesn’t repeat) itself  April 14, 2011

Blocking the public referendum process (direct democracy)…

Critics say item-pricing law prevents referendum

Restrictive voter registration, restricted polling hours and locations, restrictive voter ID laws…


Boise Weekly has a blog post by ProPublica on the budget cuts to e-gov that mentions Save the Data.

As the Washington Post’s Federal Eye blog notes [4], USASpending.gov — a repository for data on federal contracts — operates under a legislative mandate. Data.gov [5], a clearinghouse of data from federal agencies, and IT Dashboard [6], a site that tracks the progress of the government’s IT investments, were created by executive orders and are not guaranteed federal funding, according to the Post.

The Awful Revolution: Is Neoliberalism a Public Health Risk?

By Benjamin Winegard (about the author) opednews.com

“The neoliberal revolution, which began in the 1970s, has produced inequality not seen since the gilded age. …The policies that produced this wealth disparity, including privatization, deregulation, and the promotion of macroeconomic stability, have attracted the opprobrium of critics and the plaudits of apologists. In mainstream discourse, free market encomia and anti-government pabulum are virtual necessities.3 It is considered a badge of virtue to harbor mystical beliefs about the thaumaturgical properties of the free market. Of course, leaving the platonic ether, both progressives and conservatives desire a powerful regulatory apparatus and interventionist state. Progressives prefer that these tools be used to create greater equality; conservatives that they allow income to flow upward.4

The Kochs Mess With Texas, Our Minds and Our Future

By Mary Bell Lockhart, opednews.com

“Sometimes when you turn over a rock all sorts of creepy things crawl out. Think Progress, a project of the Center for American Progress, has produced a report on the political dealings of the brothers Charles and David Koch, and the Center for Public Integrity has reported on the Koch lobbyists in Washington.   What crawled out when they turned over these stones is truly disturbing. These reports can be found at:



“For decades, these legacy-billionaire brothers have moved their radical right, libertarian [in the USA-merican sense of the word~PR] agenda to make them and their partners more loot.   The agenda is anti-government, anti-tax, anti-regulation, anti-environment, anti-education, anti-science, anti-human and essentially anti-American. The only thing it’s “pro” is corporate domination.   From their libertarian roots, Koch organizations took over, funded and molded the tea party.   And, though in years passed the Republican Party rejected this ideology as too extreme, now the GOP has embraced it.

“ALEC [the American Legislative Exchange Council] is an organization for elected Republican officials.   It cranks out legislative wording for adoption by primarily state governments.   This is why in “red” state after state (Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Kansas, Maine, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina), we are seeing the exact same legislation put forth. The organization stands for limited federal government, greater power to the states and, there you go again, “free markets.”   A list of companies on the Enterprise Board of ALEC reveals the corporations that have signed on to the Koch agenda.   These include Energy Futures Holdings, Johnson & Johnson, PhRMA, American Bail Coalition, Kraft Foods, GlaxoSmithKline, Coca-Cola, AT&T, Pfizer, Peabody Energy, Intuit, Inc., ExxonMobil, Bayer, Reynolds American, WalMart, State Farm Insurance and UPS.

“These corporations want a weakened federal government because the federal government is the only entity that can stand up to them, if it will.   It’s the only entity that can regulate them to protect workers, consumers and the environment.   Want to know why gas prices are so high right now? It’s not supply disruption; it’s commodity futures trading in oil by a branch of Koch Industries and other speculators.   They want to continue doing that to us without restraint.

WARNING: corporate personhood, liability exemptions, tort reforms, tax cuts, deregulation, and disaster capitalism lead to bursting economic bubbles = budget crises = emergency powers = mass privatization.

Democracy’s last stand: Local control

Why is it that the commons is so often excluded from official policy discussions about how to manage resources and improve people’s lives?

Politics may not yet be totally moot, but there will never be a shortage of political junkies. There is, however, a drastic scarcity of deep legal knowledge and expertise in the progressive community.

What’s needed is an online public-interest law curricula and a public-interest version of “LegalZoom.com”

two-tired– 1) training curricula and resources for laypeople, journalists and activists 2) curricula and resources for law students and lawyers

commons law including history, cases, briefs, documents, legal instruments, etc.

community bill of rights & democracy schools (STIR)

other methods for pre-emptive conditional enclosure of commons to exclude predatory corporations.

Pre-emptive enclosure of the commons

public domain seeds, genomes

  • A general public license for seeds?
  • No patents for life forms – Bolivia takes the lead by Sepp Hasslberger. “Bolivia has adopted a new Constitution in 2009, which states that the negotiation, signature and ratification of treaties will be governed by respect for the rights of indigenous peoples and peasants as well as harmony with nature, protection of biodiversity and prohibition of the private appropriation of plants, animals, micro-organisms and any living matter for exclusive use and exploitation.The United Nations has adopted a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, which recognizes, in Article 31, that “indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures, including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora, oral traditions, literatures, designs, sports and traditional games and visual and performing arts” and the “right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions.”

environmental easements

public trusts

local citizen regulation

public/worker health and safety


The Vermont Common Assets Trust

At a time when Republican-dominated legislatures in the Midwest are slashing state budgets and declaring war on the middle class, some visionary politicians in the State of Vermont are proposing an ingenious way to use state assets to benefit everyone equitably, while protecting the natural environment.

Eleven state Representatives have just introduced legislation, H.385, that would declare certain natural resources to be common assets that belong to all citizens of the state.  These assets would then be protected by a new type of entity, the Vermont Common Assets Trust, whose foremost duty would be to protect the common assets for present and future generations.

Where appropriate, the Trust would generate revenues from those assets (such as selling water extraction rights to bottlers or timber-harvesting rights) that would directly serve the citizens of the state.  The money would not flow through the legislature, but would be managed directly by the Trust. (The full text of the legislation can be downloaded here as a pdf file.)



“The public trust doctrine has its roots in the ancient Roman concept of natural law that held certain things, including the shores of water, were by their nature common to all.

Opinion of the Justices (Public Use of Coastal Beaches), 139 N.H. 82, 87 (1994). The doctrine was adopted under English common law that the tidelands and navigable waters were held by the king in trust for the general public. Id. These public rights were vested in the colonies of America, and following the American Revolution, all the rights of the king vested in the several states, subject to the rights surrendered to the national government by the Federal Constitution. Shively v. Bowlby, 152 U.S. 1, 14-15 (1894).

New Hampshire holds in trust its lakes, large natural ponds, navigable rivers and tidal waters for the use and benefit of the people of the State. State v. Sunapee Dam Co., 70 N.H. 458, 460 (1900). Navigability is not the sole test of whether a river is held in trust, but “when a river or stream is capable in its natural state of some useful service to the public because of its existence as such, it is public. Navigability is not a sole test, although an important one.” St. Regis Paper Co. v. New Hampshire Water Resources Board, 92 N.H. 164, 170 (1942). With regard to large ponds, the Supreme Court adopted a portion of the Massachusetts Ordinance of 1647 to find that a “great pond…containing more than 10 acres of land” is included with the public trust. Concord Manufacturing Co. v. Robertson, 66 N.H. 1, 26 (1889), See also RSA 271:20 (defining state-owned public waters to include all natural bodies of fresh water having an area of 10 acres or more).

The uses and benefits subject to the public trust are not limited to navigation and fishery, but include other benefits. Various cases have held that the public trust encompasses “all useful and lawful purposes”, “what justice and reason require”, and “to boat, bathe, fish, fowl, skate and cut ice.” See Opinion of the Justices, 139 N.H. at 90-91. http://des.nh.gov/organization/divisions/water/wmb/rivers/instream/documents/ag_opinion.doc


Corporate Accountability International

Water Governance: For the People, or for the Bottom Line?
Addressing the Corporate Conflicts of Interest Posed by the CEO Water Mandate

According to General Comment 15 on the Right to Water,2 Member States are obligated to “respect, protect and fulfill” the right to water, and should adopt “necessary and effective legislative and other measures to restrain…third parties from denying equal access to adequate water” and prevent “third parties, such as individuals, groups or corporations from interfering in any way with the enjoyment of the right to water.” General Comment 15 also states that “water should be treated as a social and cultural good, and not primarily as an economic good, and that the manner of the realization of the right to water must be sustainable.”

The best way to ensure that our shared water systems and resources are governed in a manner that upholds
this right is to keep water in the public sphere. Water systems should remain under the governance and control of people and their democratically elected governments. Water resources should remain part of a public and ecological trust. Corporations who profit from controlling access to water cannot be trusted to uphold the public  interest if it conflicts with their vested interests. Therefore, corporations should not be allowed to control people’s access to water, and water – a common resource necessary for all life – should not be considered as a profitdriven commodity to be sold to the highest bidder.
Ultimately, the decision on how water shall be governed and to what end is up to people and their democratically elected governments, not the private sector or capital markets. Intergovernmental institutions such as the United Nations have an important role to play in leading these efforts to shape global water governance, including resolving the question of what role the private sector should play in the provisioning of water and the governance of water resources, if any. And indeed, as demonstrated above, the United Nations has taken some steps to address the question of water governance.
2 General Comment 15 was issued in 2002 by the United Nations’ Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to provide guidance for UN member States as to what current UN treaties have to say about States’ obligations towards the right to water, as implicitly or explicitly outlined in previous acts by the UN. For more information, please refer to the text of General Comment 15, located here: http://www.unhchr.ch/tbs/doc.nsf/0/a5458d1d1bbd713fc1256cc400389e94?Opendocument. (Accessed April 5, 2010)

NEW! Download the report Water Governance: For the People, or for the Bottom Line?
Addressing the Corporate Conflicts of Interest Posed by the CEO Water Mandate (en Español).

Download the report Thirsty For Change
Documenting the World Bank’s destructive practice of financing water privatization policies in the developing world.

NEW! Download the report Getting States Off the Bottle
Download the First Edition (December 2009)Download the Second Edition (March 2010)

Download Executive Director Kelle Louaillier’s chapter from the popular AlterNet book Water Consciousness (foreward by Bill McKibben):
Download Part 1Download Part 2

Download our award-winning Think Outside the Bottle posters:
Download “$21/gallon”Download “17 Million Barrels”

Tap Water Challenge Organizing Kit
This toolkit includes all you need to organize your own Tap Water Challenge and get people in your community ‘thinking outside the bottle’.

World Water Challenge Organizing Kit
This organizing kit includes all you need to host your own World Water Challenge, public education event to illustrate the growing corporate control of water, and how communities can challenge the privitzation of our water.


a must read:


This is an excellent paper which might be summed up by one sentence: “Practices of cooperation among coops suggest the possibility that within the overall global system of capital a non-capitalist sub-system might grow its counter-power, reduce reliance on the primary system, and potentially render it redundant.”That is why I think it must become a priority of ALL our progressive organizations, from the Sierra Club to MoveOn, to cooperate in the formation of a national green cooperative initiative, a three legged stool: 1) cooperative banks and credit unions to aggregate the savings of the progressive community and finance new cooperative ventures and cooperative buyouts of existing businesses, 2) cooperative self-insurance pools, and 3) local coop incubators in every town to provide shared facilities, admiin staff, and technical support.

Over 200 years ago in eastern North America landed settlers understood what they were facing in the form of the earliest large, continent-spanning corporations, as passages in The Alarm, written by The Sons of Liberty in 1773, demonstrate:

“It was fully proved to you in my first Number, That the East-India Company obtained their exclusive Privilege of Trade to that Country, by Bribery and Corruption. Wonder not then, that Power thus obtained, at the Expence of the national Commerce, should be used to the most tyrannical and cruel Purposes….

“The Poverty of the Nation by these corrupt Means, forced venal Ministers to be regardless of the Ways and Means to support their Creatures. To support these Creatures, the Stamp, and Revenue Acts originated; Acts pregnant with Chains, and the Loss of all that’s dear to these Colonies…. Tea must be sent to the Colonies, the Profit of which is to support the Tyranny of the Last in the East, enslave the West, and prepare us fit Victims for the Exercise of that horrid Inhumanity they have in such dread Abundance, and with more than Savage Cruelty, practised, in the Face of the Sun, on the helpless Asiaticks.”

The Koch Brothers

What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right, By Tony Carrk | Center for American Progress, April 4, 2011

Koch’s web of influence

Koch spends tens of millions trying to shape federal policies that affect their global business empire, by John Aloysius Farrell | The Center for Public Integrity, April 06, 2011

Sunlight_Foundation’s savethedata Bookmarks

Throw Out the Money Changers

By Chris Hedges (about the author)


I’ll close with a message to neo-feudal corportate america from peons everywhere, c/o Ms Aretha Franklin, and a little extra counter-counter-revolution attitude c/o Jake and Elwood:

Think (think) think (think) think (think)
think (think) think (think) think (think)

You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

Let’s go back, let’s go back, let’s go way on back when
I didn’t even know you, you came to me and too much you wouldn’t take
I ain’t no psychiatrist, I ain’t no doctor with degree
It don’t take too much high IQ’s to see what you’re doing to me

You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

Oh freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, yeah freedom
Freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, ooh freedom

There ain’t nothing you could ask I could answer you but I won’t (I won’t)
I was gonna change, but I’m not, to keep doing things I don’t

You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

People walking around everyday, playing games that they can score
And I ain’t gonna be the loser my way, ah, be careful you don’t lose yours

You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

You need me (need me) and I need you (don’t you know)
Without eachother there ain’t nothing people can do

Oh freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, yeah freedom
Freedom (freedom), freedom (freedom), freedom, ooh freedom

There ain’t nothing you could ask I could answer you but I won’t (I won’t)
I was gonna change, but I’m not, if you’re doing things I don’t

You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me
Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free

You need me (need me) and I need you (don’t you know)
Without each other there ain’t nothing people can do

(To the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, think about it)

(To the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, think about it)

(To the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, think about it)

(To the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, to the bone for deepness, think about it)

You had better stop and think before you think, think!!

[Sorry that some of the lyrics seem a little off–I post em like I get em.]

Poor Richard

The Attack Without Mercy

Republicans and their private industry masters are on the attack in the US Congress, in the courts, in the media, and in states across the country. They are enacting “emergency powers”, gutting state treasuries,

Apocalypse, By Jiří Melantrich z Aventina (Wikimedia)

smashing unions, firing teachers, slashing education, rewriting textbooks, and privatizing government functions. They are flaunting sunshine laws, state constitutions, and legislative rules. They are preparing to impose “financial martial law”, to seize power from local governments, enacting rules to inhibit poor and minority voting, and rigging voting machines.   They are demonizing LGBT’s and intruding into womens’ wombs.

New Republican governors are slashing corporate taxes, giving away state assets, and granting no-bid sweetheart contracts to cronies, family members, and even to their own personal companies.  They are giving away the store and putting the foxes in charge of the hen-house.

In the nation’s capitol, House Republicans are willing to shut down the government unless they get their way on blocking EPA’s ability to address global warming and mountain top mining removal. The Obama White House seems ready to go along, as it is going along with new nuclear plant licenses and subsidies, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, and a frenzied new deep-water and wilderness drilling spree without any real new safeguards. They are deregulating everything from mass media to mining, invading privacy, and waging war on the poor. They are attacking the middle class,  jobs, wages, education, science, history, public infrastructure,  public broadcasting, gender parity, health care, pensions, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment compensation, Food Stamps, and Social Security. They are trying to utterly destroy civil society and democracy itself. It is a full-on counter-revolution:

Tax cuts & corporate welfare = artificial budget crises = “emergency” laws & powers = mass privatization of public property and services

From one end of the country to the other they are bragging, gloating,  slapping each other on the back. They are sharpening their knives. And they are crowing like roosters, tossing their heads and stamping their hooves like bulls, squealing like pigs, and strutting around like royal peacocks. And they obviously think they are just getting started. We ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The real shock and awe has yet to begin…

The Uber-Liber-Republican Blitzkrieg.

Will they succeed? How far can they go? The big question everyone is asking is…

Are they over-reaching?

Can we push them back? Maybe even smack them down?

No one can answer that yet, and a lot depends on us. But things are pretty crazy. To make it worse, the same thing seems to be happening all around the world at the same time.

What if this were Apocalypse — now? (Greek: ἀποκάλυψις apokálypsis; “lifting of the veil” or “revelation”) An apocalypse is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception. (Wikipedia/Apocalypse)

What I mean is, what if the gloves are off, the masks are off, and the uber-rich are beginning their final campaign for the total subjugation of humanity? What if we ain’t seen nothin’ yet? What if we are hearing the first bugle call of

the attack without mercy?

From a transcript of  Little Big Man, a 1970 film directed by Arthur Penn

General Custer: I see no hostiles behind us. Do you see any?

Major: No, sir, not at the moment.

General Custer: Then…stop trying to cause a reversal of a Custer decision.

Major: But, sir, wouldn’t it be best to send a squad down Medicine Tail Coulee?

General Custer: No, it wouldn’t.

Major: – May I ask, sir, why it wouldn’t?

General Custer: Because it would cost us the vital element of surprise.

Major: Surprise? They know we’re here.

General Custer: But they don’t know that I intend to attack them without mercy.

Major: – That’s no surprise.

General Custer: Of course it is. Nothing in this world is more surprising than the attack without mercy!

What if

I’m not going all religious and mystical here. I don’t believe in a holy war to determine the fate of the earth. But I think the ultra-rich may. WHAT IF THEY DO? Aren’t they really a bunch of sick psychopaths who think they have a right to rule the world, and don’t they believe in manifest destiny and crazy shit like that? Have we been paying attention to history?

Lets not make the same mistake that indigenous people all over the world have made by thinking the great spirit is on our side or that our enemy has any limits. Maybe we had better start getting all the tribes together and getting our war paint on–for real.

Because if we prepare for the worst and it doesn’t happen what have we lost? But if we expect something less than the worst possible scenario and we underestimate the intentions, the insanity, and the power of the enemy– we may end up toast.

We know we are under attack. We see it coming. But we may not see into the hearts and minds of the devils that are attacking us. I’m not talking about the Republicans or even the Wall street CEOs–I’m talking about their masters. People we’ve probably never heard of, people who have never filed a tax return, people who are probably laid up in private, fortified hospitals on exotic life support systems, ruling the world through giant law firms and PR companies.

Sure, we know we’re under attack. But what if we’ve never seen an attack quite like this before?

What if we are the simple natives in this scenario and the Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Conquest, War, Famine and Death) are riding up out of hell at full gallop, about to charge  into the midst of our teepees,  like they did at the Battle of Washita River (also called the Washita Massacre of 1868), when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne camp?

If you want a little taste of what that might be like, click the image below and then click the new image again to get the maximum enlargement.

…What if nothing in this world really is more surprising than the attack without mercy?

Poor Richard

  • The Story of the Battle of the Washita (cowboytoursofokla.com) “Custer ordered the slaughter of the Indian pony and mule herd estimated at more than 800 animals. The lodges of Black Kettle’s people, with all their winter supply of food and clothing, were torched. Realizing now that many more Indians were threatening from the east, Custer feigned an attack toward their downriver camps, then quickly retreated to Camp Supply with his hostages.The engagement at the Washita might have ended very differently if the larger encampments to the east had been closer to Black Kettle’s camp. [emphasis added] As it happened, the impact of losing winter supplies, plus the knowledge that cold weather no longer provided protection from attack, convinced many bands to accept reservation life.”
  • If We Don’t Act ‘The Game Really Is Over’ (Elizabeth Warren On The Daily Show)
  • To The American Media: Time To Face The Reality Of Election Rigging By Jonathan Simon (opednews.com)
  • Egyptian workers face US-backed counter-revolution (OpEdNews)
  • Wisconsin’s most dangerous professor, Why are Republicans desperate to see Bill Cronon’s emails? “…as part of his effort to understand the historical roots of the nationally coordinated state-level legislative attack on unions, Cronon focused his spotlight on a relatively under-the-radar group called the American Legislative Exchange Council.” “The most important group, I’m pretty sure, is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was founded in 1973 by Henry Hyde, Lou Barnett, and (surprise, surprise) Paul Weyrich. Its goal for the past forty years has been to draft “model bills” that conservative legislators can introduce in the 50 states. Its website claims that in each legislative cycle, its members introduce 1000 pieces of legislation based on its work, and claims that roughly 18 percent of these bills are enacted into law. (Among them was the controversial 2010 anti-immigrant law in Arizona.)”  “Cronon surmises that his efforts to highlight the role of ALEC precipitated the Republican open records response.”
  • Who’s Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (williamcronon.net)
  • American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (sourcewatch.org)
  • SUPREME COURT — The Chamber’s Genie (pr.thinkprogress.org) “Ever since Chief Justice Roberts joined the Supreme Court, corporate America has treated his Court as its personal genie, and Roberts has been eager to grant even many of their most outlandish wishes. … As one of the Chamber’s top Supreme Court litigators bragged, “except for the solicitor general representing the United States, no single entity has more influence on what cases the Supreme Court decides and how it decides them than the National Chamber Litigation Center…. This week, corporate America made three especially large wishes to the justices, and the Court’s conservatives once again appear eager to grant them: ELECTIONS FOR SALE: Citizens United is merely one part of a much larger campaign to cement big money’s control over American electionsSLAMMING COURTHOUSE DOORS: Many of the Court’s most corporate-friendly decisions create complicated and arcane procedural barriers to Americans seeking justice….IMMUNITY TO THE LAW: There’s nothing corporate America loves more than actual immunity from the law. Past Supreme Court decisions gave sweeping legal immunity to medical device manufacturers and health insurers, and even gave the thumbs up to a biased system of corporate-owned courts that overwhelmingly rule against consumers and employees.”
  • Is Obama Giving Up On Global Warming? | Mother Jones via CREDO Mobile:“House Republicans are willing to shut down the government unless they get their way on blocking EPA’s ability to address global warming and mountain top mining removal. And the White House is signaling readiness to cave in.”
  • Japan says battle to save nuclear reactors has failed, Thursday 31 March 2011. “Japanese officials have conceded that the battle to salvage four crippled reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has been lost. The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power [Tepco], said the reactors would be scrapped, and warned that the operation to contain the nuclear crisis, now well into its third week, could last months. Tepco’s announcement came as new readings showed a dramatic increase in radioactive contamination in the sea near the atomic complex. Tens of thousands of people living near the plants have been evacuated or ordered to stay indoors, while the plant has leaked radioactive materials in to the sea, soil and air.”        [NOTE: This disaster, involving tons of plutonium (a single pound of which, if evenly distributed, could wipe out all life on earth) and a cocktail of other radioactive elements, may threaten many millions of people (if not all of us)  for hundreds, thousands, or even millions of years to come. ~PR]


Why can’t the public and private sectors just get along?

In the US, as in many rich, first-world nations, we have a hybrid private/public economy and we carve up the pie between the two sectors with relatively little overlap. We have rather few instances where private and public institutions compete head-to-head in the same markets.

The US Eeconomy

The US Economy

In the US we have a national public postal service and a variety of private carriers whose markets all overlap a little, and we have private hospitals competing with public ones and private schools competing with public schools and charter schools. However, the public and private versions of these enterprises have tended to adapt to serve somewhat specialized market niches.

In the ideal public/private balance, government would in a sense provide the “basic cable” package, and private enterprise would deliver the premium products–the HBO and Showtime packages, so to speak. Both private and public enterprises usually benefit from carving up the turf . By specializing in the high-volume and large-scale of  basic public needs like roads and utilities, the public sector can realize some economies of scale that the private enterprises might struggle with, and the private companies can pick and choose their niches to suit their particular strengths . If this complementary specialization is balanced and managed properly everyone will benefit.

One example of a nationwide basic service the government has been very successful with, despite right-wing claims that government can do nothing right, is the US Postal Service.

The Modern Postal Service: Public Agency or Business?

According to the laws under which it now operates, the U.S. Postal Service is a semi-independent federal agency, mandated to be revenue-neutral. That is, it is supposed to break even, not make a profit.

United States Postal Service

Image via Wikipedia

In 1982, U.S. postage stamps became “postal products,” rather than a form of taxation. Since then, The bulk of the cost of operating the postal system has been paid for by customers through the sale of “postal products” and services rather than taxes. (http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/consumerawareness/a/uspsabout.htm)

Postal Service Charts Course for Sustainable Future

The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

A self-supporting government enterprise, the U.S. Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation, 150 million residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes. The Postal Service receives no direct support from taxpayers. With 36,000 retail locations and the most frequently visited website in the federal government, the Postal Service relies on the sale of postage, products and services to pay for operating expenses. Named the Most Trusted Government Agency five consecutive years and the sixth Most Trusted Business in the nation by the Ponemon Institute, the Postal Service has annual revenue of more than $68 billion and delivers nearly half the world’s mail. If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 28th in the 2009 Fortune 500.

A distinction without a difference

Just as in the case of the Postal Service, there is noting in principle to prevent some parts of the public sector from operating on a fee-for-service basis just like private sector. If the government can sell stamps and deliver mail, it can also sell internet services or medical services, or it could operate green power utilities, for example. The public sector might be able to charge enough for one set of goods and services to pay for another set of of goods and services out of the surplus.

Of course, as recent events in Tennessee suggest, the fee-for-service category should NOT include fire protection. Nor should it include any other basic saftey net or emergency services. Nonetheless, the government could raise revenue by charging fees for products and services aimed at consumers well above the poverty line. By raising money in that way, rather than strictly by taxation, the government might actually enhance its ability to redistribute wealth downward at the same time that it could ease up on its “confiscatory” taxation of the middle class.

(I know that Americans doubt that Government can  find its own ass, but the postal service and a few other government services prove otherwise, outperforming the private sector.)

The point is that some public operations are potentially revenue positive. In fact, public businesses can function identically to private businesses if they choose to do so. The difference between public and private is really only 1) a technical distinction that has more to do with management structure and accounting than with economics, and 2) a difference in whose interests and what interests are placed first in the cost/benefit/utility calculations. Public vs private is really a distinction in priorities without any inherent difference in capability. If there is any advantage in capabilites, it generally goes to the government and not to the private sector, although there are plenty of exceptions.

In the public sector, the President is the CEO, the Congress is the board of directors, the judiciary is the legal department, and the voters are the shareholders. There is no fundamental reason why the government could not be paying dividends to the voters rather than just collecting taxes.

Conversely, in the corporate sector the CEO is the President, the board of directors is the Congress, etc.

Of course most private businesspeople do not want direct public competition because (dare I say it?) they are hypocrites who wish for government to absorb as much of their costs and losses as possible (where’s the concern for the taxpayer?) while leaving their markets and profits alone.

Mr. Natural aka

Mr. Natural aka “Mr. Progressive”

Mr. Progressive says: I’m sure you’ve heard it in the bailout debates: “privatize the gains and socialize the losses”. If that’s not a double standard, what is?

If the government offered a revenue-neutral (non-profit) health insurance plan run like the postal service to cover working-age people and their families, this would lower costs for business and boost the global competitiveness of our private sector.

Though no one in the private sector would probably ever admit it, Social Security may have been a boon for business compared with the old defined benefit pension plans, and after the stock market antics of the past decades who would argue that IRAs and 401-ks are as safe and secure as the Social Security System’s retirement funds? So maybe Social security wins that beauty contest.  But that hardly constitutes a government take-over of the retirement savings and investment market;  nor would a public insurance option take the whole US insurance industry captive. That is a moldy old straw man. The cries of “wolf” from the private sector are patently false and they are getting very, very tiresome.

But the question of which sector might actually be best at providing any of the of the particular goods and services in each pie slice of the US economy remains–is it the government or the private sector?

Theoretically the private sector can mimic just about any agency of the government (and with the great government outsourcing rush of the Bush era, private contractors did just  that). Likewise there is no congenital handicap to prevent government from “in-sourcing” (what old-school economists might call “nationalizing”) just about any task that the people might ordain.

On privatization [in public sector transportation] 09/21/2010    (Humantransit.org)

There are many different ways to involve private enterprise in providing transit services, and these are so different that vague talk of “privatization” simply doesn’t illuminate what’s going on.

At one extreme, you can privatise operations, planning, fleet, public information, branding and almost everything else.   In this model, prominent in Britain (but not London) and in British-influenced countries like Australia and New Zealand, government merely subsidises services that wouldn’t make a profit, but doesn’t try to control the overall planning of the network.  This approach sometimes “works,” in a political sense, in areas where you have low expectations for transit overall, such as rural areas.  It’s been very problematic in urban areas, because it deprives government of the control that its subsidies should be buying, and makes it impossible to plan rational networks that would meet the shared goal of a city and its people, and that would use limited street space efficiently.  Sydney, Brisbane, and Auckland all went far down this path and are trying, at various speeds, to pull back from it and re-assert government control over most aspects of planning and marketing.

At the other extreme, you can privatise operations only.  This is the model used in a number of lean North American operators such as Southern California’s Foothill Transit.  In Australia, only Perth takes this approach, but it’s very successful there.  A public agency answerable to voters keeps full control of planning, and also owns the fleet and facilities.  Private operating companies are hired only to provide operations and maintenance, under contracts to the agency that are periodically re-opened to competitive procurement.  This is a targeted kind of privatisation aimed at the functions that are the biggest budget-killers for all-public agencies: labor costs, labor relations, and liability related to operations and maintenance.   You can make a good case that the private sector is in a better position to handle all of these than government agencies are, and while I won’t argue the whole case here, many  agencies — especially newer agencies that don’t have legacy labor commitments — are finding this a very good model.  In Australia, Perth works this way, and other cities are moving this direction.

You can find examples anywhere on the spectrum between these extremes.

If private monopolies are squeezing consumers too hard, why shouldn’t those voters decide to establish a public competitor? Or conversely, if the public sector can outsource selected operations functions, as in the transit case above, retain the overall ownership and planning authority, and save taxpayers money, then what’s wrong with that?

How can we tease apart which sector is best at which particular jobs so that both sectors can best serve the American people?

Mr. Natural aka

Mr Progressive says: “Rather than argue endlessly about it on theoretical and ideological grounds, why not put it to the test in the real world?”

Obama vs British Petroleum: Is that a low blow comming? Who will clean up?

Obama vs British Petroleum: Is that a low blow comming? Who will clean up?

If the public and private sectors just can’t stop quarreling and feuding with each other, maybe they need to settle some of their disputes in the boxing ring. Not in bare-knuckle, ultimate combat cage matches, but  in scientific bouts between sportsmanlike gentlemen under the Marquess of Queensberry rules. Those rules might include the private sector owning up to externalities and accepting various pro-labor standards and on the public side they might include a requirement to operate at a positive net revenue of 10-15 per cent.

Depending on the various market venues in which they compete, one may win a contest here and the other may win a bout there, but in many cases the competition may be a draw and the market may find niches for both. Everybody gains from the scientific exhibition of  pugilistic skills (except the cranky old public plutocrat and the mean old private monopolist who are both disqualified for low blows, head butting, and other unsportsmanlike conduct. Both have become dinosaurs no one can afford to feed or clean up after. Big dinosaurs consume a lot of resources and break a lot of china.

I think the Apatosaurus is BP.

Big, old dinosaurs break a lot of china

Big, old dinosaurs break a lot of china

A Stinging Defeat

The venue where progressives most recently lost a very-high-stakes public/private sector prize match was of course the health insurance reform debate. We came so close to a public insurance option we could taste it (not a government take-over of the whole boxing arena–just a new public contender in the ring to liven things up and draw a new crowd) and then we lost the match in the last round thanks to the wiles of two-timing conservadems like Ben Nelson and Blanche Lincoln.

Mr. Natural aka

Anyway, Mr. Progressive says: “Fair, regulated public/private sector competition is the way to go for a thriving, efficient, and democratic economy in the USA. The two sectors can settle their arguments in the ring and then shake hands and get on amicably (mostly) with each other in a fairly civilized and half-way dignified manner…”

“Enjoy the ring-side seats, friends!”

Mr. Progressive also says: “Remember, progressives, the private sector does not own the “market”, “entrepreneurship”, or “free-enterprise” turf or terminology. That is something we progressives must stake our own claims to.”

The latest wrinkle, Freemium

Much of our economy, including much of the public sector, could be run on a freemium model (a product or service with a free version and one or more priced “premium” versions). This may be one of the best hybridizations of profit/nonprofit and public/private devised so far. It might greatly reduce the need for taxation and philanthropy, while making a greater range of goods and services available for free. I haven’t studied the freemium market enough to know how it works in detail, but I use the free versions of several freemium products, including antivirus, without feeling like a second-class citizen. I suspect that competition between providers of similar freemium products and services motivates them to make the free versions sufficiently desirable, and if one producer adopts a freemium price model, others almost have to follow suit.

“About 77% of the top 100 grossing mobile apps in Apple Inc.’s App Store use a freemium pricing plan, up from just 4% in 2010, according to Velti PLC, a mobile advertising and marketing company. ” (WSJ)

I think many public goods and services could eventually be freemium apps. What works for apps might work for other goods and services, both in the private and public sector. In fact, the freemium model might eventually blur the line between public and private and between for-profit and non-profit much more than it already is.

This might ease some of the Right’s anxiety about “coercive taxation” (but probably not) without making the poor pay for their public services the way they have to pay for postage stamps. Don’t get me wrong, US postal rates are a good deal, but what if we had a free “second class” service and stamp? (There used to be 2nd and 3rd class rates that were cheaper than 1st class but not free — now they have other names)
Freemium might be also used by many nonprofit organizations to become more self-sufficient,

Although we probably shouldn’t use it in public safety applications or k-12 education, it might make sense in post-secondary education if it meant the difference between a somewhat spartan (but free) college education and no college education at all. The downside could be minimized if very high-quality curricula and digital resources were available online free to all and the freemium model applied only to the human and physical resources side of the system.

It could easily be applied to many areas of healthcare and insurance, too.
Due to the nature of fossil fuels (non-renewable, negative externalities, etc.) I think they should be publicly owned, produced, and distributed. That applies to most non-renewable resources. That said, the freemium model might still apply to some degree, i.e. those who pay for premuim gas might help subsidize a cheaper grade, but production and distribution of non-renewable resources probably shouldn’t ever be left entirely to the marketplace, even a freemium one.
Food is renewable, and I think the freemium model might apply pretty well, i.e. the lowest grade of food would be free, subsidized by revenues from higher grade food. Grade might apply to food types as well as quality, i.e. basic commodities of good quality might be free and subsidized by revenues from more elective or luxury types of foods.

Of course, a successful deployment of the freemium model in more sectors of the economy depends on there being enough competition in each product and service category. Freemium could easily be used in an anti-competitive manner, so strong antitrust regulation, and other measures to promote adequate competition would be a key factor in a freemium economy.

Poor Richard


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