Tagsocialism

Thomas Frank Interviews David Graeber

Salon is running a great new interview with David Graeber by Thomas Frank. Here are some highlights (Graeber’s words):

Well, radical elements in the labor movement began embracing such visions from quite early on. After the successful campaigns for the eight-hour day in the 1880s, people immediately started thinking, can we move this to seven, six, or less. Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, and author of “The Right to Be Lazy,” was already calling for something along those lines in 1883. I have a Wobbly T-shirt with a turn-of-the-century style design that says “join the IWW for a new dawn,” it has a sun rising over the rooftops, and on the sun is written, “four-day week, four-hour day.” […]

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one of the great divisions between anarcho-syndicalist unions, and socialist unions, was that the latter were always asking for higher wages, and the anarchists were asking for less hours. That’s why the anarchists were so entangled in struggles for the eight-hour day. It’s as if the socialists were essentially buying into the notion that work is a virtue, and consumerism is good, but it should all be managed democratically, while the anarchists were saying, no, the whole deal—that we work more and more for more and more stuff—is rotten from the get-go. […]

Call it the revolt of the caring classes. Because, after all, the working classes have always been the caring classes really. I say this as a person of working class background myself. Not only are almost all actual caregivers (not to mention caretakers!) working class, but people of such backgrounds always tend to see themselves as the sort of people who actively care about their neighbors and communities, and value such social commitments far beyond material advantage. It’s just our obsession with certain very specific forms of rather macho male labor—factory workers, truck-drivers, that sort of thing—which then becomes the paradigm of all labor in our imaginations; that blinds us to the fact that the bulk of working class people have always been engaged in caring labor of one sort or another. So I think we need to start by redefining labor itself, maybe, start with classic “women’s work,” nurturing children, looking after things, as the paradigm for labor itself and then it will be much harder to be confused about what’s really valuable and what isn’t.

Full Story: Salon: David Graeber explains why the more your job helps others, the less you get paid

See also:

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

How the “Do What You Love” Mantra Enables Exploitation

An Army of Altruists

How Did Democracy Become a Good Thing?

Interesting contrarian take on the rise of contemporary democracy:

The story of modern democracy is one in which democracy lost its social and economic content at the very moment it gained political ascendancy.

What happened was the separation of the “economic” and the “political” into separate spheres. It was only under the conditions of this separation that a widely dispersed political power, through the universal suffrage, began to appear possible. Power relations, which had hitherto been fundamentally political issues, of lordship and so on—like who owed what to whom, and who could do what to whom, and who could make whom do what they wanted—were transformed into fundamentally economic issues, having to to do with ownership and contract. So if you want to know why democracy—defined basically as a diffusion of formal political power among the people—went from being bad to good, from being not only impossible but undesirable to not only desirable but possible, one way of answering the question is actually extremely straightforward: the real power wasn’t in politics any more; it was somewhere else, in the newly separate sphere of the economy.

Full Story: The Junto: How Democracy Became a Good Thing

I don’t think it’s really fair to say that power shifted out of the political, but I think there’s a case to be made that capital has effectively insulated itself from the democratic process within liberal democracies, and has done so for a very long time.

Basic Income Means Basic Freedom

Thought Infection makes a civil libertarian case for guaranteed basic income:

Freedom in the 21st century should mean freedom from having to engage in productive work simply to meet your basic needs for comfort and dignity.

At one time, the ready availability of jobs amply filled the need for a basic access to a comfortable and dignified life, but precipitous technological and economic changes erode this dynamic further each day. The function of the economy has never been to provide gainful employment to people, but simply to provide material goods. As the economy manages to produce more with less human labor, we must create new mechanisms aimed specifically that maintaining and raising the minimum level of comfort and dignity to everyone in a society.

The first step, as for any change, will be to admit that we were wrong. The establishment of a basic income will require every inch of personal and societal soul searching we went through in previous epochs of tectonic social change. Social progress has too often been retarded by our inability to deal with our own fallibility. The abolishment of slavery and the establishment of civil rights was an agonizingly slow process because those in power were unwilling to deal with their own sins.

Similarly, even as wealthy years of technological and productivity gains have eroded the justification for the job-driven society, we remain unwilling to admit that we were wrong; it is ok that we let people starve because we have no choice, right? We maintain a facade of work ethic aimed at convincing ourselves that our draconian social constructions to compel people into productive work are necessary and morally just.

Full Story: Thought Infection: Basic Income Means Basic Freedom

(Thanks R.U.!)

The Gentrification of the Left

Mike Wayne and Deirdre O’Neill on the friction between the “middle class” and the “working class”:

The whole concept of the 99% against the 1% is a powerful way of both focusing attention on that tiny elite who own and control the major resources globally, and of repressing the class divisions within the 99%. The 99%, the slogan of the social movements dominated by the middle class, projects a unity of the majority which has yet to be built, and which cannot in fact be built unless we first acknowledge the real differences and divisions between the middle and working classes within the 99%.

The classic Marxist view that the working class is defined by the fact that it sells its labour power to the owners of the means of production is also problematic for similar reasons. Since Marx’s time there has been an enormous expansion of the professional middle class, especially in the public sector, who in terms of income and other cultural-educational benefits are differentiated from the working class. Typically many of these professional jobs involve some sort of controlling position over the working class which further problematises the notion that the middle class can be simply incorporated into the working class. True, a number of middle class professions, such as teaching have been subject to ‘proletarianisation’ and the middle class can be on the receiving end of employer demands just as the working class usually are. Globalised capitalism is likely to make these tendencies impact further on the middle class, pushing towards a de-differentiation between the working and middle class. Nevertheless the Marxist notion that virtually everyone bar senior managers and bosses are working class points forward to a political project that has to be constituted rather than assumed as an empirical fact in the here and now.

Full Story: New Left Project: The Gentrification of the Left

(via Paul Graham Raven)

When Libertarians Were Socialists

I read these two articles years ago, and spent some time tracking them back down today. The main purpose of this post is to place links to these essays here so that I can refer back to them later. I pass them on with context, but no comment.

1. State Socialism and Anarchism by Benjamin Tucker, a proponent of individualist anarchism, a predecessor to modern libertarianism. The essay was written in 1886. The position put forward in this piece is summarized on the Wikipedia entry on Tucker:

According to historian of American individualist anarchism, Frank Brooks, it is easy to misunderstand Tucker’s claim of “socialism.” Before Marxists established a hegemony over definitions of “socialism, “the term socialism was a broad concept.” Tucker (as well as most of the writers and readers in Liberty) understood “socialism” to refer to any of various theories and demands aimed to solve “the labor problem” through radical changes in the capitalist economy; descriptions of the problem, explanations of it causes, and proposed solutions (for example, abolition of private property, cooperatives, state-ownership, and so on.) varied among “socialist” philosophies. Tucker said socialism was the claim that “labor should be put in possession of its own,” holding that what “state socialism” and “anarchistic socialism” had in common was the labor theory of value. However, “Instead of asserting, as did socialist anarchists, that common ownership was the key to eroding differences of economic power,” and appealing to social solidarity, Tucker’s individualist anarchism advocated distribution of property in an undistorted natural market as a mediator of egoistic impulses and a source of social stability. Tucker said, “the fact that one class of men are dependent for their living upon the sale of their labour, while another class of men are relieved of the necessity of labour by being legally privileged to sell something that is not labour. . . . And to such a state of things I am as much opposed as any one. But the minute you remove privilege. . . every man will be a labourer exchanging with fellow-labourers . . . What Anarchistic-Socialism aims to abolish is usury . . . it wants to deprive capital of its reward.”

From the essay:

The economic principles of Modern Socialism are a logical deduction from the principle laid down by Adam Smith in the early chapters of his Wealth of Nations,—namely, that labor is the true measure of price. But Adam Smith, after stating this principle most clearly and concisely, immediately abandoned all further consideration of it to devote himself to showing what actually does measure price, and how, therefore, wealth is at present distributed. Since his day nearly all the political economists have followed his example by confining their function to the description of society as it is, in its industrial and commercial phases. Socialism, on the contrary, extends its function to the description of society as it should be, and the discovery of the means of making it what it should be. Half a century or more after Smith enunciated the principle above stated, Socialism picked it up where he had dropped it, and in following it to its logical conclusions, made it the basis of a new economic philosophy.

The abandonment of the labor theory of value is one difference between the anarchism of then and the libertarianism of today.

2. Herbert Spencer, Labortarian, a blog post including two excerpts from Herbert Spencer‘s book Principles of Sociology Part VIII: Industrial Institutions (published in 1896), one on the subject of labor unions and one on the subject worker cooperatives. In short, Spencer believes both are valuable and that the latter could possibly solve major problems in labor.

Spencer, well known in his time, is perhaps best remembered as the original Social Darwinist and coiner of the term “survival of the fittest” (though he may not fit the stereotype of a Social Darwinist). He too was an influence what became modern libertarianism.

Pay the Poor

The program, called Bolsa Familia (Family Grant) in Brazil, goes by different names in different places. In Mexico, where it first began on a national scale and has been equally successful at reducing poverty, it is Oportunidades. The generic term for the program is conditional cash transfers. The idea is to give regular payments to poor families, in the form of cash or electronic transfers into their bank accounts, if they meet certain requirements. The requirements vary, but many countries employ those used by Mexico: families must keep their children in school and go for regular medical checkups, and mom must attend workshops on subjects like nutrition or disease prevention. The payments almost always go to women, as they are the most likely to spend the money on their families. The elegant idea behind conditional cash transfers is to combat poverty today while breaking the cycle of poverty for tomorrow. […]

The program fights poverty in two ways. One is straightforward: it gives money to the poor. This works. And no, the money tends not to be stolen or diverted to the better-off. Brazil and Mexico have been very successful at including only the poor. In both countries it has reduced poverty, especially extreme poverty, and has begun to close the inequality gap.

The idea’s other purpose — to give children more education and better health — is longer term and harder to measure. But measured it is — Oportunidades is probably the most-studied social program on the planet. The program has an evaluation unit and publishes all data. There have also been hundreds of studies by independent academics. The research indicates that conditional cash transfer programs in Mexico and Brazil do keep people healthier, and keep kids in school.

New York Times: To Beat Back Poverty, Pay the Poor

The criticism I’ve heard of this sort of program from the hard left is that the money is essentially a small bribe to keep the poor from rising up and affecting real change. That may be true – but it’s hard to argue with with real results.

My biggest concern is the fact that the World Bank is financing all of this in the form of loans. What happens when it’s time for the countries to pay up?

I’d be interested in seeing a comparison of these conditional transfers with the U.S. welfare system.

The Politics of Sacrifice

Thomas Friedman, who I usually disagree with but do occasionally find interesting, has this to say in his NYT column:

Contrast that with the Baby Boomer Generation. Our big problems are unfolding incrementally — the decline in U.S. education, competitiveness and infrastructure, as well as oil addiction and climate change. Our generation’s leaders never dare utter the word “sacrifice.” All solutions must be painless. Which drug would you like? A stimulus from Democrats or a tax cut from Republicans? A national energy policy? Too hard. For a decade we sent our best minds not to make computer chips in Silicon Valley but to make poker chips on Wall Street, while telling ourselves we could have the American dream — a home — without saving and investing, for nothing down and nothing to pay for two years. Our leadership message to the world (except for our brave soldiers): “After you.”

So much of today’s debate between the two parties, notes David Rothkopf, a Carnegie Endowment visiting scholar, “is about assigning blame rather than assuming responsibility. It’s a contest to see who can give away more at precisely the time they should be asking more of the American people.”

Rothkopf and I agreed that we would get excited about U.S. politics when our national debate is between Democrats and Republicans who start by acknowledging that we can’t cut deficits without both tax increases and spending cuts — and then debate which ones and when — who acknowledge that we can’t compete unless we demand more of our students — and then debate longer school days versus school years — who acknowledge that bad parents who don’t read to their kids and do indulge them with video games are as responsible for poor test scores as bad teachers — and debate what to do about that.

New York Times: We’re No. 1(1)!

His argument appeals to me because even though I don’t want to understate the role of government and big business in the world’s problems at large (and the US’s economic decline in particular), I also don’t want to let the populace off the hook. There’s a great deal of blame to be placed on the unwashed masses who took out loans they should have known they wouldn’t be able to pay back, or are protesting policies designed to help them get better health care and repair their roads and improve their schools.

However – what’s the underlying cause of the debt crisis? Certainly Americans buy a lot of crap we don’t need, and on credit too. But consider:

The decline in real wages in the US
-Obama only proposes to raise taxes on those making over $250,000 a year
-The bailout, at tax payer expense, bailed out the wealthy
The wealthy routinely avoid paying taxes
-That 23% of the federal budget goes to defense spending (much of which goes to unaccountable private firms)

Who should we be asking to make some sacrifices?

See also:

A Tax Cut Republicans Don’t Like

Taxes and the Rich, take two

Cybersyn – the Chilean socialist Internet of the 70s

Cybersyn control room

In Chile in the 1970s, Stafford Beer attempted what Technocracy Inc. and Buckminster Fuller advocated:

Stafford Beer attempted, in his words, to “implant” an electronic “nervous system” in Chilean society. Voters, workplaces and the government were to be linked together by a new, interactive national communications network, which would transform their relationship into something profoundly more equal and responsive than before – a sort of socialist internet, decades ahead of its time.

When the Allende administration was deposed in a military coup, the 30th anniversary of which falls this Thursday, exactly how far Beer and his British and Chilean collaborators had got in constructing their hi-tech utopia was soon forgotten. In the many histories of the endlessly debated, frequently mythologised Allende period, Project Cybersyn hardly gets a footnote. Yet the personalities involved, the amount they achieved, the scheme’s optimism and ambition and perhaps, in the end, its impracticality, contain important truths about the most tantalising leftwing government of the late 20th century.

The Guardian: Santiago dreaming

The article claims that the system was impractical in the end, but its life was cut short rather early. It sounds like they were beginning to have success with it.

The Wikipedia article has many links

(Both via Theoretick)

Nick Pell on the Gspot

Nick Pell

Former Technoccult guest editor and current Black Sun Gazette editor Nick Pell on the Gspot:

Nick Pell has been a professional writer for more than half his life. He has written about culture, arts, spirituality, and politics for “Maximumrocknroll,” “Just Out,” “The Hit List,” and “Key 64.” He has also been an editor for Immanion Press and London PA.

Listen at Alterati

Inequality in America, and what to do about it.

Good, long article in the Santa Fe Reporter on economist Samuel Bowles’s 42 years of research on economic inequality.

Again with the numbers:
30

32

The first number is the likelihood, expressed as a percentage, that a child born to parents whose incomes fall within the top 10 percent of Americans will grow up to be at least as wealthy.

The second is the percentage likelihood that a person born into the bottom 10 percent of society will stay at the bottom.

Just to drive the point home, here’s a third number: 1.3

That’s the percentage likelihood that a bottom 10 percenter will ever make it to the top 10 percent. For 99 out of 100 people, rags never lead to riches.

These estimates come from research by one of Bowles’ former students, American University economist Tom Hertz, published in Unequal Chances, a 2004 book co-edited by Bowles. To arrive at these figures, Hertz mined the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a survey of 4,800 American families that’s been updated each year since it began in 1968, the year Martin Luther King inspired Bowles to study inequality.

It may not come as a shock that rich kids who grow up learning to sail eventually buy yachts, while the offspring of burger-flippers might hope to rise to be the night managers for whole crews of burger-flippers. What’s troubling about this research is that poverty tends to persist through generations, no matter how individuals try to improve their circumstances.

So, much of what Americans tell their children is wrong. It doesn’t really matter how long you go to school or even necessarily how hard you work. The single most important factor to success in America is “one’s choice of parents,” as a contributor to Unequal Chances wryly put it.

Bowles’s solution: give every person in America $250,000 when they turn 18.

Santa Fe Reporter: Born Poor? Santa Fe economist Samuel Bowles says you better get used to it

Interesting stuff. Even pro-welfare state pundits are sometime swayed by the myth of American upward mobility. Take this pro-Netherlands article from the New York Times:

Another corollary of collectivist thinking is a cultural tendency not to stand out or excel. “Just be normal” is a national saying, and in an earlier era children were taught, in effect, that “if you were born a dime, you’ll never be a quarter” — the very antithesis of the American ideal of upward mobility. There seem to be fewer risk-takers here. Those who do go out on a limb or otherwise follow their own internal music — the architect Rem Koolhaas, say, or Vincent Van Gogh — tend to leave.

But is this accurate? As stated above, most Americans are never able to actually pull themselves up by their bootstraps. And according to this study the Netherlands actually lead in economic mobility amongst several developed nations, at least as of 1999:

economic mobility graph

The lack of outliers who become hugely successful has obscured the greater truth: the Dutch are far more successful than Americans.

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