Monday, February 23, 2015

Property is Aggression, Coercion, and Threats

An excellent analysis by Matt Bruenig who is now being added to my blog roll.  He describes property as "violence vouchers" provided by the state.

American Libertarians (also known as propertarians and glibertarians by people I like) have long claimed that a society based on property and the ability to make money from it is non-coercive.  Nothing could be further from the truth, which Matt Bruenig explains.

Matt further links to his previous essays on the failed philosophies of property rights, including those of libertarians, which are also worth reading.

I discovered Matt while starting to read excellent commentary on Property and Government at Crooked Timber.  This starts from Quiggen's point that property rights, often seen as antagonistic to government, actually come from government, and are best enforced by government, and you can't have property rights without government.

Certainly it's true that Property Rights are not part of any real natural law (actually the very concept of Natural Law, as Jeremy Bentham quipped, is nonsense on stilts).  The natural state of affairs for independent actors in nature is the Rule of the Jungle, aka Might Makes Right.  Under Might Makes Right, anyone's "property" is fair game to be taken by someone else more powerful, and so on without end.  So at minimum, property requires collectivism, as Sasha Clarkson says in comment 30:

Any “non might” based private property right requires social organisation and protection of that that right/privilege by collective recognition and enforcement: whether you choose to call that organisation a “state” or not is a matter of choice.
That's definitely too strong.  Many informed later commenters would say this was well put except instead of "state" she should have said "society."  Then it would be unequivocally correct, as many commenters note, all "rights" come from society.

I'd argue this: If they're not coming from society, they're not rights, they're obligations.

Locally, at some times and places in the distant past, a mutualism might have been sufficient.  That's unimaginable now.  But at the scale of bands, in which humans existed for most of their time on earth, up to the past 10,000 years, property generally doesn't exist either, but rather a sort of communism.  So something like modern property (with strong powers to exclude all others) appears at a fairly large scale of organization…certainly state-like if not state, and not in all of them even.  Native Americans had very sophisticated civilizations without it.

An excellent comment to Bruenig's blog points out that propertarian arguments were debunked long ago by Proudhon.   And that the commenter sees property as a government regulation, at least alleged if not believed to produce a better society.  Breunig said he agreed with this view of property as a government regulation (he describes property as "violence vouchers" provided by the government).  But then it would be entirely up to government to decide how it worked, including how much of the proceeds an owner could take, and how much for the government to take.  Or how much one person could have.  In that regards, taxation of property is not a taking, rather what the individual takes  beyond their immediate needs, as in a wonderful letter by Benjamin Franklin, is the people's prerogative to dispose of first.

Many lists of authoritative books on the very subject are listed.  David Woodruff lists some authoritative books in comment 43.  One of the best of the best books is Jeremy Waldron's The Right To Private Property, according to Harry in comment 54.

Scholars and lawyers can whine on and on, but many many in the general public don't get it, they believe in the idea of property as natural, god given, or something like that, laments one commenter.  We should be talking about how to get the message out, that property is a social regulation implemented through laws by governments.  At least one commenter noted there would be better alternatives in many circumstances.

Jake comments that property as stuff you carry on you is very old.  Property as land only came about after the agricultural revolution, and then the State came into existence to defend it.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My take on feminism

Posted to this blog at Crooked Timber.

I would mandatorily self-describe as "feminist."  On my own terms, which includes an absolute right for a woman to choose abortion.  I would take it as until natural childbirth, but Roe v Wade is a fine compromise.  Strangely, I suspect a lot of the feminists with whom I disagree on other matters might disagree on this also.

I'm a fan of Ellen Willis, and her notion of pro sex feminism, as compared with very common in USA anti porn feminism.  An anti porn stance in the broadest sense (which many well known feminists subscribe to, and some of my friends) is that any female image that men find erotic should be banned--could be a completely clothed model lounging on her own website, no matter.  This is not unlike how Islam bans human images.  I argue that objectification is the essence of human though, not some evil process, and anti porn feminists are simply using a rhetorical curse to selectively roll back liberty where in the historic traditional sexual compromise women were given absolute power.  Masturbation, and sexual images that were lewd, were prohibited.  But there were a lot of things where women gave up power--involvement in politics, participation in many careers, and, arguably, they were prompted to submit to men.

My second, and further out objection to a lot of feminism is how it essentially rejections the old traditional marriage model for all people.  Call it serfdom, but I think something like a traditional marriage model fits many people better than total subjection to wage slavery.  Perhaps even a majority if done on an appropriate basis (I suggest a very liberal basis, which actually is open to either sex as 'breadwinner', and unconditioned and guaranteed support for the homemaker, but there are also endless traditional models, and conservatism is very common in my country).  This was the norm until the 1970's, and what has happened since?  Not entirely coincidentally, median wage growth plummeted compared with earlier periods.  Doubling the potential labor force was not at coincidental--it helped make it possible.

In my vision, there are fewer wage slaves, but nobody lives in poverty, there is more time to devote to things other than work, activism is more sustainable, there is lots more sex and  more fun.  The downside is a loss in investment products and possibly some loss in consumer products.

Many women it seems, including my best friend, are dedicated to work as sort of self-proof.  No matter how much suffering and/or how little reward it delivers, it is worth it, to be free and independent of any single man.  Instead, the capitalist boss become the new ultimate boss, and he demands endlessly increasingly sacrifices in today's neoliberal wage slavery, ultimately leading to the death of all other relationships, each person with only a job and an a video screen.

My mother was actually a pioneer in this movement, despite being a lifelong conservative who had been an early admirer of Ronald Reagan, later a fan of Limbaugh.  She took advantage of the availability of work during WWII, and ended up spending far more time living away from my father than with him.  My sister opined how much materially better off she might have lived as a housewife of the time, and how much more she might have ended up with when my father, a senior manager, died.  Not even counting the possibility he might have been more successful or lived longer to make wiser investments.  She had lousy jobs--some of which probably long-term poisoned her--but economic freedom.

I don't understand it myself.  A life married to someone far richer than myself, in which I could pursue art, politics, and technology on my own terms, and get a healthy stipend so I have no material concerns, sounds like paradise to me.  And I have a great and successful career doing stuff I love doing, so I'm actually fine right now, not slaving away under a totally unreasonable boss demanding more and more time as I hear so many women complaining about.

The neoliberal capitalist disorder has been fine to me directly.  I have no complaints about how much material is available to me, or how hard it is to get.  The number one concern of my life is how little time I am able to spend with my love partner, and how most of my life I couldn't find one.  I trace that limited amount of time exactly to the neoliberalism enabling aspect of feminism that essentially abolished anything like traditional marriage in the the segment of society (not the most elite) I inhabit.

I don't want to say this as a curse, and I hope I'm wrong, but it seems to me that until there is a great improvement (and in part, a restoration) of our social and sexual lives, there is little hope, I believe, in any sort of social revolution of the kind needed, which would be back toward and increasing social democracy.  We face a spiral into global collapse of all kinds which cannot be stopped.  I continue to live as much as I can as if this is not true, I join movements, including many feminist ones.  But I fear that sexual neoliberalism, which is a core part of feminism for many feminists, has destroyed the future.  If people have no time to spend together, the bonds that it needs for social cohesion are never formed.  I feel that many in the Crooked Timber crown are protected from the lower social reality which I face--the one that exists for liberals and leftists who self identify as feminist, but aren't university professors or rock stars or hedge fund managers.

But this reality isn't necessarily so for many extreme religious conservatives.   Even the less than elite have with traditional models of marriage and sexual roles.  Not surprisingly, their influence on geopolitics has been increasing--in particular since the 1970's.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Food Overproduction: The Real Problem

This article debunks the idea that starvation in the world is caused by inability to grow enough food.  In fact, the world already has the capability to feed 14 million, and "food crisis" is marketed to sell more profitable industrial agribusiness and crush movements toward food localism (which can't compete in quantity-of-production with agribusiness, or at least so it is claimed).  Excess food production is now used to create biofuels, among other things.

What the article doesn't discuss is how starvation is actually caused by poverty.  Some people can't afford to buy even the cheap food.  And that problem in many places is ironically caused by low food prices (thanks to agribusiness and so-called-trade-agreements) which make it impossible for peasants to make a living in the traditional way--by growing food on a small scale.  So, ironically, many potential small scale farms lie in disuse, and are in danger of being taken over by plantations which will lead to even more poverty.

Long term, of course, the best path toward sustainable everything is a managed decline in human population through reduction of fertility.  Even though we "can" grow enough food to feed even a much larger population than we have now, that food production (as well as the people's other activities of course) has a huge negative impact on the natural environment, no matter how it is done  (though especially through the world domination of agribusiness--whose methods are the worst for the environment, and the least sustainable, despite having low prices today).

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Money should primarily be thought of as lubricant

Posted (under moderation now) to this post at Crooked Timber.

Somehow I don't share the belief that money is supposed to be a store of value.  I see it as an economic lubricant, and if the lubrication works a bit better if some value slowly vaporizes, I see that as a feature not a bug.  Typically currencies don't lose value very much in the milliseconds it takes to do EFT from my employer to my bank.  And then once in my bank, in principle, it can re-earn sufficient proportion of the social dividend through interest and with guarantee principal to compensate for the loss for economically justifiable inflation.  Haven't we seen long periods where inflation was lower than savings account interest?  And what is really the correct explanation of why it may not do so now?  I see grand disinvestment and financial gambling having upended the old order, and my animus is directed at them rather than government spenders (we need more of that government spending, IMO, lots more, to be a modern and progressing post industrial society).

Even in the store-of-value concern wrt money, it seems to me that the it's not how much nominal inflation there is, but what the difference is between interest in socially guaranteed saving accounts and inflation.  How did that do in the 1970's?  Not so bad as just looking at one number, I think.  As far as anti-social people storing money in mattresses, gold, or bit coins rather than becoming invested in society--the worse outcomes for them the better IMO.

But that is still very far removed from the importance of money as economic lubricant.

In the actual 1970's, I made my way into a successful career in a way that would have not been possible in a deflationary economy, as I lacked the usually required credentials.  So I gained from the inflationary economy that couldn't find workers fast enough, while meanwhile my fixed interest inheritance was ground into dust, so that indeed I had to live from my deeds and not what my father was owed.  It's complicated to figure whether the combined effect was salutary or not because there are so many possible counterfactuals, but it compared with many other possibilities it was very much so.

I think in part the populist anti-inflation fear really comes from a fear that elites will profit while the little people don't see any wage increases, and it has little to do with the actual store-of-value aspect.  In reality, the little people do better in a moderately high inflationary economy for many reasons, mostly having to do with jobs and wage growth which does reach farther down than it does in other times (e.g. 70's, mid-to-late 90's).   Also true that the value of debts decreases, which matter more to most people of lower income than interest on savings.  But they are constantly trained not to think that way but to think like bond rentiers.  Because guess who owns the media.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Zappa: Cool to be a Right Smart Ass

I siding with Dave…there is no evidence that Frank Zappa opposed the Vietnam War while it was happening.  He was known to be anti-hippie, anti-marijuana, anti-communist, pro-ridiculously-hard-work.  The best argument is for his having been pro-war also.  His whole stick was to make it cool to be a smart neoconservative/neoliberal.  Put down those stupid leftist hippies.  We righties have our own anti-authoritarian cred against all the stupid New Deal generation (Johnson and Nixon) while remaining fully anti-communist and pro-capitalist.  We can still be freaks while not getting lefty.  (This included me of the time…though I hardly knew of Zappa.)

No question, anyway, he is heavy on the attitude, with a heavy tilt toward the US style Libertarianism.  Which was not what Johnson or Nixon represented.  Nixon was brought down from the inside precisely because he wasn't sufficiently pro-private-capital, he was a New Dealer to the core, like Eisenhower.

When Zappa spares the vocals, I can enjoy his considerable musical talent and hard work.  At his best, he's a great classical and jazz inventor in the tradition of Varese…sometimes as good as Varese himself, and he can do decent rock also.  Otherwise…when vocals are present he's often far too preachy in a way I find disgusting.  He's the caffeinated cool smart ass observing the sick lazy populist-corrupted world.  Sorry, that's not a new thing in my experience.  A US Libertarian might have been new to someone in the 1960's.

Now it's true that by the 1980's, Zappa was becoming anti-some-of-Reagans-wars.  He might have had a shift toward the anti-war that hasn't been publicly recognized (to do so would be to recognize the pro-war beginning, which was deliberately ambiguous).  US Libertarians are often anti-war…especially since the 1980's.

Honestly, I made the switch from a childhood Republican (weakly pro-Vietnam war, if at all) to grown up Democrat (and later, a leftist Democrat) and strongly anti-empire.  But I was not selling smart ass record albums and did not have a public persona when I made the switch, so it's easier for me to be honest about the matter…in fact for me it's a bragging point I think that I was able to change my mind about various things as I grew up.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gold is not an Investment, excess saving is hoarding

Krugman's latest words on Gold are interesting, and end up calling gold a scam investment.

Buying gold promotes only one kind of business, that of mining and selling gold.  That's a tiny part of the overall economy.

Buying gold doesn't provide credit to people building other kinds of industries.  Buying corporate stocks and bonds would.

Putting money in a bank enables more lending by lowering the cost of money to the bank.  More lending means more pro ducting of things like cars, houses, and home improvements.

So buying gold is rather anti-social.  I know rational utility maximizers aren't supposed to be swayed by such things.  Anyway, I wouldn't be buying gold anyway, as I understand it as a speculation on the value of gold.  Speculation is a fancy word for gambling, and I don't like to do that because I seem to be a pretty consistent loser at gambling.

But whether I am swayed by such things or not, I think about them.

Now, there may be not so good aspects to those other things I just mentioned, and what they enable.  And I've long thought that "buying" is more pro-social than saving or financial investing because in the former case you are providing income to someone else, and in the latter you are only providing a loan.

So if it's OK to buy stuff, say high end audio equipment, why not gold?

Well also precisely because buying stuff not only provides income to others (one persons spending is anothers income), it provides us with stuff, which we enjoy directly.  So utility is amplified, so to speak, by buying the amplifier I may need for the best audio reproduction.  In fact, if an amplifier provides utility to me in the future…it is an investment.  (In some cases, it might be good store of value…or even a speculative wedge, as well, but that's not what I'm talking about.)

This may fall apart if I buy too much stuff, more than I need, more than I use, etc.  (Something I'm pretty sloppy about, actually.)

Of course, to the gold bug, survivalist, or similar kook, owning that shiny metal is enjoyed directly.  But that's a little sick, isn't it?

The main defensible reason to own gold would be as a store of value.  Though I dismiss the attempt to gain money or advantage through an increase in the price of gold as "gambling," merely holding gold, not respective of the fact it may become worth more or less relative to other things…is a defensible reason within limits.

What are those limits?  The limits to one's need for future consumption security or future reasonable bequest.  Saving more than that is "hoarding," which means other people's productive activity is being pinched indefensibly.  With the richest people however we may not think of this as hoarding so much as status seeking.  The richest seek to be richer than others.

That kind of pursuit of wealth for it's own sake, however, is just as bad socially as hoarding.

Rather than saving too much…what should the wealthy do?  Spend righteously and/or give money away righteously!