Sunday, November 16, 2014

States: No Substitute Has Been Proven Yet

Many leftists are anti-statists, often using the label Anarchist, but strongly distinguished from the rightist propertarian version of anarchism sometimes seen today.

Left anarchism, most often technically understood as anarcho-syndicalism, proposes collective ownership of the means of production through co-ops and collectives which themselves cooperate without an overlord.

Tribal collectivism (small scale anarcho-syndicalism) was the human way until the invention of Agriculture.  Since then, society became hierarchical then privatized--the opposite of collectivism.

So you can't say collectivism is unnatural to humans.  But it has been taken away by the arc of history, but restored in various ways in various places.  Adapted to modern circumstance, anarcho-syndicalism is the most complete modern form of anarchistic collectivism suitable for an industrial or post-industrial society, in which people work in complex organizations, which become the locus of medium to large scale collective ownership and control, but without higher levels of top down control, such as modern states.

Collectivism has only been attempted at state level in name only, such as USSR, or in limited forms, such as Social Democracy.  But I have no doubt that full state democratic socialism is possible, despite a few failed examples.  And I continue to believe in Marx's concept: first socialism, then communism.  The ultimate communism that Marx discussed was indistinguishable from anarchism, everything just happening so that all needs are met, and all abilities tapped.

Whether socialism comes first or not…the best world with anarcho-syndicalism is the one with anarcho-syndicalism everywhere.

Anarcho-syndicalism has been seen in scales up to regions of modern states, such as region of Mondragon in Spain.  It's not proven that it would work in even larger scales, where collectives themselves would have to cooperate.  The most detailed theory about how anarcho-syndicalism could work on larger scales is Participatory Economics.  I admire many concepts of Participatory Economics, which ought to serve as a compass for designers of the future, but likely not a blueprint--it's sufficiently complex and different from modern society that one imagines that considerable adaptation may be required to form an actual successful society, and the inventors of PE admit as such.

The same could be said of "true communism".   The thing commonly called Communism isn't really communism as Marx or most modern communists would define it.  (Noam Chomsky does the best job of disproving the claim that the USSR was actually socialist as it claimed.)  The "really existing communist states" of China (as it existed from 1949 until about about 1980 when it pivoted to capitalism), Cuba, and the former USSR were not communist other-than-in-name even by generous stretching of the definition (based on collective ownership of the means of production, and worker democracy on all scales).  The correct and yet polite way to refer to such states would be Social Fascist.  So the largest scale on which true communism has been demonstrated is identical to that of anarcho-syndicalism, because at the level of a single or small number of cooperating collectives they are identical.  So Mondragon is both the largest example of both anarcho-sydicalism and true communism.  The original Mondragon collectivist society was crushed by Franco and I'm not sure how much the current one (the Mondragon Corporation) is comparable.

Meanwhile, the human population of the world has continued to grow further beyond that scale, and at least since World War II bourgeois democracy (of, by, and for the capitalists) has reigned supreme, along with often forgotten tens of millions of deaths and other atrocities it has required to continue that reign amidst many challengers.

Socialist elements have by necessity and struggle been added to bourgeois democracy.  If these elements had not been added, likely Marx's forecast of the demise of capitalism would have already happened.  The resulting form is called Social Democracy (actually, social bourgeois democracy), which is now ubiquitous, but also highly variable.  The United States of America used to be a progressive leader in Social Democracy, with spirited leaders such as Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, but at least since the 1970's it has been a leading laggard--tending mainly toward pulling the whole thing down.  Denmark and Norway are the best examples of Social Democracy, and not coincidentally states where poverty has most nearly vanished.

Thus, socialism as it best really exists today (and not in name only) is actually tied to capitalist states, an ironic but not unforeseeable development--in fact it was exactly predicted and encouraged by Marx as the way forward, even if he might not have foreseen it enduring so long.

So lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater.  Liberal bourgeois states, even the USA, have within them the some means for reform by and for the people, and those means, including representational voting mass demonstration, are the best available for the foreseeable future.  And not "Revolution," which has a proven tendency to go the wrong way.  One might hope for a good revolution eventually, under circumstances that are inconceivable today--such as mass awareness of the evils of capitalism and  universal understanding of their roots in property (property is theft, all forms of wealth are coercion, capitalism is atomized slavery ultimately to itself), and the withering away of the capitalist control apparatus to nearly if not entirely nothing.  But meanwhile, if you meet a Revolutionary today, the worst thing is to follow him.

I'm worried about the fostering of an anti-statism which precisely exists to remove the socialist elements from modern bourgeois democracy.  That's clearly the thrust of American Libertarianism, for example, which has broad appeal to a certain segment of US society (including most Republicans), and American Libertarianism is a great example of a movement with plutocratic backers and which serves plutocratic and oligarchic ends, despite rhetoric to the contrary.

Anarchists with left leanings should be wary of being used as tools by these people, or as tools of the many self-described Anarchists (anarcho-capitalists) who are really Propertarians.  As I see it, the ultimate ideal anarchist/communist society is so far away as to be hardly worth thinking about, and that won't change until such time as nearly everyone knows it has.  Meanwhile, the task at hand is restoring, maintaining, and improving social democracy, as well as illuminating the fundamental evils of capitalism.

States are now and for the foreseeable future the best maintainers and supporters of Social Democracy.  State power is the only useful (even if decreasingly so) power to counter the power of global capitalism.  Sure, the left wants to see global people power supreme, but many things are in the way of that, none the least the power apparatus of capitalism itself, now both state and global.  Global people power must continue as it has in the last 100 years, primarily as an influence, never correctly a wielder of state power.

Particular states, such as the United States of America, may be hated more for their imperial adventurism and authoritarian than their internal affairs--which still have a significant social democratic element.  The way to counter Imperialism is through direct anti-imperialism, not a universal anti-statism.  It's true that USA's imperialism backs global capitalism, and that opposing and ending that imperialism is one of the most urgent tasks today.  But how does that fit with a broad anti-statism that would apply to the many states that are not imperialist but more the victims of US imperialism?  Many conservatives believe that capitalism remains possible without US imperialism.  I actually suspect that is true, and just as with the rise of Social Democracy in the 1900's, it would be an improvement on the present day capitalism.  Anyway, why not work with those conservatives in the anti-Imperialism movement.  But not in any movements that roll back social democracy, such as the anti-statist ones.

Only when and as freed from capitalism first can we be universally anti-statist.

Friday, October 10, 2014

More Krugman on Limits to Growth

Contra Krugman's facetious claims, I suspect that Jay Forrester had some idea that Economists run their models on computers.

But the key difference is that Forrester ran Dynamic models, not Static Equilibrium models.

That's a very interesting and very different way of doing things.

In doing that, Jay Forrester was a pioneer far more significant to a real social science than any of the immoral philosophers following and including Adam Smith and mathematical scribblers.

Jay Forrester was actually looking at what economists claim to think about but never actually do--scarce resources.  You can't even think about Limits to Growth within a static model.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Krugman takes another foul swipe at Limits to Growth

Krugman takes another foul swipe at Limits to Growth.  No surprise that Herman Daly is not in Krugman's perch at the Times.

Slow steaming means less goods from same physical investment in ships and crew.  This is not a strategy for growth, but the reverse.  There is enormous energy embedded in the construction of ships, which limits the ability to employ this strategy, even with infinite capital pursuing negligible returns.

But the general problem with Krugman's unusually flippant dismissal of limits to growth is that we are up against many physical limits at the same time, not just energy.

Meanwhile, we can't eat virtual food or grow crops with virtual water.  There are limits as to how many real needs, not just hedonic utilities, can be met with real resources.  And if those real needs can't be met, there will be no hedonic utilities either.  In the end, we are not econocons who can live only on utility, we are people who need real stuff and whose wants usually (if not always or essentially) require more real stuff.  And the real measurements bear this out.  Krugman's world of ever growing "wealth" despite diminishing resources is an evil fantasy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rawls on Inequality and Redistribution

Another great discussion at Crooked Timber growing out of a oversimplified but interesting essay by John Quiggin.

I'm only a fraction of the way through the over 400 comments and already some are great, such as #121 by Plume--high corporate and personal income tax rates help encourage re-investment.  The current neoliberal low taxes on such income results in disinvestment, speculation, and conspicuous gilded age real estate.  James Galbraith makes the same point in his essential book Predator State.

Another great comment by Plume is #112.  The first part is clear.

We did, however, have a long period of time when the top marginal rate was above 90%, and that worked just fine. In fact, when it was in place, America had its one and only middle class boom.
The second part is, I concede, a bit opaque, and way beyond normal discourse on these subjects, but seems to be a fusion of something nearly like MMT and communism.  I like it, but a lot of details are left out, such as how spending is done, if one person's spending is another person's income in a market system, how does it work in Plume's system, if all income comes from "public sector."

And Plume's #101 is great, The Sophist's #95 great and funny.

Much discussion about Pareto Optimality, including a thread that it does not exist.  I won't try to say it doesn't exist (as a formalism or algorithm) but it is horrible and should not be used in political economic theory.  Calling it "Optimality" makes it sound good, but what it really means, as Bruce Wilder suggests, is rich people saying to poor people "What's mine is mine and what is yours is negotiable."  I accept what Thornton Hall says in #86.

Peter K. nails it when he says in #78:
The economy was better regulated, taxed, managed in the 50s, 60s, 70s, until the neoliberal-Reagan revolution of the 1980s. There was more prosperity and rising incomes. There wasn’t a concentration of wealth in the hands of the regulators as public choice theory(sic) would have it. 
A later commenter quips that public choice theorists created the world they described when neoliberals following their advice made corporations their own regulators (and then the wealth concentrates in the regulators hands--the regulators who are the corporations themselves).

Quiggen makes a good point (I like it better than his OP) in #48 that in the absence of strong redistributional or predistributional support (such as legal support for labor unions) a dispersion in capital ownership is unsustainable.  The big will eat the small all over again, as Marx observed.  So the idea of a society of small capitalists is Chestertonian romanticism.  I think this exposes the weakness in many utopian reform ideas (though I still favor land reform and such--it's not enough).

There's a long running argument about Utility.  That it's a useful concept was demonstrated or assumed by the OP.  But some claim such a vague notion can't be subject to mathematics, etc.  That argument is poor I think, but a much better argument is that Utility might be a vector and not a scalar.  If it's a vector, utilities can't simply be added up as scalars as economists do, yet another slap at completely collapsed intellectual edifice of classical economics.  However I'd like to hear what the vector of Utility is like such that it cannot be collapsed in some way to a scalar.  Why not simply use the magnitude of the vector?  What aspect of vectorial Utility cannot be scalorized?

Many commentors make the point that Rawls wasn't concern with Utility at all, and so the OP thesis that Rawls would choose the top of the Laffer curve is laughable.  Quotes are given in which Rawls clearly says that fairness is more important than how much is produced.  I found this to be a great weakness of the OP.  I had sort of decided a few years back that I wasn't that interested in Rawls either (though I'm impressed if he values fairness above total production).  However I looked at this blog as a Party, an excuse for a lot of smart people to talk about things related to inequality, with most of the meat in the comments, and it doesn't disappoint.  The first few comments I've read by my favorite commenter at CT, Bruce Wilder, don't seem up to his usual length and profundity (though #12 is a gem, the crucial observation that income may come from either production or usury).  But Plume has really stepped up to the plate with many good comments.

The elephant in the room in all conversations about economics or the economy is sustainability.  We've largely built both without any serious regard for sustainability, and have well overshot the mark in terms of use, production, or destruction of many natural things.  ZM in post #24 is the first to address this, but he doesn't do very well on my re-reading (I was cheering too hard the first time).

The key point from this is that all the incentives given by capitalism from the beginning have been exactly the wrong ones.  By doing well, people are well along the way to destroying the planet.  That is what the marvelous incentives of the "market" have done.

So given how bad this will ultimately be, exact equality of circumstance would have provided better ultimate outcomes than capitalist profit and inequality.

So when "solutions" call for more "growth" or suggest that more "growth" is a good thing, that's exactly wrong.

We must have less material consumption total per capita, but far more equally distributed, so there is prosperity for all.  That fundamentally means less money and power for those on the top.  We can't get to a desirable world otherwise.  Pareto Optimal outcomes are the least desirable ones.

Along with that, a large voluptuary reduction in child birthing would help make the sustainability crunch less painful.  Funny there's almost never any discussion of that anywhere.  It's a difficult thing to intellectualize let alone realize, so we ought to be talking about that a lot more.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How the University of Illinois caters to the wealthy

Here's a key post (though now nearly a couple weeks old) on how rich donors called the shots regarding Steven Salaita's dehiring prior to the vote by the Board of Trustees (who are themselves just another bunch of rich people and rich appeasers).

Here we have one little example both of the power of the rich (of course, we live in a Plutocracy) and the costs associated with having people who are rich, along with the systems of law and property which enable people to get rich (which supposedly make us all better off by providing the right incentives--which is nonsense).  Those people will then destroy everything worthwhile in society (democracy, human rights, art, science) in order to maintain power for themselves.

The benefit to society for having a capitalist class are not as great as the losses.  The best example is Global Heating.  The rich are always ready to sink the entire ship so long as they will continue to be on top.

Krugman on Syll on Keynes

Very interesting.

Actually, if not an actual prophet, Keynes was at least the smartest economist ever, whose ideas have stood a long test of time (while competitors only crumble, even the great edifice of Smith, Ricardo, and Walras lays in ruins).

Some of his ideas were influential in economics, and therefore it is interesting to understand in particular the General Theory, the most influential part of his contribution to economics.  I would go beyond saying has the best economic ideas and theories--he has about the only good fundamental ones, and the only good way to start.

It is wrong to start with Adam Smith's rational baker.  Fundamentally wrong (and so, in a peculiar way which casts a good light on the misanthropes).  It tells you little about how the overall economy operates.

But since Keynes was such a smart man, it might be a good idea also to look at all the rest of the things he said about economics, and everything else.  Not only was he a smart man, but he put his intelligence to the benefit of his society, as much as his influence lasted and lasts.  So he was a good man, and a smart man, and therefore be of great benefit to know what he said publicly about most things.

As much so as doing, what I do far more often, as reading Krugman's take on things.  Another good and smart man, maybe not Keynes, but still worth reading.

Friday, September 12, 2014

College for All

I would like to see free college for all in the USA.  Free college in all public universities, including the best.  Free college along with the expectation that most will go to college, much as we have that expectation for High School today.

College should not be understood as job training, but as general education, "liberal arts" education to help train people to think and become self-educating, to become familiar with the arts and sciences of their civilization as they actually are, and not filtered through a private slant.  The word is complicated enough that schooling should continue to the 16th grade because people need that much education and they need to reach that age before education stops.  And industry is productive enough that we can get by without people in that age range having to work.  Having them not work also helps maintain good wages for labor.  There should not be workers for every possible job, but only enough workers to do what most needs to be done, and needs doing enough to command a high wage without question (even though there is never any guarantee that any wages will ever come close to the social value of work, and they especially don't for lower paying work, because wages are not set by a mythical free market but by conservative traditions).

But as long as college is not free, there should be no expectation that everyone should attend college, AND there should be no stigma or loss of the possibility of having a good career without attending college.  And no family should be so poor that kids or young adults of college age are unable to attend college because income is needed from the young adults to sustain the family.

Thus I would sort of agree with the kinds of things that Robert Reich says here, in the world as it exists today.  I remember Hedrick Smith making these arguments in the 1980's.

But we should remember that the better solution would be to have free college for all and a far more equal society.