Friday, July 11, 2014

The Three Relations

There are three general types of relations, hierarchy, reciprocity, and communism. Each functions differently and are, generally, based upon the manner in which things flow. In hierarchy, things flow from those without power to those with power, in reciprocity, things flow equally both ways with each actor getting as much as they give, and, in communism, things flow freely from those who have more to those who have less.

Now, both relations of reciprocity and of communism have an implied equality between the two sides of the relationship. That is, in reciprocity, both actors are expected to bring the same amount to the table and the exchange is supposed to be equal, while, in communism, those who have more give to those who have less, in essence, acting as a balancing of an existing material inequality because of a relationship of equality.

Hierarchy, on the other hand, explicitly rejects the equality between the two sides. The person who is higher in the hierarchy is expected to get more than the person who is below, and not insignificantly, but often hundreds of times more. In addition, when things flow down the hierarchy, it's because they are lesser than that which is flowing up it. So a bushel of apples is given as tribute by the peasant to the king, and the king gives the rotten apples from the bushel to the peasant.

All relations can be seen as operating within one of those three very general frameworks, and they are also mutually exclusive in that, as a relation begins to exhibit one of those relations more and more strongly, the other two begin to be exhibited less and less. So, as an example, the relation between boss and worker begins as a relation of reciprocity. The worker offers their labor and the boss offers a wage. Exchange happens and each gets something out of it that is theoretically equal. However, once they begin the job, the relationship changes form and begins to be more and more hierarchical. The worker is expected to do what the boss says and the boss is not expected to do what the worker says. The equal, or, at least, supposedly equal, exchange no longer happens except on pay day. As the relation becomes hierarchical, the reciprocity becomes an afterthought rather than the basis of the relationship.

And the state is an entity of hierarchical relations. Things flow from the citizens to the government officials and the police. If there is hierarchy, then communism hasn't been fully universalized as those relations which are based upon hierarchy are not based upon communism.

Now, you'll notice that the two biggest forms of anarchism are based upon the two non-hierarchical forms of relations. Anarcho-communism is the universalization of, well, communism and mutualism is the universalization of reciprocity. When Proudhon spoke of the anarchic encounter, he was, I believe, essentially outlining the theoretical ideal of reciprocity. Two individuals meet as equals, and, as equals, they exchange equally. That is the heart of reciprocity and that is what Proudhon's system was built upon. Communists, on the other hand, tend to conceive of things as "gifts" rather than as exchanges and imagine an economy where everything is given as a gift rather than as an exchange. That is what the communistic system is built upon. Both of these, though, lie in a rejection of hierarchy.

Now, while I certainly am a communist and identify as such, I don't think a truly communistic society is possible. While I think we would be able to almost completely eradicate hierarchy, there will be cases in which people are not comfortable or not able to have things flow as communism, be it because they don't know each other or because neither has too little of something as is required for communistic relations to work, so, in those cases, things will flow as reciprocity. Similarly, I don't think a truly reciprocitous society is possible. While, again, the elimination of hierarchy is certainly possible, there will be some cases in which communism will result, such as between lovers or on holidays for gift giving or through debt jubilees. In reality, an anarchist society will always fall somewhere between total communism, which is the ideal of anarcho-communists, duh, and total reciprocity, which is the ideal of mutualists.
However, both reciprocity universalized and communism universalized are fundamentally incompatible with the state and capitalism and any form of hierarchy because the way things flow in hierarchy is antithetical to both. In hierarchy, things flow from those who don't have much to those who have a lot, while in communism it is the opposite as things flow from those who have a lot to those who don't have much. In hierarchy, things flowing up are greater than things flowing down, good apples up, bad apples down, while in reciprocity, things flowing one way are equal to things flowing the other way. The state is based upon hierarchy, so a mutualistic or communistic society is, therefore, incompatible with it.

This is mainly based upon David Graeber's wonderful book Debt: The First Five Thousand Years. Y'all should read it, natch.

Friday, February 28, 2014

On the Back of the Third World: A Critique of Social Democracy

Many anarchists appear to argue for social democracy. At the very least, they argue it's not as bad as neoliberalism. They argue that, yes, we are still exploited and oppressed under social democracy, but at least we have benefits, a safety net, and regulation protecting them. All hail the protection of the state against capital. (I'm not being that sarcastic. To quote Chomsky, "State power is a good example of a necessary cage. There are sabre-toothed tigers outside; they are called transnational corporations which are among the most tyrannical totalitarian institutions that human society has devised. And there is a cage, namely the state, which to some extent is under popular control." I'm not going to pretend this is a support for states in general. It's not. It's a simple lesser of two evils argument.) Oftentimes, they set it up in opposition to neoliberalism which doesn't have those things and is creating global neocolonialism. It's true, neoliberalism doesn't have these protections against capitalism. It's also true that neoliberalism is creating global neocolonialism. The problem is that neoliberalism is not in opposition to social democracy. In contrast, social democracy needs it and wouldn't be able to survive without it.

This may seem like a somewhat strange argument. After all, aren't neoliberalism two opposed visions of capitalism? Surely they are incompatible. Well, they are, to an extent. There cannot be a state that is 100% neoliberal and 100% social democratic at the same time. However, this analysis only analyzes neoliberalism and social democracy in isolation. In a global context, they aren't incompatible. A state or group can easily promote social democracy at home and neoliberalism abroad. You can see that with America. Institutions like social security, medicare, and medicaid have become so ingrained in America that those who oppose them have to disguise their intentions to reduce it. However, abroad, through institutions like the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO, they promote neoliberalism.

But my argument was more extreme than simply saying that they are compatible. I was arguing that social democracy depends upon neoliberalism. Now, they obviously exist side-by-side, with most first world countries being social democracy and mainly producing highly specialized goods requiring highly skilled and paid workers while third world countries, either by choice or because of some force limiting their choices, primarily pursue neoliberal policies making cheaper stuff that depends upon cheap labor. I hope the dependency of social democracy on neoliberalism is obvious by now.

However, I'll assume it isn't. Now, let us assume that the entire world has developed to the point where it can sustainably transition into social democracies and they do just that. (Note, a sufficiently poor and underdeveloped country can't do this. Social democracies require money to work.) But what of the cheap goods requiring cheap labor? Now, they are produced in social democracies. They have things like minimum wages and protections for labor. This increases costs. Now, either the capitalists take the hit to their profits (hah! as if) or they raise prices. This means a pretty across the board raising of prices, which is otherwise known as inflation. Except, this time, it's global inflation. This means the money the workers are being paid is less. So much for minimum wage. But, also, the profits the capitalists are raking in are worth less. So they raise prices again and the workers try to raise their wages leading to even more price increases. This causes more and more inflation. The capitalists fire workers to cut costs, but that's not going to stop this inflation. This has actually happened before here in the US. We called it stagflation. But, in this case, it would be global. Well, what happened last time we experienced stagflation? Well, we trimmed at the social democratic institutions, though not eliminating them. Likely the same would happen, but, since this would be even worse, it would be done to a greater extent.

As such, social democracy couldn't survive global social democracy. But surely that's not enough to demonise social democracy. Perhaps it wouldn't survive being a global phenomenon, but at least it doesn't perpetuate the neoliberalism in the third world by its very existence... right? Well, lets take the opposite example. What happens if all the social democracies abandon social democracy and pursue neoliberal policies. Well, there are still the same sort of high paying jobs that need to be done. The wages in these wouldn't drop too much. However, all of a sudden, capitalists would be able to move the low cost jobs home. And it would be cheaper for them to do the whole of their production at home. They'd have less transport costs as they aren't transporting as far. They'd have better infrastructure to work with. So transnational companies pull out of third-world countries and move the production they would do in those countries home. This would significantly worsen things in first world countries and make them much more stratified. But what of the third world countries? Well, they would no longer have transnational companies taking advantage of them. They would no longer be forced to do menial labor for first-world countries. They'd be able to construct their own industry, or no industry at all, if they want none. They'd be able to expand and grow. They'd have choice. They wouldn't be the glorified colonies of first world countries.

So, yes, social democracy seems superficially better than neoliberalism, but it isn't. Rather, it is taking the highly stratified internal capitalist structure of neoliberal countries and projects it upon the world stage, with those in third world countries almost universally worse off than those in first world countries. Ultimately, neither is any good and we should oppose both. And it shouldn't be opposing both, but supporting one over the other. They are not fundamentally separate. We must oppose both equally.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Elite Theory

Where does power lie and who controls policy? This is a key question within political science, and one with much disagreement over. One group is the pluralists. Pluralists argue that power is distributed among competing interest groups striving to control policy, either mediated by the state or with the state as its own autonomous entity in this fight. Pluralists argue that, through this competition of interest groups, the will of the people can be expressed. In contrast, class theorists argue that it there are stratified classes within society and that those in the upper classes control policy, but have to contend with the lower classes through class conflict. This is the analysis of Marx and many class theorists are marxian theorists, though not always marxists.

Then there is elite theory. According to elite theory, there are a small number of "elites" who control policy and the state. These elites can be government officials, people of prestigious families, leaders within corporations, or people with powerful social influence, such as preachers. Usually, they are more than one of those. For example, Ted Kennedy was a US Senator for nearly 50 years (making him a governmental official) and was a member of the Kennedy family (making him a member of a prestigious family). While people can rise to join the elite, such as, to continue the running example of the Kennedy family, P J Kennedy, grandfather of JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Ted Kennedy, managed to rise from obscurity to become a US Representative then later US Senator and became adept at playing the internal politics of Boston, those who are already the elite or have family within the elite can more easily gain and use power thanks to greater education, more money, family and personal connections, and education of the inner workings of the state and other bodies of power, often since an early age. While the elite do not necessarily agree, they are the only ones with power and they are the ones who control the system. In fact, the masses are often excluded entirely from the decision making.

Now, this does not mean there is some conspiracy of elites who are necessarily in cahoots with each other and control things in secret. Indeed, oftentimes the elites exert their influence openly. In addition, the elites are not necessarily unified.

This also does not mean that the excluded group can never exert any influence. Indeed, elite theory recognizes the existence of "counter-elites" through whom the disenfranchised can negotiate with the elites. However, the excluded group do not have any power nor do they participate in the making of policy.

Elite theorists see the US, and other western nations claiming to be democracies, as not truly democratic because the people don't have true influence on who is in power or policy making. While this may seem to deny the existence of voting for public officials or more direct democratic initiatives where the people themselves vote for policy. However, elite theorists argue that the choices that the voters have are limited. When we choose between two senators, both of them are "pre-screened" by the elite and the choices are limited to those who the elites want or are at least ok with. This often means that the voter is choosing between two elites themselves or just between two people who can be controlled by elites. On occasion, one of the choices will be rising elites, like P J Kennedy in 1884 when he successfully ran for the House of Representatives. With direct democratic initiatives, they are written by or at least approved by the elite. The choices become remaining in the status quo, which, while not necessarily in the interests of the elite, definitely preserving the power of the elite, or choosing something the elite want or don't mind. This is not the same as having power or choices.

Now, one might wonder why sometimes policies which don't benefit the elites or actively hurt the elites can happen if the elites truly control policy. This is a complicated issue and one without a single answer. There are many reasons why this might happen.

One obvious reason is that the policy might actually benefit the elite, and it's only perceived as not benefitting the elite. One example I can think of is a progressive income tax. While the progressive income tax appears to hurt the elite, since the vast majority of the elite are rich and a progressive taxation system taxes the rich more than the poor, it actually comes with benefits to the elite. If we were to switch to a flat tax or a sales tax, both of which disproportionately hurt the poor, the rich benefit from a functioning state, and flat or sales taxes makes it more difficult to continue having a functioning state, so the progressive income tax helps them by keeping the state functioning.

Another reason is that the elite aren't perfectly rational and don't necessarily want what is in their best interests. In addition, sometimes the elites don't know what is in their best interests, so they fight for a solution that hurts them.

Still another reason is that the elite aren't homogeneous and don't have one voice and one interest. What might hurt one elite helps another. A high progressive income tax clearly helps a senator who's salary depends on a functioning state more than the CEO of a corporation.

Finally, there is the existence of counter-elites and threats from the masses. One of the key examples of this is the New Deal. The Great Depression hurt the masses greatly, and negative feelings arose among them. Many were radicalised and a radical sentiment grew within the masses. There was a growing danger that the elite would be taken out of power through a revolution similar to what happened in Russia. Because of this danger, FDR, who was a member of the elites as a member of the Roosevelt family, growing up in a monied atmosphere, married to a member of the Roosevelt family (far enough removed that there was no danger of anything bad related to incest) who was the niece of former president Teddy Roosevelt, and a former senator and governor. However, he recognized the danger of a communist revolution, and, in his desire to save capitalism, he instituted the New Deal. The New Deal helped the masses immensely. While the Great Depression wasn't completely ended by it (that would be the almost corporatist economics instituted during World War II), it did alleviate many of the ill affects to the poor and helped lessen it at the expense of the elites. Not all elites recognized the importance of this to their power, and many called him a class traitor. However, the power of the elites was maintained.

Now, there are surely other ways for such policies to happen, but all of them must eventually go through the elite and happen because the elite want them to happen.

Now, the power of the elites can crumble. This often happens in revolutions. In the French Revolution, the aristocracy lost its power thanks to the masses rising up and killing them or kicking them out of the country. This didn't lead to an end to elites, though, and new elites soon cropped up. These destruction of the power of the elites almost always comes from below, and sometimes through the counter-elites, though they often benefit from the current structure since it gives them power, too, even if they don't have any actual control over policy.

But what does this all mean for anarchism?

The most important thing about this is that the power of elites and hierarchy in general cannot be destroyed from within. The elites are the ones benefiting from their power and from hierarchy, and they are the ones who control the system. They are not, or will very rarely, willingly give up that power. This is why revolution is necessary.

The other lesson from this is that we need to be cautious of the rise of elites and design whatever society we create from the shell of the old in such a way that elites cannot form.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Political Dada

So much time and effort is put into acting politically. We engage in political protests, vote in political elections, and fight in political revolutions. That's all well and good, but what does that actually change? Well, a lot, but not some of the most fundamental political assumptions. The French Revolution made leaders elected, but it didn't remove leaders. The Russian Revolution made production nationalized, but it didn't free us from production. Voting is worse. It doesn't even cause major changes, let alone systemic ones.

What's the problem here? Everyone still takes political institutions so seriously that we could never take them away. As long as people think that these institutions are Serious, Important Things™, they will always exist. No amount of protests, voting, and revolution can change that.

But what can change that? Political Dada. Just as the Dadaist mocked art and tried to create stupid, horrible pieces of art to show how art can be stupid and horrible, we should create mockeries of institutions and belittle and make fun of them. It's not merely enough, for example, to not vote for any candidate. We need to call for the election of the Power of Love, or stand in line all day on voting day, but never vote, rather going to the back of the line when you finish. We can't just tear down advertisements and condemn corporations. We need to create horrible advertisements or modify existing ones to make them bad. We should add a Hitler stache to models on billboards, or change Wallmart's logo to just say Wall.

Mockeries make are fun and fundamentally undermine the seriousness and significance of political institutions allowing for them to be abolished altogether.

The General Eh

Anarcho-syndicalism, for all its flaws, does contain within it a radical idea. Specifically within the idea of the General Strike. The idea is this: What if everyone stopped working all at once? Isn't that a wonderful idea? Everyone just refusing to work. However, past that, things veer off course when they introduce the demand that the industries be handed over to them so that they can return to work. However, I wish to rescue this brilliant nugget with my own proposal: The General Eh.

So how does the General Eh differ from the General Strike? Whereas, in the General Strike, the workers make demands of their employers to get back to work, in the General Eh, no demands are made. No longer working is the goal of the General Eh. Whereas, in the General Strike,  the workers get up and fight for their workplace, in the General Eh, everyone just stays at home. People stop being workers and do their own thing. They renounce the authority of the state and the necessity of their jobs. They sleep in. They plant gardens or have dinner in a field with their loved ones. They fight back, if the capitalists try and force them back to work, or if the police try to force them to obey the law, but they aren't fighting to get something because they already have everything they want. Everyone becomes free in an instant merely by deciding to walk away. That is the General Eh. It's the General Strike for those who think that's too much work, and, indeed, too much like the job they stop working at.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Beginnings of a Comprehensive Economic Theory: Economic Crisis, Especially in Capitalism

What causes an economic crisis? I'm not certain, but, given what I've investigated so far, I'm inclined to think it is an imbalance in the three struggles. Indeed, imbalance in one of the struggles leads to imbalance in at least one other, if not both. If the buyer start winning the struggle between buyer and seller, profits fall, which companies turn into laying off workers allowing them to lower wages. One company dominating a market leads to high prices and low wages, since they need hire less people to produce the same amount thanks to economics of scale, though profits soar. Bosses starting to crush workers leads to lower wages, which means that the companies can't sell as much. Sellers winning out on prices more, but causes buyers to stop buying, so the sellers begin losing, and the buyers start winning. Workers winning out over bosses causes bosses to rise prices to compensate for high wages and fire a lot of workers, which causes them to dominate the seller-buyer struggle.

Notice how in all of those, the workers and buyers are hurt far more than the companies which employ them and sell to them.

A good example of a worker crisis is the stagflation in the 70s. Unions gained a lot of power. In response, bosses raised prices and culled workers. This was termed stagflation, and is exactly what should happen when unions gain power.

Our current recession is a boss crisis caused by a buyer crisis, which expanded with the boss crisis, caused by a seller crisis, otherwise known as a clusterfuck. The housing bubble was caused by sellers lying to buyers to convince them to buy. As that kept going and going, they made a ton of money. However, the lie got exposed, and buyers stopped wanting to buy. This caused the companies to quickly lose a lot of money. This meant they started firing workers to lower wages. As they did so, people stopped buying elsewhere, so other markets were forced to fire workers to lower wages and earn less.

Beginnings of a Comprehensive Economic Theory: Worker-Boss Struggle

I'd like to focus on each of the three struggles individually. While each is broadly the same, the devil is in the details, so the details it is.

Now, before we begin, there needs to be some way to measure this struggle for us to even hope to study it. Luckily, there are a couple, depending on certain factors. If a currency is backed by something, like, say, gold, then wages are the best measure. When wages are high, the workers have a lot of power. When wages are low, the bosses have a lot of power. If a currency is fiat, then inflation is a better measure. When wages rise, bosses need to raise prices, if they want to continue to make money. In reality, inflation under a fiat currency is measuring wages, but it is aggregate so it's a better method. (This is the part I'm most unsure about and the part that will go through many revisions in the future. Any way to improve this part any of you can think of can go in the comments. Thank you.)

In addition, there are many ways for one side to have power over the other. One basic thing is unemployment. When unemployment is high, the bosses have power since they can always find new workers, so they can fire workers with impunity. The opposite is true of low unemployment.

Of course, not everything can work like unemployment, and will only grant one side power. For example, unions can only really grant power to workers.

On the side of the bosses, they have similar organizing. The difference is theirs is institutionalized. The organizational structure of the company itself is the organization that empowers the bosses.

In addition, regardless of how they feel about each other outside of this struggle, all bosses are allies in this struggle and all workers are allies in this struggle. Workers who gain power encourage those who don't to unionize and fight for more power, just because they can see the other workers winning, which is inspiring.

That's why companies don't encourage workers of the companies they compete with to unionize. This is also why unions often strike when other unions strike in a show of solidarity and bosses share troublemakers with each other creating blacklists.

This creates inefficiency in a number of ways. First and foremost is strikes. That's time, energy, and resources being put into the struggle rather than elsewhere. Second is systemic unemployment. That's labor that could go somewhere productive, but isn't going anywhere. Third is the resources bosses use to regulate and control the workers.