Trolling Alone?

by John Holbo on March 18, 2016

A couple months ago I was listening to bloggingheads (or something) and I heard conservative columnist and author Matt Lewis trying to explain Trump in terms of Maslow’s Pyramid (hierarchy of needs). He wasn’t being seriously serious about it, but I got what he was getting at … until I realized I had Lewis’ intended point precisely upside down and backwards.

Lewis was thinking about Maslow’s lowest level, the pyramid’s base: Trump as expression of populist economic desperation. We need food and shelter. White males dying early. Trump will bring jobs back. I had automatically started at the apex: Trump as avatar of expressive self-actualization. We’re voting for Trump not because we seriously think he will provide food and shelter, good blue collar wages like we had in the good old days. Obviously Trump can’t fix the world. (We’re not dummies, we Trump supporters. We know his casinos failed, so why would he be able to fix the economy?) No, Trump is a middle finger held high to ‘elites’ in both parties. Trump is trolling the political system this season. The reason Trump supporters don’t care is not that they don’t notice – duh, the Mexicans aren’t paying for any wall! – but because they themselves are down for a spot of high-quality trolling. Trump is payback to the Republicans. You disrespect us by not doing what we tell you to, once you are elected. We humiliate you by voting Trump. And they enjoy scandalizing the left by doing and saying anti-PC stuff they aren’t supposed to do and say. For Trump supporters, the carnival pleasure of this unprecedented release is its own catharsis and reward to such an extent that anything more is extra. Policy fixes? That would be the cherry on top. But it’s darn nice without that.

So Trump isn’t fooling his supporters. He’s giving them the first thing on their wish list. This thing: the campaign. Him, as a token of respect for them, in the form of recreational disdain for others.

Trump’s supporters are trolling alone … together. And it feels so good. For a change.

It’s worth conducting a thought-experiment in the safety of your own head. Think about the issue that most gripes you, which you feel in your bones is important and righteous, also personal, which is suppressed by the US political system. It ain’t on the agenda. Now imagine that, miraculously, a candidate emerges from nowhere – literally, arising out of a 0% chance that this would happen, so it seemed – and puts that issue on the table. WHAM! Puts it there so forcefully he blows up one of the two major parties, so it seems. Now suppose, additionally, this candidate is obviously a charlatan. But he is YOUR charlatan, insofar as he at least got it on the table, didn’t he? He’s authentically wrecking stuff up, which is a form of genuine authenticity. How would you feel about that? (Remember that one’s own clown face looks better. It’s easier to honk the red nose on thy neighbor’s face than to see the grease paint round thine own eye.)

It’s tempting to say this is political nihilism, if that’s how it goes. Just transforming the political sphere into lurid reality TV, for your own disinfotainment, out of despair at anything better. But if you found yourself in the above situation, and you supported your charlatan, you wouldn’t feel like a nihilist, much less like someone hiding behind a lie. The whole situation would just seem complicated, unstable and more than a bit ironic. I very much doubt Trump supporters are failing to notice how ironic all this is, and relishing that, but also banking on it, in a speculative way. Activation of heretofore suppressed issues and attitudes ain’t nothing, ergo isn’t nihilism. (I’m sure Sanders supporters don’t feel like nihilists just because, seriously, there’s no chance we’re getting that ‘revolution’ of his this season. I don’t mean Sanders is a charlatan, like Trump. He obviously isn’t. But it isn’t irrational for Bernie supporters to brush off concerns that his policy proposals aren’t ‘realistic’. Realistically, Bernie proposing realistic stuff isn’t the only way for him to do good here, long term.)

Back where I started. Of course it can be both: safety and self-actualization. There is such a thing as holding onto pride because it’s all you’ve got. Self-actualization as compensation for erosion of basic (physiological/safety) stuff. This is a problem with Maslow: the pyramid needs to wrap around.

But in US politics terms, the issue is this: Trump is an eye-watering orange meteor, flaming across the electoral firmament. I don’t think he will get elected. I don’t think he’ll stick around if he loses. He isn’t going to build a movement, or become, institutionally, the leader of the Republican Party. For him, this is about him. He will move on when the long strange ego-trip is over. But it is hard to say what this weird, uncanny orange light in the sky has illuminated.

Do you think the post-Trump future of US politics is increasingly a function of economic class divisions? On the one hand, Trump’s voters skew low-income, lower education. This fact really has busted up the order of things in the Republican Party, and might yet bust things up in the general. (I’m not saying Trump is going to win. I’m saying he might lose in a weird way.) On the other hand, there is evidence that Trump’s voters aren’t especially concerned about the economy. Is it more about race? On the one hand, there’s a lot of evidence of that. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that the Republican party will become, explicitly, the White Worker’s Party. Is it about culture? On the one hand, there’s a lot of evidence of that. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that anti-PC resentment is enough to be the permanent, main pillar of a major political party.

I really don’t know what I think. But my other, primary thread is getting kind of long. So I give you this fresh one for your speculations.

{ 233 comments }

1

js. 03.18.16 at 3:36 am

Think about the issue that most gripes you, which you feel in your bones is important and righteous, also personal, which is suppressed by the US political system.

Well, if Paul Ryan came out against smoking bans, I still wouldn’t support him. So there’s that.

2

DMC 03.18.16 at 3:55 am

The one populist note Trump is hitting that REALLY resonates with all those blue collar types is “Your jobs went away because of NAFTA and her offspring. I will unilaterally take us out of NAFTA and renegociate all these ‘free trade’ deals. I will institute 35% tariffs.” That is the proverbial red meat, right there. All that chin music about walls and suing everybody gets passed off as campaign rhetoric and Trump’s usual bombast and hyperbole. But challenging the orthodoxy of free trade is what’s going to make Mitch McConnell and his establishment Republican ilk vote for Clinton before this is done. Savor the irony while it’s hot.

3

milx 03.18.16 at 3:57 am

“I’m not saying Trump is going to win. I’m saying he might lose in a weird way.”

I’m having trouble thinking of an example for losing in a weird way.

4

RNB 03.18.16 at 4:02 am

5

Lord 03.18.16 at 4:06 am

Is there any effect down ticket, or is it just incumbents all the way down like usual? Do Trump supporters support the rest of the ticket or turn on them? Or do they just want them to return to minority status so they don’t have to be responsible?

6

None 03.18.16 at 4:08 am

“Now suppose, additionally, this candidate is obviously a charlatan.”

I don’t think he’s “obviously” a charlatan at all ie his supporters don’t interpret him that way. Trump almost certainly sees himself as an “awesome, amazing” Steve Jobs style entrepreneur-titan who can achieve things others can’t; this is suggested by studies of his business practices, he was confidently promising results in Atlantic city that were derided as utterly unfeasible by the knowledgeable & said derision deterred him not a bit. He obviously is not Jobs, but such appears to be his self-image. He may well believe that he can negotiate “incredible, yuuuge” trade deals or whatever it is he’s promising to do.
In other words, his self-belief & bombastic podium manner may have convinced his fans that he can deliver on his bs. It may not all be ressentiment on their part.

7

Yankee 03.18.16 at 4:43 am

Maslow was describing a healthy individual, growing upwards. In the existential situation where Things That Used To Work Are Not Working, maybe you try to stay at the highest attained level. You’d maybe think cognitive dissonance would be paralyzing, but it turns out to be very energizing indeed.

Belle turned me on to Little Big, and Trump is so much Russell Eigenblick. The Singularity is coming! Some singularity. Many singularities.

8

John Holbo 03.18.16 at 4:56 am

“I’m having trouble thinking of an example for losing in a weird way.”

What if he does quite well in rust-belt purple states but gets crushed overall? That would be weird.

9

Cry Shop 03.18.16 at 5:06 am

Perhaps they are trolling both parties? The circus that will come about with Hellary and Trump is something they are looking very much foward too.

10

Glen Tomkins 03.18.16 at 5:07 am

I’m not sure why you would say that Trump obviously won’t get things done.

We’ve reached democracy as described in the latter part of The Republic, the sump that lies at the end of the decline from any sort of order, the perspectival vortex in which the attraction to all the different sources of order are all at work in equal strength, so they cancel each other out, so no movement is possible. Nothing can happen as long as we stay in the sump, the absence of any sort of order. The only way out is a dictatorship. A dictator will get things done.

Sure, just because that’s the way it’s laid out in the The Republic hardly means that Plato or Socrates believed that. But it wouldn’t be in the Republic unless it was a credible way of looking at the world. Why shouldn’t people in a democracy believe that a dictator, and only a dictator, can get us out of our present rut?

The US has a massive military, which it maintains at great expense on a permanent war footing, yet which it puts to no profitable end. Why wouldn’t people believe that we could use it to make Mexico build that wall, or China pay us tribute? We maintain a huge secret police apparatus (I refuse to call it an “intelligence” apparatus, as that designation insults my intelligence). Why wouldn’t people believe that we could put it to great and good use domestically? We go to vast expense to maintain it, and why would we do that if a secret police were not of immense value? And what would that value be if not that a secret police is power, that it can control a society?

We have all this power, all this ability to get things done, lying around unused, and you doubt that Trump could get things done if we finally put that power in the hands of someone who would actually use it?

11

b9n10nt 03.18.16 at 5:27 am

part first: macro

I recall reading about poly sci research on authoritarians, who, with the ideological realignment of the South, the diminution of the labor movement, and the increasing liberalization of the mainstream culture find themselves newly concentrated within only one of the two parties.

There’s centrist Democrats and right wing media who collectively have sapped Establishment Republicans of the initiative to govern their lumpen proletariat inferiors.

And then there’s Trump himself, who perhaps has a unique genius to project bullying into mass politics. But this too points to something beyond the personal: Any organization with a genuine imperative to build, reform, or accomplish an objective would surely require stakeholders to look for substantive talent, skills, and leadership among its principle actors.

But the “Ruling Class” has naturally -almost thoughtlessly- worked against democratic politics having any real purpose or influence in this country, so politicians are more likely to be foolish and dim, reflecting their deflated role.

12

b9n10nt 03.18.16 at 5:32 am

part second: micro

Always there are individual fears and resentments that coalesce into tribalisms and their associated narratives. These are all psychic allergies, conditioned into us by a hundred minor and persistent traumas.

We are a freakish evolutionary experiment: a mosaic of predatory ambitions emerging from a chaos of prey-inspired sensitivities, experiencing consciousness practically blinded by a ceaseless kind of dreaming.

The very moment that disturbed notions of the world arise in thought and are then animated with obsessive fixations on other and self, shame and pride, or safety and danger, there is barely any capacity to understand. Only more of this dreaming.

In this dreaming they say: “We don’t win anymore. There’s a simple solution to our problems, and it comes from the strength of a person, not fooled or distracted by doubt and corruption.” Whoever can think this so readily must know it intimately. They read and think of the world imagining that they are escaping themselves.

Or, in this dreaming, we say: “Trumps supporters are seeking illusive refuge from their own psychic burdens, seeking distraction at best and courting violence at worst”. Whoever can think this so readily must know it intimately. We read and think of the world imagining we escape ourselves. Illusions indeed.

But there is no choice of escaping illusions and there is no escaping politics: our dreaming is our wakefulness. So politics must have a vision: a good dream that gives psyche a chance to re-fixate out of its attraction to disturbances.

Trump can remind us of the necessity of a Utopian politics. The practical has to be in balance with the ideal, or irrational less-conscious drives will take precedence.

13

F 03.18.16 at 5:51 am

Well, sure, but isn’t the big surprise the magnitude of his popularity rather than the fact that he has adherents? And how much of that is just a function of the fractioning of the Republican field? Has anyone demonstrated that Trump has the support of more than ~30% of the population? He’s received ~35% of the Republican primary vote, which is a sub-population prone to electing extremists anyway. And how is that different from the rise of UKIP, Front National, and Vlaams Belang, except that in a multi-party parliamentary system the 20-30% can never hijack a two-party system.

Maybe this is all about poor unskilled citizens of rich countries trying to hold on to their disproportionately large share of global income. Rich citizens are also trying to hold onto their even more disproportionate share of income, but they’re already succeeding wildly at the expense of their own poor.

14

F 03.18.16 at 5:58 am

In support of your thesis: Trump’s support is found in the South and amongst Republicans in the Northeast. These are communities that appreciate trolling.

15

Robespierre 03.18.16 at 7:41 am

It’s funny ’cause I thought of the pyramid exactly like your source, and opposite to you.
But mostly, when you’re the social group with the worst – relative – performance over the last 20 years in terms of earnings and community breakdown and “your” party’s leading public voices resurrect 19th century blame-the-poor claptrap and start openly saying you should move out of your hellhole flyover towns or die, it’s easy to start seeing them as enemies.

One can point to Maslow and label this a need for security, but mostly I think humans are just really really used to reason in terms of us and them.

16

Hidari 03.18.16 at 8:56 am

Yeah but is it really true that Trump voters are ‘not bothered’ about the economy? I like Kevin Drum and his stuff about ‘lead causes crime’ is very interesting but he is (pardon my language) what used to be called, back in the day, a ‘bourgeois liberal’ so certain things aren’t clear to him.

To begin with, the theme Trump goes on about, again and again, is not the economy per se (he is hardly anti-capitalist) but ‘free trade’. DMC @2 gets it. Trump represents two right wing tropes that we haven’t heard from for a long time and liberals simply don’t recognise them for what they are, and assume that ‘he doesn’t really mean it’ or that he must be talking about something else.

Trump is a protectionist and an isolationist.

Drum wonders why people could possibly be against immigration. Is it racism? Is it cultural? Who can say. But in reality if you listen to anti-immigration politicians they make one argument and one only (the not openly racist or neo-Nazi politicians that is): immigration costs jobs. Especially ‘lower class’ jobs.

So his anti-immigration stance is ultimately about ‘the economy’ in the broadest possible interpretation of that phrase. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that a lot of Trump voters are racist as well . But you can be concerned about jobs and racist. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Also, why is Trump so ‘left wing’ on foreign policy and so ‘right wing’ on domestic policy? There is no contradiction here. If ‘they’ should not be coming ‘over here’ ‘we’ should not be going ‘over there’.

As I say, we haven’t heard these arguments since the ’30s and so most liberals simply don’t understand where Trump is coming from and assume that he is a secret KKKer or something.

17

JPL 03.18.16 at 9:19 am

John,

By an odd coincidence earlier this evening I had a rather long conversation with a struggling (white) homeless man, and he gave me an ebullient explanation of the Trump phenomenon in terms strikingly similar to what you presented above. He expressed with much relish and even mustard his understanding of the viewpoint of the Trump supporters as giving a big finger (and here he held a defiant middle finger high above his head) to the political elites of both parties, but especially the Republicans who had conned them for so long, getting elected with the people’s votes and never delivering any tangible benefits, only pushing through once they take office their favourite agenda items like tax cuts. “Tax cuts!” he said, “What are they cutting?” He had begun the conversation by informing me that he had just got some aid from a (I presume state) government agency, and he would now be moving into his own place. (He had for months been living in the alley behind our house in a makeshift shelter with big screen TV cartons for walls and room enough just to lie down.) He said they want to cut programs like the one that just allowed him to get a place to live. But he was not a Trump supporter, he said, since he valued community spirit; he said all the neighbours whose gates opened onto the alley had been nice to him, and had given him food and clothes and so forth. No, he was a supporter of Bernie Sanders. He expressed no resentment or hatred against minority groups or any other people; his ire was directed at a system that responds only to the donor class, and he saw Bernie’s movement as finally making it possible for political representatives to respond to the people’s needs, and again, he did express the idea that even if Bernie were elected he would not be able to achieve his goals immediately and that it would take time. He was proud of his knowledge of current goings on (one might be surprised at my account of his understanding; but a lot of homeless people in this town go to the library during the day, and some of them use the computers to read up) and told me he read the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal (but not the editorial page).

Maybe you’re onto something. I think maybe Sanders appeals to those in the same crude demographic as the Trump supporters (if we’re talking about the “white working class”), but who don’t want to be racists or to be feeling resentful all the time.

18

Ze K 03.18.16 at 9:23 am

Maybe he’ll take Sanders as his VP and they win in a landslide. Kill all the trade deals, close the bases, withdraw from NATO. A big Denmark with guns? Not too terrible…

19

Hidari 03.18.16 at 10:03 am

In case you don’t believe me, here’s what Trump says:

“Decades of disastrous trade deals and immigration policies have destroyed our middle class,” Trump writes in his latest policy manifesto. This “influx of foreign workers,” he continues, “holds down salaries, keeps unemployment high and makes it difficult for poor and working class Americans — including immigrants themselves and their children — to earn a middle-class wage.”

Most liberals are inconsistent protectionists: they approve of the free movement of capital, but approve (de jure) in some form of limitation on the freedom of labour to move (i.e. they approve of some form of anti-immigration strategy, however much they spin it). Some libertarians are consistent anti-protectionists: they are against tariffs and other limitations on free trade but are also in favour of the free movement of labour (i.e. the abolition of limits on immigration). Most ‘mainstream’ Republicans are inconsistent protectionists: they want strict controls on labour* (immigration) but complete freedom for capital (i.e. free trade deals).

Trump is a consistent protectionist: he wants restrictions on both capital and labour.

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2015/08/26/donald_trump_a_21st_century_protectionist_herbert_hoover_127893.html

*and ‘internally’ of course they want strict restrictions on the right of labour to organise, in the form of trade unions. Most liberals also want this, or at least, don’t care too much about it one way or the other: few Democrats are genuinely passionate about the trade union movement, although they might pretend otherwise when they are short of money.

20

Alex 03.18.16 at 10:50 am

Has anyone else been reading Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) on Trump? He’s been looking at his candidacy from the perspective of Trump’s skills of persuasion.

He’s convinced that Trump will win vs Clinton because he’ll be better able to appeal to people’s emotions (and that e.g. that attack ad with women discussing all the shitty things Trump has said about women is the kind of thing that would actually backfire and increase Trump’s appeal).

His posts about it have a certain PUA vibe, but previously I’d been thinking that Clinton would have the best chance vs Trump as against any of the candidates and I’d been quite looking forward to the general. Reading a few of his posts are giving me second thoughts on that.

I’d be interested in hearing thoughts from anyone else whose read Adams arguments about Trump, and whether they find them persuasive.

Personally, my ideal scenario would be a contested convention where the candidate with a plurality (likely Trump, possibly Cruz) is denied the nomination, because it would probably embitter a significant enough minority of that candidate’s supporters so as to throw the election to the Democrats.

21

P O'Neill 03.18.16 at 11:25 am

It’s also arguable that Trump shows that trolling can be a strategy. Not an end itself, “outrage ” not just the objective but the path to success. The list of supposed transgressions that would doom his campaign is so long at this point. Does anyone even remember him being mean to McCain? The press corpse was sure he was gone after that.

22

BenK 03.18.16 at 11:28 am

Regarding Maslow: It’s a spiral, generally speaking.

Regarding Trump: If someone consistently told you that you were the problem, the enemy, and despicable… well, it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump drew very significant support from a large segment of the former Democratic party; a segment, that for tribal reasons, will be ebullient about participating in the putative destruction of the Republicans.

23

Barry 03.18.16 at 11:55 am

The reason that people are dubious is that these allegedly angry people didn’t seem to support such things up until Trump started saying them. Before that, almost everything that I heard from the right was reiterations of Econ 101.

This is just like the Bush administration; the right was all fine and dandy with it right up until Trump (the new alpha male) started dissing the previous alpha males.

It’s also like the Tea Party, a bunch of Republicans who suddenly in 2009 started protesting government policies that they supported from 2001-2008.

24

bianca steele 03.18.16 at 12:19 pm

Makes sense–they feel like “respectable” politics is a luxury they can’t afford.

An interesting if drily academic book on Maslow, by Jessica Grogan, came out not long ago: http://biancasteele.typepad.com/bianca_steele/2014/05/abraham-maslow-and-the-influence-of-humanistic-psychology.html.

25

SamChevre 03.18.16 at 12:25 pm

Why shouldn’t people in a democracy believe that a dictator, and only a dictator, can get us out of our present rut?

Particularly given that we just been very firmly reminded (via the Lawrence-Obergefell line of cases) that in the end, democratic control over the government is an empty form–if you have the Supreme Court and the army, the law doesn’t matter.

26

SamChevre 03.18.16 at 12:29 pm

I find Drum’s “”it’s not the economy” to be somewhat misleading. The last four years is the wrong time horizon.

The Trump-supporting community I know best (central Kentucky, where my extended family lives) has never come close to recovering the loss of jobs and pay between 2006 and 2009. No one I know in the construction trades has seen things get back to Bush-era employment and wage levels. Overall, sure, things have recovered–but not for the workers in many areas and trades.

27

Lee A. Arnold 03.18.16 at 12:46 pm

Trump supporters want “clarity”.

I strike up conversations with strangers as often as I can, almost everyday.

It’s very easy to talk politics with strangers, now. Of course you yourself had better not be a triggerable emotionalist — which would eliminate about half the Crooked Timber commenters for example, and all of the most frequent & voluble ones.

The Trump phenomenon has got almost everybody wanting to talk about politics, and to give their opinion to others. There is a general rule AGAINST that with strangers, and so I often hear, “I know we shouldn’t talk about politics, but…” Then it will go on for 10 to 40 minutes! I have the time.

They respond readily to questions that I begin with, “Do you think…” Perhaps because they are so unused to this gambit — and this courtesy, since almost all of their conversations, public and private, are usually conducted otherwise: each one pressing one’s own opinions, and not listening to the other, and insisting upon one’s own righteousness.

Basic findings. The Trump supporters are angry that the US isn’t taking care of its own. They want someone who isn’t bought-off like all the other candidates. They don’t understand economics & don’t understand foreign policy. They do understand that economics and foreign policy are quite complicated. When I pose further questions (gently and circuitously), they readily and very explicitly acknowledge the existence of those complications.

Their underlying emotions of the Trump supporters are anger and frustration, though the conversations are quite jovial. They are not primarily fearful or resentful. There is no envy. They don’t like free-riders whether rich or poor: that is offensive. They are concerned about terrorists of course, but they do not fear the outcome of the “war on terror”.

I repeat: this is NOT primarily about fear & resentment.

If I can think of one word to describe them, it goes back to a old description of early Mussolini supporters, before things went bad: They want clarity.

They want a return to the simple rules of US freedom, opportunity, just rewards. They want everybody on “the same page”. And — a big “and” — where it isn’t simple, they think it’s pretty clear that things have gone so far wrong, that we need someone strong to draw the lines.

Thus, “clarity”.

I am not sure this rises to the complete definition of “trolling”, since they are not insincere. Nor goading. Nor inattentive.

I like Kevin Drum a lot, but he has sometimes gotten politics terribly wrong, and the idea that exit polls show that Trump supporters don’t have the economy as a “primary” concern is a misleading definition of that word. People don’t always prioritize their political concerns as the quick opinion polls would suggest, and their immediate answers come from individual circumstances.

Those things are mostly good for telling candidates what not to miss in stump speeches. If there were a huge disparity between two numbers, then yes, that might tell you something else. But right now, nobody leaves “the economy” out of the conversation for long, and a politician who omitted it would be a fool indeed.

Drum’s final comment at that linked post is, “People aren’t more angry, or more bigoted, or more scared than usual. It’s just that we didn’t have a guy like Trump fanning these flames quite so crudely in past elections. This year we do.”

This reminds me precisely of his prediction 7 or 8 years ago that the Tea Party wasn’t important, and wasn’t going anywhere! I immediately pointed out in comments how untrue this was likely to be. But he didn’t see the light until they started to win elections a few years later.

Drum is much, much better on the stuff he really knows about, which is US business and entrepreneurial activity + the mainstream psychology related to that, + the associated economic policy and tax questions. Really I think he’s unequaled: required reading.

John, to your question: “Do you think the post-Trump future of US politics is increasingly a function of economic class divisions?”

I would answer, “Why not, it’s been going that way, for years already.” But the course of progression will not be about the emotions, as your post discusses, it will be about the jobs.

High-tech tends to “winner-take-all” incomes, and ubiquitous application. There are no jobs to “get back” from Mexico and China because the highest-paying factory jobs are disappearing there, too.

That means that an increasing proportion of workers will be remanded or seconded to lower-productivity and thus lower-income professions. Service-sector & hands-on jobs are quite honorable, but they don’t make as much money.

So how will all of these people keep buying houses, raising families, securing retirements? The System can’t deal with this question without broaching the validity of some basic assumptions (about money, redistribution, etc.) Therefore this politics is likely to continue for a decade or two, at least.

28

Consumatopia 03.18.16 at 1:02 pm

I’m honestly not sure how much of the Trump thing is about economics, but Winship/Drum’s argument is broken. They compare how Trump does among people who say they care about immigration to how he does among people who say they care about economics. But of course Trump is going to do incredibly well among Republicans who most care about immigration! It doesn’t matter which candidate you support, in any party, you’ll always be able to come up with some argument that they’re the best for the economy. But if immigration is your biggest concern, then either you’re anti-immigration and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are your likely choices, or you’re pro-immigration in which case if that’s your most important issue you’re probably a Democrat.

Proving that voters who care about immigration support Trump more than voters who care about economics does not prove that economics is not part of Trump’s appeal.

Like I said, I don’t know how much of the Trump phenom is really about the economy. But Drum’s reductionist understanding of what “economy” means to voters is flawed, even setting aside issues like low wage growth and workforce participation rate. Your satisfaction with the economy isn’t just a function of how you are doing right now, it also depends on how well you think you, and the rest of the country, should be doing right now. Trump and Sanders aren’t just appealing to people who are doing poorly right now, they’re trying to sell a vision of how the American economy should work in the future–with Trump focused on trade barriers and and tax cuts, and Sanders focused on social democracy.

For all I know Trump’s appeal is just pure racism, but it seems that Trump himself believes he’s selling a much broader message. And, for all his infinite faults and sins, Trump understands his own followers a lot better than all the people who said Trump could never win.

29

LFC 03.18.16 at 1:02 pm

Hidari @16
we haven’t heard these arguments since the ’30s

Not so. Pat Buchanan’s ’92 campaign, which Corey R. mentioned here in an earlier Trump-related thread, hit the same basic themes of protectionism plus (some form of) ‘isolationism’, if anything more coherently. But Buchanan didn’t attract the same level of support; CR’s explanation for that, which one may or may not find convincing, was laid out in his Salon column that he linked in that earlier OP.

30

Consumatopia 03.18.16 at 1:08 pm

“The reason that people are dubious is that these allegedly angry people didn’t seem to support such things up until Trump started saying them.”

Not sure what you mean here. One of the observations people kept making during the TPP fast track argument was that, in polls, Democrats actually had more favorable feelings about free trade than Republicans did. And it’s long been noted that there are a lot of pro-entitlement Republicans (“keep the government out of my Medicare!”).

31

LFC 03.18.16 at 1:09 pm

Holbo in the OP:
Trump as expression of populist economic desperation. We need food and shelter.

It’s worth keeping in mind that economic desperation in a country like the U.S., while very real, mostly (not exclusively, but mostly) involves relative as opposed to absolute poverty. The general indifference of most parts of the U.S. electorate to absolute poverty in the rest of the world (e.g., approx. 18,000 young children die every day from preventable, often poverty-related causes) is regrettable (if not altogether surprising).

32

LFC 03.18.16 at 1:12 pm

p.s. btw, I heard Sanders get this figure wrong in an online video: he said 18,000 children die every year; no, it’s every day. Some researcher or intern on his staff really f****ed up that one.

33

Lord 03.18.16 at 1:20 pm

You can’t promise everything to everybody and deliver, and no one thinks so. Trump is the Dealmaker and his campaign a negotiating tactic, telling us not where we will go but the direction he will take and what is important to him.

34

AcademicLurker 03.18.16 at 1:24 pm

Of course a lot of the Trump phenomenon is trolling. My retrospective impression is that Trump really took off when all of the “respectable” media outlets definitively declared that there was no way he could possibly be a serious candidate, and then panicked when he kept winning. The more the insiders (in the major parties, the media & etc.) lost their composure over Trump’s rise, the more people loved him for it.

35

Cranky Observer 03.18.16 at 1:45 pm

= = =”Their underlying emotions of the Trump supporters are anger and frustration, though the conversations are quite jovial. They are not primarily fearful or resentful. There is no envy. They don’t like free-riders whether rich or poor: that is offensive. They are concerned about terrorists of course, but they do not fear the outcome of the “war on terror” ” = = =

Can’t really agree with you there. I sit quietly in the break room of small/mid-sized manufacturing firms around the Midwest, listening to the Brett Brettmores and their less articulate fellow travelers. After 4-6 months they’ll start talking to me, and if I’m there 12 months or more they’ll start telling me what they really think (they know I’m a city guy but my South Side background lets me pass). Racism, fear, and hatred of the ‘other’ are a large part of their belief system. Along with a big dose of Limbaugh/Breitbart memes involving thugs, ragheads, hippies, and dirty others who are simultaneously lying around in hammocks on government “relief” AND preparing to come kill them and rape (or just date, which amounts to the same thing) their womenfolk. And oh yeah, foreign aid makes up 30% of the federal budget; 40% is welfare.

As I said, it takes 6-12 months before this stuff is discussed openly in front of an outsider, so I wouldn’t expect to get it based on a random conversation.

36

Lee A. Arnold 03.18.16 at 2:14 pm

I was trying to describe them all. I do not doubt that there are many resentful, hateful, fearful supporters of Trump. And he’s probably getting every white racist. What I meant to write is that I’m not hearing any of these as the necessary characteristics of every Trump supporter, at least here in my tiny pocket of the Northeast. One of them was actually sort of liberal.

37

Lee A. Arnold 03.18.16 at 2:15 pm

or “any of these as a necessary characteristic”, sorry terrible grammar

38

Hidari 03.18.16 at 2:17 pm

@28

Fair point. I suspect that the reason for Pat Buchanan’s relative failures are two fold:

a: in ’92 the econonomy was far better than it is now, and this continued to be the case throughout the ’90s and

b: Trump knows how to work the media far better than Buchanan ever did. One other key factors that liberals don’t get about Trump is he is a creature of the media, of TV, of the internet, of social media. He knows how to work these things and that is the sea in which he swims. Liberals don’t get these things because they delude themselves that the internet (now essentially owned by white male billionaires in Silicon Valley) brings people together and helps us to communciate and all that crap. But in reality, the internet leans Right: it did in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, and it leans Right now: and Trump understands that better than anybody (compare Trump’s Twitter feed to Clinton’s. Which would you rather read?).

Buchanan’s social conservatism probably didn’t help him either: the battle against gay marriage is one of the few fights the Right has lost.

39

Slackboy2007 03.18.16 at 2:30 pm

Reply to main post:

“I’m sure Sanders supporters don’t feel like nihilists just because, seriously, there’s no chance we’re getting that ‘revolution’ of his this season”

This sentiment is the reason for Trump’s rise to prominence and the Republican Party’s move to the extreme right.

The Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party moved to the right (under the poor disguise of the ‘centre left’) in the same way that Tony Blair’s New Labour did; once this happened the corresponding opposition parties had no choice but to move to even further in that direction. Combine that with the Republicans gerrymandering more districts than the Democrats (according to Sam Wang’s analysis at least) and you’ve got the current situation of an extremist being the most popular right wing candidate.

Clinton moved to the right because of the same sentiment as the quote above, as it was (and by some still is) taken as a ‘given’ that left wing politics cannot win votes. Once this bias has taken hold it leads to a feedback loop of strategic voting; since most people think that most _other_ people think left wing politicians can’t win then they will go with that option rather than the one that they truly believe in, lest they take the chance of ending up with a candidate they hate instead of their second preference.

The idea of ‘givens’ like Sanders not being able to win is the most powerful factor in systems that are susceptible to strategic voting and, as researchers such as Gibbard, Satterthwaite, and Arrow have described in detail, the Presidential and House systems are of exactly that kind.

It’s difficult to tell from this one post if you agree with that sentiment or not, but the former seems more likely given the context. If that is the case then you need to admit to a great deal of responsibility for the rise of Trump, and even more so you need to show more humility when it comes to predicting the future. None of us know if Sanders can win or not; it is not a ‘given’ that he will lose, and even the general discussion that such a given is true could actually be the main factor that leads to him winning since the press loves to promote a surprise story.

What we do know is that the future is dependent on how we talk about it and how we discuss it, and that voting outcomes are heavily dependent on what we in our general conversations either accept or reject as a ‘given’.

40

RNB 03.18.16 at 2:58 pm

If you are an economy voter, wouldn’t you want equal pay for equal work, paid family leave and a higher minimum wage? Well given that 3/4 of the jobs in the ten largest low wage occupations are held by women (often women of color), these would be the issues that a putatively economic candidate would likely have to be talking about if you are a woman. And if a candidate weren’t talking about these things, you would have reason to suspect he’s not really taking about economic issues at all but something else, say the reassertion of fu white male power as a cultural objective.

41

SamChevre 03.18.16 at 3:03 pm

If you are an economy voter, wouldn’t you want equal pay for equal work, paid family leave and a higher minimum wage

Not likely. Not if your goal is “a person should be able to earn enough to support a family.”

42

RNB 03.18.16 at 3:07 pm

So higher women’s wages for the work that they are doing and higher minimum wages and being able to take paid time off from work to take care of the family wouldn’t help *you* support a family, so it wouldn’t help any one else to support a family. What are the most important economic issues for women? Do you care?

43

Cranky Observer 03.18.16 at 3:14 pm

= = = “If you are an economy voter, wouldn’t you want equal pay for equal work, paid family leave and a higher minimum wage? ” = = =

Paid family leave? You mean taking hard earned money out of my profit sharing check so those lazy [people if wrong skin color] can stay home and breed? They have too many children already.

44

RNB 03.18.16 at 3:16 pm

So would a candidate focused on the economic issues facing working Americans be interested in affordable health care? And if not, should we suspect that the candidate may not actually give a rat’s ass–if that is the expression–about actual economic issues and may well be pursuing an altogether different objective, say the reassertion of fu white male power.

45

Layman 03.18.16 at 3:28 pm

@RNB, it should occur to you that people have different belief systems; that some people want better economic conditions for themselves without believing that the way to achieve that is a higher minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, or paid family leave; and that politicians will pander to those people if there are enough of them. Thus, they are ‘economy voters’ supporting a politician who doesn’t look to you like s/he’s focused on ‘economic issues’.

46

Ze K 03.18.16 at 3:35 pm

“Trump knows how to work the media far better than Buchanan ever did”

Maybe it’s essentially the same thing, but the way I’d put: Buchanan’s main problem was that he’s an intellectual. An intellectual doesn’t make a successful politician: they care about consistency. You have to be a swindler.

47

Jesús Couto Fandiño 03.18.16 at 3:45 pm

The main reason of the popularity of all the “new” political “radicals” of every sign is resentment against the usual politicians and feeling of giving the political establishment what they deserve: a slap on the face, or a punch if possible.

From there you can get to different places depending on many other factors, but that is the main thing. People want somebody that clearly states what they are feeling and that feeling is “Fuck politics as usual, you fuckers betrayed us long ago, I want to vote for somebody that humillates you and the fact that you hate him is proof enough for me”

I already saw this before, from the other direction, when Chávez was elected in Venezuela. It was, for many, completely baffling that people would vote for such a clear populist egomaniac, but the reason was simply that, beyond what he was promising in terms of money and wealth and all that, what he was selling and what the people were eager on buying was a gigantic black eye to the establishment.

Thats why I fear a Trump vs Clinton match. Because there is nobody that is more establishment than Hillary Clinton.

48

Frank Wilhoit 03.18.16 at 3:48 pm

One man’s clarity is another man’s sophistry. So our institutions have failed — I think there is nearly universal agreement on that much, but, if you disagree, call it a thought experiment. Very well, then: shall they be (A) repaired, (B) captured, (C) replaced, or (D) destroyed? Those are the choices. That is clarity. But none of Lee Arnold’s people @ 27 would call it clarity. It would make their brains hurt.

Cruz (along with most of the Congressional Republican Party) says capture. Rubio said, and Clinton still says, repair — not the same kind of repair, obviously. Kasich seems to say repair, but all he really cares about is giving his cronies jobs, which is tantamount to capture.

Sanders says replace: but Yahweh alone knows with what?

Trump says destroy. Some of his people are with him on that. Others think that destruction would somehow automatically be followed by replacement — which it wouldn’t.

49

Anarcissie 03.18.16 at 3:49 pm

Alex 03.18.16 at 10:50 am @ 20:
‘Has anyone else been reading Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) on Trump? He’s been looking at his candidacy from the perspective of Trump’s skills of persuasion. …

I have. His argument about persuasion is somewhat persuasive in that (1) most people do not vote rationally, and (2) his predictions have largely been correct. But it is also somewhat circularly empty, in that it does not tell us which particular emotions and intuitions Trump’s persuasions are persuading his followers to indulge by supporting him. The moral and intellectual decline of America’s ruling or leadership classes has opened a certain political space for individuals like Trump; their materials and tools may not matter much. If Trump disappears, others more persuasive and calculating can be expected to come along. Hence the whiff of 1933 in the air.

50

RNB 03.18.16 at 3:55 pm

@44 Yes of course people have different belief systems. For example, women may have different beliefs about what the economic issues are. But leave that aside. Say your issue is globalization in the form of trade and immigration.

On trade, too few people have actually been impacted to account for much of Trump’s support. And Sanders actually has a record against trade deals, plus he wants affordable health care. So if you’re an economics voter, and trade is the biggest issue for you, you go with Sanders unless you are after something else altogether–the reassertion of fu white male power which, if anything, Sanders the actually lovely guy that he is would further erode.

Now if immigration is your issue or rather scapegoating immigrants doing things you don’t want to do is your big issue. Sure Trump may be your guy. But this is transparently not about the economics of wage competition. It’s about the reassertion of who actually belongs here and deserves deference and respect, an ethnic form of nationalism.

And if you’re a racist sadist, then you support Trump on the foreign policy issues.

Altogether Trump is not an economic candidate.

51

bruce wilder 03.18.16 at 4:21 pm

Alex @ 20

Scott Adams is very interesting. He says, Trump completely ignores reality and rational thinking in favor of emotional appeal. Sure, much of what Trump says makes sense to his supporters, but I assure you that is coincidence. Trump says whatever gets him the result he wants. And, he backs that with some examples of neurolinguistic programming.

(Every example of a Trump anti-Clinton meme corresponds to a Huffington Post article — I would not have thought of HP as a channel of anti-Hillary propaganda before. Maybe Trump reads HP?)

I think Scott Adams is basically right: Trump is a pure persuader, not anchored to any commitment. A con man. Adams, in his analysis, puts aside his moral judgment about con men to admire how he does it.

Adams hasn’t really analyzed Clinton’s persuasive strategy to date. Or the constraints on that strategy. But, his implication is that she is vulnerable. I would like to see him expand on that.

A pure con man is so powerful, precisely because of the absence of constraints or commitment — he focuses entirely on getting the result he wants and makes himself infinitely plastic to that end. But, he also has to have a strategy, because unlike a troll, he wants to lead along a path. The cul de sac is a problem for a con man usually solved by a timely flight from the scene. Adams is particularly admiring of how far ahead Trump appears to plan. That part is scary.

52

b9n10nt 03.18.16 at 5:04 pm

Consumatopia @28

“But Drum’s reductionist understanding of what “economy” means to voters is flawed, even setting aside issues like low wage growth and workforce participation rate. Your satisfaction with the economy isn’t just a function of how you are doing right now, it also depends on how well you think you, and the rest of the country, should be doing right now.”

I think you are erroneously leaving out the longitudinal analysis that Drum is doing here: he’s also saying that there’s no evidence that voters’ concern about the economy vs. other priorities has changed significantly from other, earlier elections. Voter concern about “the economy” has varied over past elections; its variance now does not correlate to support for Trump.

Thus we can’t argue from the evidence that today’s (Trump) voters are uniquely “fed up” with stagnant wage growth, underemployment, etc…

side note: If I were a stand up comic, I’d do a bit about “they took our jobs”: What are u guys talking about. You hated your jobs!

53

Plume 03.18.16 at 5:20 pm

Ironically, a lot of this (fear and anger) has happened as a result of Occupy and then Sanders, and their emphasis on inequality. Despite how hard the right fights against even the suggestion that inequality is bad — they frequently say it’s perfectly natural, not bad at all — it’s eating away at them. How could it not? Modern humans, in our ultra-complex economic state, think in relative terms. They compare themselves to others. Even the super rich do this. So Trump, as a master salesman, is able to stir up their anxiety about their own reduced privileges and economic circumstances by scapegoating various groups, like Mexicans and Hispanics in general, Muslims, blacks and BLM, women, gay people and pretty much everyone outside the white guy’s tribe.

I don’t think they were really keyed into this before “inequality” was so much on the radar. Then they could direct all of their anger at “Big Gubmint” in general, and believe the GOP was doing its job fighting against this. But now with the realization by Trump supporters than they lag behind in economic power too . . . . they’re pissed off at everyone but the people Trump most represents: plutocrats. Trump is a god-send for/from those plutocrats.

54

Cranky Observer 03.18.16 at 5:50 pm

Plume,
I’d be curious if you have any survey data on that. Brett Bellmore was certainly obsessed with Occupy and whether or not it had enough porta-potties, but I never heard much from the Teabag types I listened to. If anything a little admiration for sticking it to the banks (while acknowledging that in the end hippies always deserve a good beating/smashing). It didn’t seem to be a big thing other than the very small set who ‘always click the links’ on Breitbart. That’s anecdotal though; perhaps you have data?

55

Bruce Wilder 03.18.16 at 6:22 pm

Rightly or wrongly, I want to connect Trump’s core support to the 25-29% who stuck by GWB to the bitter end.

56

T 03.18.16 at 6:28 pm

@52Plume

Trump’s base of support has seen income basically flat for 35 years. And rightfully see that many the really successful folks have gamed the system at their expense. And the data shows the middle class is hollowing out with movement both up and down. It scares the crap out of these voters that they’re headed down, along with their kids.

There are a lot shared interests between the Trump and Sanders supporters but, in my view, race blocks the coalition. The New Deal was NE progs and white Southerners. The white Southerners had no problem with redistributionist policies, financial regulation, a social safety net and massive jobs programs. The progs had no problem with limiting immigration and keeping their foot on the neck of the Southern blacks. That time has passed. That’s why it’s such a shame that Warren didn’t run. She’s from Oklahoma and it shows.

57

Plume 03.18.16 at 6:34 pm

Cranky @53,

No data. But to me it makes a lot of sense. To clarify. Not saying Trump supporters are impacted by Occupy and Sanders’ talk of inequality because they choose to accept their view of things. I’m saying it’s like they’ve been introduced to something they really weren’t even thinking about before . . . . and it’s pissed them off in new ways they couldn’t have imagined. Most of this is likely subconscious.

To me, this explains the ability of Trump to say things about Republican icons that simply would have gotten him booed off the stage ten years ago — and for good. He wouldn’t be in the race back then if he had attacked Bush on Iraq and 9/11, McCain, etc. etc. We’re just in a brave new world, and I think the discussion about massive inequality is the main trigger — with Trump supporters drawing the worst possible lessons from this, obviously.

58

Cranky Observer 03.18.16 at 6:34 pm

= = = “scares the crap out of these voters that they’re headed down, along with their kids” = = =

Can’t disagree with your analysis but your ecplanation has to account for Kansas in there somehow: voters in KS are now on their 3rd round of votes they are visibly (literally) making things worse for themselves. Chopping off you foot to cure a fungal itch that an ACA plan would have cured for a $10 copay doesn’t sound like a good cure for being scared.

59

Matt 03.18.16 at 6:40 pm

High-tech tends to “winner-take-all” incomes, and ubiquitous application. There are no jobs to “get back” from Mexico and China because the highest-paying factory jobs are disappearing there, too.

Very true. Older people from former manufacturing areas remember how many jobs were lost when US factories closed in favor of offshore production. They may mistakenly think that re-shoring all that production would restore the employment status quo ante. It wouldn’t. Productivity per worker keeps rising faster than consumption per capita.

U.S. Textile Plants Return, With Floors Largely Empty of People

In 2012, [American] textile and apparel exports were $22.7 billion, up 37 percent from just three years earlier. While the size of operations remain behind those of overseas powers like China, the fact that these industries are thriving again after almost being left for dead is indicative of a broader reassessment by American companies about manufacturing in the United States.

…politicians’ promises that American manufacturing means an abundance of new jobs is complicated — yes, it means jobs, but on nowhere near the scale there was before, because machines have replaced humans at almost every point in the production process.

Take Parkdale: The mill here produces 2.5 million pounds of yarn a week with about 140 workers. In 1980, that production level would have required more than 2,000 people.

Similar patterns can be found in mining and metals production, machining, chemical industries, semiconductors, printing and packaging, electricity generation… pretty much any commodity production sector. And services that were long invulnerable to machine competition (like discovery in law firms) are now seeing automated productivity increases too. If industrial civilization doesn’t blow itself apart or collapse from environmental overshoot, dealing with the obsolescence of mass employment will be a defining issue of the 21st century.

60

LFC 03.18.16 at 6:46 pm

@Ze K
Well, just limiting it to U.S. examples for the time being, Woodrow Wilson was an intellectual, JFK was an intellectual (of sorts) or at least liked to surround himself w them, TR was, Gingrich (yuk) was, and Jefferson and Adams definitely were intellectuals. All successful, to one degree or another, politicians. So that explanation (intellectuals can’t be successful politicians) can’t be right. (An intellectual image can sometimes be a liability, cf. Adlai Stevenson’s presidential campaigns for ex., but that’s a slightly different point.)

61

Omega Centauri 03.18.16 at 6:54 pm

Matt @58. And importantly the better manufacturing jobs are fairly technical, maintaining those robots for example, or designing the system that runs the whole show. It just continues the revenge of the nerds trend. Maybe a few really low skilled thrown in at low pay -security guards and so on. For someone who had other priorities than learning when they were of school age, it just adds insult to injury.

62

Bloix 03.18.16 at 6:59 pm

“dealing with the obsolescence of mass employment”

A hundred years ago people had to “deal with” the obsolescence of child labor. Over a few decades we eliminated about eight years of an ordinary person’s working life – 12% of the total number of available person-years. Then the 40-hour week (including the two-day weekend knocked off another 30%. These changes weren’t cause for dismay.

In the US today, we could reduce the amount of available labor by 4% with mandatory 4-weeks of vacation, cut 12% more by requiring double time for over 35 hours a week, and cut another 6% by raising social security payments and having them kick in at full payment at age 62. A reduction in available person-hours by over 20% would go a long way toward reducing the threat of “the obsolescence of mass employment.” If those changes didn’t lead to full employment, we could go to a true 4-day week and give people three-month vacations every five years. And all we would be doing, really, would be restoring the hours of waged labor per family to the amount of paid work that kept people in modest prosperity fifty years ago.

It’s a political problem, not a technological one.

63

Lupita 03.18.16 at 7:16 pm

@Bloix

“give people three-month vacations every five years”

My personal favorite is a sabbatical year, a whole year off every seven years.

64

Layman 03.18.16 at 7:25 pm

Seconding Bloix @ 61

65

Ze K 03.18.16 at 7:33 pm

@LFC, but in the past it was a different game, especially in the early years. Not much media exposure, mostly party loyalty, paternalism. But already JFK, who was no intellectual of course, supposedly won because he looked better on TV. And Gingrich, whatever he is, iirc, he ran only in a congressional district, in the south. Same story as with the the founders: good old boys.

66

Cranky Observer 03.18.16 at 7:48 pm

Bloix, Lsyman:
Good thinking. Back on Planet Trump however the increase in the Social Security/Medicare age to 67 completes in 2022, the bipartisan “reform” consensus would like to raise it to 70.5, and anyone with decent working conditions and retirement benefits is likely to see them smashed by Koch/Walker/etc (Wisconsin public workers) or simply stolen by Romney/Bain Capital (Portland General Electric).

67

Matt 03.18.16 at 7:55 pm

It’s a political problem, not a technological one.

Right, that’s why I’m concerned. In my lifetime Americans have been much better at coming up with technological advances than at making “obvious” political reforms. The rest of the developed world’s politics seems to be learning bad habits from Americans faster than Americans learn good lessons from abroad. Is that excessively cynical?

The major source of hope I see if we get a rapid transition to a “robots do most productive work” state of affairs and vested interests resist change is actually the Global South. Why not use robots in Bolivia to ignore intellectual property and build unlicensed copies of other robots and productive machinery? Why not skip the long-promised, seldom-seen export driven industrialization phase of development — which frankly only a few countries were ever going to ride to prosperity in the first place — and run straight toward domesticated prosperity? It’s kind of like trying to get poor nations to respect rich-world intellectual property conventions for antiretroviral drugs: there is no local power base of people who are rich from developing/licensing HIV drugs, a lot of extra cost if you play by foreigners’ rules, and few incentives to offset the cost.

Reforms that started in poor nations might percolate back toward richer polities, after a few years of seeing that unemployed residents of Bolivia are living better than unemployed residents of Appalachia.

68

Lowhim 03.18.16 at 8:09 pm

An original thought to think of a movement based on a sense of loss (some real) as trolling. Since trolling is usually saved for the internet and the anonymity and isolation that provides a troller, I’ll say that it only works if the Trump crowd already feels isolation (and perhaps the crowd/mob provides the anonymity)…

69

RNB 03.18.16 at 8:44 pm

Quickly a heterodox perspective on working time–see Pietro Basso.

Marx, Grundrisse:
“The larger the surplus value of capital before the increase of productive force, the larger the amount of presupposed surplus labour or surplus value of capital; or, the smaller the fractional part of the working day which forms the equivalent of the worker, which expresses necessary labour, the smaller is the increase in surplus value which capital obtains from the increase of productive force. Its surplus value rises, but in an ever smaller relation to the development of the productive force. Thus the more developed capital already is, the more surplus labour it has created, the more terribly must it develop the productive force in order to realize itself in only smaller proportion, i.e. to add surplus value – because its barrier always remains the relation between the fractional part of the day which expresses necessary labour, and the entire working day. It can move only within these boundaries. The smaller already the fractional part falling to necessary labour, the greater the surplus labour, the less can any increase in productive force perceptibly diminish necessary labour; since the denominator has grown enormously. The self-realization of capital becomes more difficult to the extent that it has already been realized. The increase of productive force would become irrelevant to capital; realization itself would become irrelevant, because its proportions have become minimal, and it would have ceased to be capital. If necessary labour were 1/1,000 and the productive force tripled, then it would fall to only 1/3,000 or surplus labour would have increased by only 2/3,000. But this happens not because wages have increased or the share of labour in the product, but because it has already fallen so low, regarded in its relation to the product of labour or to the living work day. *”

So for some time rises in productivity are compatible with the worker enjoying a rising real wage even as the necessary part of the working day is reduced. Workers can redefine greater leisure time as part of the necessary costs for the reproduction of labor power. They can thus make a higher wage in real terms during the times that they work that can they afford to take time off. Working time over the course of a day or year of both is reduced even as the surplus part of the working day (or the rate of exploitation) rises.

However, for Marx the whole process hits an economic–not technological or political limit. As Marx lays out above, the higher productivity has already been raised and the necessary part of the working day already reduced, the less further increases in productivity can further reduce the necessary part of the working day.

In effect, facing a declining marginal efficiency of capital due to the accumulation of capital, capitalists come to need to appropriate all the possible gains from rising productivity since those gains make possible ever smaller increases in the rate of surplus value.

In short, capitalists prove less willing over time to share the gains from rising productivity. Workers find that their demands for better wages and more leisure time face an economic limit and that this is the reason that their struggle becomes political.

At any rate, this is how Marx saw it, I believe.

Rising productivity no longer opens up the possibility for rising real wages that could underwrite expanded leisure time. The system has hit an economic limit; the struggle over wages and working time will necessarily have to become political.

70

RNB 03.18.16 at 8:47 pm

strike the last paragraph.

71

T 03.18.16 at 8:52 pm

CO @57
I think a lot of the KS voters believe that gov’t helps the poor much more than the working class. I think the race issue is part and parcel of that calculation. Also, see Wisc. Wallace did very well in Wisc esp the Milwaukee ‘burbs.
Plume@56
The folks voting for Trump hate Bush. Millions of manufacturing jobs were lost under Bush while the number of man. jobs at least stayed flat under Clinton. Bush was pro-trade and immigration, they’re opposed. Imports w/China tripled under Bush. And they blame Bush for completely screwing up the war, a war which many of them now view as a mistake. A lot changes in 10 years. In the sense that Occupy was against Wall St., they already were. The split in the party should be compared to McKinley vs. WJB. (And, btw, this is where Corey imho mucks up his conservative analysis.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1896

72

Ze K 03.18.16 at 9:08 pm

@55 “There are a lot shared interests between the Trump and Sanders supporters but, in my view, race blocks the coalition.”

I hope not. And I don’t think there’s any hard racism out there (in the sense you’re implying), just ordinary everyday stereotyping. And that’s not not necessarily fateful.

73

RNB 03.18.16 at 9:17 pm

@71 Surprised that Trump campaign would not lead many to conclude that there is more racism and nativism out there than they may have previously believed.

74

RNB 03.18.16 at 9:23 pm

As long as we are talking about reducing working time as a way of dealing with technological unemployment, we could talk about another part of working time: paid leave. Looking forward to learning about Clinton’s and Sander’s proposals here. Also will be comparing them to what the policies are in Japan.

75

T 03.18.16 at 9:36 pm

@71
Study after study finds old views die hard. http://www.vox.com/2016/3/8/11175510/republicans-elections-south-slavery
In some Deep South sates, over 90% of whites voted against Obama. And I’d ask someone w/first-hand knowledge how folks think about race on the factory floor. See CO’s comment @35. Like CO, have you sat down and listened to anyone who voted for Trump? At the same time, if there were a Dem that talked about working and middle class jobs within the populist/progressive overlap, they’d be listened to. Warren and Sherrod Brown come to mind. Hillary not at all. Right now, the Dem strategists are hoping Hilary can garner 35% of white male votes. The dem share has been around that percent for a while.

76

Mike Furlan 03.18.16 at 11:30 pm

“. . .the liberal class as a corpse. It fights for nothing. It stands for nothing. It is a useless appendage to the corporate state. It exists not to make possible incremental or piecemeal reform, as it originally did in a functional capitalist democracy; instead it has devolved into an instrument of personal vanity, burnishing the hollow morality of its adherents.” Chris Hedges
http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/once_again_–_death_of_the_liberal_class_20121112

Why wouldn’t they give it the middle finger?

77

bruce wilder 03.19.16 at 12:05 am

If political society is about as sentient as a slime mold, then what we are witnessing are the contradictory signals sent back to the core centers of the nervous system by peripheral cells that are feeling distressed about their local prospects of obtaining sugar or whatever it is slime molds seek out to feed on.

Whether the center forms a coherent idea about how to coordinate the response of the whole loosely coupled “organism” and whether the strategic idea formed is to seek increased vitality for the whole, or to conserve that vitality for a subset of the colony — these are open questions.

It does seem to me that whatever the economic distress associated with the populist discontent in the country, it is significant that it is occurring near the peak of the business cycle when nominal rates of unemployment are relatively low. That is a different kind of distress from the acute fear or loss associated with a recession. It is still emotional rather than intellectual, but it has to have a different dynamic. I am thinking its fears are more paranoid than “how to eat, how to pay rent”.

In the deep recesses of the right’s lizard brain, there is some festering idea that the core means to abandon or even consume cannibalistically some part of the periphery. And, they are not wrong. The whole Reagan era to date has been about disinvestment and eating the seedcorn. And, cannibalism has already started in the Bush-Obama management of financial sector predation.

The Left likes to imagine nice futures, and to fixate on robots. The Right has a less tame Id. Consider this brain leakage: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2016/03/15/national_review_says_pro_trump_working_class_whites_are_lazy_and_selfish.html
I got the link from a left leaning blog that is stereotyping Trump supporters as the class of violence dealers in society — the traditional suppliers of soldiers, police and guards.

I do sense that a globalised elite cum supporting professional class is emerging, that is not seeing its dependence on the lower orders, and the lower orders are reacting.

Given global resource limits, I can well imagine the slime mold truncating parts of itself to feed the core. Left and Right would rationalize this differently, of course; or different parts of the Right would rationalize it differently, and one of those parts would flatter itself by smugly calling itself “Left” or liberal.

Ordinarily, people nearer the base foundation of the social order are more acutely fearful of that order failing: the short-term effects are more immediate and involve basic needs. Revolutions get started from below only when the order of the state has already failed, already broken. In the imaginations of some, the French Revolution or the Arab Spring is driven by oppressions and ideas, but the threat of famine and frustrated ambitions enter from different social strata, and are released in common by breakdown in ex ante order.

The American order, at home is breaking down for some, but not everyone. For some, it means the eclipse of hope for personal ambition in a society in which social mobility has ground to a halt and economic mobility is consumed by debt. The powers that be have prepared for this harsher society. The apparatus of a more oppressive, authoritarian state has been assembled in law and in bureaucratic technocracy. Clinton and Trump are competing for the honor of legitimizing this New State during what is likely to be a brief era of increased political violence at home and an unstable international situation as Empire continues its collapse.

Shifting gears (sorry for the badly mixed metaphors, I am tired) from the Reagan regime’s reliance on disinvestment as a source of distributable “surplus” is going to be hard to manage. There are few practical alternatives to letting financial wealth deflate and reducing the share of global income going to the 1%, but that is not what Trump wants certainly, and not what the Davos Men who hired Clinton want. It is easy to imagine a shock to the system, harder to imagine a positive outcome.

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kidneystones 03.19.16 at 12:23 am

@59 If industrial civilization doesn’t blow itself apart or collapse from environmental overshoot, dealing with the obsolescence of mass employment will be a defining issue of the 21st century.

This is exactly right, although I think there’s plenty of room for some truly horrific wars anytime over the next 80 odd years, and I do mean odd.

I’ve long argued that the biggest crisis we face regarding the catastrophic global warming catastrophe that doesn’t take place. The challenge is catastrophic loss of live, it’s catastrophic vibrancy of life. Want to see the future for the young and less advantage? Think Egypt, or perhaps the West Bank. No work. I’m old enough to remember that those two little words envelop any universe. In my own family, one grand-parent had no work for 5 years during the thirties. Guess how he spent his free time? Hint, it wasn’t volunteering down at the local community center. There will be I’d guess, a number of new cults, some charitable-religious orders, and a whole lot of drugs for those self-selecting for no/limited posterity. The end result – nobody will know how to do anything, and should the system tank, we’ve no manual back-up.

I’m on a research trip right now in a European country normally famous for its accomplished civil service. I see a lot of new faces and people unable to answer the simplest questions. Every time a full-time worker is replaced by a lower-paid short-contract part-time employee, or three, the institutional memory of the organization takes a huge hit. Nobody sticks around long enough to know the job well, unless it’s a very, very easy job.

Fun times!

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kidneystones 03.19.16 at 12:26 am

Sorry, dropped some key terms. Long day. Should read “… long argued that the biggest crisis we face is the catastrophic global warming catastrophe that doesn’t take place. The challenge isn’t catastrophic loss of live, it’s catastrophic vibrancy of life.

So there.

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Consumatopia 03.19.16 at 1:32 am

Thus we can’t argue from the evidence that today’s (Trump) voters are uniquely “fed up” with stagnant wage growth, underemployment, etc…

Drum is doing a bit-and-switch between two claims. One is that economic dissatisfaction isn’t part of Trump’s support (“Trump Voters Are Not Angry About the Economy”), the other is that Trump voters, or 2016 voters, aren’t uniquely economically dissatisfied. In between those two claims is the truth that Trump is finding a way to channel economic anxiety (and, yes, racism) that’s been with us for a while now.

Note that Drum’s claim that “the number of people affected by globalization (lost jobs, reduced wages) isn’t that large in absolute terms” is just wrong. Manufacturing employment held steady until about 2000, then suddenly millions of jobs disappeared. http://jaredbernsteinblog.com/a-few-more-reflections-on-the-current-trade-debate/ This did not just affect the particular workers who lost jobs, or even just all manufacturing workers–it was ultimately a blow to all blue collar workers, as workers who would have worked in factories ended up working in other fields instead, bidding for the same jobs. Even more than that, we seemed to have given up on the idea that workers without a college degree should have a path into the middle class. What workers lost in the 2000s wasn’t just a matter of sluggish wages or workforce participation–it was a narrative. That loss of narrative is something that both parties have been ignoring for some time now, but the discontent was always there–like those protectionist GOP voters that could be observed in polls but GOP politicians had no interest in.

It may even be that as the immediate economic pain of unemployment eases, people start to ask deeper economic questions about their future. People might be doing better than they were a couple years ago. So now they ask–are they doing as well as they expected they would be a decade ago? Is this where they saw themselves ending up?

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LFC 03.19.16 at 1:55 am

@bruce wilder
you frequently use the word “disinvestment.” could you explain (for a non-economist) what you mean by it and/or how you are using it? E.g. “the whole Reagan era has been about disinvestment and eating the seed corn.” I have only a vague idea of what this means, though you’ve frequently said variations of the same thing before.

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RNB 03.19.16 at 5:12 am

https://eh.net/encyclopedia/hours-of-work-in-u-s-history/
Looking at Whaples data, I don’t think it supports his conclusion. It sure seems that the dramatic reductions in working time that came by the end of the first half of the twentieth century has slowed to crawl for many groups of workers since the 1950s.
So I ask Bloix and Matt “why” (slow down in productivity growth, cultural changes, changing balance of class power, global competition, intensifcation of class contradictions a la Marx?). Would love to read your comments but won’t be able to get to them until next week.

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bruce wilder 03.19.16 at 6:09 am

disinvestment

I need to sketch some concept of investment, then disinvestment will make more sense. This is trickier than you might imagine.

To keep it short and concrete, imagine you own a 30-year-old house and lot and rent it out as a family residence. It is an “investment” in common parlance. It produces shelter for the family that lives there. For you, it earns an expected stream of income in rents, net of an expected stream of expenses for taxes and maintenance and it has some immediate market value for sale or some value as collateral for a mortgage loan.

How much income you net from the house is under your partial strategic control. You could invest additional funds in improvements or additions, so that the house increased in sale value or rental value or loan value, as the case may be. You would be reducing your current net income from the house, but increasing the productive capacity of the house in the sense that the house would be producing more or better shelter, at least as far as that was reflected in prices.

Or, you could choose to defer maintenance on the house. The house might deteriorate, but your net income from rents would be greater, since you had reduced current expenses. You could take out a mortgage or sell the property, partially or wholly liquidating your interest in the property. I would characterize any of these behaviors as disinvestment.

Applied to the whole society, or the whole American political economy, I am suggesting that there was a collective pattern of increasing investment roughly up to 1970 and a pattern of disinvestment after roughly 1980 down to the present.

In the public sector, rates of infrastructure investment declined and the infrastructure stock was allowed to age. Public ownership was privatized. In many old line corporate businesses employee training programs were deprecated, pensions were liquidated (often with elements of fraud), expert staffs shrank. Think Neutron Jack Welch at G.E. Household balance sheets for the middle and working classes have deteriorated with low savings rates, encouraged by the illusions of the tech and housing bubbles. Big business has leveraged up and today throws off a lot of cash in executive bonuses and stock buybacks.

Anyway, I hope that didn’t exceed the TL;DR limit.

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Layman 03.19.16 at 6:28 am

Sounds like good old-fashioned looting.

85

Layman 03.19.16 at 6:29 am

Also, too, shorter kidneystones: More people need to die.

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Matt 03.19.16 at 7:05 am

It sure seems that the dramatic reductions in working time that came by the end of the first half of the twentieth century has slowed to crawl for many groups of workers since the 1950s.
So I ask Bloix and Matt “why” (slow down in productivity growth, cultural changes, changing balance of class power, global competition, intensifcation of class contradictions a la Marx?).

I don’t know why American working hours reduced so significantly in the first half of the 20th century and then froze near 40 hours per week (or more, particularly when workers are exempt or precarious and encouraged to work off the clock).

American coal production reached its peak in 2008. Between January 1988 and January 2008 American coal miner employment went from 147,000 workers to 77,000 as annual production per worker increased from 6463 tons to 14506 tons. The annualized increase in productivity per miner (measured in tons of coal) over this period is about 4.1%, significantly above the 2.8% average annual productivity growth in the USA during the 1947-1973 postwar golden age. I still don’t know why working hours stopped dropping, but “slowdown in productivity growth” does not seem like a likely culprit. Here we see strong productivity growth in a sector but it translates into job loss for half of the miners instead of shorter hours for all.

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RNB 03.19.16 at 7:12 am

*Great, helpful. Thanks Matt.

*Along with disinvestment, there is also the question of why investment is anemic, leading to historically low interest rates despite the posting of record profits. Summers argues that those profits must not indicate just a return on capital but rents as well.

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Ze K 03.19.16 at 7:38 am

@75
“In some Deep South sates, over 90% of whites voted against Obama. “

His image is of a northern big city liberal. Therefore I don’t see an obvious reason to assume that his skin color is the defining factor.

“See CO’s comment @35.”

Yes, I saw it. But I have the impression that many people here tend to look for the racial angle, find it, and ignore everything else. 35 also talks about “a big dose of Limbaugh/Breitbart”. I don’t know Breitbart, but I listened to Limbaugh a few times (albeit ~10 years ago), and I remember him singing praises to Clarence Thomas. How does that fit in? Perhaps they have a problem with certain patterns of behavior, that in their mind are associated with a certain part of African-American culture – and with the hippies? A better, more nuanced analysis is needed here…

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Peter T 03.19.16 at 8:41 am

Part of the working hours puzzle is that machinery has become a larger part of production, and much more reliable. So 24 hour operation becomes the norm, as firms seek to pay off investment in machinery as quickly as possible. Working a small crew long hours (12 hour shifts are the norm in mining and related industries) is cheaper than employing a larger workforce.

Bruce’s simple example of disinvestment is fair enough, but I’d argue that a large part of the disinvestment of the last 30 years comes from monetising public or semi-public functions and then taking off with the money. This has the advantage of adding to the pool of money, so disguising the loss of real functionality and convincing many economists that there must somehow have been a net gain. If the switch can be financed with debt you are even better off – you have exchanged a boring old public amenity for a greater share in the income of the lower orders.

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MFB 03.19.16 at 10:32 am

A thought. Trump is rich, but not massively rich, and his money comes mainly from middle-class types buying property or working-class types going to casinos. So he has an interest in the middle class or working class having enough money to spare some for him. In that sense, then, Trump has an interest in supporting the people who are planning to vote for him, in a way very unlike, say, Hillary Clinton, who has no special financial interest in her voters because her backers tend to be a whole lot richer than Trump and therefore a whole lot less interested in giving the middle or working class a better deal.

And, in regard to the people talking about the destruction of employment, who’s going to buy goods or services after two-thirds of the population is unemployed? We have about 50% real unemployment in South Africa already, and I can assure you, except in the gated residences of the 0.01% it isn’t much fun around here.

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Richard M 03.19.16 at 11:09 am

The thing about automation and jobs is that the number of people who can be profitably employed is not the same as the number of people who can be usefully employed. Profitable employment implies a closed loop of money going out, paid in wages and facilities, and producing some tangible good or service that can be sold for more money than went in.

The set of things for which that second half of the chain is present is limited; you can’t, by the free market alone, charge back a child for an amount greater than the cost of their education, a citizen for more then the cost of their defense, a homeowner for more than the cost of picking up litter, and so on.

Useful employment only requires that the overall benefit to society be greater than the cost, not that those benefits can be captured by a single specific employer. The set of such things is indefinitely large; until such time as computers become better at 100% of them, there will be no shortage of things to do.

As a tangible example, automated asteroid mining is starting to hit the window of technical feasibility. But it won’t be economically feasible (i.e. profitable) for the for-seeable future precisely because it would deliver rare metals in unbounded quantities that would thoroughly crash the market. So the benefits to society of practically free catalysts, electronics etc don’t return to the investors. So they don’t invest, so it doesn’t happen.

Similarly with nuclear power – it is not profitable precisely because it produces electricity too cheaply to meter; there is no way of getting back the investment.

The simplest way to square the circle of only X% of people being capable of being profitably employed is to tax those people and use the money to pay for the useful employment of everyone else. It is a simple system that worked for decades of high growth.

Until Reagan broke it by failing to raise taxes to the level necessary to sustain a growing economy.

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KPChief 03.19.16 at 12:03 pm

Maslow, interesting. I was going down a similar road but ending up at Stockholm Syndrome as an explanation.

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Anarcissie 03.19.16 at 3:32 pm

RNB 03.19.16 at 5:12 am @ 82 —
About working hours. People who have power generally desire to maintain and increase it. The people who have power in a capitalist state are capitalists. In the 20th century, capitalists had power because (1) production-distribution-consumption were seen as critical concerns, and (2) they and only they were supposed to be the ones who knew how to manage everything so that production-distribution-consumption would be maximized. As the forces of production began to defeat natural scarcities, it was necessary to destroy surpluses and to create artificial scarcities (in order to maintain the critical need to constantly increase p-d-c). Among the methods which can be used to destroy surpluses are war, imperialism, waste (of both substance and utility), and consumerism. In consumerism, the workers are haled from the office and the factory to the mall to buy and use up the stuff they have produced. But to do this they need time and energy for shopping and using. The maximizing balance must have been about 40 hours per week per worker.

When capitalist could not increase p-d-c, they got depressed and punished everyone else. This was called a ‘depression’. Various solutions were employed, like having a war or printing a lot of money. Then Growth occurred (that is, increase of p-d-c, which made the capitalists happy) until the next depression.

None of this is necessarily true today because we have new sources of production (artificial intelligence, cybernation, automation) and new sinks for the surplus, like climate change, total eternal war, and gross environmental destruction and collapse. Correspondingly we observe an increase in the variability of work time, from zero to over a hundred hours per week, as the old system falls apart and a new one comes into being.

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LFC 03.19.16 at 3:56 pm

@ b. wilder & Peter T
ok, I now understand how ‘disinvestment’ is being used. thks.

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kidneystones 03.19.16 at 6:16 pm

Propelling Trump to the White House one act of hijacking at a time:

“Donald Trump, shut it down, Phoenix is the people’s town.” On the topic who belongs where: They were carrying a message they want Trump to hear.“We don’t want you here in Arizona, said protester Salvador Reza.

Free speech and right to assemble for me, but not for thee.

http://www.azfamily.com/story/31516829/trump-protesters-block-streets-in-fountain-hills

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Garrulous 03.19.16 at 6:24 pm

“Trolling Alone” is one of the best ever Crooked Timber title threads. Bravo!

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bruce wilder 03.19.16 at 7:11 pm

Peter T: I’d argue that a large part of the disinvestment of the last 30 years comes from monetising public or semi-public functions and then taking off with the money.

Quantitatively, I would think the big driver centered on the wild escalation in CEO compensation in the 1980’s and the associated changes in corporate governance. The Piketty & Saez data highlight the historical salience of the change. Schleifer & Summers in their famous paper on hostile takeovers explained how the disinvestment in implicit contracts with stakeholders worked. As the incomes available to that small but powerful class increased, their time in the C-suite shortened. They had strong incentives to undermine the integrity of accounting controls. Etc.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.19.16 at 7:18 pm

BW: “Quantitatively, I would think the big driver centered on the wild escalation in CEO compensation in the 1980’s and the associated changes in corporate governance.”

This is one of the many reasons why I think that it now makes more sense to speak about a managerial class than a capitalist class.

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SusanC 03.19.16 at 8:13 pm

Over here in the UK, the Monster Raving Loony Party is an actual political party. And in the U.S., Pigasus was a candidate for president in 1968.

The concept of the protest vote is well established. If you think none of the candidates are fit to hold political office, not voting for any of them is not rhetorically effective. Non voting will be interpreted as apathy, or being OK with any of them. Certainly, a candidate will act like they have a mandate to govern if elected on less than 50% turn out, even if some proportion of the electorate who didn’t turn out despise them. On the other hand, if Pigasus actually wins, that will get the elites’ attention.

100

bruce wilder 03.19.16 at 9:15 pm

RP @ 96

Maybe. But, who do Cossacks work for again?

I think there was already a managerial class in place by the 1890s, certainly by the 1910’s. What changed in the 1980s is that the capitalist class co-opted them successfully by capturing the attention of potential c-suiters, whereas before 1980, managers were often balancing other stakeholder interests against the interests of capital. This kind of technocratic or professional ethic, taught in b-schools and engineering schools extended to CEOs who, in long terms of office, played corporate statesmen. B-school doctrine changed radically around 1980, and maximizing shareholder value took over, providing a ready doctrine and rationale for a more financialized approach.

There is a bourgeois liberal line of opinion that says better corporate governance in the boardroom backed by activist shareholders would bring runaway CEOs under control. I think there are good arguments for having other stakeholders on the board and stronger accounting controls and the like. I think corporate income taxes should be fixed at 50% and collected, because Uncle Sam is everyone’s business partner, and that is a good thing. But, overpaid CEOs are currently aligned with shareholder interests to a very large extent.

This is what a fully dominant capitalist class looks like.

101

Rich Puchalsky 03.19.16 at 11:54 pm

BW: “Maybe. But, who do Cossacks work for again?”

Going completely off-topic, is a trust funder who really has no control over the trust fund a “capitalist”? Are the millions who own stock in one way or another? I don’t see a remaining distinction between CEOs and people of vast wealth who actively manage their investments. You see overpaid CEOs aligned with shareholder interest, but I don’t — I see CEOs aligned with those shareholders who actually have enough of a stake to be effective managers in their own right, and who actively exercise that form of control. The smaller stakeholders routinely have their interests not considered or worked against.

“The capitalist class” also runs into the unfortunate equivocations about state capitalism. A whole lot of global productive capacity is in China, for instance. The people there are perhaps state capitalists or crony capitalists, but really the essential similarity seems to me to be that they are managers. And they are a seamless part of the world system because they come together with multinational CEOs and EU bureaucrats and so on in a distinctive form of international cooperation.

102

Omega Centauri 03.20.16 at 12:54 am

What Rich said @11:54.
Many of us including myself own some stocks, via brokerage accounts, mutual funds, and as investments within retirement plans. Few of these “owners” have a large enough stake to fully align their interests with global capital.

103

Peter T 03.20.16 at 1:34 am

I think “capital” or “capitalist/ism” carry too much baggage to be useful analytically. I prefer, for any given time and place, to look at the mix of ways elites derive their incomes. For C18 Britain, for instance, it was primarily rents on land, supplemented by government office, shares in tax revenue and direct ownership/management of various enterprises (in C18 France it was charges levied through local monopolies (“banal seigneurie”) and government office etc; in India and the Ottoman Empire it was shares in tax revenue and so on..). In the late C19 Britain and the US it was through direct ownership of corporations, in the mid C20 indirect ownership of corporations. In the late C20 it shifted to shares in financial streams, sometimes taken as “salary”.

One advantage of looking at it this way is it highlights the varying role of government. It can be simply a guarantor of the socio-economic order, or a vital intermediary collecting and apportioning income. In the US it has moved towards the latter, and politics has therefore become more contentious.

104

Plume 03.20.16 at 1:56 am

Peter T @103,

I think most of it boils down to this: Are you deriving your income from your own work, or from others? From the collected production of others, or from your own two hands? Do you make your compensation via the appropriation of the surplus value of a workforce, or from your own sweat and tears?

Other major factors: Who decides how all of this shakes out? Is it decided by the people actually doing the work — the many? Or from suits who may or may not interface with those workers — the few? Is there democracy in the workplace? Or is it absent? Is it autocracy, or democracy?

Who decides what someone is paid, what the prices for the goods and services are, how something is made, where, why, for whom? Who benefits from collective enterprise? Who decides?

As in, if there is a “managerial class,” something is obscenely wrong. Neither a capitalist class nor a managerial class should exist at all. Aside from the immorality of making money from the labor of others, from ordering others around, it’s just added overhead, which forces workers to work longer hours than they would have to if they ran their own enterprises. It’s not efficient; it guarantees endlessly reproducing hierarchies; it guarantees inequality; it guarantees poor and unequal health and longevity outcomes. It serves no purpose for society and is not sustainable.

105

Omega Centauri 03.20.16 at 2:31 am

Plume.
That’s way to simplistic. The workers don’t just get together along with productive equipment, supply chains, and a distribution channel. Some effort has to be made to bring capital, and engineering, and workers together into a productive enterprise. Some of the value added is in the management, some is in the design, some is in the marketing, and some in operating the actual machinery. How this gets divvied up among the different types of people that all contribute to the whole enterprise, now that’s the tricky part.

106

Anarcissie 03.20.16 at 2:46 pm

Omega Centauri 03.20.16 at 2:31 am @ 105 —
A ruling class must not only labor to retain its power, but also the structure through which it acquires and maintains its power. The peculiarities of management, broadly speaking — design, finance, coordination, supply, manufacturing, marketing, and so on — are not requirements falling entirely out of Nature, but are particularly selected and shaped according to the needs and desires of those who have control of them. Primary among these is the need to maintain one’s power and position, and to deal successfully with others of one’s own kind. Some things could be done differently.

107

Plume 03.20.16 at 3:43 pm

Omega Centauri @105,

Anarcissie said it a lot better than I could, and more concisely.

I would add: all the functions which now are slotted to that “managerial class” could easily be done by workers accorded equal say, equal pay, equal voice in decision-making, equal value, etc. etc. — along with stripping out a massive amount of bureaucracy devoted solely to the reproduction of hierarchy and profit. We could all work far fewer hours, with far less red-tape, and far more efficiently, if we didn’t have fictional hierarchies as overhead . . . and if we no longer worked to make a few people very rich.

Anarcissie is also spot on with her call to Nature. There are no pyramids there. There are no neck-breaking hierarchies there. Capitalism, along with religion, nation states, money . . . these are all human inventions, imagined orders, imaginery orders, and given the fact that these fictions work primarily to benefit the tiny few at the expense of the many . . . . the many should reject them outright. We need to replace them with newer, better fictions, of course, because fictions are generally necessary in order to extend collective action beyond small tribes. But they need to be beneficial fictions for all of us, not just the top of the pyramid — that pyramid which is itself a fiction.

108

Omega Centauri 03.20.16 at 4:58 pm

Plume and Anarcissie. I can’t buy that a modern economy could be self organizing without the presence of management and engineering classes. Now, the necessity of that doesn’t define what the relative levels of pay and power should be. But, modern levels of productivity require a significant level of specialization, and some structure needs to be in place to manage the complexity of it. So we end up with specialists, some of whom specialize in industrial design, and some of whom specialize in organizational design and so on.

109

Anarcissie 03.20.16 at 6:04 pm

@107, @108 — One must consider that modern levels of productivity are destroying the Earth — or more exactly, those niches of the Earth which human beings can occupy. The Earth will roll on its way regardless.

The problem I see is not that management is superfluous, but that so many people want someone else to manage them instead of managing themselves. I hope that is a cultural problem and not a genetic one.

110

bruce wilder 03.21.16 at 7:18 pm

I habitually gripe about the way neoclassical economics slights the role of hierarchy in organizing the economy, and pushes the myth of “market economy”, self-organizing, self-regulating and almost a prescription of an optimal, just world, where profit rewards virtue.

The Right may be defined by wanting untrammeled hierarchy, but it pretends otherwise when it suits. For them, it is enough to blockade clear thinking about managing the system for public purposes.

If we want to organize and run the world by better lights, we’d better know how it is done.

111

Plume 03.21.16 at 7:36 pm

BW @110,

I completely agree with you here. It is how it’s done. The desire for self-management and self-governing, however, assumes that we won’t have the same frame any longer, once we F-disk and install new software. That we will be moving toward a completely different form of economics, one that draws the best lessons from all previous forms, updates them, and shifts to a cooperative, rather than a competitive OS.

So, if your argument is — and I may be misreading you — that the left (or parts thereof) is crazy not to recognize economic realities the right constantly seeks to obscure or gloss over, my answer would be that we’re seeking to build completely different realities. Rather than trying to use alternative rules from an alternative reality as if the status quo didn’t exist, we would change the status quo itself to that alternative — acknowledging the massive difficulties and time requirements, etc. As in, a shift from the game of Risk to that of Chess. Not the use of Chess rules in the context of the currently existing game of Risk, but the use of Chess rules in the context of the newly established Chess paradigm, etc.

It would need to sync up, in short. But prior to that, within cooperative enclaves, we could keep experimenting, refining, building movements, etc. . . . as well as push for our existing public sector to help this process by offering more and more non-profit, public goods and services.

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Plume 03.21.16 at 7:39 pm

@109,

“One must consider that modern levels of productivity are destroying the Earth — or more exactly, those niches of the Earth which human beings can occupy. The Earth will roll on its way regardless.”

Well said, Anarcissie. And spot on. Of course, it’s not just we humans at risk. In just the last 40 years, we’ve lost half of our wildlife.

113

bruce wilder 03.21.16 at 8:26 pm

Plume @ 111: I completely agree with you here.

No, you don’t.

I think hierarchy is problematic, precisely because it can be and often is effective, and there is no substitute. Two cheers for effective bureaucracy, as the title of a clever essay once had it, with one cheer reserved for what Anarcissie wrote @ 106.

The Left, today, is ineffective, because it has no idea about how to design and run the modern world. The radical left wants to talk about a post-modernist transformation of thinking, and the centre-left wants to preserve what it can and deny its own hypocrisy in collaborating.

“Now for something completely different” is a title for a Monty Python movie, not a practical political program.

I’m not trying to provoke you, and I don’t have time or energy by a prolonged back-and-forth. We’ve done it before, and it seems like enough to establish that we do not agree on important points, without repeating the exercise.

114

Ze K 03.21.16 at 9:14 pm

“The radical left wants to talk about a post-modernist transformation of thinking”

The transformation of thinking would require, I imagine, total liquidation of the golden billion (as per Sergey Kara-Murza). And that would be one spec-tacular episode of red terror…

115

Plume 03.21.16 at 9:23 pm

@113,

Okay. I was quite wrong then. I did misread you and only thought I agreed with what I thought you said.

;>)

And no worries on the back and forth front. You are more than welcome to ignore the following:

I think perhaps our biggest disagreement is when you say there is no substitute for hierarchy, even under a completely different economic form. That, to me, is akin to seeing capitalism as the only economic form, which is the mistake made by all too many people, especially conservatives who can’t envision an alternative and don’t want to. Some of your posts lead me to believe you want alternative forms, while others suggest you think alternatives are impossible. As in, your posts sometimes cancel each other out, in my view. Regardless, I do think you suffer from the inability to envision something radically different, even radically different from Monty Python, and you, at times, would rather mock the idea itself than explore those things.

To each their own.

I’d also take issue with your description of “the left” and its supposed inability to understand reality or construct something much better than the current status quo. Not saying “perfect.” Just better. But, yeah, we’ve been through that before, too. Suffice it to say — and I think we both agree — that the current paradigm isn’t working and it’s been dominated by the center right for a long time . . . so it’s not as if “the right” understands reality, either.

So, what is the answer? I think the answer is the “radical left’s” conception of truly egalitarian, democratic, parecon, non-hierarchical economic forms, and I actually do think they’re logical and doable. You don’t. Again, to each their own. But I also think if I believed as you do, that there is no escape for humankind from the right-wing trap, I might just jump off a freakin’ cliff.

:>)

Given my own lack of personal religious faith of any kind, I do have some hope that humans will get things right eventually, and this, among other things, helps keep me going.

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Peter T 03.22.16 at 3:19 am

Plume

There’s a deep yearning for Eden, and that’s a good thing (if we never thought it possible, we wouldn’t try). But we have to pay attention to the world we actually live in – how it operates, how it might best be improved. It’s not Eden. For one thing, suffering is built in (wild kangaroos die from slow starvation when their front teeth wear out; hyenas get their living from eating wildebeest calves and so on. Lions will never live with lambs unless they agree to starve. And we humans are part of that cycle). So the practical issue is how best to ameliorate it, not abolish it.

Hierarchy is the only form that scales – that let’s large numbers of people (or anything else) cooperate closely. The key word is not cooperate, it’s :”closely”. Any study of a forager band will tell you that cooperation on practical matters is fairly loose (foragers are often very tight on non-practical matters). Don’t feel like hunting? Don’t go. Want to gather by the stream instead of in the forest? Suit yourself. It mostly doesn’t matter, and when it does, a little discussion will sort things out. But we have built enormous networks that deliver food, shelter and the rest that depend on constant monitoring, close cooperation, regular flows of information predictably recorded, filtered and displayed, hierarchies of decision and response…When they decay or are disrupted, people die (see Soviet Union post 89, Appalachia…) as the system cannot support them. So the job, in the face of the tightening environmental noose, is to downsize fast enough to ease the pressure, slowly enough to avoid disruption. And a hierarchy of decision and control will be needed to do this, run by competent people (so not the ones we have).

Does this mean we are doomed to the patriarchy? Not at all. We don’t have to behave in our families or friendship nets or local communities the same way we have to run our countries. Indeed, it would be odd if we did. But we can’t pretend that we can run a country in the same way we would run a backyard barbecue.

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Plume 03.22.16 at 4:19 am

Peter T @116,

I’m not talking at all about Eden. I’m just talking about a better mouse trap, a better way of doing things, a far more efficient, far more pragmatic, and far more logical way of doing things. Getting as close to the root of things as possible. Stripping away the extraneous. Because, contrary to what you, Bruce and others assert, hierarchies aren’t necessary at all, and they actually create unnecessary fog and mud and shadows between us and living, and between us and the job at hand. They actually add all sorts of zero-value complexity that simply doesn’t need to be — other than to perpetuate the hierarchies themselves and give them an excuse to exist. An excuse to rule.

In a word, the vast majority of our hierarchies are just overhead, designed as sweet gigs for those in control, who maintain their control through those unnecessary hierarchies. And when humans wake up and smell the coffee and realize they’ve been had by all of the nice folks who speak in barely veiled condescension, while they do their hippy punching, they’ll see there never was a single day in which we ever needed neck-breaking hierarchies and massive class divisions.

“Hierarchy is the only form that scales – that let’s large numbers of people (or anything else) cooperate closely.”

This is simply not true. It’s what the folks at the top of the pyramid insist is the truth — for self-serving reasons, of course. But it’s not at all true. Would it take a great deal of time and work to render all hierarchies useless? Yes. But if we actually raised our children, taught them in schools, set up the right form of continuing and continuous education and training — we wouldn’t need hierarchies anymore. There is simply nothing of import we couldn’t produce if we raised our children in an egalitarian manner. Nothing. There is no reason why we ever needed to treat humans in the first place as if we hold different value, as if we were different species, some dirty, some less dirty, others clean as a whistle sitting on top of the heap.

Not Eden. Just talking about common sense and common decency. And getting as close to the root of life as possible.

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Plume 03.22.16 at 4:28 am

Oh, and lest people jump on the part about raising kids in an egalitarian manner as some kind of “indoctrination,” how do you think society started believing in the necessity of steep hierarchies and that capitalism was the only possible way to organize an economy?

Indoctrination. Manufactured consent. Brainwashing.

Educating our children to believe in an alternative, in actual self-govenance, self-reliance, self-provisioning, egalitarian worth, egalitarian value for everyone, cooperative, instead of competitive economics . . . . at least that has the benefit of helping everyone achieve their fullest potential. Our current system, OTOH, blocks most people from that, or we couldn’t maintain our hierarchies of privilege, wealth and power. Only so many get to enter through the doors of the Club in our current system, and our current indoctrination teaches us that this is “natural” and good and normal.

Answering this with an alternative that says, no, this is wrong. You shouldn’t have any obstacles in your way of achieving your fullest potential, and No, you are worth just as much as anyone else, and are just as valuable and valued as a human . . . . . that’s the kind of “indoctrination” that rises to moral and ethical heights we’ve never seen before. It actually touches on the sublime.

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bruce wilder 03.22.16 at 7:18 am

I freely admit that what is obvious to Plume is not obvious to me.

I do not think caste or rank are necessary; I do think management, supervision and rules are functionally necessary to efficient conduct of many economic activities.

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engels 03.22.16 at 8:35 am

But we have built enormous networks that deliver food, shelter and the rest that depend on constant monitoring, close cooperation, regular flows of information predictably recorded, filtered and displayed, hierarchies of decision and response…When they decay or are disrupted, people die

I am willing to concede that an advanced economy will always need robots, drones and computers to follow orders

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Peter T 03.22.16 at 9:18 am

engels.

sure. Whose orders? Anyone’s? If we had Culture Minds, I’d lie back and relax. With Windows 10, not so much.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 11:20 am

Peter T: “We don’t have to behave in our families or friendship nets or local communities the same way we have to run our countries. Indeed, it would be odd if we did. But we can’t pretend that we can run a country in the same way we would run a backyard barbecue.”

This is a little bit odd. Not to say that it’s wrong a priori, but it posits two spheres, one of them in which w can be non-hierarchical because it’s not important, the other one in which we need to be hierarchical because it’s important. It begins to look something like a work / leisure division. But the purpose of leisure is to support work in our society. And I don’t think that there’s an easy division between the two: the habits of one tend to get carried over to the other.

Let’s say that hierarchy is needed in order to support contemporary production and distribution networks. OK, then why do people do hierarchy? Is the backyard barbecue really non-hierarchical, or is there one person who thinks of themself as the grillmaster and who organizes production? Is everyone there of equal social status and social function?

People generally say that you do contemporary hierarchies because people are bribed into them under the threat of miserable lives on the dole. Everyone has to work for a wage, and this coerces them to work in the hierarchical order. People think that if you took the wage away, there would be chaos: no one would go to work. “Who would work in the sewers”, who would be the bosses. There has never, ever in any society that I’m familiar with been a shortage of people who want to be bosses for the social status. And there never has been a society in which people don’t want to feel useful according to the rules of that society.

Moving towards a left society requires high productivity (for most versions of the left) and it’s always been a puzzle, for honest leftists, how to keep the productivity without the coercive arrangements that produce it in our societies. But I basically think that the reason why people currently do the hierarchy that they do does not require the monetary carrot and stick that currently obtains.

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engels 03.22.16 at 11:21 am

I thought your point was that a complex network of organisations which does a critical task like transporting food will need a lot of people following orders to be reliable. You can’t have delivery drivers or cargo ship captains who only get out of bed when they feel like. At the same time, there are other areas of social production that get on just fine without much coercion: the canonical grad student or the immense accumulation of opinions that is this blog. (Business owners and managers? They don’t follow orders and there’s no-one above them in the hierarchy, instead they watch the market, often anxiously) My suggestion is that as robots increasingly supercede humans on the tasks that require regularity predictability and external direction and motivation the second kinds of productive roles may become much more common for humans than they are now.

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engels 03.22.16 at 11:38 am

<iWhose orders? Anyone’s?

I agree there’s then an question about how to take decisions about what, how to produce, etc in the absence of hierarchy (I’m inclined to think there are democratic answers) but it seems separate from the issue of how production can be organised in its absence.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 12:17 pm

Here’s the basic thing that troubles me about BW’s “two cheers for effective bureaucracy”. When we talk about bureaucracy, now we’re not talking about who works in the sewers. Now we’re talking about moving information around and then commands based on that information, based on socially set rules (ideally) or on the whims of individuals or on class interests (more typically). I basically don’t think that any society is ever going to have a shortage of people who will give commands for free.

But, as with “Seeing Like a State” — a book that I recommend to the few who haven’t read it — the official system depends on a vast unofficial system. I’ll tell a personal anecdote from my life as a freelance librarian: like any good anarchist I’ve done my bit to prop up the state. Economic information is important so that we can assess the effectiveness of past policies and propose new ones, right? Here’s an archive of past economic information housed at NBER. It’s there because an academic wanted it to be there, and because NBER staff took the time to put it there, but it’s also there because I took a couple of hours to pass the information along for free. Why did I have to pass it along? Because the government no longer provides it, not in any easy to obtain fashion.

Or take EPA for another example. Every couple of years there’s a big flood somewhere in the U.S., and a whole lot of EPA regulated sites go underwater. Every time people wonder, hey, what pollutants are being washed away from these sites? It’s not the focus of immediate flood response, which is all about saving people from drowning and so on, but still. And for about a decade, inexplicably or perhaps explicably, no one at EPA could seem to make a database of which sites were underwater, because EPA is organized into offices, and the offices couldn’t read each other’s data. So I’d make a database for them, again for free, and they’d pass it around to EPA regional staff and responders and whoever.

So I don’t think that the bureaucratic model, even now, actually works in the way that people think that it works.

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Anarcissie 03.22.16 at 12:47 pm

Plume 03.21.16 at 7:39 pm @ 112 —
I am not too worried about the wildlife. Most of the wildlife consists of microorganisms, especially bacteria. They are far older than we are, more numerous, weigh more, are larger in the aggregate, are more widely distributed. They are constantly and endlessly creative. Above all, they are smarter. They do not perceive, learn, and think as we do, but they have learned to defeat most of our antibiotics and have communicated their learning to one another. They are learning to eat our garbage and pollutants, as they have learned to eat heat, light, electricity, rocks, metals, and larger organisms. People worry about rogue AI or extraterrestrial aliens, when we have right on the planet with us a community of beings, more powerful than we, which may, one of these days, brush us aside. I’m not worried about them; I’m worried about us. We should at least try to stop destroying the niches where we live.

The first law of the jungle is ‘Get along.’

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Layman 03.22.16 at 1:05 pm

I’m hard pressed to recall experiencing any large human endeavor which did not look like what Rich describes in 125. Certainly every commercial enterprise I’ve been in suffers from examples of the same kind of bureaucratic failure. This is true even though the enterprises are not by and large led by leaders who think it would be best to starve the business and ultimately drown it in the bathtub. There’s a reason the EPA is the way it is, and the answer isn’t entirely ‘humans are bad at organizing stuff’, though that is part of the answer.

So I think we have to agree that large efforts involving lots of people doing complex things are inherently flawed. Does this mean those large efforts shouldn’t be undertaken? I doubt it, if the large efforts are things like ‘food production and distribution’. Shall we essay food production and distribution without some kind of organization and management? Only if we want mass starvation. This is the same point I raised in another thread, without any success. Those who propose we do away with the current systems of economic and social governance have some way to go to make clear what replaces it and how it works. I do not think ‘just take the leap of faith, and we’ll see how it works out’ is a particularly convincing proposal.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 1:19 pm

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not saying “Oh let’s forget about current food production and distribution and make a huge leap of faith into doing it without organization and management.” I don’t think that the left as a whole is really big on sweeping high modernist plans at this point (see, again, Seeing Like a State) and in any case there is no-one with the power to carry this out. It’s a matter of tendencies, and which people want to encourage, and which they can stop talking up as if they are necessary. I’ve observed that no matter where I go there is no shortage of people who want to be farmers if they can have the use of their own fairly stable plot of land. I’ve observed that no matter where I go there are people who really like to drive from place to place and not settle down. Ditto with people who really like to sit behind a desk and et.c etc. Attitudes to all of this need to change, and will change, before and instead of people suddenly saying “well let’s have everyone try a new system and if people starve oh well.”

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Layman 03.22.16 at 1:42 pm

@ Rich, presumably you mean that the people who like to sit behind desks will coordinate the people who like to drive around, so they’ll pick up food from the people who like to farm, and take it to where it’s needed, about which they’ll be aware because they’ve established a system to know. So, organization, management, etc. Bureaucracy.

This is all well and good, but then I entirely miss the point of 125. That bureaucracy sucks, even though we’ll need to rely on it nonetheless? I took 125 quite differently, as an objection that we could not rely on it.

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engels 03.22.16 at 1:49 pm

A new working paper from researchers at Oxford University poses an important question: “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?”

The answer? A lot.

“According to our estimate, 47 percent of total US employment is in the high risk category, meaning that associated occupations are potentially automatable over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two…

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Plume 03.22.16 at 2:06 pm

BW @119,

“I do not think caste or rank are necessary; I do think management, supervision and rules are functionally necessary to efficient conduct of many economic activities.”

Yes, management, supervision and rules are functionally necessary. But we don’t need hierarchy to have them. Management can be rotational, a normal process within the matrix of ongoing cross-training. Your turn in the fish barrel, team, etc. Supervision, same thing. Rotational, a part of normal cross-training. No permanent hierarchy. Leadership, yes. At all times in the workplace. But it’s rotational, never permanent, etc.

Rules, definitely. A part of the new constitution, and something autonomous communities set up via democratic processes. They agree to those rules. But the rules are thought-objects, not people, so they don’t require any hierarchy. You can have egalitarian adherence to democratically derived rules as guides for the workplace, then you go home to your own castle, with your own rules there, etc. etc.

My preferred form of left-anarchism is a bit different from RPs, I think. If I read him correctly, he’s not in favor of a constitution or a set of societal rules and laws. I am. I think a foundational legal structure is necessary for a functional egalitarian society. By setting up those thought-objects as legal guide, instead of human beings with their self-interest to rule, and teaching self-sufficiency, self-reliance, self-governance — and self-provisioning to the degree possible — we can avoid human hierarchies and authoritarian structures in general.

132

Lupita 03.22.16 at 2:19 pm

@Rich Puchalsky

But I basically think that the reason why people currently do the hierarchy that they do does not require the monetary carrot and stick that currently obtains.

Hierarchy is natural, meaning every group, everywhere, always, has a leader. You may not know it, but your subconscious does. Those men on that hijacked plane that was going to crash into the White House? They led all the passengers to a certain death. Every time we are in a group – at a restaurant, theater, classroom – we scan the room and determine who the leader is and most everybody settles on the same person. Children do this also. Teachers determine who the leader of her class is and controls him (in the vast majority of cases it is a boy) instead of going crazy trying to control each individual student. Leaders also have a shorter life span and suffer higher levels of stress.

There is only so much we can rationalize. We must also remember that we are social beings and part of the natural world.

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Plume 03.22.16 at 2:20 pm

Another key for me: Many think of the “authoritarian mindset” as something that exists over there, but not here. Say, at Trump rallies, or in Fascist Spain, Italy and Germany, but not here.

Thing is, without that mindset, the capitalist economic system could not function. Our system of hierarchy could not function. It depends on the authoritarian mindset — albeit in normalized, highly conditioned form — to get through each day. I accept your authority over me, even if it’s just for eight hours a day, etc. etc. And then we interface with authorities in little ways to YUGE outside of work as well.

So, what if we taught everyone from Day One that we don’t need to be dependent on the “authority” of others? What if we armed everyone with the skills and knowledge necessary to function well without that autocratic system? From Day One. From Day One we would teach people what they needed to know to avoid waiting for orders from others. And practice this. Again and again. We would radically reduce the goods and services produced by others, and would instead radically increase those produced by ourselves and our communities. We would radically reduce all dependence upon distant “authorities,” and radically increase the level of our own self-governance and governance by local communities. We would substitute temporary leadership teams for all permanent human “authority,” near and far. It would no longer exist as a separate caste, class or entity of any kind. We would be our own management team, supervisors, etc. etc. . . . within a context of democratically derived laws, rules and a constitution.

Key thinkers for the above: Peter Kropotkin, William Morris, Elisee Reclus and the Paris Commune experience . . . updated by the folks who developed Parecon, plus Richard D. Wolff and Gar Alperovitz, to name a few.

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Plume 03.22.16 at 2:28 pm

Anarcissie @126,

The study found half of all wildlife wiped out in the last 40 years, including mammals. I realize microorganisms are included, but a massive number of species were very close to us in DNA overall. The study’s authors’ chief concern, actually, was animal life.

I am not a scientist, and haven’t stayed in a Holiday Inn Express, but it seems like one of those canary in the coal mine things, screaming at us . . . along with the profound tragedy of losing so many beautiful, majestic animals along the way. Actual extinction of millions of animals on earth, due to human pollution and habitat destruction. We really have the highest moral obligation to stop this destruction.

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engels 03.22.16 at 2:29 pm

Hierarchy is natural

Like nudity, violence or facial hair

meaning every group, everywhere, always, has a leader

Who’s leading this discussion?

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Lupita 03.22.16 at 2:32 pm

Who’s leading this discussion?

Rich

137

Layman 03.22.16 at 2:32 pm

“Who’s leading this discussion?”

…and what has it accomplished?

138

Lupita 03.22.16 at 2:37 pm

So, what if we taught everyone from Day One that we don’t need to be dependent on the “authority” of others?

We do not teach it, we are. What we do teach children, is how to be good, responsible leaders. We are all leaders at one time or another, it just depends on what group we happen to be in at the moment.

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Plume 03.22.16 at 2:43 pm

Lupita @132,

But we are conditioned to do this. We are taught to do this. We are socialized to look to others for leadership so we can be led. And history shows we usually choose the wrong people to lead.

What if we were taught a different way?

Beyond that, yes, I do think, biologically speaking, we do have “leaders of the pack” and followers. And among humans, there is a tiny percentage of alphas and sociopaths who seek to lead and/or control others. But that doesn’t mean we should succumb to this “natural” sorting. The alphas and sociopaths want us to. But that doesn’t mean we should.

Humans have a huge mix of competing drives, including cooperative and competitive, a drive for peace, love and empathy, and a drive for sudden violence, for example. It’s the job of any sane society to encourage the better angels and find ways to redirect harmful energies. It’s the job of any sane society to teach wrong from right, etc. etc.

Beyond that, if you look at those hierarchies in the animal kingdom, they’re pretty much one and done. One level up. At most, two. We humans (OTOH), under the capitalist paradigm, have developed thousands of levels, and these separate us and do us all great harm. These levels alienate us from each other and from the work at hand, as we see how others are treated better than we are, or worse — sometimes massively better and massively worse. There is nothing like that in nature. And in nature, you may have a leader of the pack, but you have that pack. It’s not further divided into umpteen classes with complex sets of privileges to be fought over through a lifetime of struggle.

Nature and nurture. There really is no support for continued neck-breaking hierarchies.

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Plume 03.22.16 at 2:55 pm

Lupita @138,

“We do not teach it, we are. What we do teach children, is how to be good, responsible leaders. We are all leaders at one time or another, it just depends on what group we happen to be in at the moment.”

I don’t think this is true. I think, right now, we teach children how to follow orders and to be good, subservient little creatures. And as they get older, we teach them what they’ll need to know to be good, subservient followers in the business world, in some narrow way, in some narrow field, to make good, subservient cogs in the machine.

And if we ever do teach them “leadership,” it is with the idea of subservient followers in mind.

I’m saying we break with this entirely. We teach that we are all in this together, that we are all equals, that no one is set above us, no gods, no masters, none. Not “the state.” Not private enterprise. Zero autocracy of any kind, public or private.

That we will work together and take turns “leading,” and that there are no classes and no permanent hierarchies and no need for them. We can do what we need to do together, as teams, as teams with members of equal value. Rotational. We will be taught, from Day One, that we can self-provide, self-provision, become self-sufficient, to the degree possible, and most of what we need beyond that can come from local production, which we all share in. And if there is any remainder beyond that, we can get it from other, linked and federated local production nearby, or further away. And so on.

A brand new paradigm. No permanent leadership or hierarchy. We share these burdens, and we share the fruits.

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Lupita 03.22.16 at 3:02 pm

And among humans, there is a tiny percentage of alphas and sociopaths who seek to lead and/or control others.

Leaders do not always seek the position, in many cases it is by default, there is nobody better suited to the position so they reluctantly accept it. Think of the men who crashed UA 93. They were not sociopaths. Everybody is a leader, it just depends on the group.

Another way to look at hierarchy is when a father leaves the house and whispers to his eldest, “Take care of your mother while I’m gone”. Why is this? As is universally known, a mother will sacrifice her life for her children, but who will protect her? What the father is doing, is designating that person in his absence.

Nature and nurture. There really is no support for continued neck-breaking hierarchies.

This is true. My only point is that we must work within our natural boundaries, like a teacher works with a classroom of children who always have their leader. Acknowledge the leader and with him.

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engels 03.22.16 at 3:03 pm

What we do teach children, is how to be good, responsible leaders. ..

I don’t think this is true. I think, right now, we teach children how to follow orders and to be good, subservient little creatures.

A good opportunity to plug Schooling in Capitalist America

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Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 3:09 pm

Layman: “That bureaucracy sucks, even though we’ll need to rely on it nonetheless? I took 125 quite differently, as an objection that we could not rely on it.”

That’s not what I meant. What I meant was that even now, a lot of what makes bureaucratic or coordination processes work is what might be called unofficial activity.

People have a mental model of of a coordination process as that anyone giving orders is backed up in the end by the force of the state (or the force of the corporation threatening to fire someone), and that any information flows are there because people are paid to make those flows happen. And it isn’t really true, even now. The kind of society in which desk sitters coordinate and drivers drive and farmers farm not because they’re getting paid, but because they like to and because as long as enough people also do this they get what they need to live on, is different from our own society in degree but not entirely in kind.

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Jake 03.22.16 at 3:23 pm

Have any of you all read about holacracy? It sounds to me kind of like an attempt at the sort of hierarchy-less organization being described but it’s been hard to grasp exactly what it looks like in reality. It also sounds a little creepy but maybe that’s just the social conditioning talking.

145

TM 03.22.16 at 3:30 pm

RNB 50: seconded. Nobody supports Trump because they think his *economic policies* will work for them.

Scott Adams writes funny comics, and in case you haven’t noticed, many of his jokes work by resentment (you may get some insight by asking yourself why you just laughed). Long ago I read a book by him which was supposed to be (at least part) serious, and it was weak. There were gems in it like the claim that putting more people in prison is *mathematically* certain to reduce criminality, and such. I don’t know why we should consider his opinion on trump now, though I get it that all the other opinions have more or less proved wrong.

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Lupita 03.22.16 at 3:33 pm

@Plume

That we will work together and take turns “leading,” and that there are no classes and no permanent hierarchies and no need for them. We can do what we need to do together, as teams, as teams with members of equal value. Rotational.

This is what I meant by teaching leadership. Take turns. Rotational. But to be able to do this, one must first acknowledge and respect the existence of societies, hierarchies and leaders as part of the natural order and not pretend that we are merely atomized, disconnected individuals or regard hierarchy as intrinsically evil.

@engels

I don’t think this is true. I think, right now, we teach children how to follow orders and to be good, subservient little creatures.

I meant good teachers. Good teachers and parents teach children to take care of others and do what is best for the group. Obviously, leadership should be taught within a framework of ethics.

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Plume 03.22.16 at 3:46 pm

Lupita @146

“This is what I meant by teaching leadership. Take turns. Rotational. But to be able to do this, one must first acknowledge and respect the existence of societies, hierarchies and leaders as part of the natural order and not pretend that we are merely atomized, disconnected individuals or regard hierarchy as intrinsically evil.”

But these things are fictions we invented, not “natural”. Society is a fiction. Hierarchy in human societies is a fiction — and highly arbitrary at that. Again, there is no parallel in nature for what we’ve developed. And our leaders are rarely those who should lead. I think it’s a huge mistake (and possibly dangerous) to teach that these things constitute a “natural order” to things. But I do agree that we should teach that society can be a helpful, healthy fiction and that we need temporary “leadership” to get certain things done that achieve a high enough level of complexity. Again, I just don’t agree that hierarchy is necessary, beyond the temporary, simplified and fairly “flat” kind I pointed to above.

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bianca steele 03.22.16 at 3:48 pm

Lupita and Plume are pushing different sides of the same coin. Plume says everyone should decide freely, but in practice this will probably mean everybody “freely” chooses some restrictive, uncriticizable set of rules, which probably involves an invisible hierarchy inside or outside the group. Lupita says everyone should be a leader (though there is always one secretly acknowledged leader in the group) but seems to mean that everybody should model automatic obedience to the rules and unobtrusive deference to the leader (while “doing what needs to be done” without fuss).

I’m curious whether Bruce’s idea of hierarchy is this kind, or the kind that can be criticized and improved.

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bianca steele 03.22.16 at 3:51 pm

TM @ 145

The thing to know about Adams is he considers Dogbert the protagonist of the strip, not the antagonist. Once he revealed that, the disconnect between the strip and the political writing disappeared.

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engels 03.22.16 at 3:54 pm

Lupita, sorry, that was a quote from Plume. I was pointing to both to a book that makes the argument that – crudely- some schools teach ‘leadership’ and other s ‘followership’

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bianca steele 03.22.16 at 3:55 pm

Also, the leader of this discussion is, I’m pretty sure, not Rich. It’s John Holbo. A Rich-led or -inspired mutiny would hardly get off the ground, if John felt something else was more in his own interest.

152

Plume 03.22.16 at 3:55 pm

Bianca @148,

I’m talking about a constitution and rules derived from the democratic process. Rules at the local level derived from localities hashing things out and coming up with those laws/rules — and mechanisms to change them, refine, reform them, etc. Participatory democracy, and participatory economics (parecon) — ongoing. And ongoing process.

So, going in, we’re agreeing to a set of rules; they aren’t being thrust on us from outside . . . and no one is bashing us over the head with them from above. We start out with equal value, an equal voice, an equal say. We decide on our own structures, within a framework of human rights/civil rights, to protect minorities, etc.

This can definitely be “criticized and improved.” That’s a given. That’s a part of the ongoing process of participation.

153

Lupita 03.22.16 at 3:57 pm

@Plume

Society is a fiction.

There is no society?

154

engels 03.22.16 at 4:04 pm

Lupita – sorry – that was a quote from Plume. I was pointing you both to a book that argues – crudely – that some schools teacb ‘leadership’ and others ‘followership’. So you could both be right – sort of.

155

Plume 03.22.16 at 4:07 pm

Lupita @153,

A fiction in the sense that Yuval Harari talks about in his history of Homo Sapiens. A good distillation of his theory is in his TED talk.

It just knocked me out the first time I watched it, and encapsulated so many of the things I had been thinking over the years. Pulled that together, etc. That we humans were able to survive and thrive, largely because of our ability to create fictions, and agree to them across geographical and chronological barriers.

Well worth watching.

156

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 4:09 pm

Jake: “Have any of you all read about holacracy? It sounds to me kind of like an attempt at the sort of hierarchy-less organization being described but it’s been hard to grasp exactly what it looks like in reality. It also sounds a little creepy […]”

What, just because it’s a business protocol set up by HolocracyOne, LLC?

If I were writing a Paranoia RPG module then HolocracyOne, LLC would be a perfect organization name. But let’s not shoot fish in a barrel but instead look at what underlies a lot of current capitalist relationships. People have a tendency to, as I’ve written here before, see the appropriation of profits part and not what the worker gets out of it.

Think of a society without a lot of money transactions but with informal, social means of social control. Like, say, some kinds of small towns that have existed. Are those less oppressive? Maybe! Maybe not. A lot of what a worker under capitalism gets under capitalism is a kind of relationship that goes “You take the profits that I generate, you get to give me orders within a certain range of areas, otherwise I don’t have to pretend to be planning this thing and you stay out of my life.” The horror stories that people tell about capitalism are the cases where the unrestrained capitalist takes more and more and the worker has no other life. This pretty much goes by “immiseration” (along with starvation wages) and it’s what the left has depended on in one way or another to motivate people to think that the radical left is a good idea.

But if immiseration — or it’s even newer equivalent, capitalist environmental calamity — isn’t inevitable, then yes, people often prefer a formalized boss-and-worker arrangement to one in which they are “in charge” and have to negotiate everyone else also being in charge, or one in which social sanction in unofficial and very, very heavy.

157

bianca steele 03.22.16 at 4:17 pm

Plume,

Do you have a source for @152? A big problem ISTM is that if rules are perceived as such, following them won’t feel like freedom, and unless rules are perceived as such, they can’t be articulated and thus can’t be criticized.

158

Plume 03.22.16 at 4:20 pm

Rich @156,

“The horror stories that people tell about capitalism are the cases where the unrestrained capitalist takes more and more and the worker has no other life. This pretty much goes by “immiseration” (along with starvation wages) and it’s what the left has depended on in one way or another to motivate people to think that the radical left is a good idea.”

It should be a huge tell that whenever no one is looking, capitalism reverts back to slavery. This is happening around the world today, in 2016. That’s its history and its present. It’s not just a “horror story.” It’s the natural tendency of the capitalist system itself. It’s the first economic system with (Grow or Die) imperialism built in. Without constant vigilance, constant democratic brakes on its power, it will revert back to slavery and it will always seek new territories to conquer.

So the obvious response to that is, Why keep a system that requires endless vigilance and endless democratic checks and balances? . . . and, if one is an anarchist, why would they want an economic system that requires a massive state? Capitalism does. And it also requires massive state coordination with other massive states.

Beyond that:

You have kids. They want you to get a dog for them. Does it make sense for you to get one that you’d have to forever keep on a leash, for fear it might tear your kids apart? Or just find one that is naturally good with kids, lovable, loving, etc. etc. etc. and requires no leash at all?

159

bianca steele 03.22.16 at 4:28 pm

Rich @ 158

I certainly prefer a workplace where the boss limits himself or herself to telling me what to accomplish and lets me do it as I choose–or, frankly, a self-aware micromanager–to one where the boss is obsessed about whether I understand myself to be “in charge” and intervenes constantly to make sure I’m not failing to be independent. Maybe that’s not what you mean?

160

Plume 03.22.16 at 4:28 pm

bianca @157,

Following rules that we create ourselves and agree to . . . yeah, that would be “freedom.” At least in the Kantian sense, and definitely in the Parecon and the participatory democracy sense. Again, this is all about ongoing participation.

I’ve already mentioned sources above, but will repeat them:

William Morris, Elisee Reclus, Peter Kropotkin (especially his Mutual Aid), Richard D. Wolff (especially his work on WSDE), and Gar Alperovitz . . . to name just a few. And I need to add Chomsky here, as someone who has pulled much of this together in his discussions about anarchism.

We’re limited with our ability to link here, so will just pick two:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_economics

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB9rp_SAp2U)

161

Plume 03.22.16 at 4:30 pm

Also, Bianca,

I’m not following you here:

“A big problem ISTM is that if rules are perceived as such, following them won’t feel like freedom, and unless rules are perceived as such, they can’t be articulated and thus can’t be criticized.”

Especially not getting the part I’ve bolded. Can you elaborate?

162

bianca steele 03.22.16 at 4:31 pm

Plume @ 161

I can elaborate but I will not.

163

bianca steele 03.22.16 at 4:33 pm

Plume @ 158

The “grow or die imperative” is hardly characteristic of capitalism alone, and I’m not taking the step of allowing every narcissist to identify himself or herself with The System Itself.

164

Plume 03.22.16 at 4:35 pm

bianca @162,

Um. Okay. So I respond to your criticisms honestly, and answer your request for sources, but you won’t elaborate on your assertion when asked?

There is no hidden agenda on my part, if that’s what you’re worried about. I just want to understand what you’re getting at.

165

Plume 03.22.16 at 4:39 pm

@164,

Actually, no previous economic system had a “Grow or Die” imperative. It’s one of the things that makes capitalism unique. See The Origin of Capitalism, by Ellen Meiksins Wood, for an excellent (perhaps the best, ever) description, examination and explanation of this.

166

Jake 03.22.16 at 4:55 pm

158: the HolacracyOne LLC, their biggest adopting organization having a messianic leader who built a huge compound in Las Vegas, the “all these criticisms come from people who have never seen how it’s supposed to work”, etc.

There’s a definite checks-and-balances thing happening; the New Deal was probably the worst thing that could have happened to Left in America because it undercut the argument for revolution. And the capitalists got much more aggressive in the West once it became clear that the communist nations were rapidly falling behind and no longer a threat.

It’d be nice if people were as afraid environmental catastrophe as they were of immiseration, do you see anything to indicate that they are?

167

Matt 03.22.16 at 5:09 pm

It’d be nice if people were as afraid environmental catastrophe as they were of immiseration, do you see anything to indicate that they are?

Good news, everyone! Environmental catastrophe becomes immiseration if people don’t act preemptively. So one way or another people will become properly afraid. (The bad news: fearful people, though admirably vigorous, may not think clearly about what they should be doing vigorously.)

168

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 5:13 pm

Plume: “So the obvious response to that is, Why keep a system that requires endless vigilance and endless democratic checks and balances?”

Well, generic American political theory is the response to that. Why keep a system that requires endless checks and balances? Because when socialism was tried, it died for lack of those same checks and balances. When left anarchy briefly controlled territory, it was quickly wiped out by more organized foes such as our beloved Marxists. Getting wiped out is a lot worse than having endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances.

If immiseration was really happening everywhere, then left uprisings would be happening everywhere. Workers, you have nothing to lose but your chains, etc. But it isn’t, and they’re not. Thus the turn to predictions of environmental catastrophe due to capitalism, which kind of ignore that there are no non-capitalist industrialized societies doing any better.

This is the point, previously, where you start to think that I’m “supporting capitalism” or something like that. I’m really not. It’s just that these kinds of claims don’t convince because they’re basically not true.

169

Plume 03.22.16 at 5:32 pm

Rich @168,

“Because when socialism was tried, it died for lack of those same checks and balances.”

You know better than this. Socialism obviously hasn’t been tried anywhere on a national level. The Spanish left-anarchists called themselves socialists, and followed in the footsteps of perhaps the most dominant strain of socialism over the last two centuries. It’s been called just plain old socialist, anarchist-socialism, anarchist-communism, etc. etc. William Morris, Elisee Reclus and Peter Kropotkin frequently used all of those terms for the same thing, for example.

And I know we’ve argued about this before, but Marxists didn’t wipe out the Spanish anarchist communities. Franco, with the help of Hitler, did.

“If immiseration was really happening everywhere, then left uprisings would be happening everywhere. Workers, you have nothing to lose but your chains, etc. But it isn’t, and they’re not. Thus the turn to predictions of environmental catastrophe due to capitalism, which kind of ignore that there are no non-capitalist industrialized societies doing any better.”

No one is claiming that immiseration is happening everywhere, and it doesn’t need to be in order to want capitalism toppled for good. If it’s happening somewhere, that’s enough all by itself. Not to mention the fact that the main reason for the absence of left-uprisings now is the relative “success” of past anticapitalist resistance, workers strikes and so on, going back many decades . . . which forced politicians into reforms and those democratic checks and balances. Capitalists resisted all of this to the death, and managed to get our government to crush much of it, violently, through the decades. But, eventually, enough people were persuaded to make the workplace at least livable.

(more on this and your point about environmental catastrophe later.)

170

TM 03.22.16 at 5:45 pm

Lupita: “Another way to look at hierarchy is when a father leaves the house and whispers to his eldest, “Take care of your mother while I’m gone”. Why is this?”

Is this a Trump quote? If not, I’m afraid the sarcasm here is too subtle for me.

Btw Bianca 149, I didn’t feel such a disconnect. The funniness in Dilbert cartoons is quite frequently rooted in reactionary instincts.

171

Layman 03.22.16 at 8:01 pm

“But these things are fictions we invented, not “natural”. Society is a fiction. Hierarchy in human societies is a fiction — and highly arbitrary at that. Again, there is no parallel in nature for what we’ve developed.”

I’m not sure any of these claims are true. Humans are social animals. That doesn’t mean we’re entertaining at parties, it means we bond in social groups. Hierarchy in human societies is just about universal. Even the most peaceful, communal human societies have a hierarchy, social norms, rules of behavior, leadership, etc.

172

Layman 03.22.16 at 8:08 pm

“Why keep a system that requires endless vigilance and endless democratic checks and balances? “

Because there are no human social systems that don’t require endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances? Because it’s human nature that some humans will inevitably try to take advantage of social systems, to their own gain and the loss of others? Because some people will object to obeying the rules, even if the rules were arrived at by democratic processes?

173

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 8:43 pm

Plume: “No one is claiming that immiseration is happening everywhere, and it doesn’t need to be in order to want capitalism toppled for good.”

Well, but I was responding to:

Plume: “It should be a huge tell that whenever no one is looking, capitalism reverts back to slavery. This is happening around the world today, in 2016. That’s its history and its present. It’s not just a “horror story.””

And:

“Not to mention the fact that the main reason for the absence of left-uprisings now is the relative “success” of past anticapitalist resistance, workers strikes and so on, going back many decades […]”

But this is just what pretty much every liberal says — that the success of past anticapitalist resistance is itself a source of checks and balances that keep the capitalist system going. That it is, in essence, self correcting, in that when immiseration starts to happen people rise up, capitalism is checked, then there’s a period of restrained capitalism till people forget why those arrangements were put in place, then immiseration starts to happen etc. and the cycle continues.

It just doesn’t work, in my opinion, as an argument for left anarchy. Anyone can quote “Democracy is the worst political system, except for all the others.” People are used to the idea of needing endless vigilance against the system going wrong, because wholesale experiments have historically gone wrong even faster and their failure modes have not simply returned to status quo.

174

Plume 03.22.16 at 10:24 pm

Rich @173,

There is a huge difference between saying that capitalism reverts to slavery when no one is looking, and that immiseration exists everywhere. It exists whenever and wherever societies lack the legal framework and institutional power to restrain its natural tendency toward naked aggression against workers, consumers and the earth. That is happening today, right now, in places like Foxconn, the Thai fishing industry, in Burma, where hopefully the new government will end this, in Bangladesh, in Malaysia, etc. etc. And it happened in America and the West in general before we restrained it via institutional and democratic checks and balances.

It happened as a part of our own Westward expansion and the genocide of Native Americans. It happened in our colonies, and in the colonies of European “great powers.” Whenever and wherever capitalism was set free to do as it wanted, you got slavery or, at best, slave-like conditions. That is its history and its present. This doesn’t stop until legal force is applied to counter it. Set it “free” and you get slavery and/or slave-like conditions.

175

Plume 03.22.16 at 10:34 pm

And this:

“But this is just what pretty much every liberal says — that the success of past anticapitalist resistance is itself a source of checks and balances that keep the capitalist system going. That it is, in essence, self correcting, in that when immiseration starts to happen people rise up, capitalism is checked, then there’s a period of restrained capitalism till people forget why those arrangements were put in place, then immiseration starts to happen etc. and the cycle continues.”

Actually, I’ve never heard a single liberal saying anything like the above. I’ve never met an anticapitalist liberal, in fact. Being an anticapitalist on the left pretty much flat out guarantees you’ve rejected liberalism, which supports capitalism. But beyond that, it’s simply a fact that socialists, communists, left anarchists and leftists in general resisted capitalism long enough and hard enough to force changes, which “liberals” later made happen in DC and generally took credit for. It’s not at all a claim that things are “self-correcting.” Quite the opposite. I’m saying if we take away that anticapitalist resistance — which was not coming from liberals, moderates or centrists, and certainly not from the right — you have your Darwinian hells. They would still be here with all of us today. The powers that be only moved after major, massive strikes stopped the capitalist show in its tracks — along with other forms of protest. Capitalists weren’t going to change their predatory ways just because a few liberals held up signs.

Read Steve Fraser’s The Age of Acquiescence for an excellent comparison between the anticapitalist resistance of the past, especially in the wake of the first Gilded Age, and the weakened form this took in the wake of the second. A good follow up would be Irving Howe’s “Why has Socialism Failed in America.”

176

Plume 03.22.16 at 10:42 pm

Layman @172,

“Because there are no human social systems that don’t require endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances? Because it’s human nature that some humans will inevitably try to take advantage of social systems, to their own gain and the loss of others? Because some people will object to obeying the rules, even if the rules were arrived at by democratic processes?”

The system we’ve been discussing has democracy built into the economy itself, which is not currently the way things work. In fact, in the modern world, no nation state has ever democratized the economy.

There is also the obvious matter of the inherent danger of what is under vigilant watch. It’s not the same thing to want to make sure your kid doesn’t watch too much Netflix, versus making sure he or she doesn’t jump into a car after getting blind drunk.

What is the nature of the system we’re busy watching? Does it work for all of us, on our behalf, with our say so being an equal and integrated part of the whole, and is the continuation of that one of the reasons why we remain vigilant? Or is it set up to work for only a tiny few, with that tiny few in charge, so that our vigilance is necessary to prevent widespread predatory behavior?

Again, if you have a choice between bringing a killer dog home to your kids, or a lovable, loving, gentle dog, which would you choose? “Vigilance” of what? We have control over the “what” part.

177

Rich Puchalsky 03.22.16 at 10:58 pm

Plume: “And it happened in America and the West in general before we restrained it via institutional and democratic checks and balances.”

That would be a perfect argument for liberalism if you were arguing for liberalism, but you’re not. It would be “Problem solved: other areas are unfortunately further behind in the historical progression.” Or, if not problem solved, problem is cyclic and hey that’s better than the leap into the unknown for anyone with a reasonable degree of risk aversion. That’s basically what people here are saying, and agreeing with their basic assumptions isn’t really disagreement. No one but the Bretts really is into “capitalism is inherently good”, and even then you can hear this same belief system underneath.

As for what Lupita is writing, I don’t think that we need to get bogged down in discussions of whether something is really inherent human nature or not in order to observe that our societies pretty much currently work a certain way. One of the many lessons of Occupy was how difficult it was to escape leadership and how theoretically leaderless meetings so often turned into clashes between aspiring leaders. This was often put down to a failure of facilitation, trained or otherwise, but frankly I’ve never met a facilitator who could adequately handle this kind of thing without sekretly drawing on a whole lot of leader-like qualities and maneuvers.

178

engels 03.22.16 at 11:37 pm

One of the many lessons of Occupy was how difficult it was to escape leadership

Fine, but they – naturally and rightly – assumed it was a worthwhile goal, unlike 9/10 CT comments section “radicals”. It might be worth reflecting on that

179

Brett Dunbar 03.23.16 at 12:46 am

My basic position is that capitalism is the economic system most strongly associated with democracy and personal freedom. Capitalism basically requires a state that largely leaves the market to self-organise. The democratic state tends to foster the neutral low corruption environment in which capitalism thrives. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that capitalism and democracy evolved in the same places they seem to support each other.

If, as Plume claims capitalism were actually anti democratic you might see things like open vote selling. If the franchise, rather than an inalienable individual right, were a piece of property that could be sold. Then the rich could simply buy a few million votes and control elections. What has actually happened is that elections have become more democratic not less democratic.

180

Layman 03.23.16 at 12:49 am

Plume @ 176, this entire ‘response’ is non-responsive to my point. All of human history tells us that we must be vigilant and build social systems with democratic checks and balances. Otherwise, some people will ultimately use the social system to take advantage of the others. So, ‘that system requires vigilance and democratic checks and balances’ is not a useful criticism of a social system.

181

Layman 03.23.16 at 12:53 am

“My basic position is that capitalism is the economic system most strongly associated with democracy and personal freedom. Capitalism basically requires a state that largely leaves the market to self-organise.”

This could be because you define ‘democracy and personal freedom’ in such a way that self-organizing markets are essential to the definition; in which case it’s just a tautology. You’re a lottery winner. Imagine life from the other side, and ask yourself what democracy and personal freedom mean. I doubt many people would say ‘self-organizing markets!’

182

Plume 03.23.16 at 1:17 am

Rich @177,

Not “problem solved” at all, and I’m really not sure where you’re getting that. Not from what I’ve written, certainly. And I’m not coming close to making a “liberal” critique here — which I reject.

A legal framework to avert (temporarily, perhaps) a return to slavery here doesn’t solve the ongoing slavery that capitalism creates elsewhere. And America is the chief exporter, protector, defender and source of bailouts for global capitalism. So while we may have solved certain issues here, for our population — like the prevention of capitalism as slavery — that by no means comes close to solving a host of other problem even here, much less where capitalism as slavery is being maintained to this day.

For instance, capitalism here, even in the absence of actual slavery, is still highly autocratic, highly anti-democratic. It still reproduces endless hierarchies of power, privilege and wealth. While we don’t have capitalism as actual slavery, we do have capitalism as creator and distributor of obscene inequality, as exemplified by the fact that the richest 20 Americans now hold as much wealth as the bottom half of the nation combined. The richest 0.1% holds as much as the bottom 90%, etc.

In no way can anyone claim “problem solved” when inequality like that exists and is endlessly reproduced.

183

Plume 03.23.16 at 1:30 am

Layman @180,

We went through something similar in the other thread. I actually did respond to your point directly, and in detail, and via analogy. You didn’t like my response to your point so you claim I did not respond at all . . . while, ironically, failing to deal with my response at all. You simply dismissed it entirely and repeated your own point again.

Let’s not go through this again, okay?

That point is that if the economic system itself is democratic, functions democratically, is self-governed via democracy throughout, we don’t have the need to create democratic checks and balances on it from the outside. It has those baked in. It’s already democratic and operates through democratic processes.

Capitalism is anti-democratic and autocratic. It does not have democracy baked in. In fact, it has anti-democracy baked in. This is why it requires that endless vigilance and those external democratic checks and balances, because it’s dictatorial in nature, top down, autocratic — and no other kind of set up is so naturally inclined toward oppression and abuse. If we choose (instead) a completely different economic system, one that is itself democratic — for the first time in modern history — those external democratic checks aren’t necessary, nor is the same kind of eternal vigilance.

Other than, as mentioned, the vigilance needed to make sure it remains democratic, with equal say, equal value, equal voices for all, in accord with human and civil rights.

Again, why choose to bring home a killer dog to your kids when you can find a naturally lovable, loving, peaceful dog instead?

184

Rich Puchalsky 03.23.16 at 1:37 am

“Not “problem solved” at all, and I’m really not sure where you’re getting that. “

It’s how statements like “And it happened in America and the West in general before we restrained it via institutional and democratic checks and balances.” are read. That statement pretty much sounds like: first something happened, then we restrained it. In other words, problem solved.

I was a left-liberal for a long time, and I basically didn’t know any liberals who thought unrestrained capitalism would lead to good results. On the contrary, U.S. left-liberals generally like labor unions, democracy, a nonprofit advocacy sector, health, safety, workplace and financial regulation, anti-trust laws, breaking up “too big to fail” banks, and so on. Left-liberals generally have a version of the U.S. domestic century that goes pretty much like Jake mentioned above: unrestrained capitalism leads to a strong left which leads to the New Deal which restrains capitalism and that more or less works economically until people forget why we needed the New Deal and the cycle starts over.

Even Brett will go on about democracy and low corruption. Pretty much no one believes in unrestrained capitalism except a few people who are paid to say they believe in it to shift the Overton Window. So pretty much everyone has come to terms with the necessity for restraining it. Saying that we need to continually restrain it or it will do bad things generally leads to a big shrug.

185

Layman 03.23.16 at 1:37 am

“I actually did respond to your point directly, and in detail, and via analogy. “

Stop using analogy and be more clear. Point to evidence that human societies can exist without the danger of some people oppressing others, or describe what mechanisms aside from ‘democratic checks and balances’ will serve to guard against that danger.

186

Plume 03.23.16 at 1:55 am

Rich @184,

You must have skipped everything before and after that sentence, because it was all in reference to capitalism reverting to slavery. Which I reiterated in 182. It sounds like you skipped that post, too.

The prevention of capitalism reverting to slavery here is a far cry from the “liberal” critique of unrestrained capitalism and its effects being tempered via the New Deal, etc. It’s really not on the same map. I don’t think any “liberal” views capitalism in that way, as naturally tending toward slavery when no one’s looking.

Again, not sure where you’re getting any of this from, other than from the absence of reading.

187

Plume 03.23.16 at 2:10 am

Layman 185,

“Stop using analogy and be more clear. Point to evidence that human societies can exist without the danger of some people oppressing others, or describe what mechanisms aside from ‘democratic checks and balances’ will serve to guard against that danger.”‘

You’re doing it again, Layman. Setting up straw men. I never even remotely suggested that we can “exist without the danger of some people oppressing others.” I’m talking about setting up a much better system that will radically minimize this threat in comparison with the current system. As in, much better, not perfect. Far more logical, rational, moral and humane. Not perfect.

And I already explained why, three times now, that when the economic system itself is democratic — for the first time in modern history — we won’t need those external democratic checks and balances. They’ll be baked in for the first time in modern history. When the economic system is no longer autocratic, anti-democratic, top down, dictatorial, the urgency and severity of the need for vigilance plummets. It doesn’t go away. But it plummets.

Think logically, Layman. If you admit that democratic checks and balances are needed when it comes to capitalism, you are admitting that they don’t exist in the economic system itself. Right? They’re built in with the alternative, so why would we still need them? They’re necessary now in the ABSENCE of democracy in our economy. If the economy itself is democratic, why would we still need external democratic checks and balances? Unless you’re agreeing with me without realizing it. Because I’ve said this society would also have a constitution and a legal framework in place.

I’ve now responded three or four times, in detail, to your points. Unlike you, I’ve acknowledged them. So far, you’ve ignored those responses (and my points) and created straw men instead. If you don’t want an actual dialogue in which you acknowledge my responses, let’s just drop this here, okay?

188

Layman 03.23.16 at 2:32 am

“I never even remotely suggested that we can “exist without the danger of some people oppressing others.” I’m talking about setting up a much better system that will radically minimize this threat in comparison with the current system.”

I think you did remotely suggest that, but never mind. I get now that you want to scrap this system because it needs ‘endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances’, in order to replace it with another system which requires somewhat less ‘endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances’. And something about dogs.

189

Plume 03.23.16 at 2:55 am

Layman @188,

No. I didn’t even remotely suggest such a thing. You’d be able to find a good quote from me if I had, since you seem bound and determined to defend the status quo against all alternatives. But, of course, you’d rather just make shit up than find the relevant statement.

As for this:

“I get now that you want to scrap this system because it needs ‘endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances’, in order to replace it with another system which requires somewhat less ‘endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances’. And something about dogs.”

You don’t get anything at all, because you obviously skim my posts instead of actually trying to read them. You skim and pounce, invent nonsense I never said, create silly straw men to knock down, rinse and repeat. If you really think that the only reason I believe capitalism must die is because it needs endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances — which it does — then, again, you can’t have read more than every fourth or fifth word. And for the hundredth time, no, the alternative wouldn’t need “endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances” because the economy itself already would be democratic.

Do I need to say this again?

190

extexan 03.23.16 at 3:32 am

Plume @ 186

“I don’t think any “liberal” views capitalism in that way, as naturally tending toward slavery when no one’s looking.”

I do. And I know a lot of other liberals who feel the same way. Even more so, my boyfriend is a libertarian, and if pressed, he’ll admit that unregulated capitalism is a nightmare.

191

Jake 03.23.16 at 3:41 am

Plume, do you find it strange how everyone who has responded to you on this thread somehow completely missed your point? Have you ever heard this saying before?

192

Plume 03.23.16 at 3:55 am

Extexan @190,

Does he think unregulated capitalism will revert to slavery? I do. I see it as always doing this, if no one is looking, historically.

Does he think capitalism — regulated or not — should be abolished and replaced with a fully democratic economic system? Again, I do.

When I say “anticapitalist,” I mean someone who is against capitalism, period, in any form, regulated, Golden Age of Keynes, whatever . . . and does not think it’s worth saving or reforming. He or she just wants it absolutely gone and replaced with an alternative. I’ve never met a liberal with those views. I’ve never met a liberal who didn’t believe capitalism could be reformed enough to “work for everyone” and was worth saving.

An anticapitalist, OTOH, is waaay beyond all of that, and likely passed through that reformist stage long ago to get there. For those of us who are anticapitalists — been there, done that. We see it as far too destructive — regulated or not — and ecologically unsustainable to bother with at all. Its shelf life is long past the curdled date. Time for a brand new paradigm.

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Plume 03.23.16 at 4:04 am

Jake @191,

Well, that would be all of maybe two or three (completely anonymous) people, give or take, whom I will never meet. Now if that’s enough for you to make life-changing decisions and alter your behavior, go for it. It’s not enough for me.

Beyond that, two things:

Your link doesn’t work
Please don’t respond to my posts. As mentioned on the other thread, I have no desire to converse with you about anything.

194

Jake 03.23.16 at 4:09 am

Fixed link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LG4hOjJ9tEs

If you want control over who responds to your comments you might want to consider starting your own blog.

195

Plume 03.23.16 at 4:13 am

Jake @194,

If you want some help for that stalkertypical personality of yours, please use da google.

196

Jake 03.23.16 at 4:15 am

Plume, I’ve read and commented Crooked Timber for years. When you make half of the comments on the blog, why should I not respond to them?

197

extexan 03.23.16 at 4:20 am

Hmmm… not sure I follow you, Plume.

Rich@184 said:

U.S. left-liberals generally like labor unions, democracy, a nonprofit advocacy sector, health, safety, workplace and financial regulation, anti-trust laws, breaking up “too big to fail” banks, and so on. Left-liberals generally have a version of the U.S. domestic century that goes pretty much like Jake mentioned above: unrestrained capitalism leads to a strong left which leads to the New Deal which restrains capitalism and that more or less works economically until people forget why we needed the New Deal and the cycle starts over.

@186, it seemed as though you were disagreeing, saying that no liberal every held those views. Prolly I misunderstood there.

Backing up a bit, though, as a liberal, I view capitalism as a system that works well enough for most people most of the time, given the corrections afforded by a democratic system. The corrections aren’t instant, and “well enough for most people most of the time” leaves a lot of room for unhappiness, misery, and exploitation. I think we’ll continue to improve the system; though, it’s always going to be a struggle.

You offer a beautiful vision a commonwealth, democratic and egalitarian. But I just don’t believe it’s possible. To get from here to there will require violence and a lot of it. Too many of us have too much invested in the current system, for all its flaws, to toss it aside for a dream of what may be. And I’ve never seen nor heard of a revolution that complete and all encompassing that didn’t go off the rails in some deep way. Usually going off the rails leads to mass death, most especially among the poor and disempowered – the very people the revolution was supposed to benefit.

Perhaps you envision a different path, one that doesn’t include violence? If so, then how do you overcome the tremendous resources that are invested in the current system? Because it’s not just the 0.1% who have a lot invested. It’s basically every Republican and a solid half of the Democratic party.

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Brett Dunbar 03.23.16 at 8:34 am

I’m not supporting capitalism as I’m a winner. I’m not. I’m autistic and apparently unemployable. However as an economic system it is so much more productive than any alternative that as a long term unemployed person I’m still richer than much of the world population. As I depend on the state I’m rather understandably hostile to the whole concept of a stateless society.

Slavery and capitalism do not go well together. Forced labour violates one of the essential requirements of a labour market, that the employee be free to accept or reject an offer. If you have forced labour then the market is unable to operate to raise wages in growing areas of the economy suffering a labour shortage and thereby move employment to more productive areas.

Forced labour was commonplace in pre-capitalist economies and caused a severe inflexibility that was a major obstacle to industrialisation in, for example, Tsarist Russia. The serfs couldn’t move to the cities so the available labour force was limited to the free peasants so wages in industry were higher making Russia a less attractive place to establish industry. Command economies have similar problems with re-distribution of labour to the most productive areas the bureaucratic process is slow and inflexible. In a market individuals re-distribute their labour to where it attracts the best pay; which is where there is the greatest scarcity of labour.

I do not think that it is a coincidence that capitalism developed first in Britain where there had already been a substantially free market in labour for centuries.

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engels 03.23.16 at 8:48 am

“I was a left-liberal for a long time”

99% of the time it comes across like you still are (nb. not meant as an insult)

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Anarcissie 03.23.16 at 3:09 pm

Brett Dunbar 03.23.16 at 12:46 am @ 179, 198 —
But class kills. And you can’t have capitalism without classes.

One might say that liberalism and capitalism were once on the Left (that is, more favorable to freedom and equality than their opponents and competitors). But that was a long time ago, before they achieved world domination, became that for which there was no respectable alternative, and set about destroying the habitable portions of the planet. Libcap won, and victory is death.

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Layman 03.23.16 at 3:29 pm

“And for the hundredth time, no, the alternative wouldn’t need “endless vigilance and democratic checks and balances” because the economy itself already would be democratic.”

What’s the difference between saying a system has ‘democratic checks and balances’ and saying it ‘is democratic’?

202

Layman 03.23.16 at 3:32 pm

“that as a long term unemployed person I’m still richer than much of the world population.”

This is what I meant when I said you were a lottery winner. You were born in the right place, so of course the free market capitalist system looks best to you.

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Lupita 03.23.16 at 3:48 pm

“that as a long term unemployed person I’m still richer than much of the world population.”

Lucky you. You have all these semi-literate 3rd world peasants – including pregnant women, children, disabled, elderly – toiling in misery to keep the 1st world’s welfare programs and pensions in place. Socialism for the rich does not only refer to bankers, Western populations also get their share of the loot as payback for pretending Empire doesn’t exist and mumbling platitudes about exceptionalism, freedom, and cities on hills.

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geo 03.23.16 at 3:55 pm

Brett @198: one of the essential requirements of a labour market [is] that the employee be free to accept or reject an offer

A full employment policy and a strong social safety net would greatly increase an employee’s freedom to accept or reject an offer. And yet contemporary American conservatives are fanatically opposed to them.

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Plume 03.23.16 at 3:56 pm

Layman @201,

“What’s the difference between saying a system has ‘democratic checks and balances’ and saying it ‘is democratic’?”

The capitalist system, as mentioned, is autocratic, top down, dictatorial. You have bosses. They decide how things are done. If you want to keep your jobs, you obey them. The legal construct in place — which is brand new with the capitalist system — is that direct producers do not own their own production. The capitalist does. It is his or hers from the get go. The structure of individual capitalist businesses is anti-democratic, as is the cumulative total of those businesses. In America and in the other so-called “liberal democracies,” representational democracy exists outside the economic sphere, not inside it. Workers do not have an equal say, an equal voice, an equal power dynamic with ownership, or even management. They must do as they are told, or they don’t keep their jobs for long.

The boss in a capitalist business makes decisions as autocrat. He or she does not help make decisions as one equal voice among many.

Through the decades, we’ve developed some democratic checks and balances on these autocratic powers from the outside, via our political system — after tremendous (and ongoing) struggle which was/is often bloody. But none of them has altered the anti-democratic structure of the economy itself. That has remained unchanged. We still have top down, autocratic bosses making decisions as they see fit. Yes, we’ve added some political, external checks on an anti-democratic system, but without changing the fundamental nature of the anti-democratic economy. The system itself is not democratic, and is not itself made more democratic via those checks and balances. The overall effects are marginally less autocratic, because of those externals.

The revolutionary change I’m talking about is to instead have the economic system itself be fully democratic, within. That it would function democratically, from the ground up. That workers would self-govern and self-manage the workplace. That there would be no bosses, no autocracy, no autocrats, no decisions made by bosses. There would be no bosses. That everyone in the workplace would have equal say, equal voice, equal value in all decisions made. And each of these businesses would be federated within a community, and each community would be federated across the nation — all under the umbrella of democracy — direct, and participatory.

The means of production would be owned by the public, for the public — not by “the state” or any private actors. There would be no private ownership of the means of production, and we would no longer have any employer/employee relationships. Everyone would be co-owner. No more bosses. No more underlings. The economy itself, for the first time in modern history, anywhere on a national level, would be democratic.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.23.16 at 4:04 pm

Plume, I’m not trying to describe what you believe. I’m trying to describe how I think most liberals interpret your argument. From grade school on, American political theory is all about checks and balances and the need for eternal vigilance because people basically aren’t trustworthy. And so no argument that goes “but if we don’t get rid of X we’ll need eternal vigilance” is really going to have any force.

engels, I see that you’re continuing the Marxist role of classifying everyone’s tendency in terms of Marxist ideas. It’s good to see that the last function of traditional Marxism remains in place even as any other function that you might have had has long since been lost.

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Plume 03.23.16 at 4:07 pm

Rich @206,

Thanks for the clarification. That makes a great deal of sense.

208

Layman 03.23.16 at 4:09 pm

@ Plume, there is a demand for paper in Plumistan, so that more people can pen screeds to the glory of The Revolution. Describe how the democratic system meets this demand. Start from the beginning, e.g. there is no paper factory, and no one owns the land or the trees, and no one has wealth.

209

Anarcissie 03.23.16 at 4:18 pm

Plume 03.23.16 at 3:56 pm @ 205 —
Well, you would still have the Leader Problem.

210

geo 03.23.16 at 4:21 pm

Brett @198: I’m autistic and apparently unemployable.

I hope you won’t mind my saying so, but for a (self-described) autistic person, you are wonderfully, astonishingly articulate and thoughtful. This comment may, of course, simply reflect my ignorance about the capabilities of autistic persons. But your example gives me hope for a couple of young persons I know who are on the spectrum.

211

Plume 03.23.16 at 4:23 pm

Layman @208,

Be honest. You don’t care at all what I have to say, and you have no real interest in trying to understand potential alternatives to capitalism. You’ve already made up your mind that they can’t work, evah, right? So why should I bother going through this nonsense with you again? You haven’t even acknowledged my points from #205, much less anywhere else, and we both know you won’t bother to.

It’s pretty obvious that your main interest here is to mock and belittle alternatives and perhaps refine your snark game a bit. That seems all too clear from your demands in #208.

In short, let me know when you’re seriously interested and open to new ideas. Until then, why don’t we just call it a day?

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Rich Puchalsky 03.23.16 at 4:34 pm

Oh, stop baiting, Layman.

I’ll take the opportunity of this Temporary Autonomous Zone to say, again, that democratic checks and balances really kind of suck. And I don’t think that they would any less under some kind of economic democracy. Democracy is a way of reconciling many different people’s desires, interests, policy programs — however you like to describe it — but it’s really not a very good one. It involves first the designation of a group of people to make the decision, usually vastly oversizing but sometimes undersizing the group involved. Then there’s some kind of discussion, actual or implicit, and people become attached to one of a few possibilities that are pushed by interests with the resources to propagandize them. And then they vote, and at least 50% of the people are mildly pleased, and some number under 50% are screwed.

And all of the restraints on democracy — supermajorities, rules on what you can and can’t do, constitutions or systems of rights — must themselves be created by democracy. And there’s no magical end run around them. If people no longer believe, the rules lose force. If they don’t agree in the first place, they never make the rules in the first place.

If people don’t have the ability to make themselves be considered as having a claim on society, they starve, as Amartya Sen points out. So democracy has been assigned this role. If you have a vote, you supposedly matter. But this is the most nominal, theoretical version of actually mattering that’s it’s possible to invent.

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Niall McAuley 03.23.16 at 4:42 pm

Plume writes: So why should I bother going through this nonsense with you again?

Please, do feel free to stop.

214

extexan 03.23.16 at 4:48 pm

Brett @ 198

I don’t think there’s anything inherent to capitalism that is opposed to slavery. Currently, labor is bought and sold in what is basically a spot market. There’s no economic reason, though, why we couldn’t buy and sell binding future labor contracts, which would be indistinguishable from debt bondage. And even more directly, there’s no economic reason people shouldn’t be able to buy and sell themselves. And once you allow buying and selling, there’s no reason not to create trading markets, create corporations to buy, hold, improve, and sell, securitize ownership instruments, trade derivatives, use as collateral, and so own. It’s a horrible distopian future, but there’s nothing is capitalism that’s opposed to it. It’s what we do with farm animals and cars.

Of course, we choose to prohibit this because of human right and ethics — and because it would lead to uprisings and revolutions.

215

Brett Dunbar 03.23.16 at 6:32 pm

Lupita @ 203

Our wealth doesn’t come form the poverty of others, the poor countries are virtually irrelevant to us economically. They make very little we want, we make very little we can afford. We trade much more with rich and middle income countries, the poor countries we trade with become richer. For example China is now solidly middle income.

From a position of near equality in 1973 South Korea now has a per capita GDP pretty much the same as the UK. Roughly fifty times that of North Korea. North Korea has virtually isolated itself from world trade while South Korea engaged enthusiastically in trade.

extexen @ 214

The thing is if you have forced labour then you lose a lot of flexibility the labour market either functions poorly or fails to function at all so the allocation of labour is inefficient and inflexible. Forced labour is inefficient the worker having no real incentive than to do more than the absolute minimum they can get away with. Indeed there is an incentive to seem as incapable as possible; as you then get lower expectations of what you can do. While free labour has an incentive to acquire marketable skills to improve their desirability to an employer.

That is quite apart from the fact that slave trading intimately involves war and kidnapping which means that peaceful trade is largely impossible as the people you want to trade with do not trust you. War is bad for business. It is hard to sell things to people who are trying to kill you.

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Layman 03.23.16 at 7:44 pm

Plume @ 211: ” It’s pretty obvious that your main interest here is to mock and belittle alternatives and perhaps refine your snark game a bit.”

Actually, my main interest here is learning, and your posts get in the way of that. By responding I’m trying to help you understand that you can’t actually articulate your vision or describe a way to achieve it, in the hopes that you’ll think about it more and post about it less. I admit the snark, which emerges in response to things like analogizing the choosing of a social and economic system by comparing it to choosing a pet for one’s kids, which is a thoroughly asinine analogy. But I apologize for it, and will try to avoid it in the future.

If you can provide a clear answer to the questions I asked in 208, without nonsense about pets, I’m happy to read those answers. If you can’t, please consider the possibility that you don’t actually have the answer; and the possibility that when people react to you as if you don’t have the answer, as if you can’t explain what it is you think you have, as if you go on at length about it without actually answering any of the obvious questions about it, they’re right to do so.

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Lupita 03.23.16 at 7:57 pm

@Brett Dunbar

Our wealth doesn’t come form the poverty of others, the poor countries are virtually irrelevant to us economically.

Capital flows from poor to rich countries, as has been noted by the World Bank, the IMF, and many economists. Did you think that Empire was not profitable? Last year, for example, developed countries received $615 billion from the developing. Call it tribute.

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Plume 03.23.16 at 8:07 pm

Layman @216,

I’ve already articulated my vision with more than enough clarity for any reasonably intelligent person to understand. It’s more than apparent that you’re just too stupid to ever grasp any of this, and none of it is complicated. And, please. There aren’t enough LOLs in the world to come close to expressing the laughter that welled up inside me when I read this:

“By responding I’m trying to help you understand that you can’t actually articulate your vision or describe a way to achieve it, in the hopes that you’ll think about it more and post about it less.”

Aside from the obvious lie, that you would try to “help” anyone discuss alternatives to capitalism here, it’s also patently absurd to suggest that by asking me more and more questions, this would convince me to post less often. It’s similar to the ridiculous logic on display when people complain about someone posting too much, and do so with insults and obvious provocations for further back and forths.

Let’s just be honest with each other. I think you’re a know-nothing asshole. You obviously don’t like me either. So why don’t we just avoid each other completely from now on? But whether you agree to this or not, I won’t be reading your posts in the future, including your response to this one.

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Collin Street 03.23.16 at 8:20 pm

I’ve already articulated my vision with more than enough clarity for any reasonably intelligent person to understand.

OK! We can test this. Name a couple of people here who you believe to be reasonably intelligent, and we’ll ask them if they understand your vision.

220

Jake 03.23.16 at 9:28 pm

Layman, the pet analogy makes much more sense when you realize that the “loving, peaceful dog” he’s offering is actually a hibernating grizzly bear.

Yes, the dog barks when you get close and the bear just lies there. Yes, no children have ever been killed by their family’s pet grizzly bear. Yes, teddy bears are technically bears and children do love teddy bears. Yes, the bear exhibit at the zoo is very popular. No, this does not mean that replacing your family’s dog with a grizzly bear is a good idea.

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Brett Dunbar 03.23.16 at 9:39 pm

The Empire wasn’t profitable. The African colonies were a money sink, it cost far more to acquire and administer them than they ever paid in taxes. Their domestic taxes didn’t cover the domestic outlay. There is a reason for de-colonalisation they were a cost and would remain so for the foreseeable future.

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Layman 03.23.16 at 9:45 pm

@ Jake

No, it’s a useless analogy because they are not similar choices. ‘Choosing’ the organizing principle of human society is not like choosing pets.

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Layman 03.23.16 at 9:49 pm

@ Brett Dunbar, I think it would help to ask ‘for whom?’ when you say the Empire wasn’t profitable. The Empire didn’t exist to produce tax revenues, it existed to produce profits for capitalists. I imagine they did (and do) quite well.

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Brett Dunbar 03.23.16 at 10:30 pm

It didn’t exist for any commercial reason, the reasons were nationalistic and political. The costs vastly exceeded the benefits. Some businesses made money but the costs in taxes to others was greater.

While the colonies acquired Britain’s well developed commercial law and became far more accessible to investment that wasn’t enough to justify acquiring colonies. More businesses lost money due to increases in tax to pay for for the colonies than benefited from them. The Empire was acquired for nationalistic and emotional purposes, it looked pretty impressive on the map. Some territories e.g. Zanzibar were acquired as a direct consequence of suppressing slavery.

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Lupita 03.23.16 at 11:06 pm

@ Brett Dunbar

By “Empire”, I am referring to the current neoliberal global order. As I type, 2016, money is flowing from poor countries to rich. Developing countries are net exporters of capital.

226

bruce wilder 03.23.16 at 11:15 pm

There were also struggles within Britain (and within in other colonial powers) over what it took to extract a profit and over the value, if any, of pride of ownership (so to speak).

The idea that the colonies cost more than they were worth was the embodiment of a political compromise of sorts, a way to rationalize the policy of withdrawal, a policy that was the culmination of a long struggle over colonial policy between those who found the colonies very profitable business indeed, and those who could not stomach the methods and means that made colonies sources of great wealth. For Britain, the Commonwealth was a way to reconcile the pride of empire — a powerful political force — with the new reality.

Historically, though, the Empire was a source of enormous wealth, especially for the British landed aristocracy and landed gentry. Driving slaves on sugar islands and stealing treasure from India, along with commercial colonial trade, the terms of which were deliberately slanted, were important sources of wealth. A distinct segment of the British aristocracy and gentry formed the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland and drew their sustenance from starving and draining that benighted isle. They weren’t very nice to the Highlanders of Scotland either, as sentimental as a later generation became about tartans and romantic stories. For generations, especially the second and third sons made careers in the Navy or Army or colonial civil service (and before that in the East India Company). Warren Hastings’ Empire was no financial sink. Cecil Rhodes’ empire was no financial sink.

The English would rather hear that the colonies were unprofitable and that they were self-sacrificially giving the world the benefit of English law and probity than that their looting of impoverished peoples destroyed the possibility of competent institutions. They don’t want to think their selfishness caused famine.

To their credit, authoritarian colonial policy was at least somewhat controversial in England — rumors of the worst abuses in Jamaica or Calcutta, China or Sudan could get some feeble response back home. The British opposed slavery (though with more hypocrisy than is commonly admitted). Gladstone pressed Home Rule for Ireland. The American Revolution would not have succeeded without the sympathy of prominent Whigs and many common people. But, the National Liberals repaired the electoral deficits of reactionary Tory governments, fighting colonial independence from Ireland to India.

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Peter T 03.23.16 at 11:35 pm

What Bruce said. But the empire (British or French or Spanish) was not all one thing. See, eg, John Darwin’s The Empire Project. Ireland absorbed English settlers (at the cost of the Irish) and paid large sums in rents, the West Indies generated enormous amounts of money from sugar (and slaves), Australia and Canada absorbed large numbers of lower-class people, so relieving the strains of industrialisation. India was complicated (it was basically a joint project involving many Indians and a small number of British) and so on.

The bits remaining after India left were unprofitable because they were the marginal areas and because Britain invested heavily in administration and development in an effort to turn them into something resembling the bits they had lost. But the balance sheet of the 50s and 60s should not be confused with that of earlier centuries. And note that when it became clear that the investment would never pay dividends, Britain got rid of them as soon as it could.

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Anarcissie 03.24.16 at 1:40 am

While I have no doubt that modern empires extracted a great deal of wealth from their colonies (or destroyed it) I can’t think of one that did not bankrupt its central state, except for one that is still working on its bankruptcy. (I include total military defeat and satellitization as kinds of bankruptcy.) So I take it empire is a bad business, yet the power-hungry who congregate in governments are drawn to it like moths to the flame.

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Peter T 03.24.16 at 2:06 am

Anarcissie

History is not, alas, so neat. One might note that “Great Britain” started out as the Mercian Empire, which was taken over by the Wessex Empire, which was taken over by the Danish Empire, taken back, taken over again by the Norman Empire….

Or that the 13 colonies did not include California.

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bruce wilder 03.24.16 at 2:19 am

Anarcissie @ 228

Empires have life cycles. If you are going to have a life, the cycle comes with it. You’re not going to last, either.

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Igor Belanov 03.24.16 at 12:40 pm

What you also have to remember is that what is considered to be the ‘height’ of imperialism, from circa 1880 to 1960, is largely because it was forced into a ‘formal’ status by great power conflict and the need to achieve security by effectively delineating territories. This explains the partition of Africa, for example, and the ‘colouring in’ of vast areas of the global map. It also explains why imperialism took place in areas such as South America but did not lead to formal annexation of territory. British influence was massive in Argentina, but potential military tensions were less likely so the added cost of maintaining garrisons and administrations was avoided.

The 1880-1960 era was actually quite unusual. During the epoch of capitalism imperialism has been much more likely to take an ‘informal’ approach, with economic exploitation backed by strategic military bases and ad-hoc shows of force. The East India Company was the effective government of British India until 1857, and many princes maintained their kingdoms under the ‘benevolent’ auspices of Empress Victoria.

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Brett Dunbar 03.24.16 at 1:48 pm

The East India Company acquired control of India due to having the most effective army there when the Mogul state collapsed in the early eighteenth century. The company also had the advantage that unlike the earlier empires it didn’t have repeated civil wars with almost every succession.

The imperial regimes tended to be more stable and better governed than what they had replaced. Chronic warfare destroys wealth and the legal and economic structure of primitive tribal regimes hinders wealth creation.

One state actually went bankrupt due to its colonial ambitions, namely Egypt.

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Anarcissie 03.24.16 at 2:30 pm

Of course, I oversimplify. Also, I was referring only to modern empires. Rome was evidently able to steal enough from its provinces to keep going for a long time — more than 2200 years counting ‘ab urbe condita’ to the fall of Byzantium. In the recent world, advancing technology (especially in small arms and communications) has made old-time modes of imperial domination increasingly expensive, and bankruptcy or hostile takeovers increasingly rapid.

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