Iron Law of Bureaucracy?

Here is Jerry Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

“In any bureaucracy, the people devoted to the benefit of the bureaucracy itself always get in control, and those dedicated to the goals the bureaucracy is supposed to accomplish have less and less influence, and sometimes are eliminated entirely…. In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.”

I appreciate that he used a real world example. That means his hypothesis is potentially falsifiable. We just have to find an example to weaken his claim. And we do have such examples. The Finnish school systems are among the best in the world. Finnish teachers are trained at the best universities. Once they take up a teaching position, they are given great authority and control of their classrooms. They are highly respected and well compensated. And last but not least, they are members of a powerful teachers union.

Interestingly, Doug Schoen (conservative Democrat and Fox News contributor) pointed out that the Finnish education system reminded him of the US education system from earlier last century. It was a time when Americans had one of the best public education systems in the world. And it was a time when union membership was high and union leadership was powerful. How has a half century of attacking unions improved anything? For damn sure, bureaucracy has grown even larger as organized labor has shrunk.

It’s also important to clarify the point that the least bureaucratic (and more democratic) forms of labor organizing were the most viciously attacked and most thoroughly eliminated. Only more bureaucratic forms of labor organizing were able to survive the onslaught of the powerfully entrenched bureaucracy of corporatism with its alliance of government, corporations, lobbyists, think tanks, and big biz media.

That doesn’t necessarily disprove this law of bureaucracy. But it does prove that some of the evidence he uses doesn’t support his argument. And that makes one doubt that, as presented, it is an Iron Law. No organization, not even a union, is inevitably bureaucratic. Nor is there always (maybe not even usually) a distinction between those dedicated to the goals of the organization and those dedicated to the organization itself. It depends on what kind of organization, such as whether it is authoritarian and hierarchical or democratic and egalitarian.

This law leaves out many details. It’s a generalization that, however applicable in some cases, has many exceptions. More problematic is its fatalism, in that the bureaucrats can be nothing but bad and they will always win. Still, its a useful generalization for those of us living within the United States, the largest and most powerful bureaucratic system in world history.

* * *

Refuting the “iron law of bureaucracy”
by CronoDAS

Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy
by Phil Ebersole

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Union Membership, Free Labor, and the Legacy of Slavery.

I was just looking at an NPR piece on 50 Years Of Shrinking Union Membership, In One Map. It reminds me of a number of things.

I’ve made some correlations previously by looking at various mapped data. Where union membership has been historically strong and remained the strongest are where there has been high concentration of certain ancestral ethnicities. Two I’ve noted are German and Irish, which I relates to their higher rates of Catholicism and the attendant more community-oriented worldview.

I’ve often thought much about the Scots-Irish. Their influence can seem immense for various reasons, but it is hard to pinpoint what exactly is that influence. Some of the most violent organized labor strikes have been in Appalachia, the American cultural homeland of those with Scots-Irish ancestry. There is a militant fierceness to Scots-Irish culture of honor that can apply just as equally to vigilantism, family feuds, military enlistment, and labor activism.

It’s easy to forget, though, that those of Scots-Irish ancestry didn’t only settle in and become concentrated in Appalachia. All across the country, there is much overlap between their concentration and higher union membership rates.

This brings me to the forgotten connection between the Upper South and the Lower Midwest. Both regions have high union membership. I want to make a further connection, though. This is also the dual region of Abraham Lincoln’s upbringing. He spent his early life divided between Kentucky, Southern Indiana, and Illinois. The latter state, in particular, has become associated with Lincoln and is the heart of American union membership (which naturally brings to mind the words of Lincoln when he said, “Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”).

This land of Lincoln was the contested region of American identity. It’s the border region of the Civil War. And nothing symbolizes that conflict more than slavery.

What stood out to me in NPR’s union membership map is this. The states that have had the lowest union membership rates, unsurprisingly, are those that had the highest enslaved human rates. The one state that has almost always had the lowest union membership rates is South Carolina, a place that for most of its history included a black majority.

It is predictable that the states with a history of disenfranchising blacks also have a history of disenfranchising whites. In general, those are highly unequal class-based societies where poverty rates are high and most people are disenfranchised. This doesn’t just impact the poor, but the entire society or community and the entire economy.

In a previous post, I quoted Nicholas Kristoff from his article, When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 4:

“Indeed, a wave of research over the last 20 years has documented the lingering effects of slavery in the United States and South America alike. For example, counties in America that had a higher proportion of slaves in 1860 are still more unequal today, according to a scholarly paper published in 2010. The authors called this a “persistent effect of slavery.”

“One reason seems to be that areas with slave labor were ruled for the benefit of elite plantation owners. Public schools, libraries and legal institutions lagged, holding back working-class whites as well as blacks.”

Union membership is just an indicator of the inequality that is present. It is also an indicator of a healthy, well-functioning social democracy. There is only ever freedom to the degree there is equality. Even the good life for the wealthiest is less good in a high inequality society, because the social problems caused can never be contained. They effect everyone. And those social problems are immense and diverse, from rising murder rates to worsening health issues, all of which also increase during Republican administrations when conservative polices set the tone for the nation.

Slavery is just an extreme form of inequality. Cultures and political systems don’t change quickly. We will be living with the consequences of slavery for a long time. The opposite of slavery is free labor which means workers who have greater control over their own lives. The labor movement is in essence a fight against the legacy of a country built on oppression. Class war has been continuously going on since the colonial era. It’s a class war that has mostly been waged by the wealthy and they have won most of the battles, but not all of them. Labor unions, for all their problems and limitations, are far better than the alternative in power at the moment.

We need to keep this in mind, at a time in our history when more blacks are in prison than were in slavery right before the Civil War and when mass incarceration is increasingly being used as a new form of forced labor. This is the context in which to understand dropping union membership rates, as poverty, inequality, and unemployment grows.

Minimum Wage, Wage Suppression, Welfare State, etc

I’ll keep this post simple. I mostly just want to offer some views on the wage issue that most people don’t come across. You won’t hear most of this in the MSM. You won’t likely even see it in social media, unless you have some very well informed friends. But first let me summarize the issue while offering some straightforward analysis.

The specific issue at hand is the minimum wage and whether to raise it. Everyone is talking about it. But the discussions I come across most often lack much depth and breadth. I see two related issues: wage suppression and welfare state.

Wage suppression is my main focus. It relates to decades (or even generations) of Fed hard money policy, union-busting, and off-shoring.

The Fed hard money policy is something I came across in William Greider’s Come Home, America. You can find the relevant passage at the bottom of the page.

Union-busting is something I was already well aware of. And off-shoring as well. These two are closely related.

It is easier to bust unions with threats of off-shoring. If labor tries to strike, the scabs will be in far off foreign countries. This is very sneaky and basically immoral in all ways. It undermines both democracy and free markets for there is no such thing as anti-democratic free markets. Corporations often off-shore to countries that lack not only democracy but also lack human rights, workers protections, and safety/environmental regulations. In these foreign countries, corporations are sometimes free to bribe officials and use private goons, police or the state military to bust up unions the old fashioned way.

It isn’t just foreign governments that corporations can bribe, threaten, control and otherwise influence. Off-shoring is possible because our own corporatist (corporate-owned-and-operated) government allows and encourages it with free trade agreements. These free trade agreements are shaped by big biz and so unsurprisingly are business friendly and labor unfriendly. Such trade is only ‘free’ for big biz. In these free trade agreements, there are rarely if any demands for participating countries to have democracy, human rights, workers protections, or safety-environmental regulations.

The second issue is where it gets most interesting.

Conservatives, libertarians and even many mainstream Democrats complain about what they deem an out-of-control welfare state. But this welfare state ultimately functions in two ways. Because minimum wage workers aren’t making a living wage, they end up on welfare which means the welfare state is a massive apparatus to use taxpayer money to subsidize big biz. And so without welfare the average American would be even more desperate.

What does desperation breed? Populist reform or even revolution. The ruling elite will never willingly end the welfare state because, along with mass incarceration, it is a social control policy. If minimum wage and all welfare was instantly ended, there would be revolution over night.

The minimum wage and welfare combo is the only thing making wage suppression and social oppression tolerable. As long as people are getting by, even if only barely, they won’t fight for their rights as citizens. It is the old bread and circus routine with big biz media serving the circus part of the equation.

There are a number of options here:

  1. We can raise the minimum wage while continuing wage suppression and while not increasing welfare.
  2. We can strengthen and broaden welfare while continuing wage suppression and while not raising the minimum wage.
  3. We can more moderate raise the minimum wage and increase welfare while continuing wage suppression.
  4. We can end wage suppression and solve the problem at its root.
  5. Or we can do none of the above and wait for the populist revolts to begin.

There are no other options. Excluding a return to such things as feudalism, indentured servitude, debt bondage, slavery, etc. Although there are other ideas that could work, such as a basic income, related to Paine’s citizen dividend. So, at least within the present system, there are no other options.

* * *

Here are a few links to helpful articles and a couple of discussions:

An Idea Conservatives Should Love
By E.J. Dionne, Jr.
truthdig.com
Feb 17, 2014

The Skills Gap Argument as Cover for Wage Suppression
By J.URIS D.EBTOR
January 23, 2013

Suppressing wages and increasing corporate profits:
The tough math behind the current economic recovery.
By mybudget360

Suppressing wages
By davald
The Observer
December 10, 2012

The China trade toll
Widespread wage suppression, 2 million jobs lost in the U.S.
By Robert E. Scott
Economic Policy Institute
July 30, 2008

NAFTA AT SEVEN
Its impact on workers in all three nations
By Robert E. Scott
Economic Policy Institute
April 2001

ALEC AND WAGE SUPPRESSION
By Mary Bottari and Rebekah Wilce
from PRWatch
July 23, 2013

The Force Behind Bills To Lower Wages and Suppress Workers’ Rights? You Guessed It: ALEC
By Mary Bottari and Rebekah Wilce
inthesetimes.com
July 30, 2013

Union Busting adds to corrupt bureaucracy and incites crime
By zacherydtaylor
open.salon.com
September 26, 2013

On Becoming a Nietzschean Society
By Greg Horsman
About Questioning and Skepticism
November 1, 2013

What is ‘wage suppression’ and is it real?
Discussion on talkrational.org

Why should taxpayers subsidize low wage workers? (fast food, minimum wage, salaries)
City-Data forum

And below is the aforementioned passage from William Greider’s Come Home, America.

* * *

Kindle Locations 557-562

It was mainly the Federal Reserve-sheltered from public scrutiny and protected from political accountability-that engineered America’s great shift in fortunes. The Fed “hardened” the value of money and wealth with its successful campaign to suppress price inflation. Then it proceeded to encourage or passively allow the scandalous financial behavior that followed-wealth being concentrated in the financial sector, the growing inequalities among Americans, deregulation and the creation of dominating megabanks, and recurrent frauds and financial bubbles followed repeatedly by government bailouts of banks and financial firms.

The Federal Reserve’s policy essentially tilted the normal economic balance hard in one direction, then held it there for a generation. It favored wealth over wage income, creditors over debtors, capital over labor, financial investors over producers.

Kindle Locations 601-602

“Hardening” the value of money may modestly benefit average consumers, but the true winners are people with vast accumulations of financial wealth. As the Federal Reserve drove the inflation rate lower and lower, eventually getting it close to zero, disinflation was a great gift to the wealthy, one that kept on giving.

Kindle Locations 621-635

The “hard money” policy was sustained in a way that might have shocked many Americans if they had known about it. The Federal Reserve suppressed inflation by targeting the wages of working people. It prevented their incomes from rising even though, in a healthy economy, wages would normally rise consistently. Nobody in authority ever acknowledged this strategy in a straightforward way, but the reality was well understood by economists and financial investors. By holding back the natural energies of the economic recovery, this monetary policy kept labor markets slack and the unemployment rate higher as a result, at around 6 percent. That made it very difficult for industrial workers, union and nonunion, to demand higher wages. If the economy had been allowed to grow faster, more jobs would have been created, unemployment would have fallen, and workers would have gained bargaining power.

But the conservative Federal Reserve regarded rising wages as an inflationary threat and worked deliberately to prevent it. Throughout the 1980s and most of the 1990s, the Fed protected its victory over inflation by keeping its foot on the brake and tapping it occasionally to make sure the economy did not get too healthy. That is, the federal government-represented by the central bank-ensured that the broad ranks of working people would not share in the “good times.”

Paul Volcker used to carry in his pocket a card setting out the latest wage settlements in contracts negotiated by unions. When politicians urged him to let up and lower interest rates, the Fed chairman would cite recent wage agreements as evidence that he must hold tight. Monetary economists devised a theory to justify the antiwage policy. They claimed inflation would return if the Fed let the economy progress to below a so-called natural rate of unemployment. The theory was bogus; it was subsequently disproved by real-world experience when unemployment fell to 4 percent in the late 1990s, yet no inflation appeared.

The Federal Reserve, in other words, has played a central role in suppressing wages during the last three decades, a policy that was powerfully reinforced by globalization and the migration of US jobs to low-wage economies. Was this in the public interest? The question was not discussed in polite circles. The presumption among the governing elites, including the most influential newspapers, is that everyone shares a common interest in subduing inflation and therefore wage suppression is required. Wall Street celebrated the central bank’s success in restraining economic growth by dubbing it the “Goldilocks economy”-not too hot, not too cold, but just right. It may have seemed just right to financial investors. For working people, it was way too cold.

Rasmussen Deception About Unions

Here is a Rasmussen poll asking people if they think unions are bad for business:

39% Say Unions Bad for Business, 31% Say Good

I know Rasmussen has a conservative bias. I’m fine with that if their bias only influences their choice of topics and such, but I’m not fine with it when it leads to overt deception and manipulated data.

The title of this poll is designed to show more people think unions are bad than think they are good. The problem is that his is misleading at best. Another 21% says unions are neither good nor bad for business. To be accurate and honest, Rasmussen would have to state that the majority (61%) don’t think unions are bad for business, almost evenly split between unions being neutral or positive in their influence.

If you compare Rasmussen polling to other polling organizations (something I often do), you’ll notice their polling results tend to be biased toward the right. I’ve never analyzed why this is the case, but I’d assume that they intentionally or unintentionally bias their polling questions in that direction.

As such, considering the inherent bias to their polling, it is amazing that they end up with results that clearly show that the American public doesn’t support anti-union sentiments. Their obvious attempt to hide this fact just demonstrates how important this is.

It’s one thing for the public to hold an opinion, but it’s a whole other thing for the public to realize the position they hold is a majority position. Once people realize they are in the majority, they gain a sense of empowerment because they no longer feel disenfranchised. This is the greatest danger the conservative movement faces.

Radicals & Reformers of Indiana

As I’ve been doing genealogical work, I’ve also been thinking about my studies of history and generations. Part of my lineage is German. In the US, German culture and history hasn’t received fair and equal treatment. This is for many reasons.

The Germans were the enemies of the US earlier last century and at that time propaganda was at times intentionally used. After WWII, Germany was a pawn in the Cold War. Before either of the World Wars, there was much cultural diversity and tensions including that of Germans. The 19th century immigrants included a lot of religious radicals and political revolutionaries.

The Republican Party was, in fact, the beginning of a more mainstream version of left-wing politics with its connection to European socialists such as Marx. Some of the revolutionaries became politicians and generals, some even having fought in the Civil War. Some of the European revolutions in the early 19th century were partly inspired by the American Revolution, even seen as a continuation of it as envisioned by Thomas Paine. So, these revolutionaries came to America with this attitude.

I was thinking of this because of a specific fact I came across in my genealogical research. A number of generations of my family (Clouses and Hawks) lived at Spring Mill in Indiana near Mitchell (now a state park). Spring Mill had a distillery and some of my family were stillers there at different times. There was also a tavern and an inn. Since it was along a stage coach route, it attracted many important guests including politicians. What interested me, though, was this tid bit (The Village That Slept Awhile, p. 7): “Quite often, the intellectuals from Indiana’s famous experimental colony at New Harmony stopped at the tavern.”

When coming across that, it immediately perked my ears because I was familiar with the name of that utopian colony, although I had to research the details. It was first started by German pietists who had a radical vision of religion that was more similar to that of the Quakers, Shakers and Amish. They believed in living every aspect of life according to religious principles. The Harmonists decided to leave the area and so sold the community to a Welsh utopian thinker and social reformer, a socialist to be precise. This was circa 1824 and the community didn’t last many years, although its influence remained as it attracted some scientists to the area which might be why George Donaldson, an eccentric explorer, later lived in Spring Mill. It was around the 1820s and the decades following that a Wesley Clouse, possibly in my lineage, was the distiller.

Anyway, the area that attracted my family also attracted many radicals and reformers, intellectuals and eccentrics. The early 1800s was when my family was moving back and forth between Kentucky and Indiana, not fully settling in Indiana until maybe the second half of that century. It’s quite possible my family interacted with the various people who moved to the area to live in or near the utopian community, either in it’s guise as religious or socialist or even later on as a community of intellectuals and scientists.

Indiana today may seem like a conservative state, especially Southern Indiana, but it wasn’t always this way. There is a reason some of the most major union strikes happened in Indiana. There is also a reason that Indiana was founded as a non-slave state. Lincoln’s family moved to Indiana (where he was raised) partly because of the slavery issue and Indiana supported Lincoln in his election. Later on, Eugene V. Debs was born in Indiana and grew up to become one of the most influential socialists in US history, specifically during the Populist and Progressive eras. Debs was a high school drop out who first worked for the railroads which could describe some of my own working class family in Indiana.

If you want to know what is the Heartland of America, this is it: radicals, revolutionaries, abolitionists, free soil advocates, socialists, labor unionists, and on and on. Big business has gone a long way in destroying the radical heart of America, but it still beats. No amount of revisionist history can make this go away.

Revisionist right-wingers speak of assimilation and use it as a tool to attack anyone who isn’t like them. They romanticize about the so-called Melting Pot where everyone was equal. The only problem is that this is just propaganda. My family comes from Germans and history shows that German-Americans didn’t passively accept assimilation. They fought against assimilation even back in the 1800s. German immigrants (along with other ethnic immigrants) and their descendents did their best to maintain their own culture. In early America, the largest non-English speaking demographic was the German population. They often formed communities together, particularly in the Midwest, where they not unusually taught in German in their public schools (prior to the federal government later on in the 20th century forcing all public schools to teach in English).

(As a side note, I came across another interesting piece of info. I live in Iowa City. It has a large Czech population. My co-worker is part Czech and her family has been in the area for generations. She was looking at her grandmother’s cookbook which was recipes put together by a locla Czech Catholic church. A note in the cookbook mentions that the Czech Catholic church was built because the other nearby Catholic church had its service spoken in German. The Czech church was built in 1893. This demonstrates that cultural assimilation was limited in the 19th century.)

Germans were among the earliest immigrants. The German language was even considered as one possibility for the official state language in order to fully separate American society from British society. Germans have fought in all of America’s wars. Germans have shaped America as much as any other ethnic group, including the British. Presently, Germans are the largest ethnic demographic in the United States.

Much of the German-American side of my family are working class conservatives. Like most Americans, they probably don’t know much about the history of their own people or of their country. They might not even realize that the American working class wasn’t always conservative. When they think of socialists, they imagine people from far off lands, not in ‘conservative’ states like Indiana. Such conservatives have no pride in their history because they don’t know it.

 * * * *

As a note of explanation, my main point was simply that I’m annoyed with revisionist history. When I came across this interesting historical data, I felt a desire to share and yet I realized that my conservative parents wouldn’t necessarily share my excitement. My mom, in particular, has no interest in left-wing social reform, much less socialism. Her interest in family history is limited to family itself. That her German ancestors may have not been conservatives is of little relevance to her mind.

That is fair. I have no inclination to force my interests on the uninterested. My complaint is just the fact that my parents are mostly unaware of this history.

I’ve heard my dad argue the revisisiont history of cultural assimilation. It seems that most historical revisionism comes from the right. I find it annoying, but I don’t know who to blame. My dad is a smart and well educated conservative. Where did he learn this revisionist history? When he was a kid in 1950s Indiana public schools, were they teaching this revisionist history? When he went to conservative Purdue University, were they teaching this revisionist history? Or did he only learn this later from right-wing media such as Fox News?

Just thinking about all of this, I felt frustrated. If we as Americans don’t all share a basic knowledge of our own history, then how can we accomplish anything as a shared society? I’m fine with people having their own opinions, but opinions shouldn’t be allowed to replace facts. Why is this such a contentious issue? How can anyone honestly claim an opinon about history is equal to verified historical facts?

The United States is and always has been culturally diverse. You can like that fact or you can dislike it, but it doesn’t change its being a fact. If you question my claim of this being a fact, I would recommend the two following books:

Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer

American Nations by Colin Woodard

After studying the facts, if someone still has some disagreements with my interpretations and conclusions, then I’d be more than happy to discuss the facts. But any such discussion should begin and end with the facts.

 * * * *

11/29/11 – Since writing this, my mind has returned to it. I feel like I was being too critical in my frustration. I said I didn’t know who to blame and I still don’t. It’s not any single person or group who is responsible and the problem is very complex. As I often contemplate, we all are to varying degrees ignorant. The Melting Pot myth is indeed revisionist history. There was of course assimilation but just not to the degree that some would like to believe. Then again, we all have our favored myths that blind us to other viewpoints, other understandings, other information.

This makes me wonder what lies or misinformation have I learned in my own education/indoctrination. When I’m older, what will some younger person complain about in reference to older people like me? What will seem obvious to future generations that isn’t so apparent at the moment? It’s always good to be wary of righteous judgment toward others. None of us are without failure of one sort or another. None of us sees the whole picture perfectly. Revisionist history is simply what people want to believe because it gives meaning to their lives and justifies the world as they wish it to be.

My main complaint is more of a personal issue. Studying my family’s German heritage, why shouldn’t I be proud to be part of an ethnic group that resisted assimilation for about a century or so? Considering this, why should anyone of Germanic descent feel arrogantly self-righteous toward other ethnicities who have been resistant or slow to assimilate? It took Germans at least a century to even begin to assimilate. So, let’s give these new immigrants a century to assimilate on their own terms. Assimilation is good when freely chosen but is a system of oppression when forced.

Do Americans Support Unions & Union Rights?

Public opinion on unions in the US has always been mixed, going up and down.

The Cold War led to rhetoric falesly accusing anyone who cared about the lower classes to be Commies. Chomsky has pointed out that, in a democracy, propaganda is a key element the powerful use to keep the powerless in line. Propaganda does work, but only when the economy is doing well. People are less willing to accept lies when they are personally suffering because of those lies. That is the situation that has been developing lately, and so unsurprisingly union support is growing again.

The young are more supportive of unions (and more liberal in general) than older generations (even when those older generations were young themselves). This new liberal young generation is also the largest generation in the US. It would be counterintuitive for the support of unions to not consistently rise in the coming years and decades.

Just to give some context, consider public opinion of unions over the past 80 years:

http://www.gallup.com/poll/149279/approval-labor-unions-holds-near-low.aspx

Do you approve or disapprove of labor unions? 1936-2011 trend

Notice how in the entire history of polling that approval rating has never been below 50% and the disapproval rating has never been above 50%. For most of US history, the approval rating has been massively high. It was only with recent hyper-partisan politics that there has been a small drop that is now once againg rising.

Also, consider public employee unions. They are the easiest targets to attack. If support for unions was down, support for public unions would be in the gutter. However, that isn’t the case:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20037469-503544.html

(Credit: CBS)

If you want a fair presentation of public opinion, the following are some good sources of recent data and analysis:

http://www.people-press.org/2011/02/17/labor-unions-seen-as-good-for-workers-not-u-s-competitiveness/

http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/70980/poll-unions.pdf

http://www.inthesetimes.com/working/entry/6993/polls_show_union_popularity_wanes_but_supports_unions_right_to_exist/

http://www.americablog.com/2011/02/even-conservative-biased-poll-shows.html

http://theweek.com/article/index/212649/what-americans-really-think-about-unions-by-the-numbers

http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/02/gallup-poll-only-highest-income-earners-support-gutting-collective-bargaining.php

http://mediamatters.org/blog/201103040024

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/01/public-employee-union-polls-support_n_829568.html

Democracy & Protests, Movements & Tipping Points

This is something that concerns me because it cuts to the heart of democracy.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2011/09/welcome-to-the-police-state-nyc-cops-mace-peaceful-protestors-against-wall-street.html

I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.

Now at least in New York (and I hope readers in other cities will chime in) the right to assemble seems to be pretty much a dead letter. I was in Sydney during the global protests against the Iraq War, and I was told that the New York demonstrations (which were already hindered by typically lousy winter weather) were pretty much blocked by the police. Protestors were tying to gather at the UN, and the cops put up a cordon at Second Avenue. The result was the turnout was far lower than the number who tried to show their opposition and were stopped.

The latest New York City protest is OccupyWallStreet. Even though its turnout last week fell well short of hopes (the estimates from the group were that 2000 participated; the New York Times suggests numbers more like “hundreds” but the photos from the 17th make figures larger figures seem plausible), making it a nuisance level demonstration rather than a major statement, the powers that be seem to be trying a bit too hard to prevent it from getting traction.

The organizers were using Twitter to promote participation and visibility. And so Twitter intervened. From AmpedStatus:

On at least two occasions, Saturday September 17th and again on Thursday night, Twitter blocked #OccupyWallStreet from being featured as a top trending topic on their homepage. On both occasions, #OccupyWallStreet tweets were coming in more frequently than other top trending topics that they were featuring on their homepage.

This is blatant political censorship on the part of a company that has recently received a $400 million investment from JP Morgan Chase.

The simplest and most basic element of democracy is protest, i.e., the right to assemble and the right to free speech. It’s the lifeblood of a free society. And, because of this, it has always been the main target of those in power.

This is such a dangerous thing because it seems many Americans don’t understand the value of protest, don’t even understand what democracy is. Conservatives, in particular, see democracy as mobocracy and so protests are nothing but mindless mobs (although, they make exceptions for their own protests such as the Tea Party). If we don’t protect democracy, democracy can’t protect us.

I was discussing the issue of unions with some conservatives.

Unions are one of the most basic expressions of the right to assemble. The unemployed and the working class and the 99% in general don’t have the money or political clout to compete as individuals with the wealthy elite as individuals. Plus, the wealthy elite have lobbyists, think tanks, front groups, astroturf, etc. Most of the big money donations are probably done without transparency. Even SuperPACs which are supposed to be transparent have a loophole that allows anonymous donations. Karl Rove’s well-funded SuperPAC is mostly funded by 3 anonymous sources. Even unions can’t compete with that. Plus, there is the problem of average union members trying to compete their unions under grassroots control. Millionaires and Billionaires don’t need to worry about grassroots. They can buy the appearance of ‘grassroots’ if they so desire.

The lower class are at a severe disadvantage. If you have little money, your only power is grassroots solidarity and your only voice is protest. This is where strikes come in, the practice that has created more rights and protections for workers than any other practice in US history. But various things disempowered unions earlier last century.

Using anti-communist rhetoric, the rich and powerful turned average Americans against unions and against the working class in general. No one wanted to be working class any more. Politicians and pundits began preaching about protecting the middle class. But who were they supposed to be protecting them from? The rich who were outsourcing their jobs and stagnating their wages? Of course not. The middle class apparently was being protected from the dangerous working class. This is ironic considering most of these so-called “middle class” people were in reality working class. With all of this, the neocons and social conservatives were able to transform the war on poverty into a war against the poor.

A good example of how unions lost power is in Anderson, Indiana. The strikes in Anderson were very tense and the population was divided. Eventually, GM took their business out of town and the union got blamed. That is the power of big business. They can move their factories all around the world. They can even move their factories to countries that have no worker protection at all. Workers don’t have that kind of freedom. Even to this day, former GM workers are being punished by big business. One factory that located in the area refused to hire former GM workers. Another factory nearby refused to hire any workers from Anderson.

As the middle class shrinks and good jobs become scarce, workers have even less power. People have to pay the bills and feed their families. Without jobs, workers join the unemployed and eventually join the homeless. Strike-breaking and union-busting has become very successful. It’s risky for workers to put their necks out when they are at such a disadvantage. The average worker has no easy way to organize and be heard. The mainstream media is owned by the same corporate conglomerates that own the factories. Workers these days can’t win no matter what they try.

Nonetheless, people can only be pushed so far. Even the anti-union and anti-poor rhetoric starts to be dissatisfying to many Americans when they experience an economy ruled by big business. As the middle class shrinks, more Americans find themselves in the same lot with the working class and the poor. It’s hard to scapegoat a group of people when you have become a part of that scapegoated group.

This is where the 99ers came in. They spoke the inconvenient truth that even the Tea Party didn’t want to face. Then there were also the protesters, mostly left-wingers, who earlier protested Wall Street. Both of these groups were largely ignored or only given brief mention. But now the 99% movement has created a movement that seems to be taken hold with their Occupy Wall Street protest. It also seems the 99ers and the unions are beginning to join the 99% movement which is forming it into genuine grassroots populism. These aren’t just liberal college students with too much time on their hands. These protests are filled with the working poor and the unemployed, and it’s also filled with the former middle class who have lost jobs and houses. Basically, the 99% is all of these people, i.e., all the people besides the 1% of wealthy elite who control this country and dominate the economy.

After so many decades, average Americans seem to be waking from their slumber. I suppose this is how the Populist Era began. Most of those in the Populist movement were ordinary Americans. Before the economic problems following the Civil War, average Americans believed in the American Dream and the ideal of the free market. But the rhetoric of politicians stopped being convincing. Rhetoric can’t feed your family or pay your bills. No one saw the Populist movement coming, not even those involved. One particpant observed that it was like a wildfire that lit the whole country all at once. We seem to be on the verge of such a change right now. The polling and demographics have been pointing toward change for a long time, but maybe the tipping point is finally getting near.

We’ll see…

Then they came for the trade unionists…

Here is something that has been quoted many times before, but it deserves being quoted many times more.

First They came… – Pastor Martin Niemöller

Timbre Allemagne 1992 Martin Niemoller obl.jpgFirst they came for the communists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,

and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me

and there was no one left to speak out for me.

– – –

If only people understood those words, we wouldn’t have all these problems that continue to plague us.

People look around the world and think other people’s problems aren’t their problems. Who cares about the poor who are exploited and oppressed in other countries? Who cares about the working class and the unions? Most people see those who are different as the enemy. To business owners, the workers are the enemy. To non-union workers, union workers are the enemy. To well off whites, poor minorities are the enemy. To poor Americans, immigrants are the enemy. To fundamentalists, social gospel Christians are the enemy. Et Cetera. And history just keeps on repeating.

I was reminded of what Niemhöller wrote because of the recent attacks on unions by Republicans and corporations. Unions have been greatly disempowered since the Taft-Hartley Act and since the Reagan administration, but still even in weakened form they are the only defense the working and middle classes have left in fighting against the ever growing corporatism in America. Of the top 10 campaign contributors, all are corporate PACs besides 3 which are unions. With the unjust elimination of ACORN, the poor and working class need the unions more than ever. Organizations like unions and the former ACORN help inform the public about important issues and help to encourage the poor get to the voting booths.

There is one very important thing to note from the Niemöller quote. The Nazis didn’t go after Jews right from the start. No, they first went after the Communists and unions. The Nazis had to first eliminate the groups that represent average people, the groups that are the pillars of grassroots democracy. Once they are eliminated, any other group can be freely attacked without the possibility of organized resistance. Just look at Wisconsin right now. Besides unions, there is no other group that could organize average Americans to such an extent. Unions are the very last defense. Unions don’t just defend their own workers. Unions, in defending the working class, defend the rights of all.

I was recently reminded of a fact most people don’t know. Check out these maps:

Party Affiliation (2009)From ’08 to ’10

State of States Political Party Affiliation, 2008

State of the States Political Party Advantage Map, 2010

Many states (such as in the South) that people think of as solidly Republican in reality aren’t that solid at all. In conservative states, a divide exists that doesn’t isn’t found in liberal states. Poor people in conservative states tend to vote Democratic whereas the rich tend to vote Republican (however, both the poor and the rich in liberal states tend to vote Democratic). So, how do Republicans maintain control of states that have populations mixed between the two parties? It’s rather simple. The rich Republicans control the politics, control the media, control the corporate contributions. The organizations that represent the poor are few and getting fewer.

Here is an article about 2006 voting data and a map of unionization:

Want to know why Democrats won the election? Because union members and their families voted for them.

Here’s the breakdown – non union members split evenly according to the CNN exit polls 49% to each party. Union members went 64% Democratic, and 34% Republican.

This actually underestimates the case, because unions are more than half of the Democratic ground game. It’s not just that union members vote Democratic – it’s that union members work for Democratic candidates and against Republican ones. They knock on doors, they organize, they phone pool. Any decent union has a hardened corps of organizers from their day to day work, and around election time those guys fan out. They are tough, experienced, don’t fear rejection and are mostly solidly working class.

If you look at a map of the US by union membership, like the one above, what you’ll see is that it looks awfully familiar – where unions are strong, Dems win. Where they aren’t, they lose or struggle.

The South, in particular, has a long history of disenfranchising the poor and the minorities (both of whom vote Democratic, of course). Most Americans don’t vote because most Americans feel disenfranchised from the entire political process. This perception is partly true and partly false, but the corporate media wants people to believe it because the continued dominance of the rich is dependent on this perception. If this perception of disenfranchisement falters even for a moment, protests and revolutions (or, at least, political upsets) can happen.

I’ve often heard conservatives (including democratically elected politicians) criticize democracy calling it mobocracy (two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner). Let me break down this criticism. So, who is this ‘mob’? It’s the masses, the general public, the average American, the majority of adults who feel so disenfranchised that they don’t vote. Conservatives are afraid of the majority because they know the majority doesn’t support their views and policies (see: ). Conservatives are afraid of grassroots democracy like unions because they know grassroots democracy won’t benefit corporations.

One argument conservatives give is that unions have already served their purpose. Conservatives will initially try to deny what unions have accomplished, but when that fails they’ll argue that there is nothing left for unions to accomplish. However, from my liberal perspective, unions are the only thing stopping our society from returning to 19th century capitalism. So, what exactly was 19th century capitalism like? There are some positive examples like the Shakers (which is a socialist model of capitalism that conservatives don’t like) and there are many negative examples like the following (from my post ):

Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp.
The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.
[The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]

I personally don’t want to return to a society where such capitalist systems existed. I’m fairly sure most Americans wouldn’t want to return to this either. And it’s good to keep in mind that this kind of capitalism (or similar variations) still exists in other parts of the world where unions don’t exist or don’t have as much political influence. So, I think it would be unwise to dismiss the role unions play in our society. Our grandparents and great grandparents fought and died for the rights we take for granted.

– – –

– – –

Ignoring history (which is never a wise thing to do), what can we say about unions in our present society? For example, does allowing teachers unions to have collective bargaining lead to negative impact on the public education system?

– – –

Anyway, how much power do unions actually have? A picture is worth a thousand words. Totals by Sector from OpenSecrets.org:

lobbying expenditures vs. campaign contributions

If money talks, politicians are listening to louder voices than unions.

Even so, unions are more likely to get heard by Democrats.

Top Democratic and Republican Donors in 2010

Top Overall Donors to Republicans:

Elliott Management (a Hedge fund company)
Koch Industries (note: the billioaire who is the main financier of the Teabaggers)
Every Republican is Crucial PAC
Associated Builders & Contractors
(so-called) “Freedom” Project (a Republican PAC)

NOTES: Top Republican supporters are billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds…and keep in mind this applies to the Teabagger movement as well. They are supported by the same billionaires, contractors, and hedge funds.

Top Overall Donors to Democrats:

ActBlue (composite of many, many small, grassroots donations)
Intl Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Laborers Union
Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union
EMILY’s List (composite of many, many small grassroots donations)
Plumbers/Pipefitters Union
National Assn of Letter Carriers
Ironworkers Union
United Auto Workers
United Transportation Union
American Postal Workers Union
UNITE HERE
AmeriPAC: The Fund for a Greater America

NOTES: Top Democratic supporters are unions and grassroots donors.

Seems to me the contrast is really quite sharp: Billionaires vs. working and middle class.

Where unions are strong, do they make a society better or worse? Here is from a post I wrote comparing the US and Germany:

In this video, there was one particular point about Germany that stood out. Germany is 1/5 the size of the US and yet has the second highest trade surplus in the world (after China). They’ve accomplished this while having higher rate of unionization and higher pay. Interestingly, the US economy was also doing better when unionization and pay was higher in the US.

Unions in the US are considered socialists even though they represent the working class. In Germany, it’s required for worker representation to be half of board members of companies. In Germany, the industrial and financial sectors are highly regulated keeping jobs from being outsourced and ensuring main street benefits rather than just wall street. According to conservative ideology, this kind of socialist practices and union power should destroy the economy and destroy innovation and yet the complete opposite is the result.

This seems to support Noam Chomsky’s arguments. Chomsky thinks the world would be a better place if workers had more power to influence the companies they work for and influence the economy they are a part of. As a socialist liberal, Chomsky genuinely believes it’s good to empower the average person. It would appear Germany has done exactly this and has become immensely successful by doing so.

A major factor I discussed in that US and Germany post was about income inequality. Here is a graph showing both the data of union coverage and inequality:

Union coverage decreases inequality chart

For what it’s worth, here is a study about unions in three comparable countries:

In particular, unions tend to systematically reduce wage inequality among men, but have little impact on wage inequality for women. We conclude that unionization helps explain a sizable share of cross-country differences in male wage inequality among the three countries. We also conclude that de-unionization explains a substantial part of the growth in male wage inequality in the U.K. and the U.S. since the early 1980s.

– – –

I just responded to some comments from one of my previous blog posts () which touch upon a central issue in American politics. Here are my two responses:

I agree with you about the misleading notions of American “conservatives”. It would make life easier if they used a different term to label themselves. Looking at the history of Western conservatism, American conservatives don’t seem all that conservative. In Britain, the conservatives are the Tories. In early America, Tories defended Britain against the radical revolutionaries. I find it odd that American conservatives worship the founders who were radicals. Thomas Paine inspired the entire revolution and his writings were as liberal as they get.

I was reading Henry Fairlie’s view on Toryism. I realized that traditional conservatism more closely describes Democrats than Republicans. Democrats are the ones interested in conserving our present system. On the other hand, Republicans attack our present system. And, as you note, their fantasies about the past are actually radical visions that would entirely remake American society. They don’t want to conserve anything. If American conservatives actually wanted to conserve the past, they’d first have to read something other than revisionist history.

My suspicion is that the idiosyncrasy of American conservatism makes a bit more sense when taking into consideration the psychological research done on ideologies. Brain scans show that conservatives tend to have a larger part of the brain that deals with fear. Other research shows that conservatives have a stronger disgust response toward anything unusual or improper (such as rotting fruit).

America is unusual in that the status quo of our society isn’t the power of a particular church or of a royal lineage or of a specific ethnicity. The only status quo we have in this country is that of change. Ever since the first Europeans came here, it has been endless change. At a fundamental level, conservatives hate change and so American conservatives hate the status quo of the society they were raised in. They would like to create a status quo that never changes which, oddly, would require radically changing the present status quo. Conservatives seem like hypocrites because they are conflicted by their own psychological predispositions. In the US, they can’t win for losing. The country was founded on a radical liberal vision and has continued to radically change ever since. To be an American conservative is to hate the founding status quo of America.

(note: I admit ‘hate’ is a strong word. Let us just say conservatives are strongly conflicted by the founding status quo of America.)

I’ve just started a book titled Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye. It’s very fascinating. It’s odd that I don’t recall having learned much about Paine in my public education or even in various documentaries I’ve watched about early America.

There seems to be a love/hate relationship with Paine. His writings were what inspired the American Revolution and probably what kept it from failing, but his vision was so radically democratic that he fell out of favor with many of the others in the founding generation who just wanted to create a new ruling elite (which essentially is what they did).

It’s very interesting that this radical vision is at the heart of what defines America. Paine wanted to end slavery, wanted Native Americans to keep their land, wanted women, blacks, and the poor to have as much power as rich white men. He wanted America to become an example of genuine freedom that would inspire revolution all over the world. Paine was a bad ass. His vision is radical even by today’s standards.

America would not exist without Paine’s far left democratic vision. He inspired the revolution, inspired people to keep fighting, inspired people to support the fight for independence in all ways. The American people, especially the lower classes, were fighting for Paine’s vision of America. Paine dedicated his whole life to the cause of liberty. He never made any profit from any of his writings. He risked his life many times and even fought hand-to-hand combat. He was a hardcore revolutionary. He didn’t grow up with privilege. Unlike the most of the Founding Fathers, he was born working class and was an immigrant. Paine believed in the American Dream before there was a country called America.

Paine is the reason conservatives are endlessly outraged in America. Like many in the founding generation, conservatives are scared shitless about the vision that Paine proposed and that vision still exists as a seed waiting to sprout. Paine failed because the rich white males of the time were too afraid to embrace a truly free society. The Populists in the late 19th century attempted again to achieve that vision, but once again the ruling elite coopted the revolutionary energy for the purposes of the corporate elite. Now, we once again face the potential of Paine’s vision. People once again begin to remember what inspired the founding of this country in the first place. Those in power and those on the right will do everything they can to squash democracy. Everyone understands that democracy is the most dangerous vision that any human has ever conceived.

Maybe you’re right about liberals tending to focus on freedom from. When considering radical freedom, we can only know the past from which we are trying to free ourselves from. We can’t know where radical freedom will lead. It’s an experiment. Paine explicitly thought of America as an experiment. If you want safety and security, then you can’t have freedom. That is the hypocrisy of what America has become. Paine realized that even the ruling elite could only have as much freedom as everyone was allowed. Paine knew that the only way to have democracy was to have an educated public and the ruling elite knew the only way to control the masses was to keep them ignorant. But control can never lead to freedom.

Even the data proves this. In societies with high economic inequality, there are more social problems (see: ). The rich may be relatively better off than the poor in such a society, but the rich in such a society are relatively worse off than the rich in a society that has more equality. The rich people in an unequal society have, for example, more health problems (probably from the stress of living surrounded by poverty, crime, and social conflict).

Paine understood this centuries ago. The ruling elite at the time dismissed his radical vision. And the ruling elite today continue to dismiss his radical vision. Yet his radical vision remains. The potential of America continues to be wasted because of those who have power don’t have vision and those who have vision don’t have power. Paine began the revolution and the revolution is still happening. The reason America has never stopped changing is because a large segment of American society has always refused to give up on the vision Paine first described.

Many might consider Paine to have been naive for actually believing in freedom. But dammit I wish there were more idealists. The only thing that makes ideals unrealistic is the cynical ruling elite that always stands in the way. Why is democracy considered naive? Why is freedom seen as a threat?

To this day, the conservatives still fear the masses of the poor and minorities. If you look at the demographics of the Southern states, they actually aren’t solidly Republican by a long stretch. If all the poor and minorities voted, Democrats would win by a landslide in the South and all across the coutnry. Conservatives know this and that is why they do what they can to destroy organizations like Acorn and unions that represent the poor and disenfranchised. Most Americans don’t vote because the entire history of America has been about the ruling elite disenfranchising the masses. Even when they do vote, their votes might simply not be counted as happened in Florida. It’s fucked up.

If Paine was here, he’d start a new revolution. Paine was a Marxist revolutionary before there was a Marx. He realized that the fundamental issue is always class war. It was so when immigrants first came to America, many of whom were political dissidents, oppressed poor people, and indentured servants. And it’s still true.

– – –

Let me finish by pointing out a couple of things related to those comments.

First, here is a passage from the book I mentioned above (Thomas Paine and the Promise of America by Harvey J. Kaye, Kindle location 1129):

“in all countries where the freedom of the poor has been taken away, in whole or in part, that the freedom of the rich lost its defence,” he insisted that “freedom must have all or none, and she must have them equally.” Paine was not naïve. He knew freedom could be dangerous, but he pointed out that “if dangerous in the hands of the poor from ignorance, it is at least equally dangerous in the hands of the rich from influence.” Dismissing neither possibility, he suggested ways of addressing them. To prevent ignorance he recommended education. And to prevent political corruption he again demanded democracy: “numerous electors, composed as they naturally will be, of men of all conditions, from rich to poor.”

When people fear mobocracy, what exactly do they fear? Is it fear of the possibility of radical freedom that democracy envisions? Or is it fear that one’s vested interests would be undermined if everyone had equal education and equal opportunity? It’s true that ignorant masses are easier control, but a society can’t simultaneously serve both the realpolitik of control and the ideal of freedom. More importantly, Paine understood that to try to control others meant endangering one’s own freedom. A person can only have what they are willing to offer to others.

Second, the comments above (right before the quote from Kaye’s book) are from a blog post of mine () that touches upon this same issue of fear and mistrust of democracy. My point in that post is that this conservative response is based on an attitude of not having faith in the average American and not having faith in the strength of democracy. As such, conservatives don’t have faith in the fundamental vision of the American experiment. Here is how I ended that post (and with it I’ll also end this post):

The unions did manage to win in certain ways, but the liberal vision of the working class was integrated into the Federal government. Eventually, the Democrats became the party for unions and for the poor. This altered the dynamic causing the class wars to be less clear, especially as class has been mixed up with race and culture. The Democratic party has done some good things for the working class and so that is why the poor working class is loyal to the Democrats to this very day. The vision of Democrats is that the average person can actually be served by his representatives in Washington. The vision of liberalism is that democracy is strong and not easily destroyed.

Conservatives are less confident. They see democracy as constantly threatened and that is why they are much more partisan in their support of big government. It’s also why conservatives support big military despite claiming to be against big government. Conservatives live in fear of democracy being destroyed. Enemies are everywhere. The enemy threatens both from outside (Russia, Islamic terrorists) and from within (Communist witchhunts, social programs, gun rights). Conservatives don’t trust any governments. They only trust our own state government to the extent it might protect us from foreign state governments, but idealy they’d love to live in a world where state governments didn’t exist at all or else had very little power which means they wish they lived in early America.

My above commentary was inspired by this comment:

http://blog.beliefnet.com/crunchycon/2009/09/i-was-wrong-about-5000-year-le_comments.html

John-in-Exile wrote:

It is fascinating to me to have “The Naked Communist” resurface, even as a second work of fiction by a newly rediscovered author. When I was in high school (1960 to 1963) I listened to a series of radio lectures by (apparently) W. Cleon Skousen which culminated in a pitch for his book, The Naked Communist, which was going to expose the evil plans of the terrifying international communist conspiracy. I bought the book and read it and found myself nagged by one question that stayed with me for years. The core presumption of Soviet communism was that people would work hard for the well-being of the state, even with no personal payoff. That always seemed unlikely to me–in fact so unlikely that I always believed that Soviet communism was destined to fall of its own weight. The communist conspiracies were inconsequential because the system was certain to fail. I was then struck by the odd perception that the people most paranoid about the rise of this doomed ideology were the conservatives who should have been the most confident of the ultimate success of the American economic experiment. They were instead the least confident and the most fearful of being overwhelmed by the Soviet system.

When communism fell at last I was not surprised because it seemed to me always destined to fall. Why was my liberal mind more confident of our system than the conservatives that constantly pronounced us doomed to fall to the evil Soviets?

– – –

Conservatives don’t seem to have much faith in the American people or the American experiment. I understand having doubts and I even understand being pessimistic. But, faith or not, do conservatives care more about their ideology or about real people? I know many conservatives do actually care. So, why do they keep voting for Republican politicians who again and again implement policies that hurt average Americans? What is to be gained by attacking unions that protect the working class, social services that help the needy, and public schools that educate the next generation?

– – –


The United States of Inequality

 

This is a long video, but it’s a very important topic. The video brings together a lot of data and analysis. I highly recommend watching it.

The fundamental issue isn’t solutions per se but rather what helped to create a situation that is so in need of solutions. It wasn’t accidental. This is the result of specific policies and market factors which have been a part of a class war that has been going on for a long time.

I gained some insight about this when I saw psychological research showing that social inequality tends to bother liberals and tends not to bother conservatives. To the conservative mindset (in its most extreme form), there is no problem and so no solution is needed. There is no point in talking about solutions if we can’t agree that there is even a problem.

I wrote about some of the psychological research in recent posts:

Right Vs Left: Personality Differences

Violence vs Empathy, Indifference vs Unhappiness

Also, I think insight is to be found in the analysis of George Lakoff which I’ve mentioned before:

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

George Lakoff, Moral Politics, pp 194-6:

The conservative political agenda, for example, is not merely to cut the cost of government. The conservative agenda, as we shall see, is a moral agenda, just as the liberal agenda is.

Consider, for example, the issue of the deficit. How did it get so large?

Liberals like to think of Ronald Reagan as stupid. Whether he was or not, those around him certainly were not. While constantly attacking liberals as big spenders, the Reagan and Bush administrations added three trillion dollars to the national debt by drastically increasing military spending while cutting taxes for the rich. They could count; they saw the deficit increasing. They blamed the increases on liberal spending, but Reagan did not veto every spending bill. Moreover, Reagan’s own actions acounted for much of the deficit increase. Had financial responsibility and the lessening of spending been Reagan’s top priorities, he would not have allowed such an increase in the defiicit, simply by not cutting taxes and not pushing for a military buildup far beyond the Pentagon’s requests.

While the deficit was increasing, there was a vast shift of wealth away from the lower and middle classes toward the rich. Liberals, cyncally, saw this shift as Reagan and Bush making their friends and their political suporters rich. Certainly that was the effect. It is hardly new for the friends of supporters of politicians in power to get rich. This is usually seen as immorality and corruption, and with good reason. Many liberals saw Reagan that way.

But Ronald Reagan did not consider himself as immoral. Certainly he and his staff could tell that their policies were producing vast increases in the deficit, when they had come into office promising a balanced budget. Reagan was not forced to pursue deficit-increasing policies. Why did he do so?

I would like to suggest that he pursued deficit-increasing policies in the service of what he saw as overriding Moral goals: (1) Building up the military to protect America from the evil empire of Soviet communism. (2) Lowering Taxes for the rich, so that enterprise was rewarded not punished. Interestingly, for President Reagan as for any good conservative, these policies, however different on the surface, were instances of the same underlying principle: the Morality of Reward and Punishment.

What was evil in Soviet communism, for Reagan as for other conservatives, was not just totalitarianism. Certainly Soviet totalitarianism was evil, but the U.S. had supported capitalist totalitarian dictatorships willingly while overthrowing a democratically elected communist government in Chile. The main evil of communism for Reagan, as for most conservatives, was that it stifled free enterprise. Since communism did not allow for free markets (open to Western companies) or for financially rewarding entrepreneurship, it violated the basis of the Strict Father moral system: the Morality of Punishment and Reward.

Adding three trillion dollars to the deficit actually served a moral purpose for Ronald Reagan. It meant that, sooner or later, the deficit would force an elimination of social programs. He knew perfectly well that the military budget would never be seriously cut, and that a major increase in tax revenues to eliminate the deficit would never be agreed upon. In the long run, the staggering deficit would actually serve Strict Father morality – conservative morality – by forcing Congress to cut social programs. From the perspective of Strict Father morality, Ronald Reagan looks moral and smart, not immoral and dumb as many liberals believe.

Ron Paul’s 19th Century Fantasy

I was just listening to a speech Ron Paul gave at a Tea Party convention. Some commenters noted it was the first full Ron Paul speech they’d seen from a major news source. Guess what the source is? RT America which is a Russian network that is partly financed by the Russian government.

It’s rather ironic because Americans like to think of themselves as being independent-minded, but you have to turn to a Russian network to get a diversity of alternative American voices. RT America has as guests such people as Thom Hartmann (originally from Air America radio), Cenk Uygur (started the most successful internet news show), and Alex Jones (of conspiracy theorist fame).

I like Ron Paul if only for his sincerity which is a rare attribute for a professional politician. Also, he is far from being stupid… but… His overall repetitive message of big government being the problem comes off as simplistically naive. No one could make such an argument if they knew history and were able to see outside of their own ideological reality tunnel.

I don’t blame Ron Paul per se. He is a businessman and so sees everything through the model of business. His idol is the free market. He honestly believes in it.

People like Ron Paul seem to argue that a free market would solve any problem. The simplest criticism is that a free market has never existed. There are always various people and groups controlling markets. The fundamental concept behind the free market argument is that businessmen have practical knowledge and so are economically smarter than politicians and regulators, smarter than academic professors and researchers. It is claimed that anyone other than businessmen will just mess up everything.

The context of this argument is the idiosyncratic history of America. The US early on was fairly isolated from other powerful countries and many of the communities on the continent were isolated by vast land, but it’s obvious the country wouldn’t remain that way. They didn’t need much of a military or navy. The powerful countries were busy fighting each other. The only reason America won its independence was because Britain was busy elsewhere. The reason the US didn’t need a strong navy was because the French navy defended the waters used by American trade ships. The American sense of exceptionalism arose from this isolation because there was no powerful countries nearby who either were able or willing to threaten us. All the wars we fought early on were minor and easily won.

So, unlike other countries, US markets developed with little regulation. The Boston Tea Party was partly motivated by fighting the collusion between big government and big business. The Founding Fathers intentionally wanted a disconnection between businesses and state just as they wanted between church and state. As far as I know, this was the first large-scale experiment ever to try to develop a free market. This was possible because America as a country grew as industrialization was beginning. The hope was that free markets would regulate themselves through competition and the innovativeness of early industrialization made people optimistic, but this experiment was largely a failure during the Gilded Age… or at least a failure in terms of a democratic society, especially as understood today.

Before the Progressive Era regulation, big business was powerful which led it to be oppressive and sometimes outright violent. They didn’t call them Robber Barons for nothing. Companies back then didn’t have to deal with government interference. There was no regulation and no safety inspections. Some companies even owned entire towns which they ran like anarcho-capitalist fiefdoms. They owned the stores, the hospitals, the schools, the housing. They owned everything. And, of course, workers had very little control. These company towns was nearly indentured servitude because workers could never make enough money to ever save and cost of everything was high.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/anarcho-capitalism-stateless-society/

Ok, but what about vertical oligopolies and monopolies, as MettaliarYanto says in his response? Also, what prevents a “monopoly of force in a given area” your definition of the state?

“[I]f one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose to move there or later remain there would have no right to a say in how the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures for the town which the owner had established.” [Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, p. 270] Is that not such a monopoly, i.e. state, if private?
Is that not such a monopoly, i.e. state, if private? Contracts that employees signed could have provisions forbidding strikes, organizing, etc., agreeing to pay for police, courts, doctors, stores and militaries hired by the employer.
Company towns had every feature which anarcho-capitalists propose, private police, courts, military, etc. Company rules were law. Buying at the company store was required by their contracts. If they sturck or formed a union, they were fired and evicted instantly. The contracts were entered voluntarily, in your sense. Since rights can be waived, exactly what stops this? The British East India Co. was its own state, ruling for centuries. Same with King Leopold’s Congo, run by his corporation.
“Each mining camp was a feudal dominion, with the company acting as lord and master. Every camp had a marshal, a law enforcement officer paid by the company. The ‘laws’ were the company’s rules. Curfews were imposed, ‘suspicious’ strangers were not allowed to visit the homes, the company store had a monopoly on goods sold in the camp.
The doctor was a company doctor, the schoolteachers hired by the company . . . Political power in Colorado rested in the hands of those who held economic power. This meant that the authority of Colorado Fuel & Iron and other mine operators was virtually supreme . . . Company officials were appointed as election judges. Company-dominated coroners and judges prevented injured employees from collecting damages.” [The Colorado Coal Strike, 1913-14, pp. 9-11]

Working conditions were unhealthy and dangerous. It was common for workers to be become sick, to be maimed or killed. If their health became bad enough or they were maimed badly enough, the person lost their job and probably wouldn’t be able to find another. There was no unemployment or disability pay. If the person died, their family lost it’s main source of income and kids would grow up without a parent. Also, many kids went to work early on and so didn’t get education. Because kids were small, they were used in mines. Because kids were cheap labor, they were used in factories. Many kids also were maimed and killed.

Work was hard and brutal. People were forced to work long hours without breaks, without overtime pay, and without any days off. People were forced to take any work no matter how dangerous because there was no welfare. If you lost your job, you became homeless and possibly starved to death. There were more people looking for work than there were jobs. Life was cheap. Basically, businesses had the upperhand. If you were fired for no reason or were cheated out of pay, you had no recourse. There was practically no regulation and no worker protection. There wasn’t yet any established and powerful unions to represent workers. When workers organized, they were fired and blacklisted. When workers attempted to form unions, union leaders were threatened and killed. When workers protested, private police or goons were used to terrorize and brutalize workers.

Despite all of this, so many people were poor and desperate that they confronted this private power even when it meant mass slaughter. Most of these working class people didn’t have guns or any kind of weapons. These people were so poor they owned very little. All they had was their own life to put on the line.

There was no legal guarantee of workers rights. The government mostly left companies to sort out their own problems. When the government did become involved, it was mostly local government and not the Federal government. In these cases, the government usually sided with the companies. But, in some cases, the Federal government intervened and enforced peace. Workers had more to fear from local governments because local politicians were more closely connected with local business owners.

For example:

This is similar to the civil rights movement. It was local (i.e., small) government that was acting oppressively and unconsitutionally. And it was the federal government that stepped in to help the average citizen. If businesses and local governments acted morally, the federal government would never have had to take drastic measures. The Federal government was responding to a real problem. People like Ron Paul idolize both free markets and small government, but it was the failure of both that caused people big government to defend their rights and lives.

The other thing these capitalist worshippers fail to understand is that, during the Wild West free market of early industrialization, many businessmen weren’t opposed to government just as long as it served their purposes. Bribery and corruption was common. The so-called free market was rife with cronyism. In the early 20th century, many businessmen supported and did business with fascist states around the world. There was even a planned fascist coup of the US which was linked to some businessmen.

If you want to look for the earliest defenders of consitutional rights and civil rights, you wouldn’t look to big businesses. There were, however, some collectivist communities like the Shakers that operated their own businesses and did so successfully. And there were the Wobblies which was one of the early workers movements. Neither of these was anti-capitalist by any means, but they were against the so-called free market that served corrupt power and oppressed the citizenry. Both accepted women and men, blacks and whites as equals in their organizations. The Shakers and Wobblies were some of the only places at the time where women and blacks could have their voices heard and could hold positions of power.

This was a time when blacks and women didn’t have the right to vote and couldn’t hold political office. Even poor white men had very little power. Industrialization was built on an ownership class with the entire working class treated like secondhand citizens. This was also the era of the genocide and ethnic cleansing targeted at the Native Americans. This is the era of the free market that so many worship as being as being an era of freedom, but the supposed freedom in reality only applied to rich white men. Yes, the rich white men were free from government imposition and free to force their will on everyone else.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinkerton_National_Detective_Agency

The Pinkerton National Detective Agency, usually shortened to the Pinkertons, was a private U.S. security guard and detective agency established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850. Pinkerton became famous when he claimed to have foiled aplot to assassinate president-elect Abraham Lincoln, who later hired Pinkerton agents for his personal security during the Civil War.[citation needed] Pinkerton’s agents performed services ranging from security guarding to private military contracting work. At its height, the Pinkerton National Detective Agency employed more agents than there were members of the standing army of the United States of America, causing the state of Ohio to outlaw the agency due to fears it could be hired as a private army or militia.[citation needed] Pinkerton was the largest private law enforcement organization in the world at the height of its power.[1]

During the labor unrest of the late 19th century, businessmen hired Pinkerton agents to infiltrate unions, and as guards to keep strikers and suspected unionists out of factories. The best known such confrontation was the Homestead Strikeof 1892, in which Pinkerton agents were called in to enforce the strikebreaking measures of Henry Clay Frick, acting on behalf of Andrew Carnegie, who was abroad; the ensuing conflicts between Pinkerton agents and striking workers led to several deaths on both sides. The Pinkertons were also used as guards in coal, iron, and lumber disputes in IllinoisMichiganNew York, and Pennsylvania, as well as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

The Pinkertons were essentially a privatized force that combined detective agency, mercenaries, and the types of activities now associated with the FBI. Big business at it’s height was potentially more powerful than the Federal government.

During the Civil War, many blacks and poor whites knew a kind of power they never had before. Their was this whole new class of people who were well-trained and often well-armed. The Pinkertons couldn’t just pick on the poor and weak anymore. There is a reason that it was the outlaws and not the Pinkerton agents who were the cultural heroes back then. There was so much corruption and oppression that people were inspired by outlaws who stood up to power and fought back.

I’ve written about this topic a number of times:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/02/13/libertarian-nightmare/

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/29/anarcho-capitalism-will-not-work/

In the most recent post, I expressed my frustration:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/anarchism-vs-progressivism/

I feel frustrated when someone offers up something like the free market. The striving for freedom won’t save us. The problem is that we aren’t free. We are embedded and enmeshed in, intertwined with and integral to the entire world. We aren’t free of anything. The very idea of freedom is one of those many abstractions that keeps us trapped in the Iron Cage of rationality, the bureaucratization of humanity… costs and benefits, ideologies and systems, improvement and progress. It’s not that any given idea is wrong. Free markets, for example, sound wonderful. What frustrates me is the mindset that constantly creates more ideas to be forced on humanity, on reality, on all the world around us. We think that if we just find the right idea or principle, the right method or framework then the the problems will be solved… but the fundamental problems of civilization are never solved… or at least not so far.

Why I feel frustrated is because of people like Ron Paul. He isn’t a radical conspiracy theorist ranting about the government nor is an uneducated ideologue. Someone like him should know about the history of the US. So, why does he act like he is ignorant of this history or considers it so irrelevant that it’s not worth mentioning? I’m not arguing that there is no problems with the unions and regulations created during the Progressive Era, but it would be morally irresponsible to pretend that vast problems didn’t exist prior to the 20th century big government. Americans gave free markets a chance and free markets failed. Why would any rational person (besides rich white males) want to return to the social and economic conditions of the 19th century?

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* As a note, I should point out that there never actually was a free market during the Gilded Age. For example, the railroads were built with government subsidies and land grants. Collusion between politicians and businessmen has always existed since the beginning of civilization. It happens on the local level as much as it happens on the national level.

Also, I’m not arguing that all 19th century businessmen were corrupt. But I am arguing that most if not all of the wealthiest tycoons became successful at least partly through less than moral tactics. There were other businessmen who fought against these Robber Barons, but they aren’t the names remembered because they aren’t the businessmen who formed the groundwork for today’s big business. Some would argue that the Robber Barons only became corrupt because they colluded with big government, but this certainly wasn’t progressive big government. The point is that corrupt businessmen will try to corrupt government, big or small.