Naomi Klein on Latin America, particularly Venezuela (2007)

Today I’d like to transcribe portions from Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007). The reason being that I was introduced to this book by a close friend back in 2008 during my more “radical” years which involved both feminism and my 4-year stint volunteering within the local peace community (i.e. Left-leaning political circles). Libertarian-leaning as I’ve always been, still I too was attracted to various messages advanced by the Political Left during my 20s, so here’s one example of information I was presented with back then.

Beginning on page 446:

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Despite the attempts of everyone from Pinochet to Cavallo to Berezovsky to Black to portray himself as a victim of baseless political persecution, this list, by no means complete, represents a radical departure from the neoliberal creation myth. The economic crusade managed to cling to a veneer of respectability and lawfulness as it progressed. Now that veneer was being very publicly stripped away to reveal a system of gross wealth inequalities, often opened with the aid of grotesque criminality.

Besides legal trouble, there was another cloud on the horizon. The effects of the shocks that had been so integral to creating the illusion of ideological consensus were beginning to wear off. Rodolfo Walsh, another early casualty, had regarded the Chicago School ascendancy in Argentina as a setback, not a lasting defeat. The terror tactics used by the junta had put his country into a state of shock, but Walsh knew that shock, by its very nature, is a temporary state. Before he was gunned down on the streets of Buenos Aires, Walsh estimated that it would take twenty to thirty years until the effects of the terror receded and Argentines regained their footing, courage and confidence, ready once again to fight for economic and social equity. It was in 2001, twenty-four years later, that Argentina erupted in protest against IMF-prescribed austerity measures and then proceeded to force out five presidents in only three weeks.

I was living in Buenos Aires in that period, and people kept exclaiming, “The dictatorship just ended!” At the time I didn’t understand the meaning behind the jubilation, since the dictatorship had been over for seventeen years. Now I think I do: the state of shock had finally worn off, just as Walsh had predicted.

In the years since, that wide-awake shock resistance has spread to many other former shock labs—Chile, Bolivia, China, Lebanon. And as people shed the collective fear that was first instilled with tanks and cattle prods, with sudden flights of capital and brutal cutbacks, many are demanding more democracy and more control over markets. These demands represent the greatest threat of all to Friedman’s legacy because they challenge his most central claim: that capitalism and freedom are part of the same indivisible project.

The Bush administration remains so committed to perpetuating this false union that, in 2002, it embedded it in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America. “The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy and free enterprise.” This assertion, made with the full force of the U.S. military arsenal behind it, was not enough to hold back the tide of citizens using their various freedoms to reject free-market orthodoxy—even in the United States. As a headline in the Miami Herald after the 2006 midterm elections put it, “Democrats won big by opposing free-trade agreements.” A New York Times/CBS poll a few months later found that 64 percent of U.S. citizens believed the government should guarantee health care coverage to all and “showed a striking willingness . . . to make tradeoffs” to achieve that goal, including paying up to $500 a year more in taxes.

On the international stage, the staunchest opponents of neoliberal economics were winning election after election. The Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, running on a platform of “21st Century Socialism,” was re-elected in 2006 for a third term with 63 percent of the vote. Despite attempts by the Bush administration to paint Venezuela as a pseudodemocracy, a poll that same year recorded that 57 percent of Venezuelans were happy with the state of their democracy, an approval rating on the continent second only to Uruguay’s, where the left-wing coalition party Frente Amplio had been elected to government and where a series of referendums had blocked major privatizations. In other words, in the two Latin American states where voting had resulted in real challenges to the Washington Consensus, citizens had renewed their faith in the power of democracy to improve their lives. In stark contrast to this enthusiasm, in countries where economic policies remain largely unchanged regardless of the promises made during election campaigns, polls consistently track and eroding faith in democracy, reflected in dwindling turnout for elections, deep cynicism toward politicians and a rise in religious fundamentalism.

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Pausing there on page 448 and picking back up again on page 453:

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In December 2006, a month after Friedman’s death, Latin America’s leaders gathered for a historic summit in Bolivia, held in the city of Cochabamba, where a popular uprising against water privatization had forced Bechtel out of the country several years earlier. Morales began the proceedings with a vow to close “the open veins of Latin America.” It was a reference to Eduardo Galeano’s book Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent, a lyrical accounting of the violent plunder that had turned a rich continent into a poor one. The book was first published in 1971, two years before Allende was overthrown for daring to try to close those open veins by nationalizing his country’s copper mines. That event ushered in a new era of furious pillage, during which the structures built by the continent’s developmentalist movements were sacked, stripped and sold off.

Today Latin Americans are picking up the project that was brutally interrupted all those years ago. Many of the policies cropping up are familiar: nationalization of key sectors of the economy, land reform, major new investments in education, literacy and health care. These are not revolutionary ideas, but in their unapologetic vision of a government that helps reach for equality, they are certainly a rebuke to Friedman’s 1975 assertion to Pinochet that “the major error, in my opinion, was . . . to believe that it is possible to do good with other people’s money.”

Though clearly drawing on a long militant history, Latin America’s contemporary movements are not direct replicas of their predecessors. Of all the differences, the most striking is an acute awareness of the need for protection from the shocks of the past—the coups, the foreign shock therapists, the U.S.-trained torturers, as well as the debt shocks and currency collapses of the eighties and nineties. Latin America’s mass movements, which have powered the wave of election victories for the left-wing candidates, are learning how to build shock absorbers into their organizing models. They are, for example, less centralized than in the sixties, making it harder to demobilize whole movements by eliminating a few leaders. Despite the overwhelming cult of personality surrounding Chavez, and his moves to centralize power at the state level, the progressive networks in Venezuela are at the same time highly decentralized, with power dispersed at the grass roots and community level, through thousands of neighborhood councils and co-ops. In Bolivia, the indigenous people’s movements that put Morales in office function similarly and have made it clear that Morales does not have their unconditional support: the barrios will back him as long as he stays true to his democratic mandate, and not a moment longer. This kind of network approach is what allowed Chavez to survive the 2002 coup attempt: when their revolution was threatened, his supporters poured down from the shantytowns surrounding Caracas to demand his reinstatement, a kind of popular mobilization that did not happen during the coups of the seventies.

Latin America’s new leaders are also taking bold measures to block any future U.S.-backed coups that could attempt to undermine their democratic victories. The governments of Venezuela, Costa Rica, Argentina and Uruguay have all announced that they will no longer send students to the School of the Americas (now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation)—the infamous police and military training center in Fort Benning, Georgia, where so many of the continent’s notorious killers learned the latest in “counterterrorism” techniques, then promptly directed them against farmers in El Salvador and auto workers in Argentina. Bolivia looks set to cut its ties with the school, as does Ecuador. Chavez has let it be known that if an extremist right-wing element in Bolivia’s Santa Cruz province makes good on its threats against the government of Evo Morales, Venezuelan troops will help defend Bolivia’s democracy. Rafael Correa is set to take the most radical step of all. The Ecuadorean port city of Manta currently hosts the largest U.S. military base in South America, which serves as a staging area for the “war on drugs,” largely fought in Colombia. Correa’s government has announced that when the agreement for the base expires in 2009, it will not be renewed. “Ecuador is a sovereign nation,” said the minister of foreign relations, Maria Fernanda Espinosa. “We do not need any foreign troops in our country.” If the U.S. military does not have bases or training programs, its power to inflict shocks will be greatly eroded.

The new leaders in Latin America are also becoming better prepared for the kinds of shocks inflicted by volatile markets. One of the most destabilizing forces of recent decades has been the speed with which capital can pick up and move, or how a sudden drop in commodity prices can devastate an entire agricultural sector. But in much of Latin America these shocks have already happened, leaving behind ghostly industrial suburbs and huge stretches of fallow farmland. The task of the region’s new left, therefore, has become a matter of taking the detritus of globalization and putting it back to work. In Brazil, the phenomenon is best seen in the million and a half farmers of the Landless People Movement (MST) who have formed hundreds of cooperatives to reclaim unused land. In Argentina, it is clearest in the movement of “recovered companies,” two hundred bankrupt businesses that have been resuscitated by their workers, who have turned them into democratically run cooperatives. For the cooperatives, there is no fear of facing an economic shock of investors leaving, because the investors have already left. In a way, the reclamation experiments are a new kind of post-disaster reconstruction—reconstruction from the slow-motion disaster of neoliberalism. In sharp contrast to the model offered by the disaster capitalism complex in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Gulf Coast, the leaders of Latin America’s rebuilding efforts are the people most affected by the devastation. And unsurprisingly, their spontaneous solutions look very much like the real third way that had been so effectively shocked out of the way by the Chicago School campaign around the world—democracy in daily life.

In Venezuela, Chavez has made the co-ops a top political priority, giving them first refusal on government contracts and offering them economic incentives to trade with one another. By 2006, there were roughly 100,000 cooperatives in the country, employing more than 700,000 workers. Many are pieces of state infrastructure—toll booths, highway maintenance, health clinics—handed over to the communities to run. It’s a reverse of the logic of large corporations and losing democratic control, the people who use the resources are given the power to manage them, creating, at least in theory, both jobs and more responsive public services. Chavez’s many critics have derided these initiatives as handouts and unfair subsidies, of course. Yet in an era when Halliburton treats the U.S. government as its personal ATM for six years, withdraws upward of $20 billion in Iraq contracts alone, refuses to hire local workers either on the Gulf Coast or in Iraq, then expresses its gratitude to U.S. taxpayers by moving its corporate headquarters to Dubai (with all the attendant tax and legal benefits), Chavez’s direct subsidies to regular people look significantly less radical.

Latin America’s most significant protection from future shocks (and therefore from the shock doctrine) flows from the continent’s emerging independence from Washington’s financial institutions, the result of greater integration among regional governments. The Bolivian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) is the continent’s retort to the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the now buried corporatist dream of a free-trade zone stretching from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Though ALBA is still in its early stages, Emir Sader, the Brazil-based sociologist, describes its promise as “a perfect example of genuinely fair trade: each country provides what it is best placed to produce, in return for what it most needs, independent of global market prices.” So Bolivia provides gas at stable discounted prices; Venezuela offers heavily subsidized oil to poorer countries and shares expertise in developing reserves; and Cuba sends thousands of doctors to deliver free health care all over the continent, while training students from other countries at its medical schools. This is a very different model from the kind of academic exchange that began at the University of Chicago in the mid-fifties, when Latin American students learned a single rigid ideology and were sent home to impose it with uniformity across the continent. The major benefit is that ALBA is essentially a barter system, in which countries decide for themselves what any given commodity or service is worth, rather than letting traders in New York, Chicago or London set the prices for them. That makes trade far less vulnerable to the kind of sudden price fluctuations that devastated Latin American economies in the past. Surrounded by turbulent financial waters, Latin America is creating a zone of relative economic calm and predictability, a feat presumed impossible in the globalization era.

When one country does face a financial shortfall, this increased integration means that it does not need to turn to the IMF or the U.S. Treasury for a bailout. That’s fortunate because the 2006 U.S. National Security Strategy makes it clear that for Washington, the shock doctrine is still very much alive: “If crises occur, the IMF’s response must reinforce each country’s responsibility for its own economic choices,” the document states. “A refocused IMF will strengthen market institutions and market discipline over financial decisions.” This kind of “market discipline” can only be enforced if governments actually go to Washington for help—as Stanley Fischer explained during the Asian financial crisis, the IMF can help only if it is asked, “but when [a country is] out of money, it hasn’t got many places to turn.” That is no longer the case. Thanks to high oil prices, Venezuela has emerged as a major lender to other developing countries, allowing them to do an end run around Washington.

The results have been dramatic. Brazil, so long shackled to Washington by its enormous debt, is refusing to enter into a new agreement with the IMF. Nicaragua is negotiating to quit the fund, Venezuela has withdrawn from both the IMF and the World Bank, and even Argentina, Washington’s former “model pupil,” has been part of the trend. In his 2007 State of the Union address, President Nestor Kirchner said that the country’s foreign creditors had told him,” “‘You must have an agreement with the International Fund to be able to pay the debt.’ We say to them, ‘Sirs, we are sovereign. We want to pay the debt, but no way in hell are we going to make an agreement again with the IMF.'” As a result, the IMF, supremely powerful in the eighties and nineties, is no longer a force on the continent. In 2005, Latin America made up 80 percent of the IMF’s total lending portfolio; in 2007, the continent represented just 1 percent—a sea change in only two years. “There is life after the IMF,” Kirchner declared, “and it’s a good life.”

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Stopping on page 457.

My thoughts follow. To start off with, I continue to have mixed feelings over such material, more so now than ever before, because I do take issue with the policies of the IMF and am aware and critical of Big Corporate excesses. There remains truth in concerns over externalized costs and the ongoing pursuit of cheap labor and cheap resources extracted from nations where few alternatives are available. One could argue, as my stepdad and others do, that these examples of corporate outsourcing for production of products brings much-needed money to these communities and provides more opportunities than they otherwise would have. Yes, but what is to become of them when these plants up and leave, headed for other locations where even cheaper labor pools and/or resources can be had? Appears to leave economic devastation in their wake, which we can also see in the U.S. where communities depended on businesses that moved their operations to China or Mexico (as occurred in my own hometown down South). Sufficient alternatives don’t tend to spring up in the vacuum left behind, leading to a rise in economic and social problems in those areas, which can then turn political. I remain perplexed over what can be done about this, though I grasp that simply shrugging our shoulders and expecting people to make do with what little is left isn’t much of an answer. But neither is trying to implement a communistic/socialistic model instead since that too will prove unstable, and likely even more so.

This conundrum has left me frustrated since either way we turn it appears we’re damned. Though capitalism offers the most promise out of the modern models we’re presented with, corporatism that has arisen out of it is proving extremely alienating and inhuman. As in it forces humans to adapt to it, yet it cannot adapt to serve the needs of humans. Globalized corporatism adheres to a different set of values than do most human beings, which then stokes strife that often enough does result in political upheaval on down the road. Somehow this matter must be addressed, yet neither leaders on the political Left or Right are willing (or able) to do so. What Naomi Klein refers to as “neoliberalism” is often enough used interchangeably with the term “neoconservatism” and is embraced by both major political parties in the U.S. For whatever differences may be ascribed to these two terms, what they each fundamentally share in common is political fusion with global (multinational) corporate and banking agendas. And it’s that unto itself a lot of us out here continue to take issue with.

Now, was Naomi Klein’s book biased? Yes it was. She put her own political spin on events based on her Leftist political outlook. Certainly can’t claim her to be politically neutral, independent, or nonpartisan in her delivery there. And I understand that nowadays in a way I didn’t 10 years ago. Everybody’s got an agenda, or so it seems. So let’s look at a current news stories on how Venezuela is faring these days.

An article from The Guardian (Jan. 21, 2018) titled “‘We loot or we die of hunger’: food shortages fuel unrest in Venezuela“:

Angry about empty supermarket shelves and soaring prices, some people are breaking into warehouses, ransacking food trucks and invading outlying farms.

During the first 11 days of January the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict, a Caracas rights group, recorded 107 episodes of looting and several deaths in 19 of Venezuela’s 23 states.

[…]

There have been previous incidents of looting but analysts fear that the current wave could linger amid the Venezuela’s economic freefall.

President Nicolás Maduro blames the country’s woes on an “economic war” against his government by rightwingers and foreign interests.

But his critics say his government has disrupted domestic food production by expropriating farms and factories. Meanwhile, price controls designed to make food more widely available to poorer people have had the opposite effect: many prices have been set below the cost of production, forcing food producers out of business.

Meanwhile the government has less cash to import food because of its mismanagement of the oil sector, where production has fallen to a 29-year low. Hyperinflation and the collapse of the currency have put the prices of foodstuffs available on the black market beyond the reach of many families.

But rather than reforming the economy, the government has resorted to handouts and far-fetched schemes.

So somewhere along the way that experiment obviously failed, and within a mere decade of when Naomi Klein’s book hit shelves. What are we to make of this? Seems to me that while relying on the IMF indeed proved problematic, so did switching over instead to a socialist scheme.

To be delved in deeper at a later date…

“Joe Rogan Experience #634 – Abby Martin”

REALLY enjoyed that podcast. Very worthwhile.

On capitalism, corporatism, and my own personal views on modern life

Chatted with someone online recently about economics and American life, though admittedly in the wee hours of the night and after consuming several brews isn’t a good time for me to try to unpack my thoughts and ideas on such a vast series of topics. So today I’m dragging the inquiry back to my blog to see what can be addressed more clearly.

It’s not uncommon for people to be quite attached to the concept of “capitalism” and to to take issue with those of us who critique it. But I want it understood that I am not necessarily entirely anti-capitalist; furthermore, by being a critic of what I refer to as the modern economic setup in the U.S., this does NOT imply I am any less critical of communist strategies. It’s tricky because I personally see ALL of these centralized top-down economic systems as inherently problematic and worthy of scrutiny, yet some people seem to see such matters as if a competition between two opposing teams where one must choose a side and declare loyalty. I reject that notion and see it as folly. While I recognize that’s not a popular view of things, it’s what I’m operating with, and I’ve given a lot of thought to these matters and will continue doing so for as long as I remain in existence.

Now, part of the issue it appears I’m having with folks comes down to simply agreeing on what all capitalism comprises. It’s very important that we get our terms defined more clearly here, since otherwise we just wind up mired in confusion and any debate winds up getting us nowhere. I’ve noticed that it’s not uncommon for some folks to equate virtually ALL trade and barter schemes with capitalism, but that’s a falsity. Commerce existed long before capitalism came on the scene. I have stated many times that I support a true free market economy, HOWEVER, that is not what we have today, nor is that what capitalism originated as.

This is where it gets very sticky, because my present view on the matter is that capitalism allowed to exist without proper government regulation has demonstrated that it will behave in a coercive, monopolistic/oligopolistic fashion that eventually undermines capitalism itself, turning the system into something else that actually winds up being anti-capitalistic in nature. We’ve observed how capitalist entities can rise in power to the point where they have a disproportionate amount of power compared against the people, and they have then used this economic power to sway laws and legislation in their own companies’ favor, at the expense of the small businesses rendered unable to compete in such a scheme. And through this we’ve seen the rise of Corporatism. Corporatism is not capitalism, per se — one might consider it a bastardization of that original concept since it winds up restricting free competition if legally allowed to do so. And really, at a time of extreme specialization and high financial barriers to entry in a growing number of sectors (particularly those involving advanced technologies), how can it realistically be any other way?

Now, some like to argue that corporatism somehow isn’t directly related with capitalism, and frankly, such claims blow my mind. So let’s take a moment to look at what each of these economic setups are and what they originated from.

[Jesus. I just wrote out this WHOLE frickin’ piece and lost it all the way back to this point. DAMMIT! So let’s try this again, maybe breaking it into two parts this time.]

On the topic of capitalism, the Encyclopædia Britannica had this to say:

The development of capitalism was spearheaded by the growth of the English cloth industry during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. The feature of this development that distinguished capitalism from previous systems was the use of the excess of production over consumption to enlarge productive capacity rather than to invest in economically unproductive enterprises, such as pyramids and cathedrals. This characteristic was encouraged by several historical events.

In the ethic encouraged by the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, traditional disdain for acquisitive effort was diminished, while hard work and frugality were given a stronger religious sanction. Economic inequality was justified on the grounds that the wealthy were also the virtuous.

Another contributing factor was the increase in Europe’s supply of precious metals and the resulting inflation in prices. Wages did not rise as fast as prices in this period, and the main beneficiaries of the inflation were the capitalists. The early capitalists (1500–1750) also enjoyed the benefits of the rise of strong national states during the mercantilist era. The policies of national power followed by these states succeeded in providing the basic social conditions, such as uniform monetary systems and legal codes, necessary for economic development and eventually made possible the shift from public to private initiative.

Beginning in the 18th century in England, the focus of capitalist development shifted from commerce to industry. The steady capital accumulation of the preceding centuries was invested in the practical application of technical knowledge during the Industrial Revolution. The ideology of classical capitalism was expressed in Adam Smith’s Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), which recommended leaving economic decisions to the free play of self-regulating market forces. After the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars had swept the remnants of feudalism into oblivion, Smith’s policies were increasingly put into practice. The policies of 19th-century political liberalism included free trade, sound money (the gold standard), balanced budgets, and minimum levels of poor relief.

World War I marked a turning point in the development of capitalism. After the war, international markets shrank, the gold standard was abandoned in favour of managed national currencies, banking hegemony passed from Europe to the United States, and trade barriers multiplied. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought the policy of laissez-faire (noninterference by the state in economic matters) to an end in most countries and for a time cast doubt on the capitalist system as a whole.

Here we see capitalism as being composed of many aspects, none of which could’ve existed within a vacuum and all of which have proven necessary over time as this type of system dynamically “evolved.” We see that capitalism isn’t a static concept and has changed since its inception during the fall of feudalism on into the rise of the Industrial Era and on through into our post-industrial setup.

And when it comes to capitalism or a “free market economy,” as mentioned already, I think a lot winds up ascribed under that heading that existed long before and is really a matter of free commerce and exchange (historically known as trade and barter). That’s a point of contention that I may try to flesh out in greater detail another time.

The definition of “corporatism” is a bit hazier. But for my purposes today I wish to focus in on the American system primarily.

In an article written by Robert Locke for FrontPage Magazine (2002), he had this to say:

What is corporatism? In a (somewhat inaccurate) phrase, socialism for the bourgeois. It has the outward form of capitalism in that it preserves private ownership and private management, but with a crucial difference: as under socialism, government guarantees the flow of material goods, which under true capitalism it does not. In classical capitalism, what has been called the “night-watchman” state, government’s role in the economy is simply to prevent force or fraud from disrupting the autonomous operation of the free market. The market is trusted to provide. Under corporatism, it is not, instead being systematically manipulated to deliver goods to political constituencies. This now includes basically everyone from the economic elite to ordinary consumers.

Unlike socialism, corporatism understands that direct government ownership of the means of production does not work, except in the limiting case of infrastructure.1 But it does not represent a half-way condition between capitalism and socialism. This is what the West European nations, with their mixed economies in which government owned whole industries, tried to create until Thatcherism. Corporatism blends socialism and capitalism not by giving each control of different parts of the economy, but by combining socialism’s promise of a government-guaranteed flow of material goods with capitalism’s private ownership and management.

What makes corporatism so politically irresistible is that it is attractive not just to the mass electorate, but to the economic elite as well. Big business, whatever its casuists at the Wall Street Journal editorial page may pretend, likes big government, except when big government gets greedy and tries to renegotiate the division of spoils. Although big business was an historic adversary of the introduction of the corporatist state, it eventually found common ground with it. The first thing big business has in common with big government is managerialism. The technocratic manager, who deals in impersonal mass aggregates, organizes through bureaucracy, and rules through expertise without assuming personal responsibility, is common to both. The second thing big business likes about big government is that it has a competitive advantage over small business in doing business with it and negotiating favors. Big government, in turn, likes big business because it is manageable; it does what it is told. It is much easier to impose affirmative action or racial sensitivity training on AT&T than on 50,000 corner stores. This is why big business has become a key enforcer of political correctness. The final thing big business likes about big government is that, unlike small government, it is powerful enough to socialize costs in exchange for a share of the profits.

The key historical moments in the development of American corporatism can be easily traced. It got its start from the realization, during the Progressive period around 1900, that the night-watchman state was too weak to make the large corporate actors of the economy play fair. The crucial premise that enters here is that the capitalist economy cannot be trusted to be self-regulating, as it previously had been. This collapse of trust was also implicit in the 1913 creation of the Federal Reserve system. What the Great Depression did was destroy a second kind of trust: that the economy would reliably deliver material goods without government intervention. With these two different kinds of trust gone, corporatism becomes not only worthwhile, but necessary. Crucially, it becomes psychologically necessary, independently of whether government can deliver on its promises, because people instinctively turn to government as their protector.

[…]

Clearly, the New Deal was the biggest jump forward into corporatism, though this was not fully understood at the time. […] But the fundamental proposition, that government should take responsibility for ensuring the flow of material goods to the people, was rapidly embraced by the American people, which continues to embrace it today whether it admits it or not.

[…]

The economic Left likes corporatism for three reasons:

  1. It satisfies its lust for power.
  2. It makes possible attempts to redistribute income.
  3. It enables them to practice #2 while remaining personally affluent.

The economic Right likes corporatism for three different reasons:

  1. It enables them to realize capitalist profits while unloading some of the costs and risks onto the state.
  2. The ability to intertwine government and business enables them to shape government policy to their liking.
  3. They believe the corporatist state can deliver social peace and minimize costly disruptions.

[…] Most economic arguments today are not between a socialistic ideal and a capitalistic one, as many seem to believe, but are arguments within the corporatist consensus.

[Bold emphasis mine.]

That’s an interesting article worth checking out in length if you have the time (link above).

That last sentence I quoted there is key, I do believe. And this leads back to my thoughts about how much the political “Right” and “Left” ultimately wind up sharing in common.

Now, if we’re to try to claim corporatism somehow did not arise out of capitalism, then that just appears to defy reality. It did, partly as a reaction to it, partly as a means of attempting to stabilize it. And partly this was due to the will of the people.

So now I’ll switch focus onto my own personal stance since that seems to be what’s causing the greatest confusion with those I interact with. [This being a shorter version since I already typed this all up for 2 hours earlier before WordPress decided to delete it all without saving the full draft.  banghead_smilies  I likely will revisit the topic another day to go into greater detail.] The so-called “Luddite-ness” of my own viewpoint is noted, but I want to stress that my position isn’t anti-capitalist necessarily. While I am indeed very critical of the capitalist system, I’m also critical of all centralized-scheme alternatives proposed as well (including communism and big-scale, top-down socialism). So I am unable to view this as an “either/or” situation where I must profess loyalty to one camp or the other — no, that’s not called for here. It appears more beneficial for me at this time to simply observe what’s unfolding and to record my thoughts and concerns about it, because I do not have a dog in this fight going forward. That’s part of the beauty of remaining child-free and self-employed in that I am afforded time and energy to try to make sense out of what’s occurring without feeling like I must succumb to pressures to completely immerse myself in this game. And I understand that may sound a bit bizarre to someone who’s chosen to take his life in an entirely different direction through pursuing a career and raising a family.

Look, part of the trouble with this is that from what I read, hear, and observe I’ve come to see this whole ordeal as unavoidable, especially by this stage. But that’s not to say that this scheme is automatically or inherently evil necessarily either. It’s simply part of the process of humans unfolding their potential. And through doing so we’ve pushed our backs against a wall where any other alternatives seem implausible by this point, largely because of how much we have emotionally, psychologically, and materially invested in this current setup. While the system will continue to shift and change, it will not be fundamentally undermined, not if the majority has any say in the matter. And so this becomes one more thing I must accept because I am powerless to change it. And you have asked what “solution” I would offer instead. This system, as it stands now, was created through hodge-podged efforts spanning back hundreds of years, underpinned by Christian ethics, and so any alternatives that possibly could come into being likely would have to arise just as organically. I don’t believe any one person is capable of concocting a vision of such magnitude, partly because there are always unforeseen variables that play a role in how any system “evolves” over time.

My next point is that I recognize it is not my place to force my will onto others, while I recognize plenty of others out there do indeed wish to force their will(s) onto the rest. My aim primarily at this point is to dodge such attempts so as to maintain as much freedom as possible, for however long that lasts. Because my own aim is to live and learn and ponder and explore, and I see no reason that I shouldn’t be free to do so. By being conscious of not getting tied down to obligations and expectations, this has provided greater flexibility. Though yes, everything is a tradeoff, as always. But my own goal for many years has been to establish a perch on which I’m able to explore as I see fit, and this I’ve managed to accomplish, as someone who no longer desires a great deal of money or material goods. I say all this in an attempt to demonstrate how my viewpoint has been shaped and why it may differ from people pursuing other ambitions.  In short, I choose to be less invested in this Game and am not attached to its eventual outcome.

Let me re-state that to make sure it hits home: I understand and accept that the eventual outcome is out of my hands. C’est la vie.

What power I do have is very limited and fairly localized. As is true of most of us. And I do feel an obligation to act on that in accordance with my own moral code, though that does not entail playing the game as others may choose to do so. Some may consider critics of little value, and that’s fine. They may be right, but it is what it is at this point. And a big reason for why it must go this way is that I also understand that humans aren’t as malleable as we like to think we are. Oh sure, we can flex to great extents, but not without consequences, whether we’re aware of them or not. Humans have biologically evolved for ways of life that did not involve big centralized governments or living in concrete jungles or experiencing high stress levels daily due to the modern economic imperative, all while residing in unprecedentedly highly-populated urban areas among strangers with countless conflicts in interests.

While I understand that this is all traceable back to our earliest human strivings and is natural in that regard, what humans have managed to construct is quite unnatural. Not all are capable and/or willing to psychologically adapt to what is unfolding. Sometimes it gets me thinking about animals in a zoo and how some cease breeding while in captivity. That’s a natural response past some point, for whatever reasons, and I feel it within myself as well, long before I understood it for what it is. There are psychological needs required to be met if humans are truly to thrive, and yet we seem to be experiencing a shift away from that (which would be away from what Erich Fromm would refer to as “life-affirming”). From this psychological conundrum suicides also arise due to existential crises. Not all can adapt the way some others apparently can or at least aim to. So this pressure to get people like myself to find a way to adapt so as to play the game and prove “successful” according to standards set by others will prove to be a waste of time and energy. Any alternatives sought come from within the individual, and these are not the sort of things one can clearly convey to another much of the time.

My way of maintaining sanity is to distance myself so far as I’m able from the rat race and to observe aspects of it. Because learning gives me pleasure. That might not prove very beneficial to others, and so be it. This is part of the reality created when humans become so atomized and feel alienated. I’m not sure how to put this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m heavily lamenting this fate. Some days I indeed do, but many others I just try to accept it for what it is, recognizing that my goal isn’t to live a long life but rather to enjoy experiences from day to day so far as I’m able. And, admittedly, I am twisted up currently and seeking new ways of navigating in my journey going forward, but that’s a personal matter and another topic for another time. My point here is that I believe we’re all impacted to various degrees, though some have buffers (internally and externally) that aid them in coping and navigating, but that is not a luxury afforded to all, if not even most. Not that anyone should feel guilty about this, seeing as how individual lives shake out as they do. But the same holds true running in the other direction in terms of one’s psychological and emotional faculties and how all of that’s expressly influenced by the very type of society one is expected to fit the mold(s) of. To minimize the importance of this is to miss out on why so many people out here are struggling to come to grips and/or rebelling.

It’s indeed a tangled web we humans have managed to weave…

Another point worth mentioning when it comes to possible alternatives is how we’re commonly led to accept this current fate due to propaganda that vilifies our human history, denigrating past ways of life as “barbaric” and “savage” so as to present this modern way as “progress.” And people buy into it. Now, we all could point to modern comforts and life-saving technologies that have eased many of our burdens, and all of that would be true; but there’s another side to this “progress” that we fail to give as much weight, that having to do with major centralized schemes and advanced warfare and an ever-greater push toward some new type of conformity in order to accommodate what’s come into being. In a sense, we’re out of our element, and understanding that alone helps shine light on the psychological conundrum that goes hand in hand with what we esteem as “progress.”

We’re dealing with a progression, most definitely. And everything in life comes with tradeoffs, with pros and cons, and not all in equal measure. I am unable to choose a side within this debate since it’s all beyond me, beyond what I’m able to solidly back and promote and accept as a higher order. Because from where I stand it looks like we’re taking flight from our natural origins and are attempting to transcend that with something of our own design. It’s certainly a lofty ambition, but I’m not one of those who sees humans as having evolved as far as we like to think we have. Furthermore, I don’t see transcendence on the horizon — no, rather, it appears what’s coming is greater sublimation (or, more accurately, subjugation), this time not only to a wide collective but also to the fruits of our own labors, our own technologies and the economic imperative that allowed all of this to be possible. It’s a double-edged sword, as so much in life turns out to be. We have created a vicious cycle that perpetuates itself by this point, which also makes it possible for so many people to simply fall asleep at the wheel, knowing they’ll likely wind up provided for in the end regardless. Thanks to the political game and its direct ties with the economic game and the technologies that have reinvented our habitats and world.

While it’s all fascinating to behold, it’s not something I can feel morally secure backing. So I have to carve out my own way and make do, and that’s fine. It’s all a big, ongoing inquiry so far as I’m concerned. Parts of it are tragic, parts of it are amazing; some is within our control but plenty appears no longer to be, being either the domain of Nature or of the centralized power scheme and its workings. I can choose not to feed the beast more than absolutely necessary — that’s one form of power that I do try to exercise. But I do not kid myself that any utopian scheme will arise from the route we’re currently on. This is an age-old trajectory that has to run its course apparently. If for no other reason, because humans have to learn everything the hard way. But those who wish to branch off and try something else, so far as they’re able to, I support as well. I’m interested to see how humans manage to navigate this maze we’ve constructed, though we of today will only be around to see but a small sliver of the big scope.

Hard to “pick a side” when this is how one approaches such matters.

Much of what influences my own worldview is probably best expressed by others whose work and ideas I try to point to (when feeling up to transcribing or able to find relevant clips). And I’ll aim to continue doing so going forward, in case others might get anything out of it.

[And next time I will copy and save my work before uploading a post since this all came out very differently the second go-round. Ugh.]

A look at Bill Clinton of the so-called “Left” (part 2 of my inquiry into “Leftists” vs. “Rightists”)

Been thinking about how I want to further open up the conversation about “Leftists” vs. “Rightists,” and I’m immediately bogged down by the labels and how they mean such different things to different people. For example, is “liberal” synonymous with “leftist”? Is “conservative” synonymous with “rightist”? I don’t personally think so. There are liberal-minded libertarians, so where might they fall on the spectrum? And there are plenty who call themselves Democrats and Republicans who wind up supporting nearly identical policies that wind up expanding the scope and power of government in all the wrong ways.

A famous case-in-point: Bill Clinton. He ran on the Democratic ticket and yet when we look at what he actually promoted throughout his time as president, nearly everything he did paved the way to making it possible for George W. Bush to take shit to the next level once he was elected. Important examples include Bill Clinton’s role in supporting:

  • NAFTA and CAFTA (North American and Central American Free Trade Agreements, respectively), which virtually destroyed the incomes of small farmers in Mexico and Central American countries by pushing cheaper U.S. produce, which then helped pave the way for so many out-of-work Hispanics to vie for a chance to cross our borders in search of better economic opportunities (which subsequently led to their own exploitation as “cheap labor”);
  • GATT (General Agreement on Trade & Tariffs), which shortly thereafter allowed for the formation of the WTO (World Trade Organization) that claimed to be about “liberalizing trade” but actually turned out to be a global scheme devised to cater to major corporate interests;
  • helping chip away at and by the end of his presidency effectively gutting the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 with the passage of the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act (a.k.a. the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999), which was what had been put in place to restrict affiliations between commercial banks and securities firms, opening our country up to the crazy, albeit lucrative for some, derivatives game that has severely threatened and weakened our markets despite pandering to select corporate interests;
  • federal “Three-Strikes” law that did more to fill prisons than to actually seek proper justice in too many cases, at a time when the U.S. prison system’s incarceration rate was already growing nearly exponentially since the 1970s;
  • selecting as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin, a man who’d previously spent 26 years working for Goldman Sachs, a company that has since been playing an ever-increasing role in U.S. and foreign politics and global economics via lobbying efforts and direct infiltration (as is also clearly evident in the Obama administration);
  • selecting as his Vice President Al Gore, a man who later got involved in (and became very rich off of) carbon-related shenanigans and who was also tied in with Goldman Sachs (not that I doubt humans are impacting our environment in deleterious ways, just that I don’t believe Gore actually cares about any of that nearly as much as padding his own pockets);
  • as well as selecting Janet Reno as U.S. Attorney General during his presidency, a woman who came to be involved in several high-profile and questionable cases, including the extermination of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, and the ATF entrapment of Randy Weaver in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, giving the impression that she was instrumental in helping push a new form of conformity on the American citizenry (though she now, while knowingly afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, serves on the board of directors for the Innocence Project, which strikes me as a bit tragicomical, to say the least).

More could be said about him (not to mention his wife), but that’s enough for now to get my point across. How much of Bill Clinton’s actions strike a person as actually “rightist” in nature as well as in outcome? More police control. More corporate control. Guess it depends on how one defines “rightist” and “leftist,” huh?

Reviewing situations like this led me to see both the “Right” and the “Left” as belonging on a modern scale that has virtually nothing to do with true conservatism or libertarianism or independent thought and individualistic strivings. Both of these supposed “camps” are pushing toward greater government involvement in the lives of U.S. citizens and less allowance for individual initiatives on the ground level. Both are promoting corporatist agendas, first and foremost, above and beyond taking into account the needs and desires of average people and their voting constituents.

Where does corporatism fall on the scale? Can we really consider it “conservative” in nature when it’s really a radical economic overhaul? Surely not. Seems to me we’re dealing with separate scales altogether when we aim to make sense of what’s “left vs. right” and “liberal vs. conservative”; the former being more about the leanings within a corporatist political-economic environment and the latter being about how average individuals identify themselves (despite their voting tendencies).

Next time I hope to go into the so-called “Christian Right” and demonstrate how that too largely panders to and embraces corporatist ideology.

“RE- The Story of Your Enslavement (Stefbot)”

A video I stumbled back across from Professor Corey Anton in 2011 in response to what remains a very popular video by Stefan Molyneux:

He was responding to this 2010 video from Stefan:

Zeroing in on the State while ignoring the roles of banks and major corporations. Hrmm. In the final analysis, I can’t go for that out of fear and loathing toward all those mammoths. How do we go about checking transnational corporations’ power without the aid of some form of government? Do people think they’re bound to play fair in mediation?  Ha!  Yeah right! See the track record.

We’re looking fucked either way right about now in the U.S. Not trying to be a “downer,” just sayin’.

Prof. Anton’s channel is very interesting and always offers up valuable food for thought and helps break inquiries down in new ways.

“Four Horsemen” film

Today’s documentary offering, “Four Horsemen”:

I do have several quibbles with the content of this film, but I listened to it and offer it up as food for thought for others. Plenty of parts I appreciated, but we each have to approach this kind of information critically. Often I find myself in agreement with the portrayal of problems but take issue with the proposed solutions (same held true with the last “Zeitgeist” film).

“In the age of Snowden, humanity is now redefined. We are not citizens, we are subjects to be monitored. We are not humans beings, we are resources…”

CHistrue’s video “Remaining Human in the Age of Snowden Part I”:

“Remaining Human in the Age of Snowden Part 2”:

“Remaining Human in the Age of Snowden Part 3”:

“Cover-ups in Modern History”:

Love this man’s channel. CHistrue is also on Google+. (Looks like his videos currently have embedding disabled, so click on the links to watch them on YT.)

A favorite documentary: “What Would Jesus Buy?”

“What Would Jesus Buy?”:

That was Reverend Billy Talen and the Church of Stop Shopping, performer activists spreading the word about the dangers of hyper-consumerism.

In recent news, Reverend Billy was arrested again, this time for protesting in a Manhattan JP Morgan Chase Bank and has his court date scheduled for Monday, Dec. 9th, 2013, where he will face possibly being sentenced to 1 year in jail: http://www.metro.us/newyork/news/local/2013/11/17/activist-reverend-billy-faces-a-year-in-prison-for-chase-protest/

To sign the petition to be sent to the District Attorney on his behalf: https://www.change.org/petitions/reverend-billy-faces-one-year-in-jail-asks-for-petition-signatures

Getting rid of government will not make us free

This video irritates me. Already commented a bunch on its comment thread, but will post the rest of my thoughts here in my own sandbox.

Now 23 minutes in, and I gotta say, while I do appreciate Stefan’s critique of the State, his love of capitalism is blinding him to the truth about corporate power. Politicians are heavily influenced by big industries, especially those companies that financially contribute to their campaigns or who employ them once their terms end. To state that it is politicians responsible for what’s going on and though plenty of businesses benefit and deliberately influence politicians to sway them more in their favor, corporations deserve no real blame because they are only behaving as any of us would — that logic is fucking me up. Politicians are behaving in their own greedy interests and corporate swindlers behave in the financial interests of themselves and the corporations they belong to, yet one is a travesty and the other is deemed perfectly rational and to be expected. Huh.

Well, here on the ground it looks an awful lot like the same damn thing. That’s how it winds up affecting people anyway. Are we then to assume if no corporations were there to buy politicians’ favors that politicians would then behave more cooperatively and cater more to their constituents’ interests? What has history shown us? The answer is “not likely” or at least not for long.  The problem here ultimately doesn’t boil down to the government or corporations but rather to power. POWER. It corrupts, and it’s centralizing all over the place. Meaning average people are losing it and those already claiming a great deal of power are consolidating it and grabbing for more. It doesn’t make much of a difference whether those individuals are directly paid by the government or some mammoth organization hobnobbing with major players within the government — the results wind up sucking.

What gets me about Stefan’s argument is that he seems to think corporations will play by some fairer guidelines if the government were removed from the equation. I’ve listened to him talk in other videos about how instead of courts, people and corporations they do business with could settle disputes through some sort of arbiter or mediator. Okay, now tell me how that differs tremendously from what law enforcement and the courts are supposed to be responsible for already, then explain how we think:

  1. the people will be able to maintain equal power in such an arbitration scenario, especially if the people lack money and arbitration services are provided by the very corporation involved in the dispute (because otherwise it would have to come from some outside entity with binding power to enforce the ruling, which again sounds an awful lot like government — if it were perhaps some sort of non-profit or committee what would keep it too from being influenced and swayed by corporations just as they currently are manipulating politicians?);
  2. any rulings against the corporation in question might be enforced if sanctions are no longer possible (thanks to doing away with the State) and forceful rebuts are disallowed;
  3. people will be able to stop corporations from purchasing up countless other companies and forming oligopolies that undermine and destroy free market values;
  4. people will be able to stop corporations from forming alliances and purchasing what essentially amounts to private security forces that may prove violent in protecting and upholding the interests of major corporations (presumably only a small faction of the general population would be able to buy in for such protection themselves, leaving many without protection—that’s what privatizing these services will amount to—and who or what could stop them?).

If corporations wind up being the only game in town, I imagine the situation will remain just as corrupt as it is already, if not more so. To admit that big-dog businessmen tend to be scoundrels and to acknowledge they are employed within amoral organizations driven mostly by relatively short-term profit motives, and to ALSO note that some of these corporations have grown to mammoth scale and gone global to where they no longer are shackled to what any one populace wants or needs (nor do they have an incentive to provide real value or quality, only what will sell), how the hell do we think that setup by itself will amount to anything better than our defunct government has managed?

Why would we choose to put on blinders when it comes to corporations and the active rise of the Corporate State? If government was out of the picture that would mean complete deregulation for them and virtually no protections in place for the rest of us. I just don’t see how that isn’t the 2.0 version of what’s wrong already. We’ll be at their mercy even more than we are already, especially in a society where ALL forms of violence is disallowed (however that would be enforced). Do people really think they wouldn’t hire out security to protect their businesses from protestors? And do you really think those people will follow the non-aggression principle in doing so? Yeah right. That doesn’t sound like any human society we’ve ever witnessed. Ever.

And yet this scheme will all somehow magically be maintained by the very people who’ve dropped the ball at this sort of shit all up through history: us. Ha!  Yeah, right. Most people today don’t even care to vote, yet we think we’ll all come around and take our responsibilities seriously and carry out our civic duties and become wiser consumers and work with banks and corporations to create a truly equitable situation? Sounds like a pipe dream to me. Rather, as keeps happening, people will get lazy and will seek out shortcuts and conveniences, and corporations will offer them, and we’ll collectively wind up sucked into something stupid to the point of being tragic in short order.

First off, what ground do we common people think we have to stand on? We don’t produce nearly anything for ourselves anymore. We’re completely dependent on corporate goods and services, without which our lives would look very different and most would scream in horror and beg for a return to comfortable living. That genie’s out of the bottle, folks. And even if we wished to return to more productive lifestyles where we grow much of our own food and utilize the land to provide for our own needs as individuals, families, and small communities, how would people go about it when most of the land is owned by banks or corporations? We average people don’t own much, not outright, no we don’t.

So it looks like we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. Dissolve the government and this will likely only yield a longer leash to major corporations. Try placing corporations back under charters and they’ll likely high-tail it overseas, leaving millions job-less. People won’t settle for that. The truth is we depend an incredible amount of these major corporations, whether we want to or not, yet it’s been proving nearly impossible to restrict them through the use of government regulations since corporate cronies have infiltrated the government. Take away the government and you’ve just made it easier on major corporations (probably a mixed blessing for smaller corporations though). We haven’t exercised our power as consumers so far in a way that’s reined in corporate power and bent it to our will, and that trend doesn’t appear to be changing much. They provide and we buy what’s available. To live in modern times, we must. Look at our lifestyles, look around our own homes and take note of the countless corporations involved in creating our environments. It’s what we’ve grown up with and it’s all we know. We have become domesticated, spoiled on air-conditioning, fast food, and any number of conveniences.

This is where we stand, whether we like it or not. Call me a pessimist, but I’m not convinced anything short of a return to smaller communities that largely provide for themselves and are able to claim ownership of their land and property and defend it as they need to will result in real progress. All else appears to be an avenue to bullshit 2.0. And yet I acknowledge my own dream remains a pipe dream too.

But positions like that taken by Stefan are what has turned me off to what’s calling itself libertarianism these days. They might not realize it, but they’re catering to neoconservative ideology, because that’s who they’re plowing the way for primarily. They’re following nearly the same gameplan: to deregulate corporations, to privatize everything under the sun, and to paint for the public this illusion that such actions will open us up to some capitalistic, “free market” paradise.

Don’t buy into illusions, examine the realities. Read back on capitalism in its earliest stages and observe how incredibly human-unfriendly the system was. Improvements came about through what? That’s right, government intervention. To learn more about the enormous power corporations can and do wield in our nation and most especially in less powerful nations, read Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. It’s a very informative book that’s very carefully sourced (further info available on her website) for those interested in doing further research.

I’m not here to defend our government, ’cause lord knows it’s become a giant mess that needs to be overhauled in a serious way (beginning with impeaching at least 75% of Congress, IMHO), but I’m also not here to pretend corporations offer a better way, certainly not as they stand now. No, I’m critical of both ends in this equation and can’t bring myself to feel chummy with either one. Because both are about centralizing power, concentrated in their hands and not ours. The truth seems to be that neither give much of a damn about most of us — the government is supposed to give a shit and oftentimes doesn’t, but corporations are expressly in the business of giving a shit only when and where they stand to profit, period. Giving either side full rein is a mistake, and letting them fuse together to reign in an increasingly fascistic manner is a bad idea too. Looks like we’re faced with two crappy scenarios, and one is pretty much guaranteed to win out.

And perhaps after people are crushed under this next phase in the history of civilization we’ll snap out of it and realize where our docility and love of comfortable living is allowing us to be led once again. Or maybe not. My gut says probably not.

[Edited for typos 11/10/2013]

Shifts Happen

A recording from June 2013 that explains a bit more on my current outlook: