Ryan Salisbury is the author and chief editor of Post-Scarcity Anarchism. You can follow him on Twitter @handle_of_ry.
Peter Berkman is a contributing author and is bringing communalist direct democracy to his small city on the West Coast.
Helen Richter is a retired doctorate professor and a contributing editor.
A full-color version of this publication and previous issues can be found at postscarcitymagazine.com.
Murray Bookchin's works can be found on blackrosebooks.net.
Nitzan and Bichler's works can be found on bnarchives.yorku.ca.
Ryan's older work can be found on transferics.com.
Front cover, from top: Kobane Syria in Jan 2015, Ferguson Missouri, Charlottesville Virginia, Still from Jin-Roh: The Wolf Squadron, Still from Akira, Killy from Blame!.
Back cover: The titular character from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Luffy and Chopper from One Piece, Renton and Eureka from Eureka Seven.
Small editorial on the cover:
I wanted the cover to contrast the dystopia we're currently living in and the utopia we want to go to. This turned out to be harder than I thought:
Finding any utopian imagery was just about impossible. The only really utopian visual media I was able to find was Star Trek, which to a lot of
people is pretty boring, and being aesthetically dark and dour, doesn't evoke the sort of hopeful, bright mood that a utopian vision really should.
I made it work with images that weren't necessarily utopian, but were definitely striving toward a better world. Nausicaa's valley is sort of a utopia within a dystopia; Luffy wants to be the king of the
pirates, not to rule others, but to be free from rule; Eureka and Renton are both part of a rebel state, who again want to be free.
It has become too easy and too common to exaggerate the everyday despair of the world into a dystopia; just look at the similarity between the Ferguson cops and the Kerberos Squadron from Jin-Roh. A utopian setting could work well for a comedy, and Futurama was almost there. If you know of something that I missed, let me know; if you're a visual artist of any kind, visual depictions of utopias are much needed. Hope is sorely needed when we're living through the apocalypse. I hope this issue gives you some hope.
Problematic: A fantastic, futuristic new device that allows you to call someone or something out, without even being able to describe what's wrong with it.
Donuts: Twitter democrats who identify with… [squints]
making fun of a leftist politician who was kept out of the DNC with a strike-breaking tactic?
Jabroni: Someone who willingly loses to capitalists in the hope of being rewarded.
Jabroni Science: The science of losing to capitalism in the hope of reward; see also: Economics
Personal Responsibility: As individuals with free will, we are responsible for our own actions and shouldn't just blame our problems on others.
Leftists, feminists, black lives matter, abortionists, muslims, immigrants, antifa, cuckservatives, the deep state, degenerates, and millennials would do well to learn this,
because they're ruining my country.
See also: What Happened by Hillary Clinton
Whoop whoop: Assent with one's comrades.
Antifa: An Acrostic
A: Anti-fascism is morally correct.
N: No fascists, please.
T: Take your fascist threats and get in the sea with them.
I: I'm going to punch you fascists if you don't fuck off!
This is the third world, and I'm from the first, baby!
God, you're gay! You don't think violence solves anything?
The point is, you can never be too greedy.
Congratulations, the bank gave you a credit card. That doesn't make you better than me. Nobody gives me credit, because I'm a bad risk, and I don't pay my bills on time. So I have to work for what I have.
Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don’t know what to do. Love!
My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.
We don't respond to threats! I'll explain it one more time in a little language I like to call English. Or maybe I should say it in Mexicano?
Why you fishing for compliments? You know that's a horrible personality trait. Nobody likes that.
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt is the de facto standard textbook for right libertarians. It is quite an illuminating book,
not because Hazlitt is an expert on the subject, makes good points, or writes well, but because you have probably heard every argument from it
before from a white guy who runs a photography business, told you to learn economics and complained about the oppression of seatbelt laws. I would not recommend
wasting your time or money reading it; I got a copy from the used book store to see what it was all about; what started with me calmly reading and
writing counterpoints in the margins quickly progressed to me writing snarky insults, then yelling at the dead author and spilling beer all over it. Despite
being garbage, the book is quite popular among the right. I think it is time something similar exist for the left: a primer for a modern understanding
of political economy, going beyond Marx without being a thousand pages long.
Like Hazlitt, I will begin my primer on political economy by blaming the poor understanding of the subject on someone. I will also follow his
format of laying out some common fallacies that people make. However, from there, I am going to depart from it, because he proceeded to base his entire
book on "a hoodlum [who] heaves a brick through the window of a baker's shop," and I like to think that the subject deserves a bit more serious
consideration than imagining a pretend situation that has little to do with the enormous scale and consequences of political economy.
Before going further, I should clarify: The title of the article is just a parody. You shouldn't presume to have a good understanding of political economy after
just one lesson. This is just a high-level overview of some basic concepts with some supporting evidence. Concepts, including those in this article,
are always subject to change or invalidation; we should always consider evidence more correct than concepts and be prepared to have our concepts
falsified by contrary evidence. Therefore, if you know of any contrary evidence to the concepts in this article by the time you read it, I hereby declare myself
(not the concepts) exempt from all criticism. If you accept these ironclad and legally-binding terms, read on.
Political economy, as it was known by its earliest authorities, until the political dimension was swept under the rug, is often complex and it is easy to commit
fallacies. I will give a few examples:
The first and second of examples I will give represent the bulk of Hazlitt's arguments. The first is making implicit assumptions that are not true; e.g., "X may displace jobs,
but it will also create an equal or greater number of jobs." No real argument is made as to why X would create an equal number of jobs, it is merely assumed to be true.
You can hear this one in any conversation about technological unemployment, where robotic factories are compared to automobiles displacing buggywhips. Automation will
displace jobs, but it will also create just as many jobs. Using the same example,
the second fallacy is false equivocation. Even if we accept that automation will create more jobs than it displaces, anyone who has worked two or more jobs
knows that "job" is not a unit of measure and two jobs are not necessarily equivalent. This fallacy shows up everywhere, even in more scholarly economics,
where it is assumed that goods can just be freely substituted for one another, or that two companies are competing over market share for exactly identical products.
The third fallacy is ceterus paribus sophistry—if you have never heard the term, ceterus paribus is "all else being equal." The fallacy is
when someone (who is usually explaining why capitalists need to screw workers) holds some value in an equation fixed as if it could or should not change. The
example here, as I just implied, is "paying workers more, ceterus paribus, will lead to higher prices for consumers." The fallacy is assuming that no
other factors could or should change. The fixed value here is profit; as you have probably realized, saying that higher pay leads to higher
prices assumes higher pay has to come out of consumers' pockets rather than highly-paid upper management's pockets.
There are some fallacies more common with neoclassicals; neoclassical economics is what you have probably learned if you ever took an economics class or listened to a boring old man
from Praeger U drone on about capitalism on Youtube. Neoclassical economics can be best characterized by its Newtonian view of the economy. They consider the
economy a machine, so much so that they use mechanical terms to refer to it, like "equilibrium" and "elasticity", and describe various "laws" of economics. The first
fallacy here is economic determinism—the belief that if X happens, then Y will definitely happen. Economies are social systems, composed of humans and human
organizations, so taking it as a given that something will definitely happen is an easy way to look like a fool. The example for this is "an increase in demand
will lead to an increase in price." This might be true, but it could also just lead to an increase in sales, or no change at all. People are not infallible,
they are not perfectly rational, and they are not perfectly informed, so there cannot be any real laws of economics because they could easily be violated.
The second fallacy for neoclassicals is more of a category, which is fallacies of aggregation, yet so major it undermines that basic neoclassical understanding
of how prices work. However, in classical neoclassical fashion, the neoclassicals have basically ignored this fallacy and proceeded to act as if nothing was wrong
The most major of this category is the idea that you can take a rule that applies to a very specific, limited circumstance, and just act as if it behaves the same
way in aggregate. Neoclassicals created a mechanical model of prices, what we all know (and definitely love) as the supply and demand model, which assumes a single
person and a single commodity, and they simply assume that things work the same way in aggregate. Less egregious, but probably more common, is examining the effect
of a policy only in aggregate, and assuming that because nothing changed in aggregate, nothing changed at all. This is similar and tied to "in the long run"-ing
problems away. Hazlitt repeatedly creates these fallacies, for example, by saying that labor-saving technology doesn't lead to "net" unemployment. He throws a cloth
over those who suffer from unemployment in the short-term/individual level; that doesn't show up in aggregate, long-run statistics, so it doesn't matter.
Finally, for neoclassical fallacies, there is almost certainly the single most common economic fallacy, which is simply treating any arbitrary thing as if it is
governed by supply and demand. This requires two assumptions to be true: the seller is pricing their good according to supply and demand (or has no control of the price), and the good is
equivalent to similar goods. This is also popularly used to argue against improvements for workers: "If we raise the price of labor, then the demand for labor
will fall, so you'll create unemployment." Everyone has heard this before. Another very popular use of this fallacy is describing the effects of introducing more
money into the economy, otherwise known as quantity theory of money. The argument here is that printing more money lowers the "value" of money; this makes no sense,
however, because as I will discuss later, money is the unit that's supposed to measure value. Adding more dollars into the economy doesn't change the value of a
dollar just as adding more rulers into the economy doesn't change the length of a foot.
What is Money?
The most important part of any economy is money. Without understanding money, there is no understanding the economy. The most basic understanding of any science
would start with its most basic elements; if you want to understand physics, you should start with mass, velocity, and acceleration. If neoclassicals taught physics,
they would skip over all that and start talking about the laws of motion. If they taught biology, they would skip over molecular and cellular biology and start talking
about meiosis and respiration. Rather than starting with the "law" of supply and demand or the lamest story ever about window-smashing, we need to start with money.
What is money? it is a rather more complex topic than we might think, and Debt by David Graeber covers a lot of ground on it (it looks long but it is an easy read).
Money in the context of this lesson is a few things:
A unit of measure. The thing it measures is not "value", but cost. The cost that it measures is related to its second function.
A tool to mobilize (or demobilize) people. If people are compelled in some way to get money, then people can compel others to perform tasks for them for money.
While many believe that money measures "cost" as in value, or as in resources, or as in labor, the cost is more like mobilization potential. Another way to think of it
is measuring a specific form of political power. We have a common cliché, "money is power," but it is not just metaphorically true, it is literally true. States create
money to exert power beyond their direct reach; in Debt, Graeber points out the difficulty for a state to set up logistics for a standing army. You would need many
loyal people with a wide variety of skills in a large territory to organize provisions for the soldiers. However, should you give the soldiers money, demand taxes from people,
and tell the soldiers to pay people the money to get provisions from them, the people will have to do the work and organization needed to get their tax money from the soldiers,
by doing work for them. Historically, states were most often formed out of cities, which issued currencies in order to mobilize soldiers, bureaucrats, and other members.
In order to ensure that the members of the state were adequately provisioned, taxes were levied on populations within their political control. This decentralized the process of
provisioning to interactions between state members and those within the political influence of the state.
Today, things are not as simple. Whereas in the past, the same governing body made laws and issued currency, today the two functions are increasingly separate. Starting with
the first central bank, the Bank of Amsterdam, the power to issue currency has gradually migrated to banks. In the U.S., we have the Federal Reserve, which is a semi-independent
body created through federal legislation. As a result, money is created as debt on top of being subject to taxation. There is also so-called "endogenous money", private money
created by banks through lending. Contrary to the conventional wisdom of fractional reserve banking or money multipliers, in reality banks do not loan deposits; they simply
create an entry in a balance sheet representing a liability to the borrower. The reason banks maintain fractional reserve levels is not because they systemically have to,
but because they legally have to. Banks today have a similar power to the states of long ago; they are able to mobilize people and organizations through lending.
The primary difference between lending & repayment and issuing & taxation is that the borrower both receives the money (or it is paid on their behalf) and pays it back,
whereas currency given to a government employee is given back to the issuer by a different person, who receieved it from a government employee.
The currency creators, both the government and the banks, have no actual need to collect revenue to balance their spending. The government because it has the sole legal authority
to print U.S. dollars (USD), and the banks because their "spending" is just a promise to pay entered into a balance sheet. Both have politically-imposed limits on their spending. Governments
pay interest on their spending to the central bank and have political factions fighting over its distribution, and banks collect enough revenue to maintain a legally-mandated reserve rate.
A currency issued by the government that uses it is a sovereign currency. By using a sovereign currency, the government has significant power to carry out large-scale organization.
A government without a sovereign currency is subject to the political economic demands of foreign powers: it needs to trade in order to obtain the currency it uses. For the sovereign,
this means its ability to mobilize people extends beyond its official political borders; the U.S.'s influence therefore extends far beyond the 50 states. On the converse, many
poor countries such as Ecuador and Zimbabwe (which actually officially uses eight currencies) trade in the USD, and so must trade with the U.S. in order to obtain enough dollars for their
own use. Currency sovereignty is not absolute—many countries have trade that occurs in USD despite having a national currency, such as Venezuela. The degree to which a
currency is sovereign is based on the balance of power between the government and the polity and between the government and other economies that interact with it.
If we want national social programs as part of a pragmatic liberatory strategy, we should try to increase currency sovereignty, so the funding of those programs doesn't depend on
collecting enough revenue. In other words, the people that say "End the Fed" are right, but for silly reasons, such as thinking gold is magic and no other money in history has been fiat.
The real reason we should end the Fed is because it reduces capitalist control of the social fabric. An example of how this could be done is H.R. 2990, introduced by representatives Conyers
Instructs the Secretary of the Treasury to originate United States Money to address any negative fund balances resulting from a shortfall in available government receipts to fund government appropriations.
Subjects to criminal and civil penalties any person who creates or originates United States Money by lending against deposits through "fractional reserve banking."
This bill, in other words, would not only transfer the ability to create U.S. dollars from the Federal Reserve back to the Treasury, it would also attempt to take away the banks' ability to create
endogenous money and force them to collect revenues in order to make loans. This would represent a major political power shift away from capitalism towards a political organization that is
at least somewhat controlled by the public. Banks, as a business, should be required to have money in order to spend it (or just not exist). The government is not a business. There is no
reason for it to need a revenue surplus or even a balanced budget. It is the acceptance of the money by workers and organizations that matter from the perspective of the issuer of the currency.
We accept our local currency because we have to pay taxes with it, we have to buy stuff with it, and we can get drugs and toys with it. There is no danger to the government for
spending more than it earns, because it runs the printing press.
On the state or local level, there will almost certainly not be a local sovereign currency, so the government actually will depend on raising revenue through taxes.
How should we analyze money?
Money is a unit of measure. That means it doesn't become more or less "valuable"; in other words, the idea that inflation is the supply and demand-based "value" of money is nonsense.
$1 is $1. The "value", as in usefulness of money to us, is affected by inflation, but inflation is not the existence of too many dollars, it is the increase of prices in general over time. It does measure
demand, as in how much money capitalists demand from you for food and shelter and clothing. Treating inflation as if it is caused by too many dollars is one of many examples of pro-capitalists (pro-caps)
inverting reality in order to shift the blame for the problems of capitalism away from capitalists. Printing money does not cause inflation—not increasing the money supply slowly, not
increasing the money supply rapidly3. Capitalists do not care what the money supply is, their only real concern is beating other capitalists at accumulating revenue.
This also means that deflation is when prices are falling over time, when businesses and sellers are losing power to workers and buyers. Conventional economists consider the
"deflationary spiral" to be apocalyptic for an economy. With that level of fear from capitalists,
I can only imagine that it would actually be great for regular people, as long as we respond to the failure of businesses with the spirit of the anarchist entrepreneur, the squatter.
Plus, old people are always complaining about how the price of things goes up, so a deflationary spiral would get them to be less crotchety.
The most important implication of inflation being price change is that it is a redistribution of wealth upward to capitalists. The capitalist charges you more money while giving you
the same thing. Again, pro-caps invert reality here and claim that inflation is a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor4.
They will also claim that it is good for borrowers, because it "reduces the value of the money paid back". Again, this is nonsense. The only thing that makes debt less
burdensome is growth in your buying power. If you earn more, a smaller proportion of your income is going toward your debts. If prices deflate, then you're spending less overall,
so your debt is less burdensome to your income. It doesn't matter to you how much stuff the capitalist can buy with the money you're giving to him. If your wages don't keep pace with
inflation (subinflationary), you're losing buying power and your debts become more burdensome. Again, not because your dollars are "less valuable", but because capitalists are charging you more.
Money comes from somewhere. It does not just materialize out of the ether into the economy, someone gets it from a money issuer. Every dollar has to be given to someone on some condition.
We can improve our understanding of the power of the public vs. the capitalists by looking at how much of the money being spent by the government goes to capitalist businesses vs. how much
goes to social programs. We can also add on top of the former the amount of endogenous money, which represents a claim on someone's income by the bank. It can be difficult to do this well:
There are lots of ways that an increase in spending on social programs can actually represent more money going to capitalists, such as increased healthcare spending as a result of the
price of healthcare increasing, or on mandatory programs, which are funded by the people who later use them (e.g. social security). Money spent on government employees, rather
than businesses, means there is more going to individuals and less going to executives and investors.
What we call the neoliberal period would be
characterized by subinflationary income growth, a reduction in discretionary spending on social programs, and the co-optation of discretionary social programs by capitalists, such as SNAP,
to offer less to their workers without causing major social unrest.
There are better and worse ways the government can spend the money it creates.
The largest government employer in the U.S. is the Department of Defense, with 1.3 million employees, or 0.4% of the U.S. population.
Its primary legacy has been creating a Hell on Earth in dozens of countries from its inception to today, creating al-Qaeda and ISIS, causing birth defects with depleted uranium munitions,
being the largest single consumer of energy on the planet, and employing millions of lanyards whose political ideations could be in the 2050 edition of The Banality of Evil.
To contrast, at its peak, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) employed 2.5% of the population. Its legacy includes LaGuardia Airport, Griffith Observatory (image search it), Louisville
Fire Department Headquarters, New Orleans Public Library, Schenley Park, McCoy Stadium, and Jenkins Culvert. My favorite part about the WPA is that some of its major criticisms were
having far-left elements playing a major role, being a "hotbed of communists", and having lazy workers with poor work habits.
If we are going to have a government and it is going to employ millions of people, it's clearly better to build airports, bridges, fire stations, theaters,
schools, libraries, and parks, than guns, bombs, missiles, tanks, jets, drones, and security theater.
A major misconception by pro-caps when analyzing money is that rich people are better with money, and we want them to have more of it so they can create jobs or something.
In reality, poor people are far better at using money than rich people. Poor people spend almost all of the money they get. They spend it entirely on things they need or want to use. Rich people
spend their money on dumb shit like yachts with submarines, car collections, mansions that require full-time staff, gold toilets, etc. They also use money to acquire political power and
fuck everyone else to enrich themselves. Finally, they stash it away in secret hiding places like fucking raccoons. Giving money to a poor person is, objectively, a better way to
spend it, because they will use it for things that they need, and it will be put right back into circulation, instead of being used to buy a million dollar pen or a politician.
It's important to remember that money does not go away once it is spent. Hazlitt frequently uses this trick, where he acknowledges this only until the money goes somewhere that proves some
point he's trying to make. For example, when the government does X, it is just taking money from A and giving it to B. This is not untrue, but neither is it a good argument against
doing X. Especially when A is the rich and B is the poor, X is an excellent idea.
Another important concept when analyzing money is that it is a flow of power. This fact is clearer the larger the amount of money becomes. Once you're in the tens of millions
magnitude, you are talking about investment, the nature of which is quite clearly political, and the etymology of which comes from "to clothe in the official robes of an office."
56 In our current political economic reality, power flows mostly to the top. The most powerful people
spend money on mobilizing the less powerful, but only on the expectation that more power will flow back to them. A capitalist who employs you expects that paying you $10 an hour
will earn him $100 an hour. He is using his power to mobilize you, a worker that needs money, to bring customers, who need access to goods, to give him more than he gave to you.
The flow can also be compelled in more forceful ways, such as a company towing your car and demanding you pay to get it back, or a government charging you and pushing you into
prison labor because you had some crack.
Money flows can also represent a shift of a different sort of power than simply liquid money's ability to mobilize workers. As an example, a study used land purchase databases
to analyze the global flow of control over land. Unsurprisingly, the wealthy Global North does the majority of acquiring land, while the poor Global South does the majority of
exporting. This is interesting, for one, because no power flows follow the same pattern on many levels of organization within capitalism. Two, it represents an invisible conquest
of land on a global scale. Again, it is not quite the same as pre-capitalist history, where control over land meant political and industrial control; land in other countries acquired
through trade is subject to the political control of the host country (to the degree the country has it, at least) but control of the revenue collected from any industrial use of the
land goes to the country that owns it.
The flow of money as power can illuminate realities that we usually ignore because of our preconceived theories of capitalism. An important example is that where Marxist theory
says that capitalist power is based on ownership of the means of production, the reality is that the real power is rooted in control over the mobilization & intent of society.
David Ellerman's conception of firmhood explains this further7:
Corporations are owned; that is no myth. But corporate [means of production] can be hired out just as labor and other factors can be hired in, so the corporation is not necessarily the firm (i.e., the party undertaking production) even with respect to its own plant and equipment. It is the pattern of those hiring contracts that determines who is the firm.
A major oil company might own the facilities of a gas station but not operate the station as a business. The gas station facilities would be leased to an individual who would run the station as an independent operator. In other cases, an oil corporation might operate the station by hiring in the people to run it. Following the Mideastern oil crisis of a few years back, gas prices escalated and the profit potential of gas station operation increased. Some major oil companies which had previously leased out their stations decided to reverse the contracts and hire in the labor. The independent operators were notified that their leases would not be renewed when they expired. However, the oil company would be happy to hire them as employees to continue running the gas stations.
On a global scale, we could say that China dominates ownership of the means of production; it has an enormous industrial sector and therefore the means to produce. However, despite owning
the means of production, they are often not the ones who decide what to do with it. The power to hire, and the power to shape the social fabric, those are the real forms of capitalist
power. It makes little difference who actually owns the means of production if it requires investment (permission from the upper class, essentially) to use them anyway. Some
small company could run a factory but not actually have the liberty to use it in any way they wish; they may be constrained by rents and financial realities that require them to hire it
out as much as possible. It isn't ownership or control of the means of production that offers the most power, it is control over the money (capital) that has to flow through human hands in order
to perform any social activity. Less abstractly, capital is control of human organization.
What is a Price, and How is it Formed?
A price is a value (as in an assigned quantity) measured in the money of account. It functions as an interface between a payer, a payee, and an object.
The object is the thing that is priced, which can be a good or service, but also permission to do something, or the withholding of force by the payee.
In other words, prices aren't simply limited to goods, they also include fines, bribes, taxes, and so on. Whereas conventional economics restricts
a price to payment for goods and services, a more general understanding of political economy broadens the definition of a price to be any nominal
amount of money in the payer-payee-object relationship.
Prices are formed with many possible logics; no "theory of value" can explain how all prices are formed. The first strike against a theory of value
explaining a price is that there's no reason to believe prices represent value at all. Most obviously, we could consider the popular example to explain
the "paradox" of value, diamonds and water. The paradox is that diamonds, something largely useless, command a
higher price than water, something infinitely useful and critical to survival. Rather than taking this as evidence that a price doesn't measure value,
many economists trouble themselves with explaining how prices actually do represent value and we just need to figure out how, exactly. While prices
are influenced by value, they are much more strongly influenced by power. Consistent, continual inflation in nearly every capitalist economy also
contradicts the idea that prices are value. Everything is not becoming more valuable, and pay for most is lagging behind. The only thing that explains
this, is that price is fundamentally about power.
We typically think of all prices as market prices. In other words, we think of supply and demand above all else governing the market.
An influential empirical study conducted by Gardiner Means and Adolf Berle in the 1930s on corporations found that not all prices were market prices.
In subsequent studies, no more than 60% of prices (usually more like 25-30%) were found to obey market price rules. The majority of prices are "administered prices", also known
as "mark-up" or "cost-added" prices. The price does not depend on supply or demand, it depends on the cost of the item, plus some markup. Corporations hold
prices steady, varying the production of the product, rather than the price of the product.
Then, of course, there are less-formal prices, such as prices set in peer-to-peer sales, like on Craig's List; this is based more on precedent,
estimation, and desperation. If you're going to sell something on Craig's List, you try to figure out what other people might be selling it for,
so you don't screw yourself or fail to sell it. Your thing will probably be different, which will require estimating a difference from the precedent,
or to estimate a price from scratch if no one else is selling the same thing. If you really need money, and someone offers to buy it for less than what
you're asking, you may let it go for that amount just to get the money in time, if you don't have other options. The reason I choose this example is not
because it is especially relevant to political economy, but to highlight the power relationship in the process of setting a price. Your desperation and
the number of alternatives you have are both factors in the balance of power between you and the buyer. Between this example and the price a corporation
charges you for a product, the only real difference is the balance of power.
The balance of power determines the extent to which the payer's logic or the payee's logic determines the price. When you're buying a bike on Craig's List,
you often have near equal bargaining power to the seller. You can haggle the price with them. The reason you can't haggle the price of your phone is because
corporations wield vastly more bargaining power than a person on Craig's List. In fact, there are two immensely different price "clusters" depending on
the terms of the sale: You can buy the phone as part of a contractual agreement for around $0-200, or buy the phone unlocked for closer to $700-1000.
The logic behind the high price is simply cost plus margin. The logic behind the lower price is it gives them a guaranteed, risk-free revenue stream much
greater than the $600-800 discount they give you on the phone. In both cases, the only power you have in the negotiation is which of the two choices you will
take, if any.
Now, what determines the cost of a good or service? There are two main subcosts: materials and labor. The cost of materials is based on the cost of any
materials that went into the resulting material, as well as labor. Hypothetically, this relationship would continue until we hit some base cases with just labor.
Really, though, today we don't do anything without some material cost, so there are circular relationships. What this means is that the labor theory of
value is, in part, correct. Prices are essentially based on labor. However, they also contain markup, and that's where other factors come in. Subjective theory
of value is also, in part, correct, since corporations can charge more if the perceived value of a product is pushed higher.
Prices not for goods also obey this relationship. The government, wielding the power of legitimized physical force as well as legal force, has the power to put
a price on avoiding retribution for being caught violating a rule. If you are an ordinary prole, you rarely have the power to do anything but give them what
they want. However, if you're a capitalist, you may have the ability to hire a legal team to go to court and change either the perception that you broke a
rule, or the price you have to pay to avoid an escalation of force. Capitalists can also decide that the price they would have to pay for getting caught breaking
a rule is less than the increase in revenue they would get out of breaking the rule.
What is Capital?
Capital is commonly thought of as a "means of production" (MoP). This comes from the contemporary Marxist understanding of capitalism as "a socio-economic system
based especially on private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of the labor force."8
The neoclassical definition of capital is quite similar to "means of production":
In the business world the word capital usually refers to an item in the balance sheet representing that part of the net worth of an enterprise that has not
been produced through the operations of the enterprise. In economics the word capital is generally confined to “real” as opposed to merely “financial” assets.
Different as the two concepts may seem, they are not unrelated. If all balance sheets were consolidated in a closed economic system, all debts would be
cancelled out because every debt is an asset in one balance sheet and a liability in another. What is left in the consolidated balance sheet, therefore,
is a value of all the real assets of a society on one side and its total net worth on the other. This is the economist's concept of capital.
While this makes sense as a glib statement about "real" value as opposed to "nominal" value, in the business world, capitalists care far more about that balance sheet
than they do about their "real" assets. It is the balance sheet, not the real stuff, that the success of the business is judged on.
Capital goes far beyond "means of production," and again I will use Chinese manufacturing as an example: China has a larger share of the world's "means of production"
than the United States9, but still its economy is considered less-developed, its economic power subordinate to the United States.
If we were to accept conventional conceptions of capital, then China would have the most capital by far, and thus should be the dominant economic power. Why are they not?
Because it is not ownership of the means of production that determines economic power, nor is capital means of production. As previously mentioned, it is the flow of social control
that determines economic power, and that defines capital. Capital is fundamentally financial, and finance is what controls the process of shaping the social fabric.
It's not that means of production cannot be capital—they often are—but means of production is only capital when it is represented by a capital asset.
Bichler and Nitzan's excellent work on capital explains it well:
The modern corporate owner does not view capital as comprising tangible and intangible artefacts such as machines, structures, raw materials, knowledge
and goodwill. Instead, he or she is habituated to think of capital as equivalent to the corporation's equity and debt. The universal creed of capitalism
defines the magnitude of this equity and debt as capitalization: it is equal to the corporation's expected future profit and interest payments,
adjusted for risk and discounted to their present value.
[The] elements of corporate capitalization – namely the [corporation]'s expected earnings and their associated risk perceptions – represent
neither the productivity of the owned artefacts nor the abstract labour socially necessary to produce them, but the power of a corporation's owners.
In the capitalist order, it is power that makes the owned artefacts valuable to begin with. Moreover, the power to generate earnings and limit risk goes far
beyond the narrow spheres of 'production' and 'markets' to include the entire state structure of corporations and governments.
Not only are means of production capitalized, businesses themselves are. A publicly-traded corporation has a present value, an expectation of future earnings, a certain
amount of risk, and it can be bought or sold, both in part (by buying/selling shares) and as a whole (through mergers and acquisitions). A business isn't really a "means of production";
in order to produce a microprocessor, you need a chip fab, but you don't need a multinational tech company. Fab 32 is a "means of production", Intel is not. We could expand
the scope of the definition of
"means of production" to include businesses in order to preserve the "capital is means of production" concept, but this makes the term "means of production" less
meaningful and the definition circular: capital is means of production, and means of production is whatever capital is.
Capitalist businesses grow their revenue, and thus increase the value of their capital in four ways defined by Bichler and Nitzan:
"Green field growth": creating new revenue streams by creating new products, services, markets, or increasing sales of current output.
Reducing costs: making existing revenue streams more efficient, by cutting costs.
Increasing "depth": making existing revenue streams larger, by inflating prices.
Increasing "breadth": acquiring or integrating others' revenue streams through mergers and acquisitions (M&A).
Ordinarily, we think of green-field growth and cost-cutting as the primary means for capitalists to increase their profits. However, these are actually
less effective than inflation or M&A at increasing revenue. Cost-cutting is highly-competitive and generally depends on technological or social changes
that make lower costs possible, which are commonly adopted by all capitalists. Green field growth is difficult and risky. Better than both of these methods is charging
more for what you're already selling, which cumulatively causes what economists call "inflation". The best method by far is acquiring an existing business,
with its organization and revenue streams intact. Some of the world's largest corporations are conglomerates formed through extensive M&A, such as Berkshire
Hathaway, Dow, or Comcast. The most successful capitalists use both inflation and M&A to differentially accumulate (that is, accumulate faster
than other capitalists, as opposed to "maximizing" profit, which is impossible in practice) the most. In fact, as capitalism has progressed, inflation and
M&A have developed into countercyclical trends.
Money is a tool of power, and capitalization is the most effective means of accumulating monetary power. Prior to the advent of capitalization, the only
understanding of increasing monetary power was mercantilism: Maximizing exports of finished goods and accumulating stocks of money on the national level at the expense of foreign
nations. Mercantilism looked only at present value. Capitalism looks at future value; by trying to look ahead at what the value will be later, capitalists can
acquire assets and earn revenue from their appreciation. Bichler and Nitzan believe the earliest capitalists were German woodcutters, who valued woodlots based
on the amount of wood that would be there, rather than the amount of wood that was presently there. By doing so, they could purchase land at a discounted
value, the lower value that it presently had without wood, then profit from the wood that later grew there. Mercantilists view political economy as a collection of stocks
and the acquisition of monetary power as a zero-sum outcome in the present; capitalists view political economy as a shifting collection of flows and the acquisition of
monetary power as a differential process that extends into the future.
There are several reasons why capitalization is the most effective means of accumulating monetary power. First, due to the growth of money and inflation, securing
a dominant position means accumulating revenue faster than your competitors. If you
fail to look into the future for the value of what you acquire, you could overspend and your assets could underperform. Second, capitalization makes sense out of
different ways to accumulate revenue. When both risk and future value is considered, it becomes apparent that trying to establish new revenue streams is risky,
while acquiring or increasing extraction from existing ones is relatively safe. Third, capitalization allows for the creation of complex financial instruments, some of which
(credit default swaps) famously crashed the global economy in 2008-09.
To restate the major important points covered thus far:
Money is actual power. It grants the ability to mobilize workers to arbitrary ends.
Firmhood is a social role, in which the firm mobilizes industry toward its own ends.
Prices are the outcome of a power process between buyers and sellers.
Capital is not the means of production, but financial management of the continuous process of reshaping the social order.
Each of these are topics in their own right that could be written about extensively. Post-Scarcity Anarchism Vol. 3 had an article giving a slightly more comprehensive
overview of capital as power. I highly recommend reading Capital as Power, the Bichler and Nitzan book. Neighbor Science episode 3 goes more in depth
on prices. Ellerman's essays describe firmhood more thoroughly. Debt by David Graeber and modern monetary theory go further into money.
Considering these points together, it is apparent that the Marxist narrative of capitalism is lacking in its descriptive power. Domination by capitalists goes far beyond
the employee-employer relationship and ownership of the means of production. Capitalists in control of firms exercise control of hierarchies, both within their
own corporate dominion and through control of hierarchies of other organizations. Capital, or finance, is the organizing logic of these hierarchies, and prices are the
way power balances are quantified. Hopefully with these concepts, you will be able to make more sense out of the increasingly complex and tumultuous world we live in.
Anti-civilization theorists (including Deep ecologists, biocentrists, and normative primitivists, etc) have suggested that back in the stone age and beyond there was a
life of leisure and plenty. With all due recognition to certain egalitarian dimensions INTERNAL to various non-civ relationships, we must understand them also as realms of
labor, ignorance, and xenophobic ingrouping and outgrouping. The very laborious dimension that capitalism enforces, anti-civ theorists and practitioners want to create through non-
artificial exponents of labor.
Through work, the process of transforming raw material into artifice, we enable a potential to automate and mechanize parts of labor and the means of
labor (the realm of biological necessity) and undesired work, to allow us to participate in political action and self-managed work. Political action is the public participation
in history, where we immortalize our consequences through the ripple effect of action, shaping the human condition for ourselves and others. An expanded standard
of necessity, (that includes things that were considered luxuries prior), also means that the necessary labor to reproduce such needs expands.
Non-civ humans are usually romanticized or demonized. There is either a conception of nature as inherently stingy, or so abundant that
without work we do not have to labor. In pre-civ societies, 40 hours and more a week were used to obtain food resources 1.
Far from the "original affluent society", Non-civ societies were realms of labor where we were forced to uptake biological processes without the
technics to do more with less. Labor, in capitalist societies, is largely subsumed to the means of hierarchical work, and the work itself is primarily
subsumed to the end of labor (biological necessity) for workers in a way that is technologically avoidable. Yet a low wage earner in the US does less work to
gain more resources than they would in a non-civ society. This is due to artifice, the thousands of years of dead labor that have given us the world
to act within. And as capitalism is explored, it is amazing how technics allow us to get so much with so little not because of capitalism but in spite of it, because:
"Capitalization is a measure of control [over production] and not production." (Ryan Salisbury), and we get less out of production by not having direct
control of production, as well as psychosocial stress (through structural violence 2 and the negation of autogestion).
There are ways to develop productive forces that are non-capitalist, in fact it is desirable for them to develop in a non-capitalist way because the technology created under the
influence and limits of capitalism sacrifice important ethical metrics to profit relative to directly pooling needs, skills, and technology, and distributing bottom upwardly towards
luxury for all. The kinds of technology created with different means, ends, and limits will affect the means, ends, and limits of the technology.
Miniaturization (as Murray Bookchin called it) or ephemeralization (as Buckminster Fuller called it) of technology allows us to "do more with less".
The fruits of philosophy and scientific methodology over time and thousands of years of dead labor have been key factors in developing technology. Capital, like a parasite, reaped the fruits and invested surplus into itself and steered the development of the scientific method and technology, and the lives of wage laborers.
We are decades behind in regards to liberatory technology, for example, solar panels being five decades behind, due to concerns of profit. Easily automatable and undesired labor is not automated because human wage laborers are more cost effective, and to not take cost efficiency into consideration is to cease to be competitive.
Anti-Civilization theorists are not merely revolting against institutionalized or federated interaction between roaming groups (which would potentially allow us to move beyond xenophobic kinship relations) , they also
advocate for the abolition of work, at the expense of the minimization of labor possible through the labor done to allow humans to achieve a quality and degree of artifice to make the minimization of large
amounts of labor an actual possibility.
The only activity which corresponds strictly to the experience of worldlessness, or rather to the loss of world that occurs in pain is laboring, where the human body, its activity notwithstanding,
is also thrown back upon itself, concentrates on nothing but being alive, and remains imprisoned in its metabolism with nature without ever transcending or freeing itself
Far from wanting to minimize labor, anti-civilization theorists want to abolish or minimize work (the transformation of raw material into artifice).
Doing so would put humans into the realm of necessity and biological uptake, by
extension giving us non-artificial labor imperatives that are time consuming, where we get less out of more labor. The rationale is usually either one of "ecology",
claiming that we must suffer in
order to be in harmony with "Gaia" (imposing immense restriction on part of what makes humans human), or that this "realm of necessity" is a realm of free-flowing
it is easily avoidable technically (while at the same time prescribing an imperative for almost everyone to do more labor).
To conflate the imprisonment within metabolism with freedom, is to conflate labor with freedom. Anti-civilization theorists do not see participatory politics or work as that which frees us
from toil, irrationality, and hierarchy. They may even see such projects as the most promethean attempt to make civilization work, especially if they involve automating arduous labor (which they see as an automation of freedom). There is a lack of vision for technology
to enhance the cycle of exertion and rest in life.
According to an anti-civilization worldview, to minimize non-artificial labor through artifice is to destroy freedom. By extension, anti-civilization theories are at war with the
non-imperative, bounded by participatory political boundaries, and the technology required to enable such a public sphere. For anti-civ theorists, alienation does not exist in the reduction of
humanity to non-artificial dictatorship of metabolism, but does exist in escaping from avoidable toil involved in the non-artificial dictatorship of metabolism. To be alienated
from non-imperative while indulging in the imperative of "no building the world" is the anti-civ conception of freedom. A lack of artifice creates alienation from political
deliberation, which creates alienation from higher qualities of contemplation, virtue, rationality, and human potentiality. Yet rationality, deliberation, and contemplation helps inform our
higher order desires and volitions, allowing for individual or collective reflection, freedom, and action, and enables participatory boundaries (and the means of participatory boundaries) that are desirable for lack of imperative to exist within. Capitalism alienates us from our activities, our products (in a where products are hierarchically distributed),
and our selves, but normative primitivism alienates us from the distinguishing features of humanity.
Of course, the process of abolishing artifice and the realm for action that it provides, makes it so we will abolish history. This also means depriving future generations of the potential positive consequences of action and the development of history, the development that gives us the thousands of years of knowledge and technics to potentially minimize large amounts of labor and undesirable work and have a pleasurable, virtuous, and free political life available to all. In this sense, anti-civ theorists want to abolish history, and in fact they want to abolish the very tools required for ecology. And they often do this under the name of the deepest ecology that there is, where the study of ecology leads humans to the realization to destroy the study of ecology in order to care for Gaia by forcing humans to obey the imperatives of the non-artificial world. And resistance to such a prescription is deemed anti-ecological by anti-civ theorists.
Anti-civilization theorists call for the murder of political life. It is a call for nothing less than the negation of the participation of humans in the process of history. It is a call for the negation of humans in the process of creating an artificial world. The abolition of art, language, and institutional arrangements would make it so humans are no longer humans but non-political and non-artistic beings, subsumed to labor without the benefit of the "ruthless critique of everything" (preserved in artifice) that allows us to steer our intention, however rudimentary, in ethical directions (individually and collectively).
Heideggerian calls to authenticity might prescribe some romantic conception of a human past. The search for authenticity is the search for some human condition before "the fall".
However, such a conservative and backwards sighted worldview is ahistorical; It searches for some perceived romanticized ideal past time and prescribes it as a potential for us to actuate. Not only can we not reverse ourselves to "an authentic condition before the fall" (wherever one is locating it), it would not be desirable for us to. The progressive historical approach searches for what should be, and does not conflate the should with some time before the fall, and looks to all points in history for potential insights and dimensions to the good, and then seeks to transcend them by adding something new, and do so in a coherent way. We must rebel against anti-rational neophobia and neophilia, which cloud our judgment in regards to theory and practice of the good.
Capitalism and labor:
Under Capitalism, wage laborers compete with each other for labor in order to survive. However, wage laborers also compete with technology in order to survive. Under capitalism, the more potential for our tools to mechanize or automate labor without rapid enough job creation, the more unemployment occurs. Some theorists have claimed that this is the final straw in capitalism and that its internal contradictions will bring capitalism to an end due to itself and its necessary consequences. This teleology of the death of capitalism keeps getting born again in new forms. It is always "just around the corner," yet it does not arrive. Every crisis theory since Marx has failed miserably to prove itself through consequences. One fundamental flaw of many crisis theories is that they attempt to view economics through the lens of economics in reduction of other factors which might be cultural or political that can enable a capitalist world system or regional dominant economic system to continue, despite a real or perceived internal flaw within capitalism's ability to reproduce itself. But perhaps, a more fundamental flaw is the failure to see capitalism as a highly resilient and adaptive system or practice that can be textured with many adjectives and particularistic variables, while maintaining its most fundamental core: hierarchical privatized production being legalized within a market economy, with wage labor legalized, and a goal of accumulation of money and capital4.
Capital must extract sufficient surplus value to reinvest in itself to extract more 5. The process of doing so negates self-management through turning persons into instruments alienated from their activities, their products (in a way where products are hierarchically distributed), and themselves6. Rather than creating cities, urbanization is created, which negates civic unions and organizes what should be cities into instruments of capital, through the development of capital and the centralization of political decision-making 78.
Of course, time and space develop, and capitalism will one day fall (if not for any other reason than ecological crisis and external limits to itself). It will take an extra parliamentary political movement to bring capitalism to an end in a way where there is a positive result. That is, it will take action, and it is not sufficient for that action to be limited to a sphere of lesser evils and representative policy makers and bureaucracy (where persons give up their personhood to just follow orders, or to rule over persons at the expense of mandated and recallable administrations).
The futurist conception of positive development often reduces that which should be to the technical realm (or at least overly reduces that which should be to the technical realm). The action required for us to use our technics towards the good, is left out of the equation. This technical reductionism, claims that political action is entirely subsumed to artifice. This linear conception of causality misses the liberatory potential for technology by reducing technology to technology. All artifice and technics have a social life, intentionality that produced them, and actual consequences that might be different to the author's intent (in quality or degree).
Futurism often imagines current social relations under the influence of not yet developed technology rather than new positive social relations under the influence of current technical potential. But technology, in and of itself, is not sufficient for social relations to be more ethical. Projecting many years ahead, with regards to technical potential, is something very difficult with even leading experts missing the mark regarding many claims. That being said, it is possible and useful to posit science fiction-esque thought experiments to understand what we ought to do with potential technics, so we can be more reflective and responsive if or when they develop.
Socialism's most minimum program is some form of social ownership of the means of production, in the hands of workers, consumers or communities. In its most utopian, libertarian, and public form, ownership over productive forces needed to maintain political units is embedded directly within them (with personal and collective spheres of property embedded within the communal spheres bounded by usufruct).
Socialism is not "anything the government does that someone left of a republican likes", nor is socialism the mere redistributive and anti-neoliberal policies of someone like Bernie Sanders
(as progressive as he is, compared to a right-winger like Hillary Clinton). Nor is socialism the barbarism that occurred under Stalin, Mao, Lenin or Castro. Such state socialists' projects have nothing to do with the trajectory of socialism9. All of them banned worker, consumer, and communal ownership of the means of production in favor of some form of hierarchical production in state or capitalist spheres as the dominant mode of producing and distributing goods and services. Centralization of power as a means for achieving a good society has been a hangover from Marx that has plagued the left. Marx being both indispensable in understanding capitalism, yet wrong about parts of it, and him having authoritarian and libertarian prescriptions, makes it particularly difficult to parse out what we ought to accept and reject from Marx.
Old debates over non-capitalist distribution systems have many dimensions. For the sake of saliency, these can be divided into: markets, labor voucher collectivism, and free or libertarian communist distribution systems (and mixes of all of the above). Markets distribute economic transactions through money, artificial markets through single-use labor vouchers (with an equalized system of accumulation per hour), and communist distribution where there is no money; instead, abilities and needs are pooled together to make distribution bottom-up, from basic needs to luxury10. Automation provides a new material dimension to communism; it means that so much of the undesired toil can be done away with to make society less based on rewards for undesired work.
Libertarian communist practices and arguments make sense even without post 1960s automation. Grades of them can exist, however nascently, as soon as dual-power gains momentum. As people attain power, and cooperative sharing of the realm of necessity, along with mechanization and automation of labor, communism can be more resilient than ever. As Bookchin put it, "a century ago, scarcity had to be endured. Today, it has to be enforced"11.
Back to productive questions of economics: Productive systems, for what is needed for the commune to reproduce itself, ought to be in the hands of a commune itself (or "communes of communes"). Administrative tasks can then be delegated to mandated and recallable delegates, who do not make policy outside of them making policy on an equal footing with everyone else in the directly democratic communal sphere. Technical delegation can be mechanized or automated as communes of communes gain greater gradations of post scarcity. In this sense, community ownership of the means of production becomes the main economic rudder, toil being automated, mechanized, or rotated, products distributed according to abilities and needs, people on an equal footing, within the limits of a non-hierarchical social contract, with the context, means, and ends of direct democracy and the means thereof12. That is, a means and ends based on deliberation and democracy without rulers (horizontality), a context that enables such ends, and a content that reproduces itself (as well as the context required for itself).
"Worker ownership of the means of production" is often claimed to be what socialism is. Yet, such a claim is misleading, for socialism can take other forms. Nevertheless, worker ownership is so refreshing compared to almost everything else that it almost does not seem fair to critique it; the last thing I would want is for people to think of something more reactionary than worker control to replace it as an ideal. However, there are other options. Despite limits of anarchist thinkers from Proudhon, Bakunin, to Kropotkin, they all placed the commune as far more central to their conception of the good society than the workforce. In this sense, they were building on ancient conceptions of politics, yet revolting against it by making economics political; bringing production and distribution of goods and services into the realm of the polis (at least partially) rather than leaving it to be something people do in their own oikos. Syndicalism, a highly organized and democratic libertarian praxis, essentially inverted many of the old anarchist notions of the relationship of the polis to the oikos, by making the economic sphere something that essentially subsumes political processes as a means and an ends through the means and ends of syndicates and worker control over productive forces.
But what does worker control over critical productive forces mean in a world where, for decades, it has been technically possible to automate anything simpler than production and distribution of cars or houses? If the workers increasingly become policy makers delegating the most arduous tasks to robots, there are few hours for them to labor. The vast majority of work that is left over would be more desired and enjoyed.
Worker control over productive forces the commune requires to reproduce itself, quickly becomes worker control over policy of communes. This privatizes policy relative to publicizing it in the hands of all community members on an equal footing in freely associated directly democratic communes. Relatively privatized collectives should not be making policy over that which a commune needs to reproduce itself, for all ought to be included in decisions that directly affect them (if there is to be communal self-management). Delegation of labor (and even undesired work) can then be automated, mechanized or rotated by those able to contribute. To put increasingly automated workers in the hands of policy-making over the community as a whole might socialize production, but it does not communalize it.
There are prescriptions from many sides which hollow out not only the public sphere, but the prescription of public economics: whether it is a private realm that expands into the public sphere, capitalist urbanization destroying civic bodies and cities13, states centralizing production and policy-making power, subsuming economics to non-political forces, the separation of politics according to some conception of "authenticity", or calls to abandon means of production altogether via reactionary misanthropic normative anti-civilization ideals.
For communes to be communal (rather than merely socialized), people within communes must be able to participate in the economics required to reproduce the commune and the persons and collectives embedded within it, therefore the means of existence should be distributed to all within it. The means of production for the reproduction of the commune are a means of existence. Thus, the means of production for the commune should be distributed to all within it. To avoid parochialism, isolation and particularism, communes must be federated so the commons can be managed on multiple scales, while keeping decision-making power at the "lowest level" in the hands of the people directly. This allows for mutual aid between communes which would add to overall resilience, ecological efficiency, and human cooperation.
For all to participate politically, the means of production as well as the products should be distributed to people who need it,. The most effective way to do so is to pool together needs and abilities and liberatory technology and distribute according to needs from the bottom up towards luxury and freedom for all through federated communes of communes. Communist distribution and communalist production systems become a context that enable the reproduction of communal politics.
Production of goods and services is part of city management and politics. If persons cannot participate in political production and redistribution of goods and services on an equal footing, regarding formal power with participatory rights and obligations, a polis becomes privatized to various degrees by privatizing the economics required to reproduce the polis. For "public life" is "possible only after the much more urgent needs of life has been taken care of"14.
The Athenian Polis, for all its virtues politically, artistically, andphilosophically (especially in regards to its historical context), relied upon everything from a patriarchal family, slavery, and various other forms of privatized and "strictly unequal" economics. Less than 20% of persons within the territory of Athens were able to participate. The technical context was one that required a great deal of toil to reproduce daily life. The toil and the direct political processes could have been shared in a more equitable way. In Athens, privatized economics was part of what excluded persons from public politics, either through the time required to toil, or the formal inability to participate on an equal footing. "Freedom from labor itself is not new,"15 and now, our modern technical context allows all, rather than just a few, to be free from labor, yet that potential is not actualized.
Public economics fosters the virtues of giving and receiving, which in turn foster public economics, both of which develop eudaimonia. Virtues of giving and receiving16 make the distribution of goods and services into something that is public. This acknowledgement of dependence upon each other enables us to have substantial freedom, where we take care of eachother to give each other the means of freedom, greater gradations of post scarcity, and the kinds of characters we need to sustain such relations.
What is left of the realm of necessity?
This leaves us with a new question: what should the role of labor be in a world where we can do more with less effort? We are dependent on society materially as well as emotionally for survival. Labor that requires emotive interpersonal care (such as parenting), ought not be automated, to do so would be to abuse children by depriving them of their social needs. However, the non-care labor involved in raising children can and should be automated according to what is possible, and the desires of the parents. When something required to reproduce daily life is easily automatable, and within humanist and ecological limits, and the task is undesirable, then it can and should be automated. However, we find some labor enjoyable, at least in an animalistic sense, such as the joys of eating, walking, showering, etc. An ethically automated society is not one where we automate every biological function, it is one where we ephemeralize our ability to reproduce daily life, freeing us to do what we want. Some persons may have an absurd desire to automate something that does not make sense for their actual interests (despite what their perceived interests are). To the degree they are virtuous, they can be temperate and reproduce temperance, to make it so their desires are more in line with their actual interests and of course in line with care for others. One's actual interest, regardless of perceived interests, is virtue, which by extension becomes the bridge for social and self-interest (given that emotive and mental virtues create eudaimonia in self and others). Superfluous automation of the realm of necessity (that is labor that is undesired yet should be desired for eudaimonia of self and others) that is within ecological limits is to be minimized by virtues, yet people should still be able to make such choices collectively and individually about reproducing communal and biological life.
The realm of necessity is not something that can be abolished. However, the degree we have to exert ourselves to meet our needs can be greatly minimized through technology freeing us to do work. We have a few forms of labor left:
Care labor (requiring emotional or interpersonal connections)
Unavoidable or unautomatable undesired labor
Desired labor, whether it is automatable or not (eating, walking, for example).
The leftover labor should be done non-hierarchically to reproduce virtues that will allow us to apply our knowledge in ethical directions. The cycles of exertion and rest will have less exertion required for reproducing daily life, and rather than a society that does not know what to do with itself, besides laboring, such a society should have a culture that fosters work and action as well as play. Rather than being forced into exertion when there is not enough rest, such a society would enable people to reproduce daily life more leisurely, and allow people to exert themselves in a worldly and free manner, with more control over and participation within rest and exertion cycles.
In this communal sphere there is "freedom from the inequality present in rulership"
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What are the left's highest ambitions now? While the right seeks increasingly radical & ambitious change, such as Silicon Valley's quest for human biological immortality and general AI, or
the neoreactionary accelerationist fringe's desire for an AI that will become godlike and destroy all the boring notions of humanity, completing the project of capitalism in an
eschatological end of human history. The left (which many would argue doesn't even exist as a coherent faction), on the other hand, is very much on the defensive: We are merely reacting
to the right, trying to stop further immiseration, trying to engage on the interpersonal and symbolic level, and #resisting Trump. Though there is a growing movement towards engaging
on the level of political and economic power struggles, the ambitions of that faction are still fairly modest; at the most reformist, there is the fight for 15, which is a great achievable
goal for the here and now that everyone on the left should support; at the most ambitious, there is the universal basic income, which happens to enjoy nonpartisan support (although much
of the support from the right comes from its promise of eliminating other welfare programs).
If we are to build a movement for leftism, for liberation and democratized power, it needs to do more than exist simply in opposition to fascism or capitalism. We can leave the stern,
joyless, puritanical goals of moral purity and politically correct status quo for the right and the identitarian liberals. We need genuine, visionary, positive ambitions that will
invigorate people and make them excited about what the left has to offer. These ambitions should range from what is immediately achievable to what is, or at least seems, unachievable
within our lifetimes. Let's list the immediately achievable goals of the left in general:
An increase in the minimum wage to something that we can actually live on, such as $15 or more.
A single-payer healthcare system administered on the federal level to provide affordable or free healthcare for all.
A reform of the university system to make it accessible to anyone at low or no cost and the cancellation of existing
student loan debt.
A universal basic income.
These are all great goals that appeal to a wide range of people, many of whom would not consider themselves left thanks to the reputation we've gained as harsh, highfalutin academics
who only care about identity politics and the middle class. However, these are tactical goals, not strategic ones. Once we've gained political and economic power through these achievements,
we'll need to continue pushing forward to ensure that these achievements don't get destroyed in another reactionary period. The post-scarcity left has many more of these strategic goals:
The reduction of necessary working hours and eventual elimination of undesirable work through the liberatory (as opposed to capitalist) use of automation technology.
The improvement in the quality of life for all people by changing the rules around the distribution of property. This can be achieved by fulfilling more needs & wants
using public services rather than personal property (e.g. tool libraries and public automated manufacturing).
The establishment of democratically self-governed, networked municipalities, which together create a dual-power scenario that challenges the hegemony of the nation-state
in order to decentralize and dismantle the power held by capitalists and other bureaucrats.
With sufficiently cohesive political power, this is something achievable within the lifetimes of young people. Socities have transformed insode of a generation many times in history:
For example (though there are obviously parts we do not want to repeat), the transformation of Tsarist Russia, an agrarian peasant society, into the USSR, an industrialized, bureaucratic
state socialist society, which would have seemed utterly impossible in 1916. As another example, within the lifetimes of most of us, we have witnessed a complete transformation in our
personal, social, and work lives as well as in global political economy, by computers, the internet, and mobile electronics. Rapid, large-scale changes that most people believe to be
impossible are, in fact, very much possible, and if we want anything like that to happen, we need to keep them in mind as potential outcomes of social change.
I think we can go even further; our goals can be not only strategic but visionary, appearing to cynics as "pie in the sky fantasies" and totally unachievable. This is what people thought
about flight, space travel, liberalism, instantaneous long-distance communication, and the eradication of common diseases. This is what people now think about biological immortality,
artificial intelligence, and communism. We should have more than the ambition to have a basically good life (which shouldn't even be considered ambitious but realistic), we should have
the ambition for everyone to be able to achieve greatness to the degree that they wish to. We need goals that may be unachievable within the lifetimes of anyone alive right now; here is
what I propose:
The overcoming of aging and achievement of biological immortality. I have mentioned this as a goal of the right, but this is explicitly for all people, and not simply those
who are wealthy or powerful enough to afford it.
The elimination of obligation: Deploying automation and restructuring work and industry to such an extent that no person on Earth does anything for any reason other than desiring
to do so themselves*.
The expansion of human civilization into space, especially other planets and solar systems. This was a common vision of the future in the mid-20th century and it has seemed to have
disappeared today, being replaced with the dreary mission of exploiting asteroids and the Moon for profit. Anyone should be able to go to space if they wish.
The revitalization of the Earth's ecosystem to beyond pre-industrial/pre-civ levels: The return of megafauna and great forests with centuries-old trees and dozens of meters of topsoil;
the transformation of human spaces into ecosystem spaces, including the integration of human technology with nature. Breaking the boundaries of evolution as an unguided, emergent process,
into one that utilizes the capacity for intent that it produced with the birth and ascension of the human species.
The merging of human thought into a species-wide network of consciousness and perception. We will experience not only our own lives, but all existing lives. We will have not only
our individual skills and expertise, but that of all individuals. We will be able to communicate with friends, family, and all fellow humans through the direct experience of their
thoughts, feelings, and memories. This will create a new form and level of empathy previously unknown to us that will, I hope, eliminate once and for all the desire to control or harm
others for personal gain.
These goals seem impossible, and that's the point. We should not only dream of what seems possible, but what we "know" could never happen. Utopian dreams capture the logical conclusion of
an ideology's set of principles. They communicate to others what our eventual goals are. Anyone without a utopian dream will accept the status quo. This is how we go beyond mere motivation and
actually inspire people to work with us for more than just utilitarian self-interest. When someone asks why they should join the left, we will have not only giving you $15 an hour, but
also freeing you from jobs to do what you want, giving you access to any human product available, giving you the option to live as long as you want, getting anyone who wants to go into space,
and letting you experience other peoples' lives as if you were them.
Those other factions want none of that. They want you to work until you're privileged enough to spend a couple of decades in retirement (or longer, if you're one of the 0.0000001%),
or until you destroy your body and die. They want the ordinary standard of living to be available to only a certain class, while the rest of us get crappy, processed foods, no vacations, no nice things,
no chance to stop working even if we're sick, and only a few hours of free time a day if we're lucky.
Making society crueler out of resentment is a much harder sell to normal adult humans than making society better out of ethical principle and self-interest. Having the loftiest possible goals gives
you a very strong position to bargain down from, and refusing to settle for less keeps us moving forward. We should not settle for anything until we have fully-libertine, collectively-conscious,
immortal, gay communist robots in space. Your utopian vision of the future much more clearly communicates your politics and says more about where your heart is than support for any particular policy,
candidate, theory or performative wokeness. Centrists can claim to be "progressive" and anti-racist and so forth all they want, but in the end, they have no utopia, so the only progress they'll
ever really make is incrementally placating the people whose anger they choose to respond to. The left, on the other hand, will never be satisfied with the status quo and will always have hope for
a better and brighter future.