Sunday, December 04, 2011

The truth that truthout leaves out.

This post is an analysis of a single paragraph in this article:

It was inspired by the criticism of the article by Stefan Molyneux in his video,
Banksters Own You!

"Only when the Federal Reserve becomes an instrument of the people to calm the mood swings of the market - and not a piggy bank for transnational banking corporations - can we really protect ourselves from a technocratic takeover in the future. And the way to do it is pretty straightforward - it was Alexander Hamilton's idea back in the George Washington administration. Have the central bank owned by the US government and run by the Treasury Department, so all the profits from banking go directly into the Treasury and you and I pay less in taxes while the banksters on Wall Street can find a job at Wal-Mart."

And this is why the 1% is powerful, because people like this guy do their propaganda for free. Let's start off with the idea that the Federal Reserve can become an "instrument of the people". What does that mean? Which people should it become an instrument of? Obviously "the people" is not the shareholders of transnational banking corporations since that's what he's arguing against. How about the shareholders of construction and concrete companies? Are they more "the people" than the shareholders of the companies that compete with them for resources? How about those who get their income from debt, including most pensioners? Are they more "the people" than those who get their income from owning businesses? Or working for those businesses? Under his system the group that is "the people" gets to control the money supply to their benefit and the opposing groups detriment. If anyone would like to write about how this causes and endless, destructive, embittering, cynical, deceptive, manipulative war of all against all, please do so, but read "Atlas Shrugged" first because to be useful you have to improve on that and that's pretty hard.

But suppose for a moment we could agree on which random assortment of interest groups constitutes "the people" (and I bet a moment is all we could agree on it on). How would said collection of interest groups make the Fed it's "instrument"? Would it just say "We want interest rates to be 4%" without worrying about the means? Because that sounds like a recipe for disaster. Sort of like telling a ship's captain "Go in a direct straight line from Seoul to San Francisco". Inevitably the criminal gang interest group collective would have to transmit it's orders through several layers of technocrats, who could interpret their orders selectively and subtly push the advantages of people they're not supposed to push. They could then say that what the interest group collective asks is impossible given current conditions. Not being technocrats how would the IGC know the difference?
That the Fed couldn't be directly controlled by "the people" in the form of an electorate should be pretty obvious. Asking someone to make votes month-to-month on controls on M3, when they neither understand what it is nor the relationship to either other M-indicators, the interest rate, exchange rates, the real economy or anything else is bizarre and obviously not going to happen.

The alternative is that the Fed is controlled by people who are elected. The problem is that the job of any banker is to refuse to loan people money. This seems counterintutive, bankers surely get their money from _making_ loans right? But if depositors wanted their money loaned to whoever asked for it they could simply do that themselves, no need for fancy buildings, weekend golf trips deducted as business trips and all the other bank executives privileges. Banks must select amoung applicants, rejecting some or even most of them, if they want to add value to the loan process*. Politicians don't get elected, let alone reelected, by telling people they can't have stuff. It just doesn't happen. Popularly elected Fed Board members are a recipe for massive inflation, followed by popular complaints about the consequences of popular policies insistence on more power to the government, more policies that are popular and disasterous etc.

So what about the Fed being controlled by people appointed by elected politicians? Well for a start that's what we have now, which should be a sufficient argument against it. In case it's not, such appointments are doubly deficient in terms of "the people" controlling the Fed. For a start "the people" would have to closely monitor the appointment process and hold the politicians accountable for the results. They are unlikely to do this because each individuals opinion of the process is unlikely to change whether he votes for a particular politician. There are many issues that may change a person's vote, and Fed appointments are not likely to be the tipping point. If they're not the tipping point for a particular voter they're not relevant to how he votes. Even if they were each individual voter is unlikely to be the difference between a politician getting elected or not. So any effort the voter puts into examining the issue has two big hurdles to jump before it effectively contributes to change. This effectively puts control over what politicians do in this process in the hands of those who are most interested in the outcome and have most ability to affect politicians, which is to say lobbyists for the most interested parties, the banksters.

Then comes the suggestion that we have a central bank "owned by the US government", which is what we have now in reality, "so that all the profits" (as opposed to 95% of them) "go to the government". Of course by "all the profits" he means all the profits of the central bank itself not al the profits that the actions of the central bank create. When Alexander Hamilton did create a central bank somewhat like this the profits generated by it's actions went mostly to exactly the sort of people the author thinks of as looting bastards. They were thought of that way at the time, which is why that bank was shut, ending an inflationary period that looted the 99% for the 1% very effectively. Needless to say in the end the 99% did not pay less in Taxes and the banksters certainly didn't shop at, let alone work at, the 18th century equivalent of Walmart.

So given that the causes the author supports are directly opposed by the effects of his proposed actions, what gives? Is it that he simply has never been exposed to the arguments that allowing government more power benefits the rich and powerful? No, because they were available to anyone interested, and indeed pushed on those not interested, for decades. It's one thing to not know Milton Friedman's arguments when they're published in "Abstracts of Working Papers in Economics" and another when they're on the Phil Donahue show. You can be politically engaged and disagree with the arguments of libertarians, but you can't do so and not know those arguments. What you can do is pretend they don't exist so as to pretend that your diagnoses and cures are the only ones available. This is what the author is doing. Why pretend? Put simply he wants to advance intersts other than the ones he claims to advance. Therefore he must present his solution as the only one that advances the claimed interests. Otherwise solutions that do advance the claimed interests but don't advance the hidden ones might be adopted. Try to figure out what the hidden interests are. I have some theories but I want some confirmation.

* Some might observe that US banks stopped doing this and started approving home loans to any idiot that was not provably brain-dead at the signing. This is not a flaw in my theory because I said "If" they want to add value.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A critique of "Occupy Demands: Let’s Radicalize Our Analysis of Empire, Economics, Ecology" by Robert Jensen

"There’s one question that pundits and politicians keep posing to the Occupy gatherings around the country: What are your demands?
I have a suggestion for a response: We demand that you stop demanding a list of demands."

Wow, when you start out like this you know it's not going to get better. The Occupy movement is supposedly about two things, one, pointing out that the system is broken and two getting people to change it. Kudos on achieving the first. On the second this guy wants someone to change things without knowing what changes they want. I suppose they're just going to have to keep occupying until you guess right. It's like a bad wife telling you "If you don't know what you've done I'm not going to tell you" and expecting you to make her happy somehow. Oh god, I'm critiquing Lillian Reardon.

"The demand for demands is an attempt to shoehorn the Occupy gatherings into conventional politics, to force the energy of these gatherings into a form that people in power recognize, so that they can roll out strategies to divert, co-opt, buy off, or -- if those tactics fail -- squash any challenge to business as usual."

No the demand for demands is an attempt to subject the Occupy movement to rational critique. Now of course some of the people who are demanding that hope to portray the movement as a bunch of know-nothing hippies and losers. Some however genuinely want to determine what they want and consider if it actually has any sense, morality or practically. I am one of those. I gotta be honest with you, so far, not so much.

The strategy of not presenting demands is essentially the strategy of saying "There is nothing you can do to satisfy us.". How much effort will people go to giving you the things you want if this is your strategy? Why help those who will deny that whatever you do is help?

"Rather than listing demands, we critics of concentrated wealth and power in the United States can dig in and deepen our analysis of the systems that produce that unjust distribution of wealth and power. This is a time for action, but there also is a need for analysisun."

Great, analyse, I'm all for it. But considering that these people are in a protest movement not a university coffee shop the analysis better include a plan of action. Otherwise it's just a thesis that you won't get a grade for.

"Rallying around a common concern about economic injustice is a beginning; understanding the structures and institutions of illegitimate authority is the next step. "

If you don't understand these things how do you know there is economic injustice? Analyse first THEN tell people you're upset and why. Otherwise you're just a crying baby.

"We need to recognize that the crises we face are not the result simply of greedy corporate executives or corrupt politicians, but rather of failed systems. The problem is not the specific people who control most of the wealth of the country, or those in government who serve them, but the systems that create those roles. If we could get rid of the current gang of thieves and thugs but left the systems in place, we will find that the new boss is going to be the same as the old boss."

Absolutely right. The idea that replacing some personnel in a flawed system will solve the problem is very, very wrong. A new captain of a sinking ship is not a change either he or I can believe in.

"My contribution to this process of sharpening analysis comes in lists of three, with lots of alliteration. Whether you find my analysis of the key questions compelling, at least it will be easy to remember: empire, economics, ecology.
Empire: Immoral, Illegal, Ineffective"

I'm not going to comment much on the empire section as it's a fairly standard and fairly accurate account of US imperialism. If you're read one critique of US imperialism you've read them all. The only quibble I have is with the idea that the goal of US policy was to prevent independent development. Independent development that lead to greater production in the developing nation would have been a massive boon to the 1% who supposedly control things. And China is developing pretty independently, with the western capitalist class not influencing the Chinese government at all, if anything the reverse is true. A better explanation is standard public choice theory, government departments, including the military, do things because that's how you get a budget.

"Economics: Inhuman, Anti-Democratic, Unsustainable
The economic system underlying empire-building today has a name: capitalism. Or, more precisely, a predatory corporate capitalism that is inconsistent with basic human values."

And here he goes off the rails. Capitalism is a word used to describe a lot of different systems, from laissez-faire to mercantilism and even massively regulated fascism. He doesn't really distinguish between these forms.

"This description sounds odd in the United States, where so many assume that capitalism is not simply the best among competing economic systems but the only sane and rational way to organize an economy in the contemporary world. Although the financial crisis that began in 2008 has scared many people, it has not always led to questioning the nature of the system."

I'm not sure what he means but "has not always lead to questioning the nature of the system". Reading capitalist websites I've noticed a lot of questioning of the system, and on socialist websites too. Everyone from George Soros to the town drunk has been questioning the system.

"That means the first task is to define capitalism: that economic system in which (1) property, including capital assets, is owned and controlled by private persons; (2) most people must rent their labor power for money wages to survive, and (3) the prices of most goods and services are allocated by markets."

There is just so many questions begged here. How do you define if a capital asset is "controlled by private persons"? If there are literally thousands of rules about the asset you have to follow do you still "control" it? Even if one of those rules is "You must rent it to this person at this rate until we say you can rent it to someone else."? Because that's not much control, and arguably it isn't really ownership.

The idea that "most people must rent their labour power" is an untestable theory. Most people do but to what extent "must" they? If they decided instead to invest their savings in capital goods and start their own business would they survive? What does he mean by "most people must"? Is he saying that the majority of people are in the situation where they must rent their labour, or that even though each person who does so need not there must be at least a majority who do? Does he mean even if each one of the majority could individually quit and become an entrepreneur that less than 49% could do it at one time? What's his evidence for this? He has no experience in the entrepreneurial world so I can't see how he'd know.
As for the prices of most goods and services being allocated by the market, I don't believe that's true. With at least 40% of the money spent by government and regulations, tariffs, quota, subsidies and other forms of interference covering almost all the rest it's reasonable to believe that most prices are set at least in part by government action not the market. The most important price, the interest rate certainly is and that affects every other price out there. To really answer this question of what proportion of prices are allocated by the market would require a) a good definition of what we mean by "allocate prices" and "the market" and a probably a book length essay. Needless to say he has done nowhere near enough research to give us any of these.

" “Industrial capitalism,” made possible by sweeping technological changes and imperial concentrations of capital, was marked by the development of the factory system and greater labor specialization. The term “finance capitalism” is often used to mark a shift to a system in which the accumulation of profits in a financial system becomes dominant over the production processes."

Not exactly sure what he means by "accumulation of profits... dominant over the production process", without the "production process" the banks don't have anybody to lend to or get deposits from. The insurance and finance sector is about 8% of GDP, arguably too large but not exactly "dominant" over the manufacturing sector which is 11% of GDP. I don't think there has ever been a large modern economy with a finance sector bigger than the manufacturing sector, so when has "finance capitalism" happened? Of course there are small countries that were banking hubs for larger collections of countries, but since the whole reason they are is because the economies of said countries were interconnected and arguably one economy that isn't finance capitalism either. The finance sector in the USA is less about 1/5th the size of the government sector so what is "dominant"?

This is symptomatic of the problem of many intellectuals when talking about economics. They don't know basic facts about the economy, but they know what their fellow intellectuals have said, and believe them, without checking if they knew their facts.

"Today in the United States, most people understand capitalism in the context of mass consumption -- access to unprecedented levels of goods and services. In such a world, everything and everyone is a commodity in the market."

Everything is a commodity in the market? How much bride price did this guy pay? Where did he hire his friends? And the Social Security payments he's hoping to get, were they provided in the market or by government? Why is it people on the left can say things that everyday experience shows are false and be praised for it?

"In the dominant ideology of market fundamentalism,"

Ok, I know it's generally not cool to cut someone in the middle of a sentence but I gotta pull this guy up here. I happen to be a market fundamentalist and lemme tell ya, we're not exactly "dominant" (he keeps using that word). Let's run down a few of the things that "market fundamentalists" believe would be good and compare them to both what actually happens and what most people of influence like. Bear in mind this is in the USA where "market fundamentalism" is said to be at it's strongest. I think we can all agree in Europe it's much weaker. I've had some formatting problems so just scroll down.

What market fundamentalist likeWhat actually happensWhat influential people say is good.
No central bank.Central bank.Central bank with even more power.
Spectrum allocated by "homesteading", no government involvement except to confirm homesteading rights in court.Spectrum allocated by government agency, with rules on what can be broadcast, in what format at what time.Spectrum allocated by government agency, with rules on what can be broadcast, in what format at what time.
Ron Paul for President.Barack ObamaRick Perry, seriously.
Farming not subsidised or regulated beyond "no force or fraud".Farming heavily subsidised, with amazingly intrusive regulations where you have to pour bleach on your food if it's not up to code (even if it's perfectly safe)./td>
What actually happens but more so.
Education all private and paid for by parents. Government does not set or influence teaching methods, teacher selection, curriculum or other major elements.Pretty much everything in education set or influenced by
government. Few parents pay for primary or secondary education, considerable government finances at tertiary level.
What actually happens but more so.
Healthcare and health insurance not regulated beyond "no force or fraud", no government payment of health costs other than of it's employees as part of a compensation package. People can buy or not buy health insurance if they like.
Massive amounts of regulation of both healthcare and health insurance, with 1/3 of the money spent by government and mandatory purchase of health insurance for many people.Some resistance to Obamacare but other than that the ruling class are happy with the status quo.
If banks go broke they go broke, don't come crying to us about it. If banks go broke the government pays them hundreds of billions of dollars to keep working.If anything they'd like to hand over even more of our money.
Anyone can be hired or fired for any reason, after all it's his money and if he doens't want want to spend it on you, tough.Thousands of words of regulations on why and how you can hire or fire someone.
Maybe some influential people want the government to have less say in this but not much less.
Few regulations.Thousands of regulations and a considerable increase in their number during both the Bush and Obama presidencies.Again some might argue for a few less regulations, but by and large they're all in favour of having thousands, some just don't want to crack 5 figures, yet.
No subsidies for "alterantive energy" whether solar, nuclear or whatever.Billions of dollars of subsidies for almost every form of energy known to man, including ethanol, the biggest agricultural boondoggle since "price stability".If anything even more of this rubbish than we presently have.
Roads 90%+ privately owned.Roads 90%+ publicly owned.Roads 90%+ publicly owned.

So much for our "dominance".

"it’s assumed that the most extensive use of markets possible, along with privatization of many publicly owned assets and the shrinking of public services, will unleash maximal competition and result in the greatest good -- and all this is inherently just, no matter what the results. If such a system creates a world in which most people live in poverty, that is taken not as evidence of a problem with market fundamentalism but evidence that fundamentalist principles have not been imposed with sufficient vigor; it is an article of faith that the “invisible hand” of the market always provides the preferred result, no matter how awful the consequences may be for real people."

The fact that "market fundamentalists" can point to specific harms to the poor and others because our "principles have not been imposed with sufficient vigor" doesn't rate a mention.

"How to critique capitalism in such a society? We can start by pointing out that capitalism is fundamentally inhuman, anti-democratic, and unsustainable."

Well you could start by pointing out it's mostly absent.

"Inhuman: The theory behind contemporary capitalism explains that because we are greedy, self-interested animals, a viable economic system must reward greedy, self-interested behavior."

Well no, because we are "self-interested animals" we must reward behavior that's actually good for other people. Self-interested behaviour will naturally reward itself because hey, that's the point. Of course much behaviour that is described in this paradigm as "self-interested" doesn't appear to be at first glance. For instance feeding one's children is "self-interested" because you want them to live. So is contributing to a club you want to continue operating, even if you don't have to. The trick is to arrange things so that by serving one's own interest one's serves the interest of others. It's hard to believe anyone is so ignorant of what capitalist proponents propose that they haven't heard this.

"That’s certainly part of human nature, but we also just as obviously are capable of compassion and selflessness. We can act competitively and aggressively, but we also have the capacity to act out of solidarity and cooperation. In short, human nature is wide-ranging. In situations where compassion and solidarity are the norm, we tend to act that way. In situations where competitiveness and aggression are rewarded, most people tend toward such behavior."

Nobody ever denied that people can be compassionate, or "selfless" whatever that means. What is suggested is that relying on compassion to get your bread baked isn't a good idea for most people. what are these situations where "compassion and solidarity are the norm"? How is it possible to make them more common? He doesn't say, he just assumes that capitalism reduces them. However since capitalism has flourished so has the desire to help the poor. Slavery was ended in large part due to the efforts of people in capitalist countries who had not a single friend or relative enslaved. The modern period has seen more non-kin altruistic behaviour than any other period in history both absolutely and as a percentage of production. Is this due to capitalism or in spite of it? He gives no indication he even knows the question could be asked.

He doesn't tell us how "competitiveness and agression" are rewarded and he doesn't seem to want to distinguish between these two very different types of behaviour. Aggresion isn't necessarily competitive and competitiveness isn't necessarily aggressive. Every day this guy uses products that are as cheap and as good as they are because the producers are competing for his business. Yet he presents "competitiveness" as a bad thing.

"Why is it that we must accept an economic system that undermines the most decent aspects of our nature and strengthens the cruelest?"

As pointed out he hasn't shown that we do. In fact arguably we accept a system that does the opposite.

"Because, we’re told, that’s just the way people are. What evidence is there of that? Look around, we’re told, at how people behave. Everywhere we look, we see greed and the pursuit of self-interest."

Well considering the massive amount of philantropy in the US I guess that depends on where you look.

"So the proof that these greedy, self-interested aspects of our nature are dominant is that, when forced into a system that rewards greed and self-interested behavior, people often act that way."

Again the claim that capitalism rewards greed and self-interested behaviour is made, with no evidence whatsover. It rewards them compared to what? Would reward gree and self-interested behaviour more or less? How about totalitarianism?

"Anti-democratic: In the real world -- not in the textbooks or fantasies of economics professors -- capitalism has always been, and will always be, a wealth-concentrating system."

In the real world he cites not a single study, statistic, theory or even anecdote to support this view. The fact that textbooks of a subject say something would, for most people, suggest that there is at least some evidence that suggests it's true. This would tend to indicate to a real intellectual that he must present some evidence that it's not. Mr Jensen doesn't bother.

"If you concentrate wealth in a society, you concentrate power. I know of no historical example to the contrary.

For all the trappings of formal democracy in the contemporary United States, everyone understands that for the most part, the wealthy dictate the basic outlines of the public policies that are put into practice by elected officials. This is cogently explained by political scientist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of political parties,” which identifies powerful investors rather than unorganized voters as the dominant force in campaigns and elections. Ferguson describes political parties in the United States as “blocs of major investors who coalesce to advance candidates representing their interests” and that “political parties dominated by large investors try to assemble the votes they need by making very limited appeals to particular segments of the potential electorate.” There can be competition between these blocs, but “on all issues affecting the vital interests that major investors have in common, no party competition will take place.” Whatever we might call such a system, it’s not democracy in any meaningful sense of the term."
Great so under what system would the major investors have the most power? Well under free market capitalism they would have virtually none, because by definition the governemnt doesn't do a lot so it can't do a lot to benefit major investors. Mr Jensen is so utterly ignorant of economics and politics that he has no idea that this is true.

"People can and do resist the system’s attempt to sideline them, and an occasional politician joins the fight, but such resistance takes extraordinary effort. Those who resist sometimes win victories, some of them inspiring, but to date concentrated wealth continues to dominate."

Ok, but WHAT does it dominate and to what end? Primarily it dominates (he really likes that word) governemnt interference in the market, the opposite of "market fundamentalism". So the best solution is to remove the government interference so that the motive for interference by concentrated wealth is removed.

"If we define democracy as a system that gives ordinary people a meaningful way to participate in the formation of public policy, rather than just a role in ratifying decisions made by the powerful, then it’s clear that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive."

Ok let's assume that's true, what would you rather have a "meaningful way to participate" in controlling someone else's life or control of your own? Because you can't have both. Either you get to help boss someone else around or you get to not be bossed around. Democracy is simply people thinking that because there is a lot of them they're right, the argumentum ad populem fallacy as policy.

"Unsustainable: Capitalism is a system based on an assumption of continuing, unlimited growth -- on a finite planet."

Actually it's not. There is no need for continuing, unlimited, positive or even non-negative growth to justify capitalism. If one was in a situation where for some reason economic growth was inevitably going to be less than zero e.g. on a spaceship with resources that depleted over time and with too few people to make technical advances big enough to compensate for that, capitalism would still be the most efficient and the best system. Capitalism has often been sold as though it's main advantage was economic growth, but the sales pitch isn't necessarily an indication of the best qualities of something, only it's most marketable ones.

"There are only two ways out of this problem. We can hold out hope that we might hop to a new planet soon, or we can embrace technological fundamentalism and believe that evermore complex technologies will allow us to transcend those physical limits here."

He likes this word "fundmentalism" too. Evermore complex technologies have already allowed us to transcend the physical limits here. That's why the US has as much forest now as it did 100 years ago, despite having an economy that with 1911 technologies would need several times more wood. That's why whale oil isn't in short supply any more, even though whales are.

"Both those positions are equally delusional."

Now what do you think is the most arrogant thing you can do when commenting on a political, scientific or economic issue? I would say that calling people delusional without presenting a single shred of evidence that they're wrong is pretty high up there.

"Critics now compare capitalism to cancer."

Which critics? Are they experts in either cancer or capitalism? Have they made useful predictions that would indicate their theories of capitalism are empirical?

"The inhuman and antidemocratic features of capitalism mean that, like a cancer, the death system will eventually destroy the living host."

The "inhuman" features of capitalism if you'll recall consisted of it allegedly being based on theories of human behaviour he didn't like. Nothing else, just a contradiciton between what he would like to be true and what capitalism allegedly holds to be true. This doesn't exactly prove that ie will destroy anything let alone everything. As for the anti-democratic features, non-democratic societies persisted for thousands of years so clearly being anti-democratic isn't a death sentence.

"Both the human communities and non-human living world that play host to capitalism eventually will be destroyed by capitalism."

Again this is based soley on the belief that it's based on certain theories of human behaviour, is allegedly anti-democratic, and allegedly assume continaully growth none of which he shows is true and capable of destroying the earth.

"Capitalism is not, of course, the only unsustainable system that humans have devised, but it is the most obviously unsustainable system,"

Again he presented no evidence that it was unsustainable, only his belief that it
assumes continual growth (it doesn't), that such growth is impossible (it doesn't appear to be)

"and it’s the one in which we are stuck. It’s the one that we are told is inevitable and natural, like the air we breathe. But the air that we are breathing is choking the most vulnerable in the world, choking us, choking the planet."

The most vulnerable in the world appear to mostly live in very uncapitalist places.

"Ecology: Out of Gas, Derailed, Over the Waterfall
In addition to inequality within the human family, we face even greater threats in the human assault on the living world that come with industrial society. High-energy/high-technology societies pose a serious threat to the ability of the ecosphere to sustain human life as we know it. Grasping that reality is a challenge, and coping with the implications is an even greater challenge."

But the greatest challenge is finding a single fact that backs up this theory in his essay.

"We likely have a chance to stave off the most catastrophic consequences if we act dramatically and quickly. If we continue to drag our feet, it’s “game over.”
While public awareness of the depth of the ecological crisis is growing, our knowledge of the basics of the problem is hardly new. Here is a “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” issued by 1,700 of the planet’s leading scientists: "
And how many of these scientists have studied the relationship between population and poverty? Because they made a big thing about how there's so many poor people and how we need to stabilise population, even though the greatest reductions in poverty happened during the industrial revolution when populations were exploding in the places were poverty was imploded.

“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”

That statement was issued in 1992, and since then we have fallen further behind in the struggle for sustainability. Look at any crucial measure of the health of the ecosphere in which we live -- groundwater depletion, topsoil loss, chemical contamination, increased toxicity in our own bodies, the number and size of “dead zones” in the oceans, accelerating extinction of species and reduction of bio-diversity -- and the news is bad. "

So even the argument from authority he used is 19 years old. He claims that every measure shows us worse off, but he doesn't quote one. Nor does he compare the deterioration in capitalist and non-capitalist countries. So basically he's claiming there's a problem, that capitalism caused it and that less capitalism would solve it, without even a scintilla of evidence that this is true.

"Remember also that we live in an oil-based world that is fast running out of easily accessible oil,"

Yeah, remember that, because he's not about to remind you by posting any actual evidence to that effect.

"which means we face a huge reconfiguration of the infrastructure that undergirds our lives. And, of course, there is the undeniable trajectory of climate disruption."

Let's agree to disagree on whether it's undeniable or even undesirable.

"Add all that up, and ask a simple question: Where we are heading? Pick a metaphor. Are we a car running out of gas? A train about to derail? A raft going over the waterfall? Whatever the choice, it’s not a pretty picture. It’s crucial we realize that there are no technological fixes that will rescue us."

And by "realise" he means "assume" because again, he presents no evidence of this.

"We have to acknowledge that human attempts to dominate the non-human world have failed."

Yeah I'm betting this guy is vaccinated, so clearly he believes some attempts to dominate (again that word) the non-human world worked out pretty well.

"Facing a Harsh Future with a Stubborn Hope
The people who run this world are eager to contain the Occupy energy not because they believe the critics of concentrated wealth and power are wrong, but because somewhere deep down in their souls (or what is left of a soul), the powerful know we are right."

About what? Criticism of concentrated wealth and power or criticism of capitalism? These are not the same thing. Or does he mean criticism of the current system which is not capitalism as understood by "market fundamentalists".

"People in power are insulated by wealth and privilege, but they can see the systems falling apart. The United States’ military power can no longer guarantee world domination. The financial corporations can no longer pretend to provide order in the economy."

Actually the regulators pretended to do that. They were quite convincing, as long as you didn't enquiry too much.

"The industrial system is incompatible with life."

And the unsupported assertions just keep on coming.

"We face new threats today, but we are not the first humans to live in dangerous times. In 1957 the Nobel writer Albert Camus described the world in ways that resonate:

“Tomorrow the world may burst into fragments. In that threat hanging over our heads there is a lesson of truth. As we face such a future, hierarchies, titles, honors are reduced to what they are in reality: a passing puff of smoke. And the only certainty left to us is that of naked suffering, common to all, intermingling its roots with those of a stubborn hope.”

The question of how to get rid of hierarchies is a vexed and important one. What does he suggest?Well nothing really, except the implication that democracy is good, which in any large society will lead to hierarchy. Note that the fear Camus had was of nuclear weapons, a problem entirely created by government.

"A stubborn hope is more necessary than ever. As political, economic, and ecological systems spiral down, it’s likely we will see levels of human suffering that dwarf even the horrors of the 20th century."

Again, no evidence for this likelihood is presented.

"Even more challenging is the harsh realization that we don’t have at hand simple solutions -- and maybe no solutions at all -- to some of the most vexing problems. We may be past the point of no return in ecological damage, and the question is not how to prevent crises but how to mitigate the worst effects. No one can predict the rate of collapse if we stay on this trajectory, and we don’t know if we can change the trajectory in time.

There is much we don’t know, but everything I see suggests that the world in which we will pursue political goals will change dramatically in the next decade or two, almost certainly for the worse. Organizing has to adapt not only to changes in societies but to these fundamental changes in the ecosphere. In short: We are organizing in a period of contraction, not expansion."

Of course there is no actual guidance for how that affects organiation or even if it does.

"We have to acknowledge that human attempts to dominate the non-human world have failed. We are destroying the planet and in the process destroying ourselves. Here, just as in human relationships, we either abandon the dominance/subordination dynamic or we don’t survive.

In 1948, Camus urged people to “give up empty quarrels” and “pay attention to what unites rather that to what separates us” in the struggle to recover from the horrors of Europe’s barbarism. I take from Camus a sense of how to live the tension between facing honestly the horror and yet remaining engaged. In that same talk, he spoke of “the forces of terror” (forces which exist on “our” side as much as on “theirs”) and the “forces of dialogue” (which also exist everywhere in the world). Where do we place our hopes?

“Between the forces of terror and the forces of dialogue, a great unequal battle has begun,” he wrote. “I have nothing but reasonable illusions as to the outcome of that battle. But I believe it must be fought.”

The Occupy gatherings do not yet constitute a coherent movement with demands, but they are wellsprings of reasonable illusions."

Well if they're illusions how are they reasonable?

" Rejecting the political babble around us in election campaigns and on mass media, these gatherings are an experiment in a different kind of public dialogue about our common life, one that can reject the forces of terror deployed by concentrated wealth and power."

Ignoring something is not the same as rejecting it. If you seriously think that the answer is to protest without even the pretence of being mollifiable then you're just ignoring the forces of terror and indeed reality. Of course one has to ask, is Jensen even prepared to reject the forces of terror? Well his solution appears to depend on men with guns making other people do what he wants (or what "we" want since he's so democratic.

"With that understanding, the central task is to keep the experiment going, to remember the latent power in people who do not accept the legitimacy of a system."

Right, so the idea is not to actually achieve political goals but to continue trying to achieve them. That's the "central task", not oh I don't know, helping the poor, educating the people, giving the people revenge justice for the crimes of banksters. No it's just keeping the momentum, without reason or motive. You might think I'm misinterpreting him here and maybe I am, but I suspect not. I suspect he and a large number of intellectuals benefit both materially and non-materially from this sort of thing continuing. Materially this sort of protest sparks more interest in political events and perspectives lifting book sales (he has written several). Non-materially as long as OWS continues the dream of intellectuals challenging and changing the status quo continues and they can think themselves movers and shakers and not discredited time-serving wretches who long ago gave up their idealism for tenure and a book deal. Fundamentally this article wasn't an intellectual piece it was a religious one. A prayer to secular gods which no more required evidence than Sunday mass does.

Friday, September 23, 2011

First Truths: Osgood on "Scientific Anarchism"

First Truths: Osgood on "Scientific Anarchism": From Volume IV., Number I. of Political Science Quarterly  (March, 1889): In anarchism we have the extreme antithesis of socialism and comm...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Failed attempt at Lot5R odds calculator.

function: limitedex DICENUM with SIDES for NUMEX{
loop COUNT over {1..DICENUM}{
result: STORE
function: A lotfrdice B{
TE: [limitedex A with 10 for 3]
DE: [limitedex DICELEFT with 10 for 2]
SE: [limitedex DICELEFT with 10 for 1]
TECOUNTED: [lower of TE and B]
DECOUNTED: [lower of DE and B-TE]
SECOUNTED: [lower of SE with B-TE-DE]
RES: 30 * TECOUNTED + [highest TECOUNTED of TEd10]
RES: RES + 20 * DECOUNTED + [highest DECOUNTED of DEd10]
RES: RES + 10 * SECOUNTED + [highest SECOUNTED of SEd10]
RES: RES + [highest [B-TE-DE-SE] of [A-TE-DE-SE]d10]
result: RES
output [3 lotfrdice 2]

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Monday, May 30, 2011

The reason the State is desperate.

Stefan Molyneux claimed that the US state has become more tyrannical and violent because it's running out of money to bribe their constituents. While this certainly adds a level of desperation the primary cause is an accelerating cycle of propaganda and failure. The State is fundamentally trapped by the expectations it creates and every time it expands it's power and expense to escape this trap it makes this worse. One of the problems is that the State's agents are highly propagandised themselves and therefore cannot adjust policies even to benefit the state.

The drug war is a great example of the propaganda/failure cycle. It started with a flawed idea of removing drugs from America. Naturally this failed. In response to any failure the person or group who fails has four options. Firstly they could state that the original concept was fundamentally flawed and unachievable. Secondly they could state that while the concept is sound, they are not competent to execute it. Thirdly they could claim that they could achieve it but were not allowed to do the things neccesary to do so. Fourthly they could claim that the policy suceeded, possibly by redefining "success". A propaganda/failure cycle occurs when the first two options are extremely undesirable in career and pyscological tersm for those participating and the fourth is not credible. The drug war is a prime, but by no means only, example of this in government.

As failed results for a policy accumulate the part of the state held responsible for it has a problem. This includes not just cops and civil servants, but senior policy makers and politicians. They must maintain the belief that the policy is worthwhile and best achieved by keeping the current personel largely intact. Of course the occasional sacrifice, even a high ranking one, can be made. One or two can retire to spend more time with their families, the interests of the families of course being irrelevant. However if the participants are to retain their careers, their prestige and most importantly their self-belief then the main body of them must continue doing the jobs they're doing. Therefore they insist that they must be less restricted if they are to achieve their goals. The two main forms of this are requests for more resources and for greater ability to violate traditional liberties.

If this approach results in something that can credibly be called a "success", at least at a minimal level, then further attacks on liberty, fraternity and prosperity are unnecessary. That doesn't mean they won't happen, but they will certainly be less rapid and may be abandoned in the face of determined opposition. If the project, like the drug war, is fundamentally flawed and incapable of any but small and transitory sucesses then each expansion of resources and powers must be followed by another. Not to do so is impossible because the people making the decisions have a combination of interest and propagand-created belief in the program that makes it impossible to abandon it. There are occasional exceptions to this for instance Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, but the vast majority of the people in the apparatus will be effectively rock solid on continuing.

To understand why this is so consider that they are the prime recipients of State propaganda for the project. Obviously those who believe most in the project will be more likely to be recruited for it. After recruitment their leaders will have an interest in continuing the propaganda so as to get the best motivation and results. This is true even if adequate results are impossible to achieve since the leader of each section wants to have his team shine compared to other teams. Those who are not effectively propagandised will tend to leave the project as it's failure becomes more and more evident. Those that remain have invested more and more time, knowledge and esteem (including self-esteem) in the project and lose it if failure is ever acknowledged. Therefore they have an interest in never admitting defeat and that interest is abetted by their bosses.

Each time the participants attempt to increase the money and power available to them they must propagandise the people who determine whether or not they are allowed to do so. This is to some extent the general public, to some extent business leaders, special interests, politicians, foreign governments and anyone else whose support or at least non-opposition could prevent the increase. A certain power balance must be achieved to actually advance, and since the policy is fundamentally flawed it cannot deliver net benefits. Therefore some must be deceptively convinced they gain by the policy and those who lose must be propagandised to ignore their costs. The resultant propaganda is a trap. The relevant parts of the State cannot be "depropagandise" these people, or even attempt to do so, without a backlash of anger and resentment. They effectively become part of people held responsible for the policy, since they supported it. To see it end would implicate them in the abuses inflicted for it which were justified "pragmatically". This would make the supporters even since once the ends that justified the means are gone, there is just the evil means. Therefore they form part of the reason that going back on the policy is "politically impossible". That is to say no sufficiently powerful combination of political forces exists opposed to the policy. Too many people have too much to lose from it's ending.

Not only that but the project must continually seek to expand it's size, power and abusiveness. Since the excuse for failure is insufficient size, power and abusiveness in the inevitable absence of sucess a vote not to expand these is effectively a vote to end the project. If the statement is made "We must allow (warrantless searches/confiscation without trial/abusive detention/etc) if we want to end (insert problem)." then a refusal is effectively saying it's not a gaol worth pursuing. If the goal is not worth pursuing then the conclusion will be reached that obviously the current costs in liberties and money aren't worth it either. Since the entire aim is to avoid that conclusion this is unacceptable and the people held responsible for the project will do anything to avoid it. Thus the cycle ends only when the expense and abuses are so egregous a fundamental political realignment, possibly a revolution occurs. This stage is fast approaching in the USA.

Lastly the reason I don't believe that bankruptcy and subsequent ending of goodies for the people are the reason for the most recent new tyrannies. The powers that be are fully aware that they don't have the strength to suppress the parasite classes. There are simply too many people who get goodies from the current system to jail them all or even a large enough part of them to intimidate the others. Naturally both wings of the Demopublican party will be bribed but there comes a point at which even the most extravagent campaign donations and ludicrously biased coverage won't make up for the votes lost from no longer divvying up the loot. Therefore it's politically impossible to pursue this as well. Indeed attempting to use these tactics against the parasite class will destroy their support for it's use against others massively eroding the power of the State.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Murder, Purpose and the State.

How to make tax-funded sadistic serial killers scarier.
By Michael Price

Once again I learn of brutal, tragic murders by US forces from Stefan Molyneux. Once again I am struck not just by the brutality, but the incompetence of the US forces. This might seem besides the point, it would be little comfort to the victim's relatives that they were murdered by people who could actually win wars. But in fact it is the key to a much darker, much more horrifying side of the story than Molyneux, or indeed anyone that I can find has detected.

It is well known that murdering people makes people want to kill you. Indeed blood-feuds were common in pretty much every ancient culture we know of and never stopped in some areas (Afghanistan in particular). An armed force that genuinely hopes to gain control of an area without exterminating it's inhabitants needs to minimise it's killing to avoid retaliation. Naturally armed opponents still need to be killed or at least run off, but killing civilians is VERY counter-productive. This is not just my view, it is official US counterinsurgency doctrine. No competent coalition officer would be ignorant of this. Yet such killings occurred in this unit and kept occurring for months, raising the anger at US forces and encouraging attacks. Further more the breakdown in discipline makes the whole unit much less effective at actually fighting. How can one explain such a lapse, not just in the morality of the troops but their effectiveness in what is allegedly the chief goal of the occupation, winning over the Afghans?

Several explanations are possible, firstly that such activities are so difficult to detect that dedicated officers simply weren't capable of curbing the violent impulses of the troops. However this explanation is wrong on two counts. Firstly the criminals weren't hard to detect, they were known to everyone with remarkable speed. Suspicions were raised possibly before the first victim was even dead and they openly showed signs of exactly the behaviour they were subsequently found guilty of. Secondly officers made little or no effort to determine if these soldiers were murdering civilians even when they had good reason to suspect them. They did have suspicions from the very start of the killing spree, yet the officer's first act was to ensure one source of information, the first victim, was destroyed.

There was no attempt to search for other evidence, for instance the pin and spoon of the grenade the victim was supposed to have thrown. Significantly the murderers knew to conceal these as they were US issue and might have pointed to their own guilt. But their absence was scarcely less incriminating. The pin on a grenade keeps the “spoon”, a spring-loaded lever, in the safe position. If not held by the pin, the throwers hand or some obstacle the spoon revolves away from the body of the grenade and then completely separates from it. The spoon is normally released either before the weapon is thrown (if you wish to shorten the time between throwing and detonation) or as it is. In the former case you would expect it to be fairly close to the original throwing point, in the later further towards the target but probably still close. In neither case should a metal object be hard to find with metal detectors. Yet no attempt was made to do this, despite Afghanistan being notorious for mines and other traps.

When suspicions were raised officers didn't seem to take even the most basic steps to find the truth. At the scene a village elder accused Morlock of throwing the grenade. The obvious response would be to ask Morlock how many grenades he had checked out and how many he had now. A discrepancy would be obvious evidence of wrongdoing. Officers have every reason in the US army to keep track of grenades, as they can be used to kill them without leaving forensic evidence. Killing one's commanding officer during Vietnam was called “fragging” (after “fragmentation grenade”) for a reason. Another would be to ask him where he was when the grenade exploded and to search the area for the spoon and pin, exactly what Morlock anticipated when he was “careful not to leave the grenade's spoon and pin on the ground”. Which leads to the question, where did he leave them? The obvious answer is on him, in a pocket or in his webbing. This means that at the very start a suspicious officer could have searched the murderer and found part of the murder weapon on him. You don't have to be CSI-qualified to make a conclusion from there.

So why didn't he? One explanation is that he's bad at his job, which is controlling his men in such a way that they both say within the approved methods of war and achieve their strategic objectives. However nothing bad seemed to happen to the officers in charge of these men, even those who knew about the killings don't seem to have suffered. They haven't even lost out on promotions. The obvious answer is his job and that of other officers isn't to wage war within approved methods of war and achieve the strategic objectives. In fact their job isn't to do either.

If they wanted to achieve their strategic objectives they would eliminate soldiers under their command who went around murdering people and thus undermining everything the US government is (supposedly) trying to achieve. And by “eliminate” I don't necessarily mean try or transfer, the odd “coordinate mistake” with the artillery will work just as well. Even better if the troops suspect the truth. If the troops can be intimidated to cover up a murder of an innocent they can certainly be intimidated into not talking about the execution of said murders. Particularly since the executioners control their deployment and whether they get reinforced. Even if the leadership aren't prepared to treat their troops that badly* they could still mount courts martial against the suspects and make it clear that anyone even thinking of doing this is in for hell on earth.

Obviously if they were trying to wage war within approved methods they weren't trying that hard.

So what was the job of these officers? What were they in Afghanistan to do if not to achieve the strategic objectives of their masters and thereby the political objectives of their master's masters? Well they were in Afghanistan to be in Afghanistan. “We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here” as the old song goes. The purpose of the killing (both “legitimate” and “illegitimate”) is to persuade the ones with the purse-strings that killing needs to be done. Their function is propaganda, not on behalf of the state, but on behalf of the armed forces in general and the army in particular. This propaganda is aimed not just at the people of the United States but at the United States Government itself. They are their to convince politicians that a force capable of action such as they take is needed. In this context, the murders and the official response to it make perfect sense. The more killing the more it looks like they are facing great opposition and therefore the more justified their presence is. The only problem was that the “kill-team” (a grandiose title for a “team” that would have been useless in a firefight) couldn't keep their mouth shut and eventually told someone who had no reason to be loyal to them.

* note the troops that aren't murdering people actually benefit from such a brutal regime towards murders, it reduces murder of civilians which reduces retaliation attacks which makes them safer.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oil, scarcity and US foreign policy, A response to Michael Klare's “The collapse of the old oil order”

Klare's article

Modern US and Western foreign policy in the middle east has been going on for at least 60 years. In that time much evidence about it's nature, intention, extent and effectiveness has been observed. Michael Klare's piece references this evidence, but primarily to directly contradict it. There is little evidence that the survival or authoritarian governments in the middle east is necessary, sufficient or even helpful to “the expansion of Western economies after World War II” or the “current affluence of industrialised societies”. If every one of the authoritarian regimes in the middle east were to perish there is no indication that oil production would fall. Indeed it might rise. The interventions in the Middle East are even less helpful to this and were and are generally a hindrance to oil production.

Klare's first historical reference is to Iranian oil and imperial ambitions towards it and machinations about it. Aside from replacing a pro-German with a pro-British shah however none of these developments would have increased Iranian oil production. During WWII Iran would have had little problem selling all it's oil, the only possible interruption to the supply would be if a pro-German Shah refused to sell oil to Britian even if he couldn't transport his whole production to Germany. No doubt up until December 41 he could still sell to Russia. Increasing production was therefore not realistically the goal of British policy, only ensuring that the production was available to them. This is the closest thing in the entire article to a Western power putting a despot in charge to increase oil supply.

Klare then talks about the 1951 coup against Mohammed Mossadeq, prompted by the proposal to steal I mean nationalise the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. If the Brits thougth nationalisation was so bad for production why did Winston Churchill nationalise the same company (then known as Anglo-Persian Oil Company) in 1914? The simple answer is they didn't, they just didn't want powerful British interests to get ripped off by the Persians. They had less objection when British interests were ripped off by the British government. To what extent the widespread unpopularity of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi impacted oil production isn't addressed in the article so perhaps it's negative effect wasn't significant. What cannot be doubted is that it was a negative effect. A government that is extremely corrupt, unpopular and oppressive doesn't get the best out of it's workers, not even the ones in potentially very lucrative businesses. A less corrupt, more accountable, more popular government would certainly have outproduced Shah Reza, the only question is was the amount significant?

After the Shah was thrown out in 1979 Iranian oil production “never recovered” (his words). Why is that? Is it because the revolutionaries restricted supply? Did they hate the West or getting it's money? Not according to Klare; “To punish Iran’s new leaders, Washington imposed tough trade sanctions, hindering the state oil company’s efforts to obtain foreign technology and assistance. Iranian output plunged to two million barrels per day and, even three decades later, has made it back to only slightly more than four million barrels per day, even though the country possesses the world’s second largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia.”. So the first time that US and Western policy affects Middle East oil production the result is to cut a countries oil production by 2/3. So much for promoting production. Nor is this an unforeseeable outcome, it hardly takes a genius to see that restricting a Middle East nation to using the technology it [EDIT: cannot] make itself will substantially cut oil production. Iran at the time simply didn't have the skills to substitute for Western know-how, and everyone knew it. They still don't.

Then we come to the Iraq war. Production dropped from 2.8m b/day to 0.5m b/day after the war and sanctions took their toll. Again this is not an unpredictable occurrence, when you bomb somebodies oil fields and then forbid them from trading naturally their production of oil for international markets drops. A policy of refusing to buy oil and preventing others from doing so is not a policy designed to increase oil production or the prosperity that flows from it. This policy was however kept up long after it became clear it's alleged goals (removal of Saddam or destruction of his weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist) would not be achieved. In spite of these efforts production was up to 2.5mbd by 2001.

Another war against Iraq was launched which did increase Iraq oil production, but only because sanctions were lifted in it's wake. Klare uses the claims of Bush officials that after an invasion the privatization of State oil companies and Western investment and technology would life production to support the claim that this was the aim of the invasion. Does he take other Bush claims, such as the claim that they would destroy Saddam's WMDs as seriously? If the US government had seriously wanted to sell oil technology and investment to the Iraqis it would have been as simple as letting them buy it. Yet they went the tremendously expensive route of invading, with all the predictable disruption this causes.

Given the extensive politicisation of the State oil company it was the opposite of surprising they would resist privatisation. Why would a group that got it's highly lucrative jobs from elite friends want to compete in the market? Especially when the beneficiaries killed their former patrons? Obviously such a move would encourage sabotage both of the privatisation itself and of production efficiency. If the Bushrangers could have presented privatisation as a genuine market reform designed to get the most benefits for the Iraqi people (or at least government) from their oil there might have been some public support. However the administration mostly put it's faith into no-bid contracts often with firms of questionable competence (KBR couldn't even construct barracks without dangerous electrical faults). There is no reason to believe that Bush administration aims included greater production, even allowing for their incompetence.

The Iraqi people on the other hand have every reason to promote oil production, provided distribution of rewards is even close to equitable. Unlike Bush administration officials they do not have monetary interests in American oil resources that compete with Iraqi oil.

Klare mentions that Egypt and Jordan guard vital oil pipelines and/or canals, but guard them from who? The only time since WWIII a major oil sea-lane has been threatened that I can remember is when the US and the Iranians went at it for years in the Gulf of Oman. Since as previously mentioned this resulted from US hostility to Iran including sanctions and a proxy war that reduced it's oil output what is the point of “guarding” any of the routes? Why not simply not cause trouble along them? Even assuming there are those who would disrupt the routes for political or monetary gain why should the US or other Western powers pay for the protection as opposed to the oil sellers? They have the most to lose after all. If Western policy was truly aimed at maximising production they would stop angering the “Arab street” with support for Israel thus making disruption of oil supplies by governments and other groups seeking to cash in on anti-western sentiment less likely.

Libyan production is off for obviously reasons and Klare presents this as a serious problem. If so the solution is to back whichever side looks like winning so the revolt is over as soon as possible. Obama did the opposite, and was supported by France and England as well as other countries. Egypt and Tunisia are “expected to restore production, modest in both countries, to pre-rebellion levels soon,” which is the complete opposite of the point of his entire essay. He continues however by saying they “are unlikely to embrace the sorts of major joint ventures with foreign firms that might boost production while diluting local control.”. This he bases on, what? No evidence is given that popular politicians are more adverse to joint ventures than dictators. In Russian joint ventures ground to a halt because the foreigners were getting constantly ripped off by an unaccountable government and it's cronies. This suggests joint ventures are easier with an accountable government, not harder. Again the main problem with joint ventures in the two countries he mentioned as having lower production after becoming more anti-western resulted from WESTERN GOVERNMENT RESTRCTIONS, not native public opinion or policy.

He finishes off the paragraph by saying that Iran and Iraq “exhibit no signs of being able to boost production significantly. Iran is currently under sanctions for alleged misdeeds and Iraq has an ongoing civil war as a result of Western policy. Lack of expanding production in either cannot be blamed on the sort of change that Egypt and Tunisia experienced.

Nor can stagnant production in Saudi Arabia be blamed on such change, which has not occurred. Klare makes it quite clear that “The Saudi royals have expressed reluctance to raise output much above 10 million barrels per day, fearing damage to their remaining fields and so a decline in future income for their many progeny. “. So much for the dictators keeping production up. Klare then asserts that “rising domestic demand is expected to consume an ever-increasing share of Saudi Arabia’s net output”. He only names one person who expects it and that is someone with every reason to push scarcity fears, Khalid al-Falih, CEO of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company. He predicts a 260% increase in domestic oil consumption in 18 years or about 7.4% a year, which would be impressive for a tiger economy, which SA is not. Nevertheless Klare takes this figure as gospel, or at least does not indicate it might be even slightly doubtful.

His pronouncements on Saudi domestic oil consumption are at least based on some evidence. His claim that “no other area is capable of replacing the Middle East as the world’s premier oil exporter“ is based on nothing but ignorance of oil's history. The big players in the oil market were always surprised by the next big field, let alone the general public or the intellectuals. To claim that because you don't know what could replace the Middle East and therefore that nobody knows it and theefore no such field exists goes against everything observed about the oil business for decades. Which is pretty much par for the course with this essay and one's like it.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The worst review

A review of Whittaker Chambers review of Atlas Shrugged .

Chambers' review of Atlas Shrugged is perhaps the worst review in the history of literature. I do not mean by that that is it the least complimentary (although god knows it's not a love letter) but that it is the least accurate. Generally when a review misreports a work it is perceived as innocent incompetence, but this is hardly likely here. Atlas Shrugged is not a complex work by the standards of a nationally known reviewer and some of the “mistakes” he makes are obvious to anyone of average intelligence who actually read the book. Some of the claims he makes about AS and Rand are merely unsupported, but others are directly contradicted by the work itself. I am forced to conclude that the review isn't just nasty, it's dishonest.

“It is the more persuasive, in some quarters, because the author deals wholly in the blackest blacks and the whitest whites. In this fiction everything, everybody, is either all good or all bad, without any of those intermediate shades which, in life, complicate reality and perplex the eye that seeks to probe it truly. “ 

 This is perhaps just an exaggeration based on the reviewers limited memory of the work, but it is the first claim that can be factually verified or denied by reference to the work, the latter occurs. Is he seriously saying that Hank Reardon, who betrayed the productive class of a whole country so his girlfriend wouldn't look bad, is “only the whitest white”? Or how about “non-absolute”? If he is only the whitest white or the blackest black which is he? And at which stage of his character development*?

“The Children of Light are largely operatic caricatures. Insofar as any of them suggests anything known to the business community, they resemble the occasional curmudgeon millionaire, tales about whose outrageously crude and shrewd eccentricities sometimes provide the lighter moments in boardrooms. “ 

 Right, so Dagny Taggart is a “curmudgeon”, yeah because she hated socialising with her friends. What Chambers seems to misunderstand, perhaps deliberately perhaps not, it that it is not “ curmudgeonly” to not what to socialise with people who you don't like or trust. That is the extent of the “curmudgeon” tendencies of the heroes of AS.  Note also that he is already inserting the impression that the heroes of AS are all millionaires and that we only need to consider whether they might be known in real life to “the business community”, not the arts or philosophical community. I will come back to this.

“All Miss Rand's chief heroes are also breathtakingly beautiful. “ 

 Midas Mulligan is breathtakingly beautiful? Ken Dannager too? Really? There is no accounting for Whittaker's taste.

“Yet from the impromptu and surprisingly gymnastic matings of the heroine and three of the heroes, no children — it suddenly strikes you — ever result. “ 

Chambers here seems surprised that a woman who wants to become chief of a transcontinental railroad and has sex at lot has mastered birth control. “You speculate that, in life, children probably irk the author and may make her uneasy. “ No Chambers, you speculate that. I speculate that she knew little about how to raise children and spent little time with them and so didn't consider it a good idea to write a lot about them. Just as Jane Austen never wrote a scene with no women present so Rand didn't write a lot of scenes with children in them. As for AS depicting a world that isn't a good place for children, it's a dystopian novel, it's not a good place for adults. “How could it be otherwise when she admiringly names a banker character (by what seems to me a humorless master-stroke): Midas Mulligan? You may fool some adults; you can't fool little boys and girls with such stuff — not for long. “ Apparently he thinks naming a character “Midas” means that the author hates children or something, only his bile is clear in this case.

“Their archetypes are Left-Liberals, New Dealers, Welfare Statists, One Worlders, or, at any rate, such ogreish semblances of these as may stalk the nightmares of those who think little about people as people, but tend to think a great deal in labels and effigies. “ 

Note here that he leaves out completely the fact that plenty on the Right also qualify, as do plenty of religious people. The idea that the bad guys in AS are unbelievable caricatures is simply wrong. There are many people who are as bad or worse as the average Ayn Rand villain. I'm looking at you Krugman. In fact the response to one section of Atlas Shrugged perfectly mirrors the response to the statements of one of the characters in that section. You will no doubt have heard of the train wreck where Rand goes through each car and details how someone in that car endorsed the disastrous philosophy that led to it. Francisco comments on this fact and the outrage is greater than the outrage at the wreck itself. What Rand was doing in this piece was talking about a much larger train wreck, which similarly killed people who, by and large, endorsed to a greater or lesser extent the philosophy that caused it. And just like Francisco the torrents of abuse came down on her far more than on those who caused the wreck. The train wreck by the way was the 20th century. How absurd is it to be condemned for writing unrealistic characters by people who are doing what you have your characters doing? 

“This spares her the playguy business of performing one service that her fiction might have performed, namely: that of examining in human depth how so feeble a lot came to exist at all, let alone be powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing. Instead, she bundles them into one undifferentiated damnation.” 

 Actually the entire book is about how these people came to exist and become powerful enough to be worth hating and fearing. I suppose she could have gone into greater depth, but if Chambers really wants this he is the only person I know who thinks AS should be longer.

“Robin Hood is the author's image of absolute evil — robbing the strong (and hence good) to give to the weak (and hence no good). “ 

Here Chambers simply substitutes “Strong” for productive and “Weak” for unproductive hoping we won't see the difference. In fact the heroes in AS are consistently overpowered in almost everything they want for most of the book. To describe that as “Strength” is just a trifle disingenuous. The character arguably depicted as the worst in the book is Dr. Robert Stadler, who is intellectually strong and even brave. It is not strength but willingness to deal with others through consent only that separates the heroes from the villains.

“I submit that she is indebted, and much more heavily, to Nietzsche. Just as her operatic businessmen are, in fact, Nietzschean supermen, “ 

 Note again he gives the impression that al l the heroes are businessmen.

“Happily, in Atlas Shrugged (though not in life), all the Children of Darkness are utterly incompetent.” 

Dr Robert Stadler is utterly incompetent?

“In the end, they troop out of their Rocky Mountain hideaway to repossess the ruins. “ 

 Except that they don't intend to “repossess” anything, simply to deal consensually with those outside Galt's Gulch. There is no hint that the Gulchers even want to take back what was legally there's let alone “repossess” the whole world.

“More importantly, it is meant to seal the fact that mankind is ready to submit abjectly to an elite of technocrats, “ 

 Much of the book is about how dollars mean you don't have to submit to anyone. That Chambers pretends to misunderstand this after over 1000 pages is breathtaking. The whole point is that by trading consensually nobody needs to submit to anyone's will. If Rand had only mentioned this once I could excuse Chambers, who no doubt was distracted by guilt at being a pawn of socialist murderers, for missing it. But as we all know saying something once isn't really Rand's style. The point is hammered home repeatedly, and anyone who pretends not to get it is dishonest either right on the surface, deep down or both.

“by Miss Rand's ideas that the good life is one which 'has resolved personal worth into exchange value,' 'has left no other nexus between man and man than naked selfinterest, than callous cash-payment.' “ 

The idea that Rand thought that only cash should come in to a relationship is similar to the idea that Marx thought laissez faire was a great idea. Throughout Atlas Shrugged the heroes sacrifice material well-being for abstract values like friendship, integrity and pride. Henry Reardon refuses $20 million dollars for the rights to Reardon metal, far more than he could possible gain from selling it (in fact it's not clear that he ever makes a profit from it's sale). His justification? “Because it's good.”. John Galt gives up far more by not patenting his motor, which conservatively would be worth $50 million given the power/weight ratio and feul economy. Quentin Daniels gives up the chance to own a considerable percentage of the profits from making the same motor, just so he can work as an apprentice in Galt's power station. The refusal of Halley to take payment from Dagny for the concert because her satisfaction and it's source are enough is minor in comparison but still significant. It is certainly less impressive than having 40 men ready to die to rescue someone they love. Death of course would make money pretty meaningless. So much for the idea that Rand favors “no other nexus between man and man... than callous cash payment”.

“It is, in sum, a forthright philosophic materialism. “ 

Materialism has two meanings “ 1. preoccupation with or emphasis on material  objects, comforts, and considerations, with a disinterest in or rejection of spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values. 2. the philosophical theory that regards matter and its motions as constituting the universe, and all phenomena, including those of mind, as due to material  agencies.“ ( based on the Random House dictionary) Chambers says “philosophic materialism” which means the second, but he's talking about the first. He either doesn't know or doesn't want us to know the difference. With regard to the first meaning Rand was specific that she did not chiefly value material things. Hell the only reason you read John Galt's speech was that she gave up material things to get it printed. Again the heroes of AS gave up material things repeatedly in AS, and not small ones either. Akston gave up salary and tenure and became a sandwich hand. Galt as previously mentioned gave up his rights to his motor, possibly the most valuable possession on the planet at the time.

“Henceforth man's fate, without God, is up to him, and to him alone. His happiness, in strict materialist terms, lies with his own workaday hands and ingenious brain. His happiness becomes, in Miss Rand's words, 'the moral purpose of his life.' Here occurs a little rub whose effects are just as observable in a free-enterprise system, which is in practice materialist (whatever else it claims or supposes itself to be), as they would be under an atheist socialism, if one were ever to deliver that material abundance that all promise. The rub is that the pursuit of happiness, as an end in itself, tends automatically, and widely, to be replaced by the pursuit of pleasure, with a consequent general softening of the fibers of will, intelligence, spirit. No doubt, Miss Rand has brooded upon that little rub. “. 

Yes Rand thought about what it means to pursue pleasure and how it can affect the will, intelligence and spirit. She even wrote about it, chiefly in the voice of Francisco d'Anconia. The claim that the pursuit of happiness tends “automatically” to 'the pursuit of pleasure' which of course Chambers doesn't define , let alone differentiate from happiness is obviously wrong. Not everyone who pursues happiness spends their time getting drunk and laid. That the forms of pleasure seeking are only effective if they have the content of achievement is mentioned at least twice, firstly by Dagny as a comment on her social debut, then by Francisco as he comments on his fake “playboy” lifestyle and the sort of man who would actually seek it and why. It's OK if Chambers doesn't believe what Rand says about pleasure here, but to pretend she hasn't said it just to justify smearing her philosophy is just plain evil.

“For, if Man's heroism (some will prefer to say: 'human dignity') no longer derives from God, or is not a function of that godless integrity which was a root of Nietzsche's anguish, then Man becomes merely the most consuming of animals, with glut as the condition of his happiness and its replenishment his foremost activity." 

Again this is something that Rand specifically dealt with in AS and to just skip over it to pretend that she did is the work of a propagandist not a reviewer. I guess once you learn from the Trots you never forget.

“So Randian Man, at least in his ruling caste, “ 

 Interesting choice of words, “ruling caste”. Note that none of the heroes ruled or sought to rule anyone. The closest any of them came to doing so was Judge Narragansett, writing a constitution, which would give him as judge less power than he had under the previous one. But the word “caste” is even more revealing, since it refers to a class that is determined by birth and impossible to get out of. Given that every one of the heroes in AS changes “caste” and that the only two sibling pairs in the story end up in completely different circumstances how is this word justified? It's not. It's simply another attempt to imply something untrue about AS, in this case that those who triumphed would have some sort of inescapable hold on the world. In fact not only do they not seem to want this but at least one specifically rejects having an inescapable hold over his employees, hiring only those who will quit and become his competitors.

“For politics, of course, arise, though the author of Atlas Shrugged stares stonily past them, “ 

 Right, because AS has nothing to say about how politics works and what it means. God how did this guy not get laughed out of the literary profession.

“In an age like ours, in which a highly complex technological society is everywhere in a high state of instability, such answers, however philosophic, translate quickly into political realities. “ 

Here we come to the real objection, the crux of the matter, even more important than the god stuff. Rand thinks that philosophy should actually be applied to real life. My god doesn't she know that philosophy is to be kept in the drawing room of effete professors and never taken out in public? The relevance of philosophy to our “highly complex society” being “everywhere in a high state of instability” apparently escapes Chambers. 
 “And in the degree to which problems of complexity and instability are most bewildering to masses of men, a temptation sets in to let some species of Big Brother solve and supervise them. “ 
 So naturally we must abandon all philosophy in politics, all attempts to find underlying principles for understanding the world. No instead we must simply base our politics on, what exactly? Not ethics for that is a branch of philosophy? Not logic for that too is a branch of philosophy Nah let's just keep spewing out range of the moment, “pragmatic”, whatever seems to work right now politics, it worked so well for Weimer Germany. Oh no I've done the Godwin's law thing, oh well, at least I didn't start it.

“Miss Rand, as the enemy of any socializing force, “ What the hell does he mean here? Rand had nothing against socialising, and did it constantly. She had nothing against people being “socialised” in the sense of treating people decently either. Neither of these conclusions is in any way justified by AS.

“calls in a Big Brother of her own contriving to do battle with the other. In the name of free enterprise, therefore, she plumps for a technocratic elite (I find no more inclusive word than technocratic to bracket the industrial-financial-engineering caste she seems to have in mind). “ I don't see how a sculptor and a musician count as part of the “industrial-financial-engineering elite”. Although the sculptor did run a foundry for a while. Again he uses the word “caste” to falsely imply that this group is both monolithic and permanent. Nothing in AS even remotely suggests this, in fact one of the main antagonists seem to regard themselves as having a right to be in an elite not the protangonists. Nowhere do any of the protagonists suggest being given the powers of a Big Brother, in fact John Galt specifically rejects the offer, considering it absurd even to command men to be free.

“When she calls 'productive achievement man's noblest activity,' she means, almost exclusively, technological achievement, supervised by such a managerial political bureau. “ Actually she means and says she means whatever expands a man's life. That someone could be ignorant of this is startling but I guess when you're mining a work for things to slander it with it's easy to miss the little stuff. “She might object that she means much, much more; and we can freely entertain her objections. But, in sum, that is just what she means. For that is what, in reality, it works out to. “ Yes she can object but we'll simply make a baseless assertion and that takes care of that.

“And in reality, too, by contrast with fiction, this can only head into a dictatorship, however benign, living and acting beyond good and evil, a law unto itself (as Miss Rand believes it should be), and feeling any restraint on itself as, in practice, criminal, and, in morals, vicious (as Miss Rand clearly feels it to be). “ 

How exactly is not using force against others going to lead to a dictatorship? The only restraint he talks of is the initiation of force, which yes, I do think it should be in practice criminal and in morals vicious. The idea that a group whose only demand was “stop stealing from us” is dictatorial is bizarre, but only if you don't consider the “conservatives” who make it. To them sacrifice to the “greater good” is a god, worshipped far more reverentially than the god they claim to worship. What, we can't extort money from you to enslave your sons to die on a distant field? You dictators!

“I take her to be calling for an aristocracy of talents. We cannot labor here why, in the modern world, the pre-conditions for aristocracy, an organic growth, no longer exist, so that the impulse toward aristocracy always emerges now in the form of dictatorship. “ 

Wow, that's scummy even for him. Note how he goes from a claim (not supported by any textual evidence naturally) that she is for “an aristocracy of talent” and then sleazily transfers from that sort of “aristocracy” to a political one, which she never argued for. He is again trying to plant the seed of a group that controls all and that is difficult or impossible to get into if you aren't born into it. This despite 3 of the central characters being almost literally as different in backgrounds as It is possible to be. The origins of the Gulchers range from heirs to a multi-million dollar fortune, the son of an aristocratic bishop, left an impoverished home at 14 and son of a garage attendant (maybe). And those are the ones we know about. From this we can judge one of his early claims that this book is about a “class war”. This is literally true and yet a lie. There are “classes” of people in the philosophic sense at war in AS. But we know he meant us to take it in the sense of “Haves vs. Have-nots” “Aristos vs. the hoi polloi”. This is as untrue as it could possibly be. Brothers and sisters are born into the same class, but the only two sibling pairs mentioned end up on opposite sides of the “class war”.

“Nor has the author, apparently, brooded on the degree to which, in a wicked world, a materialism of the Right and a materialism of the Left first surprisingly resemble, then, in action, tend to blend each with each, because, while differing at the top in avowed purpose, and possibly in conflict there, at bottom they are much the same thing. The embarrassing similarities between Hitler's National Socialism and Stalin's brand of Communism are familiar. “

Actually she has “brooded” or rather thought about it. That's part of the reason why she suggests a system radically different from either. Of course to Chambers the fact that both systems are allegedly “materialistic” means there are no other relevant details.

“Therefore, resistance to the Message cannot be tolerated because disagreement can never be merely honest, prudent, or just humanly fallible. “

This is said of a book in which the vast majority of the heroes resist the message and the resistance forms a large part of both the page count and the interest of the book. Without resistance to the message by characters presented as morally good AS would be a pamphlet. Seriously this guy is evil, through and through.

“There are ways of dealing with such wickedness, and, in fact, right reason itself enjoins them. From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: 'To a gas chamber — go!' “ 

Now you see what I mean about not being the first to invoke Godwin. Chambers is hearing voices. Unfortunately they aren't the voices of those slain by his former comrades, so I guess I was wrong about the whole being distracted by guilt thing. Let us look at what the characters in AS actually do about such wickedness. Nothing. Literally nothing. The closest they get to hostile action is blowing up their own property. Nobody is punished for obscene thefts and blackmails. They don't shoot anyone except in legitimate defence of others or to reclaim property that has been stolen (and only 1 named character does the latter). They don't even hold a grudge much, Hank Reardon being willing to forgive decades of emotional abuse, ingratitude and humiliation for less than a minute of actual fellowship. He doesn't even get that.

“mislaid the discriminating knack that most of us pray will warn us in time of the difference between what is effective and firm, and what is wildly grotesque and excessive. “ 

 Maybe I'm wrong about this guy, maybe he's not lying maybe he just comprehensively missed the point of everything she wrote. Nope, he's evil. But here we see that he's stupid as well. What would be the point of AS toned down? If Rand isn't right that what she says is wrong with philosophy and society is disastrous then she's wrong that it's wrong. There is no middle ground and saying there is, that this plague that has killed millions (many of them while being cheered on by Chambers), would be seen as blatantly dishonest and brain-dead. What Chambers wants is for someone who believe something passionately to write as though she believed it somewhat. The only reason to want someone to do this is if you disagree with them.

“We struggle to be just. “ 

 Always hard for a Trot, but really he doesn't. He struggles to be a lying sleazy, traducing scumbag, or rather he finds it easy.

* It should be noted here that the character development of “Non-absolute” is the most detailed and convincing in the entire work, yet it consumers at least an order of magnitude less words than other characters. What this says about Rand is significant, but I don't know what it is.