Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Positive Response

Here's a nice little essay from "Common Dreams" - "It's Time for a Post-Piketty Vision of Shared Wealth." It praises Thomas Piketty for exposing the lie of neo-liberalism, that reduced inequality is a natural result of "free-market" industrial capitalism, and for showing how it is politics that reducing inequality, not markets.
Far from creating ‘a rising tide that lifts all boats’, however, Piketty’s update of the Kuznets curve shows that a capitalist economy driven by market forces was not the reason behind the reduction in inequality in the post-war period. Rather, this was due to the peculiar circumstances of the era, such as the destruction of wealth following the great depression and two world wars, alongside strong government intervention in the market and broad-based redistributive policies (including, for example, top income tax rates of well over 90 per cent in both the US and Britain).  
Piketty's work shows that left to its own devices, capitalism produces extremes of destabilizing inequality. We therefore need something beyond a tax on capital ...
Many commentators have pointed out that the surest path to reversing inequality within countries is through strategies that create a better distribution of capital in the first instance, rather than relying on top-down, quick-fix and state-centric strategies afterwards. In other words, it’s more effective to address the distribution of wealth at its source, well before it is already stashed away in the bosses’ bank accounts.
This will inevitably require the collective organisation of labour, the protection of workers’ rights, and new ways for capital to be owned broadly by the populace – such as a dramatic ramping up of participatory ownership through cooperatives.
The article also talks about the ecological necessity for a new form of economics:
Another blind side of Piketty’s analysis is his failure to take seriously the ecological limits to growth. It is clear that he defends the free market and the idea of perpetual economic growth, since his proposal for a global wealth tax assumes that a global growth rate of 2-5 percent is sustainable over the long run. Nowhere in the book does he admit that limitless growth is unsustainable on a finite planet, a position which is now conventional wisdom for many scientists, environmental activists and civil society organisations. As often repeated, humanity is currently consuming natural resources at a rate 50 per cent faster than the planet can replenish, and we already require one and a half planets to support today’s consumption levels.
Now, there are lots of links in this article. Most of them, it seems, are going to  go to sources that back-up the factual claims of the article. Some might refer to existing co-operative groups and what-not. I shall check, but the point is that I don't think there's any large-scale initiative at any of those links that is trying to construct the widespread democratic-ecological political-economy that we needed to start building yesterday.

Allow me, once again, to trumpet "Workers as Citizens. "Workers as Citizens" doesn't propose getting people with no access to capital to form co-operatives through some combination of encouragement, innovative fund-raising schemes, or whatever. It doesn't say that the labour movement should form its own co-operative industries to compete (in a rigged game) with the corporations at their own game. No, "Workers as Citizens" proposes making democratic co-operatives of Ford Canada, Microsoft Canada, Wal-Mart Canada, Tim Horton's Canada, all at once, through legal fiat. Every single workplace in Canada (except for the public sector, which will be run by triumvirates of workers, managers and citizens' representatives) will be mandated to be run democratically. Workers and owners and managers in each workplace will be free to determine their own form of democratic practice, subject to a few caveats (such as their being no involuntary expulsions from a workplace other than through a majority vote) to protect workers (or owners and managers) who have found themselves conned into agreeing to a sham democracy.

Using our present political system, "Workers as Citizens" will mobilize to get a political party to run on a platform of imposing this obligation though either ordinary legislation or a constitutional amendment. By using the system that our elites tell us is the only legitimate source of change, our elites will have little in the way of arguments against it, and no legal recourse for opposing it. Obviously, there are practical arguments that can and will be made against it, but these can be dealt with through traditional discussion and debate. What I'm referring to when I say that they can't argue against it is that they cannot say it is illegitimate. They cannot say it is dictatorially imposed. If it is implemented the way every other law or constitutional right is implemented, then the elites will have to suck it up, or lose their own claims to legitimacy. (Truth be told, by endorsing stephen "contempt of Parliament" harper, and his election fraud crimes, and by supporting the unilateral abrogation of our Treaties with the First Nations, our elites have shown their adherence to democracy and the rule-of-law to be a sham already.)

Some of my critics have tried to argue that just as our elites have shown their inherent hypocrisy and insincerity in the past, so too will they do so here. IF (and that's a big IF) a party were elected to power on this platform and IF they weren't intimidated into watering-down the proposal into meaninglessness, our elites would rise up and crush this exercise in naive trust in legislatures and bourgeois elections.

My reply to those critics is to ask what else they propose? A  "revolution" in poorer countries that will magically sweep across the world and bring our whole system crashing down to be replaced by a utopian political-economic social order of "real" democracy and "real" economic justice and "real" this or that? In other words, some unpredictable chain of events that will somehow happen somewhere and somehow not be crushed and somehow, somehow, somehow ....!

Or do they propose giving our dying labour movement a greater emphasis on "organizing" than on protecting their current memberships, in the hopes that we can (in the face of vast difficulties of post-industrial workplaces) bring the movement's membership up to 1950's levels, whereupon we can then, .... do what exactly? Suffer the same reverses of the 1950s - today?

Or, do they propose pointlessly voting for increasingly timid social-democrat parties or green capitalist parties who will do what they're doing at the present time?

Or, do they propose putting on black clothes, covering their faces with masks, and throwing a rock through a window?

Or do they propose writing another critique of present circumstances?

Or, do they propose writing incomprehensible, stupid gibberish such as I parodied here?

I really think my critics have gotten ahead of themselves. If our elites will crush an initiative such as "Workers as Citizens," will they not then totally expose themselves as rebels against their own source of legitimacy? IF such a government were elected, it would have to be elected with something like 40% of the electorate's support to have a majority necessary to implement it. It will be a part of the campaign for this initiative that its opponents will have to obey it or else they will have exposed themselves as enemies of parliamentary democracy. If they blatantly crush the legitimate aspirations of 40% of the electorate, do you not think such an action would not have fatal consequences for their continued authority over us?

And, furthermore, if we believe that our elites will ruthlessly crush such an initiative, why the fuck do we petition them for things that we want? Why do we protest their crimes? If they're ruthless criminals, then they're ruthless criminals, right? Why will they stop militarizing the police, persecuting minorities, engaging in criminal ponzi schemes and bailing themselves out with public funds when their casinos collapse? Why will they stop their wars, their plundering of the planet, their media brainwashing, their polluting of our eco-system, their immiseration of the working class, because we petition them? Because small groups of us protest in the streets against it?

V. I. Lenin was a ruthless, murdering psychopath, but at least he realized that if you're going to take power away from the powerful, the powerful are going to resist. And by "resist" we don't mean protest for an afternoon on the street or make a website to complain. They're going to try to kill you. They'll imprison you at the very least. Lenin's system failed because, partially due to his own tendencies and partly due to the intensity of the opposition against him, he didn't know when to quit killing people. Lenin and Stalin and the rest won for a number of reasons, but one reason was because Lenin had no compunctions against killing anyone and everyone who dared to oppose them. And, he thereby implemented a terrible dictatorship.

What do my critics propose? A magical peaceful revolution. Peaceful how? Revolutionary how? When does this happen? Where does it happen? Why does it happen? Why is everything magically better after it happens?

Please! In the name of FUCK tell me! It's enormously important that you tell me! So that I will know when this magical, peaceful, perfect transformation will occur and can be dressed appropriately. Unless it's all just useless fantasizing.

And that's just it. Unless and until I hear some sort of coherent alternative to "Workers as Citizens", I am going to assume that there is nothing else out there.

Democratic workplaces will bring greater health and safety. Higher wages. Job security. They will mean more attention to environmentalism. There is a lot of literature to back-up the claim that they will be more efficient.

To transition from growth-based consumerism to zero-growth sustainability will require a strong, democratic state. Public health care, pensions, ecological clean-ups, insurance of housing and the basic necessities, ... the redistribution of global wealth to desperately poor countries, ... all of these things will require a democratic state. They're too big for vaguely defined committees of hippies to deal with (or whatever the fuck alternative my "radical" critics have swimming around in their brains).

Workplaces will be taxed and regulated and the state (with less unemployment and other upheavals to deal with) will have ample resources to do these tasks. And workplaces will not flee to lower taxation because the workers who help run the place will vote against their own unemployment.

"Workers as Citizens" is the ONLY realistic means we have for implementing the reforms of capitalism and the implementation of ecological sanity that are articulated in that article.

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