Blog Archives

Marx, Orwell and State-Cartel Socialism

OK, so our collective eyes start glazing over when we see Marx and Orwell in the subject line, but refill your beverage and stay with me on this. We’re going to explore the premise that what’s called “socialism”–yes, Scandinavian-style socialism and its variants–is really nothing more than finance-capital state-cartel elitism that has done a better job of co-opting its debt-serfs than its state-cartel “capitalist” cronies.

We have to start with the question “what is socialism”? The standard definition is: a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.

In practice, the community as a whole is the state. Either the state owns a controlling interest in the enterprise, or it controls the surplus (profits), labor rules, etc. via taxation and regulation.

The problem with equating the community with the state is the community is a completely different order from the centralized state, which is operated and controlled by a self-serving clerisy class that institutionalizes benefiting the few at the expense of the many.

The more accurate definition of socialism is: the means of production are owned and controlled by those who produce the goods and services.

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Why I’m Hopeful

Why am I hopeful? the Status Quo is devolving, and a better way of living lies just beyond the corrupt, wasteful, ruinous consumerist debt/financial tyranny we now inhabit.

Readers often ask me to post something hopeful, and I understand why: doom-and-gloom gets tiresome. Human beings need hope just as they need oxygen, and the destruction of the Status Quo via over-reach and internal contradictions doesn’t leave much to be happy about.

The most hopeful thing in my mind is that the Status Quo is devolving from its internal contradictions and excesses. It is a perverse, intensely destructive system with horrific incentives for predation, exploitation, fraud and complicity and few disincentives.

A more human world lies just beyond the edge of the Status Quo.

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Crisis of Meaning = Crisis of Work

Allow me to connect two apparently unconnected dots. Dot #1: The last sugar plantation in Hawaii is closing down, ending more than a century of plantation life in the 50th state.

Dot #2: a new study found that Nearly 95% of all new jobs during Obama era were part-time, or contract.

The research by economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger at Princeton University shows that the proportion of workers throughout the U.S., during the Obama era, who were working in these kinds of temporary jobs, increased from 10.7% of the population to 15.8%. Krueger, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was surprised by the finding. The disappearance of conventional full-time work, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work, has hit every demographic. “Workers seeking full-time, steady work have lost,” said Krueger.

While it’s tempting to dismiss the plantation economy as corporate exploitation–a blatant reality in the early decades–once the I.L.W.U. represented the labor force, a more benign version emerged.

Indeed, what is striking is the nostalgia of the workers and residents for the orderly, secure life of the plantations. I attended high school in a classic plantation town in 1969-70, Lanai City, owned by Dole Pineapple, my summer employer.

Housing was cheap, work was plentiful and secure, and any married couple with plantation jobs could save enough to send their kids to college: my classmates are living proof of this.

The plantation town was not just a work place–it was a community. In the old days, bathrooms and showers were communal in sugar camps. You didn’t just wave to your neighbor from your car–you shared the communal bath house.

People were poor by today’s standards, so why do people remember the plantation life fondly?

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Why Nothing Progresses (Except Dissatisfaction): Institutionalized Powerlessness

Most people working within dysfunctional institutions do their best to keep the institution operating, and they naturally resent their institution being labeled dysfunctional, as it calls into question the value of their work. Their role in the institution is the wellspring of their identity and self-worth, and attacks on the institution are easily personalized into attacks on their self-worth.

This is understandable, as the need to affirm the value of one’s work is core to being human.

Several factors work against the affirmation of an individual’s value in centralized institutions. While some institutions are better run than others, hierarchical institutions are ontologically in conflict with the human need for affirmation of one’s value, purpose and meaning.

While each individual seeks to be recognized as a valuable member of a productive community, the institution is designed to enforce obedience to the hierarchy and compliance with the many rules governing the institutional machinery.

To soften the enforcement of obedience, institutions offer various blandishments of recognition: employee of the month, etc. Hierarchical organizations that must compete for workers, such as technology firms, will actively court their employees with Friday parties and various bonding events to generate a sense of purpose and community.

But stripped of public-relations cheerleading, these ploys are deeply inauthentic. They aren’t designed to create a real community, but to simply soften the enforcement of obedience with superficial recognition of the human need for recognition and belonging. Their real purpose is to mask the employees’ powerlessness.

Why do individuals accept powerlessness? The institution offers them what is scarce: financial security and a position that offers an identity and sense of belonging.

But there is an intrinsic conflict between the institution’s need for obedience a nd the individual’s need for authentic community, purpose and identity.

Within small work groups, camaraderie between the employees nurtures authentic community. But this is not the result of the institution; rather, the bonding occurs despite the institution.

This conflict is deepened by the dysfunction that arises from the structure of all centralized hierarchies. In effect, institutions bribe individuals with the security of a wage and a position, but the individual can never be fulfilled by a bribe or a position that is intrinsically powerless.

Even those in positions of leadership are powerless to change the dysfunctions that arise from its structure. The ontology of hierarchical institutions is to restrict the power of any individual, as individual initiative poses a threat to the institution’s core dynamic, which is the commodification of all human labor within it.

People must be interchangeable within the institution for the hierarchy and rules to function. Every teacher can be replaced with another teacher, every administrator can be replaced with another administrator, and so on.

This ontological conflict between the individual and the institution is complex.The institution offers various facsimiles of recognition, but the individual remains powerless and interchangeable. The institution claims to be improving, but it remains dysfunctional and incapable of reforming itself.

The impossibility of meeting individuals’ needs for autonomy manifest in a number of ways; here are five examples.

The first is the individual’s powerlessness to change anything of consequence within the institution. Everyone knows it is dysfunctional, but even those in positions of nominal power are unable to effect any real change.

The second is the difficulty of feeling positive about one’s role in an institution that has clearly lost its way and squanders talent and capital as its default setting.

The third is the internal costs of complying with perverse incentives that strip away integrity, idealism and faith in the value of the institution’s output.

The fourth is the way in which rising costs and burdensome rules of compliance narrow the room to maneuver within the institution. There is little room for innovation or meaningful reform because the budget is devoted to maintaining the status quo, and compliance soaks up time, talent and capital.

The fifth is keeping up with the ever-shifting sands of political compliance, as metrics of productivity change with each administration. What was adequate before may no longer be good enough.

The institution is designed to enforce compliance of its employees as a means to fulfill its core purpose. But there are few effective mechanisms for transformation within centralized institutions; each additional rule of compliance is added to a pile that is rarely reduced. As the costs of compliance and legacy structures increase, innovation is crowded out.

Even worse, innovation inevitably threatens someone’s share of the budget and power pie, so any innovation immediately arouses powerful enemies within the institution.

As a result, the institution becomes increasingly sclerotic and self-protective, and the narrowing room to maneuver frustrates the most idealistic and talented, who either quit or are forced out as threats.

Those who choose to remain resign themselves to cynical conformity or they simply stop caring. Neither is conducive to valuing one’s work.

In other words, institutions self-select for those most adept at maintaining the illusions of productivity, empowerment, etc., while maintaining the structure that guarantees dysfunction and artifice.

I call this conflict between centralized, hierarchical institutions and human needs the crisis of the individual because the institution is unaffected by its failure to meet the human need for affirmation, autonomy and community; the only crisis that afflicts the institution is the loss of its funding.

The crisis of the individual is not limited to institutions. Indeed, it can even more acute outside institutions. Affirming one’s value and identity are difficult in an institutional setting, but they become nearly impossible for those who have no paid position in the workforce.

Like institutional dysfunction, the crisis of the individual is as unrecognized as the air we breathe. It is assumed to be not just the way the world works, but the only way it could possibly work.

But these pathologies are not gravity; they result from a specific arrangement of markets, central states/banks and the neoliberal imperative that maximizing private gain is the highest good.

This essay was drawn from my new book Why Our Status Quo Failed and Is Beyond Reform.

A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All is now available as an Audible audio book.

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A Reader Asks: How to Find Shelter from the Coming Storms?

Some basic suggestions for those who are seeking shelter from the coming storms of global financial crisis and recession.

Reader Andy recently wrote: “I look forward to your blog each day but am still waiting for your ideas for surviving the coming crisis.” Andy reports that he and his wife have small government and private pensions, are debt-free and have simplified their lifestyle to survive the eventual depreciation of their pensions. They currently split their time between a low-cost site in North America and Mexico. They are considering moving with the goal of establishing roots in a small community of life-minded people.

Though I have covered my own ideas in detail in my various books (Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the NationAn Unconventional Guide to Investing in Troubled TimesWhy Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It and Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy, I am happy to toss a few basic strategies into the ring for your consideration.

Let’s start by applauding Andy for getting so much right.

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The “Impossible” But Inevitable Solution: Decentralization

What lies beyond the current failing, unsustainable versions of Capitalism and Socialism? Decentralization.

Correspondent John D. recently sent in a link to an interview with energy expert and author Jeremy Leggett. The title, “Make no mistake, this is an energy civil war” is a bit sensationalist, but the gist of his point is that centralized control of energy (and the capital that controls the energy and distribution networks) are colliding with new models of decentralized, locally autonomous control and ownership of energy generation and distribution.

Given the immense power of the banking/energy/political Elites that directly benefit from centralization of energy, capital and political power, I term this decentralization solution “impossible.” Yet because it is driven by the diminishing returns of the centralized model and the emergence of the Web as an unstoppable force distributing decentralization and new models, the transition from ossified, failing centralized models to adaptive, faster-better-cheaper decentralized models is also inevitable.

This is the context of Leggett’s view that there is an ‘energy civil war’ between the powers defending centralization and those promoting community ownership and control of energy:

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The Real State of the Union: The Erosion of Community

The Central State and its core directives, central planning and ever-widening control of every aspect of life, is eroding the human essential: community.

Rather than the rah-rah phoniness of the President’s State of the Union speech,which was predictably filled with Soaring Rhetoric ™ and promises of more central planning and state expansion, let’s consider the real state of the union.

Two related truths are self-evident: that community is essential to human progress, communication, development and well-being, and that the current global systems of the central state (socialism) and cartel-state capitalism (capitalism) actively dismantle community.

These basics inform the view that the only way forward is a community-based economy that recognizes and restores community as the foundation of human life.

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