Hey, anti-war conservatives, can we work together to rein in military waste and destruction?

There are many conservatives of a libertarian bent who want to rein in military waste and adventurism.

Progressives and libertarians both oppose the immense corruption, waste, loss of rights, and destruction that results from the activities of the military and security state.

Ron Paul and many of his followers come to mind. But so does the Tea Party.

From the moment they came in to office, a number of the “Tea Party” darlings in Congress were talking openly about cutting Defense Department spending, something which earned them scorn from the military and condemnation from many of the establishment Republicans, for whom military spending can only go in one direction – up. —  Growing Tea Party Calls for Military Spending Cuts

Tea Party members have opposed the NSA.   How the Tea Party became an anti-war movement reports:

The first sign that a real alliance of “progressive anti-war Democrats and isolationist Tea Party libertarians” was actually materializing, says Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, was the narrow defeat of a proposal by conservative Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and liberal stalwart Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to restrict NSA domestic phone surveillance.

Tea Party members have recently called on Congress not to get involved in Syria.  Tea Party group to fight Syria resolution:  “Congress should be focusing on the red ink at home, not arbitrarily established red lines abroad,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks. “Congress ignores the will of the voters on this issue at their own peril.”

The Wikipedia article on the Tea Party Movement says:

 Some Tea Party affiliated Republicans, such as Michele Bachmann, Jeff Duncan, Connie Mack IV, Jeff Flake, Tim Scott, Joe Walsh, Allen West, and Jason Chaffetz, voted for progressive Congressman Dennis Kucinich‘s resolution to withdraw U.S. military personnel from Libya. In the Senate, three Tea Party backed Republicans, Jim DeMint, Mike Lee and Michael Crapo, voted to limit foreign aid to Libya, Pakistan and Egypt.Tea Partiers in both houses of Congress have shown willingness to cut foreign aid. Most leading figures within the Tea Party both within and outside Congress opposed military intervention in Syria.

I know that Dennis Kucinich has called on people to move beyond labels and parties and to work on issues that matter, despite differences.

But when I raised the question with progressive friends they responded negatively.

One person responded, “Should happen. Will not happen.” Another person said, “Probably not.”

In a chat room, someone said, “No – I mean progressives tend to be anti-war on human rights basis… libertarians anti-war on money and ‘not-our-business’ basis… different reasons tend to result in different legislation and different strings attached which would be unpalatable to the other sides.”

Someone said, “We tried working with some of them here on GMO stuff. They tried to co-opt the group, and pushed the FEMA camps, contrails, you name it, as part of the agenda”

“They said FEMA camps are dress rehearsals for incarcerating us in camps….a view I happen to agree with.”

“For every tea partier you get, you will lose a Kennedy democrat.”

But I am not calling for a broad alliance with libertarians. That’s impossible.  Just a targeted, narrow, strategic alliance on this one issue.

Someone pointed out that some of the Republican opposition to military spending is a result of their opposition to President Obama. Had  Republican been president, they would have supported the spending.

You’d think that many Christians would loudly oppose military spending and adventurism.  Sure, too many of them care more about abortions and gay marriage.   Still, there are many anti-war nuns and people of faith.

Peace dove

I’d like to invite anti-war conservatives and progressives to get together to see how they can work to raise awareness about the issues and to strategize about ways to rein in military spending, secrecy, and adventurism.

Can progressives and anti-war conservatives work together on this?  It would garner immense interest as an example of across-the-aisle bipartisanship, and it could really have a positive effect.  The blowback from the security state would be immense, no doubt.

Plutocracy is comin, to the USA

New, alternative lyrics for Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy is coming, to the USA” (see videos below)

Lyrics © Donald A. Smith
       D               G           D
It's coming from corruption that's profane
             D          A                 D
From Grover Norquist's government-hating brain
It's coming from the spiel 
       G_sus          G
That makes your head reel
    D           G                 D
when you listen to the right wing refrain.

From the Tea Party crazies
From the Chamber of Commerce hacks
From neocon imperialists
From Karl Rove's Super-PAC
 A                    G       D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

       D               G           D
It's coming from tax cuts for the rich,
       D          A                 D
From the Supreme Court, the 1%'s bitch.
It's coming from evil folk 
       G_sus           G
like David and Charles Koch 
    D                          G                D
and from Bill and Barry's traitorous rightward switch.

From Citizen United
From Clarence Thomas's smut
From John Robert's smirk 
From Anton Scalia's butt
 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

      D               G           D
It's coming from the wars. Open your eyes.
            D            A                  D
Killed millions. Wasted trillions. Hear the cries.
From the disaster in Vietnam
       G_sus           G
to the debacle of Afghanistan
    D               G         D
to the war in Iraq based on lies.

From the CIA's dirty deeds
From collateral clone attacks
From targeted assassinations
From illegal wire taps
 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

          A         G
    Bail out, bail out,
         D         G    D
    O sinking Ship of State!
    To the Shores of Greed
    Past the Reefs of Need
    To the Squalls of Hate.
          A      G     D
    Bail out, bail out, bail out.

      D               G           D
It's coming from your neighbor's SUV
      D               A           D
From the toxins that are killing off the bees.

It's coming from Big Oil,   
       G_sus           G
and the fracking and the spoil
    D                   G        D
and climate change denial fantasies. 

From ugly suburban sprawl
From filthy factory smoke,   
From the local big box mall
From David and Charles Koch
 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

      D               G           D
It's coming from right-wing media hosts
            D            A                  D
From the wingnuts with their hate-filled posts.

It's coming from Fox News
       G_sus           G
and its pro-corporate views
    D                    G          D
that are unfair and unbalanced at most.

From Limbaugh and Glenn Beck
From Bill O'Reilly's rants
From Hannity and Savage's drek
From Dennis Miller's cant

 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.


       D            G           D
It's coming from income inequality,
      D                 A         D
From tax loopholes  for Apple and GE.

It's coming from tax havens   
       G_sus           G
and accounting tricks so brazen
    D             G           D
it's a wonder they're not on TV.

From low capital gain tax rates 
From Walmart and Goldman Sachs
From Boeing and Microsoft
From tax enforcement cutbacks.

 A                   G        D
Plutocracy is comin, to the USA.

Here are two versions of Leonard Cohen’s original song.

Freedom Foundation tactics

The Freedom Foundation is bad news.

Freedom Foundation

It’s a libertarian think tank based in Olympia whose mission is “to advance individual liberty, free enterprise, and limited, accountable government.”

Recently, they’ve been mounting a sustained attack on unions, especially public sector unions, with attack lines like “Union bosses buying our politicians” and “union political machine.”

They also love attacking environmentalism.

They’re produced a series of videos Tales of Tyanny, with cherry-picked examples of government overreach. They ignore all the good things government does for us.

Apparently, people associated with the Freedom Foundation have been sending letters-to-the-editor to community newspapers across the state encouraging people to oppose funding for public education.    One of the communities targeted was Federal Way.  Some Federal Way residents took note of the letter and discovered that it originated in Bellevue.  As it says in  Bellevue-based opposition to Federal Way school levy is out of touch,

My query to King County revealed that you did not just file statements against Federal Way; indeed, you three Bellevue residents were very busy seeking to influence levy outcomes in local elections outside your own city and district.

To date, it appears that you have also filed nearly identical statements opposing the pending levies for school districts in Federal Way, Vashon Island, Riverview, Auburn, Tahoma, Lake Washington, North Shore and Fife. I do note that you did play one “home game,” and you are of course opposing your own levy in Bellevue.

If your opposition to our local levy is really just about furthering anti-big government, anti-tax, anti-union objectives, I’ll conclude with this point: I find it incredibly unfortunate that with your intrusion into our community and our local issues, you have become exactly what you purport to oppose – an unwanted and unneeded burden being forced upon us from outside the borders of our capable community.

According to SourceWatch.org,

Bob Williams, founder of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, was the private sector chair of the Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011.[2] He is also on the ALEC Board of Scholars as of 2011.[3] In August 2011, he received ALEC’s Private Sector Member of the Year Award.[4]

The Freedom Foundation’s funders include the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), Richard M. Scaife, Roe Foundation (supporter of the Heritage Foundation), and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation (“Harry Bradley was one of the original charter members of the far right-wing John Birch Society, along with another Birch Society board member, Fred Koch, the father of Koch Industries‘ billionaire brothers and owners, Charles and David Koch. — source).

Here are some letters the Freedom Foundation sent out to their email list:

“Internal chaos” … “disingenuous” … “compulsion” ….
Those terms got tossed around in a Senate hearing today as two big union bosses struggled to defend their income stream.
This is step one in changing our state: putting union bosses on defense as we expose their true interests and agenda. Will you contribute right now to keep union bosses squirming?
The bill up for a hearing-Senate Bill 6053-was recommended by the Freedom Foundation. It would increase protections for workers who don’t want to pay for union politics.
In a bizarre twist of language, Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington Labor Council, claimed increasing protection for workers’ civil rights might violate federal civil rights laws. And while Johnson called it “ironic” to talk about limiting union bosses’ power on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I think it was painfully ironic to hear Johnson and his cronies oppose modest protections for workers’ rights and paychecks.
The hearing video will be online soon, along with our analysis. You can reply to this email if you want those links once they’re available.
This is just the first of five Freedom Foundation-inspired bills moving through the State Senate right now. I’ll let you know what happens as the rest come up for hearings, but I think it’s going to be good.
If you want to level the political playing field in Washington State so conservative ideas can win … this is your fight and I hope you’ll support it right now.

Another email attack on unions:

Can you help us push back against the union political machine?

This is a critical moment in the legislature, and lawmakers need to hear from all of us if we want to see the state change.

Before Monday, please make a statement to lawmakers about each of these three bills:

SB 6183 ends secret bargaining between government officials and union bosses, letting the public see how bad decisions are made about government services, accountability and costs.

SB 6300 requires public employee union bosses to report how they spend the dues and fees they collect. Private sector unions already do this.

SB 6053 prohibits public employee unions from overcharging workers who don’t want to be members.

These measures are reasonable steps toward a more balanced political system.

The easiest way to contact your lawmaker is to click each bill number above. On each bill’s page, you will see a green button that says “Comment on this bill.”

After you provide your address, and be sure to click “Verify District.” You will then be able to select “I want a response” and send your comments to your two Representatives and Senator.

If you prefer to use the phone instead, you can call 1-800-562-6000 and mention all three of the bills.

Or you could email any or all Senators here.

These bills are poised to pass the Senate, but if they don’t pass by Tuesday they will be “dead” for the year. The union political machine is working hard to to kill them. They call these modest bills “Wisconsin-style attacks” and are urging tens of thousands of union members to oppose them all.

Feel free to forward this email and use other social media to enlist others to help.

For Freedom,

Jami Lund, Senior Policy Analyst

Size matters, but not as much as quality: More good government, less bad government, please!

Most debates about politics in America concern the question of how big the government should be.

Conservatives want small government. Liberals want big government. At least that’s the standard framing of the issues.

Of course, it’s not quite true that conservatives favor small government.  When it comes to national security, most conservatives have been strong supporters of  high Pentagon spending, military adventures, and expansive powers for the NSA and CIA.

And while conservatives are eager to cut spending for food stamps, education, regulatory agencies, and public health care, for example, most of them are quite happy with subsidies for corporate farming, Big Oil, and other favored industries.  (For more examples of how conservatives feed at the government trough, see Dean Baker’s book “The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer.”)

And most conservatives are OK with intrusive government when it comes to cultural issues: abortion, marriage, and drug policy.

Yet the Big versus Small framing of political debates isn’t totally wrong.  The libertarian wing of the conservative movement wants small government not only for social welfare, but also with regard to the military, the police, and cultural issues.  For example, many supporters of Ron Paul and of the Tea Party movement are disgusted with the corruption and waste surrounding government spending on the military, corporate subsidies, the Wall Street bailouts, and the failed war on drugs.

In short, the libertarians are the ideal conservatives. They really do want small government, not just for social spending.  Mainstream Republicans don’t consistency follow libertarian principles, but they often appeal to libertarian ideals in their speeches.

But the Big versus Small framing doesn’t address the real issues we face.

The problem isn’t that we have too much government or too little government.

The problem is that we have too much bad government and too little good government.

Some examples of bad government:  the Vietnam War, the second war in Iraq, the F35 Joint Strike Fighter, NSA surveillance, subsidies for Big Oil, the war on drugs, and bailouts for Goldman Sachs.

Some examples of good government:  public libraries, parks, childhood vaccination, contract law,  civil rights legislation, labor laws, pollution laws, invention of the Internet, medical research, Head Start, The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Social Security, Medicare, and public transit systems.

Anarchists and others on the further left resemble libertarians in that they oppose Big Government and fail to acknowledge all the good that government has done.  But anarchists go further and oppose corporations as well. They oppose all forms of hierarchical structure and favor bottom-up, horizontal, worker-owned, local enterprises.

I support efforts to implement such horizontal means of production. But they can’t account for the entirety of society and the economy.  Government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, civil rights laws, and other top-down, hierarchical programs have been a great boon to people, building the middle class, creating many technology and medical innovations, and protecting people from harm.    Hierarchical corporations such as Microsoft, Google, Intel, and auto makers are often efficient and innovative at producing products.   Horizontal, bottom-up enterprises do exist (open-source software, for example), but they are the exception.  Furthermore, how do anarchists propose stopping the formation of corporations?  Don’t you need big government for that?

In any case, we need laws and regulations, and those require government. Society without government regulation would be like football with no rules.

Five Political Ideologies, in one easy image

Yes, government in the US is largely broken now. It serves the corporations and the rich. But the solution isn’t to blindly reduce the size of government, as libertarians and anarchists would do.   If people try to subvert laws, that doesn’t mean we do away with laws. The solution is to fix the problem by reducing corruption and getting money out of politics.  This will likely require a huge movement, akin to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.  But it’s doable. Things used to be better in the past. And many European nations have more equitable and just governments, without going the small government route.

Libertarians would say it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves and each other as needed; don’t depend on government.  But it is a fact that governments do take care of poor people, elderly people, and others unable to take care of themselves. Nobody else will take care of them.

Our country tried small government with the Articles of Confederation. That system didn’t work.  With no government at all, we’d be hunter-gatherers, lacking common laws, regulations, and government services.
Government is just We the People — or should be.

For further explanation, see Anarchism, Libertarianism and the way forward, Without Government We’d Still be Hunter-Gatherers and Government is like a Computer Operating System.


5 Ways Conservatives Promote Shirking and Freeloading

Freeloading CrowEarly in high school my daughters learned a lesson about group projects: some people don’t like to pull their weight. It wasn’t the kids who struggled to produce quality work that the girls found most frustrating. As fiery Ohio State Senator Nina Turner says, “We don’t all run the race at the same pace,” and the girls got that. It was the shirkers. I myself used to want one of those bumper stickers that say, “Mean people suck.” The girls would have wanted one that said, “Freeloaders suck.”

If life were just about bumper stickers, most conservatives would agree. The welfare queen icon of the 1970’s is credited to of conservative strategist Lee Atwater, and Republicans ranging from self-serving paranoia mongers like Glenn Beck to self-righteous fundamentalists like Phyllis Schlafly wax eloquent about personal responsibility.

But if you pay attention to conservative policy priorities you will notice that conservatives don’t actually want all Americans to step up, pitch in, and take responsibility. Responsibility is for ghetto dwellers, and fat kids who eat at McDonalds, and teens who get knocked up, and poor people who have fallen on hard times. Bootstrap it, baby, even if your feet are bare.

The delusion that each of us is master of his or her own destiny generates a callous attitude toward people who are struggling; it also generates a lack of appreciation for what successful Americans have received from generations past. Conservatives who think success is a matter of bootstrapping don’t ask what investments we need to make today so that future generations have the same bounty and opportunities we had. Bootstrap believers are oblivious to the principle of pay it forward.

Seattle, where I live, is scattered with people who got rich in the high tech lottery. Some of them are keenly aware of the conditions that allowed them to win big: rule of law, great schooling, teamwork, early government investment in the internet, and so on, along with their own hard work. Some are not. I remember one retired Microsoft millionaire commenting wryly about another, “He was born on third base and thinks he hit a home run.” As venture capitalist Nick Hanauer reminds us in his book, The True Patriot, there’s no such thing as a self-made man.

The fact is, just like those Microsoft and Google millionaires, America’s prosperity has been a group project. The most archetypal image of American history is not the lone cowboy but the barn building. Generations past laid the foundation for our economy, everything from physical infrastructure like roads that transport goods to market, to the abstract rules of the market itself—copyright protection, for example, or anti-trust laws. But even with that well-built foundation there are some things the market doesn’t do well. Clean water, sewer systems, national security, air traffic control . . . these are things we can’t very well create alone or by competing with each other, so we build and own them together, and we hire employees we call public servants to manage them. Many of these basics of prosperity only work if we all play by the same rules and all do our share.

But for all of their hardnosed rhetoric about personal responsibility, conservatives get mighty squishy when responsibility gets personal. Basic human flaws like selfishness and greed and a near limitless capacity for hypocrisy mean that we humans often end up with our heads on backwards; we talk one way and walk the other. That is how it is with conservatives and responsibility. Look at the walk instead of the talk, the policy priorities instead of the bumper stickers, and you will see that freeloading and shirking are perfectly compatible with conservative thinking. Here is just a handful of examples.

1. Disaster relief for some. Faced with someone else’s disaster or one that hasn’t yet made landfall, conservatives in the House and Senate fight to cut disaster relief funds. Why should I pay more taxes when my back yard is high and dry? Yet when election time came in November, New Jersey governor Chris Christie got points from Republican allies for securing federal funds in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. In the words of William Palatucci of the RNC, Christie truly cared about the problems confronting families. At the time of Sandy, Oklahoma Senators James Inhofe and Tom Coburn voted against providing relief funds for the Eastern seaboard. But when tornados touched down in their home state, they had no trouble putting out a hand and asking those East Coast liberals and the rest of America for assistance. They sought help from the same FEMA insurance funds they had been trying to whack back.  

I personally don’t consider it mooching when people who have been hit hard want to draw on an insurance pool that they’ve paid into, but some want to draw out without paying in. Oklahoma senators aren’t the only culprits. Most religious organizations claim that paying taxes on their real estate or income would blur the line between church and state, God forbid. But they don’t express the same concern when money flows in the opposite direction. Legislation currently advocated by both Catholic and Protestant lobbyists would allow churches to draw on public disaster relief funds that they haven’t paid into.

2.  Subsidies for religion. That’s not the only way that religious organizations and individual are hoping to get something for nothing. Rather like corporations that want the rights but not the responsibilities of personhood, churches and even some religious individuals want the benefits of citizenship without the duties. They want exemptions from basic human rights laws, like the obligation to serve gay people in public accommodations or to provide preventive health coverage to employees or to respect religious freedom in the military. They also want public money without having to chip in. In recent decades, figuring out how to pay for religion on the public dime without paying into the public kitty has become big business.  

Religious clergy use the same roads, electric line, water pipes, and sewers as the rest of us. They benefit from the same police services, military protection, and international diplomacy. But since 1954 they have not had to pay income tax on any compensation designated as a “housing allowance.” A clergy member could have $25,000 of his $75,000 salary so designated, use the money to purchase a house, and then, in a practice called “double dipping,” deduct mortgage interest and property taxes. On November 22, a federal judge ruled against the exemption, which re-directed an estimated $2.3 billion out of public coffers over a five year period. Given the amount at stake, it is expected that church lobbyists will pressure the Obama administration to appeal the decision. When clergy and churches don’t chip in for the services they use, either the rest of us pay more, or our country goes farther in debt. It’s that simple. 

3. Corporate profits; public losses. Corporations gain a competitive advantage when they can get someone else to pay their costs—someone like taxpayers or future generations of Americans. For example, one small bike shop in Colorado Springs spends $24,000 on medical insurance for four employees, while their biggest competitors, Walmart and Target, get the general public to subsidize healthcare for their workforce. They do it by paying below-poverty wages and limiting employees to part time work. In 2011, the state of Massachusetts spent $14.6 million on insurance for Walmart employees and their dependents, and even more for employees of Target. Freeloading lets irresponsible businesses undercut good-citizen competitors and drive them out of business. 

The same is true when irresponsible corporations are able to use our air and water like a free dump for hazardous waste. In India, it is estimated that pollution from coal plants causes 20 million new cases of asthma each year and kills 120,000. Here in the U.S., pollution levels are lower and asthmatics are more likely to get timely treatment. Even so we have data going back to the 1970’s showing that coal burning increases asthma attacks and respiratory ailments. Coal companies like Peabody don’t have to pay the cost of harm done, which means their profits are subsidized by the American public who take a hit in terms of both health and healthcare costs. Who really pays? The elderly and children. If coal companies had to step up and take responsibility for the real costs of their dirty products, energy innovators might find themselves on a level playing field.

4.  Right to Work or Right to Shirk? Speaking of level playing fields . . . The tug-of-war between living wages and corporate profits isn’t actually a tug of war unless workers can team up and pull together, and conservative profiteers realized a long time ago that they could skew the balance of power in their favor if they could somehow defund the labor movement. The strategy they came up with, which they call “Right to Work” legislation is a stroke of freeloading genius.  These laws basically say that anyone who works in a union shop gets union scale wages and benefits even if they don’t join up, pay dues, or participate in negotiations. Conservatives are banking that if some people have the right to a free ride, they will take it, and eventually there won’t be enough dues-paying members to keep labor organized.

In the children’s book, Swimmy, small fish Swimmyget terrorized by big fish until they learn to team up and swim together in the shape of an even bigger fish.  For the past century, the labor movement organized small fish to swim together, to cast the shadow of a big fish both in wage negotiations and in the halls of congress. Now, with globalization and technology shifts, old models aren’t working so well, which makes this particular conservative freeloader tactic well timed.      

 5.  The Smoking Gun. If one institution in the U.S. could be held up as the pinnacle of conservative freeloading it should be the NRA. The objective of the gun lobby is to ensure that profits accrue to the manufacturers while public health and safety costs do not. In other words, for its funders the NRA advocates the opposite of personal or corporate responsibility. Thanks to relentless lobbying, weapons manufacturers are exempt from liability caused by their deadly products.  

Gun advocates often are as guilty as manufacturers when it comes to shirking and freeloading. The libertarian ethic that idolizes gun rights is actually one that says I play; you pay.  Today, if I left a sword lying around unsecured where it could be found by a curious child or suicidal teen, I would be more legally liable than if I left an enticing gun lying around under the same circumstances. A sword owner has a responsibility to protect the general public under what are called “attractive nuisance” laws. Seventeen percent of gun owners keep their guns both loaded and unlocked. Last year, 52 kids in King County, Washington, were caught with guns at school. If guns were treated like other dangerous possessions, careless owners would be in a world of hurt, because the hurt they create would belong, at least financially, to them.

I could give dozens more examples—extraction companies that want to draw down America’s bank account of natural resources and then put profits in offshore tax shelters; online retailers that want to replace brick and mortar stores without paying local taxes that fund worker retraining; university educated bankers who pay expensive accountants to help them avoid chipping in for higher education. . .  . But the bottom line is this: When conservatives talk about responsibility, don’t read their lips; read their white papers. Corporate conservatives want special rules that let them privatize profits and socialize losses. Religious conservatives want special exemptions from civic duties and laws that apply to everyone else. Libertarian conservatives simply believe they are special—that 4000 diaper changes and university educations notwithstanding, they truly are self-made and don’t owe anything to anyone, past, present or future. It’s time we challenged the notion that the Republicans are the party of responsibility. 

Originally posted at awaypoint.wordpress.com


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Subscribe to her articles at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com

Anarchism, libertarianism, and the way forward

In Are Occupiers aiding Grover Norquist? I presented a critique of anarchism, claiming that anarchist Occupiers were unwittingly aiding right-wing libertarians and ignoring the benefits of government. Dave Fryett responded to my analysis in On the Appeal of Anarchism, a Response to Don Smith’s “Are Anarchists in Occupy Aiding Grover Norquist?”.  In this article I want to further develop my understanding of anarchism and to reply to some of Fryett’s comments.

Anarchism is “a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies based on non-hierarchical free associations.”  Anarchists oppose both government power and corporate power.

Nathan Schnieder makes this point in The government shutdown — an anarchist dream?.  Anarchism isn’t just a preference for the absence of government, he says. “The rule — the –archy — it seeks to dismantle is also the rule of those with too much property over those with not enough, and of those whose privilege of race or gender gives them priority over others. Anarchists seek a society in which ordinary people can freely and democratically govern themselves, organizing to meet everyone’s basic needs.”

David Fryett, in the article referenced above, explains anarchism like this:

At the core of our thought is equality, anarchism is unimaginable without it. And equality not just in one aspect of life but in all. Anarchism is the end of hierarchical authority, the master-servant relationship, the end of the rule of coercive power. Thus our notion of economic justice requires the abolition of capitalism, which is positively medieval in its hierarchy. For us corporatism and capitalism are undifferentiated, and the distinction made between the two in contemporary political parlance utterly specious, a canard. Thus our goals are incompatible with those of the Democrats who want to tame capitalism, not eliminate it….

In its entirety, the state is the enforcement apparatus of ruling class power.

Modern day anarchists, who were influential in the Occupy Movement, want a direct transition to a horizontal, non-hierarchical societynot by first going through an authoritarian state like the ones that developed in the USSR and China, and not by relying on the kind of state we see in Western Europe and America, where the state is supposed to regulate and balance the corporations.

Libertarianism is “a set of related political philosophies that uphold liberty as the highest political end. This includes emphasis on the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom, and voluntary association. It is the antonym to authoritarianism. Different schools of libertarianism disagree over whether the state should exist and, if so, to what extent.”

When many people hear the word “anarchists” they think of violent youths breaking windows and starting fires. That certainly is not the notion of anarchism I have in mind in this article. Nevertheless, I think that because of the bad associations, anarchists would benefit from renaming their movement “cooperativism”, or something positively positive like that.

In America, the most common form of libertarianism nowadays is right-libertarianism,  which supports private property rights and laissez-faire capitalism.  Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers support that kind of libertarianism.  According to right-libertarianism, the state should exist minimally: only to enforce laws and protect private property.  (But there are also libertarian socialists, who favor common ownership and management of property and the means of production.)

So, in short:  libertarians want to get rid of, or shrink, government but are OK with corporations, while anarchists want to get rid of, or weaken, both government and corporations.

And replace it with what?

Cooperative, local, worker-owned/managed ventures.

Noam Chomsky is an anarcho-syndicalist. Anarcho-syndicalism is radical industrial unionism  leading to worker control and ownership. Chomsky defines it as “a conception of a very organized society, but organized from below by direct participation at every level, with as little control and domination as is feasible, maybe none.”

In The Kind of Anarchism I Believe in, and What’s Wrong with Libertarians Chomsky explains the difference between libertarianism and anarchism this way:

What’s called libertarian in the United States, which is a special U. S. phenomenon, it doesn’t really exist anywhere else — a little bit in England — permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes. The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society. Actually that has been believed in the past. Adam Smith for example, one of his main arguments for markets was the claim that under conditions of perfect liberty, markets would lead to perfect equality. Well, we don’t have to talk about that! … Anarchism is quite different from that. It calls for an elimination to tyranny, all kinds of tyranny. Including the kind of tyranny that’s internal to private power concentrations.”

On forming groups

I have some questions about this.  What force or convention will prevent private power concentration? What if a bunch of people decide to join up in a group (or gang or corporation or militia) and to use their power to harm others?  Who or what will stop them from doing that?

It’s very natural for humans to join together in groups and to cooperate and compete with outsiders. Shall, and can, we outlaw that?

Some people have more skill and knowledge and are natural born leaders. Others enjoy being followers. If people voluntarily form such an organization (religions or clubs, for example), and if that organization gains some power, can and should we stop them?

Moreover, how would we stop them???

The very notion of “outlawing tyranny” implies a force (the state?) to enforce the law. In other words, anarchism opposes tyranny, but don’t we need a state or other authority to stop tyranny?

Maybe the idea behind anarchism is that the great mass of people will agree to stop them.  So the force needed to stop cheaters and criminals will be based on consensus, not on hierarchy.  Does this imply a common militia?  Everyone carries a gun?  The NRA would like that.  Isn’t it natural to have a government that serves the people and ensure the common good?  That is, rather than having everyone do police work and enforce laws — there are laws, right? — the people delegate those responsibilities to specialists: the government.

Furthermore, corporations are often innovative and efficient, or at least effective, at producing complex products and services (e.g., Microsoft, Boeing, Intel, Google, and Toyota). Likewise, universities and the sciences are pretty hierarchical.  Those who publish papers and survive peer review gain power and get to decide which other people are allowed into the community.  It’s competitive and rather brutal. That’s how science progresses.

Moreover, some corporations are pretty damn good: CredoMobile supports progressive causes, for example. Many corporations pay their taxes and make an effort to be decent.  The blanket condemnation of corporations is extreme.  When corporations are regulated and taxed they are useful.

Can non-hierarchical firms produce complex products efficiently?  Are there examples of that?

Yes, there are such examples. Open source software is of high quality and is widely used; a prime example is the operating system linux. There’s also gnu, Open/Libre Office, and The Apache Software Foundation.  Many businesses rely on free open-source software (e.g., in Java).

Gal Alperovitz has written about the movement in the US towards cooperatives, worker-owned companies, and small businesses, in What Then Must We Do — Straight Talk about the Next American Revolution, and in other publications.

I am all in favor of such local, community-sourced, worker-owned, nonprofit, and non-hierarchical organizations.  And I agree with anarchists (and those libertarians who aren’t in it just for the money) that tyrannical government programs and should be done away with.  What I disagree about is whether we should also do away with the non-tyrannical, constructive government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, public education, and public transportation. The question is: do we want to discourage government in its entirety?

I also don’t believe it’s possible or even desirable to stop corporations from forming, especially not without government.  We do need to regulate the corporations, however.

Several paragraphs above I wrote that anarchists want to replace government and corporations with cooperative, local, worker-owned/managed ventures.  How about publicly-owned ventures? Presumably not, because publicly owned ventures would seem to imply the existence of a government.   Alperovitz is most excited about worker-owned cooperatives and firms , but he also favors publicly owned enterprises and institutions

Next question: in worker-owned cooperatives, is there no hierarchy?  Incompetent or nasty workers need to get kicked out. I presume hiring and firing are a group decision.     That was the method described in Shift Change: a film about employee owned cooperative businesses. The cooperative they highlighted had rules for becoming a member; people could apply, after a probationary period. That’s a flat hierarchy, I suppose, but it’s still susceptible to corruption and power-grabbing, if people are denied membership, or services, for the wrong reason.

Tryanny is possible by the group (by the majority, or by worker-owned firms), and not just by the government.

Government’s regulatory functions

In the previous section I talked about the productive effects of corporations: they produce goods and services. But of course, corporations are often very harmful: e.g., war-mongering by military contractors, death-selling by cigarette manufacturers, toxic food by Monsanto, denial of global warming by oil companies, price fixing by Big Pharma, pollution, fraud, corruption of government, political campaign spending, tax avoidance, bailouts, subsidies,  etc.

As long as we have corporations, we need the state to regulate the corporations and prevent them from exploiting their power.

And to get rid of corporations, as anarchists propose, and prevent their gaining power, we presumably need government to stop them, at least in the beginning.

A libertarian would defend corporations this way:  nobody forces you to buy a product from a private company — unless the government grants the company exclusive rights.  Corporations acting in concert with government power are harmful, but corporations by themselves don’t have the power to harm you — according to libertarians.

I disagree with libertarians on this. If a corporation or a small group of corporations gains monopoly power over a market sector (especially for essential products and services such as medicine, health care, food, or water), then they can do evil even — nay, especially — in the absence of government.   Also, corporations often harm people by polluting the environment. In both cases (monopoly and pollution) we need governments and laws to regulate corporations.  We also need government to protect the people from exploitation by deceptive or dishonest business practices (e.g., mortgage fraud).   Most people aren’t knowledgeable enough to make these decisions themselves and need government specialists to regulate the market (e.g., state insurance commissioners).

Government’s constructive functions

Aside from government’s many regulatory functions, it also provides many useful services:   education, public transportation, public health, research, conservation efforts, parks, and Social Security, to name just a few.  For more explanations of why we need government see Without government, we’d be hunter-gatherers and Bring on the Reagan Counterrevolution, Countering anti-govt propaganda, The Forgotten Achievements of Government, and Government is like a computer operating system.

We built these

I note, by the way, that the US government invented the Internet, and much of the foundations of software were produced by universities, with government funding.

Both libertarians and anarchists seem to ignore the productive, beneficial effects of governments.

Obamacare is far from perfect, but it does provide health care for more Americans, and the Republicans hate it and fear it. Do anarchists like government health care?  Single-payer healthcare would be a big win, covering more people more cheaply and more justly.

Let’s get practical: addressing David Fryett’s points

First let me acknowledge Fryett was correct that the government was brutal in its suppression of Occupy, and I should have pointed that out in my earlier article. On the other hand, there is no denying that Occupy movements nationwide had lots of infighting and wasteful blathering. Nathan Schnieder makes this point in several of his articles on Occupy.     Without leaders and hierarchy it’s hard to be effective.  Not impossible (open source) but hard.

I also want to acknowledge the eloquence of Fryett’s essay.

Fryett addresses my claim that we can thank the government for many social goods, such as seat belts, civil rights laws, pollution controls, Medicare, Social Security, laws, constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion and press, public transportation, public schools, disaster relief, the Internet, and medical research. Fryett says that the People had to force the government to grant these social goods. Both state and capital oppressed the people.

We have constitutional rights, but the only real threat to these is the state, the same state which ever so condescendingly grants them to us. We would not need the guarantee if not for the existence of the government as it is the only thing which can (and frequently does) deprive us of these rights.

This is simply wrong, in my opinion. Trust busters such as Teddy Roosevelt and FDR directly confronted the power of moneyed interests that had power independently of the state. Without the state, what’s to stop people from forming corporations backed up by private militias?

To me, government — when it works — IS the people, or at least a proxy for the people. Government is (ideally) the power of the people: We the People.

Moreover, without the state there would be no economy and society as we know it. In the absence of laws and public services, we’d still be hunter-gatherers.

Fryett rejects my claim that without government we’d be hunter-gatherers. To the contrary, he says: “Government invented agriculture? Actually, it was the other way around–surplus gave rise to the state.” But see Without government, we’d be hunter-gatherers, where I summarize the history: According to the Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, the transition from a society based on hunter-gathering to a modern state progressed hand-in-hand with the development of agriculture. Government protections and laws enabled trade, storage, and distribution systems. Surpluses resulting from agriculture funded government. Farm labor could be enlisted for government projects and wars.

Fryett writes: “Transportation, schools and the other services listed above are the result of the labor of countless workers, and it is they and not the state who are responsible for their existence. The state isn’t providing these services, but rather is establishing its hegemony over them.”

But the state organizes and funds these activities. It’s historically not true that the activities pre-dated the state.  The New Deal, the WPA, rural electrification, government jobs programs, … many liberal programs of the 20th century lifted up the middle class from under the foot of robber barons.  Public schools, organized by governments, greatly raised the standards of education.

Fryett writes: “The great majority of anarchists reject political parties. To paraphrase Ngo Van: The so-called workers’ parties are embryonic forms of a new state. Once in power they form the nucleus of a new ruling class and induce nothing more than a new system of exploitation.”

That is extreme and ignores the need to get from our current state to the desired, utopian goal that Fryett has in mind.

This brings us to an important question: how are we we establish anarchism?  Chomsky says the state can be used to make progress towards a society based on anarchism: the state “provides devices to constrain the much more dangerous forces of private power. Rules for safety and health in the workplace for example. Or insuring that people have decent health care, let’s say.”

Or maybe, in contrast, the path to anarchism is similar to the path to spiritual enlightenment in some traditions:  the ego just burns out and fades away.  Similarly, eventually society will mature to a point where hierarchy is no longer needed. Sounds utopian to me.  But over time civilization may approach such a utopia.

Fryett takes issue with my claim that workers prosper when their companies do well.  But I say that it depends on which company is involved and whether there are unions. There’s no denying that auto workers prospered until the 1970s. Many workers in high tech are paid well and receive stock options; so such companies are partly worker owned. But certainly Walmart and fast food workers are terribly exploited.

We need unions and government step in and tweak and supplement the market so that the economy doesn’t just serve the 1%.

“What we want is that the means by which society produces those things we need and desire–factories, schools etc.–be publicly owned and run by the workers.” Publicly owned? Does that require a state to manage that ownership? Maybe Fryett means that ownership will be managed locally and in a bottom-up way.

Fryett writes, “If the U.S. went anarchist tomorrow, we would still have need of the FAA or something like it.” Wouldn’t the FAA have authority over private individuals. Isn’t such authority potentially tyrannical?

I predict there will always be nastiness and selfishness as long as humans exist.  With power comes risk. Without power nothing happens.  We need police power to regulate human desires and behavior. And we need government to protect the weak from the strong, and the dumb from the smart.

Fryett says a “core principle for us is freedom; the ability to act, think, engage, disengage, build, withdraw, plan, organize, exchange, love, and dream freely. The state corrals such liberty, confines it within acceptable parameters.” But I don’t think there’s anyway around the need to corral liberty.   The Koch brothers want “liberty” to pollute and corrupt.  Without laws and police, life would be hell on earth. With corrupt laws and police, life is also hell.

Fryett gets dreamy: “Anarchism is the end of the world of warring camps, the end of the age of the sword…. Once the merciless, obscene world of state and capital is vanquished, and society is thus transformed, the Dark Ages will finally come to an end, and the real Enlightenment can begin, an age of peace and plenty” He wants an end to wars and the competition of the marketplace. Everyone will just live in peace, love, and cooperation. But people love competition (e.g., sports) and competition is what drives innovation and gets people working.

We all want a world where everyone loves everyone else, and nobody hurts anyone, and everyone is equal, and there are no authorities or police to lord over us. And over time we can transition towards such a world, bit by bit.  More and more human interactions will be peaceful and cooperative.  But we’re far from such a world now, and the Occupiers’ refusal to get involved in electoral politics and their insistence on trying to create utopia right now make them impractically utopian.  Their purist idealism makes them overlook the benefits of  government, corporations, and political parties.

Since I don’t think we can turn back the clock, I say: We need to fix government, not destroy it.

The great force of Occupy and populist anger on the left needs to be channeled into practical activism that both raises the consciousness of the people and affects electoral outcomes.

Building an alternative economy and society bottom-up, as Occupiers want to do, might be valuable, but it’s not going to get us to Medicare for All, which is a Big Government program. 

Occupy-style activism may have benefits but it’s not sufficient.  The Tea Party took over the House.  Occupiers wasted time arguing with each other and getting brutalized by the police.  In the 60s, many protesters had to die to achieve civil rights for black Americans;  maybe lots of people will have to die or be brutalized to reform our corrupt corporatocracy.

Tis’ a shame that angry conservatives take over the GOP, while angry progressives flee the Democratic Party or electoral politics.

(Note: this article was renamed from “How does Anarchism differ from Libertarianism?”)

Libertarians who get rich from the government

In 11 Questions You Should Ask Libertarians to See if They’re Hypocrites Richard (RJ) Eskow describes how libertarianism in America was raised from the grave by billionaire benefactors, such as the Koch brothers, who were eager to justify the lower taxes and deregulation that have crashed our economy and concentrated wealth in the hands of a few.   Eskow writes:

Few libertarians are as hypocritical as the billionaires who earned their fortunes in the tech world. Government created the Internet. Government financed the basic research that led to computing itself. And yet Internet libertarians are among the most politically extreme of them all.

How did Peter Thiel and other Internet billionaires become wealthy? They hired government-educated employees to develop products protected by government copyrights. Those products used government-created computer technology and a government-created communications web to communicate with government-educated customers in order to generate wealth for themselves, which was then stored in government-protected banks — after which they began using that wealth to argue for the elimination of government.