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8/25/14

Capitalism means militarization

  • Capitalist ideology authorizes government violence in ways that other ideologies do not. Specifically, it uniquely maintains that the "only proper functions of a government," as Ayn Rand put it, include protecting "your property and contracts". These are obviously not permissible occasions for violence in governments that do not police private property or private contracts.
  • We should understand private property and private contracts as opportunities for state violence. Every piece of property and every contract represents a state of affairs which Capitalism may require the government to police through violence. I repeat: this requirement comes from Capitalism.
  • Crucially, the requirement that the government police crimes against Capitalism is a requirement that the government must maintain the capacity to police potential crimes against Capitalism. The government cannot wait until a robbery has started to hire, train and arm police. It must try to stop the robbery in progress - Capitalism demands this in order to minimize disruptions of the economy.
  • The incentive Capitalism provides to build and maintain the government's capacity for violence will be in direct proportion to the growth of the economy and the potential for disruption. The more private property and contracts there are to police, the greater a capacity for violence the government must develop. And as economic conditions grow more precarious - in particular, as markets become more vulnerable to anything that could trigger recessions etc. - the demand for absolute stability, and the corollary demand for a more powerful, responsive police force - can only increase.
  • The government may also attempt to protect private property and contracts, and stabilize the economy, through pre-emptive measures, such as education programs, business regulations, monetary policy, and so on. To the extent that these fall outside of the "only proper functions of government," however, the political right will resist them and rely exclusively on reactive policing.
The implications here are straightforward. Blame whatever you like on big government, but it's clear that because of Capitalism even the most minimalistic Randian state must build an extraordinary capacity for violence in direct proportion to the growth of the economy. And while liberal social measures may try to pre-empt the need for militarization under Capitalism, nothing within Capitalism can stop it.

8/24/14

Conservatives, the state, and the presumption of innocence

The American government owes every citizen the presumption of innocence. The logic here is straightforward, particularly for conservatives: since the state maintains a monopoly on the use of force, we should be skeptical of the justifications that it provides for doing so, and it should affirmatively satisfy our scrutiny. In cases of ambiguity or uncertainty, individual liberty must prevail over government exercises of power.

This situation is complicated when police officers are on trial - but again, for conservatives, the logic should be straightforward. Legally they must retain the presumption of innocence, since the police will be prosecuted in their capacity as American citizens. But politically, conservatives have no business taking at face value the state's judgments of its own actions against citizens. They should assume that these rulings are at least unreliable and often corrupt and self-interested, for all of the exact same reasons conservatives assume that other government actions are corrupt and self-interested.

So it's extremely telling when, outside of the jury, an endless parade of "conservatives" demand we give armed agents of the state a benefit of the doubt against (black) citizens:



























8/24/14

Capitalism needs your malice to survive

Capitalism digs its own grave. One way it does this is by encouraging increasingly stupid positions in its defense. More and more, its apologists become untethered from economic reality and public opinion. They sell this as intellectual independence and elite insight - but hilariously, that posture becomes a license for every contrarian crank in the universe. Thus, Daniel Payne:
Ah, “stigma:” one of the last great impediments to full-blown government dependency... Keeping welfare firmly in the stigmatized realm is not merely a conservative crusade; it’s good policy, too.
This is clearly supposed to be some kind of outrageously provocative argument, but as is so often the case with this genre of writing it isn't even offensive so much as catastrophically dumb.

Explicitly, Payne argues that Capitalism depends in the final analysis on a mass government social engineering project to micromanage our sentiments about poverty. And to the limited extent that his ideal policy outcome is even coherent, it is by his own description completely counterintuitive to ordinary human sentiment.

This is not an argument that Capitalism as a workable or even particularly desirable economic program; it's an argument that Capitalism is completely untenable and not worth saving.

lol sympathy

Notably, Payne's entire premise places Capitalism under what was supposed to be one of the strongest indictments of Socialism: both, we are now told, rely on popular attitudes that don't exist.

Supposedly, one of Capitalism's greatest assets is the way that it harnesses "natural" human selfishness. Communism, on the other hand, relied on massive government programs designed to impose on the population necessary attitudes about altruism and the common good. This was not only morally suspect for the partisans of intellectual autonomy; it was as a practical matter simply impossible to implement and maintain. You simply cannot create an indoctrination program thorough and effective enough to overcome attitudes so deeply rooted in human nature.

But that, of course, is exactly what Payne is calling for. This "Federalist" even wants it imposed by the federal government: he applauds Rep. Paul Ryan's plan, which "would essentially mandate that states opting for the Opportunity Grant implement work requirements." This tyrannical Big Government requirement, Payne hopes, would aid in "inculcating" attitudes amenable to his plan for the economy. Freed from this benevolent guidance from the nanny state, who knows what subversive ideas Americans might come up with?

A modest proposal

Payne describes his plan as a "policy" and the National Review calls it a "mandate" - but of course, neither actually want you to understand it as a government action.

Rather, hatred of the poor is some kind of natural "stigma" that would exist by default - but for the Left's sinister efforts to "make it [welfare] a no-big-deal kind of thing". So Paul Ryan's attempts to tack a social engineering project onto welfare grants is really just a way of offsetting the destructive culture of dependency fostered by those very programs.

Of course, there's a simpler way to eliminate that effect, a truly Federalist approach that takes Big Government out of the equation completely: end all welfare.

Get rid of school lunches for hungry children, and instantly there is zero danger of government dependency. Within a matter of weeks we will have our truly "independent citizenry that can provide for itself without the Left's benevolent help," because by then all of the justly reviled third-grade parasites will (hopefully!) have starved to death.

Not to tread too heavily on too many sensitive progressive ideals, but as Capitalists have long noted - correctly - the very existence of welfare programs destigmatizes them. Regardless of the rhetoric we surround them with, welfare sends a clear message to its recipients: "These are entitlements that we as a society have decided you have a legal right to."

Cowardly incoherence

There's an obvious reason why Capitalists are usually unwilling to carry their argument about welfare to its direct conclusion: it's just way too vile and embarrassing.

That's why, even as he insists that we should "bring back the welfare stigma," Payne repeatedly undercuts his own argument, pleading that welfare is "not an irredeemable sin or an uncorrectable wrong" and maintaining that "Those who have truly fallen on hard times deserve our genuine sympathy, and we should not snarl at them for turning to as easy and accessible a source of relief as government welfare."

This is plainly RINO gibberish.

The problem is that nothing about the way that Payne "moderates" his position actually provides a logical or principled basis for navigating its competing claims. Sympathy and concerns about government dependency allow for welfare - but not the destigmatization of welfare. Why draw the line there?

There isn't any economic or rational basis for Payne's stigmatized welfare program, but there's a transparent political factor: cowardice. Instead of owning his grotesque contempt for the poor, Payne finds it humiliating and realizes that it's a political liability; so he veils it with token overtures towards compassion with no meaningful policy consequences. He comes the closest towards his actual position when he talks about there being "plenty more work to do...to reduce welfare use" - the long game, of course, being the right-wing wet dream of ending the welfare state entirely.

No one actually thinks that's a good idea, and Payne knows it. But the persistence of welfare remains an embarrassing reminder of the failures of Capitalism. If the right can find a pretext for shifting that blame onto the shoulders of children, that may buy their ridiculous beliefs a little more time.

8/23/14

An odd critique of Chomsky

Erik Loomis scolds Chomsky over his oft-repeated assertion that "In many respects Nixon was the last liberal president." Loomis:
Richard Nixon was a liberal in no way. Richard Nixon was however a very shrewd politician operating in the time of the postwar liberal consensus. Nixon didn’t like signing those bills...if he had his druthers, he would have ruled conservatively. As it was, he wanted to build support for the war by signing relatively liberal legislation. 
...What’s happening today is that even smart progressives are using Nixon as a uncontextualized figure to compare to everything they dislike about today. But this gives the presidency way too much power and essentially fetishizes the power of the presidency at the cost of a meaningful analysis of how political change is made in the United States. Unfortunately, if a law gets passed, the entire credit or demerit for it rests in the popular mind on that president and not on Congress or the millions of Americans who wanted it.
This is all spot-on except for the part where Loomis thinks he's substantially disagreeing with Chomsky. In his own words:
The U.S. presidential race, impassioned almost to the point of hysteria, hardly represents healthy democratic impulses. Americans are encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is yet another method a marginalizing the population... 
The urgent task for those who want to shift policy in a progressive direction...is to grow and become strong enough so that they can't be ignored by the centers of power. Forces for change that have come up from the grass roots...[are] cultivated by steady work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years.
Worth noting that this isn't just an obscure passing remark - it's more or less at the center of Chomsky's politics. He is an anarchist who has written prolifically on the ways that hierarchical power, including state power, controls populations. His primary mode of political action has always been at the grassroots, and is on record insisting that progressives should only "spend five or ten minutes" on presidential elections.

This line of thought is explicit in his elaboration on the Nixon-as-liberal-president line:
Nixon was basically the last liberal president, and those liberal measures were in substantial part the result of popular activism, from CIO organizing in the 1930s up to the activism in the '60s and on to their impact in the early '70s. They had an impact on legislation and on public officials. So it's not one or the other; you can do both and recognize what the interaction is like.
This is the exact opposite of claiming that "the entire credit or discredit" for anything lies with the President. As he has multiple times, Chomsky credits the public for placing enormous public pressure on Nixon to enact various liberal initiatives.

To the extent that there is any daylight between Chomsky and Loomis, it may be that Chomsky sees in Nixon's "shrewd" negotiation a prerequisite of pluralistic governance: an ability to recognize opposition and treat with it. This may seem trivial, but it's a completely different ideological universe from modern Republicans who even refuse to negotiate to the point of self-destruction. But what seems clear, in any case, is that Loomis is not exactly contesting Chomsky's ideas about the importance of popular activism. On that, they'll have to disagree to agree.

8/18/14

Capitalists have no coherent critique of militarization

Capitalism usually demands the rhetorical luxury of absolute opposition to the government. Since the market can optimally ameliorate virtually every social ill imaginable, political progress is simply a matter of opposing government intervention. According to this logic, big government is bad, smaller government is better, and no government is best. Insert every Ronald Reagan aphorism ever.

This is at least internally consistent until you concede some kind of role for the government. And that's the problem militarization presents to the right. 

Capitalism implies no upper limit to the police power we invest in the state, but it demands a minimum: at the very least, the state must maintain a capacity for violence superior to the general population. That, after all, is what it takes to enforce contracts, to protect private property, and to deter criminals.

But having conceded this, Capitalists cannot, as they usually do, simply delegate the task of optimization to the market - that responsibility falls squarely in the lap of the government, which must retain its monopoly on violence. And this, of course, is the basic task of liberal governance: exercising the power of the state as responsibly and rationally as possible.

Functionally, Libertarians are using "militarized policing" in the exact same way that liberals use the word "tyranny" - to make a pragmatic distinction between irresponsible and responsible uses of force. As any NRA member will gleefully explain to you, distinctions between "military" equipment and "police" equipment are mostly arbitrary, based on the exact same logic that pinko hippies would use to justify singling out "assault rifles" from "hunting rifles" for regulation. We are not dealing with categorically different types of state violence here - just different degrees. Proportion and propriety can only be evaluated through the hard work of liberal democratic governance.

8/18/14

No liberals, the police state is not going to commit suicide

Governor Nixon has called in the National Guard. This was entirely predictable - authorities can't allow the spectacle of resistance to persist for too long, but Ferguson's police force has seemed entirely content to maintain a war of attrition.

The National Guard, it is hoped, will impose some kind of order on the situation through a combination of superior discipline and overwhelming force. In practice this will probably involve implementing some kind of domesticated COIN strategy involving carefully executed information operations and expanding perimeters of control. 

The aim of the former will be to justify the latter. Expect a lot of extremely visible public diplomacy - press conferences, staged peace rallies, town hall meetings - as well as police-supplied footage of various crimes. All disseminated to advance a distinction between "good" protesters who want peace and dialogue and who are worthy of civil rights, and "bad" protesters who just want anarchy and violence, and who are not only unworthy of civil rights but, crucially, who are ruining things for everyone else. Draconian measures like curfews will be spun as unfortunate but necessary measures police have been forced to impose for the protection of the "good" Fergusonites.

This is more or less what has already been happening, but the Ferguson police have proven themselves terrible at it. The new boots on the ground may have slightly better training, though they'll also enter Ferguson as an alien force with even fewer community ties than the crackers who've screwed things up so far. But the real difference maker will be the new regime of command-and-control and their superior media resources. It is only a matter of time before the national news gets bored with covering this story with any rigor and becomes hopelessly ensnared in the narrative the authorities will lay out for them, with maybe the occasional sordid and scandalous expose for ratings when they can find some good material.

If any of this seems familiar, it's because some variation on this happens every single time. Capitalism usually relies on pacifying and atomizing the population in order to maintain order, but faced with actual resistance it must rely, in the final analysis, on the overwhelming brute force of the police state. That's the context in which calls for demilitarization by the Rand Paul right need to be understood. He is not calling for a less militarized society, but simply a less militarized state - one which has abdicated its police powers and turned them over to the private sector.

The left, of course, is calling for something different: for a society with less militarization, period.

But that means a different society altogether. And that means even more conflict than what we have seen in Ferguson, not less. You can see the introduction of the National Guard as the first step in a return to the oppressive but superficially peaceful status quo, or you can see it as the unfortunate end of a nascent revolution that should get a lot more violent and destructive before all is said and done. But it is crazy to imagine that we can fix these problems without violence, as if Capital was ever not going to call in the National Guard when things got bad enough. 

8/14/14

Rand Paul's facile spin on Ferguson

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem [in Ferguson]. Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies—where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement. - Rand Paul, Time.com
Police militarization is definitely part of the problem here, but it doesn't follow that police militarization is necessarily an outcome of a powerful democratic government, or that it can only be addressed by the massive abolition of democratic governance that Paul has in mind. These are the unargued, non sequitur leaps of an opportunist transparently attempting to hijack a tragedy as a vehicle for an unrelated political agenda.

Rand Paul unwittingly draws attention to this a few paragraphs later when he notes - quoting The Heritage Foundation's Evan Bernick - that "federal agencies...as well as local police departments...come equipped with SWAT teams and heavy artillery."

To elaborate: big government may have militarized the Ferguson police, but it has also militarized government authorities that can serve as a check on the Ferguson police. At any given moment, President Obama and Governor Nixon can mobilize the National Guard or even active military to intervene on behalf of Ferguson's citizens. They are perfectly capable of doing this, not in spite of the power of the government but because of it. In fact, it is precisely because the President and the Governor are so powerful that it likely won't come to that at all. When the Ferguson police stand down, it will be because the massive, armed hierarchy of the state and federal government have given them no other choice.

The reason this hasn't already happened is obvious: Republicans won't let it. They are already decrying the President's call for an investigation by the FBI and the DOJ, and spinning further intervention as an egregious imposition on the local sovereignty. A deployment of troops - the reasonable and proportional solution - would have ignited all kinds of outrage about federal tyranny.

Who will police the police? Liberals have a pragmatic answer for this: a careful system of checks and balances, regulatory, enforcement and military agencies, all ultimately subject to popular control through democratic elections. Demilitarization can ameliorate some of the system's worst abuses, but as a final solution it's just incoherent: the whole point of a police force is that we militarize some people more than others in order to enforce the law.