Patrick Newman: The Progressive Era and the Rise of Crony Capitalism (45m)

This episode features a lecture by economics professor Patrick Newman from 2018 on the United States’ Progressive Era and the rise of political entrepreneurship, or crony capitalism.

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Why Capitalism is Preferable to Socialism (22m) – Episode 278

Episode 278 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: the difference between capitalism and socialism as economic systems; a short blog post by Mark Perry at FEE.org which features 6 quotes on why capitalism is preferable to socialism; and more.

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Reflections from my Panama Cruise, I

I just returned from my Panama Canal cruise.  Reflections:

1. As I’ve mentioned before, cruises are in one sense a great test case for open borders.  Workers from all over the world come together to run one some of the world’s most sophisticated technology and please some of the world’s most demanding customers.  Most of the workers’ lives are harsh by First World standards but great by Third World standards.  And wherever they’re from, the staff work together like Prussian officers.  It’s a marvel of multinational management.

2. As I’ve also mentioned, though, the entire cruise industry also depends on immigration restrictions.  Cruising is affordable because labor costs are very low by First World standards.  Under open borders, these well-trained, highly motivated maritime workers would take advantage of the far better job opportunities available on dry land, drastically raising the price of cruising.

3. If you’ve ever wondered if capitalism is turning human beings into machines, taking a cruise will feed your fears.  The cabin stewards, for example, spend 10-12 hours a day making every room on their watch spotless.  Then they disappear into the lightness belly of the ship, re-emerging the next day to begin their duties again.  An occasional shore leave aside, they work seven days a week.

4. If you’ve ever wondered if cosmopolitanism can really function, taking a cruise will feed your hope.  Filipinos, Mexicans, Ukrainians, Romanians, Jamaicans, Chinese, Brazilians, and dozens of other nationalities don’t just “get along.”  They show more team spirit than any American workforce I’ve seen.

5. Modern American politics vanish on a cruise ship.  There’s zero social justice rhetoric or attitude to be found; passengers and crew all take severe inequality for granted.  You might think that’s because the customers are demographically Republican, but there’s also zero nativist rhetoric or attitude to be found.  Elderly American Republican guests interact amicably with foreigners of every description.  There’s no sign that they’re “making an effort” to overcome their xenophobia; they just apolitically accept the cosmopolitan world that surrounds them.  The cruise culture runs on good manners and shared humanity, not identity politics.  And yes, you really can turn the identity volume dial close to zero – which is where it belongs.

6. What does the crew think about global development in general, or immigration restrictions in particular?  I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I didn’t ask… but their actions speak louder than words.  I’d guess that 90% of the workers originate from the Third World.  The fact that they’ve left their home countries behind to serve spoiled First Worlders is a deafening vote of no confidence in their societies of birth.  And when I see the this massive ship running like clockwork, it’s easy to see the wisdom of their decision.  Business isn’t perfect, but it far more deserving of their admiration and loyalty than the demagogic governments they’ve left behind.

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The Women’s March Stance on Reproductive Rights is All For The Erasure of Fertility, Not For Women

When I think about “women’s rights” and what that means, it isn’t much different than what I think about human rights. The right to life. The right to health, vitality and the opportunity to thrive. The right to happiness, freedom and personal autonomy and sovereignty. The right to resources and information and truth. The right to embodiment and a deeper connection to the universe and self.

Sure, some of that might seem idealistic and super meta, but I don’t aim low. If you know me, you aren’t surprised.

The 2019 Women’s March is coming up in three days and I am seeing women everywhere gearing up to, once again, march and “fight” for their rights (of which I am still confused about those they claim we supposedly don’t have. I am also in disagreement about what constitutes as a “right,” but I digress….).

When I think of many of the tenants of modern feminism, I don’t always hear, “fight for your rights,” so much as I hear, “fight for your right to pick your poison.”

On the Women’s March website under “Unity Principles,” it says the following on reproductive rights:

“We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education.  This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.”

If the women’s march and Planned Parenthood (one of their main sponsors) platform cared about reproductive freedom, then why do they not include anything about the daily occurrence of obstetrical abuse and violence? Or the reality that obstetrics is inherently violent and rooted in slavery at its core?

What about all the women who are harassed and invaded by CPS for choosing to birth their babies freely in the comfort of their own home without being overseen by a figure with a stamp of authority? No mention of birth freedom. Life freedom.

How come it isn’t mentioned that there are still states that midwifery care is illegal, and mostly unaffordable where it is legal? So being for women means we make “care” affordable and accessible to women who don’t want children (contraceptives and abortions), but we don’t include making care affordable and accessible to women who do?

Or even worse, how it is illegal to call oneself a midwife unless the government has granted you the title, meaning government owns the conditions of birth, and if women do not abide by these conditions then they are at risk for being tormented, interrogated and persecuted. Modern day witch hunts, in essence.

What about advocating for women to rest for 2-3 days when they bleed?

It’s because the women’s march, their platform and sponsors don’t actually care about women’s freedom in regard to their health and life giving abilities. They only care about furthering the modern feminist and Planned Parenthood agenda which includes the erasure of fertility, an abandonment of our hormonal matrix that distinguishes us as women, and sterilization. These components are what helps us further advance in joining the ranks of men and a world dominated by men. Modern feminism, AKA be more like men. The workforce and Planned Parenthood don’t really benefit when women stay home from work and opt out of medical care in order to take their care into their own hands.

For what it is worth, I love men and the roles they offer and provide. I just don’t want to be one. I am different, and offer value in other ways as a woman.

The thing is, and what I want women to know is…..

Women already have all the rights they are fighting for. They have them by virtue of their womanhood. They were given the power by nature to control birth or to terminate it if need be (and abortion is often caused by living in a society run by masculine ideals and values, not a solution to it, but I digress again). What I want women to know is that they don’t need to be wasting energy fighting men to feel autonomous over their bodies. We already are, and we have a vast well of resources and knowledge that is available to us that we have been robbed from by growing up in an industrialized, modern society. We don’t need to be marching on Capitol Hill. We need to march on over to the living rooms of our community sisters and relearn the art of DIY healthcare. It’s really not that hard, trust me, I do it. Not only do I do my own healthcare, but I train second year medical students (I know, how ironic. Another post.) how to perform the well-women’s exam and I’ll let you in on a little secret….

If you’re reading this, you could do the damn thing yourself…..

As much as I see myself as a woman who radically cares for the health and well-being and rights of women, I just can’t get behind the modern, liberal feminist movement that feels so rampant today, precisely because I don’t see that it carries similar values as I do. It touts that it does, but I see it all as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The amount of disconnect between women, their bodies and the foundations of true health in the feminist movement is astonishing. I can’t support women demanding their “rights” for pills (that were invented and created by men) that screw up our hormonal health, (which is inextricably connected to everything else), and is responsible for many deaths.

I can’t cry for free access to a healthcare system that is dominated by the ideas of men and predicated on abuse and the perpetuation of chronic disease. A system that persuades women to part with their breasts and womb in the name of profit. I can’t hoot and holler when they make toxic feminine hygiene products “tax free” that wreak havoc on our bodies.

Like I said, the Women’s March platform mentions access to birth control and abortion, but says nothing (zero!) about a woman’s right to a healthy, physiological, sovereign birth and support around that (with the exception of maternal leave). I only see the erasure of fertility within feminism everywhere I look. Plug it up, take a pill, kill it.

I. Just. Don’t. Get. It. How is it not painfully obvious that (wo)man’s abandonment from nature, and now destruction of nature is what got us where we are today? And in a hierarchy where hu(man) thinks he can dominate that which sustains him (nature), it has translated over to women’s bodies, and feminists have taken the bait, and are now demanding free and total access to a world that was never created in support of their biology. I simply don’t resonate with anything that separates women from what makes them women, or attempts to make our unique, biological functions and gifts a burden that we need to abandon ourselves from.

To my mind, things like top-down, big medicine, hormonal contraceptives (or any pharmaceutical drug), and medicated/technocratic abortions are not components that can help “liberate” women, but rather, they only further exploit women. By no means do I see these as solutions to our problems, but rather, some inevitable outcomes to our deeper distresses.

Last year, I discovered a term called Ecofeminism. I can’t believe I had never heard of this before. It’s. So. Me. Sure, it’s just a label, and why the need to label myself? It’s less about the label and more that I know there are women who see the correlation between the oppression of nature and how that has translated into the oppression of women. Women who get that we are nature and trying to ignore and override it is the true “patriarchy.”

Some tenants and ideas of Ecofeminism are:

  • Ecofeminism uses the parallels between the oppression of nature and the oppression of women as a way to highlight the idea that both must be understood in order to properly recognize how they are connected. These parallels include but are not limited to seeing women and nature as property, seeing men as the curators of culture and women as the curators of nature, and how men dominate women and humans dominate nature.
  • One ecofeminist theory is that capitalist values reflect paternalistic and gendered values. In this interpretation effects of capitalism has led to a harmful split between nature and culture. In the 1970s, early ecofeminists discussed that the split can only be healed by the feminine instinct for nurture and holistic knowledge of nature’s processes.
  • Vandana Shiva says that women have a special connection to the environment through their daily interactions and this connection has been ignored. She says that women in subsistence economies who produce “wealth in partnership with nature, have been experts in their own right of holistic and ecological knowledge of nature’s processes”. She makes the point that “these alternative modes of knowing, which are oriented to the social benefits and sustenance needs are not recognized by the capitalist reductionist paradigm, because it fails to perceive the interconnectedness of nature, or the connection of women’s lives, work and knowledge with the creation of wealth (23)”. Shiva blames this failure on the West’s patriarchy, and the patriarchal idea of what development is. According to Shiva, patriarchy has labeled women, nature, and other groups not growing the economy as “unproductive”.
  • In Ecofeminism (1993) authors Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies and Evan Bondi ponder modern science and its acceptance as a universal and value-free system. Instead, they view the dominant stream of modern science as a projection of Western men’s values. The privilege of determining what is considered scientific knowledge has been controlled by men, and for the most part of history restricted to men. Bondi and Miles list examples including the medicalization of childbirth and the industrialization of plant reproduction.

There are many philosophies within ecofeminism, some are even conflicting just as they are within Christianity or modern feminism. I don’t agree with them all, but ecofeminism is the closest thing I have found that can articulate my personal views of feminism and what true health and empowerment for women is.

If being a feminist means I must support women in their choices no matter what, then I am not a feminist. Often times, supporting women “no matter what,” means watching women fall prey to toxic patriarchal exploitation cloaked in “women’s liberation,” and I can’t (and won’t) sit back and swallow one iota of toleration for something I view as doing so much harm. Which doesn’t mean I’ll jump down your throat about it, either, or even bring it up if we don’t have a relationship built on a lot of love and trust.

If being a feminist mean I think women deserve equal treatment, respect, and pay for the same work (they do) as men or any other human being, then of course, I am a feminist, and quite frankly, who isn’t (with the exception of some assholes)?

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On Income Inequality III

I am not totally opposed to the ideal of economic egalitarianism. I don’t want poverty to exist, and I do want those with means to bring about its eradication in an ethical, efficient, and lasting way. Where many (most?) egalitarians error is their mistaken belief that government force is one of the ways, or even the best way, to make that happen. It’s not. Government force can only flatten wealth distribution downward, and less wealth overall cannot bring people out of poverty. On the contrary, private property and free markets, ie. capitalism, have shown theoretically and in practice to do exactly what economic egalitarians desire to achieve and is actually possible among real human beings. There is no better alternative, truly. And that’s today’s two cents.

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The Reformer’s Plight in The Great Idea

I’m a fan of dystopian fiction, but I overlooked Henry Hazlitt’s The Great Idea (subsequently republished as Time Will Run Back) until last December.  I feared a long-winded, clunky version of Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, but I gave it a chance, and my gamble paid off.  I read the whole thing (almost 400 pages) on a red-eye flight – feeling wide awake the whole way.

The book’s premise: Centuries hence, mankind groans under a world Communist government centered in Moscow.  People live in Stalinist fear and penury.  Censorship is so extreme that virtually all pre-revolutionary writings have been destroyed; even Marx has been censored, to prevent anyone from reverse engineering whatever “capitalism” was.  However, due to a marital dispute, Peter Uldanov, the dictator’s son, was raised in an island paradise, free of both the horrors and the rationalizations of his dystopian society.  When the dictator nears death, he brings Peter to Moscow and appoints him his heir.  The well-meaning but naive Peter is instantly horrified by Communism, and sets out to fix it.  In time, he rediscovers free-market economics, and sets the world to right.

Yes, this sounds trite to me, too.  But Hazlitt is a master of pacing.  It takes almost 200 pages before any of Peter’s reforms start to work.  Until then, it’s one false start after another, because so many of the seemingly dysfunctional policies of the Stalinist society are remedies for other dysfunctional policies.  Here’s Peter arguing with Adams, a reform-minded Communist minister.

“…The hard fact is that some people simply have to do more unpleasant chores than others, and the only way we can get the unpleasant chores done is by compulsion. Not everybody can be a manager, or an actor or an artist or a violin player. Somebody has to dig the coal, collect the garbage, repair the sewers. Nobody will deliberately choose these smelly jobs. People will have to be assigned to them, forced to do them.”

“Well, perhaps we could compensate them in some way, Adams—say by letting them work shorter hours than the others.”

“We thought of that long ago, chief. It didn’t work. It unluckily turned out that it was only the pleasant jobs, like acting or violin playing, that could be reduced to short hours. But we simply can’t afford to have people work only a few hours on the nasty jobs. These are precisely the jobs that have to be done. We couldn’t afford to cut our coal production in half by cutting the hours in half, for example; and we just haven’t got the spare manpower to rotate. Besides, we found that on most such jobs a considerable loss of time and production was involved merely in changing shifts.”

“All right,” agreed Peter; “so under our socialist system we can’t have freedom in choice of work or occupation. But couldn’t we provide some freedom of initiative—at least for those who direct production? Our propaganda is always urging more initiative on the part of commissars or individual plant managers. Why don’t we get it?”

“Because a commissar or plant manager, chief, is invariably shot if his initiative goes wrong. The very fact that he was using his own initiative means that he was not following orders. How can you reconcile individual initiative with planning from the center? When we draw up our Five Year Plans, we allocate the production of hundreds of different commodities and services in accordance with what we assume to be the needs of the people. Now if every plant manager decided for himself what things his plant should produce or how much it should produce of them, our production would turn out to be completely unbalanced and chaotic.”

“Very well,” Peter said; “so we can’t permit the individual plant manager to decide what to produce or how much to produce of it. But this is certainly a big disadvantage. For if someone on the Central Planning Board doesn’t think of some new need to be satisfied, or some new way of satisfying an old need, then nobody thinks of it and nobody dares to supply it. But I have in mind something different from that. How can we encourage individual plant managers to devise more efficient ways of producing the things they are ordered to produce? If these plant managers can’t be encouraged to invent new or better consumption goods, at least they can be encouraged to invent new methods or machines to produce more economically the consumption goods they are ordered to produce, or to produce a higher quality of those consumption goods.”

“You’re just back to the same problem,” Adams said. “If I’m a plant manager, and I invent a new machine, I’ll have to ask the Central Planning Board to get somebody to build it, or to allocate the materials to me so that I can build it. In either case I’ll upset the preordained central plan. I’ll have a hard job convincing the Central Planning Board that my invention or experiment won’t fail. If my invention does fail, and it turns out that I have wasted scarce labor and materials, I will be removed and probably shot. The member of the Central Planning Board who approved my project will be lucky if he isn’t shot himself. Therefore, unless the success of my invention or experiment seems absolutely certain in advance, I will be well advised to do what everybody else does. Then if I fail, I can prove that I failed strictly according to the rules…”

Finally Peter settles on a seemingly simpler radical reform:

“Well, I can think of one more kind of freedom,” Peter said, “and I am determined to create it. That is the freedom to criticize the government.”

Adams started. He seemed to waver between incredulity and alarm. “You mean that you would permit people to criticize the actions of the government, and perhaps even denounce the government, and go unpunished?”

“Exactly!”

“Why, chief, you and I would be destroyed in a few weeks! If we allowed people to criticize us with impunity they would lose all fear of us—all respect for us. There would be an explosion of criticism that would blow us out of our seats—out of Wonworld. And what would we accomplish? Our successors would, of course, immediately suppress criticism again, for their own survival. “

What happens surprises them both.

Peter eagerly looked forward to the results of his reform. There weren’t any. None of the things happened that Adams had predicted. On the other hand, none of the consequences followed that Peter had hoped for. There was simply an intensification of the kind of criticism that had already been going on. People in superior positions continued to criticize people in subordinate positions; they continued to put the blame for failure on people who were not in a position to protect themselves; they continued to accuse people in minor positions of being deviationists and wreckers.

This was what had always been known as communist self-criticism. Peter put out still another proclamation. He ordered a stop to this sort of criticism. For a while it greatly diminished. But still no subordinate criticized his superior, and no one criticized the Politburo, the Party, or the government itself.

“What happened, Adams? Or rather, why didn’t anything happen?”

Adams smiled. “I should have foreseen this, chief. It should have been obvious. All that happened is that nobody trusted your proclamation. They thought it was a trick.”

“A trick?”

“Yes—a trick to smoke them out. A trick to find out who were the enemies of the government, and to liquidate them. Everybody waited for somebody else to stick his neck out, to see what would happen to him. Nobody wanted to be the first. So nobody was.”

Much the same happens when Peter orders free elections.  Later, he launches a seemingly plausible experiment in worker management:

“One of our great troubles, Adams, is that we are trying to plan more than any human mind can hold. We are trying to plan every industry—and all their interrelations—and all the rest. Why not let the workers of each industry control and police their own industry? That would decentralize control and break up the planning problem into manageable units.”

“The idea has possibilities, chief . . . but it might lead to results we couldn’t foresee.”

“Precisely,” said Peter; “and that is why we ought to try it out.”

[…]

“Why not try it out, then, only on a small scale? Why not apply the idea, Adams, in only one province—far away from Moscow? Why not throw a censorship around that district, so that no news could get in or out until we were certain that the experiment was a success?”

“Have you decided, chief, who our guinea pigs would be?”

“How about the Soviet Republic of Peru? That’s certainly remote enough!”

Here’s what goes down in Soviet Peru:

At the very start he found himself confronted in Peru by a problem of unexpected difficulty. He wanted each industry to be self-governing and independent. But what was an industry? Where did each industry begin and end?… At the end, when the Peruvian commissars he had appointed had finished their work, they had named fifty-seven different industries…

A temporary head was named for each industry. Someone jokingly nicknamed these heads the industry “czars.” Each industry was told to organize itself in any way it thought fit, provided each worker was allowed an equal vote. The industry could fix its own production, its own prices or terms of exchange, its own hours and conditions of work, its own entrance requirements.

Some Peruvians called the new system “syndicalism”; others called it “guild socialism”; and still others liked the name “corporativism.”

Peter returned to Moscow, promising to be back in Peru in six months to see how the new system was working. He left a secret cable code with the three top commissars to keep him informed.

Before two months had passed he received urgent cables begging for his return.

He came back to find a chaotic situation bordering on civil war. The first thing the workers in each industry had done had been to exclude anybody else from entering the industry. Each industry had quickly discovered that it could exact the best terms of exchange for its particular product by rendering it relatively scarce. There had then developed a competitive race for scarcity instead of for production. The workers in each industry voted themselves shorter and shorter hours. Each industry was either withholding goods or threatening to suspend production altogether until it got the prices it demanded for the particular kind of goods it had to supply.

Peter was indignant. He called in the various syndicates of workers representing each industry and denounced them in blistering terms for the selfish and shortsighted way in which they had “abused” the privileges he had conferred upon them. But as he studied the matter further he cooled off, and took a more objective view. He was forced to acknowledge to himself that the fault was his own. It was inherent in the system he had set up. He had allowed each industry to become an unrestrained monopoly. The more essential or irreplaceable the product that it made, therefore, the more it could and would squeeze everybody else…

He dismantled the new system entirely, and ordered the restoration of the old centralized socialism under the Central Planning Board at Moscow.

In most literary dialogues, at least one of the characters has the answers.  (“Yes, Socrates, you are quite right!”)  What’s novel about Hazlitt’s dialogues is that all the characters are deeply confused.  Even when they sound reasonable, the Complexity of the World repeatedly makes fools of them.

The Great Idea was originally published in 1951.  Stalin was still alive.  Fifteen years ago, Hazlitt wrote a new introduction with a grim forecast:

The Communist rulers cannot permit private ownership of the means of production not merely because this would mean the surrender of the central principle of their system, but because it would mean the restoration of individual liberty and the end of their despotic power. So I confess that the hope that some day an idealistic Peter Uldanov, miraculously finding himself at the pinnacle of power, will voluntarily restore the right of property, is a dream likely to be fulfilled only in fiction. But it is certainly not altogether idle to hope that, with a growth of economic understanding among their own people, the hands of the Communist dictators may some day be forced, more violently than Lenin’s were when the mutiny at Kronstadt, though suppressed, forced him to adopt the New Economic Policy.

Hazlitt was, of course, thoroughly wrong.  As far as we can tell, Gorbachev never had any intention of restoring capitalism.  But Yeltsin – a career Communist – did just that.  And despite all the disappointment Putin has provoked, the former Soviet Union has seen nothing remotely approaching the horrors of the Russian Civil War.  The actually-existing dystopia of the Soviet Union practically died in its sleep, proving Hazlitt’s fiction to be the opposite of wishful thinking.

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