An Anarchist Postive Program

Here are some things that I wrote for an episode of the Anarchy Bang podcast. The episode itself can be found online here.

Introducing An Anarchist Positive Program
Alright, enough with all the negativity, and time to get positive. Now, I know very well that we don’t want this, and we don’t want that. This is fundamentally corrupt and needs to be destroyed, and that is entirely oppressive and needs to be abolished. This is completely fucked-up and needs to be attacked, and that thing over there… well, let’s not even talk about that!

Instead, let’s get clear: what exactly is it that we DO want in terms of “anarchism” and/or “anarchy”? In other words, let’s say that all of the Big Bad Things are made to go away, through some means or another, then what exactly would our brave new anarchist world look like? What specifically would the people in an anarchist society (or “community”, or whatever) be DOING? What is our big End Goal? What’s the beautiful dream?

Back in the day, various books were written about this topic, both non-fiction such as Fields, Factories and Workshops and Bolo’bolo, and fiction such as “The Dispossessed” and “The Fifth Sacred Thing”. And of course there is the whole solarpunk phenomena that is floating around the interwebs. We can talk about these writings, if they describe the kind of anarchist world that you would like to live in. And if not, then fuck it. What’s important is your anarchist dream, your ideal world and what it would look like. Let’s go into it.

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An Anarchist Positive Program – Editorial
For me anarchism has always been a two-sided coin. There is the destructive “anti” side, the side that says that all forms of capitalism, government, hierarchy, authority, etc. should be completely destroyed ASAP. And then there is the positive side, the part that says that “another world is possible”, and that that world would look something like people coming together voluntarily as equals to cooperate, share and help each other out. My concern is that in recent years the positive side of anarchism has been overlooked, or even forgotten about, while the attack-and-destroy negative side of anarchism has become more of what people think about when they think of the big A-word.

I would like to see this change. I would like to see anarchism become more positive. Now, I know that I may sound stupid and hokey saying this, but I really do believe that positivity in some form really does serve a purpose. I believe that positivity can sustain & nourish people, that it can keep people going. And with a big social-political philosophy like anarchism, it also serves the purpose of providing a sense of direction, a way to orient yourself towards what it is that you do want, instead of just getting away from what you don’t want.

There is an Israeli anarchist guy I’ve known for a long time named Ilan Shalif who recently said this online: “If I had no vision of libertarian communist alternative for human society I would not have survived the full 82 years of my life.” Now, I am definitely not as old as he is, but I do feel the same way he does. Having a vision for what human beings are capable of, in the positive sense and on a large-scale global level, has certainly kept me going all these years that I have been alive. And with the anarchist scene being what it is these days, this positive sense of our human potential has kept me sticking with anarchism, even though there are a million and one reasons presented to me as to why I should leave it all behind.

Let me be clear here, just because human beings have the potential for great and beautiful things does not at all mean that these things will happen. Possibility does not mean inevitability. And likewise, having a wonderful vision for how human society can be does not mean that this vision will ever be realized. In some sense our visions for a future anarchist world are siblings to the fantastic worlds created in science fiction. The difference is that our anarchist visions are of worlds that we actually do believe can happen, and they are ones that we are ostensibly working to make into a reality.

So with this episode, I would like to hear what your anarchist utopia looks like. I would like to hear how your ideal society (or lack thereof) would function, what daily life would be like, how stuff would get done. Would your ideal society keep the old anarchist dream of workers’ councils, neighborhood assemblies and mandated recallable delegates within massive federation structures? Or would you go with more of a 21st century approach and make collective decisions via directly voting for things on your smartphone that is connected with a mesh network and uses heavy encryption? Or would you keep things really old school and instead have humanity be organized the way it was for most of its history, as small bands and tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers?

Speaking for myself, the centerpiece of my ideal anarchist society would be authentic heartfelt connection between people. So my ideal anarchist world would have people taking the time and effort to be honest with themselves and those around them, really taking the time to listen to and understand those around them, and working through the conflicts and difficulties that inevitably arise in human relationships. My ideal anarchist world would then have specific times and spaces set aside for people to do this kind of messy personal/interpersonal kind of work. And then with that foundation in place, the whole gamut of non-hierarchical meeting facilitation processes and organizational systems can be utilized to help the various “councils”, “assemblies”, “tribes” and “collectives” run more smoothly and harmoniously than a group of alienated antagonistic people using Robert’s Rules of Order or Formal Consensus would ever be able to.

And then, ultimately, we would have bad-ass anarchist colonies on Mars, the asteroid belt, and the rest of the solar system. That is my dream, anyway….

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Time To Roast The Peacock

Years ago I seem to have signed up for email “news alerts” from one of the original old “mainstream news” corporations. I don’t remember why. I’ve never bothered to unsubscribe because until the past couple of years I didn’t get that many alerts, but when I did, they were about actual events; news. Things like earthquakes, mass murders, hurricanes, plane crashes, and stuff of that sort. That has changed during the Trump years.

Now I get a few “alerts” every day, and the majority of them are designed to do one thing only: to disparage Trump. Why bother? I don’t care one way or the other.

I hate that I have to say this again, but if I don’t I will be misinterpreted (I probably will be anyway): I don’t like or support Trump or any other president, past, present, or future. I do not respect the office, nor do I believe it is even slightly legitimate.

But what amazes me is the amount of effort this “news organization” is putting towards trashing Trump. The contrast with the way they treated Obama makes this even more obvious. And disgusting. I get it: the mainstream media hates Trump. OK. It doesn’t mean you have to stretch to find people who hate Trump to quote. Or report on things you think Trump might have been thinking, or whatever. That’s not newsworthy, it’s just desperate. It makes you look as bad as you are hoping it makes Trump look. Some days, even worse.

I’m occasionally interested in news. I’m not interested in the “news’” opinions on Trump. Or on the “Democratic candidates” either. Politics isn’t automatically news; in fact, it rarely is.

This has finally inspired me to do what I should have done many years ago. I have unsubscribed from their “news alerts”. It was past time.

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Kamala Harris: Trump, But with Darker Skin and Better Hair

In the wake of her supposed “victory” in the first round of Democratic presidential debates, US Senator Kamala Harris  rose from fifth place to a tie for third place (with fellow US Senator Elizabeth Warren) in a Morning Consult poll of her party’s primary voters. Her gain came mainly at the expense of  the front-runner, former vice president Joe Biden. More interesting than Harris’s sudden ascent is how she managed it: By ripping a page out of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign playbook.

John McCain, said Trump in 2015, is “not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

That’s exactly what Harris did to Joe Biden in Miami. She picked an opponent to take down and attacked that opponent on a signature bit of his personal history (support for the civil rights movement), confident that the facts would get less attention than the chutzpah of the attack itself.

Unlike Trump, she at least picked an opponent who’s actually in the race. Also unlike Trump, she was generally lauded, rather than savaged, for taking the low road.

If the similarities between Harris and Trump ended there, Miami might seem like coincidence. But they don’t. Different as the two are — he was a businessman and “reality TV” star before running for president, she’s a Democratic Party apparatchik who’s spent decades clawing her way up the political ladder; he’s white and male; she’s black and female — they’re a lot more alike than different.

Like Trump, Harris has difficulty holding a policy position for more than a few minutes under pressure.  He favors non-interventionism, except when he’s “the most militaristic candidate” of the bunch, unless he changes his mind tonight and again next week. She favors banning private insurance as part of a single-payer health program, except no, she doesn’t, except she kind of does, except maybe she misheard the question.

Like Trump, Harris is contemptuous of a free press.  He wants to “open up” libel laws to go after political opponents who write “hit pieces.” She wants to suppress publications which accept ads for “adult services,” so much so that as attorney general of California she filed charges against Backpage.com that were dismissed because there was no applicable law involved, then in the US Senate successfully pushed through a bill to outlaw such ads.

Like Trump, Harris is a big fan of unilateral executive power whether the Constitution authorizes it or not. He declared a fake “emergency” to misappropriate money for his border wall in illegal defiance of Congress’s “no.” In Miami, she bragged that as president she would give Congress 100 days to pass a gun control bill she liked, after which she would just rule by decree if they didn’t.

The math says that Trump’s path to re-election is exceedingly narrow. In order to lose in 2020, the Democrats would probably have to nominate a candidate even more openly narcissistic and authoritarian than Trump (or Clinton). In Harris, they may have found their next loser.

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What (Other) Economists Think About Democrats’ Education Plans

A recent NPR article, titled “What Economists Think About Democrats’ New Education Proposals,” caught my eye. FEE, after all, is an economic education organization that looks at how free markets and individual liberty lead to more progress, greater prosperity, and better outcomes for all than any other social or economic system ever created. I was curious what these NPR-interviewed economists might say about the Democratic presidential candidates’ education plans, which involve funneling more money into a government system of mass compulsory schooling.

What’s the Plan?

According to the article, Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris wants to spend $315 billion of taxpayer money to lift teacher salaries. Joe Biden wants to increase federal spending to low-income schools with teacher pay hikes. Bernie Sanders wants to impose price controls for teacher salaries, imposing a pay floor of $60,000 for incoming teachers. To its credit, the NPR article explains that by both domestic and international standards, American teachers are already well compensated and enjoy above-average employee benefits.

But that’s not enough, according to one of the economists interviewed. Eric Hanushek of Stanford says: “I think teachers are way underpaid.” Hanushek and others argue that teachers who are able to increase student test scores can improve both a student’s lifetime earnings and contribute positively to society at large.

The NPR reporter, Greg Rosalsky, concludes: “While being a good teacher means huge economic benefits for the people they teach and society at large, teachers don’t get to fully share in all the benefits they create. In economic terms, that’s a positive externality, and it’s a big reason why we should pay them more.”

Duquesne University economist Antony Davies disagrees. Davies, the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at FEE, explains that the media often misunderstands and misuses the term “externality,” as NPR did here. “Failing to share fully in the benefits one creates is not an externality,” says Davies. He continues:

The phenomenon is called “consumer surplus.” Not only does it exist in every transaction, it’s the reason we exchange with each other at all. Consider a car purchase. When a car dealer charges me $30,000 for a car for which I would have been willing to pay $35,000, the dealer does not benefit fully from the exchange. I walk away from the exchange $5,000 better off. But that doesn’t mean the dealer doesn’t benefit also. If the dealer charges me $30,000 but would have been willing to take $27,000, then the exchange makes the dealer $3,000 better off. For the exchange to occur, neither I nor the dealer can fully benefit from the exchange. Instead, we share the benefit. How we share the benefit is determined by the price to which we agree.

If teachers benefited fully from the value they create, there would be no point in obtaining an education because the entire value of the students’ educations would go to the teachers. Similarly, if students fully benefited from the value that teachers impart, there would be no point in teaching because the entire value of the students’ educations would go to the students. Instead, teachers and students share the value they create, and both walk away from the exchange better off than they were.

Davies points out a central problem with the Democratic presidential candidates’ education proposals, arguing that creating salary floors or offering universal pay increases do not address the root of the problem. He says:

The problem with teacher pay isn’t that teachers are paid too much, nor is it that they are paid too little. The problem with teacher pay is that it is largely divorced from teacher performance. Because pay schedules are usually set by the school district, principals don’t have the ability to reward outstanding teachers with greater pay nor to punish poor teachers with less.

Angela Dills, professor of economics at Western Carolina University, concurs. “I agree that better teachers should receive higher pay and that that’s more effective than across the board pay increases,” she says.

The inability to differentiate teacher quality and pay teachers accordingly limits the opportunity to reward top teachers and urge weaker teachers to improve. School leaders are not the only ones without the discretion to signal good and bad performance. Parents are also unable to offer these signals, with most required to keep their child in an assigned district school whether they like it or not. According to Davies: “Parents don’t have the ability to reward outstanding public schools and punish failing schools by diverting their tax dollars to the schools of their choice.”

A Better Alternative

Education choice mechanisms, like Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), tax-credit scholarship programs, and vouchers, allow parents to signal quality by opting out of inadequate schools and into higher quality learning spaces that work better for their children. Davies explains:

Voucher opponents claim that vouchers diminish the quality of public education by siphoning tax dollars away from public schools. But regardless of whether the quality argument is correct, the siphoning can easily be avoided. Allowing parents to send their children to any public school they choose and have the tax dollars follow the student—essentially, a voucher program restricted to public schools—would restore the link between pay and performance without removing any dollars from the public school system.

Programs like these can put parents back in charge of their children’s educations and can trigger true educational change. But the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates appears more interested in expanding the government’s ability to impose decisions on us. Empowering people to make their own choices is not in their education plans.

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Monetize Your Anger

Critics of the economics profession often accuse us of “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.”  But economists also often antagonize a far larger group – ordinary people who barely realize our profession even exists.  How?  By asking about Willingness To Pay (WTP).  How much extra would you have to earn to add 20 minutes to your daily commute?  How large of a fare discount would be required to get you and your husband to sit separately on an airplane?  Part of the complaint is that questions about WTP are dehumanizing.  The main complaint, though, is that monetizing emotions creates conflict.  Social ties are so important that it’s best not to price human feelings.

Perhaps.  But I can’t help but notice a wide range of cases where thinking in terms of WTP smooths social relations and defuses conflict.  Consider: In a typical day, events occur that make you angry – and angry people are unpleasant company.  When angry, many of us “take it out” on whoever’s around.  Even if you don’t, you’re probably no fun to be around when you’re angry.

What does this have to do with WTP?  Simple: Most of the daily indignities that make us angry are worth next to nothing in dollar terms.  Someone cuts in front of you in line at the supermarket.  Well, what’s your WTP to wait for an extra two minutes?  The milk goes bad.  Well, how much does a gallon of milk cost?  You don’t feel like changing the oil on your car.  Well, what does Jiffy Lube charge?  Commercials aggravate you.  Well, how much does the premium version cost?  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen wealthy individuals rage over $2 problems.

If you respond, “There’s a disconnect between how we feel and WTP,” I completely agree.  My point: If you value social harmony, you should try to bring your anger into line with your WTP.  Especially over the long-run, this is a choice.  When problems arise, you can train yourself to monetize them.  Strive to replace thick description of an outrage (“This jerk in a Mercedes cut me off right before the light turned red, so I was stuck at the Route 50 intersection until the light changed again – and you know how long that takes!”) with a thin price tag (“I lost $1 of time”).  This won’t instantly calm you, but with practice you will gain perspective.

Why monetize your anger?  In slogan form: Because $2 problems just aren’t worth getting angry about. Say it, believe it, and eventually you will (kind of) feel it.  It may seem Vulcan, but it will make you a better human being.

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Yes, They’re Concentration Camps

“The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border,” US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed out in an Instagram video on June 18.

Republicans quickly ducked into phone booths and emerged wearing sackcloth, ashes, yarmulkes and Star of David armbands to wail in unison that AOC was disrespecting victims of the Holocaust by comparing the concentration camps where the US government holds immigrants to the concentration camps where Hitler killed millions of Jews.

There’s really only one place to begin analyzing this kerfuffle:  Yes, the detention facilities in which the US government forcibly holds large numbers of immigrants are concentration camps.

Yes, most Americans in this day and age associate the term with the Holocaust — and AOC certainly encouraged the comparison.

But words mean things and inflammatory comparisons from either side don’t change the meaning of the term “concentration camp.” It dates from 1897 (for camps operated by the British during the Boer War in South Africa), and the practice it describes is far older than that. In America, concentration camps date to at least as early as the 1830s, when US troops rounded up Cherokee natives and confined them in such camps before forcing them west along the Trail of Tears.

If you’re rounding up large numbers of people and concentrating them in camps, you’re operating concentration camps. Period.

They’re concentration camps whether the involuntary residents are Cherokee, Boers, Jews, or immigrants.

They’re concentration camps whether the policy leading to their use is good policy, or bad policy, or even wholly wicked policy.

They’re concentration camps if you support their use, and they’re concentration camps if you oppose their use.

“If that makes you uncomfortable,” AOC suggests, “fight the camps — not the nomenclature.”

To which I must add: If accurate nomenclature makes you so uncomfortable that you feel compelled to protest its use, there’s probably a reason.

I wasn’t surprised to see US Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY) leading the  “using an accurate term is an insult”  pack. After all, it was her father, former vice-president Dick Cheney, who insisted that accurately referring to torture practices which the US hanged Japanese generals for authorizing during World War as what they are — torture techniques — rather than as “enhanced interrogation” when Americans use them “is to libel the professionals who have saved American lives.” There’s one apple who didn’t fall far from the tree.

Is it really too much to ask of those who support the use of torture and concentration camps that they own their positions and openly argue their side instead of expecting the rest of us to use softer, more cuddly words, so they can avoid the discussion? In modern American politics, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes.”

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