The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

A Statement on Russia and the US Elections

| 112 Comments

Let’s assume that the allegations about Russia’s involvement in the US election are true. What then?

Well, we can dismiss the moral argument instantly. The US, of all the countries in the world, has absolutely no moral right to complain about another country meddling in its elections. Indeed, a country that only meddled by revealing private information about a candidate ought to be thanked for such restraint, when we look at how the CIA has gone about installing dictatorships, overturning democracies and inciting civil wars for more than half a century.

What next? A threat to democracy? Please. Before Trump even announced his candidacy there was still the reactionary, anti-working class, racist “war on drugs” that was busily disenfranchising huge sections of the population. There was NSA spying on civilians, increasing police terrorism, “constitution free zones,” a press that was overwhelmingly afraid to publish anything not approved by the intelligence community, brutal persecution of whistle blowers, “free speech zones”—you name it. All sorts of things that threaten democracy one hell of a lot more than revelations that a candidate engaged in backroom deals to win the nomination and had close ties to Wall Street that everyone knew about anyway.

So, what are we left with regarding Russia? An opportunity to use patriotism and nationalism against Trump. We all hate Trump. We hate him so much that Bush and Obama appear decent by comparison. So, the thinking goes, many of those who supported him consider themselves patriotic.  All we have to do is show them that the patriotic thing to do is oppose Trump and we’re home free, right?  So, why not invoke patriotic illusions and nationalist phrase-mongering to get him out of office?

That is the more difficult and important question, because it leads us to the question of how we move forward. Here is my position as succinctly as I can put it:

Patriotism is a tool that is used to tie the working class to their enemies; it is the excuse used, especially in time of war (and these days, “time of war” means always) to justify violent repression against anyone speaking out against their conditions. In a 21st century capitalist country it is, in a word, thoroughly, irredeemably reactionary. Moreover, many of you are aware of this. Until this recent rather pathetic call to “reclaim” patriotism most of those who considered themselves leftists recognized that nationalism of any sort must be utterly rejected, and even those who were close to liberalism without rejecting capitalism got sort of nervous and twitchy around flag-waving and jingoism.

Trump did not materialize out of thin air. He’s the product of a system unable to solve its own contradictions, voted for (or, at least, not voted against) by millions of hopeless and desperate people who saw no way out. He exploited the backwardness, ignorance, fully justified anger, and, above all, the lack of an alternative among broad sections of the oppressed. Since his election, we have seen an even greater unleashing of backwardness and ignorance.

Patriotism—the notion that the oppressed within certain geographical boundaries ought to feel more loyalty to the oppressors within those boundaries than to the oppressed outside of them—is exactly an expression of ignorance and backwardness.

We do not fight ignorance and backwardness by appealing to and reinforcing it, we fight it with knowledge and reason and showing that there is an alternative, a way forward; by showing that the problems that produced Trump can be addressed by a revolutionary socialist program uniting all of the oppressed internationally. This has the additional benefit of being true.

The criminality of Putin is not in question, and we ought to give our support to the Russian working class in their struggles against him.  But by evoking Russia—that is to say, patriotism—against Trump, you are contributing to Trumpism.  You think there aren’t others, maybe more civilized in appearance, maybe even less so, waiting in the wings?  To get rid of Trump without tackling the conditions that produced him would be the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory.  We can’t afford any more of those.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

112 Comments

  1. Well said. I’ll only quibble with your definition of patriotism, which seems more like nationalism or jingoism to me. I like Carl Schurz’s take best: “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” I just wish there wasn’t so much wrong to be set right.

  2. I would add to your list gerrymandering and Jim Crow 2.0.

  3. skzb

    Will: Not my country. My class.

    Alexx: I think I covered Jim Crow 2.0 (I have a problem with calling it that, but never mind) in the war on drugs.

  4. Much of the working class likes Schurz’s definition of patriotism. I’m good with that. Setting my country right includes building a country where the wealth is shared. It’s probably a necessary step on the way to creating a world with many countries and no nations.

  5. You didn’t link to a specific socialist revolutionary program, so I decided to provide one. (I always like to write things down and your blg was handy.)

    1. Ensure transparency, including technology and information security. (Probably the only army we should keep around on earth.)

    2. Level inequality and battle infrastructure projects, energy and climate sustainability.

    3. Recount all service sector and speculative/sports/ and entertainment work around automation so that pretty much everyone does at least a tiny bit of stall cleaning and has an opportunity to write the great Tierran novel.

    Talen as granted: teach and learn; heal ye may.

  6. skzb

    1) Nationalize all banks and basic industry under workers control without compensation.
    2) Institute free universal healthcare
    3) Immediate and unilateral withdrawal from all areas of military conflict
    4) Provide decent housing for everyone, regardless of income.
    5) Insure everyone has plenty of healthy food.
    5a) …and water, ffs
    6) Disband the police, replacing them with workers militias responsible to workers councils.
    7) Immediately free everyone who is in prison for non-violent offenses, and carefully review the rest to determine who ought to be freed and who may require treatment for mental health issues.
    8) Abolish the death penalty
    9) Abolish tuition
    10) Disband all military forces
    11) Announce willingness to fully cooperate with any and all workers governments throughout the world, offering technical and material support as needed.
    12 Immediately pour resources into scientific research, especially looking for ways to stop and reverse climate change.
    13) Universal employment by cutting hours for the least popular jobs while making sure they are still paid a good living wage.

    None of this is in the least unrealistic, given the tremendous resources made available simply by point 1.

  7. Steve, it may be your turn to run for governor or senator. A lot of Minnesotans would support that.

    Oh, but you need to clarify your drug policy. Legalize all drugs? Legalize some and let others be available with a doctor’s prescription?

  8. skzb

    At least temporarily, legalize all drugs to undermine and destroy the influence of the cartels and the gangs.

  9. There’s an idea that some revolutionaries use, that I see working at a much lesser scale. And that is the idea of “make things bad enough that we revolt”. If the Democrats had won the national election, there wouldn’t be nearly the talk about replacing RomneyCare with a national health system. But TrumpCare is much more persuasive.

  10. The issue of legalizing drugs is interesting. It’s a big issue for me (and I don’t even get high with alcohol) – and for Libertarians. It is a big reminder on how different Libertarians and the Religious Right are – but they’re in bed together in the Republican party, corrupted by power.

  11. skzb & Corwin — all good points.

    One thing the current situation is showing is the number of holes that exist in the current landscape of presidential behavior and elections. Take nepotism. There is a clear law against nepotism but they are skirting it by arguing that the nepotes are not taking a salary while ignoring the massive benefits they gain of influence.

    The “Russian problem” is another example. Essentially, it boils down to using unfair resources in an election. It happens to be actually illegal, but I would include the whole invisible corporate PAC activity under things that oligarchs do that normal people don’t have access to.

    The United state currently also barely has a representative form of Democracy. The number of representatives was capped at 435 by the Apportionment Act of 1911 and has remained there. This results in wildly unequal representation in the House. Prior to 1911, the number generally increased with each census. If this had followed, we would have around 1450 representatives today. There are good arguments for even larger numbers. Having everyone represented by an equal number of representatives, along with the elimination of gerrymandering and voter suppression are all things that can be done with acts of Congress–no changes needed to the Constitution.

    Making representation fair would, I believe, go quite a ways in aiding getting the points skzb and Corwin mention enacted.

  12. Quibble: the “war on drugs” is distinct from the more recent “eliminate vote fraud” movement (which is what I was calling Jim Crow 2.0). Both are misnamed, of course, and both are fundamentally racist and class-ist, but they are not the same thing.

  13. The book the New Jim Crow, is about incarceration, so I suspect a number of us didn’t realize that was what you meant.

    As for “eliminate vote fraud”, is there any evidence that it’s racist? It appears to be purely based on class—Republicans know they do badly in poor areas. When the white poor and the black poor are treated equally badly, the problem isn’t race.

  14. skzb

    Alexx: I stand corrected. As Will said, I thought it was a reference to that book.

  15. skzb

    Howard: I’ve never heard of any serious revolutionist suggesting anything like that. It seems absurd, and wrong-headed from several different directions. The easiest one to point out is that the success or failure of a revolution depends on the working class being able to create an instrument, a revolutionary party, to guide the development of the revolution in the way a steering committee is needed to guide the development of a strike. A revolutionary party requires, above all, the trust of the masses. Winning the trust of the masses requires, above all, complete honesty, even to the point of saying unpopular things when they’re true and important. How can you try to make the lives of workers worse, and then expect them to trust you?

  16. Another item to add would be to allow the free movement of workers.

  17. With respect to patriotism, I and other citizens of the USA, are proud/devoted/admirers/proponents of the ideals of the USA as stated in the preamble to the Constitution:

    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    The ideals encapsulated by those words are at the heart of my patriotism.

    I recognize that the USA has frequently fallen short of those ideals. One of the reasons I have not lost hope for the USA is that it continues to allow a remarkably free press and remarkable freedom of expression that allows the whole world to see us criticizing ourselves. A country founded on the concept of liberty but built on the backs of slaves? We’re still criticizing (and will forevermore criticize) this dissonance. The Tuskegee Experiments? The whole world knows about it because of our commitment to free criticism of the government. Wounded Knee? Same. The examples are endless. The result is a country that is constantly trying to improve itself. Again, with inconsistent success. That inconsistent success, however, has led to one of the best places in the world to live. It also has improved life across the globe.

    The USA will never be ideal. My patriotism is to the ideals of the USA.

  18. I’m with Lincoln in liking this, which I think is fully compatible with creating a socialist state:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    Capitalism can’t give everyone the means to pursue happiness. Socialism can.

  19. Will: That’s another statement of ideals that I admire. And ten days ago, I might have used that quote instead.

  20. Wasn’t that a claim of the Red Brigade? That it would make things so bad that revolution would happen?

  21. First, some abstract and contrary thoughts on patriotism:

    I think the best argument for patriotism is the right of people to self-determination. It links being loyal to and proud of a shared community, with the notion that this group should have a say in determining its own course. I think problems arise when friction develops between in-groups and out-groups, and when hierarchies of groups congeal. Individuals belong to many communities with distinct, shared identities: religion, family, local region, language, state, sect, gender, the human species, class, ‘civilization’, a marriage, etc. etc. I think a society that respects overlapping spheres of sovereignty, rather than insisting that the only legitimate level of sovereignty is the state, might mitigate some of the in- vs out- group conflicts. I used to think the European Union was a promising experiment in this direction, but I’m not so sure anymore. But as long as people can freely choose which (of multiple) identities to claim, I’m not sure there is much wrong with a community’s loyalty and pride. And I certainly think the members of a group should be represented in defining its rules and ideals. To me, patriotism is closely connected to democracy, and the idea of being an active and vocal citizen (or church-goer, or spouse, etc.). Patriotism is saying “I am part of this group, and we have gotten together because we want to live in this way.” When patriotism becomes too “My Country First!” I worry it risks neglecting universal human rights, but if local governments – or workers councils – do respect universal human rights, then I don’t consider the two to be mutually exclusive.

    On a different note, it occurs to me that the Trump Populist would flip your definition of patriotism (“the notion that the oppressed within certain geographical boundaries ought to feel more loyalty to the oppressors within those boundaries than to the oppressed outside of them”) and make it instead: the notion that the oppressors within certain geographical boundaries ought to feel more loyalty to the oppressed within those boundaries than to the oppressors outside of them. As I understand it, the biggest villains to a Trumpist are the American members of the “Davos Class”, mainly wealthy Democrats but also establishment Republicans, who have sold out American workers.

    Lastly, to state clearly my position on the Russia collusion story: I can’t stand Trump and will cheer if the Russia scandal brings him down. I understand that this by itself in no way secures democracy or justice, and I can see how prioritizing Trump’s removal above all else distracts from the socialist agenda you outline, most of which I support. But I really hope it’s not too much to ask for Trump’s political demise AND real progress towards justice and equality, because our president appears to be an egomaniacal narcissist who trades in hateful slogans and stereotypes and displays a chilling immaturity, impulsiveness, and lack of conscience. I’d be fine with getting rid of Trump while continuing to tackle the conditions which produced him, which I expect to take much longer anyway – certainly beyond 2020.

  22. kukuforguns, was there a specific change in the last ten days?

  23. skzb

    Steve Halter: Yes. Consider it added!

  24. skzb

    Howard: If so, I haven’t heard of it. And it indicates a lack of seriousness and a profound ignorance of history.

  25. skzb

    Kukuforguns and Will: I admire and respect those sentiments too. I also admire the pugnaciousness of the American working class, and the way it has, though slowly and with reversals, increased equality. None of this, however, has anything to do with with loyalty to the US ruling class over loyalty to my class brothers and sisters in other countries.

    Argentum: “. But I really hope it’s not too much to ask for Trump’s political demise AND real progress towards justice and equality,” I don’t think it’s too much to ask at all. I think it is very reasonable. But it requires that the fight to remove Trump be based on the principles of justice and equality, which in turn requires a relentless battle against all forms of backwardness, including racism, sexism, homophobia—and patriotism.

  26. “None of this, however, has anything to do with with loyalty to the US ruling class over loyalty to my class brothers and sisters in other countries.”

    I’m not suggesting it does. What it has to do with is your narrow definition of patriotism. American socialists have two ways to interpret the American Revolution: Was it a bourgeois revolution and therefore socialists should oppose it, or was it a flawed democratic revolution and therefore socialists should complete its promise?

    Twain said a lot of scathing things about the dark side of patriotism, but he also wrote this:

    “…the true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation ALL the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.” Mark Twain, “The Czar’s Soliloquy”

  27. skzb

    It was a bourgeois revolution, therefore socialists should support it, because it happened in an era when capitalism, bloody and brutal as it was even then, was progressive, as shown by the increasing democratization, and the movements toward equality, and the tremendous growth of the productive forces and productivity of labor that is exactly what today makes capitalism dangerously obsolete. This has nothing to do with the case. Class loyalty means internationalism; internationalism rejects loyalty to geographical boundaries.

    Again, like capitalism itself, there was an era when patriotism—loyalty to a nation—under certain circumstances, could be progressive: the fight to raise a national bourgeoisie against the kings and the landlords was a step forward for humanity, and loyalty to the Union during the US Civil War was both patriotic and progressive. We no longer live in that era. The working class must utterly reject any loyalty to nation, and instead reach out to the oppressed in other countries.

    To the degree the oppressed are patriotic, to that degree that are uniting their fate with that of their oppressors.

  28. When patriotism includes being disloyal to the government when it deserves it, as Twain defined it, and setting the country right when it’s wrong, as Schurz defined it, there’s no harm in patriotism while countries exist.

    Eugene Debs had a nice bit in a 4th of July speech:

    “I am a patriot, but in the sense that I love all
    countries. I love the sentiment of William L. Garrison:
    “All the world is my country and all mankind are
    my countrymen.” Thomas Jefferson once said: “Where
    liberty is, is my country.” That is good. Thomas Paine
    said: “Where liberty is honored, that is my country.”
    That is better. Where liberty is not, Socialism has a
    mission, and, therefore, the mission of Socialism is as
    wide as the world.”

  29. “At least temporarily, legalize all drugs to undermine and destroy the influence of the cartels and the gangs.”

    I don’t want roofies to be entirely legal.

    Similarly various poisons.

    Some things need to be hard to get. Don’t be in the position of continually having to test whether they were used for crimes. Make them rare.

  30. skzb

    Sure, if you want, you can redefine patriotism to mean internationalism, thus undercutting the concept as Debs did. But, in essence, everything you quoted was an attack on patriotism. Patriotism means, “vigorous support for one’s country.” The Debs quote (and the others he quoted) explicitly undercut support of one’s country. And well he should! Debs was a true socialist, an internationalist, and it is both dishonest and slanderous to invoke his name in defense of “vigorous support of one’s country.”

    Why are you arguing this? Are you so committed to being an American, with all that that country has done in the last 100 years? Why are you so resistant to exactly the ideals you quoted—that the working class must reject nations, must fight as one. And, with globalization, this is even more vital than it was when Debs wrote.

    There is absolutely no question that patriotism, today is being invoked in the most reactionary, anti-working class sense, as a tool for the defense of capitalism and to undermine class unity. Why in blazes are you so determined to defend it?

  31. Will, you asked: kukuforguns, was there a specific change in the last ten days?

    No. It’s just, that ten days ago was the Fourth of July. The day a bunch of malcontents ratified the text of the Declaration of Independence. So, on the Fourth of July I might have chosen to quote the Declaration of Independence rather than the Preamble to the Constitution.

  32. Jonah: “I don’t want roofies to be entirely legal.” I assume the reason you don’t want roofies to be legal is because they are used as a tool to rape people. Do you doubt that a rapist could use any number of different drugs to accomplish their illegal actions? I don’t. The drug is not the bad actor. Giving people a drug without their consent is illegal and I hear absolutely no argument for changing this. As long as you create an artificial barrier to supply (i.e., make the drugs illegal to sell), you will necessarily foster an illegal distribution chain.

  33. I agree that “It was a bourgeois revolution”. We’ve got to go with the times (Marx did). The question I have is about the history of patriotism. The 19th century seemed to redefine it. It no longer was loyalty to the king, but it was even more strongly loyalty to the state. In the U.S., our civil war redefined us from “The United States are” to “The United States is”. In Europe similar loyalties moved from communities to the nation. It’s interesting to see when “States’ Rights” apply (when the other guys are running the country), and when they don’t (when my guys are running the country). But it appears that if you are for the powers that be, you’re a patriot, if you’re for the people, you’re not.

  34. Steve:

    Because I want to win. I do not see how we leap to a world without nations in a single step. We must win within nations before we can do away with them. Since I’m an American, that means winning within the United States.

    But to win, we cannot concede anything to the right. Including patriotism.

    The flag carried by liberators who freed slaves in the American South and Jews in Europe is ours.

    The songs that make our people stand in unity are ours.

    The Declaration of Independence and the Preamble of the Constitution are ours.

    The words on the Statue of Liberty are ours.

    The delight in this country’s natural wonders is ours.

    The good feeling about our neighbors is ours.

    The satisfaction in this country’s long history of granting equal rights to poor white men, and women, and people of color, is ours.

    The revolutionary spirit is ours.

    The right does not to get to claim anything good that falls under patriotism. Their patriotism is that of kings and dictators and slavers. Ours is the patriotism of men and women who put life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness above all else. When the American Revolution ended, Paine looked at the new nation and saw failure. We can finish the work that he and the best of the founders began in 1776.

  35. Does moving from community rule to regional rule to national rule to world rule help or hurt the people?

  36. I do not like the word “rule.” I can stomach it when followed by, “of law.”

  37. Howard, all depends on how you do it. The models I favor have a lot of freedom for local decisions.

    Kuku, me neither. “Rule” has implications that lovers of liberty reject. There are traditional translations of Marx that I hate. At the top of the list is “dictatorship of the proletariat”, which pretty much just means we finally get to have a democracy that isn’t corrupted by a wealthy few.

  38. Regarding winning: the argument Marxists make (correctly, I believe) is that we cannot win unless the working class 1) stops thinking of itself as part of the same entity as the ruling class 2) cooperates against global capital on a global scale.

    That doesn’t mean all working class people in all countries at once, but it does mean genuine internationalism, which is not compatible with even the most benign patriotism.

  39. Serious question: Your internationalism doesn’t let you have a particular fondness for Greece?

    As for members of the ruling class, I can think of them as fellow human beings, as fellow Americans, or as fellow science fiction fans and still know their interests are not mine.

  40. I think there’s this unrefined concept that if we can keep Trump embattled with nonsense issues that we can keep him from governing. Most people hate and fear Trump because of the social and economic changes his administration represents. People feel like hes essentially in a position to undo every good thing that happened in the 8 years preceding him.

    Considering who Trump has as appointees and advisors, and some of the actions he has already taken despite interference from this endless cavalcade of Russian nonsense, I can’t say I don’t understand that feeling. How can a man as removed from the common American experience and lifestyle as Trump has always been possibly harbor any empathy or respect for the average American? How can a man who has been served all his life bring himself to act as a servant of the people?

    I’m not saying such a thing is not possible. I’m just saying that it is really, really unlikely and if it were to happen the last place I would expect it to be happening would be in Washington. None of those elected officials are our servants by any definition of the word. If anything, they are the opposite.

    As to patriotism, I understand what you’re saying here. But without patriotism, where does that leave us? Aside from a very brief period of time in the middle of the previous century, the US has never had a purpose outside of itself. People do not really work toward a common goal here. If anything, our society is set up so that everything is a competition or a fight.

    America is a highly pressurized can, and Patriotism or at least a belief in this country as a concept, is the metal that contains the pressure. Without a baseless belief that America must continue to exist and is worthy of loyalty and fealty as a default state, this country would tear itself apart.

    There are some people who would see that as a good thing, but it wouldn’t be. In todays world of increasingly scarce resources, the ability to start an entire country over from scratch is nil.

    We are trapped with what we have and there is no way out.

  41. skzb

    Jonas said it more succinctly and precisely than I could have.

  42. skzb

    Andy: Thanks for your comments. Where I would take issue is with seeing America as a unity, rather than as an entity made of conflicts and contradictions, with the most important being between those who create value and those who appropriate the value; in other words, between the workers and the 1%. The task, in my opinion, is to make the working class aware of this distinction and the importance of solidarity with others in the same condition in other countries, rather than the exploiters here. In other words, what we are left with is class solidarity.

    Whenever a politician or a union bureaucrat talks about protecting “American jobs” they are playing the workers of one country off against the workers of another. It isn’t any easy fight, but it is far from hopeless. We’re already seeing signs of international solidarity. Look at some of the interviews with auto workers about the Grenville fire in London, and the way they’re drawing conclusions about the treatment of workers there and how they themselves are being treated. This is an important start.

  43. Andy, I believe that since 1776, there have been two Americas in conflict, the egalitarian America of Thomas Paine and the hierarchal America of Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton stays strong, but Paine has been slowly beating him back. My goal as a socialist is to fulfill Paine’s America, which leads to my favorite Paine quote: “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

  44. Will, regarding your comment about Greece: as a socialist, I fight for people I dislike as much as for people I like. My personal fondness for individuals does not affect my support for the working class. In the same way, whatever affinity I have for aspects of a country’s culture doesn’t really form part of the political equation. Besides, I am always aware of the fact that “cultures” as such don’t exist, and we all share a lot more than we think.

  45. Jonas, I agree with all that. You’ve probably seen me share this quote:

    “I am human, I consider nothing human alien to me.” –Terence

    I just don’t see any conflict between the love of your country and a commitment to ending the class system. Jon Stewart had a decent point in a rant aimed at conservatives: “You just want that person to give you your country back, because you feel that you are this country’s rightful owners. There’s only one problem with that: this country isn’t yours. You don’t own it. It never was. There is no real America. You don’t own it. You don’t own patriotism, you don’t own Christianity, you sure as hell don’t own respect for the bravery and sacrifice of military, police and firefighters.”

    Ah, well. Prob’ly past time to drop this.

  46. “As long as you create an artificial barrier to supply (i.e., make the drugs illegal to sell), you will necessarily foster an illegal distribution chain.”

    Yes, of course. But with no barrier to supply, dangerous drugs will be easy to get.

    Whenever you make a law that people are willing to spend money to subvert, there will be people who illegally try to subvert the law for money. No law will be 100% effective.

    We could argue from there that it is better not to have any laws at all, or enforce anything. Let everybody do whatever-the-hell they want to. If you can find enough people who want to live that way to take over a nation somewhere and try it, I will be interested to see what happens. It might be good, it will surely be interesting. There was a time when democracy was only for the Swiss, who were — peculiar. Maybe this will catch on like democracy.

    But most places, people want to have laws even though those laws are not 100% effective.

  47. Jonah:You’ll notice that the legalization of drugs is accompanied by mental health measures. Mentally healthy people don’t roofie other people. If someone commits a violent act using a drug, then that act is illegal and that person will be prosecuted and/or treated as applies.
    Note that arsenic is not illegal and people do bad things with arsenic.

  48. Jonah- the argument for legalization is not that drugs are not dangerous… some certainly are. It is not that access to narcotics is a human right. Well, at least that is not an argument I would make.

    The argument is that criminalization of drug use is a completely ineffective and very expensive method of dealing with abuse (I’m not talking about simple drug use, almost everyone uses drugs of some kind, whether legal or not). Habitual drug abusers are not deterred by harsh penalties… many are already risking severe illness and death to get high, are ignoring the anguish and disapproval of their families and loved ones, are spending money that their families need for food and shelter. Arrest and prison barely rate as dangers against that, even discounting the normal human ability to rationalize away uncomfortable risks.

    Criminalizing drugs has always been a policy of racism and class warfare. You only need to look at which drugs are most heavily regulated and the perceived demographic of the favored users to prove that. If the actual concern is to decrease drug abuse, the most effective method would be to remove all penalties and to make treatment programs easily available. If, on the other hand, the goal is to have an excuse to jail large numbers of underprivileged but otherwise law abiding minorities, well, a war on drugs is perfect.

  49. A fun game is “Match the drug to the prejudice”.

    Marijuana – fear of Mexicans.
    Opium – fear of Asians
    Crack cocaine – fear of blacks
    Meth – fear of poor whites

    etc.

  50. Will- don’t forget, marijuana was also favored by “jazz musicians” when it hit the government radar. I wonder which minority supplied the US with jazz musicians?

    Maybe that is why it is a schedule one drug… oh, and since there are no brand name pharmaceuticals based on it, like oxycodone, it has no well-heeled lobbyists to protect access to it.

  51. Oh, they all expanded into fear of other races and commie whites besides.

  52. “The argument is that criminalization of drug use is a completely ineffective and very expensive method of dealing with abuse”

    I think some drugs should be prescription-only. It should be illegal for pharmacists to sell them with a prescription.

    There should be some barriers in place to keep people from getting them, we should make them harder to get.

    I have the idea that our prescription system is broken. Some people circumvent that system easily. I say we should have a prescription system that works.

    If we aren’t the kind of people that can have a workable prescription system, then OK, go ahead and get rid of it and just try to track what drugs have been used on victims and try to find the criminals.

  53. Absolutely. Also, when there is a choice between more government and less government, I want to see evidence that more government is better. I agree with the non-corrupted libertarians that Big Brother trying to make us all behave better is too intrusive. Just like the evidence shows that the U.S. current health system is too little government (well, running health care by regulation is arguably more intrusive than having a simplified national health care system), the evidence shows that the drug war is too much government.

  54. Jonah:
    “There should be some barriers in place to keep people from getting them, we should make them harder to get.”

    This is essentially what we have now. We have a system that makes it hard to legally get some drugs and illegal to get other drugs.

    There are three categories of people. 1) People who would not use the drugs even if it were easy to do so. 2) People who will use drugs only if it were legal and easy. 3) People who will use the drugs regardless of laws. Your proposal has no effect as to categories 1 and 3. Based on the information I have seen, category 2 is extremely small. Embargoes (i.e., making drugs illegal) has no identifiable effect on the number of users. We have had some success in altering which drugs are used, but not in any good way (we’ve driven people to lower quality, higher potency, more addictive, and more lethal drugs).

    The success we have had has come at an enormous cost, both economic and in terms of civil liberties. No knock entries are a direct result of the war on drugs. Pretextual vehicle stops are closely related to the war on drugs. The overflowing prisons are directly related to the war on drugs. Essentially half the murders in the country are the result of criminal gangs fighting each other for exclusive distribution rights.

    I absolutely recognize that legalizing drugs will lead to some people becoming users who would not otherwise have done so. However, I think the number of other victims (police misconduct, imprisonment, overdose, poisoned, etc.) who will benefit will drastically be reduced.

  55. BREAKING NEWS: Nation states play Real Politik.

    P.S. – that includes communist and socialist countries.

  56. skzb

    Evidently, then, as there are no socialist or communist countries, “Real Politik” has nothing to do with reality. This answers a lot of nagging questions.

  57. “Your proposal has no effect as to categories 1 and 3. […] Embargoes (i.e., making drugs illegal) has no identifiable effect on the number of users. We have had some success in altering which drugs are used, but not in any good way (we’ve driven people to lower quality, higher potency, more addictive, and more lethal drugs).”

    So it has had an effect.

    The black market does not provide every drug in the pharmacy at the pharmacy price.

    It only provides the drugs which fit some combination of easy to synthesize or acquire, high volume demand, relatively low sentencing, and high price.

    Mostly recreational drugs, mostly not drugs useful for murder, torture, docility of victims, etc. Probably because those drugs tend not to have high volume demand.

    So I think the pharmacy system does some good. However, I met someone who wanted a prescription drug and in half an hour on the internet found out how to forge prescriptions. They used that method for close to a year before calling in a refill from the same MD too soon rather than using a different MD on the list, which generated a call to the MD who had never heard of them and called the police.

    That implies to me that maybe the pharmacy system as we have it is mostly a waste of time and should be replaced with something that is harder to hack.

  58. Jonah, you seem to have eliminated the possibility that people should be better educated so we don’t have to worry about creating hackproof pharmacy systems—which hackers would just think was a fun challenge.

  59. I am concerned about the malicious use of dangerous drugs to hurt other people. I don’t see how better education would help much, except that we could teach schoolchildren about how to make sure no one has access to their food and water, and about ways to make sure that nobody can pollute the air they breathe. Teach them that if food or drink ever goes out of their sight when someone they don’t completely trust is nearby, to throw it away; never eat it.

    If pharmacies get a more-or-less automated system to tell them when prescriptions they have made get filled, that would make a great big difference. As it is, they only get notified if a refill is requested too soon.

    If it was reduced to people who can actually hack pharmacy computer systems, that would be a big improvement.

  60. While ” there are no socialist or communist countries” (nor any other pure ideological countries), every place has features of ideologies, so they have *something* to do with reality.

  61. Jonah “If it was reduced to people who can actually hack pharmacy computer systems, that would be a big improvement.”

    And to anyone that could pay a hacker $5 to get him a roofie.

    I understand that you are against date rape drugs and poisoning people. I would be really shocked if anyone disagreed with you that those are both bad. I’ll suggest that nationalized health care is probably the best way to both get better control over access to dangerous pharmaceuticals and to the mental health care that might keep people from using drugs to harm others. That would be be a simpler system than the hodgepodge of private care/public care/no care that we have now.

  62. skzb

    howardbrazee: Well, I guess if we determine the nature of production and distribution in a given country by the ideology, or at least claims of ideology of people there, that makes sense. But it seems like a deeply subjective and unscientific way to determine the nature of production and distribution.

  63. I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t seen you post anything about the blatant personal information grab being conducted by the Trump admin over voting history. That shit is scary.

    Sure, let’s have the states give the federal government everyone’s voting history. Sounds perfectly innocent…

  64. “And to anyone that could pay a hacker $5 to get him a roofie.”

    With computer systems we can assume that the hackers are always smarter and better organized than the good guys — every computer program has flaws, and hackers will quickly find the flaws and communicate them to each other, and when eventually the good guys find the flaws and patch them the bad guys will instantly find new flaws and communicate them to each other.

    Once we assume that evil people are inherently more competent than good people and will sell everything cheaply to other evil people, we might as well further assume that evil people are inherently more competent than the police and will always get away with their crimes. Therefore police will only catch random innocent people.

    From there the obvious conclusion is that we should repeal all laws and accept that the only way to deal with evil people it to be smarter and more evil than them, and get them before they get us.

    Why can’t we have a government that works? Oh. Of course. Now I see. The smart evil people took over the government, and they don’t make laws to help people. They make laws to extract money from suckers. The traffic laws don’t much help road safety, they mostly provide an excuse for a government income from fines. The pharmaceutical laws don’t protect people, they only add fees. The legal system is there to provide an easy income for evil people, and then other evil people subvert it to get income for themselves.

    And if we had socialism? Would it turn out any different? No, it couldn’t. The smart evil people would inevitably subvert it to benefit themselves and themselves only. They are invincible.

  65. Jonah:Luckily, most evil people aren’t that smart or even that evil. In the case of “hackers,” most of them are just running scripts that someone else created. The creator is probably smart but not evil. The malicious user is probably somewhat evil but not that smart.

    In many cases, what we call evil actions have their root in some sort of mental illness. For example a person who roofies another person in order to have sex with them is clearly unstable in some fashion.

    In a number of cases (probably most in aggregate), the evil action has some sort of economic root. In the roofie example, someone most likely sold the unstable person the drug in order to make money. This may be the result of some immediate economic need–they needed to pay the rent or they would be kicked out or a perceived economic need (their car isn’t as pretty as that other drug dealers car).

    Economic evil can’t really be removed from the system without completely changing the system. In fact, economic evil forms the basis of Capitalism–we call it profit.

  66. Steve, I don’t know what’s happening in reality. It’s probably very diverse. What I see personally is a biased sample of that. What the media show is a sample with other biases.

    What I’m interested in here is the idea that laws and law enforcement is always useless or worse than useless. I try to imagine what assumptions are required to get that conclusion.

    And when I try to find those assumptions this is what I get. It seems it would take like a particularly perverse world. I don’t know whether we live in that world or not. I can imagine assuming that.

    And then I wonder what kind of person would prefer to believe in that world.

  67. Jonah- I’m really not sure who you are having your discussion with. Looking over the posts you were replying to, I don’t see any that say that all laws are useless and unenforceable. I see many posts saying that some laws are perversely motivated and counterproductive, e.g. the laws criminalizing the use of recreational drugs.

    Note that I said recreational drug use. Your counter example of the use of drugs to harm others is not recreational, it is explicitly criminal. Any use of a drug to harm another person would be a crime in itself, just like using a gun, knife, or brick. There are many ways to to try to prevent such crimes, and making access to drugs that can be used for that purpose more difficult is one way, but again, probably not the most effective way. Alleviating the social and economic circumstances that twist individuals into rapists and murderers would almost certainly be more effective. That would also be accomplished through the rule of law, but it would be a very different set of laws than the ones that gave us the War on Drugs.

  68. Larswyrdson, I am at that point not having a discussion but thinking about other people’s thinking processes in a way that would probably be insulting to them if I claimed it was about them personally.

    You want to make a distinction between recreational drugs and other drugs. I can easily imagine making a list of recreational drugs that would be exceptions to the rules for other drugs. We already have drugs that are exceptions — for example nobody buys drinking alcohol in pharmacies, nor nicotine nor caffeine nor theophylline nor spearmint nor theobromine nor vanillin.

    But in general, dangerous drugs are supposed to be prescription-only because they are dangerous and should only be prescribed by people who know what they’re doing. Like we have drivers’ licenses because cars are dangerous, and we have pilots licenses because airplanes are dangerous.

    You argue that rather than making dangerous drugs hard to get, it would be more effective to change things around so that people are sane and won’t want to hurt other people. This is true. Also, the most effective way to end poverty is to create a machine that can make everything that people want for free, so the machine would give everybody everything they want.That would by far be the most effective solution.

    I agree with you that the War On Some Drugs is bad government. I disagree that the prescription drug system is inherently bad, although we do seem to be doing it badly.

    I say that we have more issues than just people’s right to recreate however they like. We have to take the other things into account too.

    You point out that it’s already illegal to poison other people. But the issue is not just laws, but enforcement. Like, it’s already illegal to murder other people. But imagine we had the custom that everybody always carried a sniper rifle with telescopic UV-laser sights that in skilled hands could easily kill a target at 2 miles, and that in unskilled hands could easily kill random people at 2 miles. And the police were supposed to routinely solve a whole lot of murders by starting with everybody who might have been within a 2 mile radius….

    Much easier for them when sniper rifles are rare and noticeable.

  69. Jonah:
    You seem to be starting with the premise that it is the role of a government to protect some people by diminishing the rights of all the people.

    I see every law that limits the rights of the people as starting off with a mark against it. Drugs are dangerous. I got that. The only recreational drug I use is alcohol. I use it very moderately (less than a drink a week, perhaps sparingly would be a better description than moderately). That, however, is my choice. I do not concede that my usage – which effects only me – is any business of the government. If I use alcohol and then endanger the lives of others by operating machinery in an unsafe manner, I’ve got no problem with the government getting involved. If some other person wants to use heroin — power to them. I think it’s idiotic and suicidal. Their body, their choice.

    Your solution, making it difficult to acquire dangerous drugs, makes it difficult for everyone to get the drugs. Since very few people are murdering people with drugs, the biggest impact will be on people who use the drugs recreationally or (for therapeutic drugs) for therapeutic reasons. Making us get a prescription drastically increases the cost of treatment. I need a prescription to get eye-drops for glaucoma. It’s not a recreational drug. It has few side effects. It’s not dangerous. Making it difficult to get recreational and therapeutic drugs is a humongous harm in my book (strangely, the one type of drugs I might support a prescription for are antibiotics because overusage decreases efficacy for everyone) because it reduces quality of life for everyone (a huge harm) while having very limited benefits.

    Killing people is easy. The number or lethal instruments present in the average home/garage is truly eye-opening. In order to significantly diminish the ability of people to murder other people, the necessary laws would be suffocating. No cars. No backyard grilling. No cooking preparation. No lawn maintenance. No tools for home maintenance. It’s not a world I want to live in. On the other hand, we live in a country with access to endless lethal weapons and we have an intentional homicide rate of 5 per 100,000. There are more than 16 million licenses to carry concealed handguns in the US. In most states its easy peasy to get one — you don’t have a criminal record, here ya go. This is almost exactly your hypothetical regarding the scoped sniper rifle (I typically just call it a hunting rifle). These armed people are the least violent segment of the U.S. population that I have been able to find (it’s true, I haven’t been able to find data on librarians). I categorically reject the proposition that the best way to ensure peace and tranquility is to limit our rights. It appears that the best way to ensure peace and tranquility is to raise the standard of living and have stable government with a less corrupt application of law.

  70. kukuforguns: Thank-you for expressing my position so well.

  71. “I see every law that limits the rights of the people as starting off with a mark against it.”

    Do you have an example of a law that doesn’t do that?

    A law that you must drive on the right side of the road limits your right to drive on the left.

    Every single law that somebody can disobey, limits the right or people who could otherwise legally do what the law makes illegal.

    “I do not concede that my usage – which effects only me – is any business of the government.”

    I agree that you should have the right to do anything you want that has no effect on anybody but you. Maybe you could make a list of things like that. Drinking alcohol would not be on that list.

    OK, I’ll go farther. You should have the right to do things that do affect other people, when society agrees. Now we have a nice long list.

    “Making us get a prescription drastically increases the cost of treatment.”

    Yes.

    “I need a prescription to get eye-drops for glaucoma. It’s not a recreational drug. It has few side effects. It’s not dangerous.”

    If you are right, probably those eye-drops should not need a prescription. Do they need a prescription because MDs want you to see them for unnecessary checkups, so they make more money? And they have a big input into which drugs need prescriptions? If so, that’s bad. We’re better off when we can trust the experts who are supposed to know the technical details and who should make decisions for the good of the whole society.

    If we can’t trust them to do the right thing, maybe they shouldn’t have power. It goes from being a clear good thing for them to limit everybody in a good cause, to a trade-off. Maybe on average the good they do outweighs the bad they do.

    So then we’re left with the stupid uninformed elected representatives to pass laws that the stupid uninformed public will like. I can’t argue against that because it’s democracy and it’s better than letting the out-and-out kleptocrats run everything. (Assuming it isn’t kleptocrats who get elected.) But there’s no particular reason to expect us to get good laws on average.

    What a mess. Maybe we need to make it very hard to pass laws, on the assumption that on average they will be bad laws. I dunno.

    In theory, having prescription drugs looks to me like a good thing. We reduce your ability to self-medicate yourself with prednisone and amphetamines and warfarin, and on average that’s a GOOD thing. But in practice right now, the system is fucked. It does not stop anybody from getting drugs they want, but it makes it more expensive. It appears we have an opioid epidemic and various unscrupulous people make a lot of money off of it, and the prescription system does nothing good.

  72. Jonah:

    I said: “I see every law that limits the rights of the people as starting off with a mark against it.”
    You asked: “Do you have an example of a law that doesn’t do that?”
    My response: There’s two answers to your question. First Answer: Yes, I can. Corporations are a creation of law. Until laws were enacted that authorized corporations, a person either owned a business as a sole proprietor or owned a business as a partner. Either way, the owner was personally liable for the liabilities of the business. The law changed that dynamic by creating corporations (and other similar entities) which generally shield the owners from liability. Thus, laws that create entities like corporations expand the rights of people. Laws that regulate corporations limit corporate rights which is a short step removed from limiting the rights of the people. Another example would be good samaritan laws which limit the liability of people who render aid to people in need of aid. Again, this type of law expands the rights of people. Second Answer: Your question accurately perceives my initial response to any proposed law – skepticism.

    Your statement: “A law that you must drive on the right side of the road limits your right to drive on the left.”
    My response: Correct. Please recognize that I said that I believe limiting laws start off with a mark against them, not that all limiting laws are inherently invalid. In order to have a complex society, we are going to need some laws that promote safety. If we are going to have streets owned by the public, then I fully endorse public laws that regulate usage of public resources. This of course assumes that streets should be publicly owned.

    My statement: “I do not concede that my usage – which effects only me – is any business of the government.”
    Your statement: “I agree that you should have the right to do anything you want that has no effect on anybody but you. Maybe you could make a list of things like that. Drinking alcohol would not be on that list.”
    My response: I do not see how my drinking has any effect on anyone else. If I drink and then do something that affects another person, it is my action that affects the other person. Drinking alcohol has no greater effect on another person than breathing air. Perhaps you could explain how my drinking alcohol has an effect on other people. By the way, I hate “affect” and “effect.” Mock me if you will … my supply of hate is sufficient to the task.

    Your statement: “OK, I’ll go farther. You should have the right to do things that do affect other people, when society agrees. Now we have a nice long list.”
    My response: Not so fast there cowboy. American society (and many others) said that treating people like a pincushion was fine based depending on their pigmentation (or other reasons depending on time and place in history). Noooope. We have to identify rights that are beyond society’s ability to impair. This gets to my greatest concerns regarding government and democracy and why I believe it is necessary to limit what powers government (or society to use your word) has by clearly identifying what powers the government has. My starting position is that people should be able to do whatever they want that does not limit another’s rights. Government, on the other hand, should be able to do nothing unless expressly given the power to do a thing. Creating new laws gives government new excuses to use force. Icky.

    Your statement: “We’re better off when we can trust the experts who are supposed to know the technical details and who should make decisions for the good of the whole society.”
    My response: I have no problem with me paying a physician to get his advice on what medicines I should use. I do it all the time (plumber, roofer, doctor, gardener, author). I’m paying for the physician’s expertise. I do have a problem with requiring the physician’s permission to use a drug. If I do my own research, I should be able to buy the drug I think will work for me. Similarly, if a physician says “These three drugs should treat your symptoms,” I should be able to buy any of the three. A similar issue is the FDA. The FDA makes it extremely hard for a sick person to use experimental drugs. I think it’s awesome that the FDA requires manufactures to prove efficacy and safety before the manufacturer can say this is a safe and effective drug (see, a law that I like). I think its reprehensible that the FDA inhibits people from using drugs where the manufacturer openly states: “I cannot prove safety or efficacy. Use at your own risk.” There are diseases/illnesses/etc. for which current treatment is largely ineffective but for which experimental drugs offer a potential efficacious treatment. People should be able to choose to take the risk of an unproven drug. Moreover, when you start talking about giving an expert the authority to make decisions “for the good of the whole society,” I start breaking out in hives. For example, let’s consider climate. CO2 and CH4 are bad for a stable climate. An unstable climate is bad for society. I do not want an “expert” deciding that any technology that emits CO2 is illegal. It turns out that electricity is good for humans. It leads to greater productivity and quality of life. Unfortunately, making electricity requires some type of pollution. I don’t want an expert making a decision that requires a balancing of benefits and costs because there is no “ideal” balance.

    Your statement: “What a mess. Maybe we need to make it very hard to pass laws, on the assumption that on average they will be bad laws.”
    My response: I’m with Mark Twain, we’re safer when Congress is not in session. I love gridlock.

  73. Laws and their applicability depend upon and reinforce the context in which a State is operating. We currently live in a socioeconomic platform that is highly tilted in the Capitalist direction. Thus, laws often are about enforcing and protecting that system. For example, criminal drug laws are mostly about allowing for the jailing of a subset of society that those in control deem objectionable. [In other words, the man wants to keep you down.]
    Stripping out the profit motive can be a useful exercise in determining the general usefulness of a law framework.

  74. ‘Until laws were enacted that authorized corporations, a person either owned a business as a sole proprietor or owned a business as a partner. Either way, the owner was personally liable for the liabilities of the business.”

    So your example of a law that doesn’t limit people, is a law that reduces the limitation of a previous law.

    “Thus, laws that create entities like corporations expand the rights of people.”

    They do that by limiting the right to sue. Somebody with a corporation owes you money, and you can’t sue to get it back because the corporation has gone bankrupt sometime *after* it paid most of its assets to him. He still has your money but you have no recourse.

    “I said that I believe limiting laws start off with a mark against them, not that all limiting laws are inherently invalid.”

    Yes, agreed. Every law limits people. (Though it may limit them less than a previous law.) And we need to accept some limits.

    “I do not see how my drinking has any effect on anyone else.”

    Of course you don’t see that. And I don’t want to argue that particular example. There are lots of examples. In karst country, the limestone erodes and there are various deep holes in the ground. Many times people have said that if they dump stuff down a deep hole in the ground it can’t possibly affect anybody else. Things that get dumped way down in the ground are just gone. They were wrong.

    And people argued that when they dumped stuff into the ocean it had no effect on anybody. Things that sink to the bottom of the ocean are just gone and will never affect anybody, and things that dissolve in the water dissolve in so much seawater that it can’t have any effect. The oceans are so big that humanity will never affect them. But they were wrong.

    People often argue that when they do things that damage their judgement, they do not affect anybody else. Then with their judgement impaired they go out and affect people. .They say it wasn’t their impaired judgement that was at fault, it was the specific things they did. To me that argument implies that their judgement is still impaired.

    When somebody really wants to do something, it’s easy for them to believe it does not affect anybody else, and hard for them to believe that it harms other people who deserve not to be harmed. “It’s very hard to get a man to understand something, when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it.”

    I personally doubt that your drinking affects anybody else in any serious way, not enough to tell you to quit. I don’t know you personally but you seem generally sensible.

    But let’s imagine that it did. If to stop harm the we needed to persuade drinkers of the harm, how well would we do? A whole lot of them would refuse to believe the evidence. So we can’t require that you personally have to be convinced, because (in general, not you personally) that doesn’t work.

    The two best alternatives I’ve seen are first, we could have experts who are good at scientific method etc, and we could trust them to make the right decision. The trouble with that is that they might be corruptible.

    The second is that we could depend on society as a whole to understand the issues and agree about what’s best. That approach has given us 5000 years of superstition.

    So in despair I have to accept that we do each other a lot of harm and we probably can’t fix it until the population gets so low that people really can do a lot without affecting each other.

    “American society (and many others) said that treating people like a pincushion was fine based depending on their pigmentation (or other reasons depending on time and place in history). Noooope. We have to identify rights that are beyond society’s ability to impair.”

    There are no such rights. Rights are ideas in people’s heads. Your rights are what your society agrees they are. If you personally have a different idea of your rights than your society does, it will cause you unhappiness when you believe your rights are violated. Too bad, so sad. I don’t know what to do about that.

    “My starting position is that people should be able to do whatever they want that does not limit another’s rights.”

    Those are pretty words. I like them. In practice, you don’t know how much what you do limits others’ rights, and you probably would rather not know. It’s a bunch of stupid people who want to pretend they don’t affect each other, who don’t understand the consequences of their actions. We don’t have what it takes to live those words, even if we actually intended to.

    Governments don’t know that either, so they sometimes do harm even when the intention is to do good. We survive all that until we die.

  75. Isn’t “Thus, laws often are about enforcing and protecting that system. For example, criminal drug laws are mostly about allowing for the jailing of a subset of society that those in control deem objectionable. [In other words, the man wants to keep you down.”, *always* true? No matter who is in control?

  76. Howardbraze:No. For example murder has many laws against it (rightfully) but the penalties are very different if a person kills another vs a corporation and its officers killing many people.

  77. Steve Halter: I’m referring to what motivates the rulers. It doesn’t matter what system they give lip service to. They will put down who they wish to put down.

  78. “So your example of a law that doesn’t limit people, is a law that reduces the limitation of a previous law.”
    No and yes. The law developed organically. If Able Thatcher didn’t come to thatch your roof on Thursday as you had paid him to do, your right to seek recovery was against Able Thatcher. That made sense because he was the one who agreed to thatch your roof. If Able Thatcher formed a partnership with Bryan, your right of recovery was against either or both, since both Able and Bryan could speak for the other because they were partners. There was no distinction between the business and the owner of the business. This created a limit to how large a commercial enterprise could get. If a commercial enterprise required the capital of 100 people, those 100 people would never form a partnership because it’s essentially impossible to find 99 people you trust so well that you agree to be bound by each of their decisions. Society/The MAN therefore decided to create a fictional entity which in the USA we call a corporation. So, no, there was no law that said you can’t pool the capital of 100 people to make a commercial enterprise. Instead, the laws that created the corporation were a new concept of ownership to allow for larger commercial enterprises. The business became an entity distinct from the owners.

    “They do that by limiting the right to sue. Somebody with a corporation owes you money, and you can’t sue to get it back because the corporation has gone bankrupt sometime *after* it paid most of its assets to him. He still has your money but you have no recourse.”
    I used a weasel word in my original description of limited liability: “The law changed that dynamic by creating corporations (and other similar entities) which _generally_ shield the owners from liability.” As I discussed above, fictional entities were conceived as a way for many people to pool their resources without each being liable for every other person’s decisions. However, some of the laws did allow one or few people to create fictional entities which we’ll call closely held corporations. This allowed for the kind of abuse you describe. Society/The MAN said, hey, that’s not fair, you’re treating your corporation as your alter ego to shield yourself from liability. And, voila, laws developed to pierce the corporate shield when such abuse was proved to occur. It’s the age old tension between weapons and armor.

    With respect to people who abuse recreational drugs (including alcohol). It seems to me that you’re approaching future crime territory. As in, you are abusing the drug so much that we do not trust your judgment and so therefore we (society) are going to limit your rights. I oppose future crime. Lots of people abuse alcohol without ever harming others beyond the abuser’s ability to recompense for the harm. I know some of them. You probably do too. I view society’s ability to limit an individual’s rights to be a truly awful power (as in the full of awe, while accepting the terrible connotation). I don’t think that power should be used until one has actually harmed another to such an extent or in such a manner that society decides to utilize that awful power. I acknowledge that it’s a balancing act between the rights of the abuser and the rights of the potential victims. If we shift the balance too far towards future crime, the potential for abuse becomes too terrifying for me.

    “So in despair I have to accept that we do each other a lot of harm and we probably can’t fix it until the population gets so low that people really can do a lot without affecting each other.”
    Well, yes. I think we here in the USA have a terrible system. I’m just not convinced there’s a significantly better system available. We do not live in paradise. Maybe when we develop AI we’ll hit a home run and create a truly benevolent AI and it will be a paradise. I’m not sure we’ll still be human if we live in such a paradise.

    “Your rights are what your society agrees they are.”
    Yes, society can identify which rights it believes are inalienable. If the societies are free enough, members of any society can choose which society each wishes to join.

    “In practice, you don’t know how much what you do limits others’ rights, and you probably would rather not know. It’s a bunch of stupid people who want to pretend they don’t affect each other, who don’t understand the consequences of their actions.”
    We are frail and limited creatures living in an increasingly interconnected world of increasing complexity. It appears you believe this will eventually lead to a decreased density of population. Yes, that’s a possibility. Knowledge is power and knowledge is becoming increasingly easy to access. You don’t have to take that equation to the extremes to see the potential (inevitability?) for catastrophe. I don’t think Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are worried that giant asteroids will kill us all.

  79. “If Able Thatcher didn’t come to thatch your roof on Thursday as you had paid him to do, your right to seek recovery was against Able Thatcher.”

    So the law limited Able Thatcher’s ability to accept payment and then not do the work. Or your ability to promise to pay him after he did the work, and then keep your money.

    Then a later law relaxes some of the limitation, for what you consider a good purpose. The new law still limits people but not as much as the old law. It’s still true that all laws are limitations, but you agree that some limitations are good ones.

    So it becomes a question which laws are good and which bad, and since we don’t have a king to decide that, we leave it to our elected representatives and then we complain about it afterward.

    “With respect to people who abuse recreational drugs (including alcohol). It seems to me that you’re approaching future crime territory.”

    You prefer that laws not limit people until after they have committed crimes. That sounds like an interesting way to do things, but it isn’t how we actually operate.

    “An ounce of prevention is worth a ton of cure.” In theory you should be able to build your own home on your own property however you want, and it doesn’t hurt anybody else. In practice, our society is opposed to houses burning down and we have a whole lot of laws designed to keep you from burning down your own home. Regulations on how it can be built. Regulations on what kind of cooking stove retailers can legally sell to you. Regulations on what kind of fire extinguisher and smoke alarms you must have. Etc etc etc etc. They don’t just wait for you to burn your apartment down and then arrest you for it. There’s lots of room for abuse in that, and sometimes the public doesn’t notice the abuse enough to even complain.

    When we decided to eliminate malaria in the USA, we didn’t think that each mosquito had the right to live her life in peace until after an infected mosquito bit an uninfected human. In malarial areas, we tried to kill off all the mosquitoes that could carry malaria. That looked like the link in the infection chain we could hit easiest. We use that kind of reasoning *a lot*.

    US society gives citizens some carefully-limited rights, and tries to work around those rights when solving problems. As soon as the society sees an important problem that can be solved better by violating those rights, the rights evaporate.

    In big important wars (like WWI and WWII) we put people in prison for speaking out about the war, for their right to free speech. The public approves, so the right is gone. In smaller wars we let them speak, both because the public doesn’t care that much and because they have found that anti-war activism can safely be ignored.

    After 9/11 we lost various rights because the public didn’t uphold them. That’s how it works.

    “I think we here in the USA have a terrible system. I’m just not convinced there’s a significantly better system available.”

    Ah! I tend to agree, unfortunately. I assumed that you wanted us to switch to a more libertarian system that would respect the rights to which you wished to become accustomed. There is a collection of changes I want to make, and I try to convince people about them at the slightest invitation. Steven Brust appears to believe we can do very much better, and that it’s inevitable that eventually we will do much better, probably some time after a violent revolution. People have a lot of opinions.

  80. “Ah! I tend to agree, unfortunately. I assumed that you wanted us to switch to a more libertarian system that would respect the rights to which you wished to become accustomed. There is a collection of changes I want to make, and I try to convince people about them at the slightest invitation. Steven Brust appears to believe we can do very much better, and that it’s inevitable that eventually we will do much better, probably some time after a violent revolution. People have a lot of opinions.”
    I think the system is good. I think the system can be better implemented and improved. I tend to have reservations about the term libertarian. I prefer liberal. Progressives appropriated (or were portrayed) the term liberal and so true liberals had to create a new word. But, yes, I want the USA to be more liberal/libertarian. The current system was designed by radical liberals (and some pragmatists). Over the past 225 years, authoritarians have had more success implementing the system than liberals. There’s a constant tension.

  81. howardbrazee:True–that’s why moving away from rulers to people is a good direction.

  82. I think one way to improve the system is to set up criteria to decide what it takes for a corporation to be definitely too big. Number of employees, total profit, cash flow, some other things. Fairly simple rules.

    When a corporation gets too big, it should be required to split into two independent competitive corporations.

    Every couple of years we should reduce the maximum size until we are no longer certain the maximum is definitely too big.

    This takes a minimum of government bureaucracy to investigate and enforce. It potentially does a lot of good.

    Say we start out with a limit that’s half the size of Walmart. Walmart would have to split in two.

    Two years later we make the maximum half as big. Walmart splits into four.

    Two years later we make the maximum half as big again. Walmart splits into eight.

    Two years later we again cut it. Walmart splits into sixteen. A collection of banks, transport, fast-food companies, etc splits once.

    Two years later we split up close to a hundred companies that are single today. More banks, communication companies, grocers, fast-food, holding companies, etc etc etc.

    Improve the economy without requiring much government to do it.

  83. I could see extra taxes (sold as tax breaks for everybody else) – for corporations that have too big of a share of the market, or which have CEOs whose pay is too far out of line with the rest of the employees.

  84. To my way of thinking, when we have oligopolies that get extra money because they are so big, that get extra influence with the legislature because they are so big and rich, that are treated as TBTF….

    And we tax them but not enough to make them get smaller ….

    The result is that the government is running the oligopolies to get revenue. Everybody pays extra and some of the money goes to the government, and that’s how the government likes it.

    I don’t see that does anybody any good, except the government has the convenience of an indirect hidden tax, collected for it by giant corporations.

    We need to split up the oligopolies. But I don’t want the government to decide which businesses to split up. There’s too much bureaucracy there, and too much room for corruption.

    So make simple rules to decide that, which the government applies without judgement. Split up just the very biggest. We all know the very biggest corporations are too big. If we split up the top thousand corporations into seven thousand or so smaller ones, that helps some, and it doesn’t have the bad side effects I’d expect from an exercise of government power.

  85. Jonah: Who gets to run/own the corporation that has been calved? Bezos and Musk and Jobs (RIP) all are undeniably innovators who improved quality of life. I doubt NewCo would compete very well against OldCo run by one of those people.

  86. Jonah, kuku & howard:Those are decent ideas (and I’m definitely for things that limit the scope of oligarchic behavior), but suffer from the flaws of treating the symptoms rather than the disease. Remove exploitative profit.

  87. How do you suggest we “Remove exploitative profit.”?

  88. howardbrazee:There are a few methods that have been suggested. Here are a couple:
    1)Remove money entirely. This is the classic method of pure Socialism. It has been discussed here a number of times.
    2)Make certain that everyone involved in the process of production receives the full value of what they input into the production. There are a number of variants of this ranging from everyone getting an equal share to actually fully keeping track of contributions (perfect keeping track would be difficult but close approximations could be made).

  89. Those solutions are nothing I can work toward. And I am not perceiving any way we can implement them without extreme corruption.

  90. Howardbrazee:For the first sentence, Do you mean you are unable or unwilling to work towards them?
    For the second, all systems have to guard against corruption. Not sure how a correct implementation of any of those I mentioned would be more prone to corruption than the current system.

  91. “Who gets to run/own the corporation that has been calved?”

    I would think it would be managed by the same people who would run the corporation after the existing CEO steps down, but earlier. Presumably about half the management team would go with each team. So promotions come faster.

    I’d expect the ownership normally would not change. You used to own 500 shares in a corporation. Now you own 500 shares in two corporations. It’s like a stock split except it’s a corporate split.

    “Bezos and Musk and Jobs (RIP) all are undeniably innovators who improved quality of life. I doubt NewCo would compete very well against OldCo run by one of those people.”

    Maybe so. If they are good at hiring good people, then both companies might do well.

    When a company grows, it needs different strategies and maybe different skills. As it increases market share its ecological niche changes and that requires special adaptations. Growing to four times as big is qualitatively different from growing to double the size. So the innovators who only need to double the size once, and then split and double to the same size again, have an easier job. They can focus on their innovations instead of focusing on the innovations that are needed to keep getting bigger.

  92. “suffer from the flaws of treating the symptoms rather than the disease.”

    That’s true, but this is something that we might be able to do fairly quickly, that could do some good.

    Libertarians and people who believe in capitalism might agree with it. Nobody likes the giant oligopolies except their stockholders. They are obviously bad. They restrain trade, they sequester resources, they collect giant profits for themselves, they have too much influence on governments.

    If we can get a coalition of all the people who don’t approve of giant corporations to agree to treat this symptom, it can do some good while we prepare for something better. Teddy Roosevelt convinced a lot of people to do something like this, well over a hundred years ago, and they made a little progress suing individual companies, and then they quit.

    This is a symptom that’s worth treating. It doesn’t begin to solve the whole problem, but it can do some good. Reducing the power of giant oligopolies is probably *necessary* before we can make bigger reforms. Unless we let their power grow until they lose everything in a giant revolution.

  93. “1)Remove money entirely. This is the classic method of pure Socialism. It has been discussed here a number of times.”

    This is a negative goal. We need some way to decide how to distribute resources. Money is a flawed method to do that. Removing the money doesn’t say how to do it better.

    First come up with a better way to decide how to distribute scarce resources. Demonstrate that this is a better method by using it in some special cases. Then we can argue to expand that method, and eventually we expand it to everything that we now use money for.

    Arguing that money is bad and should be eliminated says nothing about how to replace it.

    “2)Make certain that everyone involved in the process of production receives the full value of what they input into the production.”

    How do you determine value? Value to who?

    When you estimate value with money, trade happens when the buyer thinks the value to him is more than the seller thinks it’s worth. Otherwise why trade? If the seller gets the whole value of the product, why should the buyer even bother?

    If a manager pays you for your cooperation, and he pays you so much that there is nothing left over, why should he bother? Only if he likes you and wants to do something for you when he gets nothing himself.

    This “I get all the benefit” is a concept I would expect more from libertarians. Society is built around the idea that we cooperate together and we all benefit.

    The existing system looks flawed to me. The guy who organizes the system shouldn’t “own” it like he’d own a potato. He deserves a good retirement, he doesn’t deserve to sell shares to the highest bidders. But this other thing looks to me like another flawed concept.

  94. What would a society look like when farmers don’t need money to buy tractors? It is not easy to picture. If I am convinced that this is possible and good – what can I do to help reach that society? That also is not easy to picture.

  95. There are a number of paths a society could take to reach a state where farmers don’t need money to buy tractors and many books have been written on the general subject.

    In order to produce something (such as food), the people doing the producing need a set of tools to do the production efficiently (such as tractors instead of oxen). The tools need regular maintenance and upgrades/replacement as technology advances. You can make a similar statement about the components that make up the tools and the people who produce those tools. These produce graphs of interactions that exist in the present society but are made inherently inefficient by losses from profit extraction at every level (money sitting in a hidden account behind an offshore corporation isn’t doing anything useful).

    So, from the farmer’s perspective, she continues to farm as she has wanted to do. Her tractor gets regular maintenance and she does also (medical care, college courses if she wants, …). She performs her function and the rest of society performs its function in return. Since she doesn’t have to worry about where the money for the broken fuel pump comes from, she finds that she has extra time to learn about Filipino stick fighting techniques that she has always wanted to do.

    This is a short description of a small piece of a complex society but is it really that hard to imagine it in place of the current one?

  96. Jonah: What if banks didn’t create money? They acted solely as a depository and could only loan what depositors agreed to be loaned. What if money was only created through a Universal Basic Income to citizens? We could retain money as a tool for deciding how to distribute resources, but shift control for money (and capital) away from the financial industry and back to individual citizens (and workers).

  97. RSM, that sounds potentially good to me.

    Morally, it makes no sense for bankers to be able to lend money that they create out of nothing.

    But just eliminating fractional-reserve banks is not enough. We must replace what they do with something in particular.

    I know of two things they do. One is that they provide money for loans. Our society is built around loans. Consumer loans give people the chance to make big purchases first and pay them back gradually. If you wanted to buy a car, and your only option was to save enough money for the car first, and then get transportation, that would be hard. Business loans do the same for corporations. The rules are currently set up so that publicly-owned corporations need to finance their operations with loans. If they own too many assets then they are hostile take-over targets. They need to stay in debt.

    The second is they manage thew money supply and prevent too much deflation, and occasionally inflation.

    They don’t necessarily do those functions well, and likely we could do much better. But we would need an alternative that actually did it. It isn’t enough to just stop the banks from doing it,

    It’s possible that the banks accept a much higher level of risk than any sane person would take on when it was their own real money. And we might need that amount of risk.

    We have something that kind of works, because we have been through times that it mostly failed, and we got kludges that tended to patch up the flaws somewhat. Probably nobody really understands how it works in practice. Some people understand some pieces of the system, and might think they understand the whole thing.

    So when we replace it, we need to look carefully for the hidden flaws in the new system that we have to fix quick.

    I don’t think your idea would provide very much Basic Income. New money is only enough to account for GDP growth. And the same dollar gets used 4 to 6 times a year (unless it’s changed to more than that while I wasn’t looking). So if GDP increases 3%, the amount of extra spending money beyond taxes is something like 0.5% of GDP. Not that much.

    There’s no obvious reason the banks should get it, but it doesn’t go all that far.

  98. Jonah: Count me as one of those people who doesn’t understand how it works in practice.

    Is there a difference between new loans each year (including federal debt) and new money? It seems that combined national, state, corporate, and personal indebtedness are growing faster than GDP, but perhaps that is a misconception on my part.

  99. Shouldn’t the supply of money be related to the supply of wealth somehow? However you define wealth? (Labor?)

  100. The theory is kind of complicated, and the practice is even more complicated.

    Everybody wants to keep a cushion of money they don’t spend, just in case they need it. The money you have that just sits there, doing nothing, is “dead money”. It isn’t being used to buy and sell, but it potentially could be.

    Because of things like that, the dollars in the banks’ computers only move from one account to another every two or three months, on average.

    The way it used to work, the government would stamp out a gold dollar coin. Somebody put the coin in the bank. The bank would then lend it 3 or 4 times. If it had to keep 20% reserves, then it could lend $4 and have $5 on the books using that coin for its 20% reserves.

    Then we stopped using gold coins. For every dollar’s worth of gold in Fort Knox, the government printed four “gold certificate” paper dollars, and for every gold certificate the Fed printed five Federal Reserve Notes. In good times when the economy was doing well, for every Federal Reserve Note, the banks would lend $4 to debtors.

    Then we did away with gold in Fort Knox, and the Fed just decides how much money to give to banks. The banks don’t have to have any reserves in the form of paper dollars (They tend to keep somewhere between 0.1% and 0.5% just in case, but if anybody wants too many paper dollars they can just tip off the cops to come take it away from him.) The Fed audits them every now and then to make sure they haven’t lent too much. If they really want to lend more, they can borrow money from the Fed and lend it it a higher rate themselves.

    Every year, a lot of dollars go overseas and don’t come back. This is partly because some countries like China want it that way. They make sure their people have jobs by selling to us cheap. They don’t want to buy stuff back with their dollars, everything they really need they can have their own people make and that’s more jobs. Their people feel better doing hard work at low pay than being unemployed, so they try to do what their people want.

    They just sit on some of our dollars. We owe them. They don’t collect. We keep issuing more debt, and it goes to China (etc), and they don’t collect. Sometimes they put it into Treasury bonds. The government gets the money back, and pays interest on it. It sends the interest to China and they don’t spend it, they just put it into more bonds.

    The stock market keeps going up. People who have money they don’t need to spend, invest it. They buy stocks at high prices, and then the prices go higher instead. We don’t think of it as inflation when stock prices go up, we think of it as a healthy economy with lots of investment opportunities. Some of the money that sits in the stock market moves very fast from one investment account to another, but it doesn’t go anywhere else much, so it doesn’t affect the economy.

    So the theory isn’t that complicated, but when you start looking at real-life details it’s harder to tell what’s going on, how much, or what to do about it. Used to be, the Fed could regulate the banks and that kind of worked to regulate the economy, but now we have a lot of quasi-banks that kind of do banking — which would have been illegal in the old days but isn’t now. It’s hard for anybody to tell what’s going on, except that we haven’t had a big crisis since 2008 so it’s probably gotten more stable.

  101. There are lots of “conservative” people who don’t like debt, don’t like sitting on money – but who claim to want to run states the way businesses do. Apple borrows lots of money, and is sitting on enough ready cash to buy most anything in the world it wants to buy. That ready cash is a powerful weapon. Trump wants to sell our oil reserves (I’m surprised Big Oil would allow that), not as a weapon, but to pay for tax cuts. Admittedly, oil is being replaced – but it still is a powerful (financial) tool.

  102. The reserve ratio in the US for banks holding more than 110.2 million is currently 10%. This covers most banks in the US.
    Fractional reserve banking is the general term for what Jonah was describing. If you insist on being in a capitalist system, then there is nothing particularly wrong with this.

    A State is not a business and can’t be run like one. All of the “conservative” people who say this don’t understand macroeconomics in any fashion.

  103. You can’t be the referee and one of the players/teams. They are two different mindsets, two different perspectives on the game. As a society, we err in both directions.

  104. Jonah: I can’t help but think this “thing” with money is at the core of our Social problems.

    Similar to the observation that the correlation is stronger on economic “class” than skin color, it seems to me the spectrum/hierarchy (whether you call it proletariat/bourgeoisie or elite/oppressed) is defined by the control of (and proximity to) the inflow of money into the economy. Whether it is Wall Street investment firms or CEOs of global conglomerates, those who have easy access to multi-million dollar loans and the money that results from those loans, currently exercise a significant (overwhelming?) influence on our economy, our politics, and by extension, our culture. It creates the hierarchy and the incentives all along the chain to stay ahead of (by pushing down on) those “below” us.

    As a concept/direction, it seems to me that if money entered at the “bottom” via UBI and exited the “top” as Corporate income tax or forgiveness of personal loans (student, credit card, mortgage), we could reduce some of that influence (and hierarchical pressure) and address some significant economic inequality without the devastation of a total system change.

  105. RSM- almost all research confirms your instinct. High levels of income disparity link positively to violent crime rates and political instability, and negatively to longevity, happiness (measured across society), educational achievement, robustness of democratic institutions, and, although this is strongly disputed by conservative “thinkers’, economic growth.

    Any policies that decrease economic disparity will make a capitalist society more fair and democratic. The question is, can any capitalist society embrace such long term goals?

  106. “I can’t help but think this “thing” with money is at the core of our Social problems.”

    Yes? How could it not?

    Capitalist economic theory says that free competition is good, that the ones that do the best at efficiently providing products etc will tend to win and have more scope to be efficient at providing more. But of course the competitors will try to reduce competition if they can.

    So it turns out that under-capitalized competitors tend to lose. The one with the best access to capital tends to win whether they are the most efficient at providing services or not.

    I am not at all a poker expert, I haven’t played since grade school, but I have the impression that with no-limit poker the guy who has 50 times the stake has a great big advantage. It’s like that with business, but more so.

    Free competition means the guy who has the most access to capital will usually win. Of course, he can never be completely sure when his access will be cut off and somebody else will win instead….

    Kind of like feudalism; a shifting network of alliances. Nothing much to do with the peasants except that when there is a conflict they are collateral damage.

    I grew up with the idea that science and technology could provide a lot of freedom. New technology could break the old empires, and then keep things stirred up enough to keep new ones from forming. But the rate of change gets controlled, and the system absorbs all that to the point that it is just another thing called “disruptive technology”.

    https://www.americanfunds.com/individual/insights/investment-insights/2017-disruptive-technology.html?k_clickid=_kenshoo_clickid_&cid=ps_ggl_68091

  107. Jonah:Removing money isn’t just a negative proposal. As I mentioned, it is shorthand for a very large number of proposals.
    If you google “moneyless society” you will see a number of different ideas about how one might go about doing such a thing and what it would look like.
    In particular, I notice that the page http://www.moneylesssociety.com/home/about-us/
    has both some interesting ideas of its own in its other pages and links to a myriad other proposals.

  108. Forgive me, I wasn’t clear.

    You are both correct that the existence of disparity in the distribution of money is at the core of social problems, including a warping of the market away from what economic theory says happens, such as allowing over-capitalized companies to win out over under-capitalized firms, overshadowing other classical business operational efficiency and consumer choice factors.

    If I may offer an imperfect analogy …

    We are in a house. The water pressure is in the house is extremely low, the electricity is intermittent, with frequent power outages, and now the heat has gone out and rooms are getting uncomfortably cold. We go down to the basement and find it is half flooded with water, reaching the fusebox and flooding into the furnace.

    These are all problems – the water pressure, electricity, and lack of heat are all problems upstairs; the flooding is destroying family heirlooms, damaging the electrical system and furnace, and these problems are all urgent and severe. We might discuss the effects that each of these problems are having on the inhabitants of the house, perhaps even arguing over the relative urgency or severity of the problems. Some might attempt to argue (quite correctly) over the din that the problem is the water in the basement, and the more analytical among us would talk about the nature of water and its effect on electricity and furnaces. Some will suggest that we must drain the basement, using buckets if necessary, and everyone should grab a bucket and start bailing, forming bucket chains for efficiency; while others argue that might help the basement, but doesn’t do anything for the problems the people upstairs are living with.

    I am not disputing the existence of those problems, nor the effect it has on people or the urgency of those problems. What I’m saying is – there is a hole in the main water pipe into the house. Yes, the water is the problem, and yes, the unequal distribution of water is causing other problems, but if we patch that hole, we can stop the water that is pouring into the basement. We’ll still have to deal with the effects and existing damage, and we still need to drain the basement (no parallel to political slogans, living or dead is intended), but the “system” itself, the various plumbing, electrical and heating systems, will be able to work as designed. There may be ways we can improve the efficiency or equalize the distribution of those systems and some may need to be replaced, but right now, none of it is working as it should because of the hole in the pipe.

  109. RSM:Sticking with the imperfect analogy, imagine that your house is old. The water pipe is lead, the electric lines are just stapled to the walls, the walls are full of mice…. The house served its function and kept rain off your head for a time but it has really outlived its time and the cost of maintenance/upgrade exceeds a teardown and replacement.

  110. Steve: That’s a valid perspective and the list of things that are wrong (or could be improved in a new version) is long indeed; and I’ll confess, as a general rule, I tend to have more of a “let’s see if we can fix it” rather than a “teardown and replace” perspective, in part because I’m always looking for an actual path to get all of us where we want to be.

    There are downsides to the “fix it” perspective, of course, but tearing the old one down and replacing it is not without its own downsides, not the least of which is a certain “inertia” in our collective approach to designing “systems” – right now, people think in terms of water pipes and electrical wiring. We put the person who has spent their whole life in the current banking system in charge of reforming the banking system; people who have learned to survive and prosper in politics are the ones “authorized” to change the political system. “Meet the new house, same as the old house.”

    What appeals to me about a “UBI replacement for money-as-loans” approach is the possibility of a broad coalition in support of it. To larswyrdson’s point, it just might be embraceable in a capitalist society AND take us, as a society, to a point where we can conceive of the next step. The generation that grows up with money-as-loans as history, in an environment where they are the origination of economic decision-making rather than its supplicants and victims, will be able to see beyond money as “trickle-down from those who have access to multi-million dollar loans” and perhaps beyond money all together. (Maybe!)

  111. “To see beyond money as trickle-down” – that sounds wonderful! (I was only lurking on here, but feel I have to comment at last.) But RSM – do you think that UBI could achieve this? It would only be Basic, after all. To save people in an underemployed society from penury. Don’t know how that would share out the Western world’s vast wealth. Unless the West were to give basic incomes to the Third World – which people here would not like!

    And Steve Halter: your metaphor of the dilapidated house was used long ago, by.Robert Tressell in his famous socialist novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. “No good tinkering any more – the only thing to do would be to build a new one.” 🙂

    And Jonah: this thing about China making all the stuff and then sitting on the money, is why Americans voted for Trump! They don’t like it, feel had by this set-up, and want Trump to be their dragon-slayer. I know that much about basic working-class psychology. The majority of Americans really want the 1950s back. (The non-white-male minorities want it with improved civil rights – so 1960s.)

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