Animal Farm revisited:
There’s a chain email that’s being passed around conservative emailers that tells a story of a foreign freedom fighter describing to his American college professor how to capture wild pigs by feeding them free corn and slowly penning them in. The email ends with a quote: “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” attributed to Thomas Jefferson. One problem is that according to Jeffersonian researchers, Jefferson never said that. Republican President Gerald Ford did. Although, as a big fan of Jefferson, I wouldn’t have put it past him to have said it! Jefferson was no fan of big government, absolutely believed that the right to bear arms was so the people could change government by force should politics fail, and even believed all debts and laws and Constitutions should be eliminated every fourteen years and recreated based on the norms and needs of the new generation. The other problem with that quote…I half agree with it despite the fact I also think it’s absurd.
The root of the entire problem is that we live in an extremely complex and complicated world, but we’re creatures that abhor complexity and demand simple answers. I’m no different. For the last four years I’ve been investigating ways I could define myself in the simplest terms: libertarian, anarchist, socialist, collectivist, some combinations thereof. And the conclusion I constantly confront is there are no simple answers.
This also shows the flaw in that very simple, easy to understand metaphor of the pigs. The reason the pigs can be easily penned in and trapped is not because of the free food, but because they’re pigs and the story’s antagonists are humans. If the humans in the story didn’t use free food and gates, they’d use snares. Or guns or tranq’ or traps or any of a hundred methods because the story is comparing simple hungry pigs to clever and technological humans. The story as an analogy is completely absurd and illustrates nothing analogous to our situation or conditions.
The irony of small, powerful government:
So, let’s take a closer look at that quote since that’s the part that really applies to anything realistic:
“A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.” That’s perfectly true only so long as the government has the greater firepower–and here we see the first conservative irony. The average American conservative despises the idea of the government providing healthcare to its citizens, welfare assistance, etc. But they tend to demand a government that can blow up the world several times over. The same person who votes for a politician or a political party that claims to believe in small government is the person who has no problem with the majority of the government’s spending of their tax money going to a military engine that not only can spread empire across the world, but is absolutely impossible to be fought by its own people: “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….” (Jefferson definitely is connected to that little gem.) By supporting a political system which strives for the ability to take over the world, the conservative is cutting off their own legs, ironically supporting a government capable of taking everything away, no matter how much or how little they’ve given–or not given by them in the first place!
The anarchist in me supports the idea of eliminating government because government is ultimately corrupt, corruptible, because the very act of placing a group of people “in charge” provides the path and means for that group to take and abuse more power than they were mandated with. Take our own government (please!). The founding fathers, with their classical education and experiences with abuse of government worked very hard to craft a constitutional democracy unlike any other in the world at the time–one in which was intended to be impervious to power-hungry career politicians and over-reach of power thanks to such things as term limits, elections, check-and-balance branches, prevention for the federal government to make laws aside from interstate commerce, and reminders like the 10th Amendment that the people and then the local governments held the bulk of power. Well, that all fell apart pretty fast with the federal government using the department of commerce to justify the creation of tens of thousands of federal laws, election fraud, and within the last eight years a White House which has used “executive privilege” and signing statements to create a “unitary president” which acts above the law and has not been held accountable.
Also, special interest and corporate lobbying which has been a natural progression of the forces of capitalism the founding fathers never anticipated. Corporate lobbying has become a big business. In the late 19th, early 20th century you had robber barons like J.P. Morgan and Rockefeller literally buying state and federal laws which benefited their corporations and ran their competition out of business, beginning the era in which business controlled government. It wasn’t long before you had the corporate big wigs then entering politics to get get the legislation they wanted directly (note: Rockefellers and the Bush family). The United States government has failed its original intent and has thoroughly become an institution to support the capitalist base: the corporations and the richest 1% of America. The military has become a corporate tool to protect and spread corporate interests (note the obscene outsourcing of military services to Haliburton, KBR, and transparently corporate military services like Blackwater).
The world’s changed; “the nostalgia for a time that never existed”:
Here’s where things start getting complicated and conservatives and laizes fair libertarians won’t acknowledge it and anarchists like me lament it: We no longer live in a world in which individualism and isolationism and frontier mentality are viable ideals. There was a time, a hundred years ago, when capitalism was still young and national, and medicine was still mostly folk, science really only mattered to university researchers, when the idea that people could live just fine with completely open market competition and only close-community interaction and thrive. But that quaint world is long gone into a past that will never be reclaimed as we’ve rocketed into a postmodern world of late capitalism, where there essentially are no longer any borders or barriers to corporatism and corporate controlled resources, where communication to all reaches of the world is nearly instantaneous and cheap, where medicine and science affects everyone to an exceptionally fundamental degree, and the actions of a culture or researcher or corporation or government in one country can seriously affect the people of another country on the other side of the world, sometimes immediately.
We live in a brave new world of global market capitalism in which it is impossible to simply live by your own sweat and labor and pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Conservatives love to believe they still live in that (pre-)modernist world where they are unaffected by the actions of other governments and other societies and corporations. They are enshrouded in their commodity fetishism where they consume their goods and services completely ignorant of how those goods and services come to be available to them. We no longer buy our shoes from the local cobbler, nor the local shoe salesman who gets his shoes from the factory a couple towns away, we get them like we get the rest of our clothes and furniture and appliances and even food: from multi-national corporations. Often we think we’re buying from small companies, like Kashi or Boca–but those are increasingly owned by mega-corps as well. One of the only times I’ve ever heard a conservative start to think about the implications of true open market global capitalism is when Budweiser was recently bought by a Belgian company. Oh were people around here talking! And then a new week came and went and it was no longer a topic of discussion. And by next month people will completely forget when they buy their Bud Lite that their money will be going to a multi-national corporation operating in Europe. So long as the beer continues to bottled in St. Louis.
But what happens when that Belgium company determines that cost of labor and cost of transportation of materials in Mexico is cheaper than whatever temporary loss ofÂ image they may receive from moving their bottling outside the US? Same thing that has happened to nearly every industry and nearly every other product which has moved their manufacturing outside the US: Americans lose jobs and benefits, they receive federal assistance until they get a job in retail sales or other service industry or doing odd local jobs–in competition with immigrants willing to work harder and cheaper.
Voting against your own interests:
Conservatives hate the idea of tax money going to improve the health of the citizenry or aid their own unemployment or their daughter’s WIC benefits, but they seem to support the corporatization of the military in which the cost for towels to soldiers increased 500% because the outsourced providor of military towels, KBR, puts a two-color KBR logo embroidery on them. Conservatives believe they are supporting the party and the politicians who have their interests in mind of protectionism and protecting their wealth. They vote for the politician who panders to their recursively conditioned belief that social programs are socialism and unions are communism and the liberals want to take away their wealth. But the problem is: they have no wealth because it’s been funneled to the corporations and the already wealthy, unions and social programs are there for their benefit and have become increasingly necessary as the middle class becomes increasingly eroded. As for the political parties: both are to blame. The Democrats have (prior to the last eight years) been equally guilty of corporate corruption and kleptocracy (until the Bush administration–the Dems didn’t get less so, it’s just the GOP has absurdly surpassed them in handing government over to the rich and shameless).
While both parties are corrupt capitalist tools, at least the Democrats make some points by claiming to want to help create a strong middle class (you can’t sell Wal-Mart products made in China to K-Mart employees if they have no buying power and ruined credit) and create and support programs to help children and keep the poor from becoming street people (or eliminate poverty altogether). While the Republicans seem to not care a whit about children after they’re born–unless they can be a soldier to fight for imperialist corporate interests, and then not care about them again once they’re no longer of use. But conservatives still support politicians who blatantly seek to ruin their economic class and increase the wealth of the wealthy, voting against their own interests, because they’ve been convinced they’re part of that wealthy class that benefits from the Republican redistribution of wealth up the pyramid:
The most telling polling result from the 2000 election was from a Time magazine survey that asked people if they are in the top 1 percent of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans say they are in the richest 1 percent and a further 20 percent expect to be someday. So right away you have 39 percent of Americans who thought that when Mr. Gore savaged a plan that favored the top 1 percent, he was taking a direct shot at them.
Itâ€™s not hard to see why they think this way. Americans live in a culture of abundance. They have always had a sense that great opportunities lie just over the horizon, in the next valley, with the next job or the next big thing. None of us is really poor; weâ€™re just pre-rich.
A common problem of commonality:
A hundred, hundred and fifty years ago it was easy for a community to provide for themselves what is called “the commons.” Providing electricity wasn’t an issue, but water was generally easy to get or could be had with the assistance of the community. Police were nearly non-existent as crime was nearly non-existent because social conditions made crime nearly unnecessary (short of crimes of passion). Communities were small enough that fire protection was communal and didn’t require mass organization and technology. People lived off their own craft and/or the land. Most people had no contact with government and no need of any services government could provide. It made sense that people despised the Tax Man who came to collect taxes to pay for services they rightfully did not benefit from, and likely had little if any contact with people who did.
Today we live in a world in which water is incredibly difficult to provide to most people clean water. Likewise proper sewage handling is vital. Modern and ready fire and police services are social requirements. As jobs leave an area, people can no longer live off the land or sustain from the fruits of their unique labor–very few people make furniture or clothes or other products that people don’t prefer to buy much cheaper from corporate retail outlets. The anarchist in me hates the reality that in many ways an impartial, capable, far-reaching government which provides vital services is necessary to the benefit of everyone in a community.
One of the common complaints from the libertarian is that they don’t want to be forced to pay taxes or force others to pay for things they don’t use, like social healthcare or education. Well, again, a viable argument for a more quaint time that no longer exists. A well educated society will benefit everyone who lives in that society as those well educated will run, manage, develop the products and services countless people will use–thus public education (well funded and quality) benefits everyone regardless of if you have kids in school or not. With people living virtually (and literally) right on top of each other, it’s a vital concern for a society to make sure people have easy access to health care: preventative and routine as well as emergency. The health of my neighbor and co-worker can affect my family’s health both directly and indirectly. Health insurance costs and medical debts are of the greatest reasons for small business failures and personal bankruptcy. A hundred years ago medical costs were non-existent. What did it cost to see a doctor about your cough? Which was most of what doctors did since cancer, heart disease, liver disease, MS, RA, CP, stroke and most of the other conditions modern medicine can cure or treat or delay weren’t addressable until the last couple of generations.
Now let’s say government didn’t exist? No regulations, no unions, no OSHA, none of the oversight (that used to exist before eight years ago) that helped keep companies in check, and it was all free market capitalism. What would happen to police, fire, water treatment, roads, pharmaceuticals? Well, the idealist libertarian would like to believe that competition would bring all prices down and there’d be no limitations on what was available and the entrepreneur would fill all the holes. To some degree that’s true.
Fire in the Rabbit Hole!
Let’s look at one topic and explore a possible outcome: If there was no government funded fire departments, would fires just go one un-fought? No, of course not! Some people would form volunteer fire departments like they already do, some people would donate to fund it. But would all people donate? No. Should they still be protected? Some would say yes, but what if some people who do donate find out who doesn’t and don’t think it’s fair? Others would create for-profit fire fighting services. But, what’s to stop for-profit fire station A from deciding the neighbor volunteer station is a roadblock to expansion and greater customer base? Think about the ways a fire company might run another “out of business.” What if they were the only game in town? What would happen to service prices for customers? What about those who can’t pay? What happens if you’re in a disputed zone of service?
The first response many of us have to resolve the probably “criminal” actions (remember, without government there is no such things as laws or crime–just undesired behavior) that would result from some of these situations would be to call the police. But here we have the same problem: who runs the police? If there even is any? What if the same guy owned the local for-profit fire house and the only police station around? (If you’ve lived in a small town you know that one family can easily own a lot of that town!) What recourse would people have? What if there were two private police/security forces in the area? What if both (or three or more) are called to the same “unlawful” activity? What additional activity could result from armed for-profit police officers disputing jurisdiction and customer base?
Do not pass “Go”….
People say the heart of capitalism is competition. That’s bullcrap. The heart of capitalism is monopoly. No corporation, company, entrepreneur wants to be in competition with a rival–they want the entire customer base. Ask any Pepsi’s owners whether they’d rather have competition with Coke and lower prices and fight for cheaper resources, or to own 100% of the customer market and be the only game in town? No CEO, CFO, board, or share holder in their right mind would rather have competition if monopoly can be had. If in a no-government, free market libertarian dreamland, a water treatment company could run the others out of business so they could charge what they want and treat their customers (or not) however they want, they’d do it. And they would do it with their own private, corporate owned Blackwater protecting them from customer-based police/security/posse/vigilante groups.
No, we no longer live in a world where completely free market libertarianism is possible–if we ever did! How good for the people was it when the cattlemen and the ranchers came violently head to head without any “law” around? How about when the railroad owners would force their way through private property with the help of their Blackwater, er, I mean Pinkerton’s to handle “security” issues? Where there has been no law there has been lawlessness. And you can say caveat emptor all you want, but in this world where we are dependent upon countless other people for our and our family’s welfare, caveat emptor no longer works. I want my doctor to use properly tested medications and procedures, and not herbal remedies or homeopathic treatments that was able to get a good salesman into his office. I want my fire department to be well trained and funded regardless of whether my neighbor refuses to pay his taxes. I want the roads and bridges to be safe and not made with inexpensive materials and labor in order to save the share holder’s money and without any kind of safety regulations. I’d be spending eight hours a day doing research on every product and service I use, andÂ I can’t rely on private organizations that might spring up to research these issues for me as I’d have no gaurentees that they weren’t just a shill for the company’s I’m investigating.
A perfect example of the wild west lawlessness and the deceptive voluntary consumer “research” that supposedly informs the consumer–is the herbal suppliment industry. Herbal suppliments are completely unregulated, and surprise, they’re plagued with false advertising, deceptive and outright untrue claims, often misleading and inacurrate ingrediant lists, non-standardized ingrediant quality or amount, and a cottage industry of supposed clinical research facilities which test herbal suppliments and supports their claims–usually owned by companies selling the stuff! Imagine all this, in every issue of your life!
Free market libertarians seem to think that the check-and-balance on unsafe products is simply competition, and short of that, popular retribution. A. as I stated, there’s no guarantee of competition in a free market–the desire for monopoly has always driven capitalism since before J.P. Morgan. And B. how is public retribution possible in the age of global market capitalism?
Let’s say your local bridge collapses and kills a dozen people because costs were cut and hey, there’s no regulatory agency that can enforce safety regulations? What can the people of the community do when the company that owns the bridge-makin’ service is based in the Sudan and the corporate owners live in France and the company’s finances are banked in Dubai?
A very sad truth:
The bottom line is we’re increasingly living in a world that demands governments–and we’re increasingly getting corrupt and inefficient governments owned by those very same multi-national corporations. That very negative situation I just described is already happening because the U.S. government is currently dismantling regulatory commissions, is outsourcing those that remain to the very corporations they’re supposed to oversee! (Note: the mining safety regulatory agency.) The conservatives are getting their wish: they’re getting smaller government. And as a reward they’re getting a country handed over to the control of private business who don’t see themselves accountable to anyone except their share holders. To corporations who’s only check and balance is the mythical power of the invisible hand of the free market, and how does that work out? Matel has manufacturing in China sending out poisonous toys; did people stop buying Matel and put them out of business? All Matel did is relocate a couple of plants to another area of developing China and if there was any increase in safety enforcement, it will lax again once the issue is out of the public’s mind. Oh, it already is.
What’s the alternative? State controlled production and services? Yeah, that worked well in the Soviet Union. But see, that’s the problem with the United States: the same quality that made us relatively safe from 1812 until 1941, our isolation over here, has also made us ignorant of all socio-economic possibilities that exist between open free market and the dictatorial fascism of our greatest historical enemy. Conservatives cling to the idea that if it’s not holy capitalism, it’s evil Soviet communism. Well, guess what: most of Europe, Japan and South Korea, Canada, Australia, developed South America, operate on some form of democratic socialism in which a strong central government provides healthcare, worker’s pension, public education, support worker’s unions, and private corporate ownership. Ireland has the fastest growing economy of all Europe–socialism. German and France have stronger economies than the U.S.–socialism. Citizens in the Netherlands and Sweden have a qualitatively higher quality of life with virtually no poverty, very little crime, and just as modern of a society–socialism. The rest of the modern world is better educated than the U.S., difference? A socialist focus on providing quality public education and paying for it!
What does the U.S. have for all its bluster about boot-strap frontier attitude and individualism? A collapsing economy, a collapsing infrastructure, a disaster of a laughing stock of an education system, and the biggest, strongest military in the world. Yea, we win.
Oh, and the most expensive, bloated, inefficient government in the modern world while at the same time it’s the most privatized it’s been since Eisenhower. How’s that happen?
Solve; Please show your work:
How to fix the situation? First kill eliminate all lobbyists. Well, not quite–some lobbyists are necessary, such as the ones for unglamorous illnesses and social issues. But while some organizations have only one lobbyist and virtually no funding, others have thousands of people in Washington fighting for their interests with millions of dollars to spend. Government lobbying must be regulated and standardized across the board, with the elimination of gifts and perks provided to Congresspersons from any company or organization. That alone could possibly solve most of our corrupt and bloated government.
Second, (and probably unneeded if the first is enacted) no former corporate lobbyist can hold a top position in government, and likewise no former Cabinet member or other top office holder can be allowed to be a for-pay lobbyist for X years after leaving the government.
Eliminate no-bid contracts. All corporate contracts have to be bid on and approved by a Senate or House panel that has no personal interest in the bid companies (I’m looking at you Cheney and Rumsfeld).
No safety and standardization commission or agency should be privatized. And each one should be run by people who have been approved by Congress and not just appointed by the President. They should also be required to have experience in the area in which they’re going to be filling. (I’m looking at you…everyone who has headed FEMA and the DHS since Bush has been in office).
These are pretty realistic solutions that could fix current problems. Some dream-land fixes would be:
The Constitution should be upheld and President’s should be held accountable for their actions regardless of political ploys by the “opposing” party.
There should be a mandatory no less than four-party system.
The Wars on Drugs and Terror should be ended as they are militarizing the civilian police and increasing the police state we’re currently sliding into–and not providing any tangible benefit to the people.
Some (not at all “final”) thoughts:
All that being said, I’m still ideologically against governments. In a perfect world, perhaps when people have evolved a little more, there would be no concept of government and people will be able to manage the commons collectively. So, I still identity as anarcho-socialist, but so long as there is wealth and money, anarchism will only lead to a brutal and ignorance shrouded libertarian wild west. One day, I hope, we reach a point in which monetary greed is as quaint of an idea as living self-sufficiently off the land is now for most people in the modern world. I think it’s utterly possible with this world and this world’s resources. But so long as we have conservatives hanging on to capitalist ideals of wealth at the exclusion of the rest of the human race, it’ll never happen.
In the meantime, here’s a much more accurate and applicable chain email text than a simple but inaccurate parable about pigs:
(And a possibly good book on the above subjects I just discovered but haven’t read: The Gridlock Economy: How Too Much Ownership Wrecks Markets, Stops Innovation, and Costs Lives. A fascinating New Yorker article on it: “The Permission Problem.“)