“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, May 12, 2012

a little manifesto, maestro, if you please

It is a bright day out. The remodeling of our apartment is almost finished - thank God! And as I gaze about, I am thinking: isn't it time I issue a manifesto?
A man must occasionally issue a manifesto. Johnny Cash said that.
Or at least he might have. But he was too cool to say it out loud.
So  here it is:

It is a sure bet that the last thing a socialist government will do, coming into power, is institute socialism.
In the neo-liberal era, we have gotten used to socialism meaning a conservative defense of the social welfare system as it was constructed in the heroic post-war era. Partly this is due to the historic experience of the vast failure of actually existing socialism, as it actually rotted, in the Eastern Block and in China. In the end, the only optimistic and efficient economic organization in the Soviet Union was the informal world of thieves, and they naturally took over the corpse once Yeltsin pulled the trigger and put the system out of its misery.

In 1980, when socialism was more of a real option in the world (in one year, Mitterand would be elected on the promise to break with the logic of capitalism), Iring Fetscher, a German political philosopher, wrote an assessment of socialism’s learning curve, The Changing Goals of Socialism in the Twentieth Century, for  Social Research. In it, he proposed seven errors into which socialism had fallen in said century: total state control of the economy, humanist universalism, uncritical egalitarianism, scientific technical progressism, dogmatism in the philosophy of history, the truncated view of man, and the industrial proletariat as the only agent of social transformation – a good deskpounding list. In fact, each of those errors was to be infinitely explored by socialism’s undertakers in the next thirty some years. And give or take a jot here and there, it is hard to disagree with Fetscher on this.

However, the time for self-cutting socialism may be drawing to a close. Here at least are two suggestions to make a better socialism.

The first one is obvious. The idea of a central bank, a government run bank for bankers, has run into the stunning problem we all know – when inequality is growing, it adds to inequality; when credit bubbles are blowing, it adds to credit bubbles; when the economy is depressed, it adds to the depression.

This is not to say that there is no good function for a central bank. It is to say that there should certainly be two state run banks: one for the banks, one for the people. The latter needs to be set up on the largest scale. It needs to allow people, the 99 percent, to create accounts that are not immediately skimmed and dummied in the financial markets – tax free accounts for retirement, healthcare,  and education. And it needs to lend money. It needs to lend money at a rate 3 to 4 points below the rate set by the banks. The money that the state just flooded the upper 1 percent with is, frankly, evil money. The money that a state bank could continually set in motion among the 99 percent would be good money. It would immediately lower the debt burden that now comes with the consumer lifestyle in a radical way. In other words, it would produce an enormous social good.

The second suggestion is less orthodox, but does set a reasonable goal. Capitalism as it is presently constituted is, largely, corporate capitalism. For all the talk of free markets and such, what we are really dealing with in the world are large organisations that have accrued incredible “private” power – the equivalent of an aristocratic class.

However, these large organisations (and the militarized state) have generated the kind of telecommunications and logistics system that render them technically obsolete. Socialists should push to make that obsolescence a social reality by pushing for laws limiting the scale and scope of any for-profit private organisation. Myself, I think the metric should be employees. And I think the largest allowable private for profit organisation should be of about a thousand employees.

A change in scale of that sort would immediately change the economic picture. For one thing, this explosion of private companies would finally bring to the fore a reality about the corporation world, which is that sectors are formed as much by collaboration as by competition. It would be impossible to produce output at all, given the small scale of the private organisations, unless they formed alliances. Your average factory, or service organisation, would become a myriad of small organisations. While the pay structure wouldn’t be equal, the inequalities in position and compensation that would emerge with these small organisations would bump into the limit on scale and be modified without any state interference in the matter. The death of the corporation would also lead to the death of the convergence of investment and  speculation, which is the way that the financial markets work at present.

Of course, it is easy to imagine abuses and problems with scaling down the agents in the economic mix while retaining the same system of circulation – the same process by which commodities metamorphose into money and then back into commodities. Socialism would not have overturned capitalism, in this view, but would have achieve certain long term socialist goals without moving towards a vast, dangerous state bureaucracy.

Which would be sweet. And that should be the socialist goal: a sweeter world.  



Red Maistre said...

Hey Roger, if we scale down by the law the number of private enterprise, would there be a place in your schemes for renewed state enterprises ? And what about the possibility of employee/worker democracy ? Just spitballing here.

roger said...

By limiting the scale of enterprises, we are actually exploding the number of enterprises, red. we would be making twenty thousand enterprises out of walmart for instance. I have used one thousand as an arbitrary limit - perhaps the limit would be closer to ten thousand. However, the multiplication of enterprises would certainly have a massively transformative effect on the stock mrket, effectively reducing its power. Id actually combine that with other laws, which were proposed in the progressive era, against watered stock - that is the market capital each quarter cannot exceed earnings plus assets. As for state enterprises, theres no particular bias one way or another about those things. You will notice the state bank.

Brian M said...

Interesting concept, roger. I wonder if there are certain industries where concentration of power and effort is necessary. Such as sucking dry the remaining dregs of petroleum reserves...which will require amazing capital investments.

Maybe that is a case for State run industries, although such industries have generally been terrible.

roger said...

Oh, this would put in place confederate and cooperative structures where we now have massive and unilateral ones. In a sense, this is already presaged by the way corporations have sections "own" their projects. It would take this to the next level. Out of ExxonMobile, you would carve perhaps ten thousand businesses.