Friday, March 19, 2021

For Peace ... and the Draft


In 2006, Harper’s Magazine sponsored a forum on the possibility of an American coup d’etat. Among the participants in that discussion was one Major General Charles J. Dunlap, Jr.  Dunlap was part of an interesting exchange about the composition of the military.

“WASIK: I want to address the question of partisanship in the military. Insofar as there is a "culture war" in America, everyone seems to agree that the armed forces fight on the Republican side. And this is borne out in polls: self-described Republicans outnumber Democrats in the military by more than four to one, and only 7 percent of soldiers describe themselves as "liberal."
KOHN: It has become part of the informal culture of the military to be Republican. You see this at the military academies. They pick it up in the culture, in the training establishments.
DUNLAP: The military is an inherently conservative organization, and this is true of all militaries around the world. Also the demographics have changed: people in the South who were Democratic twenty years ago have become Republican today.
BACEVICH: Yes, all militaries are conservative. But since 1980 our military has become conservative in a more explicitly ideological sense. And that allegiance has been returned in spades by the conservative side in the culture war, which sees soldiers as virtuous representatives of how the country ought to be.
KOHN: And meanwhile there is a streak of anti-militarism on the left.
BACEVICH: It's not that people on the left disdain the military but rather that they are just agnostic about it. They don't identify with soldiers or soldiering.
LUTTWAK: And their children have less of a propensity to serve in the military. Parents who describe themselves as liberal are less likely to make positive noises to their children about the armed forces.
DUNLAP: Which brings up a crucial point. Let's accept as a fact that the U.S. military has become more overtly ideological since 1980. What has happened since 1980? Roughly, that was the beginning of the all-volunteer force. What we are seeing right now is the result of twenty-five years of an all-volunteer force, in which people have self-selected into the organization.

 I was recently in an exchange with a member of a supposed resistance to war group that posted a Reason Magazine article against the draft. I am for the draft. I think the draft puts the burden of war solidly on the people. If that doesn’t happen, we soon see the military becoming a praetorian group for itchy fingered presidents. And we also see, as in the capitol riot, that exmilitary people in a self-selecting armed group veer towards the right. This isn’t just the American experience – it is the French, British, German and Italian experience. It is the experience of Latin America and Japan. The rightwing tend is only countered by the formation of “people’s armies” – basically, the draft.

There are a number of political externalities, in the U.S., that came with the draft. One of the undiscussed ones is how much the draft contributed to the collapse of Jim Crow. The military was the first government organization that officially integrated, under Harry Truman’s Executive Order 9981  issued on July 26, 1948. I think one could even argue that, given the draft, to which iall young American men were subject at the time, this order did more to integrate America and kickstart the very much incomplete march towards racial equality than Brown v. Board of Education. There is a reason that white libertarians at Reason, Milton Friedman and Reagan were all on the anti-draft side – as well as on the white supremacist side, at least in practice.

I doubt we will have Selective Service again, unfortunately. And I also doubt that the Capitol Riot is a one-off. America runs under the delusion of its own exception to social patterns in history – hence, the bizarre belief that one can spend 700 billion per year on the military and still maintain an apolitical military force. The draft was a counter-vailing force – and its abolition has had just the effects you would predict – a heightening of rightwing military sentiment, an inability to stop wars – Iraq kicking the U.S. out was a rare favor accorded to us in this respect, otherwise it would be Afganistan – and an inability to adjust to changes in the global order. It was interesting to see the neolibs under Obama try to whip up sentiment for the no good, very terrible Transpacific Trade pact by militarizing the issue – we must stop Red China before it takes over a few ten square mile islands in the China Sea! That kind of thing is a D.C. specialty, now.

You feed the monster until the monster feeds on you.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Biography of a price - the argument from adventure



We live in an epoch in which objects have taken one of the attributes of kings - that is, they get biographies. The biography of the fork, the pencil, Wall Street – the transfer of the life story from the human to the inhuman has become quite fashionable, as though, since we all know about the pathetic fallacy, we are allowed to systematically commit it. I jest, ho ho – and in fact, I have to admit that there is something life-like about these things and their passage through our lives. If they aren’t alive, they still have mana – a lifelike power. They become totems.

However, noone, so far as I know, has done a biography of a price. Ah, there’s a subject! One would first have to wrest it from the enormous mystifications of the economists, who know what a price must be without often looking at what a price is, and one would have to restore it to its true nature, its genesis, its type.
Scratch a price and you find an adventure. We’ve become accustomed to thinking that the adventure it encodes is determined by a thing called a “market” – and so mystery calls to mystery. The mystics of capitalism have shamelessly spoken of the “magic of the marketplace” – which serves as an alibi for our adventurer. In fact, all adventurers deal, at one point or another in their careers, with magic. From Raleigh to Cagliostro, from the average American politician to the Spanish conquistador, all have used magic to fill in the gaps, biographical and strategic. But the biographer’s strong suite is a counter-magic: a grasp of details. While the adventurer sheds one persona for another, one claim to effects at a distance for another, one spectacle for another, the biographer, that dogged leveler, reconnects the membra disjecta with a thousand and one facts, with fine filaments of cause, deliberation, association and purposes (a plural that covers serial disappointments, self-subversions and incompatibilities – for the biographer is not your rational expectations robot, explaining that all can be explained through a system that explains anything. A biographer who seeks to explain a life is a biographer who has gone mad).

The critic Harold Innes claimed that the story of modernization in the west is the story of the penetration of the price system. This is an insight that holds together a truth and a falsehood. Just as there are no solitary human individuals – every mother’s son or daughter of ‘em must be a mother’s son or daughter – so too, there is no single price. Price’s came into the world en masse, rather than as a single prototype – no caveman hammered out a price, held it up, and said, now what will this be goood for? But Innes’s insight is also false, in that it treats price system as something autonomous – it is as if, with the word “system”, we move from the puppet to the puppetmaster.



 In the first week of April, 1963, Nina Simone and her trio signed a contract to appear for three weeks at the Village Gate for 1500 dollars per week, plus 10 percent commission. We happen to know something about the Village Gate and its prices from an article that appeared in the Village Voice in 1965, which described the Village Gate as one of the few Jazz clubs that was making a profit that year. “Usually two star attractions are presented on the same bill. .. The room is large enough to accomodate a sufficient number of customers to offset a high cost of talent without raising prices to an unreasonable level.” Later on in the article, we learn that the usual cost of the ticket is 3 dollars. The ticket sometimes came with a minimum drink requirement, depending on the event. The price of the ticket, then, is a compound thing – it is a guess at the demand for the performance, which is determined, in part, by the space of the room, and is annexed to other costs and prices – for instance, for drinks. This price is hard to compare, given these variables, to other prices. For instance, we know that in the last week of November, 1969, you could see Nina Simone at Fillmore East, another NYC club, for a ticket price of $3.50, $4.50 or $5.50. This would seem to indicate a very low rate of inflation – 50 cents over a period of 6 years, or around 2 percent per year. But that is misleading since, as we pointed out, the ticket price reflects a compound of other variables. As so often with services, the quality of the good varies wildly.  Fillmore East was the revamped Village Theater, and it flourished until it was closed in 1971, a closing its owner, Bill Graham, blamed on stadium rock concerts – which, Graham claimed, raised the cost of performers and competed on the ticket price with venues that did not have the seating capacity stadiums had.


If we were to do the biography of the price of a Nina Simone concert, we would find that the conditions for it probably satisfy neither the subjectivist economics school – where demand is the sole real determinant – nor the labor value school of economics – where the labor of Simone, her trio, and the staff of the places she sang at combine to give us the base determinants of the price. As if well known, ticket prices defy the demand school – the franchise manager of your local Metroplex movie theater does not try to juice up demand for movies that are unpopular by adjusting ticket prices. It is, normally, one ticket price for every movie. Often this is a condition in the distribution contracts.


All of thse things suggest the adventure school theory of the price. Unfortunately, most economists don’t recognize adventure when they see it. .


Sunday, March 14, 2021

The ides of March, a poem


The Ides of March


Fate’s patent on circumstance

makes a monopoly of accidents.

Me, for instance – isn’t my every hair

counted by God on his golden throne?


Down here below, those that I lose

collect in the filtre de cheveux de drain

In the shower. Out of omen

Out of luck.


“Caesar self also doing sacrifice unto the gods,

Found that one of the beasts which was sacrificed had no heart.”

Myself, untouchable, hairpicker grub

In the soapscum for what I’ve shed.

- Karen Chamisso





The ethics of integrity or the Baker at Dachau

    Throughout the 19th and 20th century, one stumbles upon the lefthand heirs of Burke – Red Tories, as Orwell called them. Orwell’s inst...