Here’s the thing: There’s no such thing as a free market

 

I’ve reviewed (and highly recommend) 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang, but I’ve always meant to do more blogging on the details. For one thing, the layout of Chang’s book is such that it is conducive to blogging. Taking it bit by bit is also useful for digesting the (ridiculous) mythologies that surround the religion of capitalism. There is such a staunch reverence for capitalism that it’s helpful to take it in small bites.

Perhaps the greatest myth about capitalism is the idea that capitalism is a form of free market economics. We are told that markets should be free, that real capitalism is about a truly free market, and if we want to practice pure capitalism and good economics, then we will make the market free, truly free, because free markets make everything fair, gives everyone a chance, makes everything a level playing field.

There’s just one thing, one little problem here. There is no such thing as a free market. And actually that’s a pretty big thing, and in fact it’s the first “Thing” in Chang’s 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.

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Trekonomics Audiobook | Audible.com

 

Interesting book on sale today at Audible, their Daily Deal. For a mere $2.95 you can study the concept of post-scarcity, post-capitalist economics, working backward from the Star Trek Universe. The premise is that in a world where our basic needs are taken care of, the nature of human desire changes. Having conquered scarcity, a new form of socialism can emerge that allows human beings to flourish. This was one of Marx’s points. Is such a world possible? I’ll direct you to Manu Saadia’s Trekonomics: The Economics of Star Trek.

Source: Trekonomics Audiobook | Audible.com

Okja, if you’re looking for a good Netflix movie

I saw this film last night — enjoyed it and recommend it. Okja is the story of a young rural South Korean girl and her love of a genetically modified “super pig,” Okja. Yeah, it’s a strange-sounding plot, but it works. Along the way, there’s a critique of corporate power and a young band of animal liberation activists bent on exposing it that made me want to join Earth First! or PETA.

The film, however, is genuinely funny and heartwarming and for whatever ideological points it scores, the narrative never loses sight of the connection between the girl and Okja. Another success for Netflix.

We can’t sell it unless it’s dead!

This the CEO yells while standing on the killing floor, Okja’s life hanging in the balance, and it stands as sort of a religious credo for modern civilization. “We can’t sell it unless it’s dead!” This axiom also gets to the heart of the perverted reality of our world: economic success means converting the living world into dead money as quickly as possible. Profitability is linked directly to death. It’s a truth that’s buried beneath slogans and slick marketing, but the truth finds its way to the surface in this well-crafted and compelling film.

Keep an eye on that high phone bill you’ve got there..and the cable bill if you’ve got cable

If you were to be inexplicably transformed into a European, perhaps suddenly struck with the strange ability to speak German while munching a sausage in the beautiful city of Munich, or if you lost consciousness and awoke to find yourself sipping wine at a cafe in Paris like it’s nobody’s business, or if one moment you were fighting traffic on your commute home through one of any number of American cities, log-jammed during rush hour, and the next you were standing on a plain in Spain enjoying the rain, then you’d of course notice that the situation regarding your healthcare coverage was much improved; but once the shock of being morphed from an American to a European wore off, once you got used to the idea of better healthcare, and if you were a man and needed time to adjust to snug, form-fitting clothes, at that point you would likely notice something very significant about your cable bill or cell phone charges — they’d be lower. Read more

For the healing of the nations

Last year at about this time, I attended an Earth at Risk conference, a gathering of committed, aka “radical” activists and leftists that met in San Francisco. It was a two day event, and I was only able to attend the second day. That may have been for the better. When I arrived, the mood was very somber, and one of the early speakers acknowledged as much, making reference to the tone of the prior day — from what I gathered, it had been a heavy load of apocalyptic rhetoric, the end is near, with little or no hope. Read more

Changes

People often ask me about the culture shock that I must experience, travelling back and forth between places like remote McCarthy Alaska and Silicon Valley, the mega-bucks techie epicenter of the world. Well, I’m kind of used to it. After a while, it becomes familiar, I suppose the mind eventually realizes that there’s really no reason to freak out, just switch into that other way-of-being and roll with it. A friend of mine who has travelled a lot more than myself says that when she is travelling she will sometimes forget what city she is in. Like, for more than just a few seconds.

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Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth

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Bill McKibben has written a short response to the Pope’s encyclical on climate change, the environment, and economics. For most of us, what the Pope says is more or less obviously true, but as McKibben notes, few people in power are willing to truly take it on. Here are a few of McKibben’s thoughts on the Pope:

“…he’s [the Pope] brought the full weight of the spiritual order to bear on the global threat posed by climate change, and in so doing joined its power with the scientific order. Stephen Jay Gould had the idea that these two spheres were “non-overlapping magisteria,” but in this case he appears to have been wrong. Pope Francis draws heavily on science—sections of the encyclical are very nearly wonky, with accurate and sensible discussions of everything from genetic modification to aquifer depletion—but he goes beyond science as well. Science by itself has proven empirically impotent to force action on this greatest of crises; now, at last, someone with authority is explaining precisely why it matters that we’re overheating the planet.

“It matters in the first place, says Francis, because of its effect on the poorest among us, which is to say on most of the population of the earth. The encyclical is saturated with concern for the most vulnerable—those who, often in underdeveloped countries, are breathing carcinogenic air, or are being forced from their land by spreading deserts and rampant agribusiness. This comes as no surprise, for concern—rhetorical and practical—for those at the bottom of the heap has been the hallmark of his papacy from the start. “A true ecological approach,” he writes, “always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”…..

“But the heart of the encyclical is less an account of environmental or social destruction than a remarkable attack on the way our world runs: on the “rapidification” of modern life, on the way that economic growth and technology trump all other concerns, on a culture that can waste billions of people. These are neither liberal nor conservative themes, and they are not new for popes: what is new is that the ecological crisis makes them inescapable. Continual economic and technological development may have long been isolating, deadening, spiritually unfulfilling—but it has swept all before it anyway, despite theological protest, because it has delivered the goods. But now, the rapidly rising temperature (and new data also released Thursday showed we’ve just lived through the hottest May since record-keeping began) gives the criticism bite. Our way of life literally doesn’t work. It’s breaking the planet. Given the severity of the situation, Francis writes, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing, and limiting our power.…..”

Amen.

via Pope Francis: The Cry of the Earth by Bill McKibben | NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

Liberty and Justice for All

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“A Wall Street bank accused of laundering money for drug cartels only had to pay a fine. Meanwhile, a man caught with a joint in his pocket had to spend 47 days in jail.” This kind of failure has a long history, though it seems to be getting much worse. The bank was fined – there are always fines – but because the crimes of the wealthy are just a matter of dollars and cents, then they can quantify their risks rather than having to fear any personal repercussions.

Pope Francis and a bit of good news

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Pope Francis will be issuing an edict on climate change. That’s great news in itself, but there’s more. Listen to this quote, as Pope Francis gets to the heart of the matter:

“An economic system centred n the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.

“The system continues unchaned, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.

“The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”

Truth. Climate change is part of a much bigger issue, an economy that lacks moral accountability and spiritual grounding. The result is greed and destruction. This is why the environment is a religious issue. Pope Francis is right on.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/dec/27/pope-francis-edict-climate-change-us-rightwing

What would MLK say about Ferguson?

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I have been intensely engaged in a few Facebook conversations regarding the Ferguson shooting of the unarmed black man, Michael Brown. All in all, the conversations tend to be productive. But many whites (and in some cases non whites) are quick to condemn the rioters. I hear comments to the effect, “Why can’t blacks just get over it?” With a black President, they say, we have proof that the playing field is equal. I posted a picture of Malcolm X, and I made the comment that “Those who are oppressed and denied justice have the right to take power and freedom by any means necessary.” It prompted a lot of tense comments, as you can imagine, most of which disagreed with me.

One person posted a lengthy quote from Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech “The Other America.” Turns out MLK wasn’t all that far away from Malcolm X.

I consider Martin Luther King, Jr. to be a fellow subversive mystic, in the Jesus tradition. He is also a figure that many mainstream white Americans admire. However, in his speech, “The Other America” (1968) King talked about the African-American riots of the late 1960s, and there are two things that might surprise most white people.

1) The unemployment rate among African-Americans is actually higher today — around 11% — than the statistics that King quotes in his speech in 1968 — 8.8%.

2) While reaffirming his personal commitment to nonviolence, King does not come forward with an outright condemnation of the rioters.

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Finally, A Simple Plan That Can Reverse Inequality and Save America’s Sinking Middle-Class | Alternet

There are more alternatives to the status quo than most people realize. There are many ideas percolating out there, aiming to bring more equality and opportunity to average folks. One such idea is to use common wealth (wealth that belongs to all of us) and spread it around to all people rather than funneling it straight up to the wealthy aristocrats. Thomas Paine advocated for something like this, and here in Alaska, we have one such form of “pre-distribution” of income at work. The Permanent Dividend Fund is universally valued and appreciated.

“There’s nothing in this that would run counter to conservative principles and the notion of property rights. There’s no tax increases. There’s no increase in government bureaucracy. There’s no redistribution…I prefer to think of what this system would be as a kind of predistribution. In other words, the government isn’t taking money from anybody, but it’s assuring that income is distributed more fairly in the first place.” – Peter Barnes via Finally, A Simple Plan That Can Reverse Inequality and Save America’s Sinking Middle-Class | Alternet. Barnes has a new book out, With Liberty and Dividends for All.

The best of capitalism is over for rich countries | The Guardian

Populations with access to technology and a sense of their human rights will not accept inequality

“…Now imagine the world of the central scenario: Los Angeles and Detroit look like Manila – abject slums alongside guarded skyscrapers; the UK workforce is a mixture of old white people and newly arrived young migrants; the middle-income job has all but disappeared. If born in 2014, then by 2060 you are either a 45-year-old barrister or a 45-year-old barista. There will be not much in-between. Capitalism will be in its fourth decade of stagnation and then – if we’ve done nothing about carbon emissions – the really serious impacts of climate change are starting to kick in…”

The best of capitalism is over for rich countries – and for the poor ones it will be over by 2060 | Paul Mason | Comment is free | The Guardian.

Free markets: a grain of truth

Back from Africa. Here in Alaska. So far. So good. So great, in fact.

The job is great. I am in a new place, working as the office manager for a small, independently owned business. The town of McCarthy. Year round population: 22.

I’ve been doing a bit of research for the purpose of doing a bit of writing for the purpose of a six day writers workshop here in McCarthy. The workshop promises to be promising, with some talented folks collaborating to lead the dance. So I’m trying to pull together some good pieces. They will, I hope eventually wind up in the book I’m writing.
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My view from Doha

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Initially when I purchased my cheap ticket via Orbitz, I was worried about having to spend almost 48 hours in transit, the bulk of the wait being a 16 hour layover in Qatar. As luck would have it, my long layover qualified me for a stay at a hotel, with transportation and meals provided. Lucky me. This is the view from my room. Doha, Qatar is filthy rich, off of fossil fuels, of course, and they are currently modernizing and diversifying their economy, resulting in an economic boom and grand building projects such as the one just outside my hotel room. Surrounded by desert, the parabolic warning about “building castles in the sand” comes to mind. But Doha is merely a metaphor for the situation of all humanity right now. We have overextended ourselves to the point where our earth cannot support us. Still, we keep building, using the wealth of a resource that is running low.