Comments: Five Dollar Friday

Dean Baker is telling the TRUTH.

Posted by Mike Meyer at July 24, 2010 02:47 AM

Dean Baker is just so impressive. And he has such an understated manner; it's almost anti-hyperbole. His criticisms are understated.

Posted by N E at July 24, 2010 08:18 AM

Baker knows his stuff, particularly the left!

Posted by acuvue oasys at July 24, 2010 06:10 PM

Please define "The Left"

What are their beliefs?

What do they advocate?

Posted by bilejones at July 24, 2010 07:01 PM

It bugs me a little bit to read that the resources of the "left" (which I will not try to define) are "meager". Sure, it sucks that the US Chamber of Commerce is going to spend $300mm in the run-up to November. But if everybody who voted for Obama chipped in $6 they would equal that amount. It's disorganization which makes us feel powerless. This is a point Jon makes in the post.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at July 24, 2010 10:21 PM

I share Jon's frustration, but I'm not sure what to do about it. Look at Aaron's example: lots of ordinary people did make small contributions to Obama's campaign, and got nothing in return except dunning e-mails asking them for more money to help Obama's agenda. Obama's organization is astroturf, not grassroots.

I'm wary of "stable institutions" because they seem to become less worthwhile with time. Part of this is the result of professionalization, which has hurt the gay movement a great deal: people decide that you should have a college degree and wear a suit or other corporate drag to work for an organization. This ultimately gave us the Millennium March of 2000, which was organized and run on a from-the-top-down manner by the Human Rights Campaign and the Metropolitan Community Church; it drew a much smaller crowd than anticipated, partly because genuine grassroots groups that had been ignored and shoved aside by HRC/MCC refused, reasonably enough, to endorse it; and it not only lost money, but a considerable amount of money mysteriously vanished from the coffers -- I'm not sure anyone ever found out what happened to it. I'm not sure how to prevent this sort of thing from happening, but I think that one reason for the lack of "worthwhile, stable institutions" is that institutions tend to become less worthwhile as they become more stable and respectable.

I love Democracy Now! too, since it has been carried by our local community radio station (WFHB.org). But I've run into liberals, progressives, and leftists who hate it and won't miss a chance to denounce it.

Besides, I'm not sure that "teeny-tiny projects" are such a bad thing. If we do need larger, stable institutions, we need them as well as the small ones, not instead of them.

Posted by Duncan at July 24, 2010 10:53 PM

I give $25 every month to Democracy Now!

Posted by Susan at July 24, 2010 10:56 PM

Yeah, I'm surprised that someone who continually harps about the "Iron Law of Institutions" is lamenting the lack of stable institutions. What, you think your Iron Law doesn't apply to left institutions? Think again. The more "stable" an institution becomes, the more its efforts will tend towards self-interest and self-promotion. Labor unions, NGOs, political parties, revolutionary movements, etc.

I'm not saying Democracy Now suffers from this problem (yet), because it's not really very institutional - it's just a handful of good people. But I'm not certain that wishing for entrenchment is the right way to go. The left doesn't need to consolidate its efforts; it needs to make them smarter, sure, but that doesn't mean everything has to (or should) occur under one roof.

Posted by saurabh at July 25, 2010 03:00 AM

Yeah, I'm surprised that someone who continually harps about the "Iron Law of Institutions" is lamenting the lack of stable institutions. What, you think your Iron Law doesn't apply to left institutions? Think again. The more "stable" an institution becomes, the more its efforts will tend towards self-interest and self-promotion. Labor unions, NGOs, political parties, revolutionary movements, etc.

I'm not saying Democracy Now suffers from this problem (yet), because it's not really very institutional - it's just a handful of good people. But I'm not certain that wishing for entrenchment is the right way to go. The left doesn't need to consolidate its efforts; it needs to make them smarter, sure, but that doesn't mean everything has to (or should) occur under one roof.

Posted by saurabh at July 25, 2010 04:46 AM

Yeah, I'm surprised that someone who continually harps about the "Iron Law of Institutions" is lamenting the lack of stable institutions. What, you think your Iron Law doesn't apply to left institutions? Think again. The more "stable" an institution becomes, the more its efforts will tend towards self-interest and self-promotion. Labor unions, NGOs, political parties, revolutionary movements, etc.

Yes...as long as they are top down authoritarian bureaucratic hierarchical structures, then they will in fact develop into self interested unaccountable structures that will benefit the class that sits atop such structures. This is one of the great insights of anarchism..that all such structures no matter who is in charge with the best of intentions will eventually turn into what you say above.-Tony

Posted by tony at July 25, 2010 11:00 AM

Aaron Datesman

Everybody who voted for Obama included a whole lot more people than 'the left,' however one defines it. Obama's biggest block of voter support was probably independents, who are often either fairly apolitical or wishy washy with views driven by issues like their own taxes and a normal desire to avoid total economic cataclysm soon. The independents voted for Obama fairly strongly because they had had enough of Bush/Cheney, but they also got a lot of help with that decision from Langley media enterprises, which strongly favored an American rebranding. The "indispensable" international role of the US (per Albright) is fundamentally inconsistent with too much cowboy warmongering of the Hollywood Eastwood Stalone Willis etc variety because it alienates the voting public in Europe and Japan and makes life harder for our other client allies, especially the arab monarchies, and especially because it leads to destructive, golden-goose-killing decisions by dangerous guys like Cheney and the neocons, who don't restrain themselves too well. Ergo, Obama got LOTS of elite/institutional support from more "moderate" or "strategic-thinking" US institutions, which was signalled from the get-go by him keeping Gates in place. Sure a bunch of liberals and progressives and maybe even some lefties gave him a little money too, but that was always just gravy. It was never enough and never could be enough to drive strategic planning. (That doesn't mean Rahm and Obama's staff have to piss on their support from the left as much as they have.)

Getting a few million people to pony up ten or twenty bucks each would be a HUGE accomplishment, and it still wouldn't come close to the amount of money Wall Street or the Chamber of Commerce could throw at an election. So I think it's make-believe to pretend that the Dems don't have a campaign funding problem and also fantasy to expect them to not behave accordingly. Democratic Corporatism isn't going away anytime soon. That's all that can survive in those contaminated waters right now.

That being said, I agree with you about disorganization being the real crucial weakness. Unity and organization bring power, and disunity and disorganization bring weakness. That really is an Iron Law, and 'the left' and liberals and progressives needs to find their way to unity and organization, which is inevitably going to involve working with people and groups with some ideas and positions they dislike and that maybe even smell bad to them.

Alternatively, continued weakness and irrelevance is an option. In fact, it's the easiest option.

By the way, as I have often said, the rules of our political system aren't immutable, and they don't help with any of this. Change the rules and the choices will improve. Ironically, our political system was created as part of a revolution, and in many ways it was once revolutionary, but now it's the oldest continuously functioning and most unchangeable political system in the world. It mocks its own origins, and it needs drastic revision. Without that, real political change is unlikely.

Posted by N E at July 25, 2010 11:33 AM

tony

Your comment red-flags what I have never understood about anarchism. What are the "top down authoritarian bureaucratic heirarchical structures"? Does that include all corporations and privately-owned businesses of all sizes?

I'm not aware of any organizations that operate without some top-down heirarchy, which means supervisers and managers. Do you have a model in mind? Would all presently-constituted government and business be dissolved and recreated in a different form? I assume so, since you said that any entities controlled by a management heirarchy, whatever the ideology of those in control, will inevitably be corrupted to serve the interests of those in control.

So is the 'great insight' of anarchism that we can have no social organization, or is all organization just going to be democratic? Does 'democratic' in that sense mean there will be no reporting relationships and that people will not have supervisers and managers and bosses. I have never understood how anarchism is actually supposed to work in practice.

Posted by N E at July 25, 2010 11:45 AM

@NE - We agree, but let's reinforce the point:

10 million leftists x $10 each = $100 million.

It's not an even contest. But the wealth disparity as not as overwhelming as it might appear from looking just at one's own checking account.

Posted by Aaron Datesman at July 25, 2010 11:53 AM

aaron datesman

Yeah, that would be great and could get something done. And even fewer than ten million people if organized can be a tremendous force. I think that could potentially be as much or more of a force than the tea party, even without all the sucking up to the tea party done by corporations who love its "free enterprise" agenda.

And it would likely drive the Dems left, whether from inside or outside the party. The socialists and the Progresive party drove Wilson left. Huey Long and his Share Our Wealth movement and people like Sinclaire Lewis in California drove FDR left. MLK and RFK and Malcolm X drove LBJ left (LBJ adopted JFK's domestic agenda to fend off a challenge from RFK).

But that was a long time ago. There hasn't been much driving the Dems or the country left for a long time now. Just about everybody can see that has happened whether or not they agree about why.

Posted by N E at July 25, 2010 02:02 PM


hello NE,


NE:Your comment red-flags what I have never understood about anarchism. What are the "top down authoritarian bureaucratic heirarchical structures"? Does that include all corporations and privately-owned businesses of all sizes?

In a word yes....so long as they are under private control and hire wage slaves to do work...Anarchists have always argued for the abolition of capitalism since the means of production-and hence power and influence-are in the hands of the few over the many...so any organization-not just economic ones- that has a top down hierarchy structure is fundamentally an illegitimate structure.

NE:I'm not aware of any organizations that operate without some top-down heirarchy, which means supervisers and managers. Do you have a model in mind?"

True examples of this are rare but have existed with the Spanish Revolution being the best example. Some of what is taking place in Venezuela now-community control over resources and such outside of state control, factories in Argentina taken over by the workers and under the control of them and the community they serve-which is something like 200 factories, I think and is not a small amount are present day examples..

Mangers may exists in particular firms or businesses but they would act under the control of the workers/consumers and not owners-and certainly not the state- which would have to be gone for anything approaching and anarchists or socialist vision of society. So we return to the original question put forth saurabh that I originally responded too...

The anarchist-as opposed to traditional Marxism which argued for the need of strict party domination and the seizure of state power to bring about socialism-is opposed to one party domination and the seizure of state power because from the anarchist view this would lead to a new class of rulers siting in the seat of state power...the new "bureaucratic aristocracy" as Bakunin called it. This is the reason why the anarchist have always feared the state and those who look to control it since for the anarchist it would only lead to a new ruler over the population no matter what the intentions of those assuming control of the state...History seems to me to have proven the anarchist perspective correct....

This is a huge topic which cant be dealt with realistically in a comment section of a blog! So I can only outline the basics for you...I suggest you look at the An Anarchist FAQ at http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/index.html.

Volume One of the print version is over 700 pages and is the best source I know of to explain anarchism and what it stands for and hopes to achieve...Well worth your time...


NE:Would all presently-constituted government and business be dissolved and recreated in a different form?

States as currently constituted would be abolished since again anyone sitting in control of the state has the power of the state at their command. To some the failure of the Spanish to do this when the originally beat back Franco's coup is what lead to the defeat of the revolution...

Again there are plenty of "peoples democracies" in history which point to the validity of the anarchist critique...That doesn't mean there would not be legislative body and so on but they would be under the control of the population and answerable to such...But states as we know them would be gone....Again see the FAQ.


NE:So is the 'great insight' of anarchism that we can have no social organization,


No..this is a misconception that many people have with anarchism...It would be a highly organized society just under control of the general population and not under the control of leaders and certainly not under the control of the state..

I assume so, since you said that any entities controlled by a management heirarchy, whatever the ideology of those in control, will inevitably be corrupted to serve the interests of those in control.

That's right since all hierarchies are top down structure with those sitting above ruling over those below....essentially it is a fascists structure from the anarchist perspective.


NE:does 'democratic' in that sense mean there will be no reporting relationships and that people will not have supervisers and managers and bosses.

If I understand what you mean yes....work places would be under the control of those that work in them-the basic axiom #1 of all socialists-and not owners since private ownership would be abolished just as slavery was abolished. Anarchists have always argued for work places and production to under the control of worker and community council and not the state, or not someone sitting in control of the state acting in the name of the people...that's the big split between anarchists and traditional marxism...

I have never understood how anarchism is actually supposed to work in practice.

Again see the FAQ for a much greater explanation that I could possible give here.-Tony

Posted by tony at July 25, 2010 04:29 PM


NE,

I just wanted to bring to you attention-or anyone else interested in the topic-the part from the FAQ regarding organization in an anarchist society....

Many people seem to think that anarchists are for everyone running around doing whatever they want-when they are not throwing bombs!- willy nilly...Again I think this just a misunderstanding since most people don't really understand what anarchist are for and what those who have been animated throughout history by anarchist vision, sentiments and values have actually done....

It is hard to fight a civil war while also instigating a revolution taking over the economy of a country-Spanish Civil war and Revolution. yes both took place at the same time-unless you are highly organized...see link below.-Tony


http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secA2.html#seca23

Posted by tony at July 25, 2010 04:48 PM

thank tony, i appreciate the patient explanation and links.

Posted by N E at July 27, 2010 12:50 PM

Actually, anarchists have always applied hierarchical systems of organization, just because it's impossible to function without such a system. The Spanish Civil War IS an excellent example, but not for the reasons Tony gave. Military discipline requires top-down command structures - you simply cannot subject everything to debate and consensus process on the battlefield, there isn't time for it. Consequently the organization of the army WAS top down in the Spanish Civil War, even for anarchist units, with punishments for disobeying orders, etc. The only difference was that commanders were elected from the ranks, rather than being promoted by officers.

This highlights the rather different notion of authority that is central to anarchism, which I think is its central contribution, really just a radical promotion of the democratic principle, that authority flows from the bottom rather than from the top of the hierarchy, and "leaders" are responsible to, and express, the will of the people who generated them.

It's in this light that most anarchist heroes can be interpreted - Zapata, for example, definitely a heroic leader, but because he's seen as embodying the spirit and carrying the will of a broad group of people (i.e., indigenous peasants) rather than merely directing them.

Posted by saurabh at July 28, 2010 07:04 PM

saurabh and tony

I bet you'd each like the book 1491, which is about the pre-Colombian cultures of the New World and also how they perhaps affected European democratic thought. Indian culture was quite egalitarian.

Posted by N E at July 28, 2010 09:34 PM