The Political Right and the ‘Bottom Line’

March 8, 2018

Do the right look after the budget bottom line in government?

Probably not anymore. Not if it interferes with giving taxpayer’s money and possessions to the corporate sector.

In the US, we have corporate tax cuts, massively increased military spending and license for corporations to pollute and poison people – none of this will apparently cost the public anything.

In Australia, the Right wing Coalition has blown out the debt since taking over, and plans to blow it out even more, with more military spending, more spending on supporting the Adani corporation dig up and burn enough coal to wipe out climate stability, tax cuts for corporations who don’t pay any tax and so on.

Then there is the Coalition in NSW. They apparently have plenty of money to throw at developers, while selling off public goods, making life easy for coal miners to pollute, and destroy our water table, and harder for ordinary people to protest. They constantly make massive commercial in confidence deals with public money. They sign contracts with private enterprise before business cases and Environmental Impact Statements are finished. They support the idea of public money being spent on private enterprise sports stadiums, when the sports organisations are tax exempt because they are supposed to provide their own facilities. They make totally stupid decisions with public transport – new trains without toilets on long routes, new trains that can’t fit in the tunnels, new tunnels that can’t fit normal stock. They dig up rail access into the centre of Newcastle so that developers can build on the ex-tracklines. They think that a major new tax on transport in Sydney (through the Westconnex set of motorways) is a great idea as long as the tax is a toll going to private enterprise, and it won’t end up funding public hospitals, schools or renewable energy research – and the public funds the building of the new roads. Cost, of course, blows out massively as it is remuneration for private business, and people get thrown out of their homes and undercompensated. This is either a pure waste of money and incompetence, or a deliberate policy about giving money to those who already have it, at the cost of everything else. The other way of seeing this is as normal crony-capitalism in action. The corporations control the parties who control the State, and the State exists to benefit the ruling corporations.

The last two Federal Coalition leaders, have both failed to deal with any of the problems we face at all – in fact they have run away from them, tried to put the cost on the less wealthy, or have simply made the problems worse.

It is always easy to pretend to live prosperously if you sell off your assets and overspend – eventually it hits, and that could be the grand idea, bankrupt the government and throw ordinary people to the wolves. Sometimes, as Walter Steensby says, it looks as though the neoliberal philosophy thinks that people and nature are just costs and an obstruction to its own development, and they need to be disposed of.

The Right often only seems to worry about the bottom line when there is a chance that money might be going to people who actually need it to survive.


What is ‘Crony Capitalism’?

March 5, 2018

Crony capitalism describes two situations: the situation in which different capitalists co-operate to distort the market and maximise their profits, and the situation in which people in government either support, or are bought by, corporations to make laws that favour those corporations, or offer some other kind of subsidy, protection or help. More generally, the second half of the definition describes the case in which the State largely governs on behalf of big business, because business is defined as possessing all the virtues and abilities that matter to the society, and many businesses collaborate to maintain the general dominance of business and crush resistance.

In crony capitalism risks of business and costs of business are usually diffused onto the general taxpayers (with the wealthy often paying little tax). For example, in crony capitalism, pollution and environmental destruction is encouraged as it lowers costs to business, and usually just poisons the poorer sections of the population, who don’t count. Any regulations which try to enforce business responsibility for their actions are usually seen as ‘red-tape’ and repealed. Laws are generally designed to help maintain business benefits, and the courts arranged so that non-wealthy people have relatively little chance of success in using the law against business power.

Crony capitalism encourages situations in which ‘workers’ organising to protect their rights, conditions and wages, are frowned upon or prosecuted because they disrupt business, while federations of business organisations are considered normal and acceptable.

Crony capitalism is driven by, and results in, plutocracy.

Crony Capitalism is the normal form of capitalism, and power plays are a normal part of competition in markets.

Some remarks on the Communist Manifesto

March 3, 2018

If you read the Communist Manifesto, you will find that Marx and Engels briefly describe the dynamics and results of capitalism, and they claim it is pretty much to produce a situation similar to that we find we are in now….

  • Globalisation of a particular culture;
  • Destruction of national industries;
  • Inflation of the size of particular cities;
  • Increasing inequality (particularly in wealth distribution);
  • Increasing monopolization (ie more and more companies and owned by a small number of other companies);
  • Making labour an appendage to the machine;
  • Freeing capital from local regulation;
  • Turning the State into a managing agent for the benefit of upper corporate class;
  • Increasing the spread of directives and the control of land and people;
  • Turning all values into property or monetary exchange.
  • I don’t know of any other 19th Century figures who score so many accurate predictions. Yes they seem to have been wrong on the inevitability of revolution, but that is one missed prophecy and that was optimism in play.

    Nowadays we would probably add to these predictions, the idea that capitalism will destroy its civilization by destroying the ecology in an orgy of mass death and destruction; but we would have to say we have no idea what kind of organisations will follow on from its self destruction.

    Superfunds and ‘We are the shareholders’

    February 19, 2018

    Australian Banks are trying to defend their excessive profits and lack of competition by using the furphy that because Superannuation funds are large owners of shares, that their profits benefit ordinary Australians who own the shares through those funds. However, reality is more complicated than that

    1) Large amounts of fees are siphoned off in fees to the super funds, and go to superfund managers – so the main beneficiaries are the managers and people with large superfund holdings, not ordinary Australians, unless perhaps the funds are industry based. The first fund I was in cost more in entrance and exit fees than I could possibly earn on input. This is clearly not the banks fault, but it indicates something odd about the way ‘we’ own these shares. Putting it in another way, the rational action of fund managers acting for their own benefit with these shares, does not have to deliver maximum benefit to the people who pay into the fund.

    2) We “ordinary Australians” do not own the shares. We cannot vote, we cannot influence bank policy because of those shares. We do not hold the rights associated with those shares. Those shares are owned by the superfund, and any input into the bank will tend to benefit the fund not its members. It is irrelevant as to whether it might be ‘better’ for large institutions to take those rights away from us and exercise them as if they owned the shares – which they do (again the point is that the institutions have the ownership, not ordinary Australians).

    3) This fictitious ownership only exists as long as we keep paying the super company. Again we do not own the shares, we pay the Superfunds to own them, hopefully (but certainly not guaranteedly) on our behalf.

    4) However, the public pays the costs and losses associated with those shares, while the funds continue to pay out to themselves, irrespective of loss. This is the usual privatization of profits, publicization of loss common in capitalism.

    5) The banks may also have holdings in the Superfund, and these holdings are large enough to be used to outweigh any objections that individual members have to the way they operate. and use the shareholdings to benefit themselves and shut down inquiries by the fund into the way profits are made, declared and distributed.

    6) It is more than likely that most of the bank shares are owned by a very few, and only a few shares owned by the many.

    As usual, the market is structured by political action, usually the action taken by those who are wealthy, and is intended to benefit them. The market is rarely ever neutral – it is intertwined with power relations.

    (Some of these arguments borrowed from a critical thread in response to an article on the Conversation)

    Flux and Transformation

    February 18, 2018

    This is a comment inspired by a video whose URL is at the end of the post, about interconnectivity, and how the human body replaces itself, by absorption and excretion.

    There are a lot of processes which demonstrate interconnectivity, however, far more importantly this argument really demonstrates the possible basis of reality is flux, change and transformation.

    This is difficult to get, because the whole trend of western metaphysics is towards the idea that reality is eternal and unchanging, whether this is expressed in notions of the unchanging God, or the unchanging archetypes, or the unchanging nature of elementary particles such as atoms. All of these ideas can support interconnectivity, but it is the interconnectivity between things which do not change – at best it is about ‘flow’ of unchanging things.

    This view of reality as fixed, seems to lead towards pathological behaviour, as action becomes setting up the perfect structures, the perfect reality and clinging to it. Spirituality is about clutching to peace, or growing in a particular way. Psychology can insist that we should always be happy or self-actualising or something. Politics is about holding to the structures you have pronounced to be the best – at the moment our politics seems devoted to maintaining the power of established corporations and their plutocracy rather than the survival, or gentle transformation, of the world they depend upon.

    However, if reality is flux and transformation, then everything changes all the time. Furthermore, given complex systems theory, it seems that everything changes unpredictably in specific; we might be able to predict trends, but we cannot predict specific results. One of the properties specified by what we call ‘reflexivity’ is that if people think they understand the ‘systems’ they are in, then their behaviour changes and the system changes the way it works. This change may not be for the better.

    In his book known as ‘metaphysics’, Aristotle points out that Plato accepted the world is flux, but insisted that real reality is fixed, because otherwise it is impossible to speak truth. If everything is constantly changing then you cannot say anything true about them, as they will have changed. Aristotle seems correct in his interpretation of Plato to me, and this is a classic example of a philosopher encountering an uncomfortable position (ie everything is flux) and deciding that because it is uncomfortable it is untrue.

    There are other ways around this problem. Firstly it may not be possible to speak absolute truth, but that does not mean we cannot speak and think as accurately as we can (and that means accepting flux, misunderstanding and degrees of uncertainty). We can also speak in terms of flux, talking say of ‘patterns’ rather than structures, and temporary stasis rather than permanent equilibrium, we can give up expectations that we should know how things will turn out, and be prepared to learn from events as they happen. At the moment, if our actions produce bad results we are prone to deny this, and apply our actions more stringently and rigorously.

    To reiterate, we are caught in and part of a series of largely unpredictable fluxations. However, if we think that things should be eternal and unchanging, or we think that good things should be unchanging, we attempt to imprison that flux. This generally adds to suffering and increases apparent destruction and disorder. A current example, is the refusal to deal with climate change, and the tendency in Australian and US politics of trying to accelerate and maintain fossil fuels, old styles of concrete, environmental clearing and de-naturing. This is an attempt to cling onto an old order which nowadays produces destruction, and will produce more and more suffering the longer it is clung to.

    These points should be obvious to Jungians, as expectation of flux comes out of alchemy, and alchemy is the art and science of transformation. It tells us that the world is constantly transmuting, and that transmutation processes can look messy and chaotic, and that attempts to avoid the realisations of painful stages can be disastrous. It also provides symbolic guides for working with events rather than against events, or providing direction without compulsion. As such alchemy is still the radical way, and difficult for us to really approach, but it may be necessary.

    Origins of Capitalism?

    February 7, 2018

    Capitalism is a mode of power (primarily economic), based on appropriation of people’s goods and labour, and the distribution of wealth.

    There are a number of forms of what is called capitalism. In my lifetime, where I live, we have had socialist-capitalism and we now have neoliberal capitalism, with more or less complete domination by the corporate sector. Scandinavian capitalism differs from French capitalism, differs from Anglo-capitalism and so on.

    Capitalism is not trade. Trade exists in all societies, including ones that most people would not call capitalist. (China is weird, if people want to praise it they point out it is now capitalist, and if they want to condemn it they point out it is now communist. In either case there is trade.)

    The origins of any of these forms of capitalism depend upon a heap of contingent factors, particularly including politics, and clearly cannot be summarized in a readable post – so this is only a summary for Anglo-capitalism.

    Historically, one argument is that this capitalism grew out of the inequalities, violence and wealth accumulations of feudalism. It was boosted in the UK by dispossession of people from their land, which provided a class dependent on wage labor for survival, and who could be hired and dismissed with little cost or sense of social obligation. Wealth accumulation was also boosted by the slave plantations in the Americas, which pretty obviously depended on dispossession and non consensual labour. It was also boosted by private citizens engaging in piracy on the Spanish treasure ships on behalf of the crown. The British Tudor (and later) Monarchy promoted non-aristocratic citizens to positions of power and wealth, which weakened the aristocracy. This movement was accompanied by the rise of a powerful mercantile class, and between them they began to change the form of British politics and economic structures into one far less dependent upon royal patronage or the ties of feudal obligation.

    Then the development of the steam engine, together with an abundance of coal, plus further political action and repression, allowed the relatively secure work and trade of crafts people to be destroyed, so more people became dependent upon capitalist industrialists for survival and more profit was channeled towards those who owned and controlled the technologies of production. The search for markets and resources to support this production led to Empires, as for example when the East India company took over India and destroyed local crafts and to help with their exports of cheap machine made materials (made with Indian cotton). There is a little dispute, but basically the now-standard argument is that the company and its accompanying British Rule completely destroyed the Indian non-capitalist economy and was largely responsible for the mass poverty and inequality that the 20th Century Indian State has had to deal with.

    Capitalism has also taken advantage of fossilised energy. It is the development of energy, from slavery, wage labour to coal that produced whatever abundance was shared by the more fortunate members of capitalist society. The steam engine depended upon coal, but around about the start of the 20th Century, oil and petroleum upped the portability and effectiveness of energy once again and with it the apparent abundance. However, this abundance depends on power relations and law which allows pollution and poisoning costs to be ignored by the producer, or diffused onto those of ‘lesser importance’. It is always the way that the poor have pollution poured on top of them. This could be realistically known as ‘trickle down economics’. The current problem for capitalism is that the pollution it, and its variants, are engendering is likely to destroy the ecological systems it has depended upon but has refused to acknowledge. Today we see that battle being conducted in the form of a struggle over climate change and appropriate action.

    While the economy is not natural, but political and embedded in power relations, it does need to be acknowledged that conquest and appropriation, in itself, does not lead to capitalism. The way plunder was organized in the Spanish Empire, for example, seems to have destroyed their economy. It was not invested in manufactures and trade – the ‘bloated’ aristocracy won out over the mercantile class and the peasants.

    Everywhere that capitalism has gone, it has tried to destroy non-capitalist economies, through dispossession of property, the imposition of wage or indentured labour, and taxes which required people to pay cash which they had to earn through wage labour. There are endless colonial and business reports complaining about the laziness and irrationality of ‘natives’, who had better things to do with their lives than hold down jobs, and who did not need jobs to survive(until that independence was destroyed).

    Capitalists always argue that capitalists are wealth creators and deserve special privilege and powers. Because large capitalists end up owning most of that wealth they are usually able to buy politicians and propaganda, and control society to act to give them those special privileges and powers. Hence capitalist power tends to reinforce itself, and make all life even more dependent on capitalist action, and capitalism seems like “common sense”.

    We had a relatively generally prosperous period when capitalists feared revolution, but since that period has passed, wealth and power now accumulate primarily at the high ends.

    Stages of social collapse….

    February 2, 2018

    Slightly Edited from “How societies collapse” by Umair Haque

    Step one. The economy stagnates, [and social mobility declines. Largely because the elites, (religious, military, or mercantile) monopolise property, markets, and information, and control the government to protect themselves. They keep up, or increase, patterns of behavior that destroy the ecology they depend upon]. Life becomes harder and meaner for most people. The elites will deny the stagnation and destruction because, otherwise, they have admitted that they have failed, or are making things worse: in this way, a social contract and any sense of mutual obligation is broken and never gets repaired. [Note after and during the Great Depression and post WWII, there was an attempt to fix things up, because it seemed obvious that the ruling elites faced revolution if they did not.]

    Step two. Ordinary people end up competing more and more viciously to maintain their living standards [as there is no means of co-operation which is allowed. Unions and other cooperative activities are broken or declared to be evil, as they could form challenges to the elites. Competition between each other and loyalty to the elite is lauded as prime virtues.]. Social bonds break and social norms begin to disintegrate.

    Step three. People turn to supposed strongmen in the hope of gaining the safety democracy has failed to give them. This is the moment when decline implodes into true collapse. [Most of these ‘strongmen’ will defend the ruling elites while pretending to defend the people or the nation. People can regain valued cooperation by supporting the visible elite through patriotism, nationalism, party loyalty or religious fundamentalism. Things can feel better for some. There is hope.]

    Step four. The strongest groups begin to exterminate the weaker perfectly legally. The insiders’ economic portions are kept stable by excluding, or eliminating, whole social groups altogether. [Or the dominant groups intensify application of the techniques which have given them wealth and which destroy life] This fact is kept from the people, officially — but who cannot be aware at some level?

    Step five. Because the problem of stagnation is rarely solved by exterminating the weak [or destroying the ecology], the society has doomed itself to forever attempting to take its neighbouring societies harvests’ or falling apart. [In so doing, it generates enemies which can boost internal loyalty, and keep the system going until total collapse.] This is how fascism leads to atrocity, war, and mass murder.


    Bitcoin and others

    February 2, 2018

    The value of any currency (and that includes gold) depends on magic.

  • 1) Whether there is faith in the currency.
  • 2) Whether there is faith in the people who issue the currency and their ability to enforce value (through violence or expectation of violence). The value of currency is tied up with perceptions of power. If an issuer cannot generate the perception of power in others, then their currency will become worthless.
  • 3) Whether there is faith that other people value the currency.
  • 4) Whether there is demand for the currency – ie other people will accept it or exchange it for other currencies.
  • 5) How plentiful the currency is perceived to be.
  • All currency is subject to bubbles and over enthusiasms. However the more stable the issuer, the more it is likely to be valued.

    Currency is about politics, and politics is about persuasion and power, that is ritual and magic (and usually a bit of human sacrifice, because nothing shows power better than this).

    Some Comments on The State of the Union

    February 1, 2018

    Some comments on parts of Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, from his point of view…..

    “All Americans deserve accountability and respect — and that is what we are giving them. So tonight, I call on the Congress to empower every Cabinet Secretary with the authority to reward good workers — and to remove Federal employees who undermine the public trust or fail the American people.”

    I want to get rid of public servants that are not convinced that I, Donald Trump, am god, and replace them with loyal sycophants – because people who agree with me know a super genius when they meet one.

    “In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.”

    I am making Washington accountable, by removing its ability to prevent corporations from poisoning the environment or you. That’s what makes America Great!

    “We have ended the war on American Energy — and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world”

    We can now cheer loudly as we destroy the world for profit. I’m going to make a real killing here.

    “To speed access to breakthrough cures and affordable generic drugs, last year the FDA approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in our history.”

    Pharmaceutical corporation profit is much more important than your health. America runs on profit not people.

    “People who are terminally ill should not have to go from country to country to seek a cure — I want to give them a chance right here at home. It is time for the Congress to give these wonderful Americans the “right to try.””

    That is they have the “right to try” prayer, because it is all they can afford. And American religion is the best.

    “Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.”

    Because every loyal American wants a motorway going through their backyard, and should have no right to protest, because protestors are all Anti-fa scum.

    “For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.”

    I keep telling you, immigrants are gang members and should be shot on sight. Get with it!

    “Around the world, we face rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and rivals like China and Russia that challenge our interests, our economy, and our values. In confronting these dangers, we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means of our defense.”

    Another arms race is a really productive way of getting taxpayer dollars into the pockets of hard working arms manufacturers. And, because we will let them sell their stuff everywhere, we need to pour even more taxpayer money into arms to keep ahead. The NRA will love it!

    “We must modernize and rebuild our nuclear arsenal”

    Because I like threatening people with nuclear war, and its ok because I’m not Hillary.

    And don’t forget I’m all about unifying America. Unity means praising me. That’s how you tell we are unified. We need to get rid of negative people now….

    Some remarks on Geo-Engineering

    January 22, 2018

    Geoengineering (GE) involves the attempt to solve the problems of climate change by altering the Earth’s ecology.

    It comes in two forms:
    Solar Radiation Management (SRM) in which you try and lower the amount of the Sun’s energy/heat reaching the earth’s surface. This can involve: mirrors in space, reflective gasses in the upper atmosphere, or painting mountains white.

    Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) in which you try and suck CO2 from power stations or from the atmosphere. One problem with this technique is the question of what you do with the CO2 once it is extracted.

    The idea of GE is that we can continue on with polluting, and try and lower the effects of that pollution. A common argument is that there is no evidence we can halt CO2 production and climate change, at this moment, so GE may give us a longer period in which we can change, or transition to a new set of energy generators.

    The primary question for both SRM and CDR is a simple one. GE, like everything else that depends on humans, is unlikely to be immune to its social bases. If the dynamics of contemporary societies are inherently destructive of ecologies, then GE is unlikely to prevent that destruction, nor to give a breathing space for new developments. It is likely to help make things worse, or continue the destructive dynamics of that system.

    Clearly if we use SRM, the system has to be continually maintained, and that will cost billions. There will be ongoing arguments over who should pay, and how much they should pay. If there is a financial collapse or large scale war, then that maintenance is unlikely to be without problems. In which case climate change would have the brakes taken off, and would accelerate rapidly, causing even worse climate turmoil.

    The governing idea of SRM seems that it is easier to change the whole ecological system than to change a political arrangement of economic power and profit. This I’m not sure about. The risk of unintended consequences when fiddling with a system as complex as that of climate is very high. We may already be living in a complex maladaptive system, which is bent on its own destruction and SRM simply magnifies this.

    GE could be the equivalent of encouraging smoking to preserve corporate profits, while trying to do research in the hope of some day being able to postpone the inevitable and increasing cancer toll. It might be simpler to discourage people from smoking and to make cigarettes less profitable.

    Basically, it can be suggested that if GE becomes the main way of dealing with problems of Climate change, then we live in a society in which ‘instrumental reason’ does not function very well as there are cheaper and possibly better options available, but those options require us to challenge established corporate power, and we are unlikely to do that successfully. I think the last 20 to 30 years of politics in the English Speaking world demonstrates that this failure is very likely to be the case.

    Amazingly it is true that among people who both support corporate dominance and deny climate change, GE is quite popular. At the moment I can hypothesise this is precisely because GE does not challenge corporate power, and provides an opportunity for leeching money away from the taxpayers, but I don’t know. It certainly strikes me that if you really wanted less State intervention in life, then you would not want geoengineering.

    I have not seen any viable self-supporting GE proposals. Nearly all of them require massive tax-payer subsidies, and some require appear to need massive cross-national governance and regulation. Of course we could give the massive subsidies to private enterprise and hope they do they job without any oversight, but I doubt that will appeal even to the pro-corporate power lobby. With CDR when that involves storage of CO2 underground, we know that ultimate and infinite responsibility of checking for leaks and collapse of storage, will reside with governments and taxpayers, as corporations do not last that long and will not take on those responsibilities. At the least, it seems probable that people will be concerned about other countries freeloading on their efforts, and there will be massive governmental jaunts to try and sort this out. The likelihood of small government and GE seems miniscule.