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A Pox On All Their Houses

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

There is no such thing as "collateral damage", only murder.

"It is not simply that our national discourse rests on a foundation of evasions, complicated by equivocations, twisted by avoidance, and rendered into meaningless insignificance by an uncountable series of lies. All of that is true, but it fails to capture the quality that is most striking to the perceptive observer. That quality is one of overwhelming, oppressive and suffocating unreality. It is as if everyone knows, but will never acknowledge, that we may speak only in code, and that we may only utilize the safe, empty phrases that we have agreed are "acceptable" -- phrases and language that are safe precisely because they have been drained of all correspondence to facts."
- Arthur Silber

This is, exactly, the point.
R.D. Laing put it very concisely in Knots:
They are playing a game
They are playing at not playing a game

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Nothing Comes Easy

The conditions a person lives in are a function of the prices they have been willing to pay. You like hello kitty, so you forgo that expensive meal to get the hello kitty pillow, etc. A rather venal perhaps, but concrete example. Everything has a price, because everything has a cost.
(the statement "there's no such thing as a free lunch" is a snappy, but slightly under-nuanced version of this idea)
Where people seem to go wrong and create political cleavages seems to be on their understanding of "payment".
A very wise friend of mine said something last night that I liked very much:
"Are you a giver or a taker? I'm a trader."
In any exchange between two people, the total wealth of the people increases. To take a very counter-intuitive example, to make my point, imagine a bread line in the USSR. The people waiting on line to get bread have gained, because they will eat tonight. But so too has the CPUSSR. Clearly, because if it wasn't benefiting them in some way, they wouldn't offer the bread. What they gain is a situation where there is not mass starvation.
When I give my homeless crackhead friend a couple of dollars, I am gaining something from it too. (but in these two examples, we begin to see a complexity appear in the situation, don't we?)
The one major exception to this pattern seems to be what I call "real crime"; that is to say when violence and deception are applied.
In these cases, total wealth is not increased, even though one of the parties may have gained vastly, they were trading against an ultimate value... either someone's physical integrity or their mental integrity.
In the case of the USSR, for instance, what they have taken from the people by violence, far outweighs what they give them in bread. In order to keep holding on to their position, giving away some bread is a cheap deal.
And so, maybe we can see why oligopolies are harmful, and why central banking has demolished the economy despite "growing" it.
Because what has been lost is far greater than what has been gained, but what is lost cannot be measured precisely.
In the case of banking, they pump money into the economy, claiming to be growing it, but what are they growing?
As we've seen before, much of "wealth" is subjective and immeasurable. The old situation where one bought food from a person who had agency and could decide for themselves whether to give Old Lady Cranston a discount on her sack of flour has been replaced by one where we are, with ever growing frequency, human machines, interacting with other human machines. Our sense of agency only comes through consumption, and even then we are arrayed with a pushbutton world where actual pondering and consideration of choice becomes flipping channels of very similar inanity. This sense of alienation has been observed over and over again, but it's not necessarily a function of trade, or even the separation of capital and labor, although that gets closer to the issue. People would (and do) pay a price to gain their agency back, if they are able to.

Bankers give money on the basis of money. The other forms of payment become attenuated, in fact almost impossible. The clerk at the supermarket is a n-th order agent of someone who is merely a manager for dispersed owners who have no idea what is going on except the price of their stock.
And our other social institutions have been forced, by violence masked by deception, to fit this system instead of being allowed to naturally undermine it, as they must if they were spontaneously generated, rather than engineered for an ulterior purpose. Mostly in the name of a fraudulent "growth". Real economic growth comes from transformation of a less desirable pattern to a more desirable one. Trade and production are variations of the same thing.
In our abstracted, dimensionally restricted system, what is gained in measurable cash balances and numbers of units moved is more than lost in other forms of payment.
But this all points at the larger pattern of real crime. Capital tends naturally to accumulate sporadically, by a law of diminishing returns... after that millionth or so apple sold, apples become pretty cheap. And what people desire most, what will turn a profit, is always shifting, markets are (somewhat) efficient. Without any interference, anything that turns a profit today, becomes glutted tomorrow, and the profits go down to the average return on time. And then keep in mind, that wealth is not only the seen, the measurable, but the unseen... clean water, trees, healthy living conditions, nice neighbors are all things people would pay a price for, if they could. (and do, when they can)
What is mostly going on in this pattern of alienation and impoverishment is destruction of capital for the sake of those who already own capital, to make it more scarce, not more abundant. When Keynes decried the shelves full of goods unsold, he was crying out for your impoverishment for the sake of the existing owners of capital. (the bank pumping and relief programs are a way to "patch" that capital destruction so as to prevent mass starvation, it is our equivalent of the USSR's bread lines... it is the price paid for the reproduction of labor)
This is the real reason for War, Regulation, Central Banking, all of it. Even land conservation and real-estate laws. It is to restrict the free movement of capital or to destroy it outright. On the other side, labor is encouraged to reproduce endlessly through various religions and other ideological cousins. And through inflation, taxes and various "protective" regulations, they are inhibited in the accumulation of their own capital.

It is not trade or capital accumulation which has created poverty in the midst of wealth, and environmental destruction, but very well disguised destruction of certain forms of trade or capital accumulation, through means of violence and deception. Take away that violence and deception, and in time, things would right themselves. How do we do that? Well, that's a good question. :) It's worth pondering.