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Worth reading

Posted by Thomas Nephew on May 25th, 2008

  • A stalled U.S. peace movement? Antiwar activity since 2001 (janinsanfran, “Happening Here”) — This is the fifth and last post of a series Jan wrote to gather her thoughts for a history workshop, and the whole series is worth your while. Jan concludes:

    A more effective peace movement needs to be offering a vision of a plausible, sustainable global community that doesn’t hinge on U.S. use of force to maintain empire. Elements of that vision clearly need to include challenges related to technology, climate change, and how to rein in cancerous capitalism. We really haven’t known how to put out such a vision yet.

    That’s not surprising — it is hard and perhaps, also, the struggle against empire may not have changed us enough so that we could see it. But the group(s) that find elements of that vision will discover that millions are already with them, looking for something similar, ready to elaborate something as yet unknown. They just don’t currently identify with the peace movement.

  • The Cynic and Senator Obama (Charles Pierce, Esquire) — This is one of the best political essays I’ve read in a long time. Self-described cynic Pierce considers Obama’s oratory and politics, and finds them serviceable but not entirely satisfying:

    There is one point in the stump speech, however, that catches the cynic up short every time. It comes near to the end, when Obama talks about cynics. Obama says that cynics believe they are smarter than everyone else. The cynic thinks he’s wrong. The cynic doesn’t think he’s wiser or more clever or more politically attuned than anyone else. It’s just that he fears that, every morning, he’ll discover that his country has done something to deface itself further, that something else he thought solid will tremble and quake and fall to ruin, that his fellow citizens will sell more of their birthright for some silver that they can forge into shackles. He has come to believe that the worst thing a citizen of the United States of America can believe is that his country will not do something simply because it’s wrong. It would be a mistake for anyone — but especially for a presidential candidate — to believe that the cynic thinks himself wise or safe or liberated. In 2008, the cynic is more modest. He considers himself merely adequate to the times.

    I could go on quoting this piece at length, but I’ll make do with two quotes — one that made me nod my head as the main thing I hold against Obama (link added):

    In 2007, when asked about the possibility — just the possibility — of impeaching George W. Bush and/or Dick Cheney, Obama scoffed at the idea, not entirely because it was constitutionally unsound but also because it was impolite and a nuisance and might make many people angry at one another, and he was, after all, running to help save us from ourselves.“We would, once again, rather than attending to the people’s business, be engaged in a tit-for-tat, back-and-forth, nonstop circus.”

    He was offering a guilty country a nolo plea. Himself. Absolution without confession.

    The cynic declined the deal. There were not enough people in handcuffs yet.

    And one that made me laugh:

    “I look forward as president to going before the world community and saying, ‘America is back. We’re ready to lead,’ “ Obama says on the radio, the static crackling and popping and the transmission fading, and it takes a moment for the cynic to wonder whether or not the world wants America to lead. Maybe the world wants America to sit down and shut up for a while.

  • Race to the Bottom, (Betsy Reed, “The Nation”) — Reed stipulates that misogynistic attacks on Hillary Clinton have happened and are deplorable, but thinks declaring “sexism the greater scourge” than racism is not helpful. She continues:

    Yet what is most troubling–and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement–is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival’s race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior “electability,” she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right–in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country–seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security.

  • Women and the Invisible Fist (Charles Johnson, Rad Geek People’s Daily) — Libertarians (and others) grant and even assume the possibility of spontaneous order; but if so, must they not also grant the possibility of spontaneous repression? An interesting essay by libertarian Charles Johnson argues yes, with a close examination of writings by feminist theorist Susan Brownmiller. The latter coined the ugly but compelling “Myrmidon theory” of rape — that men as a class or gender benefit from the transgressions of rapists.* Roughly speaking, the thinking is that the “good” men often identify themselves as protectors, women often agree, and society as a whole shapes itself around the ever-present threat. Johnson:

    But if widely distributed forms of intelligence, knowledge, virtue, or prudence can add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an benign undesigned order, then there’s no reason why widely distributed forms of stupidity, ignorance, prejudice, vice, or folly might not add up, through many individual self-interested actions, into an unintended but malign undesigned order. Moreover, if you consider that spontaneous orders can emerge as unintended consequences of certain widespread forms of violence, then it ought to be especially clear that not all undesigned orders can be considered benign from a libertarian point of view.

    Via Jim Henley, who seems lately to be about metamorphosing your father’s (and/or mother’s) libertarianism into something more honest, multifaceted, and interesting. See also in this respect Henley’s Art of the Possible post, and the site as a whole: “Liberals and libertarians on common ground… and otherwise.” Henley says that the challenge is to “correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence.” I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement. But I’m interested that libertarians are thinking about the challenge.

  • “Secret Law and the Threat to Democratic and Accountable Government,” Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Property Rights, April 30, 2008 — From Senator Russ Feingold’s opening statement:

    “More than any other Administration in recent history, this Administration has a penchant for secrecy. To an unprecedented degree, it has invoked executive privilege to thwart congressional oversight and the state secrets privilege to shut down lawsuits. It has relied increasingly on secret evidence and closed tribunals, not only in Guantanamo but here in the United States. And it has initiated secret programs involving surveillance, detention, and interrogation, some of the details of which remain unavailable today, even to Congress.

    “These examples are the topic of much discussion and concern, and appropriately so. But there is a particularly sinister trend that has gone relatively unnoticed – the increasing prevalence in our country of secret law.

    Feingold went on to list examples like the secret Yoo memoranda on torture and (as we now know) on warrantless surveillance. Testimony by Federation of American Scientists secrecy expert Steven Aftergood, former Clinton OLC lawyer Dawn Johnsen, and University of Minnesota law professor Heidi Kitrosser, among others, delineate the problem and suggest some legislative solutions, or at least balances. Kitrosser:

    …as the experience with the surveillance and torture programs demonstrate, the oversight system too often cracks under the weight of executive branch disregard and legislative acquiescence in the same. Such disregard and acquiescence is facilitated in part by the same arguments used to justify the circumvention of substantive statutory directives. That is, the executive branch often simply asserts that statutorily required disclosures or requested disclosures would prove too dangerous, and these assertions too often are met with acquiescence.

    Johnsen:

    Given the Bush Administration’s propensity to claim that it is simply engaging in statutory interpretation when it in effect is claiming the authority to disregard a statute, Congress should amend the current notification requirement to extend beyond cases in which the executive branch acknowledges iti is refusing to comply with a statute. Presidents should explain publicly not only when they determine a statute is unconstitutional and need not be enforced, but also whenever they purport to rely upon the constitutional avoidance canon to interpret a statute.

    (“Constitutional avoidance” is when a statute admitting of an unconstitutional interpretation is instead is interpreted in such a way that the result is constitutional.) Administration spokesbot Bradford Berenson had his say as well; find it yourself. Via Marty Lederman (“Balkinization”).

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* The term “Myrmidon” is from the Iliad, where Myrmidons were Achilles’ henchmen soldiers, who did his bidding: “Loyal and unquestioning, the Myrmidons served their master well, functioning in anonymity as effective agents of terror.”

UPDATE, 6/2: “Rad Geek” elaborates on his points in a lengthy and worthwhile comment here. Also, reading between the lines of Henley’s link to this post, I wonder if I gave offense; that was not my intent. Maybe what’s metamorphosing are my own views, not libertarian thinking. I meant that I see Henley as having his own considerable impact on reshaping libertarian thinking (and/or promoting understanding of it) for the better. Glenn Greenwald is another example. Thanks also to Avedon Carol for her nice link to this post.
UPDATE, 6/10: “Rad Geek” comments on our discussion here at his own blog: “10,000 ways to lose your freedom.”

11 Responses to “Worth reading”

  1. Rad Geek Says:

    Thomas,
    Thank you for the kind mention, and for the thoughtful comments.
    You write: “Henley says that the challenge is to ‘correct spontaneous malign orders without the tool of state violence.’ I’m not sure that circle can be squared — some countervailing force is needed against spontaneous malign orders, and that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement”
    There are a couple of different kinds of malign spontaneous orders that need to be differentiated here.
    The first are malign undesigned orders that emerge, in part, from diffuse forms of violence — what I called “invisible fist” processes, as with the socio-cultural ripple effects of stranger-rape and other prevalent forms of violence against women.
    The second are malign orders that don’t emerge from diffuse forms of violence, but rather from voluntary interactions. Unlike some libertarians, I believe that there are plenty of examples of these, too (for example, certain kinds of widespread credentialism and elitism that have emerged over the past century, and which have a big effect on education and on the workplace). These malign undesigned orders are often intimately connected with social orders that have coercive elements (for example, I’d say that certain pernicious forms of credentialism and managerialism, which contribute to classism and to the exploitation of working folks, have an awful lot to do with consistent government intervention on behalf of the managerial class and against the deskilled proletariat over the past century — cf. for examples my essay “Scratching By” at http://www.fee.org/publications/the-freeman/article.asp?aid=8204 or Kevin Carson’s Mutualist Blog at http://mutualist.blogspot.com/) — but, while intimately connected, are not identical with them (it’s likely that even without that government intervention they might live on through institutionalized cultural prejudices, unless deliberately confronted and undermined).
    Libertarians and anarchists can consistently endorse the use of physical force as part of the response to the former (violent) sort of undesigned order; they can’t consistently endorse the use of physical force as part of the response to the latter (non-violent, but still ugly) sort of undesigned order.
    In the second case, though, I ought to stress that not abandoning the use of force doesn’t mean abandoning the use of confrontation or hardball tactics–they just have to be carried out through tactics and institutions outside the political arena, the legal arena, or the regulatory bureaucracy. (On what should be done instead, I’m really an old Leftist at heart: I think people should form fighting unions and community organizations, build counter-institutions and mutual aid societies, use targeted and general strikes, boycotts, work-to-rule, hardball forms of social ostracism, stage sit-ins, etc. etc. etc. Forget about the government; we can do this ourselves.)
    In the first case, the use of countervailing physical force in defense of self or others is defense, not aggression, so it need not offend any libertarian or anarchist sensibilities (unless one is a principled pacifist–which I’m not, and which most libertarians and anarchists aren’t either). You worry that “that force will need some agreed on norms of justice and enforcement.” I’m inclined to agree with that (although we might disagree on what the importance of “agreement” is here). But supposing that we do agree, I don’t think it tells against Jim’s point. Agreed-upon norms of justice and enforcement aren’t in and of themselves a problem for anarchism or libertarianism. The question is how the agreement on those norms is brought about: whether the agreement comes about by general acquiescence to privileged demands, or whether it comes about by means of a broad consensus among equals.
    Government ensures “agreement” upon these norms by erecting privileged institutions which are legally empowered to force everyone else to acquiesce to the norms they propound and act on.
    Anarchy, on the other hand, doesn’t mean chaos or the break-up of any agreed-upon norms of justice or enforcement. (At least, that’s not what “anarchy” means in the mouths of anarchists who use the term.) What it does mean is that any agreement upon those norms should be brought about through the free interactions among equals and by the emergence of a broad social consensus.
    Further, anarchists generally believe that that kind of consensus can rightfully be acted on by any free association that puts reasonable norms for justice and enforcement into practice — rather than being limited to a privileged class of government-approved cops, judges, etc. The idea here being that the justice of judgments and the righteousness of enforcement are things that ought to be assessed on the merits of the conduct itself, not according to the identity or the political status of the judge or the enforcer. That is to say, that it should be considered as a matter to be resolved by appeals to the content of the norms, rather than to the political status and prerogatives of the body propounding them.
    So the ideal here is not to abolish any general norms of justice or enforcement, but rather to keep the ideal of consensus on norms while detaching the crafting of the consensus from the imposition of exclusive government-granted prerogatives.
    Does that help clarify, or does it muddify?

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thank you very much for your comment — it’s really an excellent post in its own right. I think I understand what you’re driving at; I’m trying to decide what I think about it, and that takes me longer than maybe it should. My thoughts so far:
    1) I suppose I have a sneaking agreement that there’s too much that’s privileged and mysterious about judges, lawyers, and law enforcement. But I also think there’s specialization and craft in these pursuits, just as there is in, say, cabinetmaking or watchmaking. Those are pursuits I leave to others; maybe so is law enforcement or judging. Even “just” a policeman has to master tons of information and training — knowing the law, when to wait, when to intervene, how to gather evidence, how to avoid violating rights while pushing back against “spontaneous malign orders.”
    2) But I also see the difficulty with that analogy: unlike with the cabinet or watchmaking trades, I recognize I have a citizen’s responsibility in understanding my political system and helping point it in the right direction, to the best of my puny abilities.

  3. Rad Geek Says:

    Thomas,
    Thank you for your kind words.
    You write: “But I also think there’s specialization and craft in these pursuits, just as there is in, say, cabinetmaking or watchmaking.”
    Probably so, although I’m inclined to think that there is, or ought to be, much LESS specialization and craft than the professionalized government enforcers and judges would have you believe. To be sure, the government laws that are on the books today are tremendously complicated and require years of specialized training and practice to even begin to get a good grip on a relatively small specialty. But I think that that’s precisely because the people who make and use the laws have a political and a professional interest in making those laws extremely complicated, and in having them cover an extremely wide and not very well defined scope of human affairs. Libertarians and anarchists believe that regularized enforcement should cover a much more precisely delimited and a much, much smaller field than it currently does, so to some extent the problem vanishes along with the laws that libertarians and anarchists believe ought to be abolished.
    For example, labor relations law as it presently exists is extremely complicated — it requires making a lot of very fine distinctions, balancing many different prerogatives granted to and regulatory limitations imposed upon unions, individual employees, and employers, etc. etc. etc. It takes a lot to even understand the basics of the situation, and the tricky details of a concrete case often can’t even be resolved without hashing out the issues in bureaucratic negotiations through the NLRB or in federal court. But the complexity of the legal situation is clearly a function of its being channeled through the federal regulatory bureaucracy. That situation clearly benefits NLRB bureaucrats and professional labor lawyers; it’s much less clear that it benefits the rank-and-file workers for whose benefit this sort of thing was supposedly constructed, but who are substantially deprived of any real control over the process by putting so much of it into the hands of professional legal experts. If agreed-upon norms of justice and enforcement were (as anarchists believe that they should be) limited only to the issue of protecting innocent people from being attacked by physical force, or vindicating their rights after the fact if they should be attacked — with all the rest to be handled by free contracts between the individual parties, unregimented by a government bureaucracy, and by whatever forms of nonviolent leverage and activism that the creativity of organized workers and a fighting union might devise — then it’s much less clear what need for specialization or professionalization there would be. (There might still be a lot of need for impartial arbitrators; but impartiality is distinct from technical expertise, and is something you can get by finding any third party of good will and good sense for the duration of the arbitration; it doesn’t require a distinct class of professional arbitrators.)
    Generalizing from that case, I agree with Lysander Spooner that if the realm of enforcement were strictly limited to questions of interpersonal justice, then, quote:
    “No objection can be made to these voluntary associations upon the ground that they would lack that knowledge of justice, as a science, which would be necessary to enable them to maintain justice, and themselves avoid doing injustice. Honesty, justice, natural law, is usually a very plain and simple matter, easily understood by common minds. Those who desire to know what it is, in any particular case, seldom have to go far to find it. It is true, it must be learned, like any other science. But it is also true that it is very easily learned. Although as illimitable in its applications as the infinite relations and dealings of men with each other, it is, nevertheless, made up of a few simple elementary principles, of the truth and justice of which every ordinary mind has an almost intuitive perception. And almost all men have the same perceptions of what constitutes justice, or of what justice requires, when they understand alike the facts from which their inferences are to be drawn.
    “Men living in contact with each other, and having intercourse together, CANNOT AVOID learning natural law to a very great extent, even if they would. The dealing of men with men, their separate possessions and their individual wants, and the disposition of every man to demand, and insist upon, whatever he believes to be his due, and to resent and resist all invasions of what he believes to be his rights, are continually forcing upon their minds the questions, Is this act just? or is it unjust? Is this thing mine? or is it his? And these are questions of natural law; questions which, in regard to the great mass of cases, are answered alike by the human mind everywhere.”
    –Lysander Spooner (1882), Natural Law, or the Science of Justice, section 4. http://www.panarchy.org/spooner/law.1882.html
    And I would follow up your second point by urging that it is dangerous, and to some degree irresponsible, to adopt large-scale systems of law and practice that practically require ordinary citizens to abandon the questions of political and interpersonal justice to a privileged, insular, and easily corrupted class of specialists.
    But, secondly, I would also argue, further, that even if the requirements of justice ARE complicated enough in some particular case that it requires some specialized training and expertise to sort them out, or where correctly applying and implementing them requires specialized training and expertise in something else (e.g., for enforcers, training and expertise in de-escalating potentially violent situations may be a form of specialization well worth having), that seems to me like an argument for leaving the field open to *many* specialists, who can offer their services to anyone who is interested in retaining them (e.g. many private associations for arbitration and/or defense, which people go to on the basis of choice rather than being forced to go to one in particular on the basis of fixed territorial monopolies). Not so much an argument for limiting the field to a single fixed, institutionalized class of specialists (e.g. a government court or a government police force with rigidly and exclusively defined territorial or topical jurisdictions).
    The first (non-monopolistic) solution really would make the business of law a skilled trade or profession, much like watchmaking or medicine, where people go to acknowledged experts freely, but aren’t forced to choose one particular expert on the basis of political status, and can choose another, on the basis of their own considered judgment and comfort levels, or for that matter can still choose none at all, if they decide to hazard the risks and trouble of doing it for themselves.
    The second, monopolistic solution doesn’t make the business of law so much like skilled trades and professions, but rather like a feudal or command economy, in which people are assigned particular experts and forced to turn matters over to that particular expert rather than another, on the basis of the political status of the experts rather than on the basis of broadly and consensually acknowledged expertise. It’s that which, as an anarchist, I really object to.
    Does that help? What do you think?

  4. Thomas Nephew Says:

    But the complexity of the legal situation is clearly a function of its being channeled through the federal regulatory bureaucracy. That situation clearly benefits NLRB bureaucrats and professional labor lawyers; it’s much less clear that it benefits the rank-and-file workers for whose benefit this sort of thing was supposedly constructed, but who are substantially deprived of any real control over the process by putting so much of it into the hands of professional legal experts.
    This seems like blaming the chickens for the fox’s raid on the chicken coop. At least lately, the situation you refer to clearly benefits management in most NLRB disputes. I’d put down most of what’s wrong with NLRB to its being an easily subverted agency, most of the blame for that to corporations achieving via the back door of a compliant board what they couldn’t via the statutes authorizing the NRLB in the first place … and most of what’s wrong with those statutes to earlier corporate influence in making things like unionization far too difficult in the first place. Rightly administered and empowered, NLRB ought to be a counterweight to moneyed and propertied interests that have no interest in worker’s rights. The fact that it isn’t rightly administered and empowered seems to me a measure of the strength of the forces arrayed against it, not of the weakness of the idea of an NLRB itself.
    The first (non-monopolistic) solution really would make the business of law a skilled trade or profession, much like watchmaking or medicine, where people go to acknowledged experts freely, but aren’t forced to choose one particular expert on the basis of political status, and can choose another, on the basis of their own considered judgment and comfort levels, or for that matter can still choose none at all, if they decide to hazard the risks and trouble of doing it for themselves.
    At least for legal representation, that — in theory — is already the case, isn’t it? The problem is when the innocent can’t afford a Clarence Darrow, a Johnny Cochrane, or an F Lee Bailey to get them off but the guilty can.
    I don’t see how to bid out for police functions, though, without that turning into yet another part of society baldly favoring the rich and privileged over the poor and disenfranchised. While that may be too much the case even with a police force as public monopoly, I think it would surely be worse in a “Deadwood“-type services-to-the-highest-bidder world. But maybe I’m misunderstanding you in how police functions ideally ought to work.

  5. Rad Geek Says:

    Thomas,
    You write: “This seems like blaming the chickens for the fox’s raid on the chicken coop.”
    I’m not sure what you mean. I don’t blame rank-and-file workers for the way the NLRB functions. I blame the politicos, the “Progressive” bosses, and the conservative union bosses who pushed to create the system. (Radical unions, like the I.W.W., rightly opposed the system as an effort to promote conservative unionism and to capture and domesticate unions through a combination of government patronage and government regulation.)
    You write: “Rightly administered and empowered, NLRB ought to be a counterweight to moneyed and propertied interests that have no interest in worker’s rights.”
    Two things.
    First, I have no confidence in anyone’s ability to craft a regulatory agency that successfully resists being substantially captured by the interests that it regulates. I can’t think of any example in the history of American regulatory bodies where this has been pulled off for any length of time, and I don’t think it should be particularly surprising that, since political entities respond to political incentives, they will tend to be administered in a way that systematically benefits the wealthiest and most politically-connected people.
    Second, even if the NLRB were ideally administered, the system is designed from the ground up as a means of constraining union demands and restricting unions to the most conservative and least effectual methods. (Thus, the Taft-Hartley bans on secondary strikes, secondary boycotts, union hiring halls, wildcat strikes, etc. etc. etc.; thus the emphasis on a heavily regulated process of collective bargaining, controlled by very elaborate legal requirements that are often next to impossible for rank-and-file workers to understand, in place of extremely effective and very simple to understand tactics, like work-to-rule and other forms of direct action in the workplace.)
    You write: “At least for legal representation, that — in theory — is already the case, isn’t it?”
    Well, not entirely — you can choose one lawyer rather than another, as long as you can afford their fees, but you can’t choose anyone as your advocate except those who have been officially approved for membership in the government-created and government-regulated lawyer’s guild. But lawyers weren’t the “experts” I was referring to; I was referring to the fact that the government forces people to take legal disputes before specific judges (with jurisdiction fixed by the issue in dispute and by accidents of geography), and excludes other no-less qualified and impartial experts from taking up the dispute simply because the privileged judge has a particular political status and the other would-be arbitrator doesn’t. If we are really talking about a form of specialized expertise here, like that of the watchmaker or of the doctor, then anyone should be able to take the case, not just a judge deemed to have that topic and that location within his bailiwick by the government.
    You write: “I don’t see how to bid out for police functions, though, without that turning into yet another part of society baldly favoring the rich and privileged over the poor and disenfranchised.”
    Well, I don’t know. Isn’t that *already* how government policing works?
    Tax funding doesn’t prevent government cops from treating poor people pretty shitty, or from acting as an instrument of class power. In fact, the fact that poor neighborhoods have no real control over who provides policing in their neighborhoods, and no way of cutting off their portion of the funding for neglectful or abusive police forces, is part and parcel of the problem.
    Anyway, I’m not sure what you mean by “bid out for police functions.” If you mean the government outsourcing policing to private security corporations (Wackenhut, Blackwater, whatever), I’m not for that, and I don’t consider it an example of free market self-defense. I think that all government involvement in policing (whether in-sourced or out-sourced) should be abolished.
    If you mean individual people choosing to cover the costs of policing, and having a choice about who, if anyone, they get police services from, then I don’t think there’s any guarantee that the result will be (even more) plutocratic policing. It’s true that, if all policing were based on free association and not on government monopoly, there might well be some policing that is done by private goon squads for hire, and those might have an incentive to favor the rich over the poor. But (1) again, I’m not convinced that they’d have more of an incentive to do so than government cops already have; and (2) there are lots of other ways of using free association to get self-defense and neighborhood defense done. For example, the Black Panthers and the Young Lords organized historically oppressed people to arm themselves, and to patrol and defend their own neighborhoods (including defending them from the predation of abusive white cops). In any case, where there are many, competing and countervailing associations that serve defensive functions, if one association becomes especially neglectful, or, worse, predatory, against marginalized people, other associations can move in to compete, or new associations can be formed, to check the first. But when policing is monopolized by a single institution, there is no real reason for them to try to please anybody outside of their firmest base of support (in the case of political monopolies, that means the ruling class–as is confirmed by how police departments already operate today). If they don’t please marginalized people, why would they care? They stay paid anyway, and there’s no countervailing force to hold them to account for their abusiveness.
    My own view is that the need for any form of professional policing at all would be dramatically less in a free society than it is in the present day. (For example, in a free society there would be no drug laws, vice laws, or border laws, and thus no narcs, no vice cops, and no La Migra. There would also be much less entrenched urban poverty, because — for reasons I discuss in the Freeman article — ghettoized urban poverty as we know it is largely a function of interlocking government interventions against poor people’s survival strategies and attemtps to flourish through creative hustling; hence much less economically motivated crime, and also much less of certain kinds of antisocial behavior. So, again, this is, to a great extent, a problem that vanishes along with the needless government laws and endless government “wars” on consensual behavior, which I already favor abolishing. But, even if the demand for specialized policing were to remain just as high as it is today, I still think that it is far, far better to have a situation in which people are free to withdraw their support from abusive agencies, and where there are many acknowledged experts to keep each other in check, than a situation in which people are forced to pay for their own abuse, and in which cops are never held to account for wrongdoing by any means other than “handling it internally” and issuing the occasional “Oops, our bad”.

  6. Thomas Nephew Says:

    This has been interesting. I don’t agree with all of what you say, but certainly do agree, for example, that fewer drug and vice laws would make for fewer unnecessary “crimes” to police.
    I have mixed feelings about borders — I think some kind of sovereignty enforcement is needed for a country to stay as it wishes to — yet I don’t approve of beating up on poor people looking for work, or making them an underclass that pulls the rug out from under labor.
    I read the item about “poverty as we know it” with interest. I’d point out that not all urban poverty is as *we* know it, yet it’s there, despite (likely) less pervasive U.S.-style economic regulation/enforcement in places like Mexico City, Lagos, or Calcutta.
    This thread started because of your article on an example of a “malign undesigned order”, and I think that other examples exist: persistent slavery, violent ethnic or religious strife, robber baron capitalism. It may be that often such malign undesigned orders take advantage or hijack government and its monopoly of force. But I think the same forces — e.g., racism, or economies of scale leading to monopoly seeking — would happen regardless, and that’s why I think duly elected representative government has a right and duty to oppose them.

  7. Rad Geek Says:

    Thomas,
    Thank you again for your kind words. I’m glad you’ve found the conversation useful.
    You write: “I have mixed feelings about borders — I think some kind of sovereignty enforcement is needed for a country to stay as it wishes to”
    Well, what do you mean “as it wishes to”?
    If you mean guaranteeing some particular kind of demographic balance in terms of ethnicity, nationality, or language, then certainly not everybody in the country wishes for the particular balance that U.S. immigration laws are trying to strike, or which any other set of possible quota-based border laws would be trying to strike. (I, for one, don’t; I’m more or less completely indifferent to those kind of questions at the level of a national entity that spans an entire continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific. At the more comprehensible level of counties, communities, neighborhoods, if I have a preference, then I’d say I’m personally inclined to prefer living in multilingual cities with populous and distinctive immigrant communities.)
    But if this isn’t a matter of acting according to the unanimous wishes of “the country,” but rather acting according to the wishes of some people in the country and contrary to the wishes of other people in the country, the question becomes why the wishes of one group should take precedence over the wishes of the other group. You could say: “Well, but we can’t put everybody’s wishes into a single immigration policy, so we have to go with [the plurality, the majority, the general consensus of citizens, whatever], in the absence of unanimity. Somebody’s got to lose because on this one everyone can’t win.” But there’s an easy way to resolve conflicts like this without one party having to override the will of the other: by devolving the conflict instead of trying to force a one-size-fits-all resolution. If there’s a conflict between states over the right immigration policy, then let the more immigrant-friendly states have a more inclusive policy and the more immigrant-phobic states have a more inclusive policy. If there’s a conflict between communities in a state, leave the more immigrant-friendly communities to invite people in and the more immigrant-phobic communities to keep people out. If there’s a conflict between individuals in a community, then let the more immigrant-friendly individual people decide who to invite onto their own property, and leave the more immigrant-phobic people free to decide who not to invite onto their own property. At that point the issue becomes clear-cut: it’s a matter of free association and trespassing, no longer a matter of figuring out what a sovereign country “wishes” or thinks about immigration. Conflicts only arise either because the wrong question is being asked (how can we develop a one-size-fits-all immigration policy that respects everybody’s wishes?), or else because even after the issue is devolved, some people (usually nativists, to be quite honest) would want to impose their policies on other people’s property. But in the former case, the right thing to do is to break down the question (by devolving it), and in the latter case, I don’t see how it matters, morally speaking, what some white nativist hundreds or thousands of miles away, over in Orange County or Washington, D.C., or wherever, thinks about who I do or do not invite into my own neighborhood, my own home, or my own workplace in Las Vegas.
    If you mean to refer to something other than ensuring a particular demographic balance in terms of nationality, ethnicity, or language, then what do you mean to refer to?
    You write: “I’d point out that not all urban poverty is as *we* know it, yet it’s there, despite (likely) less pervasive U.S.-style economic regulation/enforcement in places like Mexico City, Lagos, or Calcutta.”
    Obviously, I agree that there is extensive urban poverty in cities like Mexico City, Lagos, Kolkata, etc. The forms of poverty that are prevalent there are similar in some ways to ghettoized poverty in the United States, and different in other ways. (For example, in many cities outside of Europe, the U.S., Canada, and Australia, some of the comments I made on building codes and the destruction of shanty-towns aren’t applicable, because there are extensive shanty-towns in which thousands or millions of people live. In some countries, especially under the administration of populist Leftist governments, people who would otherwise be landless are even able to acquire something in the way of a reliable de facto or de jure property stake in the shanties they build. But that is rarer than it should be, which makes their situation more precarious than it ought to be, since their homes are constantly at the mercy of government cops and government developers.)
    However, I don’t think it’s true that there is less pervasive economic regulation in (to take your examples) Mexico, Nigeria, or India. The government of all of those countries actually have quite extensive regulatory states. Enforcement is often a lot more spotty, capricious, and/or corrupt (depending in part on where you are). And the regulatory regimes have a lot of differences from the U.S. regulatory state — sometimes for the better, and sometimes very much for the worse. But I’d say that many of the basic themes I touched on (the use of state licensure to hinder or stamp out independent businesses and creative hustling; crowding out people-powered mutual aid with a stiflingly bureaucratic government welfare system, and — especially — government privileges to big businesses and political exclusion of poor people from access to available land) are all live and very important issues throughout Latin America, West Africa, and South Asia.
    You write: “This thread started because of your article on an example of a “malign undesigned order”, and I think that other examples exist: persistent slavery, violent ethnic or religious strife, robber baron capitalism.”
    Sure, I’m inclined to agree with all these examples. As you may have noticed, I also use the same “invisible fist” line to describe the forces that produce the material predicament of the urban poor under U.S.-style state capitalism, for example.
    You write: “It may be that often such malign undesigned orders take advantage or hijack government and its monopoly of force. But I think the same forces — e.g., racism, or economies of scale leading to monopoly seeking — would happen regardless”
    Well, a couple things.
    First, while I write a lot about the use of government force, specifically (because people so often give government force a free pass, and so I think that more work needs to be done to delegitimize it), I should say that I think that diffuse, pervasive forms of non-governmental force (such as violence against women, or lynch law in the Jim Crow South) can be just as important to maintaining a malign undesigned order as legally solemnized government force is. So the question isn’t just what would happen in a world where people were free from government, but rather in a world where people were free from all forms of systemic, pervasive violence, whether governmental or freelance.
    Second, I actually agree with you that certain kinds of social prejudice — racism, misogyny, classism, managerialism, homophobia, etc. — could persist in a free society, even without the use of the systemic forms of violence that they have employed or profited from in the past — and that they would tend to sustain some malign orders (both designed and undesigned) as long as they persisted. But “could happen” and “would happen” are two different things, and I think the questions to ask are (1) whether they would be more or less able to sustain themselves, if stripped of recourse to the State or other outlets for force; and (2) whether there are means other than recourse to governments and political elections with which they could be undermined just as well or better.
    For example, I think that the movement against racism has historically been much stronger, and much more dynamic, when it was based around community-based direct action and mass mobilization, in the form of bus boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, street protests, pickets, rent boycotts, cultural and artistic activism, building alternative institutions for self-defense, self-reliance, and mutual aid within minority communities, etc. than when it has been captured and redirected through bureaucratic channels like EEOC arbitration and antidiscrimination lawsuits. Lobbying, delivering political constituencies to politicians, and working within the bureaucratic and legal systems have often proven to be little more than a sinecure for professional activists and the graveyards of once-grassroots, once-revolutionary social change movements.
    Similarly, I think that classism and exploitative labor conditions are actually much more effectively undermined through direct action on the shop floor by worker-led unions (strikes, pickets, work-to-rule, open-mouth sabotage…), fight-to-win tactics like shaming and ostracizing domineering bosses, grassroots mutual aid associations, alternative institutions like workers’ co-ops, and cultural activism — celebrating workers and the culture of labor in songs, films, books, comics, etc. — than it is by fighting uphill to wrest control of the political citadel from the richest and most politically connected people in the country.
    As for the worry about economies of scale and the emergence of cartels or monopolies, I’d argue (with Kevin Carson) that the genuine economies of scale on a free market are actually far less than apologists for state capitalism often claim, because the establishment accounts tend to systematically underestimate the costs of communication, coordination, and principal-agent incentive problems in large organizations. And that the current state of monop

  8. Rad Geek Says:

    Continued from above…
    [...] And that the current state of monopolization, hierarchy, and economic centralization under prevailing forms of corporate capitalism are the direct result (sometimes designed, sometimes undesigned) of artificial State subsidies to centralization, hierarchy, and bureaucracy in production and distribution.

  9. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I think some kind of sovereignty enforcement is needed for a country to stay as it wishes to” — Well, what do you mean “as it wishes to”?
    You’re right, that was a little sloppy. Perhaps “defined as its constitution provides in the manner its constitution provides” is better. The Constitution gives the federal government ultimate authority over immigration, for good reason, in my view. Both here and in my next point, a question for you is whether a federal compact like the Constitution represents a contract, obligation, and statement of purpose that carries significant weight for you, and if so (as I provisionally assume it does), how much.

    let the more immigrant-friendly states have a more inclusive policy and the more immigrant-phobic states have a more inclusive policy.
    I’m not sure immigration is something that is best handled that way. Taking care not to imply that immigrants are a “bad”, there’s still the possibility that one locality’s decision will affect its neighbors willy-nilly in ways they perhaps should not have to accept. I’m reminded — in principle — over the kerfuffle late last year re Ron Paul’s Civil War comments (which I disagreed with). Slavery was another issue best not left to states but to the Union per se. More to my point, the debate about the regional scope of slavery and secession were *contractually* not left to the whimsy (to put it provocatively) of individual States but to the Union per se, under the Constitution. Constitutional remedies (the amendment process) existed, but were not preferred to war. And the war came.
    Call me crazy, but “states rights” and “local polity trumps all” seem to me to often be a smokescreen for “let us mistreat people the way we want to, come hell or high water.” (I’d welcome your comments on my Civil War/Paul/Henley post as well, preferably there, but here is OK, too.) I realize the flip side is that some localities or States can therefore be *more* generous/forward-looking/liberty and human rights-oriented than others, so I don’t think I’ve rebutted you here, just added a comment/concern. To return to the immigration question, it seemed before the Civil War that slavery anywhere became slavery everywhere. Might “costs of illegal immigration” have the same property — undercutting legal labor markets, for example?

  10. Rad Geek Says:

    [NOTE: COPIED HERE BY THOMAS NEPHEW FROM THE OLD COMMENT SYSTEM;
    ORIGINAL COMMENT DATE WAS 6/15/08]

    You write:

    The Constitution gives the federal government ultimate authority over immigration, for good reason, in my view.

    Well, but this just relocates the question. If the Constitution delegates authority in such-and-such a way, what gives authority to the United States Constitution to decide the question? (I can write “Open borders and amnesty for all” on a napkin, and then write “THIS IS A CONSTITUTION FOR THE UNITED STATES” on the top of it; but obviously just writing it down isn’t sufficient to actually delegate the authority.)

    If the answer is the authorization of a handful of long-dead men, who were a tiny minority of the population even at the time, then I certainly don’t see where they get the right to impose positive obligations on hundreds of millions of people today as to who should properly make decisions about whether or not to forcibly exclude immigrants from homes or workplaces.

    If the answer is unanimous consent by the people currently held subject to the Constitution’s provisions, well, clearly, it doesn’t have that, any more than the particular immigration policies have unanimous consent.

    If the answer is the authorization of some subset of the people currently held subject to the Constitution’s provisions (say, the majority of eligible voters or somesuch), then, again, the question is what right one group has to dictate terms to the other group, who does not authorize or consent to the terms.

    Both here and in my next point, a question for you is whether a federal compact like the Constitution represents a contract, obligation, and statement of purpose that carries significant weight for you, and if so (as I provisionally assume it does), how much.

    A contract between whom? If it’s a contract among individual citizens of the United States, or between each individual citizen and the government, then it is certainly nothing of the sort: I never signed it, was never asked to sign it, and have never been expected to sign it before its terms would be inflicted upon me. I expect the same is true for you. Personally, if I had been asked to sign it, I certainly would have refused, if that meant I would not be held to its terms.

    If the compact is understood as a contract among something other than individual citizens — say, among the governments of the several states — then it might very well count as a contract, but then it’s entirely unclear how it gains any authority to settle political questions for either individual citizen, or would-be immigrants, unless some other compact, contract, or other relationship independently establishes an obligation by those individual people to the governments of the several states. I for one never authorized any of the several states to act as my agent, or to contract obligations on my behalf, so if they have a binding contract amongst themselves or with the federal government, then I still don’t see, as yet, how that has anything to say about who I may or may not welcome onto my own property.

    Taking care not to imply that immigrants are a “bad”, there’s still the possibility that one locality’s decision will affect its neighbors willy-nilly in ways they perhaps should not have to accept.

    I’m not clear on what you have in mind here. Could you be more specific what kind of effects you have in mind that people should not have to accept?

    I mean, after all, suppose that all the people in my neighborhood (E. Rochelle Ave.) want to have a very welcoming policy towards would-be immigrants, while all the people the next neighborhood over (University Ave.) wants to keep them all out. If we voluntarily choose to invite immigrant guests into our homes and apartments, to rent or sell land to them, to invite them to work in our shops, etc., while the people on University choose to turn them away, refuse to rent or sell to them, refuse them employent, etc., and if the different policies in each neighborhood are consistently respected, then how exactly does our welcoming policy on Rochelle “affect … willy-nilly” the exclusionists over on University? The immigrants won’t be in their homes or workplaces or renting neighboring property. The only effect is that if people from University want to come over to Rochelle, then they will encounter the immigrants that we have invited to live and work with us. But while I sympathize a great deal with people having to deal with unwanted effects on their own property or in their own communities, I have very little idea why I should care about whether or not people in one neighborhood get their way about how other people should use their own property or what communities other than their own community ought to look like. If the question is properly devolved, then I can’t imagine how it is any of a University resident’s business how we live over here on Rochelle; let alone any business of somebody in New York or Washington, D.C. who I choose to live or work with here in Las Vegas.

    Call me crazy, but “states rights” and “local polity trumps all” seem to me to often be a smokescreen for “let us mistreat people the way we want to, come hell or high water.”

    I’m not defending a “states’ rights” position.

    While I think that, when there are disagreements between states over immigration policy, different states should be able to enact different policies, I also think that, when there are disagreements within a state over immigration policy, different communities should be able to enact different policies, and different neighborhoods within a community should be able to enact different policies, and, ultimately, different individual people should each be able to enact different policies about the use of their own homes and workplaces. I agree that many people who have defended “states’ rights” position use it as a smokescreen for shitty treatment of other, less powerful people within their state. But that’s precisely because they stop devolving the question once they get to the level of the state. Thus, for example, defending the right of states to peacefully secede from the jurisdiction of the federal government, but then turning around and insisting on the supposed right of state governments to brutally crush any efforts by enslaved Southern blacks to peacefully secede from the jurisdiction of state governments or their local taskmasters. The problem there was too little devolution and secession, not too much.

    My whole point, on the other hand, is not to fetishize the claims of any particular level of centralized political authority (such as state or even municipal governments), but rather that the question should be devolved downward until you reach genuine consensus on the localized question — if necessary down to the neighborhood; if necessary down to the individual property-owner.

    Thus, on the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, I think that the right approach for Northern whites to take would have been, first, the Garrisonian strategy of cutting all political ties with the slaveholding states — thus allowing for the repeal of all Fugitive Slave Laws in the North, removing Northern bayonets from the Southern slavers’ arsenal, and moving the line of freedom from Canada south to Ohio. And then, second, the Harriet Tubman and John Brown strategies of aiding slaves in their efforts to escape slavery, instigating and providing aid to slave uprisings, and aiding efforts to create autonomous Maroon communities within the South. That is to say, strategies that focused on solidarity with black people struggling for their own freedom, rather than strategies which focused on white political prerogatives, or on “saving” black people from slavery through the outside intervention of a white-led, white-manned, white-controlled military engaged in a conventional war of invasion and conquest. Solidarity-based strategies like those proposed by the radical abolitionists could, I think, have ended slavery with substantially less bloodshed (and especially less collateral damage against non-slaveholding Southern whites), and with substantially more empowering results for Southern blacks who had been empowered to fight for and win their own freedom, rather than having to depend on the goodwill, ongoing concern, and military campaigns of Northern whites for it. Indeed, I think that those strategies probably could have averted the dreadful century of immiseration, dispossession, lynch law, and American apartheid that ended up following the formal emancipation, precisely because the Northern white political and military apparatus ended up dropping that goodwill and that concern, and selling out Southern blacks, in the name of “reconciliation” with Southern whites.

    To return to open immigration and “undercutting legal labor markets,” I think there’s a basic problem in the way you’re framing the issue. It’s true that, under certain circumstances, when large numbers of poor immigrants move to a particular community, the average wage for existing native-born workers will tend to go down as a result of competition. But the average wage for the immigrant workers goes up from what they could have expected had they not moved; after all, that’s generally why poor immigrants move long distances to begin with. But the status of the native-born workers as “legal” residents can’t be used as part of the justification for making a legal distinction between native-born and immigrant workers, without simply making the argument circular and thus begging the question. And if we are discussing some other difference between the two — like a difference in nationality, or language, or ethnicity, I don’t see how any of those could make the standard of living among the relatively more privileged native-born workers some

  11. Rad Geek Says:

    [NOTE: COPIED HERE BY THOMAS NEPHEW FROM THE OLD COMMENT SYSTEM;
    ORIGINAL COMMENT DATE WAS 6/15/08]

    [Continued from above...]

    To return to open immigration and “undercutting legal labor markets,” I think there’s a basic problem in the way you’re framing the issue. It’s true that, under certain circumstances, when large numbers of poor immigrants move to a particular community, the average wage for existing native-born workers will tend to go down as a result of competition. But the average wage for the immigrant workers goes up from what they could have expected had they not moved; after all, that’s generally why poor immigrants move long distances to begin with. But the status of the native-born workers as “legal” residents can’t be used as part of the justification for making a legal distinction between native-born and immigrant workers, without simply making the argument circular and thus begging the question. And if we are discussing some other difference between the two — like a difference in nationality, or language, or ethnicity, I don’t see how any of those could make the standard of living among the relatively more privileged native-born workers somehow more important than the standard of living among the relatively less privileged immigrant workers. Certainly U.S. workers deserve a decent standard of living, but so do Mexican workers, and it’s not at all clear to me why the former should be able to force the latter out of the country in order to support their own standards of living at the expense of Mexican workers’ standards of living. I think there is no way to treat this sort of market dynamic as a reason for excluding Mexican workers (say) except by tacitly or explicitly accepting the nativist premise that the lives an livelihoods of U.S. workers somehow matter more than the lives and livelihoods of Mexican workers, just because the one group are from the U.S. and the other group are from Mexico. Which claim I find morally and politically indefensible.

    (For myself, I’d say that the best solution is to empower all workers, regardless of race, nationality, language, ethnicity, or any of the other lines which are used to divide us. But that’s best accomplished by means of fighting unions that organize the entire working class, and by transnational labor solidarity, not by means of political gamesmanship and immigration policies which protect the wages of one group of workers only by means of screwing other, even more vulnerable and exploited groups of workers out of homes and jobs that they’d otherwise be able to get.)

    Does that help clarify?

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