BC’s weekend reads

  1. Who’s who in Hamburg’s G20 protests
  2. But, if Marxism is not inevitable, it is nothing. Ronald Reagan, with his abiding fear that the Evil Empire would spread without intervention, was, in this sense, a much better Marxist than David Roediger could ever hope to be.
  3. It’s business as usual between Turkey and the EU
  4. So far there is not much sign of the fresh dawn that IS’s downfall should bring.
  5. Hell Makes the News

Around the Web

  1. Paupers and Richlings: Piketty’s ‘Capital’ by Benjamin Kunkel (h/t Mark Brady)
  2. The neoconservatives have ramped up their attacks on Rand Paul. This means his foreign policy ideas are winning out, of course. Neoconservatives have also begun blaming libertarians rather than liberals for the failure of their Iraq war campaign
  3. Liberals and libertarians have been finding common ground in the US House of Representatives
  4. What does the BRICS bank mean? From Dan Drezner
  5. Want to solve the border crisis? Give free drugs to addicts. This is from Marc Joffe, and includes a very thoughtful analysis of charter cities and how they can help improve the institutional problems that would still plague Central America even if the drug war were to end
  6. Help! I’m a Marxist who defends capitalism

Slavery and the footnotes

I came across this old essay on slavery by economist Gordon Tullock (h/t Tyler Cowen) and what struck me (aside from an excellent presentation of the economics of slavery) was this footnote on the inevitable dissolution of Marxism (this paper was written in 1967):

It may be that the dissolution is not the first step toward the total elimination of this powerful religion, but merely a breaking away of the talmudic encrustation of the true scribes and pharisees of the Second and Third Internationals. Such a development is not uncommon in the history of other religions. My personal opinion is that the disintegration which we now see is more fundamental, however, and I doubt that Marxism will survive the century as a living faith.

In my own experience in the classrooms of powerful and plebeian universities alike, Marxism has indeed disintegrated into virtually nothing. Marxism has, rather, become a sort of an embarrassing older uncle that professors chuckle about in a manner that is more reminiscing than bitter. They all realize that Marxism led to very bad things, but they are unable to acknowledge that capitalism – Marxism’s Other – has brought about peace and prosperity for untold billions.

It would be wise for us, therefore, to continue to focus on this dead religion. Deep-seated beliefs are hard to let go of, even after these beliefs have been shown – theoretically and empirically – to lead to horrors of the worst kind. “Yes,” the embarrassed former adherents grudgingly admit, “communism has failed miserably, but socialism has not. It has not even been tried, and besides, it is capitalism that is responsible for the world’s ills today.”

This is not obstinance. This is deceit, plain and simple.

So how do we go about combating obvious deceit (rather than the sophisticated theories of 20th century Marxists)?

I think the answer is to just debunk their examples on a case by case basis, in as public as a forum as you can muster. Famines in east and central Africa, for example, have often been attributed to capitalism because of the policies of the World Bank and IMF. Libertarians ought to agree with most of this, and then simply point out that the World Bank and the IMF are central planning agencies designed, created, and supported by governments in the West. Once this fact -which is not quite as simple as it appears – is acknowledged, you can go from there and take a public choice route, an Austrian route, or even a populist libertarian route to explain why capitalism is not responsible for famines.

Wars, genocides, ethnic cleansing campaigns, etc., can all be explained (and eliminated) if libertarians focus on the role of the State in all of these ills rather than on the theoretical or empirical weaknesses of socialist explanations and proposals.

The Myth of Common Property

An Observation by L.A. Repucci

It has been proposed that there exists a state in which property — whether defined in the physical sense such as objects, products, buildings, roads, etc, or financial instruments such as monetary instruments, corporate title, or deed to land ownership — may be owned or possessed in common; that is to say, that property may be possessed of multiple rightful claimants simultaneously.  This suggestion, when examined rationally and exhaustively, is untenable from the perspective of any logical school of economic, social, and indeed physical school of thought, and balks at simple scrutiny.

In law, Property may be defined as the tangible product of enterprise and resources, or the gain of capital wealth which it may create.  To ‘hold’ Property, a Party, or private, sentient entity, must have rightful claim to it and be capable of using it freely as they see fit, in keeping with natural law.

Natural resources, including land, are said to be owned either jurisdictionally by State, privately by party, or in common to the natural world.  If property may be legally defined only as a product, then natural resources may be excluded from all laws pertaining to legal property.  If property also may be further defined by the ability of it’s owner to use it as they see fit, in keeping with Ius Naturale, then any property claimed jurisdictionally by the State and said to be held in common amongst the citizenry must meet the article of usage to be legally owned.  Consider Hardin’s tragedy of the commons as an argument for the conservation of private property over a state of nature, rather than an appeal to the economic law of scarcity or an appeal to the second law of thermodynamics ,

In Physics:  Property may be defined as either an observable state of physical being.  The universe of Einstein, Kepler, and Newton rests soundly on the tenet that physical bodies cannot occupy multiple physical locations simultaneously.  The laws that govern the macro-physical world do not operate in the same way on the quantum level.  At that comparatively tiny level, the rules of our known universe break down, and matter may exhibit the observed property of being at multiple locations simultaneously — bully and chalk 1 point for common property on the theoretically-quantum scale.

Currency:  The attempt to simultaneously possess and use currency as defined above would result in praxeologic market-hilarity in the best case, and imprisonment or physical injury in the worst.  Observe: Two friends in common possession of 1$ walk into a corner shop to buy a pack of chewing gum, which costs 1$.  They each place a pack on the counter, and present the cashier with their single dollar bill.  “It’s both of ours!  We earned it in business together!” they beam as the cashier calls the cops and racks a shotgun under the register…

The two friends above may not use the paper currency simultaneously — while the concept of a dollar representing two, exclusively owned fifty-percent equity shares may be widely and innately understood — the single bill is represented in specie among the parties would still be 2 pairs of quarters.  While they could pool their resources and ‘both’ purchase a single pack of gum, they would continue to own a 50% equity share in the pack — resulting in a division yet again of title equally between the dozen-or-so sticks of gum contained therein.  This reduction and division of ownership can proceed ad quantum.

This simple reason is applicable within and demonstrated by current and universal economic realities, including all claims of joint title, common property law, jurisdictional issues, corporate law, and financial liability.  A joint bank account is simply the sum of the parties’ individual interest in that account — claims to hold legal property in common are bunk.

The human condition is marked by the sovereignty, independence and isolation of one’s own thought.  Praxeological thought-experiments like John Searle’s Chinese Room Argument and Alan Turing’s Test would not be possible to pose in a human reality that was other than a state of individual mental separation.  As we are alone in our thoughts, our experience of reality can only be communicated to one another.  It is therefore not possible to ever ‘share’ an experience with any other sentient being, because it is not possible to perceive reality as another person…even if the technology should develop such that multiple individuals can network and share the information within their minds, that information must still filter through another individual consciousness in order to be experienced simultaneously.  The physical separation of two minds is reinforced by the rationally-necessary separation of distinct individuals.  There may exist a potential hive-mind collectivist state, but it would require such a radical change to that which constitutes the human condition, that it would violate the tenets of what it is to be human.

In conclusion, logically, the most plausible circumstance in which property could exist in common would be on the quantum level within a hive-minded non-human collective, and the laws that govern men are and should be an accurate extension of the laws that govern nature — not through Social Darwinism, but rather anthropology.  Humans, as an adaptation, work interdependently to thrive, which often includes the voluntary sharing and trading of resources and property…none of which are held in common.

Ad Quantum,

L.A. Repucci

Is President Obama the culmination of American Marxism?

I recently tried my hand at prodding Jacques to blog more often about Marxism and Marxist thought. As an immigrant from a country with a strong Marxist tradition and – more importantly – with his educational background (Stanford’s sociology department in the late 60s/early 70s; arguably the time period with the most sophisticated understanding of Marxist thought ever), I think he provides readers with a nuanced and sharply critical glance into Marxism, something that is very tough to do. Alas:

Brandon: Thanks for the suggestion and for the incense. However, the charm of blogging has much to do for me with following whatever my inspiration whispers at any one time. Once in a while, it lands on Marxism, not often. When it does, it’s often in the context  of conversations in French with French speakers. (You may have noticed something on my blog called, “Le dernier Communiste.” )

To the extent that I am impelled to do the needful rather than the natural, I direct my steps to whatever I think I do well and that is also in demand. In general, I am not sure waking up Marx for the benefit of young Americans is useful or much in demand. Almost no one in America calls himself a Marxist anymore . (There were many when I was young.) The people who would have been Marxists in 1974 call themselves “environmentalists” today.  Aside from this, I suspect
that the Obama administration is the result of wet dreams by Marxists of my generation but I don’t know how to talk about it. It’s just my sense of smell telling me.

I make a mental note of your expressed demand for Marxist critiques. In the meantime, feel free to pillage whatever you find on the subject in my blogs.

Oh, I’ve pillaged. His knowledge of Marxism is too important for me to ignore it. You can find Jacques’s thoughts on Marxism here. Jacques is also working on his memoirs, and you can find excerpts of those here (it’s also located on the top right side of the blog’s navigation bar).

As far as President Obama being the culmination of American Marxism, I think Jacques is woefully wrong. However, I also think Jacques’s assessment of Marxism in the US today (it’s irrelevant) is spot on. There is a recent, well-written essay in Dissent by a political scientist at Columbia arguing that the Obama administration is simply kowtowing to a neoliberal (and, by extension, racist) agenda, and this, I think, suggests that my suspicions are correct.

Around the Web

Marxists’ Apartment A Microcosm of Why Marxism Doesn’t Work. From the Onion.

Slavic Feminists in Paris (Not Safe for Work)

Is Peronism back in Argentina? Pay attention to the Left’s rhetoric

The Myth of the Failure of Capitalism, 1932 edition

Capitalism and Gay Identity: God’s Two Greatest Enemies

I recently read an article in this anthology on the emergence of gay identity in the United States and its connection to capitalism. I was particularly delighted to read it after the author, John D’Emilio, admits the following in the abstract:

Using Marxist analyses of capitalism, I argue that two aspects of capitalism – wage labor and commodity production – created the social conditions that made possible the emergence of a distinctive gay and lesbian identity.

Before I continue I should mention that the article was published in 1983 – a whole six years before the fall of the Berlin Wall – so my initial stance going in to the reading was one of condescension. In my head I was thinking:

Oh really? A Marxist analysis of gay identity and how it relates to capitalism? I can’t WAIT to see what interesting charges will follow. Private prisons for homosexuals? Exploited homosexual labor for meager wages? I am soooo glad that my critical thinking skills are respected by the academic community.

Alas, the article in question is very, very good (but for all the wrong reasons, of course!).

The article is good for three important reasons.

1) it explicitly shows how capitalism, or more precisely the market, has indeed provided more freedom for homosexuals.

2) it inadvertently shows how the state has been used by factions to impose their will upon other factions in society.

3) it illustrates just how utterly childish Leftism in general and 1980’s American Marxism in particular really is.

D’Emilio, an academic historian (lest you question his very good credentials), begins by explaining how the gay and lesbian identity as it is understood today began to emerge in the 1960’s. The key aspect here is that a number of myths about homosexuality were created and adopted by the gay movement in response to state-sponsored oppression. It would be pertinent to keep these myths in mind when we think about other movements that have worked to eliminate oppressive laws (which are always and everywhere created and enforced by our enemy: the state) since the 1960’s. D’Emilio writes:

[…] we constructed a myth of silence, invisibility, and isolation as the essential characteristics of gay life in the past as well as the present. Moreover, because we faced so many oppressive laws, pubic policies, and cultural beliefs, we projected this image into an image of an abysmal past

[…] There is another historical myth that enjoys nearly universal acceptance in the gay movement, the myth of the ‘eternal homosexual.’ The argument runs something like this: Gay men and lesbians always were and always will be. We are everywhere; not just now, but throughout history, in all societies and in all periods. This myth served as a political function in the first years of gay liberation.

It is important to note here that myths among minority groups are often created by the intellectual class to help give such groups a base with which to launch their “resistance” campaigns from. While liberal democracies are much better for minority groups than are other types of governments, there is still oppression to be found. Again, this oppression is always and everywhere created and enforced by the state at the behest of factions. The marketplace, which is made up of billions of individuals pursuing their own self-interests, has no place for systematic rules of oppressing potential customers and business partners. This is not to say that some business interests don’t try to eliminate competition through laws based on irrational, xenophobic or racist views, but only that if the market is allowed sufficient room to operate freely then individual freedom and prosperity will ensue.

When D’Emilio writes about the myth of the eternal homosexual, he is not denying that homosexuality has been absent from human societies since time immemorial. What he stating here is that homosexuality as American society now understands it is a new phenomenon. Got that? So, 200 years ago homosexual acts weren’t considered homosexual. They were something else entirely and dependent upon the cultural interpretations for homosexual acts of a given society. This is what scholars mean when they refer to “identity.”* D’Emilio continues to elaborate his point:

Here I wish to challenge this myth. I want to argue that gay men and lesbians have not always existed. Instead, they are a product of history, and have come into existence in a specific historical era [stay with me here, outdated Marxist frameworks can often be useful – bc]. Their emergence is associated with the relations of capitalism; it has been the historical development of capitalism – more specifically its free-labor system – that has allowed large numbers of men and women in the late twentieth century to call themselves gay, to see themselves as part of a community of similar men and women, and to organize politically on the basis of that identity.

D’Emilio is admitting here, in an anthology published by the Monthly Review, that capitalism has created the space necessary for homosexuals to live their lives as freely and as independently as possible, something that has never been accomplished before**. What’s more, D’Emilio is correct and for all the right reasons. More flexibility and mobility among individuals is one of the hallmarks of capitalism, as is the emergence of more choices for just about anything. Without capitalism, the gay and lesbian movement would have never existed. There would always be people living in the closet, to be sure, but it was the institutions aimed at creating freedom of association and choice – the hallmarks of the market-based economy, or capitalism – that was developed by American society that has led to emergence of a vibrant, proud, and now-successful gay and lesbian movement.

Although the gay and lesbian movement began to flourish in the 1970’s as a result of liberalized markets and the re-emergence of globalization (which creates even more choices and more prosperity for those who participate), D’Emilio notes that in the 1950’s and 60’s “oppression by the state intensified, becoming more systematic and inclusive.” Again, D’Emilio is correct. The state has always been a useful tool by which one faction aims to oppress another faction. Conservatives have always loathed homosexuality (the closet conservatives most of all!), and their attempts to equate homosexuality with communism in the 1950’s and 1960’s falls neatly in line with their demagogic attacks on homosexuality over the course of the American republic’s history.

So how is it that capitalism, which has led to the flourishing of gay identity in the West, can be condemned by Marxists of the 1980’s (and probably today as well) for the very same oppression that it has undone if the state has been the ultimate oppressor of this flourishing?

Here is where we can find the childishness of the Left.

D’Emilio answers the first half of my question:

The answers, I think, can be found in the contradictory relationship of capitalism to the family. On the one hand […] capitalism has gradually undermined the material basis of the nuclear family by taking away the economic functions that cemented the ties between family members. As more adults have been drawn into the free-labor system, and as capital has expanded its sphere until it produces as commodities most goods and services we need for our survival, the forces that propelled men and women into families and kept them there have weakened. On the other hand, the ideology of capitalist society has enshrined the family as a source of love, affection, and emotional security, the place where our need for stable, intimate human relationships is satisfied.

This elevation of the nuclear family to preeminence in the sphere of personal life is not accidental. Every society needs structures for reproduction and childrearing, but the possibilities are not limited to the nuclear family. Yet the privatized family fits in well with capitalist relations of production […] Ideologically, capitalism drives people into heterosexual families […] Materially, capitalism weakens the bonds that once kept families together so that their members experience a growing instability in the place they have come to expect happiness and security. Thus, while capitalism has knocked the material foundation away from family life, lesbians, gay men, and heterosexual feminists have become scapegoats for the social instability of the system.

NNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! How can I be reading this? How does something that has been so brilliant up to this point become so childish and immature? Why am I going to school again? To learn critical thinking skills? Let me get this straight:

1) instead of acknowledging the ability of capitalism to provide more choices and better lives for individuals in society, or

2) acknowledging that the state is the actual oppressor of liberty, the author decides to

3) blame homosexual oppression on the “contradictory relationship of capitalism to the family” due to ideology?

Can it get any more childish and immature than this? The author is basically stating the following: Capitalism helped alter family life in a fundamental way in the 19th and 20th centuries, so families adapted themselves accordingly.

I think the inability of the author to give credit where credit is due (because of ideological reasons, ironically enough) does enough to discredit the “Marxist analyses” we are dissecting, but there is one piece that I would like to hone in on, if only to more fully discredit the dying, reactionary school of thought known as Marxism:

“Ideologically, capitalism drives people into heterosexual families”

First of all, I didn’t realize that capitalism had an ideology. I am fairly certain that the Marxists of the 1980’s did (do?) not know what capitalism’s ideology was either. Reality tells a different story than the one depicted in the two paragraphs above. What capitalism has done, and continues to do, is provide more choices to individuals (including homosexuals). Just as the family continued to adapt to changes in the past, so too will they continue to adapt in the present and the future. Gay marriage is a big topic these days, and – guess what? – it the state that is to blame for the oppression of individual choice, not capitalism.

I and others here at Notes On Liberty are well-aware that conservatives are behind the efforts to hamper choice in the market for marriages. Warren Gibson, Jacques Delacroix, and Fred Foldvary have all blogged about this before. If Leftists are truly interested in equality they would do well to heed the facts concerning gay life in the West: Capitalism has brought about the movement’s flourishing, and the government is holding it back. This fact is true not just in the realm of gay identity, but in the realm of all other social, political, and economic aspects of as well. Leftists would also do well to remember that their movement, as it stands now, as it stood three decades ago, is, for all intents and purposes, one of conservatism, obstinate ignorance, and embarrassing causality.

*Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the horrors of the centrally-planned economy became exposed to all, the Left has been trying its hardest to avoid using the term “individualism” in its theoretical frameworks. Thus it has concocted a bunch of somewhat-useful terms like “identity” to explain what libertarians have been trying to get across to everybody for centuries: that individuals are best-able to choose for themselves, and therefore it would be best to go about molding social institutions like laws and political structures to play an accommodating role in individual choices by reducing (or outright eliminating) the size and scope of the state.

**In Native American societies, homosexuals had a large amount of personal freedom and were often revered for their shamanistic qualities, but such a social status worked both ways: if there was a problem of some kind that was viewed as supernatural then guess which shaman’s feet the blame often fell to? Shamans were often murdered quickly rather than put on trial due to the fears of witchcraft that Native American tribes harbored.

PS I don’t think I’ve ever used the term “homosexual” in a conversation before. If anybody out there has a term that gay people like to refer to themselves as I would be grateful for the heads up. Otherwise I will just continue to call everybody “dude.”

PPS Inevitable disclaimer: no I am not a homosexual. I like boobs and big juicy female butts. I like ’em a lot! Ladies: send me dirty messages to my Twitter account!

PPPS I have a lot of respect for Karl Marx. Go here for details.