Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Real Conservatism: Bring Back the Federalist Party!

Conservative, adj.:

1. disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.
2. cautiously moderate or purposefully low: a conservative estimate.
3. traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness: conservative suit.

None of those three definitions describe people who self-identify as "conservatives" in American politics today. And therein lies the problem.

A healthy political dialogue in a progressive society would occur between progressives on one side and conservatives on the other. Progressives would push for change, identifying problems that need fixing or opportunities to achieve something, to make society more egalitarian, wealthier, healthier, better-educated, more enlightened, more peaceful, fairer, more just, freer, etc., etc. Conservatives would object with "yes, but" arguments. But do we really need to make this change at this time? But look at the cost! But consider the unforeseen consequences. The subtext of all of which is: We agree with the overall goal. But let's not be hasty. Maybe this isn't the best way to do it, or the best time.

It's a useful -- in fact, necessary -- function in the dialogue, conservatism. It's necessary because (let's face it) progressives aren't always totally smart. On occasion, we can be profoundly stupid. Half-baked. Overly zealous. Insufficiently mindful of costs, social and political realities, and unintended consequences. So it pays to have a conservative side of the dispute, frustrating though we may sometimes find it, to insist that progressive ideas prove themselves in imagination and accounting before they're actually implemented.

But that function can only be served by real conservatives. Wingnuts need not apply. Those who reject, not only the half-baked hasty ideas sometimes generated by progressives, but the very idea of progress, are not conservatives, because one of the cardinal principles of conservatism is to support the traditional values of one's society, and the traditional values of the United States of America are progressive. You know, things like "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal," or "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." Conservatives -- real conservatives, that is -- hold to the same progressive values as progressives do, they're just more cautious about implementing them and less convinced at any point about the size of the step we're ready, as a society, to take.

The problem with conservatism in today's American politics is that the term has been hijacked. It no longer applies to real conservatives, it applies today to wingnuts who reject progressive ideals altogether. It applies to people who don't believe in the secular, Enlightenment-based democracy that America traditionally seeks to build, but would instead create a theocracy. It applies to people who don't recognize the value of a multiracial, tolerant society, but would have a white people's country. It applies to those who advocate, not a cautious approach to change, but a radical one -- in anti-progressive directions. To re-criminalize abortion is not conservative, it's a radical change. To abolish such long-standing government functions as Social Security, Medicare, aid for the poor, regulation of the economy, even public education, is radical. To end the separation of church and state and create a Christian government and legal base is radical. To bring effective democracy to an end and hand all political power over to a corporate plutocracy is radical. Conservatives do not advocate radical change. And so the people who advocate these radical changes are not conservatives.

Over the course of elections since 1980, I have watched the wingnuts take over more and more of the Republican Party from the true conservatives that used to dominate it. I kept hoping that the process would have a natural limit, that the GOP would come to its senses at some point and return to traditional American values and its own previously-solid conservative function in the dialogue. It's still conceivable that they may, but given the depths to which the party has sunk at this point, I think we need to entertain and plan for the contingent possibility that they also may not. What happens then?

There are still a few conservatives in the Republican Party, and also quite a considerable number of them in the Democratic Party, but Republican conservatives have become an endangered species. (Due to the wingnuts having hijacked the term "conservative," these Republican conservatives are nowadays known as "moderates." I refuse to cooperate with that theft of a perfectly good term by those to whom it does not properly belong, and so insist on calling these politicians conservatives, which they are.) We hear today that Florida Governor Crist, a conservative who will almost certainly lose the GOP Senate primary this year to a wingnut, will probably ditch the GOP and run as an independent. A few conservative Republicans have already left the party and either become independents or joined the Democrats. John McCain of Arizona is another conservative who faces a primary challenge from a wingnut, and although he has not indicated any inclination to jump party, none of us should rule out the possibility at this point. The surge of wingnut Republicans zealously trying to rid the party of conservatism has become endemic.

At the same time, as we progressives are painfully aware, the conservatives within the Democratic Party are making it harder for progressives to achieve what they should be doing. Well, of course that's what conservatives are supposed to do, but the problem is that the progressive-conservative dialogue, which has mostly become intra-Democratic, is in turn hampered by the howling wingnuts on the other side of the aisle. It's very difficult for Democrats to manifest both sides of a healthy political dialogue (progressive and conservative), and at the same time present a united front against wingnuttery. There's a strong tendency for people on our side of the discussion, that is to say, progressives, to turn upon conservative Democrats in wrath and insist that they be replaced by progressives, a desire that is amplified by fear and loathing of the wingnuts. Our political landscape is rapidly changing from one of progressives and conservatives to one of progressives and wingnuts, with conservatives squeezed out of the picture altogether.

Folks, that is not a good prognosis! We NEED conservatives, and we certainly do NOT need wingnuts! So I think it may be time to consider some practical contingency plans for bringing conservatives, real conservatives, non-crazy conservatives, conservatives-not-wingnuts, back into politics with a home of their own.

The simplest and best solution would of course be for the Grand Old Party to recover from its thirty-year binge and return to sobriety. Let the "big tent" goppers win the intra-party argument. Let the wingnuts be consigned to the wings and fringes where they belong. Let genuine conservatives again take their proper places as the loyal elected opposition. A nice dream. Maybe it will become real. But I'm no longer willing to hold my breath waiting.

Failing that, what we may need is a new political party. Governor Crist, rather than running as an independent, should found this party. I don't have any idea what to call it -- well, sure I do; it could be called the Conservative Party. But maybe that has too much potential confusion with the British party of the same name. The Party of Sanity is too flippant, as is the Party of Non-Wingnuts. Ah! I have it! We can bring back the oldest, most original name for an American party of conservatives there is, and call them the Federalist Party. Or maybe they can come up with a better name themselves, but I'll use that tag provisionally here.

The Federalist Party would include such Republicans as Crist, Olympia Snowe, Tom Campbell, John McCain, Arnold Schwarzenneger, and similar targets of wingnut loathing. It would also find room within its ranks for Democrats (and ex-Dems) such as Blanche Lincoln, Joseph Lieberman, Ben Nelson, and so on. Since these people would no longer be competing in Republican (or Democratic) primaries, there would be no pressure on them to adopt wingnut positions and they could remain true to their conservative beliefs, and let those positions run honestly and fairly in general elections versus both progressives and wingnuts.

After all, there's really only one reason why the wingnuts are getting anywhere at all: they are big fish in an increasingly small pond, as the number of voters willing to call themselves Republicans declines, and the smaller and smaller numbers that remain are increasingly dominated by wingnuts. This means that on election day, it becomes increasingly likely that one of the candidates in every election will be a wingnut. So I say, let that process reach its logical conclusion, let the Republicans become purely a wingnut party, and let those Republican conservatives who remain have somewhere else to go besides the Democrats. Since under those conditions wingnuts would win very few elections indeed, the Republicans would, over a few election cycles, quickly go the way of the Whigs, and future elections would be mainly between the progressive Democrats and the conservative Federalists. (At least until we adopt proportional representation so that we can have more than two active serious political parties. But that's a change of subject.)

Would this be better or worse in terms of elections for progressives? I'm going to be have to be honest here: it would be worse. There's no question that, most of the time, a progressive can beat a wingnut in an election more easily than a sane conservative. So if all we care about is the short-term goal of electing progressives, a return of genuine conservatism isn't a good thing. But I don't think that is all we should care about. It also must be recognized that wingnuttery does not deserve to be represented in Congress, yet in many districts, replacing wingnuts with progressives is simply not feasible; the people might be uneasy with their wingnut reps but they don't want any dad-gum lib'ruls neither. So a real, true conservative Congresscritter would be the realistic alternative, better than a wingnut because, well, anything is, and better than a progressive because he or she would represent the people of the district, which a progressive (in all honesty) would not.

Let me repeat the first sentence above: A healthy political dialogue in a progressive society would occur between progressives on one side and conservatives on the other. That's something we don't have any more. It would be good if we did. We might not elect as many progressives that way as when the only alternative to progressives consist of clowns and zanies, but on the other hand we would elect no clowns and zanies. And that would be better for America.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

There's Racism, And Then There's Racism

Is the Tea Party movement racist? Seems to me it is or it isn't depending on what kind of racism one means.

There's no question that opposition to President Obama from the right is vehement to a degree not really explained by his policies. This is not unlike the wild opposition to President Clinton, who was less progressive than Obama but also incurred loathing and fear on the right. Because Obama is black, the idea has arisen (and a certain amount of polling data in support of it has been presented) that this vitriol is based in racism. The fact that something similar was encountered by President Clinton, who is white, would seem at first glance to argue to the contrary. In fact, I contend that it supports the idea, if one examines the likely explanation for what DID generate that opposition.

Some racism is overt, crude, unsubtle, and blatant. Some racism is covert (or even unconscious), subtle, internalized, and unacknowledged even to oneself. Very little of the opposition to Obama is the result of overt racism. But a great deal of it is at least in part the result of covert racism.
An overtly racist objection to Obama would exist when a person feels, and admits to himself or herself (if not always to others), that a black person should not be president. Evidence of overt racism would be found when a person actually says something like this, or when a person is affiliated with a racist or white nationalist organization (e.g. when the person is a regular poster at Stormfront). Some of this does exist of course, but I am prepared to accept that the overwhelming majority of the Tea Party movement isn't part of it.

A covertly racist objection to Obama would exist when a person has no problem with a black person being president, but does have a problem with the idea that a black person could be elected president. That is to say, the person holding this attitude doesn't think black people are inferior to white people or inherently unqualified to be president, and may be willing to acknowledge that Barack Obama is a sharp guy who is just as capable at the job as a lot of white guys who have held it before him. It's not him. It's what his being elected says about what has happened to America.

I had a similar impression about the vitriolic opposition to Bill Clinton. Clinton's a white southern boy, of course, but he's also a notorious womanizer who evaded the Vietnam draft, smoked dope, grew his hair long, and married a tough feminist b**ch. For those who are inclined to freak out about the cultural changes that occurred over the 1960s and 1970s, he was a walking red flag, not because of his politics (which are pretty far right as Democrats go), but because of his cultural trappings and who he is as a person. In their America, the America they fondly remember from their childhood and would like to believe still exists -- in the REAL America, as they imagine to themselves -- someone like that would provoke revulsion and could NEVER win the nomination of a major party, let alone actually be elected. The vitriolic opposition wasn't really about him. It was about what his electability said about how America had changed and in what directions.

This impression was reinforced during the impeachment fiasco, which led Paul Weyrich to say, "I no longer believe that there is a moral majority. "I do not believe that a majority of Americans actually share our values. If there really were a moral majority, Bill Clinton would have been driven out of office months ago. It is not only the lack of political will on the part of Republicans, although that is part of the problem. More powerful is the fact that what Americans would have found absolutely intolerable only a few years ago, a majority now not only tolerates but celebrates."

In a similar way, Barack Obama's election says something about what America has become and is becoming that some people don't want to accept. And that change is not so much cultural as racial. Although there are cultural overtones, too.

White people are in the process of becoming a minority in this country. It hasn't happened yet, but it's in train. When it does happen, whites will be the largest minority, but still will represent less than 50% of the population. In the sepia-toned memory photographs of Obama's detractors, real America is a land predominantly of white people. Sure, it has nonwhites in it, and if you ask these guys they'd happily tell you that racial discrimination and Jim Crow and segregation and all that nasty stuff from our past had to go and they're glad it's gone. At least most of them will, and most will even mean it and believe it. But what they envision is an America of white people who are magnanimously, righteously non-racist and willing to generously tolerate and accept minorities in our midst on a (somewhat) equal basis, 'cause that's what great and wonderful people white Americans are. The idea of white people no longer being a majority, and thus no longer able to call the shots and be magnanimous and generous and so on, that doesn't sit well. But that's what the future holds.

As we approach that future, it becomes increasingly probable that someone non-white will gain the White House, and now it's happened. Obama was elected because America has a whole lot of black and hispanic citizens who voted for him in lopsided majorities. Obama was elected in addition because a whole lot of young people -- including young white people -- don't care that the country is heading for a white-minority future. Obama being elected president says that the uncomfortable future is closer than they thought, and his dusky face on the television above the presidential seal is a harsh reminder that the world of those sepia-toned memory photographs no longer exists. It makes them feel out of place in the world that surrounds them now.

And that feeling infects everything else, and magnifies small political objections into big ones, and causes irrational and unbelievable accusations to be believed without serious critique.
It isn't racist in the sense of being bigoted and thinking no black guy should be allowed to be president or can possibly have the smarts for it. But it is racist in the sense of being based in a lament for the fact that America is rapidly ceasing to be a white people's country.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Slavery, Serfdom and Wage Work: The Forms of Coercion

I continue this week to encourage radical thinking, and to build on the post from last week. Last week, I explored the origins of capital property ownership, how it separates the right to own wealth from the work to create it, and the consequent nature of profit as a form of theft.

This week, I want to explore the lynchpin of all class privilege throughout the history of civilization: the ability to coerce the labor of others for the elite’s profit and the elite’s ends. Historically, there have been three broad methods by which the labor of the many has been channeled to the ends of the few, declining in brutality and increasing in subtlety from one to another, but all of them coercive in one way or another. These three methods are slavery, serfdom (and variants), and wage-work.

I don’t mean to suggest that there is perfect moral equivalence among the three. To be a wage worker is immeasurably better than to be a slave. The abandonment of slavery, and the near-abandonment of serfdom, really does represent progress in human rights and the human condition. But while working for wages is certainly not slavery, it is no more accurate to call it freedom. The only people who are free are those without masters, without bosses – those who work for themselves.

There was a time, early in the history of civilization, when that was pretty much the case for most people. The normal condition for a person in ancient times was not that of a hireling but that of a small farmer or craftsman, an owner of one’s own business. Working for someone else for pay was thought of as a transitional phase, something one did in order to learn a craft or to acquire the necessary capital to buy one’s own land. And of course, working for someone else was completely unknown in precivilized times. The transition to the current situation, in which the overwhelming majority of people work at jobs serving the profits of others, with no entitlement to the fruits of their own labor, did not develop overnight. The circumstances of servitude have grown less severe with the passage of time, but at the same time the condition of actual freedom has grown rarer and rarer.

One of the earliest forms of working for another, and the first to be employed on a large scale, was slavery. We may consider this the template. Initially, slavery probably arose as a consequence of war. When the victors in a war conquered an enemy, they gained more than the land that the enemy had occupied. They also gained the surviving enemy citizens as captives. Even when the conquest was less complete than that, captives were often taken in the course of the fighting and could be brought to the homeland and forced under threat of punishment to work for the victors. Of course, just as with the enemy’s land, the enemy people became disproportionately the property of the elite, who found themselves the owners of large tracts of land worked by slaves and generating a lot of money without the owner having to work on it at all. (Profit being theft, as noted last week.)

Over time, slaves became property to buy and sell just like land itself, and the pattern emerged of a class of warrior-aristocrats living off the labor of people who had no rights under the law (or few, depending on the society) and whose only purpose in life was to serve the interests of their masters. This became the template for all elite classes from that time forth. Like most prototypes, it was crude and unsubtle compared with the more sophisticated ways of compelling labor that followed. It suffered from numerous disadvantages, including slave revolts and a lack of motivation on the part of the workers. Nevertheless, it sufficed to keep the aristocratic class in wealth and power for thousands of years and in many different civilizations. Even more importantly, the underlying idea that the elite deserved to be served by a class of workers and to become rich from their labor became so entrenched that it survives to this day, many years after slavery itself has been outlawed.

One problem with slavery is that it was universally unappealing to the slave. (Or nearly so. There are instances in ancient times of highly skilled persons selling themselves into slavery, knowing that their skills would earn them favored treatment and a better circumstance than they could achieve in freedom. However, that’s the exception; very few slaves ever became slaves by choice.) People resisted becoming slaves and had to be forced into it when captured in battle or condemned for debt or for some other legal offense for which slavery was the penalty. There was really no way to reduce most of the people to a state of slavery, because the numbers of slaves would have proven impossible to control by the number of free people. In order to increase the number of people who could be reduced to servitude, it was necessary to make the conditions of servitude less drastic than was usually the case with slavery.

Some examples may be found prior to the industrial revolution of a form of coercion gentler than slavery, but still more direct and brutal than wage work. This consisted of a defined set of obligations on the part of a worker, who was forbidden under most conditions to leave his employment, but who also had more rights under the law than a slave. I’m going to call this sort of arrangement “serfdom,” but I should explain that I’m talking about a broader category of social arrangement than serfdom proper. The peasantry of medieval China or Japan, or the sharecropping and tenant farming arrangements in the post-emancipation American South, fit into this general category, as well as the condition of the medieval European serf. Because serfdom was less onerous than slavery, because it entailed some rights on the part of the serf and some obligations to the serf on the part of the master, it was possible to have a larger population of serfs than could be maintained as slaves. Even so, it turned out not to be as perfect a solution as wage work: the industrial-era answer that has turned nearly everyone into a tool of the elite.

Anyone can see how slavery and serfdom are coercive arrangements, because the victim is punished for refusing to work. But in the case of wage work, the coercive nature of the institution is less evident, because a wage worker is not directly punished for refusing to work. The only punishment is to withhold a reward: failure to work means the worker will not be paid. But it is still coercive, and the coercion still takes the form of punishment or threat of punishment. It’s just not applied by his immediate employer, nor directly for refusing to work. The coercion applied to a wage worker is applied before he ever accepts a job. It is built into the system of ownership that concentrates possession of capital property into a few privileged hands. It punishes the wage worker, not for refusing to work, but for attempting to work using capital property that belongs to the elite. Since he cannot obtain capital property of his own, he is unable to produce wealth on his own for his own use or for sale to others. As such, he has no independent way of supporting himself. He must work for the profit of another, in return for the means to support himself and his family. Rewards are sufficient motivators only to the extent that the person receiving the reward suffers from deprivation. If the wage worker can support himself through his own labor on his own behalf, rather than in service to another, then his desire for monetary reward is satiated, and he will have no reason to surrender his liberty. The rat will run the maze in return for food pellets, but only if it is kept hungry.

Because the ability of an employer to apply direct coercion is limited, and because the wage worker is allowed by law to voluntarily leave his employment, refusing to work but giving up his wages, it carries a greater semblance of freedom than either slavery or serfdom. It has been possible to argue that a wage worker “voluntarily” enters into an employment agreement, and so is actually free. The argument is specious, of course, because the only way the agreement could genuinely be voluntary is if the worker had the right and opportunity to support himself without a master. When the alternative is starvation, no real choice exists. It has also been possible to argue, with equal speciousness, that the worker rather than his master owns the fruits of his labors, by confusing the real fruits of his labors – the goods or services that his labor creates – with the reward his employer offers for surrendering them. Let there be no confusion on this point. A wage worker is not a slave, nor is he a serf. But he is most certainly not free.

In addition to keeping capital property concentrated in few hands – actually, in service to that necessity of universal coerced labor – it has also been desirable from the standpoint of the elite to keep the rewards paid for wage labor as low as practical. This was desired partly so as to maximize the share of wealth held by the elite, of course, but also to reduce the chance of a wage worker freeing himself by saving sufficient money to go into business or, through investments, to support himself without working. Even if a worker is unable to completely free himself from servitude, if he is well paid and lives within his means, his options become wider and he is much harder to manipulate. If asked to do something unacceptable, an employee who can survive without work for a year or more is much more likely to quit than one that lives paycheck to paycheck.

In the end, it’s all about power, even more than about money.

And that will be the subject of next week’s post.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Profit Is Theft

One of my purposes in writing this blog is to encourage radical thinking. Not necessarily radical action (although radical thinking does radicalize action to a degree), but thinking that cuts through the false assumptions and intellectual ruts at the roots of a lot of habitual thought in politics, economics, religion, and art. If we can think radically, possibilities open to our consideration that we would never even imagine otherwise.

This week, I want to discuss two concepts that are crucial to any capitalist economy, and that are older than civilization, but much younger than the human race: the private ownership of capital property, and the related concept of profit. These were, for their times, radical ideas. Today, pointing out that they are not inevitable or natural ideas has itself become radical, and so doing that has become necessary.

Property ownership in some forms is as old as the human race, or somewhat older. But the property that our precivilized ancestors owned was all personal property, not capital property. Individuals owned things that they planned to use and enjoy themselves: clothing, tools, weapons, food stores, maybe a tent or a place in the communal dwelling. But no individual owned the land from which all these things came. An individual hunter could own the meat from his own kill, but not the hunting ground. The same hunter could own the spear he used to kill his prey, but not the flint quarry that its spearhead came from. Land was different from other types of property in that it was used to make wealth, rather than being wealth itself. In precivilzed society, it was the property of the band or the tribe, not of any individual. Any property that a person owned, he owned because his own work had made it, or because he had traded something produced by his own work for the product of someone else’s work.

Let’s look a bit more closely at that paradigm of property, because it contrasts greatly with what obtains today.

The source of wealth (the land) is owned communally.

The land is available to anyone in the band or tribe that is capable of making wealth from it.

If a person makes something, then (subject to tribal rules about sharing food and other necessities to make sure no one goes hungry or otherwise suffers unnecessarily) that person owns it. Labor defines ownership.

Private ownership of capital property was introduced with civilization. It created a very different paradigm of property ownership that worked like this.

The source of wealth (the land, and later on industrial plant and sometimes intellectual property) is owned by individuals.

The land and other capital property are only available to make wealth from with the permission of its owner.

If a person makes something, then (subject to laws which take a portion in taxes to cover public expense) it belongs to the owner of the capital property from which it is made. Labor does not define ownership. Ownership of capital property, and nothing else, defines ownership of the wealth produced from it.

Note the difference? When capital property was communally owned, it was labor that defined the ownership of wealth. Each person owned what he worked to produce. But since capital property has become privately owned, that ownership is now what defines ownership of the wealth produced from it. Today, no one owns what he works to produce, at least not because he works to produce it. Ownership is defined by ownership itself. To own capital property is to own what is produced from it, whether you do the work to produce it or someone else does. If you own capital property, that entitles you not only to the fruits of your own labor applied to that property, but also to the fruits of other people’s labor applied to the same. If you do not own capital property, then you are not entitled even to the fruits of your own labor.

This may be counter-intuitive, so let me go into a little more detail. Some may respond: aren’t people paid for their work? Don’t they own the fruits of their labor in the form of their wages or salaries?

No. They do own their wages or salaries of course, but that is NOT the product of their labor. That is the fee paid them for doing the work even though someone else owns the product of their labor. The product of a person’s labor is the goods or services produced by it, and that belongs not to the worker, but to the owner of the capital property the worker used to produce it. What’s more, it is always worth more in sale value than the wages paid those who produce it. As an employee, you are paid only a portion of the value of what your work produces – as small a portion as your employer can pay and still get you to do the job, and certainly never equal to the full value.

This brings us to the related concept of profit. What is profit? It’s defined as the revenues generated by a business minus its expenses. It may also be regarded as the net share of wealth going to the owner of capital property. Or, less even-handedly, it is that portion of the total wealth of an enterprise that the owner skims from the labor of others.

To make this clear, I’m going to exercise a bit of author privilege, or linguistic irresponsibility, and slightly redefine the word. (I have no shame. It’s true. Ask anyone.) For purposes of this writing, “profit” applies only to that portion of a business’ net revenue that is not produced with the owner’s own labor. This means that if you are the sole proprietor of a business with no employees, your business makes no “profits” in this sense, because your labor and no one else’s has generated the goods or services which have been sold to generate revenue. I’m doing this because I want to illustrate something about the great majority of business profits in our economy, which is however not true of situations such as I just described.

Profit, then, as I am using the word, is wealth amassed through other people’s work.

It is in this sense of the word “profit” – although I must emphasize that the vast majority of what accountants call “profit” does meet this definition – that profit is theft. It is the producing of wealth through the labor of other people, who are paid less than the value of the goods and services their labor produces. The owners of capital property – property which, in the natural state that our ancestors occupied for over a hundred thousand years, many times the duration of civilized life so far, was owned communally and not the property of any one individual – are taking wealth that other people have produced, and that in a natural society would belong to the people who produce it. And that is stealing.

But this act of theft is perpetrated by almost all owners of capital property without a shred of guilt, with even less shame than I feel in redefining a word here and there, because it has become endemic in our society and perceived as the natural order of things, no matter how unnatural it actually is. And it is completely unnatural, in two ways. Not only have we redistributed capital property, which in our original, natural societies was held in common, into private ownership, but we have also changed the rules about who owns what is produced from it, so that ownership rather than labor determines ownership. In natural, precivilized societies, capital property was owned by the society, but the society did not own the wealth that was produced from it. The individual that did the work owned the product of his work. (Subject, of course, to rules distributing food to the hungry and such, but that’s functionally equivalent to taxes today, and is a footnote to the process not the main description.) So not only have we gone from an arrangement in which capital property is publicly owned to one in which it’s privately owned, but at the same time we’ve gone from a system in which labor defines ownership to one in which ownership defines ownership. We have done this, obviously, to benefit the owners of capital property, who enjoy enormous privileges both economic and political in a modern society.

As noted above in the first paragraph, I’m not proposing any particular action here. We are long past the time when we could restore communal ownership of capital property, or at least I can’t think of any way to make that work in a modern industrial economy. Then again, perhaps there is a way and I simply haven’t thought of it. Certainly it’s a millennia-old Gordian knot of privilege and power, not easily undone. But the mind is as sharp an implement as Alexander’s sword, and merely to recognize the reality of what is and why serves by itself to put things into a new perspective. Also, there are some consequence of this recognition that all for-hire workers are being systematically plundered by a system designed to create and reward privilege which will be explored in future posts. At very least, this perspective will hopefully give many people the idea that things which have been taken for granted should be changed, which is a prerequisite to the consideration of exactly what they should be changed into.

Next week: slavery, serfdom, and wage work, or, the forms of coercion.