Archive for June, 2014

Most of what passes for “economics” is dogma of the “We Will Help You!” religion of the State

June 20th, 2014 No comments

[Copied from a Facebook post, that was itself bumped up from a Facebook comment on a thread on the role of religion in society]

In response to an observation/inquiry from Marie:

What most people think is “economics” and many of those involved in it as a professional or as a policy wonk certainly IS “full of religious and quasi-religious formulations. Is there anything that is fact based about economics?” Most of the “fact-based” stuff REFERS to facts, but is in fact not well-grounded at the micro level on an understanding how people actually behave.

Fortunately, there IS a growing focus on studying HOW people perceive, think and act, both individually and embedded within our groups, mores, and institutions. Behavioral economists and others are looking at human behavior and those in the “New Institutional Economics” school (represented by 2009 Nobel Prizewinners Elinor ‪#‎Ostrom and Oliver E. Williamson; this includes “Public Choice and “Austrian” economists) are studying and publishing on entrepreneurship, social capital, moral hazard, regulatory capture, crony capitalism, fiat currencies, individual and group plan formation, markets, “bounded rationality,” the “information problem,” “principal-agent problems,” etc. THIS is REAL economics, as a human science examining how we interact.

The “Workshop on the Ostroms, the Commons and Polycentric Self-Governance” is a page that I have been putting together in celebration of Lin Ostrom’s life and to explore the insights that she and her many and growing collaborators have:

In addition, The Collaborative Center Community/#CCC, where Marie raised her question, is a group intended for “anyone who is dissatisfied with the state of society, and is willing to build trans-partisan coalitions to fight (1) for stronger, more vital communities and (2) against corruption and crony capitalism. Divided, we are falling/failing, while those who control the increasingly concentrated and coercive levers of power continue both to thrive and to insulate themselves from the problems that they generate and perpetuate. For corrective action, we must act TOGETHER. This group is for people who are willing to reach across partisan aisles to connect with others who are also troubled by corporatism and loss of personal influence in the communities in which we live.”

I hope those of you who have troubled yourself to read even this far will also check out #CCC, which I hope will help redirect people from unproductive and hostile partisanship:

I note that the Vision Statement of the #Ostrom Award provides a good start in exploring the empirically based economics of Elinor Ostrom and her collaborators:

The presidential address to the American Political Science Association in 1997
Understanding Institutional Diversity
“Governing the Commons”
The Nobel lecture
The PNAS article on panaceas
Managing the Commons: Payment for Environmental Services.
Articles on the SES framework

For Practitioners
“Resources, Rights, and Cooperation: A Sourcebook on Property rights and collective action for sustainable development”. CAPRI, 2010.
Managing the Commons: Conservation of Biodiversity.
Managing the Commons: Markets, Commodity Chains and Certification.
Managing the Commons: Indigenous Rights, Economic Development and Identity.
Managing the Commons: Payment for Environmental Services.

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“Dysfunction,” “greed” and “mistakes” are predictable results when people act in systems that absolve them of accountability for harms to others

June 17th, 2014 1 comment

Left and Right keep looking for dichotomies of good/bad, where I see two sides of the same coin - the phenomena of predictably unaccountable, irresponsible, greedy, self-serving, stupid risk-shifting behavior by individuals within organizations where they are shielded by law/lack of transparency/custom/raw power/physical or social remoteness from other people who bear the bulk of the costs of actions that seem advantageous to those who act.

I also observe the ‘dysfunction’ in/of organizations that themselves are protected from the choices of citizens/customers, by virtue of law, monopoly or other coercion, and that such “BLOWBACK” often pays in spades for the group that makes or drives the bad decisions.

This is essentially a scientific undertaking in which many like #Ostrom was and others under the rubric of #NewInstitutionalEconomics are involved in researching and explicating.

Those who reflexively are incapable of looking at the fruit of massive state interventions in the economy (including the corporations that the state makes), who demand MORE and BETTER of what hasn’t been working, are displaying essentially religious and tribal mentalities. We have Sunni and Shia tribes in our #AmericanTaliban!

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The state as a tool of corrupt and unaccountable elites in enclosing the commons; and climate

June 16th, 2014 No comments

[Excerpted from a 2009 note to John Quiggin on “libertarians and delusionism“. My delusionism is smaller than yours!]

Would domestic cap-and-trade be an enclosure of the atmospheric commons, for the benefit of firms receiving grants of permits and costs flowing regressively to energy consumers, and internationally represents a vast expansion of state authority and bureaucracies, with attendant enclosure of local resources?

Many of the problems that concern libertarians also concern progressives, chief of these being the negative effects of state actions on communities, development and on open-access (and hitherto local, indigenous-managed) commons. This is the same concern that the Nobel Prize committee expressed when extending the prize in Economics to Elinor #Ostrom, signalling their desire for a change in international aid policy. [I have blogged on Ostrom’s views on the climate commons.]

Readers might find these remarks by Nicholas Hildyard, Larry Lohmann, Sarah Sexton and Simon Fairlie in “Reclaiming the Commons” (1995) to be pertinent:

The creation of empires and states, business conglomerates and
civic dictatorships — whether in pre-colonial times or in the modern
era — has only been possible through dismantling the commons and
harnessing the fragments, deprived of their old significance, to build
up new economic and social patterns that are responsive to the
interests of a dominant minority. The modern nation state has been
built only by stripping power and control from commons regimes and
creating structures of governance from which the great mass of humanity
(particularly women) are excluded. Likewise, the market economy has
expanded primarily by enabling state and commercial interests to gain
control of territory that has traditionally been used and cherished by
others, and by transforming that territory – together with the people
themselves – into expendable “resources” for exploitation. By enclosing
forests, the state and private enterprise have torn them out of fabrics
of peasant subsistence; by providing local leaders with an outside
power base, unaccountable to local people, they have undermined village
checks and balances; by stimulating demand for cash goods, they have
impelled villagers to seek an ever wider range of things to sell. Such
a policy was as determinedly pursued by the courts of Aztec Mexico, the
feudal lords of West Africa, and the factory owners of Lancashire and
the British Rail as it is today by the International Monetary Fund or
Coca-Cola Inc.

Only in this way has it been possible to convert peasants into
labour for a global economy, replace traditional with modern
agriculture, and free up the commons for the industrial economy.
Similarly, only by atomizing tasks and separating workers from the
moral authority, crafts and natural surroundings created by their
communities has it been possible to transform them into modern,
universal individuals susceptible to “management”. In short, only by
deliberately taking apart local cultures and reassembling them in new
forms has it been possible to open them up to global trade.[FN L.
Lohmann, ‘Resisting Green Globalism’ in W. Sachs (ed), Global Ecology:
Conflicts and Contradictions, Zed Books, London and New Jersey, 1993.]

To achieve that “condition of economic progress”, millions have
been marginalized as a calculated act of policy, their commons
dismantled and degraded, their cultures denigrated and devalued and
their own worth reduced to their value as labour. Seen from this
perspective, many of the processes that now go under the rubric of
“nation-building”, “economic growth”, and “progress” are first ad
foremost processes of expropriation, exclusion, denial and
dispossession. In a word, of “enclosure”.

Because history’s best-known examples of enclosure involved the
fencing in of common pasture, enclosure is often reduced to a synonym
for “expropriation”. But enclosure involves more than land and fences,
and implies more than simply privatization or takeover by the state. It
is a compound process which affects nature and culture, home and
market, production and consumption, germination and harvest, birth,
sickness and death. It is a process to which no aspect of life or
culture is immune. ..,

Enclosure tears people and their lands, forests, crafts,
technologies and cosmologies out of the cultural framework in which
they are embedded and tries to force them into a new framework which
reflects and reinforces the values and interests of newly-dominant
groups. Any pieces which will not fit into the new framework are
devalued and discarded. In the modern age, the architecture of this new
framework is determined by market forces, science, state and corporate
bureaucracies, patriarchal forms of social organization, and ideologies
of environmental and social management.

Land, for example, once it is integrated into a framework of
fences, roads and property laws, is “disembedded” from local fabrics of
self-reliance and redefined as “property” or “real estate”. Forests are
divided into rigidly defined precincts – mining concessions, logging
concessions, wildlife corridors and national parks – and transformed
from providers of water, game, wood and vegetables into scarce
exploitable economic resources. Today they are on the point of being
enclosed still further as the dominant industrial culture seeks to
convert them into yet another set of components of the industrial
system, redefining them as “sinks” to absorb industrial carbon dioxide
and as pools of “biodiversity”. Air is being enclosed as economists
seek to transform it into a marketable “waste sink”; and genetic
material by subjecting it to laws which convert it into the
“intellectual property” of private interests.

People too are enclosed as they are fitted into a new society where
they must sell their labour, learn clock-time and accustom themselves
to a life of production and consumption; groups of people are redefined
as “populations’, quantifiable entities whose size must be adjusted to
take pressure off resources required for the global economy. …

enclosure transforms the environment into a “resource” for national or
global production – into so many chips that can be cashed in as
commodities, handed out as political favours and otherwise used to
accrue power. …

Enclosure thus cordons off those aspects of the environment that are
deemed “useful” to the encloser — whether grass for sheep in 16th
century England or stands of timber for logging in modern-say Sarawak
– and defines them, and them alone, as valuable. A street becomes a
conduit for vehicles; a wetland, a field to be drained; flowing water,
a wasted asset to be harnessed for energy or agriculture. Instead of
being a source of multiple benefits, the environment becomes a
one-dimensional asset to be exploited for a single purpose – that
purpose reflecting the interests of the encloser, and the priorities of
the wider political economy in which the encloser operates….

Enclosure opens the way for the bureaucratization and enclosure of
knowledge itself. It accords power to those who master the language of
the new professionals and who are versed in its etiquette and its
social nuances, which are inaccessible to those who have not been to
school or to university, who do not have professional qualifications,
who cannot operate computers, who cannot fathom the apparent mysteries
of a cost-benefit analysis, or who refuse to adopt the forceful tones
of an increasingly “masculine” world.

In that respect, as Illich notes, “enclosure is as much in the
interest of professionals and of state bureaucrats as it is in the
interests of capitalists.” For as local ways of knowing and doing are
devalued or appropriated, and as vernacular forms of governance are
eroded, so state and professional bodies are able to insert themselves
within the commons, taking over areas of life that were previously
under the control of individuals, households and the community.
Enclosure “allows the bureaucrat to define the local community as
impotent to provide for its own survival.”[FN I Illich, ‘Silence is a
Commons’, The Coevolution Quarterly, Winter 1983.] It invites the
professional to come to the “rescue” of those whose own knowledge is
deemed inferior to that of the encloser.

Enclosure is thus a change in the networks of power which enmesh
the environment, production, distribution, the political process,
knowledge, research and the law. It reduces the control of local people
over community affairs. Whether female or male, a person’s influence
and ability to make a living depends increasingly on becoming absorbed
into the new policy created by enclosure, on accepting — willingly or
unwillingly — a new role as a consumer, a worker, a client or an
administrator, on playing the game according to new rules. The way is
thus cleared for cajoling people into the mainstream, be it through
programmes to bring women “into development”, to entice smallholders
“into the market” or to foster paid employment.[FN P. Simmons, ‘Women
in Development’, The Ecologist, Vol. 22, No.1, 1992, pp.16-21.]

Those who remain on the margins of the new mainstream, either by
choice or because that is where society has pushed them, are not only
deemed to have little value: they are perceived as a threat. Thus it is
the landless, the poor, the dispossessed who are blamed for forest
destruction; their poverty which is held responsible for
“overpopulation”; their protests which are classed as subversive and a
threat to political stability. And because they are perceived as a
threat, they become objects to be controlled, the legitimate subjects
of yet further enclosure. …

People who would oppose dams, logging, the redevelopment of their
neighbourhoods or the pollution of their rivers are often left few
means of expressing or arguing their case unless they are prepared to
engage in a debate framed by the languages of cost-benefit analysis,
reductionist science, utilitarianism, male domination — and,
increasingly, English. Not only are these languages in which many local
objection — such as that which holds ancestral community rights to a
particular place to have precedence over the imperatives of “national
development” — appear disreputable. They are also languages whose use
allows enclosers to eavesdrop on, “correct” and dominate the
conversations of the enclosed. …

Because they hold themselves to be speaking a universal language,
the modern enclosers who work for development agencies and governments
feel no qualms in presuming to speak for the enclosed. They assume
reflexively that they understand their predicament as well as or better
than the enclosed do themselves. It is this tacit assumption that
legitimizes enclosure in the encloser’s mind – and it is an assumption
that cannot be countered simply by transferring what are
conventionbally assumed to be the trappings of power from one group to

A space for the commons cannot be created by economists,
development planners, legislators, “empowerment” specialists or other
paternalistic outsiders. To place the future in the hands of such
individuals would be to maintain the webs of power that are currently
stifling commons regimes. One cannot legislate the commons into
existence; nor can the commons be reclaimed simply by adopting “green
techniques” such as organic agriculture, alternative energy strategies
or better public transport — necessary and desirable though such
techniques often are. Rather, commons regimes emerge through ordinary
people’s day-to-day resistance to enclosure, and through their efforts
to regain livelihoods and the mutual support, responsibility and trust
that sustain the commons.

That is not to say that one can ignore policy-makers or
policy-making. The depredations of transnational corporations,
international bureaucracies and national governments cannot be allowed
to go unchallenged. But movements for social change have a
responsibility to ensure that in seeking solutions, they do not remove
the initiative from those who are defending their commons or attempting
to regenerate common regimes — a responsibility they should take

Might there be good reason NOT to rush into a vast expansion of government world-wide?

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The state-worshipping Left (and Right) are the real “American Taliban”

June 16th, 2014 No comments

[reworked from a comment at the #WBOS Facebook group]

There is all kinds of fevered worrying out there that religious Dave Brat (who upset House Majority Whip Eric Cantor in VA 7 primary) poses a threat to the mission of Govt to save the poor and oppressed, and that Calvinism is really a doctrine to serve plutocrats.

The irony is that the politically dominant group in the country IS the essentially religious group of New England reformers (Calvinists) who took over the Federal Govt, crushed the South, producing a standing army that then crushed the Indians and ever since has been the threat that Washington and other Founders warned of, and wages endless virtuous wars on immigrants/alcohol/drugs/poverty/disease/sexism/unsafe food-organic, etc etc. These wars add to their very securely protected privilege (Harvard/Yale/Ivys that use “affirmative action” to cultivate pet minorities who they keep oppressed via the #DrugWar, while discriminating against Asians).

It’s a wonder that those nasty, threatening Amish/Mennonites/Hutterite Anabaptists haven’t been crushed yet.

I wish these people would buy a clue to the bigger picture, rather than to foment suspicion about people who don’t worship the endlessly incompetent state and the looters whom it really helps to help themselves.

The “American Taliban” is real, but it is the liberals themselves who are it, who are intolerant, and insist on using the state to run everyone’s lives. They intend well and pray daily that the Govt will act to save them and disadvantaged/oppressed people throughout the country, and pray/clamor even harder these days when things don’t work out. They don’t see the inefficacy of their prayers (or indeed, counterproductivity of Govt action in alienating people, weakening communities and DISEMPOWERING people’s ability to act collectively), because for them, it’s good INTENTIONS that matter, not results. If the results are bad, there’s a handy religious elder/court intellectual to advocate more spending, more stimulus, more subsidies, more regulations and more requirements that minorities/oppressed will have MORE help from Govt, so they don’t have to trouble to DO SOMETHING THEMSELVES. The State will make us SAFE!

Fortunately, there are promising signs of apostasy in the Left in NH, CO and WA, in #OWS, and in the “terrorist” protesters against big, govt-made and -coddled corporations and banks.

PS: There is evidence that much of the we-will-use-Government-to regulate-your-choices Right is also in the #AmericanTaliban:

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