Why is there a wave of right-wing governments across the globe?

Here are the top five reasons why there is a wave of right-wing governments across the globe:

1. Global corporate capitalism, as coordinated and directed by the wealthiest owner-shareholders around the world, is creating huge wealth disparities, increasingly destructive negative externalities (climate change, unbreathable air, undrinkable water, rapid species extinction, etc.), and exaggerated economic instability (boom/bust cycles that are increasingly extreme). This trend understandably frightens people, and they want a scapegoat for their fears. The far-right rhetoric blames progressive social policies, recent waves of immigrants, and “government interference in free markets,” in simplistic, polemic rhetoric. None of these are the real causal factors behind what so frightens right-leaning folks…but they sure are easy targets for polarizing propaganda. It’s really easy to get scared people to vote against their own best interests, and ignore the real “man behind the curtain” (i.e. those wealthy owner-shareholders) who doesn’t want to be held accountable.

2. The actual solutions to many of these modern challenges are complex, nuanced, contingent, dynamic and abstract. To even fully comprehend some of the problems humanity faces requires an advanced understanding of specialized disciplines that take years to learn (i.e. economics, climate science, biology, medicine, genetics, etc.). Consequently, it’s difficult to explain how to move forward to “the average voter,” and much easier to hoodwink them. And the conservative, right-leaning voters around the world have often had an uneasy relationship with evidence-based, scientific approaches, often mistrusting experts and academia on a fundamental level. And yet, these same conservative “average voters” feel empowered by misinformation they find on social media, in sensationalist journalism, on conspiracy websites, and through other unreliable sources. This creates a false sense of confidence (see Illusory truth effect and Dunning–Kruger effect), which combines with tribalistic “Us vs. Them” emotional reactivism, and in turn leads to mass movements that are highly irrational and easily manipulated. Unfortunately for those who gravitate towards the far-right end of the political spectrum, nearly all of the most strident, deceptive and manipulative propaganda today is housed in their media. So instead of becoming educated with real evidence or persuaded by rational reasoning, the right-leaning person becomes increasingly deceived and deluded.

3. Some rather unsavory folks with self-serving agendas have decided to double down on this ongoing deception. Whether it’s the fake science and science skepticism (such as climate denial) funded by the Koch brothers and neoliberal think tanks; or the “active measures” of Vladimir Putin aimed at dividing, angering and confusing folks all around the globe; or the strategic social media influence campaigns from Cambridge Analytica; or the lies and exaggerations of a mentally unstable President Trump — all of these sources are just engineering and promoting their own accumulation of wealth and power. It’s a pretty simple and transparent strategy…just “follow the money.” And social media platforms have now provided a powerful, dopamine-addiction-driven tool to entrain mindless conformance among targeted groups of users. For more discussion of this pernicious pattern, see The Opposition.

4. Progressives and technocrats are generally TERRIBLE at explaining their positions and the rationale for approaching complex problems a certain way. To them, the situation and its solutions are painfully obvious…but very few have the gift of translating that “obviousness” into clear, easily shared memes on social media, or humorous quips on talk shows, or simplistic black-and-white tropes that uneducated folks can latch onto. This is one reason I have proposed creating a Public Information Clearinghouse to help the “average voter” understand complex issues and appreciate evidence-based solutions.

5. I think…and this is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, let alone articulate…that humanity is getting dumber. Perhaps as a consequence of a combination of things — stress, pollutants, reliance on technology, poor diets, fast-paced lifestyles, etc. — or epigenetic changes that have been amplified by this same combination of factors, human beings aren’t thinking very clearly or cleverly. And there is also an increase — especially among conservatives and the far-right — to actively suppress their own intelligence. It’s quite disturbing to witness the extraordinary levels of cognitive dissonance conservatives must sustain to hold onto their most cherished but misguided beliefs. And this “cultivated stupidity” has a collective snowball effect, which again is just amplified into lockstep in-group conformance by the mass media that crafts these deceptive narratives and perpetuates them.

So don’t allow yourself to be hoodwinked by the right-wing propaganda about why there is a wave of right-wing movements. :-) Over many decades, socially conservative, market fundamentalist, greed-centric crony capitalists have created the conditions that now make them so fearful and unhappy. But they are not willing to take responsibility for what they have done, and instead seek to blame others. It's a very human failing, but promises to be particularly disastrous in this situation — because it avoids engaging the actual causes for impending calamity.

My 2 cents.

What are the different types of socialism?

Thanks for the question.

Historically, there have been many variations of proposed and realized socialism – so many, in fact, that you could write a lengthy book about them and still likely not be able to include them all. In addition, socialist philosophies have evolved considerably over time. What holds all of them together is, I think, a fundamental belief that capitalism must either be reigned in or eliminated in order for inequality to be reduced, and for individual and collective freedoms and well-being to be ensured.

That said, I would probably break down socialism in its current forms into these categories:

1. Authoritarian State Socialism – such as Marxism-Leninism as widely implemented, with strict central planning of the economy, all productive enterprise owned by the State, and the State controlled by the select few of a single party.

2. Democratic Socialism – a democratic and decentralized version of socialism that opposes authoritarian forms like Marxism-Leninism, and where more open democratic controls manage the means of production and economic planning, with worker self-management as a key feature. This form of socialism has traditionally relied on representative democracy to further socialist reforms.

3. Market Socialism – is socialistic in that all free enterprise is publicly owned and managed, and workers and society benefit from all productivity; is market-based in that competition exists between free enterprise, and the economy tends to be less centrally planned.

4. Mixed Economies/New Deal Socialism/Social Democracy – free enterprise co-exists with central regulation of the economy, some socialized production, and welfare programs, with markets ultimately subject to representative democratic controls.

5. Libertarian Socialism – a broad umbrella in itself, this includes many proposals for non-State-centric (minarchist or anarchist) socialist political economies that emphasize highly distributed collective and egalitarian solutions, worker self-management, attenuation or elimination of private property, and governance via direct democracy, nested councils, etc. (rather than representative democracy). An example of libertarian socialism that has gained popularity and real-world examples in recents years is municipalism (see Which municipalism? Let's be choosy).

6. Anarcho-Communism – has many of the features of Libertarian Socialism, but differentiates itself mainly in that it seeks a more complete, Stateless anarchy and facilitates individual agency above collective or communal concerns.

There are actually many other forms of socialism as well. The chart below plots what some of these look like in relation to more capitalist or "proprietarian" traditions of political economy.

I hope this was helpful.


What do you, as an anarcho-socialist, think of the notion propagated by right-wing libertarians that taxation is theft imposed by the government on citizens?

This has always been a pretty humorous issue to my thinking, mainly because of the source — and because it’s part of a pattern. Consider what’s really going on here:

- Extracting natural resources from the planet — which is really held in common and belongs to everyone — and then selling them for private profit isn’t theft…but taxes are.

- Exploiting workers — their time, their effort, their creativity — in order to, once again, accumulate private profit that is not shared with those workers isn’t theft…but taxes are.

- Property ownership (think of patents or land ownership in particular) that excludes everyone from using or sharing in the benefits of that property — even if the property isn’t being used at all by its owner — isn’t theft…but taxes are.

Using services provided by the government, but not paying for them, isn’t theft…but taxes are.

Can you see the pattern here? It’s really a sort of childish, selfish, whiny entitlement — and it is utterly hypocritical, along the lines of “everyone else should have to pay ME for things I think are important, but that same standard shouldn’t apply to ME…I should not have to pay others for something just because THEY think it is important…”

This mindset embraces an utterly perverse and unworkable conception of freedom, a la adolescent pseudophilosophies like that of Ayn Rand. Why is it unworkable? Because it corrodes the prosocial foundations of civil society itself, where we collectively and democratically agree to limit our own selfishness, acquisitiveness and self-indulgence for the sake of societal stability and collective thriving. We relax I/Me/Mine for the good of All. That’s what adulthood looks like.

Of course, if enough folks don’t agree to given tax, and want to vote it out of existence, they can do that. But that means — in the context of the State — that they will need to give up something in return. A protection, a privilege, or possibly a perceived right. Not appreciating this leads to…well…soaring deficits.

My 2 cents.

What's wrong with a moderate level of gun regulation like waiting periods, strict and comprehensive background checks (including for gun shows) and requiring safety training? Moderate regulation may b

“What’s wrong with a moderate level of gun regulation” is that, in the United States, there are a lot of extremely irrational, fearful, self-righteous folks who allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the firearms industry. It wasn’t until after the firearms industry realized that its military weapon sales were tanking (i.e. no more wars) that the 2nd Amendment suddenly had more to do with personal gun ownership and self-defense, and not with well-regulated militias. This was part of a deliberate propaganda campaign to deceive and mislead American consumers. If not for the desire of gun mfrs to market military style weapons to civilians, there would likely only be a few fringe extremists who believe what is now fairly mainstream among card-carrying NRA members.

And of course it’s not infringement. You need a license and training to drive a car lawfully. You need a license and training to serve food to people safely. You need a license and training to build a house for someone. You need a license and training to operate a ham radio out of the privacy of your home. All of this has to do with public safety. And for folks to say that applying what is a normal and reasonable consideration for other potentially harmful skills and privileges in society to guns is somehow unreasonable or unconstitutional…well, what can I say? It frankly boggles the mind…until you realize these folks have been spoon fed their talking points by the companies that make assault weapons.

Unfortunately, it’s not all that surprising that this has happened in the U.S. Americans are hard-wired from birth to believe false advertising…it’s just part of our commercialistic culture: we tend to believe what we are sold.

Oh…and rest assured that nearly all of the claims that “gun regulations don’t solve or stop anything” are statistically dead wrong. Just more lies to sell more guns. Lots of studies show that gun regulation has a positive impact on reducing crime stats and accidental death and homicide stats (both in the U.S. and in other countries). Again though…truth and evidence don’t matter to a lot of 2nd Amendments defenders, as they’re drunk on the Cool-Aid of “alternative facts.”

That said, here are some articles that may be of interest to reasonable, sane people who haven’t bought into the pro-gun-mfr-lobby con-job:

How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment

How The Gun Industry Funnels Tens Of Millions Of Dollars To The NRA

State Gun Laws That Actually Reduce Gun Deaths

States with strict gun laws have fewer firearms deaths. Here's how your state stacks up

Firearm Laws and Firearm Homicides

The Supreme Court’s Worst Decision of My Tenure (re: Columbia v. Heller)

My 2 cents.

What is philosophy's take on economics?

That’s a big question, and answers will vary depending on what time periods you are interested in, as well as which schools of philosophy you consult. As a gross generalization (with plentiful exceptions), we might say that for most of its history economics has been primarily philosophical in its basis, with several attempts to justify philosophical positions with empirical observations (Marx was one of the first to attempt this in a systematic way). More recently, however, different schools of economics have been able to start with empirical observations, and extrapolate evaluative metrics and systemic frameworks from there — microeconomics through a lens of behavioral science is one such attempt. Also, if you have a chance to peruse Freakonomics podcasts and literature, there are some very interesting “evidence-based” approaches to economics to be found there. At the macroeconomic level, however, the complexity of analysis has far exceeded most cohesive, integrated models except in retrospect: that is, we can look back on past events and analyze the data to derive some useful principles. Even then, however, ideology has often driven conclusions. There is also the challenge of “the myth of the given” with respect to capitalism: economics presupposes that capitalism can be understood in economic terms, and so an entire language of economic terms has grown up around its analysis of capitalism. But could it be that all of this is just invention? That economics (as a science) really can’t “get its head” around capitalism entirely — and certainly not empirically? This is not a widely-held view among economists…but I suspect that, if you queried some philosophers about economics, this is an hypothesis they might entertain.

My 2 cents.

Why do people seem so surprised about inequality of wealth, the 10% having holdings, when so few save, even those that could?

Thanks for the question.

I think mainly it’s a matter of scale. The gap between that upper 10% and everyone else is almost too vast to comprehend.

Then there is the issue of what “savings” can actually accomplish. Even though I learned about the miracle of compound interest in my early 20s, the most outrageous predictions about my own potential wealth after 40 years of saving could never come close to what the upper 10% have amassed individually today. A couple of million maybe. But 200 Billion…?

People can intuitively grasp that not saving has consequences — especially if they’re going into debt at the same time in order to consume conspicuously. Almost everyone I know who is over 60 has looked back on their lives with chagrin regarding how they spent everything they earned. At the same time, many would not have made different choices. They don’t regret traveling in Europe in their 20s and meeting the love of their life overseas. They don’t regret buying expensive instruments and making music with friends. They don’t regret paying off their college loans, or buying their dream house on some wooded acreage. So what quality of life is anyone really willing to sacrifice in order to amass more wealth…? But the conspicuous consumption issue…or not budgeting…or not planning financially at all…well, that’s probably an issue of education more than anything else. I was very conscious about what I was sacrificing (over the longer term) by traveling, eating well, going to concerts, etc. But I don’t think most people are all that aware…until it’s too late.

And that brings us to what the “surprise” is really all about: an awakening to an unpleasant situation that was truly unexpected. I am currently helping manage the finances and healthcare of family members with dementia. Some of those family members had saved quite a bit. Some saved nothing. In both cases, they weren’t at all prepared for what was coming. ALL of their resources will be exhausted LONG BEFORE they arrive at the final stages of care. ALL OF THEM. And so for the ones who saved, it really didn’t matter that much — they are still suffering and will continue to suffer, and there will very likely be nothing left to pass on to their beneficiaries…little safety or comfort for themselves, and no legacy for their loved ones, despite all that careful saving and planning.

So even the objective of amassing wealth loses its allure in the face of such circumstances. If things are going to end like that regardless, then why NOT spend everything now to enjoy life?

And this speaks to a much more fundamental problem IMO: the reliance on individual or familial wealth to navigate well-being, instead of developing a more compassionate civil society with supportive institutions. It points, I think, to the fundamental flaw in the materialist/individualist mindset.

My 2 cents.

The Evolution of Capital



At the prompting of Lincoln Merchant, I have cobbled together my current thinking on a definition of “capitalism.” I am grateful to Lincoln for encouraging me to distill something concise and concrete from an admittedly tangled jumble of assumptions, observations and definitions floating around in my head. Hopefully this quick overview will suffice – though I suspect it still requires refinement.

To begin, I view capitalism as the natural consequence of feudalism and mercantilism, where capitalism maintains similar economic, racial, class and other sociopolitical power structures and stratification found in these systems, but morphs and reworks these components to support larger scales of production, adapts them to larger human populations, takes better advantage of rapidly emerging technologies, creates more diverse opportunities to become an owner-shareholder and concentrate wealth, and encourages (and exploits) a more economically mobile worker-consumer class out of what had been serfs, vassals and slaves. However, for the purposes of this discussion, all of those morphed components can be conveniently distilled into some form of “capital.” The basic definition of such capital would sound something like this:

Capital is anything that can be shared or accumulated to gain and maintain individual and societal existential security or advantage – that is, to support human thriving.


There are therefore many recognized forms of capital that fulfill this function – many of which mingle and overlap – which have played a role in most cultures throughout human history, and were certainly present in forms of political economy prior to capitalism. We could call these original, simple forms of capital:

1. Social capital: tangible and intangible resources made available through immediate relationships with others – through family ties, geographical communities, institutional and affinity group memberships, social networks, shared class stratum, and spontaneous agreement around values and ideology

2. Cultural capital: acquired skills, education, style and appearance (racial capital is a subset of cultural capital) – all of which facilitate social mobility and accumulation of social capital

3. Natural capital: wildly occurring land, plants and animals, water, air, minerals, etc.

4. Intellectual capital: ideas, knowledge, information, methods, etc.

5. Creative capital: human labor, inventiveness and ingenuity

6. Attraction capital: confidence, happiness and satisfaction, cultural “success” signaling, promise of pleasurable outcomes, vitality and charisma

7. Technological capital: technological advancements of any kind, i.e. “new tools”

8. Energy capital: the energy available to power any given closed system, the harnessing of which must generally comply with the laws of thermodynamics

9. Agency capital: natural ability to exercise agency in the world (i.e. to exist, express, affect and adapt – via self-directed volition, in willing concert with others…rather than through coercion, deception and manipulation)

10. Political capital: social capital and agency capital that have been consolidated into positions of power, privilege and influence

11. Temporal capital: the passage, measurement, estimation and active apportioningof time as a critical contributive factor to all goals, metrics and processes

12. Spiritual capital: intrinsic individual and collective spiritual capacities that have transformative influence

Capitalism, as it evolved into its modern form, concerned itself mainly with actively organizing, managing and combining these original, simple forms of capital towards a very specific end: the production of additional, more complex and abstracted forms of capital that permit every form of capital to be harnessed for the purpose of exchange and accumulation. We could therefore describe these additional forms of capital as complex, secondary forms, which include:

1. Private capital: the designation of “private ownership” for as many categories of capital as possible, in order to facilitate exchange and accumulation

2. Commodified/objectified capital: the creation or designation of tradable “objects” of value from other forms of capital (i.e. services, ideas, goods, etc.)

3. Productive capital: engineered and accumulated inputs that are focused solely on the production of goods, services, ideas and other commodified capital (this includes circulating capital/intermediate goods; fixed/physical capital, etc.)

4. Financial capital: a system of money – and currency itself, as a representation of value – that permits accumulations of debt, equity and interest in the course of production and exchange

5. Competitive capital: a tactical or strategic competitive advantage in production (product differentiation, persuasive marketing, monopolization, engineered scarcity, “noncompetitive” business practices, cronyism, regulatory capture, revolving door politics, etc.)

6. Entrepreneurial capital: the skills and ability to create enterprise, innovate, adapt and succeed in a competitive marketplace

7. Global capital: the plutocratic coordination of all political, cultural and economic systems into a global, interdependent conglomerate through which all capital flows can be managed, controlled and directed

Ultimately, these complex, secondary forms of capital have their own singular objective of aggregating and concentrating all capital within the capitalist system into profit. What is profit? In the simplest terms, it is the ability to extract value from a system of production and exchange. But what is “profit” for? What aim does it have? Why does profit exist? Here we come full circle, because aside from hoarding for its own sake, the consequences of generating and accumulating profit are a perceived and actual increase in “individual and societal existential security and advantage” – at least for owner-shareholders. How does profit achieve this? By representing a distilled, transmutable, extensible and durable form of surplus capital that arises independently from other capital, and which in turn facilitates ROI and IRR. In other words, profit becomes an abstract but enduring representation of extracted value, a “distilled” representation which itself can be converted into many of other forms of capital (thus “transmutable”), while nevertheless maintaining autonomous facility for its own enlargement (thus “extensible and durable”). It is really quite ingenious…almost magical in its inventiveness. Profit therefore equates a mutually accepted reservoir for transactional power by aggregating, concentrating and superseding all other forms of capital, and then creating value from itself.

At this point we can reflect on how the power structures of feudalism and mercantilism reassert themselves in capitalism. As in feudalism, capitalism tends towards winner-take-all scenarios, where the greatest security and advantage is afforded owner-shareholders (nobles) who can accumulate and secure wealth for their progeny; a small group with exceptional talents, skills, inheritance or luck can increase their economic freedom and mobility (freemen, franklins); and the vast majority of worker-consumers lack any real economic freedom and mobility, and remain as exploited labor (serfs, vassals and slaves) for the owner-shareholders. In order protect and expand these power dynamics, crony capitalism creates a similar relationship between corporations and elected government that merchants had with aristocracy under mercantilism – where workers were oppressed for the benefit of the State, and the State expanded its power through corporate monopolies in international trade. Even where capitalism diverges from these old institutions and relationships, it still maintains similar hierarchies in all of the systems it creates. Perhaps this is why there is such a natural antagonism between democracy and capitalism: the former aims to diffuse power and promote egalitarian distributions and protections (i.e. civil rights and civic institutions) for all classes, while the latter is still aiming to concentrate controls, power and influence for the owner-shareholder class to enlarge their profits. In so many ways, capitalism is really new wine in old wine skins…albeit much more voluminous, complex, and effective wine.

So an approximation of capital’s evolution within capitalism might look like this:



The kernel of truth in ideologies like pro-capitalist market fundamentalism is that there is, in fact, a normal and natural inclination among human beings to increase their own existential security and advantage – their own thriving. However, a disconnect occurs when capitalism is consequently described as an obvious or inevitable outcome of that impulse. There are, after all, many other ways to structure society – and to interact with original, simple capital – so that a greater level of individual and collective security and advantage is facilitated. History is replete with examples that do not include features like private ownership, or prioritizing individual transactions above communal sharing, or emphasizing competitive advantage over collaboration. These include both naturally occurring, self-organized, commons-centric solutions that have endured around the globe (as elaborated in Elinor Ostrom’s common pool resource management research); consciously engineered commons-centric arrangements that have likewise demonstrated success in the real world (such as the societies in Spain, Ukraine and Korea that were modeled on Kropotkin’s anarcho-communism); and experiments that illustrate how original, simple capital can either remain “shared” as a public good within the commons to varying degrees (direct democracy, Open Source, Creative Commons, P2P, National Parks, public highways, etc.), or can be more sustainably and collectively managed (Transition Towns, worker-owned enterprise, community NGOs, non-profit cooperatives, etc.).

In these alternatives to capitalism, we observe mainly one type of secondary, complex capital: common capital. There is, however, no longer a need for surplus capital. Common capital designates “common ownership” for as many categories of capital as possible, so they are treated as public goods, available to all for collective benefit. Most of the other forms of secondary, complex capital found in capitalist systems either don’t exist, or are greatly attenuated, deprioritized or transformed. For example, there could still be competitive, entrepreneurial, or financial capital, but they have a more egalitarian, mutually nourishing expression. The consequence of such arrangements is that existential security and advantage – human thriving – is provided for everyone is society, and the old power dynamics and hierarchy of feudalism and mercantilism fade away. In addition, as demonstrated by Ostrom’s research, tragedies of the commons are easily averted, so that the original, simple forms of capital can be preserved. This is the real meaning of “sustainability” in commons-centric systems.

An approximation of the commons model might look like this:



It is important to recognize that, although ingenious in many ways, capitalist activity is entirely invented; there is nothing natural about the process of managing, concentrating and accumulating other forms of capital so they facilitate private property, free enterprise or competitive markets – and there is no reason that all capital must become transactional in nature, or must result in profits. These are, rather, evidence of a highly inventive species…and perhaps a fairly insecure and immature culture as well. For if all forms of capital can be negotiated purely through transactional relationships, then any need for interpersonal trust, spontaneous reciprocation, or genuine depth of emotional connection can be attenuated or even eliminated. And if, as many researchers suggest,[1] prosociality evolved mainly to facilitate existential security and advantage for tribes, families and individuals, then there is no longer a strong need for prosociality itself in capitalist societies, since original, simple capital has been pervasively overtaken by complex, secondary forms. The development of these complex, secondary forms understandably disrupts collective valuation of the original, simpler forms – it subjugates them to rigidly hierarchical transactional priorities, and disallows more subtle and dynamic relational priorities. Ideas, friendships, creativity, technological tools, the natural world and so on no longer sustain intrinsic, facilitative value for individuals and society – certainly not in the context of survival. Instead, the focus of human energies, interactions and agency becomes centered around the secondary forms that assure advantage and security within a capitalist system. Very much like losing oneself in a video game, or gambling in a casino with no windows or clocks, capitalism creates an ecosystem that is increasingly disconnected from preceding social and ecological systems. Reality becomes externality. And profit, in turn, becomes an end-in-itself, usurping the value of all other forms of capital; and all existential security and advantage is then (philosophically and pragmatically) concentrated into the surplus capital of profit.

The corrosive qualities of capitalism’s secondary forms of capital have of course been intuitively predicted by socialists and anarchists over previous centuries.[2] There are also increasing observations among modern disciplines that outline some of the least attractive psychological and sociological impacts of capitalist systems;[3] that is, what we might call a “casino effect” or “video game effect” on the human psyche. We also have fairly strong evidence that modern capitalism isn’t sustainable, mainly because of snowballing negative externalities that are destroying the original, simple forms of capital.[4] Over the course of being privatized and commodified, natural capital is polluted and depleted; agency capital is abdicated and externalized; social capital becomes isolated, diluted and fragile; political capital is corrupted; spiritual capital is corroded and distorted; cultural capital is homogenized; and so on. So one benefit of appreciating the evolution of capital as outlined here is the potential explanation for why these failures are occurring…and will continue to occur under capitalism. It also suggests how a commons-centric vision can restore more pristine and flourishing versions of original capital and collective thriving. Despite its initial impetus to improve human existential security and advantage – and its spectacular interim success in economic growth and wealth creation – capitalism is now actually undermining and annihilating that security, even as it continues to ensure superficial and temporary advantages for a select few.

There are other characteristics of capitalism that are contributing to its instability and decline, and these can also be described according to dynamics of different forms of capital as we have defined them. As described in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, profits that have been increasing regardless of the rate of economic growth are concentrated in the owner-shareholder class, amplifying economic inequality and the potential for societal instability. Piketty argues this concentration is by design, and points to factors like inheritance that perpetuate unequal distribution. Consider, then, that this process is easily understood by examining the different forms of capital, and how they interact both qualitatively and quantitatively. Certain types of capital have hard limits: natural and energy capital are inherently limited and finite. Other types of capital have soft limits: technological, social, and cultural capital, while amplifying other forms of capital, have diminishing impact as scale and complexity increases. Some types of capital are effectively limitless: creative, intellectual, and indeed agency capital can perpetually expand through other forms of capital – especially the secondary, more complex forms – as those forms are aggregated and consolidated. And some capital is both finite and limitless: temporal capital, for instance, which alternately constrains, distills or expands other forms of capital, depending on how it is applied.

Can you see what is happening here? The efficiency by which capitalism concentrates and combines various forms of capital inherently creates tremendous tensions and imbalance between finite categories of capital and infinite categories of capital. And that conflict inevitably results in unsustainability. In the simplest of examples, we cannot produce more orange juice if there is a finite supply of oranges, we cannot convince every consumer they need four additional smartphones, and it becomes more and more challenging to generate private capital if nearly everything is already privately owned (at least, it becomes decreasingly easy to do so). At the same, we also cannot reliably extract value from creative or intellectual capital when it is ubiquitous and instantly accessible to all, or transfer so much social and agency capital into political capital that it produces fascism (at least not without perilous consequences), or demand that time capital always conform to rigidly constrained expectations where organic variability (in humans and the rest of the natural world) is involved. But as capitalism is growth-dependent and profit-dependent, it insists that resolving these tensions somehow be made predictable, constant and profitable. Capitalism thus keeps setting one form of capital in opposition to other forms in untenable ways, exciting a self-sabotaging conflict. And while certain innovations, newfound resources, and increased efficiencies have aided capitalism’s eternal quest for more, most of that low-hanging fruit has already been harvested; the expectation of resolving these conflicts – or profiting from them – has become an asymptotic wager. And, eventually, likely in our not-to-distant future, this wager will effectively arrive at a dead end where progress is indistinguishable from stasis, even as the most destructive externalities of capitalism continue unabated.

Which is why we must return to commons-centric proposals in the hope of restoring sanity to managing and utilizing all forms of capital. The pressure cooker needs to be vented and reduced from boil to a pleasant simmer, so that we have a hope of balancing the finite and the infinite, instead of pitting them against each other. In essence, humanity must humbly awaken to its limitations, and let go of vestigial hierarchical systems. We must stand down, and simplify. And that is what the unitive, egalitarian, ecologically responsible, prosocially restorative elegance of common capital proposals offer us.

(The most current version of this paper is available at www.tcollinslogan.com/Evolution_of_Capital.pdf)

For further exploration of alternative political economy, please visit www.level-7.org

[1]http://socialinteractionlab.psych.umn.edu/sites/g/files/pua1356/f/2010/2010/Simpson%20%26%20Beckes%20(Prosocial%20chapter,%202010).pdf, https://www.sarah-brosnan.com/research/the-evolution-of-prosocial-behavior, http://www.professormarkvanvugt.com/publications/articles/21-evolution-and-cooperation/125-the-evolutionary-psychology-of-human-prosociality-adaptations,-byproduct,-and-mistakes.html

[2]See Godwin, Paine, Thoreau, Proudhon, Owen, Fourier, Bakunin, Marx, Kropotkin, DuBois, Robinson et al.

[3]https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/16246606_Paul_K_Piff, http://www.tcollinslogan.com/code-3/images/StupefactionOfHumanExperience.pdf

[4]https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/does-capitalism-have-to-be-bad-for-the-environment/, https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/06/04/the-externalities-of-global-warming/, http://www.level-7.org/Challenges/Capitalism/

What are the best books that explain libertarian conservatism ideals and philosophy?

Thanks for the question. I think that kind of depends on what you want to know. For example:

Want to understand the “populist” conceptions of the right-libertarian movement? Read Ayn Rand. She’s not libertarian but more laissez-faire (and in fact criticized libertarianism), but many folks conflate her “objectivist” philosophy with justifications for right-libertarian ideals. Of course, genuinely thoughtful folks don’t really take Ayn Rand seriously, as so many of her assertions are either purely invented or just plain mistaken. In the same vein, you could also consult Ludwig von Mises of the Austrian School — completely separate angle from Rand that brush up against populist libertarianism, but equally crackpot and arriving at similarly non-evidenced-based conclusions.

Want to understand some broadly-held, philosophical foundations for right-libertarianism? Murray Rothbard and Milton Friedman are very popular among the deeper-thinking crowd. However, these two are not very…shall we say…disciplined or clear thinkers themselves — their work is sometimes laden with logical fallacies, contradictions and baseless assumptions. However, to understand the central tenets of modern right-libertarianism today, they are fairly go-to authors.

Want to dig deep and really get your head around right-libertarianism? To rigorously delve into more intellectually honest and nuanced underpinnings of right-libertarian ideology, I would check out these two books:

Friedrich Hayek’s The Transmission of the Ideals of Freedom, and

Robert Nozik’s Anarchy, State and Utopia

IMO these two thinkers are able to more honestly engage the challenges of their own ideology, and are capable of real nuance and abstraction around complex issues. They are simply much more sophisticated. As a left-libertarian myself, I have respect for these authors, and have been happy to engage their writing in order to refine my own ideas (often opposing ideas…but not always!).

My 2 cents.

Do you agree with Milton Friedman's statement: "Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself"?

Thank you for the question.

This quote is from Ch.1 of Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom. The chapter, entitled “The Relation between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom,” is a tour-de-force of propagandized half-truths. In one unsupported claim after another, Friedman insists a specific flavor of economic freedom that he believes necessary is more important to personal liberty than political or civic freedoms. He doesn’t offer any real data on this, he just keeps repeating this claim over and over again, thus generating what is called an “illusory truth effect.” Friedman — along with many other neoliberal evangelists — does this a lot in his writing and speaking: and many people have been hoodwinked into believing neoliberal propaganda extolling market fundamentalism as a consequence of precisely this technique.

The reality, however, is that political freedoms (i.e. civil liberties, and strong civic institutions that protect those rights, etc.) facilitate smoothly running, productive, wealth-creating market-centric economic systems, which in turn can — with the right political economy in place — facilitate economic freedoms supportive of civil society. It is a symbiotic relationship, which is likely why ALL of the most successful economies in the world have been (and still are) “mixed economies.” That is what the actual evidence supports — and not Milton Friedman’s version of laissez faire. Interestingly, Friedman actually hints at this symbiosis in the referenced chapter (describing the failure of freedom in fascist States like Nazi Germany that nevertheless had competitve free enterprise), he just ignores his own observations about it in favor of his preferred — and unsupported — conclusions. To do this, Friedman constantly makes untrue claims, for example: “there are only two ways of co-ordinating the economic activities of millions” (incorrect, there are many more ways…but those alternatives don’t serve Friedman’s arguments); “The consumer is protected from coercion by the seller because of the presence of other sellers with whom he can deal” (incorrect, whoever has the biggest marketing budget — or most persuasive advertising — can undermine all competition…and that marketing can indeed rely on coercion through fear-mongering); “It is a mark of the political freedom of a capitalist society that men can openly advocate and work for socialism” (incorrect, it is a mark of a strong civil society that folks can advocate for a particular ideology…and much of civil society in capitalist countries was strengthened by socialist efforts, see How_Socialism_Saved_Capitalism_From_Itself.pdf).

As to this specific quote, it is nested in the context of Friedman’s belief that: “So long as effective freedom of exchange is maintained, the central feature of the market organization of economic activity is that it prevents one person from interfering with another in respect of most of his activities.” Friedman believed that markets protected all the players involved from coercion. The problem, of course, is that they really don’t. Billion-dollar marketing campaigns can deceive consumers into buying things they don’t want or need, and then become addicted to/dependent on those products. Business owners can coerce workers into horrible working conditions, and keep them there with subsistence wages. Activist shareholders can coerce businesses into really bad business decisions (for the longterm viability of the business itself, for consumers, for workers, etc.). And of course this doesn’t even touch on the horrific negative externalities of a given industry (like Oil & Gas, or Big Tobacco, or Industrial Agriculture, etc.). You see the problem? Capitalist markets alone don’t do squat for the supportive conditions of liberty itself…in fact, they can quickly undermine it (research “resource curse” countries for examples of this).

So Friedman’s assertion about arguments “against the free market” not appreciating freedom is simply an ideological distortion: because Friedman badly wants capitalist markets to fundamentally equate freedom, he assumes anyone opposed to them must be opposed to freedom.

In any case, to dig more deeply into this topic, I recommend reading this essay:

The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty.pdf

My 2 cents.

Is anarchism a feasible idea? Could an entire society of anarchists work?

Thanks for the question, James. Of course certain kinds of anarchism are feasible, and for fairly large societies. There is historical evidence of this in the following places:

Free Territory - Wikipedia

Strandzha Commune - Wikipedia

Guangzhou - Wikipedia

Revolutionary Catalonia - Wikipedia

(you can see a full list here: List of anarchist communities - Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, many folks don’t know of these experiments, some of which endured for years before they were violently suppressed (usually by authoritarian dictators…and, rather ironically, “communist” ones of the Stalinist variety). Peter Kropotkin inspired many of these experiments, and I would encourage reading him (Conquest of Bread is a good place to start).

One interesting place to watch is the anarchist region of Northern Syria (previously called Rojava). You can read about it here: Syria's Kurds Experiment With Democracy Amid Civil War. It’s still thriving today…although with the U.S. abandoning Syrians now, it may not endure much longer.

Lastly, we must recognize that only left-anarchist experiments have been successfully tried. These actually fall under the “libertarian socialism” heading. Right-libertarianism, “Libertarian” with a capital “L,” or anarcho-capitalism, has never been successful.

My 2 cents.

Why was the FCC Fairness Doctrine revoked in 1987? What have been the consequences in the 30 years since, intended and otherwise?

Thank you for the question.

Reagan’s recision of the Fairness Doctrine had huge and enduring consequences regarding news media and information delivery in the U.S.…and the action was not “inevitable” as some have suggested.

Consider the Fairness Doctrine terms “honest, equitable and balanced,” and then consider how the Fairness Doctrine applied those to “controversial matters” that were in the public’s interest to report. This is the heart of the Fairness Doctrine: to inform U.S. citizens in a balanced way regarding diverse perspectives around critical issues. The spirit of the Fairness Doctrine was to prevent biased or misleading journalism and media coverage, and to represent as many different perspectives on a given issue as possible — and especially opposing viewpoints — as fairly as possible. In essence, this was an effort to discourage propaganda in U.S. media that served private agendas. Propaganda is often, after all, simply reporting one side of a given issue.

You’ll notice that other answers so far completely leave this critical point out.

Now, why did the FCC revoke the Fairness Doctrine? The Reagan administration framed the revocation under “concerns about free speech;” in other words, that the FCC’s continued enforcement could potentially interfere with some forms of free speech in media (there was no evidence that this was the case, only that this could be a concern). Even if such concerns had been validated, this simply would have required additional legislation to refine the Fairness Doctrine from Congress — but such worries are completely and utterly contradicted by the subsequent explosion of alternative media platforms (cable TV, Internet streaming, etc.). Do you see the problem with some of the other answers now…? If the main concern about the Fairness Doctrine (from conservatives at the time) was really impingement of free speech, how could “the Fairness Doctrine being outdated” due to a plethora of alternative media platforms also be a central consideration…? This is a duplicitous ruse. We know this because there is ALSO the issue of the 1986 SCOTUS ruling that affirmed the FCC’s ability to enforce the Fairness Doctrine on teletext technology…opening the door for its application to other media platforms as well. We can even speculate that this expansion of FCC authority over newly emerging media stoked efforts by conservatives to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine completely.

Now, it is important to appreciate that Congress DID update the Fairness Doctrine, at the time of its revocation, to address some of these issues…but Reagan vetoed that legislation anyway. So, in reality, conservatives just didn’t like the way the Fairness Doctrine was being applied by the FCC, or how Fairness Doctrine cases had played out in the courts, or how it was already being applied to future information technologies. THAT is the real reason conservatives wanted it gone. Why? Well, not only did the Fairness Doctrine dampen neoliberal propaganda efforts, it also did not allow conservatives to restrict progressive opinions being broadcast on publicly funded media (like NPR/PBS) when conservatives controlled the FCC (this was decided in the 1984 SCOTUS ruling FCC v. League of Women Voters of California.) In other words: the Fairness Doctrine was useless to conservatives who wanted to promote their own agenda while suppressing progressive ideologies…and they just could not stand for that.

And what has happened since? Propaganda has taken over conservative for-profit media, and conservatives have both doggedly sought to defund publicly funded non-profit media, and to disallow the FCC to regulate ANY media with fairness in mind. For example, the latest repeal of Net Neutrality by a conservative-controlled FCC is completely consistent with such efforts — why not let corporations decide who gets access to what and when? Neoliberals simply do not want there to be “honest, equitable and balanced” coverage of controversial issues — not even if propaganda is being funded by Russia on Facebook or Twitter! They believe “the market” can and should determine all outcomes — in other words, whoever has the most money to begin with, or who can most effectively deceive and manipulate people, should determine what information is available to the public.

So…again, WHY are conservatives so concerned about the consumers and voters having access to good, balanced information? Well, we’ve seen exactly why over the intervening years since the Fairness Doctrine was revoked:

- The Oil & Gas industry doesn’t want you to know about the realities of climate change.

- The Pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want you to know how dangerous and/or ineffective their drugs actually are.

- The Tobacco industry doesn’t want you to know about the real health risks of tobacco and vaping.

- The wealthiest owner-shareholders don’t want you to know that trickle-down economics has never, ever worked — and that economic nationalism won’t ever bring certain jobs back to the U.S.A. — but that conservative economic policies instead enrich only those wealthy few.

- Evangelical Christians don’t want you to know that Planned Parenthood is a much more effective way to prevent abortions than outlawing abortions has ever been.

- The Firearms industry doesn’t wan’t you to have statistics about just how lethal their products actually are — or how rarely those weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens actually prevent crime.

- (And so on with all sorts of other vested interests: agriculture, petrochemicals, insurance, financial institutions, etc.)

You see the pattern? There is a tremendous amount of money at stake — and the underpinnings of tribal belief systems along with it. Facts, evidence and statistics almost universally undermine conservative positions…so why would conservatives EVER wan’t news and information media to really be “honest, equitable and balanced?”

So…what happened? Well, if you do some research on this you’ll see that ALL conservative news media is, in fact, not just heavily biased towards supporting untruths, they are also more prone to deliberate counterfactual reporting, sometimes even fabricating stories that support neoliberal agendas and a conservative worldview. In contrast, left-leaning media can indeed be biased, but doesn’t approach the level of deceptive misinformation and outright lies that are perpetrated by right-leaning media. And so, as with any democracy, the quality of information that a voting population has is going to determine the quality of politicians they elect, and the agendas that are moved forward in government. Which is how we’ve arrived at a Trump presidency and Republican Party that is so woefully disconnected from reality — to a degree that is clearly harmful to the well-being of citizens in the U.S. and around the globe. And this is what Reagan’s revoking the Fairness Doctrine and blocking its revision by Congress has gifted to the American people and the world.

Lastly, in addition to helping neoliberal propaganda efforts, ending the Fairness Doctrine has also helped even more nefarious efforts — such as the “active measures” of Russian intelligence — to distort public information and perception as well. It is more than a little ironic that Ronald Reagan, champion of anti-Soviet rhetoric and disruption of the Soviet Union itself, was single-handedly responsible for the ability of an ex-KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, to directly manipulate the American public today. See the link below for more on that.

In closing, here are some resources I would recommend to more thoroughly understand and navigate these issues:

L7 Neoliberalism (covers neoliberal propaganda efforts and agendas)

L7 Opposition (covers Russia’s “active measures”)

Media Bias/Fact Check - Search and Learn the Bias of News Media (great resource for checking media bias and accuracy)

My 2 cents.

If you were the mayor of a town, what rules would you enact?

Oh thank you for this! My mayoral edicts:

1. Only popcorn would be served in restaurants from 3–5 p.m.

2. Large animal veterinarians would be given special privileges at all public water fountains.

3. Strong smells would be banned. Permanently.

4. A radio signal would be beamed out into space requesting that our neighborly alien visitors stop beaming stupid rays at planet Earth (we would promise not to leave the solar system if we could just regain a few IQ points!)

5. On alternate Thursdays, MAGA hats would be piled up and burned in the public square to the tune of Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy.”

6. Only homeless people would be allowed to vote…until there was no more homelessness, and then everyone else could vote again.

7. Open carry would be permitted for everyone in town, under the following conditions: 1) Firearms must only be loaded with rubber bullets, and 2) Anyone riding an e-scooter on city sidewalks at unsafe speeds must be fired at.

8. In order to test Elinor Ostrom’s common pool resource management schema, all common spaces will be converted to alfalfa fields for grazing free range Alpacas that belong to everyone.

9. Anyone caught trying to sell something to people that they don’t need or want (goods, services, religion, etc.) will be subject to fifteen minutes of public caning for each offense.

10. Anyone who parks their car across multiple parking spaces to keep it safe from dings and scratches will have their driving privileges revoked within the city limits for five years.

11. City employees will dress up as frail elderly people and solicit fellow citizens for help; good samaritans will then be rewarded with a modest “Basic Income” salary for life.

12. Free classes in formal second-order magic will be taught at public libraries on a daily basis.

That’s all I can think of for now, but I think it’s a start….

Some thoughts about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez


After reading through a number of articles and news about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, four things have become very clear to me:

1) Ocasio-Cortez has a vision – and it’s a vision that is not only a direct threat to a plutocratic “old guard” of Republican crony capitalists, but also antagonizes more mainstream elements of the Democratic Party as well. The key components of that vision are captured in the Green New Deal, which you can read about here: https://ocasio2018.com/green-new-deal (see item 6 on that page for an overview of objectives). In essence, by simply promoting the views that she holds, Ocasio-Cortez has created a plethora of instant enemies in Washington DC, among neoliberal think tanks and conservative news outlets, and in the Red Scare reflexes of countless right-leaning Americans.

2) Ocasio-Cortez is young – she was 28 when she began running for office – and has made the same sort of mistakes that both seasoned politicians and rookies make when speaking to the press. However, she is held to a much different standard than most other politicians: she is certainly more relentlessly demeaned, derided and rebuked in condescending ways than…wait for it…any male candidates and politicians who make similar gaffs have been. Certainly the right-wing voices that most boisterously attack her remain noticeably silent regarding our current POTUS, who perpetrates much more grievous, malicious and destructive misstatements with zero accountability.

3) However, some of Ocasio-Cortez’s mistakes are similar in flavor to things Sarah Palin said in her initial interviews: they reveal substantive gaps in learning and understanding about some fundamental issues of public policy. Some of these gaps are surprising, given the fact that Ocasio-Cortez graduated cum laude with a BA in international relations (with a minor in economics). A striking difference, though, is that Ocasio-Cortez can admit she doesn’t know something, or has made a mistake, and that she needs to learn more about a given topic. In fact, she has said this a lot. Another striking difference is that Ocasio-Cortez, at age 29, has never held any public office…unlike Palin, who made arguably worse blunders at age 44 after serving in public office for 16 years (most notably Governor of Alaska for two of those).

4) Ocasio-Cortez is actually pretty bright (Boston University’s Associate Provost and Dean of students Kenneth Elmore said Ocasio-Cortez was “brilliant — she is boldly curious and always present. She makes me think and could always see multiple sides of any issue.”) and she certainly has some compelling perspectives to share. I’ve listed some of her quotes below. Again, though, what I think we can glean from those perspectives is a direct challenge to the old-white-male-plutocracy; that is, the neoliberal elite that have comfortably captured U.S. government for some time now. And THAT is why right-leaning folks are so riled up about her. So the attacks will keep coming, this is certain. In the meantime, I’m hoping Ocasio-Cortez will grow into her elected position, become a bit more media savvy, and polish her public policy chops a bit before doing any more interviews.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Quotes:

“I can't name a single issue with roots in race that doesn't have economic implications, and I cannot think of a single economic issue that doesn't have racial implications. The idea that we have to separate them out and choose one is a con.”

“When we talk about the word 'socialism,' I think what it really means is just democratic participation in our economic dignity and our economic, social, and racial dignity. It is about direct representation and people actually having power and stake over their economic and social wellness, at the end of the day.”

“At Standing Rock, we experienced, first-hand, people coming together in their communities and trying to use the levers of representative democracy to try and say, 'We don't want this in our community; we don't want this in our backyard,' and corporations using their monetary influence to completely erode that process.”

“The thing that’s hard is that you’re supposed to be perfect all the time on every issue and every thing. What people forget is that if we want everyday working-class Americans to run for office and not, these, like, robots, then we have to acknowledge and accept imperfection and growth and humanity in our government.”

“I do think that sometimes, especially coming into this going straight from activism to being a candidate or to being a person who potentially, you know, looks like will be holding political office soon, I think we expect our politicians to be perfect and fully formed and on point on every single issue.”

“I think there's a weapon of cynicism to say, 'Protest doesn't work. Organizing doesn't work. Y'all are a bunch of hippies. You know, it doesn't do anything,' because, frankly, it's said out of fear, because it is a potent force for political change.”

“Democrats are a big tent party, you know, I'm not trying to impose an ideology on all several hundred members of Congress. But I do think that, once again, it's not about selling an - ism, or an ideology, or a label or a color. This is about selling our values.”

“The biggest hurdle that our communities have is cynicism - saying it's a done deal, who cares; there's no point to voting. If we can get somebody to care, it's a huge victory for the movement and the causes we're trying to advance.”

“In the wealthiest nation in the world, working families shouldn’t have to struggle. It’s time for a New York that’s good for the many. I am an educator, organizer, Democratic Socialist, and born-and-raised New Yorker running to champion working families in Congress. It is well past time that we in NY-14 had a true, lobbyist-free representative who lives in our community and fights on behalf of Bronx and Queens families. This movement for Congress is about education and healthcare; it’s about housing, jobs, justice, and civil rights. It’s is about preparing for the future of our environment, energy, and infrastructure. It’s about championing the dignity of our neighbors. And it’s about getting money out of politics.”

“Amazon is a billion-dollar company. The idea that it will receive hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks at a time when our subway is crumbling and our communities need MORE investment, not less, is extremely concerning to residents here.”
“We’re looking at our phones until we literally lose consciousness. If our leaders don’t learn to communicate in an engaging manner, our entertainers will become politicians. That’s what we have now.”

“It’s about conversation, not combativeness. Doesn’t mean everyone agrees always, but it does mean we bring folks together and focus on finding solutions.”

"Your attempt to strip me of my family, my story, my home, and my identity is exemplary of how scared you are of the power of all four of those things."

“We may be devastated. We may be disappointed. But we will not be deterred.”

“We are all capable of awakening and commitment. And because of that, we can all be great.”

How could "Medicare for all" succeed when the program spends 3% of GDP to cover only 15% of the population (3/.15=20% of GDP)?

First, from CMS.gov: “Per person personal health care spending for the 65 and older population was $18,988 in 2012, over 5 times higher than spending per child ($3,552) and approximately 3 times the spending per working-age person ($6,632).”

With a more granular distribution curve you’re going to see the 20% GDP for everyone droping to around .42/.15 = 2.8% GDP. So that’s the first correction to your math.

Second, if Medicare is the only game in town for most healthcare coverage (aside from boutique stuff) then the leverage Medicare will have to negotiate prices is going to be TREMENDOUS. This is why Canada and the UK pay a lot less for the same drugs used in the U.S. — about 1/6 to 1/3 of U.S. prices. Although the margins aren’t as great for medical devices, we could see 50% reductions there as well. And of course removing the bloated private insurers (with much higher admin overhead, and of course impatient shareholders) from the equation means that services will be roughly 40% lower too (this is based on how much less Medicare pays for the same procedures already, compared to private insurers). Even by conservative estimates, this means that overall healthcare costs will be reduced, on average, by AT LEAST 50%. Which brings the total coverage number down to at least 1.4% GDP.

If what has happened in other countries is any indication, all of this will also have the effect of INCREASING the total number of healthcare consumers over time, while REDUCING the per capita outlays over time — especially since every $1 spent on preventative care saves about $6 in lifetime costs. I’d predict, then, that this last bit will result in a wash (i.e. more healthcare consumers at net lower lifetime outlays). And, as preventative care and predictive diagnostics (via genetic testing, etc.) become more refined, I think we’ll see those costs drop even further.

Which means that fee-for-service models are going to eventually become unprofitable anyway…so why not abandon them now?! :-)

My 2 cents.

Breaking Bread with the Republican Hive-Mind: How to Have A Happy Thanksgiving & Other Holidays Amid A Political Storm


This past Friday, on Bill Maher’s last show of the year, he offered a simple recommendation for creating a more harmonious Thanksgiving for all of us: DON’T DISCUSS POLITICS. Pick any other topic and discuss that instead,he exclaimed. And – at a time when our political discourse frequently descends into unhinged rants and hateful name-calling – I think he has a very good point. In fact, it might be a helpful idea to ask everyone coming together for a holiday gathering if they would commit to avoiding political topics and debates altogether during those special times. However, in the event that political topics do arise during your Thanksgiving celebration or other holiday (or even on your FB page), here are some tips on how to mitigate the more unfortunate elements of Republican Hive-Mind thought and behavior:

1. Be a much-needed model for empathy, and affirm a conservative’s emotions, instead of engaging around facts. Nearly all of the pedantic rhetoric that circulates on Right-wing media and all social media is emotionally based. Whether it comes in the form of blaming, conspiracy-mongering, stalwart patriotism, hate speech, self-victimization, dramatic exaggerations, “alternative facts,” anecdotes or personal narratives – whatever is being invoked as part of the propaganda, it’s really all about generating a particular range of emotions. These emotions include pride, group loyalty, grief, anger, indignation, moral superiority, alienation, bewilderment, mistrust of outsiders…all of these and more can be tangled together in the Hive-Mind’s striving for a self-righteous sense of certainty. And as most of us who have tried to reason with our conservative friends have experienced, facts and evidence usually get angrily dismissed or disputed when these emotions are in play. At its core, contradicting Right-wing emotional narratives with facts can be both threatening and embarrassing for conservatives, often resulting in increasingly defensive and emphatic retorts. Essentially, they feel they must double-down on the initial emotion in order to maintain their convictions.

So when you witness the eye-roll, the red face, the frowning shaking of the head, the squint of anger, the arrogant thrust of chin, the pointing finger of accusation, flexing fists that clench at certitude, the flat tone of negation and denial…recognize and affirm what is really going on. These are just irrational emotions, so treat them as such. This can be as simple as saying “You seem pretty upset about this,” or “I can see you feel very strongly about that,” or “It sounds like you don’t agree with what’s been going on,” and so on. By simply affirming their emotional state, you can diffuse escalation…at least a little. But remember, the toughest part may be stopping yourself from adding a rejoinder like “but did you know….” or “an interesting fact about that is…” or “that’s true, but there is another variable to consider….” None of these attempts to clarify a broader, more inclusive truth are likely to succeed. And this inability to engage in intellectually honest discourse can be upsetting until we realize what’s really going on: it is like attempting to reason with a flaming barrel of gasoline.

2. Connect with common experiences and emotions. There is every reason to remain open, intimate and sharing with folks who have lost themselves in the Republican Hive-Mind. We are all human, and we all have more in common than what makes us different. And that commonality is where we can connect with almost anyone. I myself have one or two ultra-conservative friends, as well as some conservative-leaning family members, and I value those relationships because of our shared interests, shared experiences, shared enjoyment of each other’s company, and shared appreciation for how supportive and caring we can be for one another (in everything but our politics!). That connection, admiration and camaraderie does not need to be jeopardized by political differences. So turning to any area of mutual connection can be a peaceful balm and joy in the face of daunting political divides. The problem, of course, is that this connection may be more difficult to achieve with strangers or on the Internet – or with new invitees to our holiday celebrations. Which is why we must take special care to invoke that common ground as we get to know someone new.

3. Make attempts to distract conservatives away from Hive-Mind delusions. Anyone paying much attention to Right-wing media over the past few decades will have noticed the lockstep conformance of propaganda across all such media into a profoundly unified groupthink. There is almost no deviation of opinions or attitudes around a given hot-topic-of-the-moment – or in the policies, views of history, attitudes about other cultures, favorite authorities, explanations for current events, or even the preferred vocabulary that is used to describe conservative alternative realities. The continuity of conformance is stunning. This web of interconnected groupthink is so tightly woven, in fact, that we will hear the same phrases and assertions from different sources (and from our friends on Facebook) all around the U.S. on the very same day – often in the same hour. This is how the Republican Hive-Mind is maintained over time, because this synchronization results in a powerful “illusory truth effect,” where the endless repetition of falsehoods makes them seem true. The illusory truth effect is so powerful, in fact, that it can override preexisting knowledge we already have. And this happens really fast – faster than most people can come to an informed opinion on a given topic. Which is why conservatives can be so confident and certain about their opinions so quickly. So…don’t follow them down that rabbit hole. Instead, change the topic to something you know isn’t in the conservative propaganda lexicon, and try to do so without contradicting them, once again affirming the emotional content of their opinions without revisiting familiar Hive-Mind topics.

4. Remember that feeling provoked or belittled just goes with the territory – and don’t take it personally. Since it is fueled by strongly felt emotions, the Republican Hive-Mind will routinely attempt to arouse passions in others, prompt conflict-seeking attitudes, or encourage folks to become agitated and combative. Using phrases like “libtard;” or attacking public figures you admire or respect; or accusing people they are debating (or “all liberals,” as the case may be) of being uninformed, ignorant or brainwashed; or beginning their arguments with a harsh dismissal of something you know to be true…. All of these are standard tactics to put a perceived opponent off-balance, stimulate an emotional response, while at the same time facilitating quick agreement among those who support a conservative viewpoint. But we just can’t take it personally! This isn’t about truth, remember, or even a coherent ideology. This is about proving loyalty to a particular set of values and ideals, or demonstrating membership in a conservative tribe, or daring others to cross the moat of irrational convictions that protects every conservative from facing uncomfortable truths. In the game of King of the Mountain that is constantly playing out inside the minds of devoted Republicans, such provocations are a kind of “defense through preemptive attack,” a way to feel safe, secure and protected inside of their delusions. In today’s supercharged discourse, this is a default starting position for a lot of folks. But you don’t have to join the fray. Although it can still hurt to be attacked, we don’t have to answer aggression with aggression. Instead, we can use humor to deflect accusations and antagonisms, or agree with some aspect of what is being said to diffuse the onslaught, or just point out calmly that, hey…this or that was kind of a hurtful, dickhead thing to say.

Now…anyone who has interacted with folks who are victims of cults, brainwashing or other forms of abuse will recognize some of these approaches. That is because what is happening on the Right side of the political spectrum – as amplified by the “Trump Effect” – is a consequence of extreme stress, duress, fear and anxiety. Place anyone under similar strain, and they will start exhibiting behaviors that look a lot the consequences of emotional trauma. Unfortunately, conservative-leaning folks already have a hard-wired tendency to tolerate cognitive dissonance to a much higher degree than other groups – which means that what they believeto be true can exist much farther outside of actual, observable evidence. And when that evidence becomes more and more difficult to ignore (as with climate change, for example), such cognitive dissonance can amplify to toxic and disruptive “fight or flight” reflexes. Conservatives also exhibit a strong tendency to prefer black-and-white, simplified, easy-to-grasp explanations for “why things are” – reflexively opposing nuance and uncertainty – and in a world of increasing complexity, such desires often can’t be satisfied without unconscious or deliberate fabrication (what I call “misattribution of causation”). Add to this the real suffering that arises out of losing more and more social status and privilege in society – as most white men with traditional values, and especially those who live in rural areas, have been experiencing for decades in the U.S.A. – and you have a formula for heightening real distress. Add to this tragedy that this distress has been capitalized upon by unscrupulous opportunists who seek power and wealth, and who then sell vulnerable conservatives on authoritative, Strong Man fixes. In order to further their own agenda, those Strong Man carpetbaggers have made Republican distress a lot worse, perpetuating the cycle of abuse. The result is truly heartbreaking, and demands that we have compassion for conservatives who have been lied to, manipulated and encouraged to support agendas that are effectively amplifying their suffering. So yes, at this point in time, managing interactions with someone utterly lost in the Republican Hive-Mind is a lot like managing interactions with a volatile, severely abused person who is operating mainly form emotional reasoning and fear-based reflexes.

** But wait! What if someone who joins you for Thanksgiving or another holiday, or friends you on Facebook, just won’t cease in their combative political grandstanding, pedantry and debate?! **

Well…unfortunately this does happen. People who have been horribly mistreated often have trouble appreciating boundaries, or gaining clear awareness about their own behaviors, or responding to the techniques outlined above in a constructive way. It happens. So…what can we do?

1. You can gently remind them of any agreement they have made to avoid discussing politics, be civil, etc. in your group activity. You could even implore them, out of a sense of friendship or familial bond with you, to let go of their need to discuss politics. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s worth a try!

2. You could leave, or ask them to leave. When someone has worked themselves into a frenzy around a hotly contested Hive-Mind trigger, sometimes it’s a good idea to just exit the situation – or ask them to do so (if it’s hour home, or your Facebook page). That’s the unfortunate state of affairs we are in right now, where no amount of good intentions, patience, compassion or listening to the other side seems to make a difference in how the discourse progresses. Hive-Mind propaganda is a powerful drug.

3. You can wait patiently, quietly and passively for them to calm down. If everyone else in your gathering is also doing this, then a Hive-Mind rant can eventually run out of steam. But this may demand tremendous self-control on your part, since pretty much any reaction can be (and often is) misinterpreted by a conservative as judgement or dismissiveness. I’m always surprised how even the kindest, most well-intentioned responses can be twisted into a perceived attack. So…silence can truly be golden.

4. Watch out for well-known tricks and techniques to suck others into a debate or confrontation. We’ve already touched on preemptive emotional attacks, but there are many other methods programmed into Hive-Mind thinking that can take over a conversation. Here are just a few of the more common hooks, many of which are rooted in what we call “logical fallacies:”

a. Making a reasonable opening statement that everyone can agree with, and then using it to justify a position that has nothing to do with that statement.

b. The pigeon-holing label game: “Are you a Marxist? Communist? Bleeding Heart Liberal? Intellectual? Atheist? Socialist?” and so on. This is the Hive-Mind’s way of trivializing and dismissing anything outside of its own groupthink, turning outsiders into simplified stereotypes. Once a label has been applied, the next step is claiming full knowledge of the outsider perspective: “So you believe that [fill in the blank].”

c. Feigning openness to having someone challenge, disprove or debate a Hive-Mind position, but then never allowing that person to actually do so (i.e. through constantly interrupting them, or debating accepted definitions of words, or challenging every point of logic, or talking more loudly over them, or dismissing widely accepted facts, or abruptly exiting the conversation, changing the topic, etc.).

d. Making an outrageous, one-sided, overly simplified or absurd claim to provoke a response, then declaring an unaccepting reaction as being “typical condescending Left-wing arrogance” (or the like). Even though the Hive-Mind adherent has initiated the provocation, they can immediately claim to be a victim of “liberal” prejudice.

e. Promoting false equivalence. For example, claiming that white supremacist hate speech is just as valid a form of free speech as someone advocating GLBTQ rights; or that the “liberal bias” of Left-leaning news media is no different than the outright lies of the Alt-Right conspiracy outlets; or that progressive academic, evidence-based approaches are just as flawed as the fake science funded by neoliberal think tanks; or that Democrat efforts to register new voters is just “the other side of the coin” of Republican efforts to disenfranchise those same voters; or that repealing Obamacare is just as complete a healthcare strategy as Obamacare itself; that Donald Trump’s relentless denigration of women, minorities, immigrants and the disabled is no different than Hillary Clinton’s reference to “deplorable” Trump supporters; and so on.

f. Overwhelming someone with a deluge of proposed facts, which are then combined in such as a way as to lead to a predetermined, ideologically conformist outcome. Lots of really smart, well-read conservative folks have used this technique to wear down progressives who don’t have the same depth of knowledge in a particular area (such as the history of military conflicts, or the evolution of natural monopolies, or the writings of conservative religious thinkers, or the intricacies of the Austrian School of economics, etc.). It’s effective, because a progressive can’t argue from a place of ignorance, and the information being presented can seem superficially valid. Unfortunately, the information often either isn’t valid, or doesn’t support particular conclusions the way the Hive-Mind has indoctrinated its members to believe – the dots don’t really connect in the way they are represented. But how would you know, if you’ve never studied all the writings of Ludwig von Mises? I can tell you from experience, however, that it won’t matter if you have studied a particular topic in-depth, because either you will have to accept the Hive-Mind groupthink on a given topic, or risk being branded a liberal heretic.

Lastly, even if you are surrounded by fellow progressive-minded folks on Thanksgiving, it can still be a good idea to avoid politics. After all, despite the encouraging Blue Wave of the midterm elections, there is still a lot of bad news coming out of Washington DC and elsewhere. The Trumpster Fire is still burning bright, and the political landscape remains pretty frustrating and depressing for even the most level-headed citizen. So again, perhaps picking another topic – any topic at all – to avoid politics at your Thanksgiving or holiday celebration will allow your meal to digest a little more easily, and your heart to remain light, merry, and brimming with fellowship.

Just my 2 cents. Hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Is the capitalist system fueled by lies when you boil it down? Why or why not?

Thanks for the question Randall. Of course it is. Capitalism is dependent on continuous growth, but it also aims for increased efficiencies — both of these are motivated by a desire to enlarge profits, but the two expectations actually work against each other. If I create a really good product that “sells itself,” and is also durable and easy to maintain, then as soon as everyone who recognizes the benefit of that product (for them) purchases one, I will go out of business. So I either have to a) convince others who do not need or want my product (i.e. who don’t recognize its benefits) to purchase one, b) persuade customers who have already purchased one that they need a “newer, better” model, c) offer additional services and products to augment the original purchase, d) make sure other companies with competitive products can somehow be constrained, e) change the production quality of my product so that it will continually break and require replacement or repair….or some other strategy along these lines. You see the problem? In order for my business to grow, innovation isn’t enough. I have to start being a little…shall we say…deceptive, or coercive, or manipulative, or underhanded. There is really no way around it. And the larger my company, and the longer it remains in the marketplace, the greater such pressures will become. Hence the drive towards monopoly.

But, in most developed civil societies, there are laws that protect consumers to a limited extent, so this limits what my business can do to maintain growth. So the easiest course is usually to lie…to falsely inflate quality, or functionality, or durability, or prestige, etc. It’s called marketing, and it’s how most products and services that have little or no actual value to consumers can become wildly profitable. For example, how many people do you think knew they had “restless leg syndrome” before they were sold a pharmaceutical solution for their “disorder” on TV…? I would estimate that more than 60% of purchases in the U.S. are driven by such artificially generated demand. Which is why the U.S. doesn’t produce very much any more domestically in terms of manufactured goods…the diminishing return on profits as the U.S. market became saturated, and domestic labor and materials costs increased at the same time, became untenable. That’s why companies have had to outsource. And it’s also why the U.S. economy has been “financialized.” It’s much easier to grow profit through speculative investments and consumer debt than it is via manufacturing — because it’s using other people’s money. And once consumers start accumulating debt — or become addicted to stock market or futures gambling, as the case may be — that condition generally persists. Forever. And as real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need…well…we ended up with the main driver of the U.S. economy being speculation and debt maintenance. And how did consumers get suckered into such a situation? Well they were lied to of course, and then given some cheese every once-in-a-while to condition a compulsive reflex to keep buying and investing indefinitely.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Joan Spark:

The way currencies work are the driving force behind the growth demand for the economy.

And as you have noticed, the real economy can’t keep up with that demand, exponential demand to be precise. At best a real economy can do linear growth, which - tadum - produces growth rates that trend towards zero.

This means, as the holder of money have leverage over every other participants in the economy (monopoly, why is another matter) they extract the exponential demand out of a system that at best grows linearly.. which leads to your observation: “..real wages have remained flat for many decades, and the cost of living has increased, and people kept being sold things they don’t need”

Shall I go on?

TL;DR: you’re blaming the wrong guy. Capitalism is not the problem, monopolies under private control which create cronyism are the problem.


You are touching on a larger conversation in macroeconomic theory around aggregate demand, and I would agree that you have part of the picture in view. But that wasn’t really what I was aiming at — which was more microeconomic in focus. There is a lot of ground to cover in AD, and monetary variables are just one set among many inputs. I don’t disagree that cronyism and clientism amplify the preexisting antagonisms of market economies…but they only make them worse, they don’t initiate the problems. It’s like negative externalities, or opportunity costs, or perverse incentives, or moral hazards…these things are already in play, but some conditions have a fertilizing effect.

Does libertarianism require a higher than average level of social capital in order to work on a large scale?

Thanks for the question Olga. First, I would qualify “higher than average” to be relative to what we have now…which is a fairly broken and meager social interconnectivity. Things like social media (and communications media and technology) have tended to supplant real relations, and created an increasing poverty of social capital — at least that which transcends mere “relationships of convenience” or tribal conformance.

With that said, right-libertarians tend to idealize contractual, voluntary, individualistic relations that do not require social capital to function. Social agreement, sure…but not any complex interdependent social networks…no. Right-libertarian arrangements would still benefit from social capital…but it isn’t a prerequisite IMO.

Left-libertarians, on the other hand, tend to view social relations (usually at the community level, and in a horizontally collectivist sense) as a key component of effective governing of the commons, and are less reliant on contractual obligations. So left-libertarian proposals definitely would benefit from “higher than average social capital” to function well…and really as a prerequisite.

Again…this is all relative to the current paucity of social capital in Western cultures.

My 2 cents.

What is the ideal distribution of wealth in a society?

Thanks for the question Chris. Tom Gregory has a great answer regarding the Gini distribution. I would only offer a slightly different “intersubjective” take….

IMO, the values of society (or “values hierarchies” in the sense of social mores and ethical assumptions) should move away from valuing material wealth entirely. In itself, the obsession with economic materialism is destructive to social cohesion, prosocial traits in individuals, and the growth and stability of civil society. Paul Piff’s research has been pretty conclusive in this regard. The more we fixate on material wealth distribution, the more we remain distracted by class, social status, inequalities, competition for resources, consumerism and a host of other maladies that drive the collective mental illness and corrosion of civil society we are experiencing today.

The alternative is to just let go of economic materialism altogether. Let go of wealth accumulation, the profit motive, the moral infancy of I/Me/Mine, and indeed the conflation of “freedom” and affluence. To do this, I suspect we will need to develop a different orientation to private property itself — reinvoking a mode of collectively shared resources without demanding ownership, a mode that has been successful across many different cultures around the globe. To appreciate this shift, I recommend reading Private Property As Violence.

There are two forces in the world today, the drive toward collectivity and the drive toward individuality. They seem to be at odds. How do we appreciate the best of both?

Thanks for the great question. IMO the solution is to veer away from vertical forms of both individualism and collectivism, and toward horizontal forms that incorporate the best of both. Here is a chart that helps appreciate this difference:



As you can see, an additional consideration (in terms of political economy) is the “materialist-proprietarian” vs. “egalitarian-commons” axis. I tend to aim for the egalitarian-commons side of this spectrum, because I believe it harmonizes much more readily with both democracy and compassionate consideration of other human beings.

My 2 cents.

What gives ownership of property its legitimacy?

Thanks for the question.

What gives ownership of property its legitimacy? Only the fabricated architecture of the rule of law as created from whole cloth by human beings, usually to facilitate material security in isolation from society…and of course to facilitate trade. But extending personal sovereignty over one’s own mind and body into property — as in the longstanding tradition of Locke’s theory of labor appropriation — is a convenient, self-justifying fiction that borders on ridiculous. It’s little different than a dog believing it “owns” a patch of grass that it has peed upon, or a bird “owning” a tree where it has built its nest, or a hunter “owning” a wild animal they caught in a snare…these are all just variations of a King of the Mountain children’s game. There is no “natural law” that extends “mind and body” into property of any kind…only made-up belief constructed to justify appropriation, defense of property, and commerce.

As I discuss at length in these essays: Integral Liberty and Property As Violence,
property ownership is actually a non-rational impulse that interferes mightily with liberty, is predicated on ego-centrism and atomistic individualism, and is incompatible with the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). It is, essentially, a very immature and irrational way of interacting with our environment (unless you are a dog, a bird, a bear, etc.) that ends up reflexively depriving everyone else of their liberties. In this sense, ownership is primarily an antisocial behavior, regularly violating the non-aggression principle. Someday — hopefully in the not-too-distant future for humanity’s sake — we will begin to shift back into the more sane, rational and prosocial mode of possessing things temporarily for their utility, enjoyment or resource contribution, but without the childish need to “own” them during this temporary possession. We’re getting there…slowly…with concepts like Open Source. But we have a long way to go.

My 2 cents.

Why are more people calling for a Socialist society?

Thank you for the question Rachel. Some possibilities:

1) Because capitalism has been failing most people for a really long time.

2) Because nearly ALL of the social safety nets, worker protections, consumer protections and other benefits for the non-wealthy in the U.S. are a consequence of policies championed by socialists or inspired by socialism. Child labor laws, worker unions, socialized medicine (Medicare) and so on are all a consequence of socialistic values and ideology.

3) Because the lies and deceptions of neoliberal propaganda (i.e. “trickle-down economics always works”, “all forms of socialism have always failed,” etc.) are becoming more and more obvious, and people just aren’t being deceived as easily.

4) Because people see how socialized systems and socialistic values in other countries have been quite successful.
Because, despite concerted efforts from neoiberals and right-libertarians to deny or distort the reality, a “mixed economy” like that of the U.S. is a mixture of socialism and capitalism…and has been for a very long time.

In other words, people are calling for a more socialistic society because they are waking up from the spectacle that has kept them from seeing how rational, compassionate and commonsensical such a society really is.

My 2 cents.

Has the rise of the gig economy contributed to greater wealth disparity and inequality as Thomas Piketty suggests in this chart?

(see: https://www.quora.com/link/A-simple-chart-shows-what-some-economists-consider-to-be-the-most-striking-development-in-40-years-of-the-US-economy)

LOL. This question really tickled me, so thanks for the question.

It’s not the correlation I find interesting, but the causal phrasing. “Has the rise of the gig economy…” (as if it were some spontaneous thing) “…contributed to great wealth disparity…?” Both are the consequence of precisely the same downward pressures on wages, employment security, and economic mobility…and the same upward pressures on wealth concentration. These two forces have been in play for quite a while now (over fifty years), and certain consequences (like the weakening of unions, loss of entire sectors of blue collar jobs, the financialization and automation of the economy, and so on) are inevitable. To understand the underlying mechanisms, one has to reframe the discussion around growth-dependent capitalism itself, and its constant shifting reach for cheap labor and cheap resources in order to sustain that growth, while still enlarging the profits of owner-shareholders as an “acceptable” return. The gig economy had to happen in this context — just as corporations had to start shifting away from full-time employment to contract labor. Both wealth disparity and job insecurity are absolutely deliberate in this context. Until we rethink these fundamental expectations of capitalism, it’s only going to amplify such trends.

My 2 cents.

Could “trickle down economics” ever work like the Republicans say it will?

No it will not…and never has. After ALL Republican historical tax cuts for the wealthy aimed to “stimulate the economy,” low-end wages remained stagnant, the number of folks living in poverty remained the same or increased, and income inequality consistently increased. In addition, the central claim to fame for supply-siders is that tax cuts stimulate economic growth…but at the macro level this has been extremely hit-and-miss (see links below). But, more importantly, there has not been any substantive or sustained “trickle-down” to the poor as a consequence of tax cuts for the rich, ever. All other statistics are largely irrelevant in this context, because the sole measure of whether trickle down and other supply-side fantasies (i.e. the Laffer curve is laughable) actually work is whether poor people get any less poor. Well, they don’t. So it’s just B.S. to talk about economic indicators at a macro level that benefit the wealthy, when what happens to the poor (in terms of real wages, numbers of folks in poverty, etc.) is so clearly neutral or negative. Here are some decent articles that cover this topic (you will need to follow links and refs in them to burrow down to the actual data):

How Much Do Tax Cuts Really Matter? (Summary of Census Bureau reports on income and poverty across multiple U.S. administrations.)

Tax Cuts Won’t Make America Great Again

Trickle-Down Tax Cuts Don’t Create Jobs - Center for American Progress

How past income tax rate cuts on the wealthy affected the economy

Tax Cuts: Myths and Realities

Now of course if you do a Google search on this topic you will find endless articles from the Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute, American Enterprise Institute and other neoliberal think tanks that prop up supply-side fantasies with cherry-picked statistics. It’s really shameful…but this deluge of propaganda serves these neoliberal institutions well: they have forever been the champions of corporate plutocrats, after all.

How Wealthy Trump Supporters Will Overturn Democratic Wins in November 2018

Current excitement about a "Blue Wave" of Democratic wins in November is, I believe, woefully misplaced...for the simple reason that the wealthiest Trump supporters (inclusive of Vladamir Putin) will use every underhanded tool at their disposal to prevent or reverse any Democratic victories they can. What these powers-that-be care most about is winning by any means possible - they will lie, cheat, steal, harass, sue, bully, intimidate and hoodwink in order to hold on to their political influence. How do we know this? Because we've seen it in many recent local and national elections:

1. Outrageous gerrymandering of congressional districts to favor Republicans.

2. Relentless disenfranchisement of Democrat voters, the poor, people of color, etc. and/or preventing them to vote on election day.

3. Aggressive attempts to hack into all levels of the election process, and the DNC, in order to disrupt free and fair elections.

4. Lockstep passage of legislation - coordinated by A.L.E.C., the State Policy Network, etc. - at the national and State levels to disrupt anything progressive: environmental protections, worker protections, unions, consumer health and safety, voting rights, etc...

5. Highly targeted deceptive manipulations on social media to persuade voters of ridiculous claims.

6. Threats, intimidation, fear-mongering and punitive policies from the White House itself to further disrupt and divide the Democratic base.

7. Relentless, carefully orchestrated smear campaigns.

8. Invented or manufactured crises that are then shamelessly blamed on Democrats.

So why should anything be different in 2018...and what other tactics can we look forward to? Court challenges for any election outcomes or lower court rulings that don't favor Republicans? Sure, with a new far-Right Supreme Court Justice on the bench, this will almost certainly be a tactic.

In the past, the only thing that has consistently countered such nefarious "win-at-all-costs" Right-wing strategies on a large scale has been a broad upwelling of authentic populist grassroots excitement for a given candidate or agenda. This is what propelled Obama to his initial victory, what energized Bernie's rise to prominence, and what promises to undermine the centrist DNC status quo as it did with New York's election of Ocasio-Cortez.

But we should always keep in mind that whatever has worked previously to elevate the will of the people into our representative democracy will always be countered by new deceptions, new backroom dark money dealings, new astroturfing campaigns, and new methods of hoodwinking by those on the Right who want to destroy our civic institutions. Nothing on the Left can compare - in scope or the amount of money spent - to how the Koch brothers coopted the Tea Party, how the Mercer family funded Breitbart and manipulated social media through Cambridge Analytica, what Rupert Murdoch accomplished with FOX News, or how the Scaife and Bradley foundations fund fake science to weaken or reverse government regulations. Billions have been spent to deceive Americans and create "alternative narratives" that spin any and all public debate toward conservative corporate agendas. And when the Supreme Court upheld the "free speech" of corporate Super PACs funded with dark money in its Citizens United ruling, that just opened the floodgates for more of the same masterful deception.

So don't count on a Blue Wave to save us from a truly deranged Infant-in-Chief and his highly toxic agenda. Civil society - and the checks and balances of power for the U.S. Republic itself - will very likely continue to be methodically demolished and undermined by neoliberal plutocrats. I wish this was mere pessimistic speculation…but I really don't believe it is. As just one example of the effectiveness of these sneaky destroyers of democracy, consider how well-organized, well-funded, and effective the "science skepticism" of the past few decades has been. Take a few minutes to absorb the graphic illustration below, and then ask yourself:

1. Do we have caps on carbon emissions, and the necessary investment in green energy technology to replace fossil fuels, to avoid further escalation of climate change?

2. Have neonicotinoid insecticides been banned so essential bee populations can be saved?

3. Has the marketing of nicotine vaping products to teenagers been stopped to prevent them from lifelong addiction and health hazards?

4. Has the proliferation of GMOs been seriously slowed until we can better understand its long-term impacts?

5. Do a majority of Americans even believe any of these issues are even an urgent concern…?


Neoliberal Self-Protective Propaganda Machine


Along the same lines, how good are working conditions at the largest U.S. companies? How high are those worker's wages? Will Social Security be able to pay 100% of benefits after 2034? Are wildly speculative investments on Wall Street being well-regulated? Are U.S. healthcare costs coming down? Are CEOs being held accountable for corporate malfeasance…and if so, how many have actually gone to jail?

The answer to these and countless similar questions informs us about the direction the U.S. is taking, and how nothing that interferes with corporate profits or the astounding wealth of their owner-shareholders will be allowed to flourish as long as conservative Republican (and possibly even centrist Democrats) hold power. In short, elected officials friendly to corporatocracy need to keep getting elected to keep this gravy train in motion. And so there is no cost too great to expend in order for them to win, and the highest concentrations of wealth in the history of the world have brought all of their resources to bear to perpetuate those wins. This is why a Blue Wave alone cannot triumph in November. Perhaps, if every single Left-leaning voter - together with every single Independent-minded voter - comes out to make their voices heard at the ballot box, it just might make enough difference. And I do mean every single one. But a Blue Wave alone will probably not be enough. In effect, what America requires for a return to sanity and safety is what we might call a Blue-Orange Tsunami - perhaps even one with a tinge of Purple, where Independents, Democrats and the few sane Republicans remaining unite their voices and votes against a highly unstable fascistic threat.

Short of this, there is just too much money in play, carefully bending mass media, social media, news media, scientific research, legislators, election systems, judges, government agencies, public opinion and the President himself to its will.

REFERENCES

https://www.businessinsider.com/partisan-gerrymandering-has-benefited-republicans-more-than-democrats-2017-6
https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/how-the-gop-rigs-elections-121907/
https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/26/us/2016-presidential-campaign-hacking-fast-facts/index.html
https://www.brookings.edu/articles/alecs-influence-over-lawmaking-in-state-legislatures/
https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/19/facebook-political-ads-social-media-history-online-democracy
https://www.politico.com/story/2018/01/16/trump-california-census-342116
https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/07/james-gunn-dan-harmon-mike-cernovich-the-far-rights-pedophilia-smear-campaign-is-working.html
https://www.mediamatters.org/research/2016/03/16/lies-distortions-and-smears-how-right-wing-medi/209051

What is the difference between voluntaryism and agorism?

Agorism is Konkin’s Rothbardian wet dream, with some later infusions of counter-establishment activism. It is utterly confused and self-contradictory form of right-libertarianism — and to invest in Agorism (or even entertain Konkin’s ideas as well-reasoned) is to bend one’s own thinking into such pretzels as to potentially break important cognitive capacities. In part I think this is due to Konkin’s ignorance: for example, he misuses terms (like “Left-Libertarian”) without any understanding of their history or context. In part, however, this is just due to crooked logic; Konkin is kin to Ayn Rand in this regard.

Voluntaryism (not to be confused with voluntarism!) is a much broader container, built around mutual consent. As a tool to evaluate (and avoid) Statist impositions, it seems to be a useful concept. As a sort of moral standard, it is not as helpful. When married to capitalism (or defending property ownership, etc.), voluntaryism begins to twist its proponent’s thinking into rather nasty knots…like wage slavery being okay as long as it’s contractual (i.e. there is no recognition of coercive power structures).

I hope this was helpful.

The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics

STOP

To support a new framing of this longstanding issue, my latest essays covers many different facets and details that impact the polarization of Left/Right discourse. However, its main focus centers around the concept of personal and collective agency. That is, how such agency has been effectively sabotaged in U.S. culture and politics for both the Left and the Right, and how we might go about assessing and remedying that problem using various tools such as a proposed "agency matrix." The essay then examines a number of scenarios in which personal-social agency plays out, to illustrate the challenge and benefits of finding a constructive solution - one that includes multiple ideological and cultural perspectives.

Essay link in PDF: The Underlying Causes of Left vs. Right Dysfunction in U.S. Politics

Also available in an online-viewable format at this academia.edu link.

As always, feedback is welcome via emailing [email protected]

How would you convince socialists to become libertarian?

Thanks for the question John. I had to chuckle a bit when I saw this question…

The main challenge in any conversation — persuasive or otherwise — is that everyone share the same definitions of terms. If they don’t it will be impossible to communicate. In other words, we need to synchronize our knowledgbase. In this case, the terms “libertarian” and “socialist” have very broad definitions, and there is no better example of that than the fact that several answers so far confidently assert that it is “impossible” to persuade socialists to become libertarians, while at the same time I myself (along with countless others in the present day and throughout history) am a libertarian socialist. So there’s the source of the chuckling. Ha.

Unfortunately, there are a number of barriers to education and subsequent knowledgeable synchronization. One is ideological resistance (we might call this “willful ignorance” that bubbles up from deeply cherished beliefs). Another is subjection to years of misinformation and propaganda. Another is a simple desire to avoid embarrassment when someone discovers their own mistaken understanding. Another is ego — just ‘wanting to be right,’ because that is very important to some people’s self-concept. There are other barriers, but these seem fairly common.

So how do we approach these barriers or mitigate them? First, although it’s fairly rare to do this successfully in today’s sociopolitical landscape, offering some educational resources may spark curiosity and willingness to be educated in some people. Sometimes just asking a person if they are interested in learning about X or Y can open that door. To that end, a person could be offered some or all of the following resources:

1) Watching a few of the plentiful videos of Noam Chomsky discussing socialism, liberalism, capitalism, libertarianism, and the language and history around these ideas. Here is one:

https://youtu.be/Qc6AgXVNNsY

2) Reading up on the history of anarchism, libertarian socialism and anarcho-capitalism in books like Marshall’s Demanding the Impossible.

3) Appreciating how right-libertarianism (that is, capitalistic libertarianism) developed as a uniquely American flavor of libertarianism (via Mencken, Rothbard, Nozick, Mises, et al — there is a fairly good overview here: Right-libertarianism - Wikipedia), and how it was then entirely coopted by neoliberalism (see L7 Neoliberalism)

4) Appreciating just how pervasive, corrosive and distorted right-wing propaganda has become. Brock’s book Blinded by the Right might be helpful in this regard, and a Harvard study on how propaganda shaped the 2016 election can be found here: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstre...

In any case, that’s a start. A person’s response to this initial exposure and education will help determine next steps. Are they surprised by what they learn? Are they willing to admit the extent of their own ignorance? Do they turn to poorly informed, knee-jerk polemics, ad hominem attacks or name-calling to reject the information? Do they express a thirst for additional information? How to handle each of these responses is a separate and often challenging question in itself.

I hope this was helpful.

What life choices can individuals make to insulate against the negative impacts of neoliberal policies?

There have been a number of proposals over the years that have attempted to “self-liberate” from what amounts to neoliberal oppression — many of which were proposed prior to neoliberal ideology even taking root. For example:

1) Various forms of counterculture — some embedded in the mainstream, and some retreating to isolated communes, etc.

2) Various top-down socialistic reforms that attempt to insulate entire segments of society — or all of society — from the impact of runaway crony capitalism through government programs, safety nets, publicly owned assets and services, etc.

3) Worker solidarity movements that permit organized labor to wrestle controls away from the owner-shareholder class.

4) The formation of a well-educated, affluent middle class with progressive values that can counter neoliberal agendas through NGOs, community organizing, community banking, electing progressive candidates, writing and passing progressive initiatives, and mass media counter-narratives.

5) Subversive activism that seeks to disrupt neoliberal agendas, such as hacktivism, sabotaging WTO meetings, ecoterrorism, etc.

6) Modeling alternatives that exit the self-destructive spiral of a neoliberal status quo. Low carbon lifestyles, Permaculture and
7) Transition Towns, becoming Vegan, and so on.

Thus far, such efforts have slowed the forward march of neoliberalism, to be sure…but neoliberal activists are themselves very skilled, well-organized and well-funded in their own efforts to move their plutocratic vision forward, often coopting counter-narratives and undermining radical efforts. Consider how the Koch brothers took over the Tea Party movement, for example, or how the Kitchen Cabinet manipulated Reagan’s populism to their own ends, or how a Patriot Act inspired by foreign terrorism empowered a neoliberal government to crack down more forcefully on its own citizen subversives, or how alternative culture has simply been been commoditized to further feed corporate profits, or how evangelical Christians in the U.S. are now almost totally in the thrall of the commercialist, corporationist Beast. It’s stunning, really.

Which leads us to the question: what else can we do, either individually or collectively? I think the desire to “check out” of a toxic political economy altogether, and hide ourselves away off-the-grid or in some developing country, can be very enticing. It’s also pretty selfish, however…in some ways playing right into the “I/Me/Mine” individualism that feeds the disintegration of civil society itself. Another, perhaps more responsible approach would be to try David Holmgren’s “Crash on Demand or how to opt out the corporate fascism.” I think he has some good ideas there that could lead to major reform. But really I think the best method is to walk right past the low-hanging fruit, and aim much higher. Which means reforming the underlying political economy itself, rather than attempting a Band-Aid approach to countering neoliberalism. To that end, I’ve cobbled together a “multi-pronged” system for transformative activism here: L e v e l - 7 Action. The basic idea is that if we work towards ALL of the threads of change agency described there, we just might be able to undermine a neoliberal status quo in enduring and sustainable ways. At this point it’s just my own vision, but hey…why not aim high? Why not try to alter the underlying, causal factors that keep leading us down the same self-destructive path…?

My 2 cents.

Marx and Engels advocate the abolition of private property. What are the justifications? Why this advocacy was considered so revolutionary?

What is an object? It’s a thing, right? Just a thing…basically only valuable in terms of its utility or commodification. Its function or someone’s desire for it determines its purpose and worth. But is that what a human being is? Just a thing…? A thing that it only valuable because of its utility or someone’s desire for it, and without any other essence or purpose? Is our only function to…ultimately…be objectified by others? To be used? Meditate on this for a bit. “Private property” is, in its most essential characteristic, the “thingification” of the world; that is, the forceful categorization and boundarizing of everything as “stuff.” That is, as objects that are used, and only valuable because of their utility and desirability, and not because they have any intrinsic value or purpose that transcends material exchanges or the capricious whims of humans. Ownership is enslavement to the will of the owner. This is a pretty profound observation, don’t you think? And yet it escapes most people that everything they do — and everything they are — in a capitalist system distances them from their own intrinsic, non-material value, and turns them into an object…a slave. Thus private property, as the primary building block of a capitalist system, ultimately results in the commodification of the human spirit…and in a society that is mired in cultural poverty and alienation.

This is what Marx is getting at with his theory of alienation and “self-estrangement.” And IMO it is incredibly important to understand this component of Marx’s thinking, because everything else in his philosophy flows out from this central observation. Thus the capture and imprisonment of all natural things into a state of “private property” destroys their inherent value — strips them of their essence — and replaces that inherent value with commodification. In the same way, the “commodified” human being relinquishes their will, their choice, their imagination, their self-determination, their creativity, their social relations and fundamental purpose…purely in order to serve the will of profit. To be a slave. To be a thing. When understood in this way, it is no surprise at all that Marx was so opposed to private property. As comprehensive definitions of “evil” in humanistic terms, private property’s annihilation of our humanity presents a fairly compelling case. It does require some thoughtful effort to awaken to this perspective…but once we wake up, it’s pretty hard not to see why Marx was so passionate about moving beyond the capitalist status quo as quickly as possible, and to return all “property” to the commons.

For my own take on the problems with private property, please consider reading this essay: IntegralLiberty.pdf

My 2 cents.

Is Marx’s theory of surplus value still relevant?

Yes Marx’s concept of surplus value is still relevant. But it really, really bothers neoliberal propagandists, Austrian School pundits, and other market fundamentalists that anyone is still brazen enough to use the term. These pro-capitalist folks will rail against its usage and belittle anyone who believes that this or any other ideas from Marx are still relevant. But don’t let them distract you. I think you are on the right track if you are trying to understand Marx’s insights through a modern lens. Probably the best modern example that conforms to Marx’s concerns about “surplus value” is the power that wealthy shareholders who purchase a lot of shares have over how a company does business, and the benefits that they reap from that involvement. Such a person might own a large amount of stock in a company and, even though that stock is a very tiny fraction of their own personal portfolio, they might wish to exert enormous influence as, say, an activist investor. They are, essentially, trying to maximize their personal profits — and this always comes at the expense of workers and consumers. A recent example is what happened at Qualcomm, which now has to execute a huge employee layoff to satisfy investors after the failed Broadcom takeover bid (again, to increase profits). These investors are not adding any value to an enterprise, they are just trying extract value from it. This is the concept that Marx was trying to “prove” with his surplus value calculations in Capital III — and, if you bypass the math, and instead examine the spirit of what Marx was trying to say about exploitation and the profit motive, you’ll begin to grasp the scope and intent of his insights.

A similar concept, and one well worth researching, is “rent-seeking,” where someone manipulates an environment to increase personal or corporate profits (such as lobbying or regulatory capture, for example), again without adding any real value to the equation.

Now it is easy to pick apart Marx’s arguments in Capital, and to say that certain details of his calculations are no longer relevant. But this entirely misses the narrative that Marx was trying to construct about the nature, methods and consequences of capitalism. And that narrative is very much still true today.

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between utility and value?

Hi Carl — thanks for the question. I suspect our fundamental attitudes about valuation are not that far apart, as we have both come to similar conclusions about that which is “life sustaining” having authentic “value.” I attempt to address this in my consideration of “holistic value,” but that formula also includes human-perceived-utitilty as part of the calculus. Anything that contradicts or undermines holistic value (but nevertheless commands high exchange value) is categorized as having “perverse utility.” There is a brief overview of the concept here: L7 Holistic Value, and here is how I summarize and expand on it a bit in my essay “Reframing Profit”:

“In Level 7, for-profit and non-profit designations can be addressed to some degree via the collectively designated holistic value for a given product or service, as this valuation process will inherently expand or contract potential profitability. How do we arrive at holistic value? In brief we can apply the following formula, which expands slightly upon previous conceptions described in Political Economy and the Unitive Principle:


As part of this process, we can even target the "fulcrum's plane" of ideal nourishment to refine holistic value with objective metrics – metrics which can then be made available to all via the Public Information Clearinghouse.”


Now this essay (as well as what I cover in the Unitive Principle book) is really discussing a transitional state of affairs. It is a compromise that attempts to reconcile human machinations and culture with Nature’s underlying order (as embodied in Integral Lifework’s “multidimensional nourishment” and the unitive principle itself). To appreciate what I’m aiming for here, I recommend reading the entire overview of L7 Property Position. I believe you will intuit what I’m headed with these ideas…

Looking forward to your thoughts Carl.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Carl Leitz: "Brilliant and deep insights here - it's discouraging to realize how much more we need to know just to be able to scratch the surface of what there is to know."


The challenge, I think, is that we are still in the relative dark ages with respect to developing an ethical and egalitarian political economy. Not just in conception, but in the groundwork necessary for implementation. So a lot of fundamentals have to be revisited — and in some cases reinvented. And we can’t always rely on all of the tools or concepts (or language) already in use, because they are…well…essentially toxic. But they are also complex, and well-established. So it’s a bit like saying to the modern economist: “Hey, so we need to stop using leeches. Yes, I know we have been using them for a while, but they don’t really work….” And the reaction is often, I would suppose, not unlike how the “doctors” of the middle ages would have reacted: incredulity and reflexive rejection of the truth. (sigh) So we have a long way to go….

What's the speech that converted you to socialism?

What an interesting assumption! I think I’ve always been a socialist at heart, so various socialist proposals have resonated with my native sensibilities whenever I encountered them. So at first I didn’t really think any particular speech had ‘lured me into the fold’ as it were. But as I thought back, I then remembered listening to Ronald Reagan once, when I was about fourteen and living in West Germany, and realizing even at that age what an incredible idiot he was, and this, in turn, sparked me into deeper thinking about much of what Reagan seemed to be trying to do with his policies and rhetoric. At that time, I also recalled that a representative from an Oil and Gas company who had given a lecture at a local High School near me (this was back in the States, before I left for Germany) sounded strangely similar in both tone and nonsensical language. There was a similar easygoing, deceptive slipperiness in them both. And so something “clicked” for me at the time — something came together about being lied to by public figures who were trying to get people to support a given outcome. And what was that outcome? What were these liars and cajoling buffoons trying to persuade people to do…? It was answering that question, I think, that somehow watered the seeds of socialism deep within, and recalled to my mind the songs of Pete Seeger that I had listened to as a youngster, and indeed learned to sing myself. Songs like John Henry, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, If I Had a Hammer, This Land is Your Land, Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and many others; songs that instilled a sense of pride and rightness around a love of justice, a shared sense of place and purpose with folks from all walks of life, and a mistrust of rigid rules, institutions and authoritative systems.

What began to emerge was a realization that those who craved power and wealth — and deceived others into supporting their efforts — were the same folks who liked to impose rigid rules and perpetuate authoritative and destructive systems that benefitted themselves. And these folks were, by self-identification, nearly always devoted capitalists and corporatists. And I think that, within this ripening context, when I was introduced to the New Testament, I found it particularly striking that Jesus and his followers so pointedly amplified freedom, generosity, justice and kindness for the common and oppressed person, while ridiculing and reviling those wealthy, authoritative power-brokers of their time who were perpetrating most of the oppression. It was all coming together nicely, you see? And so, many years later, what was probably a timely anointing of this gestation process was encountering the work of Noam Chomsky, whose clear and unapologetic voice indicted the very same oppressive systems and institutions, while lauding the benefits of socialistic and anti-capitalist sentiments and practices — in his case leaning towards left-anarchism. Taken altogether, it was quite a tapestry of influences that all ultimately converged on libertarian socialism. But, really…when it comes right down to it…it was that one absurd speech from Ronald Reagan that nudged me most forcefully away from everything crony capitalism has come to represent, and indeed what it still perpetuates in our modern political economy.

My 2 cents.

Why do politicians and intellectuals not look beyond democracy? Has the intellectual capacity of man gone down, or democracy really is the end of history?

Politicians? I wasn’t aware they cared about democracy at all. They certainly don’t in my country (U.S.A.). Thanks to the dogged efforts of neoliberal owner-shareholders, U.S. democracy has become little more than crony, clientist state capitalism. “Representative” democracy mainly represents a relatively small number of wealthy owner-shareholders, not the broader electorate who has been hoodwinked into voting against their own interests.

As for intellectuals, I think the promotion of direct democracy and consensus democracy are often discussed in a future-looking way by academics because these approaches hold a lot of promise, and have been fairly successful wherever they’ve been tried.

Yes, I do believe intellectual capacity is decreasing in the developed world, even as it increases in developing countries. However, it doesn’t require a brilliant intellect to envision or practice new forms of direct or consensus democracy. It just requires a bit of education, a level moral maturity that recognizes the importance of civic responsibility and participation, and an attenuation of “I/Me/Mine” economic materialism.

My 2 cents.

Why does the original position of Rawls assume people will be conservative about taking risks?

Is this a college essay question? I hope not.

Rawls’ maximin preference has nothing to do with risk aversion. This is a misreading of the context for his original position. He simply emphasizes that a system that minimizes negative outcomes and opportunity costs in fundamental ways will maximize potential benefits across all of society — including the ability to take future risks. And because decisions from the original position inherently aim to decide pervasive systemic foundations for everyone in society, hogtying the proposed universality of justice and fairness for the sake of some minimal, targeted perceived utility is…well…it’s just shortsighted. Even if that perceived utility appears to be a form of freedom, the cost is simply too great (again, within the pervasive and perpetual context that Rawls has defined for this exercise) to sacrifice what I would call the foundations of freedom itself — i.e. what Rawl’s discusses as the social minimums of liberty, opportunity, education, etc. for everyone — in order to facilitate some much more narrowly defined goal. In this respect, arguments against Rawls do tend to be a bit myopic and blinkered. Remember that Rawls’ veil of ignorance demands such systemic conditions be optimally defined without any knowledge of one’s position, resources and opportunities. Thus maximin becomes a sensible starting point for that discussion.

My 2 cents.

In an anarcho-capitalist society, would coercion exist? Why (not)?

Absolutely. AnCap likes to frame “coercion” as a feature of the State, but ignores how it also manifests in free enterprise. Capitalists regularly coerce consumers and workers — regardless of whether the State aids or legitimizes these actions. This is true even for small business…not just monopolies. But monopolies — which can occur (and have occurred) naturally, and without mechanisms of the State — often amplify the scope and intensity of that coercion. Capitalism, by its very nature, encourages coercive practices — the company store, truck systems, share cropping, wage slavery, debt slavery, deliberately addictive products and services, brutally non-competitive practices, deceptive manipulation of consumers through fear and threats, etc. have always surfaced spontaneously in capitalist systems — and thus there is really nothing inherently “free” about a free market. Most market fundamentalists, including anarcho-capitalists, will rail against these characterizations of inherent coercion…but I’ve yet to encounter a valid counterargument that wasn’t steeped in neoliberal hoodwinking, irrational knee-jerk bias, ideological groupthink, and unsubstantiated beliefs about “unicorn” economics. Folks will just want to believe what they want to believe, and when you get a large enough group of them agreeing on what are often bizarre cognitive distortions, no amount of reasoning “from the outside” can free them from their delusions. It’s a sad state of affairs for the human species, and if we can’t break free of these immature, tribalistic mindsets, it does not bode well for our humanity’s future….

My 2 cents.

Where is Marx's ‘capital’ error?

So I think there are a number of different things to consider here, and that they often get conflated into a single, overarching criticism of Marx. They include:

1. The issue of Marx’s LTV itself, and of what constitutes surplus value.

2. The issue of Marx’s definition of (and solution to ) “the transformation problem” of how commodity LTV-based values convert into exchange values.

3. The conclusions that Marx draws, in part from these first two issues, about the inevitability of workers rebelling against the capitalist system, and the form that will take.

Now IMO there is a lot of incoherent blathering focused around these subjects — particularly from the Austrian School folks. It is easy to become mightily distracted by the irrational, ideologically fervent dog-barking of the Austrian School and other free-market fundamentalists (Randian objectivists, neoliberals, right-libertarians, etc.), so I would advise against any engagement with those folks around this topic; their reasoning is simply too clouded with bias and incomplete information. There are also plenty of Marxists who have sought to refine, clarify or resolve some of the perceived problems with the above issues as well. Here again, there is fervent ideological bias (including an inability to admit that Marx made any kind of mistake) that can occlude some of the simpler approaches to understanding and resolving Marx’s “errors.” However, in this case, much of the thinking is still considerably more coherent than the Austrian School perspectives. Lastly, there are other, non-ideologically-based discussions of Marx that are probably worth exploring…especially if you enjoy diving into some fairly intricate math.

Okay…with all of this said, I’ll offer what I believe is a contrasting approach that attempts to “cut through the noise:” in this case just ignoring Marx’s mathematical models, ignoring the ideology that motivates his critics, and ignoring attempts to “post-rationalize” Marx’s claims by other Marxists. Instead, we can just look at the actual course of capitalism over time, then compare its practices, problems and trajectories to what Marx predicted (in terms of intermediate consequences). That is…examine the evolution of markets, monopolies, global trade, the impact of automation, the continued antagonisms of poor working conditions and low wages, the societal impact of consumerism and commodification, and so on, through a Marxian lens. And if we do so…when we examine the fundamental spirit of Marx’s critiques of capitalism…what do we find?

We find that Marx was absolutely correct in both his observation of how fundamental problems of capitalism manifest in political economy, and his anticipation of future negative evolutions that have resulted from capitalism. Is the math he used to justify his conclusions sound? IMO the math often falls short. Are his conclusions sound? IMO absolutely yes, on the whole, they are quite sound. So the challenge is really avoiding getting lost in the weeds of particular arguments or mathematical proofs — a focus which is often what both Marx’s loudest critics and most passionate proponents prefer to focus upon. But if we can resist that impulse…if we can observe the massive forest that Marx paints for us in very broad brush strokes, instead of obsessing over the pattern of bark on a particular tree…there are some very valuable insights and lessons we can learn from good old Karl.

Now…about point #3, Marx’s “inevitable conclusions.” This is where I personally disagree with Marx the most. I don’t think violent revolution is necessary — and I feel it was a fatal mistake for Marx to predict (and thus promote) this flavor of expropriation, as it led to some of the darkest — and unnecessary, IMO — moments in socialism’s history. There are other reasons why I believe this was and is a general error in thinking about change, which I discuss here: Revolutionary Integrity. However, once again this shouldn’t be conflated with his other conclusions and reasoning. Marx is complex enough that, if we are willing to take the time and effort, we can tease out the many different and fascinating threads in his writing and thought.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Matias Gimenez: "Marx proposes that eventually, capital owners would absorb everything, creating a ever shrinking pool of rich people, or bourgeois, and a ever growing mass of poor people, growing poorer generation after generation. Capitalism proved Marx wrong. Poverty descenced worldwide and wealth is at its highest for all humans, all of this without taking into account that the amount of rich people is actually growing."


Thanks for the feedback, Matias. I have heard this objection before, and think it fails to take something rather important into account: the impact that civil society (comprised of many socialist institutions and policies) has had on capitalism in terms of wealth production and distribution. When you remove the institutions and policies that strengthen civil society — and we have plenty of examples of places in the world and times in history where this was the case — Marx completely nails the outcome. When you factor those variables back in, they have indeed softened the outcomes Marx predicted, even though there is significant statistical support for growing wealth concentrations and disparities despite that softening. But the point is that without the mitigation of all sorts of structures that contain, restrict, regulate and “egalitarianize” capitalism, it would follow (and has followed) the trajectory Marx predicts. Socialism has manifested in many forms to ensure the slowing of the capitalist self-destructive spiral, in the form of unions and collective bargaining, wage laws, worker protections, child labor laws, etc. Add to these things consumer protections, environmental regulations, and the general rule of law in commerce…then add central controls (monetary policy, economic policy, financial regulations, etc.), and that completes the slowing down of many negative externalities as well as skyrocketing wealth disparity…and indeed encourages a broader platform of economic mobility. But make no mistake, the laissez-faire folks have always fought tooth-and-nail against these “socialist” intrusions into markets. This is the irony of modern neoliberalism: capturing the government and reversing socialistic reforms is what indeed improves short-term profits and wealth retainment for the owner-shareholder class…but it devastates the economic mobility and stable civil society that ensures a thriving, growing economy over the long-run. It’s why trickle-down supply-side economics never works, and why it always has to be rescued from itself (again, via socialistic reforms and stronger civil society). So again…Marx was actually correct about capitalism, but socialism has helped address the worst offenses. That is why “mixed” economies around the globe are the only ones that have consistently thrived over time.

Comment by Ian Rae: "Neither did Marx think violent revolution was necessary as he said in those countries which were developed enough it wasn’t necessary, England for one."


Ian I think you are splitting hairs. Yes, England is cited as a singular European example where “social revolution might be effected entirely by peaceful and legal means” (Engels re: Marx. Vol.1). This implies, in contrast with Marx’s frequent use of more violent language throughout all three volumes regarding both recurring crises and inevitable disruptions, catastrophes, attacks, rebellions, revolutions, etc. that England would be among very few exceptions. The historical and predictive picture Marx paints is otherwise pretty grim (in terms of revolution, counterrevolution, the degradation of the working class, inevitable conflict, etc.). But, more specifically, Marx’s violent-conflict-centric language here is striking: Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 136 November 1848. And of course the Communist Manifesto itself states plainly:

“Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie. In depicting the most general phases of the development of the proletariat, we traced the more or less veiled civil war, raging within existing society, up to the point where that war breaks out into open revolution, and where the violent overthrow of the bourgeoisie lays the foundation for the sway of the proletariat.” And, later in the Manifesto: “The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”


Of course, later on Marx softened his tone, seeming to appreciate the potential role of democratic reforms more acutely. Frankly, I think he recognized his error. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t make that error earlier on…though it was an understandable one in the context of his times.

Admittedly, Lenin entirely abandoned any reformist mechanisms or tone in favor of wholesale slaughter of all bourgeoisie resistance. This was an unfortunate evolution in Marxist-Leninism. But we cannot say that the seeds for this more egregious mistake weren’t sewn earlier by the language and attitudes of both Marx and Engels.

Follow up from Ian Rae: "At the time Marx wrote about violent revolution , the working class didn’t have the vote , so how else could they achieved power and even then Marx and Engels realised an overwhelming majority would need to understand the concept of socialism and want to organise for its inception."


That is simply not true, Ian. Aside from what was occurring in Great Britain, see: Corsican Constitution, Polish-Lithuanian Constitution, French Revolution & National Convention (male suffrage, etc.), and of course the U.S. Constitution…all of which occurred prior to first publications of Das Kapital, the Communist Manifesto, etc. You could argue that Marx “awoke” to the power of democratic agency by observing the Paris Commune…sure. But lots of stuff was going on throughout Europe and all around the globe in terms of “revolutionary” democratic changes prior to that. Marx just wasn’t paying attention…or didn’t think those changes would be sufficient (at first). Hence Marx made a mistake. That’s all it was. Just a simple, human mistake. Which is why I find it a little bit silly that anyone would try to defend Marx’s choices as anything but that.

Is middle America at risk of being permanently shut out from the modern economy? What policies, if any, would help revitalize these communities?

Thanks for the question.

This line of questioning has been around for many decades now. When I worked at a Public Policy Center in the 1990s, for example, the revitalization of failing rural communities centered around addressing precisely this concern. I also think the degradation of economic mobility and the U.S. middle class is so keenly felt right now that this alone contributed more than any other single factor to Donald Trump getting elected in 2016. There is a sense of desperation in the air. So what can be done….?
Here are a few options that IMO are worth reflecting upon:

1. Mixed economies have always thrived because they strike a balance between corporatocracy and maintaining a more egalitarian civil society. Right now civic institutions are under attack all around the globe, and most acutely in the U.S. Restoring those institutions (the rule of law, vibrant democracy, promotion of educational access and intellectual inquiry, the primacy of science, progressive taxation, robust social safety nets, etc.) is certainly a worthwhile objective in this regard. The challenge, of course, is that there is a well-organized, well-funded pro-corporate, market-centric neoliberal propaganda engines (see L7 Neoliberalism) that have decimated the public discourse, obscured good data, and distorted truth in favor of laissez-faire and crony capitalism — thus counteracting the benefits of a more balanced or “mixed” approach. So part of the solution will have to be an aggressive effort to disrupt this propaganda campaign and undermine the false narrative created by right-wing think tanks and corporate media. This is doable…but it needs to become a central focus of progressive-leaning politics in the U.S. The liars and cheats need to be called out and shut down…and, optimistically, Trump may have become a catalyst for precisely this sort of shift in the Zeitgeist and populist activism. The impact the Parkland students have had (i.e. Florida gun legislation) is an example of what can happen when bullshit policies and ideology are confronted head-on by ordinary folk.

2. Raising awareness about the inevitable negative consequences of conspicuous consumption, unsustainable production practices, and self-sabotaging growth-dependent economics is also a key component. Here again we’ll need to counter pervasive neoliberal propaganda, but once ordinary folks understand that America has been — collectively, individually and nationally — living well beyond its means for some time now, this will help reintroduce a sense of “reasonableness” to the economic discussion, and indeed create more realistic expectations about the future. As a culture (and an economy), we simply can’t keep over-consuming while insisting the supply of cheap labor and abundant natural resources will remain unlimited forever. It’s just silly. But once we awaken to the realities of what “sustainability” looks and feels like, the economic disparities have a real opportunity to attenuate — if only because the wedge of scarcity can them become less wide, and less pointy.

3. Moral maturity is a big piece of this. It has always been the case that Americans lag behind other developed countries in the sophistication of their values hierarchy. The immature “I/Me/Mine” mentality (i.e. individualistic economic materialism) has consistently been a huge contributor to really unfortunate and self-sabotaging social, economic and political choices in the U.S. Of course, it does serve commercialistic consumerism quite well…when folks are infantilized and dependent, they buy stuff reflexively when they are “sold” on exciting self-centered benefits. So breaking free of this childishness is an essential process. Who do we do this? I have many ideas that I discuss in my Integral Lifework literature (see freely downloadable stuff at Integral Lifework Downloads), but mainly it’s about self-nurturing across multiple dimensions of being. This is somewhat ironic because on the surface it still sounds self-absorbed, but consider that among the dimensions being supported are things like “Supportive Community,” “Fulfilling Purpose” and “Affirming Integrity.” In other words, many of the dimensions being addressed specifically challenge a self-centered ideation and identity. In any case, the underlying assumption is that when human beings are fully nurtured, they naturally express their prosocial tendencies…and prosocial tendencies are what “moral maturity” amplifies and supports.

4. Lastly, I think the ultimate solution will demand we depart from capitalism altogether, as it is that system which inherently generates inequality, scarcity and economic instability — but of course this will take both time and a very clear vision of where to go next. But before we can even have that discussion, the groundwork has to be addressed via the issues and activism described above. Otherwise, as when Klaatu offered his gift upon arriving on Earth, a reactive, fearful and immature populace will try to kill any new ideas.

My 2 cents.

How do you explain the difference between Marxism, socialism, and communism in brief to a child?

Thanks for the question. “Brief” isn’t going to cut it. Despite popular myths and misconceptions, you can’t impart real wisdom, history or quality information in a tweet…and even clever parables have their limitations. So discussing socialism in any meaningful way will take some time. The age of the child, and how much they already know about the world, will also require different approaches. But here’s one simplified version you could try:

First gather together a hammer, some of the child’s favorite toys, a pile of clothing, and a bag of unbuttered popcorn.

1) A long time ago, before your parents were even born, there were no factories. People often made things themselves at home (like this clothing, for example, or these toys, or this popcorn). Or, if they had enough money or a skill of equal value to trade with someone, they could have other people make these things for them. Other folks actually had servants or slaves to make things for them. But at that time, not everyone could have everything they wanted! Imagine that. Some people could have lots of toys and clothes and popcorn…but most people could only have very little. And some people — the very poor and the slaves — might not have any at all. As a result, there were some very rich folks who had all of the money and freedom, and who controlled most of society — but all of the poor people (which was most of the people!) had very little say in things.

2) Then the “capitalist” factories arrived. How this happened is another story in itself…but it changed everything. Suddenly people didn’t make things at home anymore, or rely on a few skilled people to make them, or have slaves do the work. Instead, huge buildings full of workers made things…and made LOTS of them. Imagine a steady supply of toys, clothing and popcorn now available for everyone. And one very promising hope was that the workers in the factories got paid money so they could (in theory, at least) buy some of the things they made! The basic idea here was that, because of factories, more and more people could have more and more stuff. Now, even the very poor people could get a job at a factory with the hope of buying some toys and clothes and popcorn!

3) This seems like a pretty good deal, right? But then people started noticing some not-so-good things about these factories — and the cities that grew around them. For example, the factories would hire anyone — including little kids not much older than you — and work them really hard. Children, mothers and fathers all had really long work-days, too…sometimes ten hours or more…and without any breaks! Often the factories would keep people working all week long. No days off! And the working conditions were also often horrible and unsafe. Workers would get injured, or sick, from their jobs in the factories. Sometimes they even died or were maimed for life because conditions were so bad. And the worst thing was, the folks who ran the factories didn’t do anything to help the workers who were injured or sick — they would just hire new ones to replace them instead. In addition to this, the wages paid to work at the factories were very low. So low, in fact, that many factory workers often couldn’t even afford the things the factory made. And, lastly, the cities around these factories were becoming unbearably toxic with pollution from the factories. The air became unbreathable, lakes and streams became so polluted that all of the fish died and no one could drink the water, and even the soil itself became so spoiled that nothing would grow in it.

4) So where did the promise of spreading prosperity go…? Who was getting rich while everyone else was getting sicker and poorer, and the land, water and air was becoming poisoned? And who was actually buying what the factories made? It was the “capitalist” owners and managers of factories who were getting rich, and who could always afford to buy factory-made goods, and make the time to enjoy them if they wanted to. Isn’t that interesting? So it ended up that the factory workers, who were risking their health and lives, gave up most of their time and well-being to make things for the factory owners and managers, who were enjoying most of the fruits of the workers’ labor. And those owners and managers got richer and richer, and bought more and more toys and clothes and popcorn, and had more and more time to enjoy life…while the factory workers just kept…well, slaving away at their jobs. So this would be like me keeping all of your clothes, your toys, and this popcorn for myself…and not letting you have any, even though you yourself made the clothes, toys and popcorn! Do you think that is very nice?

5) Well, “socialists” didn’t think that this situation was very nice. “Socialists” believed that everyone should benefit from the goods the factories made. These socialists also thought the factory owners had too much power, were being too greedy, and weren’t treating workers in a kind or humane way. So socialist movements tried to protect workers from harm, give them better wages, and offer them a better life that was less like a slave’s. Many socialists thought the best way to do this was to have governments — which would be elected by a majority of workers — oversee how the factories were run. Some socialists thought that factories should be taken away from their original owners altogether! Other socialists believed that the government shouldn’t be involved at all, but instead that small cooperatives of people should control how things were made and distributed in their community…and between their community and other communities. But the idea was that, if the public — all of society — had a say in how toys and clothes and popcorn were produced and distributed, then there wouldn’t be so many poor people, or terrible working conditions, and a lot more folks could enjoy these things together. Wouldn’t you like some popcorn? Well, lots of people agreed with this, but the question for socialists then became: how could society bring this new arrangement into being?

6) Now two of these socialists were named Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, and they came up with a version of socialism called “Marxism.” Marx believed that, in order to make the capitalist factory owners kinder and more fair, there had to be a revolution led by the workers. That is, he thought the only way to make socialism happen was through a big fight, where the working class rose up against the factory owners, and took the factories away from them by force. Eventually, Marx thought, this revolution would lead to an end result — many years in the future — where all people would live in more harmony with each other, and their wouldn’t be differences in class, or wealth, or political power, and everyone would be involved in making decisions together (including about how clothing was made, how toys and popcorn were shared, and so forth). This eventual conclusion of the revolution would be called “communism,” and Marx famously described the communist ideal this way: “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.” So folks in a communist society would make toys and clothes and popcorn together, according to their ability, and then give those toys and clothes and popcorn to the folks who needed them.

7) Unfortunately, there was a big problem, and that was that many of the people who tried to carry out Marx’s violent revolution (and much of this happened after Marx passed away) didn’t really follow through on the rest of his ideas. Instead of giving the power and authority in society to the workers, as other socialists (and Marx himself) had planned to do, they kept the power for themselves. They did take the factories away from the rich owners, along with all the rich folks’ money, and used the workers to fight this violent and bloody takeover…again, using workers kind of like slave soldiers. But then the rulers of the revolution kept all of the money and power for themselves — and they ended up with all the best popcorn, all the best toys, and all the best clothes. So the basic situation — suffering workers slaving away for wealthy leaders who had all the control — really didn’t change. So the “revolution” never led to the “communist” ideal that Marx and Engels envisioned…even though it was still called “Communism” by many people!

8-) Now in other places around the world, “socialism” was put into practice without a violent revolution. This is where our worker’s labor unions came from, and worker’s rights and protections at factories — so they could be safe and work a reasonable number of hours in a day, a reasonable number of days in a week, had time off for recreation, and so on. Socialists are why we have weekends and vacations! You’ve probably also noticed that children like you aren’t working in very many factories anymore either, and that was because socialists advocated for laws making child labor illegal. And there are now also certain factories and services that are run by the government as well, so that everyone can have equal access to their products and service. This is called “socializing” something. So socialized medicine, socialized transportation, socialized retirement, and so forth…these are all a result of socialism, and help all of society have more freedom and feel safe, with everyone sharing the costs and benefits together. There are also companies that have “socialized” themselves — that is, given ownership of the factory to the workers, so the workers manage themselves. But the key to all of this…and this is important…is that these “socialized” societies always have open and fair elections — they have a strong democracy, where everyone can vote. Because if the workers can’t vote, well then there won’t really be freedom and equality, will there? What if, whenever you asked for popcorn, or new clothes, or a new toy, I always said “No, you can’t have that?” That’s what a dictator or authoritarian does. In this way, socialism is really part of almost every capitalist, democratic country in the world today, and socialist ideas are used whenever their needs to be more freedom and equality in a society…as long as there is also democracy.

9) Finally, you have probably been wondering what this hammer is for, right? This hammer is the threat of fascism and totalitarianism. I won’t go into what causes people to become fascists and totalitarians…that is a story for another time, but let’s just say it is a kind of mental illness that spreads through a mob. Fascists and totalitarians have no respect for equality, freedom or fairness…no respect for anyone but themselves, really. All they are really good at is destroying democracy and civil society — that is, taking away people’s freedoms and equality. Imagine if I smashed all of your toys with this hammer! That wouldn’t be very nice, would it? But that is what fascists will do if you don’t give them whatever they want. They are big bullies. And that is why, when you are old enough to vote, you want to be very careful about who you vote for. Now, after we have put these clothes away, maybe you and I can have some popcorn together, and play with your toys. What do you think…?

My 2 cents.

Is Peter Thiel correct that in stating that less democracy is desirable and required to save capitalism?

Well…hmm…Thiel appears to exhibit some fairly psychopathic ideation, along with a paucity of emotional intelligence — a combination that is routinely rewarded by modern capitalism. Among the many things he simply doesn’t understand or appreciate is human motivation itself: why do people do what they do? In his universe, the will to power/wealth/superiority is really the only viable, universal prime cause. There is nothing else. This fundamental failure (of both imagination and cogent observation of the human condition) could have been influenced by Thiel’s exposure to folks like Rothbard, Rand, Friedman, Mises and the like; but I think the starting point in this case is just an inner brokenness and lack of cognitive-emotive facility. Thiel is stuck.

And it is that stuckness — that profound limitation — which leads Thiel to his conclusions about democracy. It’s a bit like a child insisting that a dog ate his homework. Blaming welfarism, feminism, progressivism, socialism…or any other “social justice” agenda for the failures of capitalism is…well, it’s just stupid. Really stupid. Capitalism is its own worst enemy, and, with a brief and unique exception of laissez faire in Sweden during the late 1800s, has otherwise universally ended up eating its own tail without socialistic and democratic reforms. Why? Because of natural monopolies, resource depletion, market saturation, the spread of price-inelastic demand across most commodities, lack of profit incentive for public goods, increasing concentrations of wealth and exponentially expanding wealth disparities, negative externalities, inevitable wage stagnation, and a host of other factors. Democracy has absolutely nothing to do with any of these. In fact, it is usually democracy and socialized approaches that contain capitalism’s drive to self-immolate; they are the only reason capitalism’s inevitable death has been delayed.

So, just like the Presidential candidate Thiel supported, and the counterproductive US economic agenda playing itself out now around the globe, Thiel’s ideas in this area are woefully misinformed and, ultimately, really destructive.

My 2 cents.

Why are Western democracies failing...?

Thanks for the question.

Michael Kupperberg makes an excellent point in his answer, as does Jeff Franz-LIen in his comments to it. (See original Quora question here: https://www.quora.com/Be-it-resolved-that-Western-democracies-are-failing-What-is-your-case-for-the-affirmative) This “left behind” cultural and economic phenomenon is certainly one piece of the picture. Here are some thoughts on the rest of that picture…

1. **Western democracies have lost their way because they have forgotten what democracy is about: thoughtful engagement in democratic institutions by the electorate itself. **In large part this has been engineered by the folks who want to retain power and wealth: wherever the electorate can be effectively manipulated, demoralized and/or disenfranchised to produce desired outcomes, methods will be used aggressively to do so. As a result of the “consumer” mentality in Western democracies (i.e. thinking they can remain disengaged, spoon-fed information, and called-to-action only once every few years to response to well-funded ad campaigns), the electorates of those countries are increasingly subject to coercive manipulation. We see this over-and-over again with surveys that show those who voted for something (Prop 8 in California, Brexit in the UK, etc.) sour to what they voted for in growing numbers AFTER the election is over and they begin to check the facts. The well-funded persuaders and manipulators, on the other hand, are well-versed in tactics that evoke strong short-term emotions around a given issue, and thus secure the passing or defeating of a given candidate or legislation. But the blame can also be laid (and should be laid, more vocally, IMO) at the feet of lazy voters who don’t educate themselves about a given candidate or issue, and just wait to be told how to vote by their favorite authorities (news media, talk show hosts, blogs, campaign ads, etc.).

2. **The world has become much more complex, interdependent, and multifaceted — making democratic decisions much more difficult.** Black-and-white reasoning doesn’t work well for most modern, highly nuanced issues, which inherently invoke myriad interdependencies. Throw some unintended consequences into the mix, along the deliberate corruption of data and information warfare (i.e. climate change deniers, disallowing the CDC to collect gun violence statistics, etc.), and the picture becomes so muddy that people really don’t understand the parameters of a given political position, policy or other important and pressing issues. Of course, this situation is taken advantage of by those same nefarious actors called out in issue #1 above, making the situation much more confusing and challenging than it otherwise would be.

My 2 cents.

Does capitalism have a negative affect on people’s sanity?

The evidence keeps accumulating that conditions which are amplified by capitalist values, work environments and economic systems do seem to have a negative impact on human well-being overall — and yes, specifically on human mental health. Some of this appears to be direct causality, and some of it more indirect. For example:

1) Accelerating (technological and societal) change driven by rapid product cycles and growth-dependent production induces stress, which in turn increases stress-related mental illness and dysfunction (depression, anxiety, etc.) to clinical levels. Would this still occur if there wasn’t so much pressure, created by the profit motive, to constantly produce and consume “bigger, better, faster, cheaper, easier” products? Possibly, but likely not at the same pace, or with such a precipitous impact.

2) Many products are designed to become addictive — or at least to create a dependent consumer — again in service to the profit motive. Everything from cigarettes to fast food to social media to video games have been designed from the ground up to “hook” consumers into ever-increasing and prolonged use. This, in turn, has led to some fairly serious mental health impacts, such as ADHD, cognitive impairments and distortions linked with prolonged sleep deprivation, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, emotional dysregulation, and so forth.

3) Capitalist work environments create some of the most emotionally and mentally antagonistic conditions humanity has ever seen. Humans performing highly repetitive tasks for excessively long work-days and work-weeks, while under constant stress of losing their job if they don’t perform; high-pressure sales environments where employees are likewise subject to constant fear of not meeting quotas, and viciously compete with each other for sales; corporate culture that constantly lies to employees to extract the tiniest bit more productivity from them, and encourages them to lie to customers to maintain profits and avoid losses. These environments create stressed, fearful, reactive, deceitful human beings who, in turn, are rewarded for essentially harming each other and the customers they serve. This is a pretty pathological situation, and shapes pretty pathological people.

4) The more indirect consequences of capitalism on mental health are a result of negative externalities. Chemical pollutants from “rush to market” mass production, poor nutrition from foods designed to maximize profit, disregard for electromagnetic pollution, and other environmental impacts almost certainly have a deleterious effect on human mental health. In fact, these may be impacting the human genome itself, as we have seen a marked rise in things like autism spectrum disorder.

These are just a few examples, but the real issue is the epigenetic impact of these capitalist pressures on the human species. Our children are now inheriting the mental illnesses induced by capitalist environments and culture…which means that, even if we counter the causes, the negative impacts will still be passed on to future generations. It’s a pretty bad situation. I liken it to Colony Collapse Disorder among bee populations: eventually, capitalism will so thoroughly undermine human well-being that our entire society will simply fail. It’s just a matter of time.

My 2 cents.

Comment from Isaac Armstrong: "I wish I could upvote this, as I agree with most points made, but autism spectrum disorder’s rise is probably a consequence of expanding the range of diagnosis, for example the documents that resulted in me being diagnosed with developmental delays with autism like symptoms on review based on newer diagnostic requirements consistently results in a diagnosis of autism - something about a vital symptom for diagnosis that is no longer required.

I remember reading somewhere that even earlier than that, it was defined only in the exact form that the guy who gave it the name autism saw it, most definitely not including aspergers in the autism spectrum disorders.
This is a bit of a long comment so thanks for reading it and in summary autism spectrum disorder is not a good measure as it has been broadened."


Thanks Isaac. I have read about the diagnosis issue before and agree that this is a huge variable that must be accounted for — especially in epidemiological analysis of ASD going back any number of decades (as reinforced by studies like this one: Diagnostic change and the increased prevalence of autism | International Journal of Epidemiology | Oxford Academic). However, even though genetics alone does account for some 50% of ASD, there is increasing evidence that environmental triggers (including some we can squarely place at the feet of capitalism) play a significant role in ASD’s phenotypical expression. You may be interested in this article regarding environmental factors: Environmental factors influencing the risk of autism As well as this one regarding genome-wide analysis: The Role of Epigenetic Change in Autism Spectrum Disorders. There is growing evidence (in studies that control for the very diagnostic variables you allude to) that the etiology of ASD is linked to risk factors that are indeed increasing, and that ASD itself is indeed increasing among the population. For more about this: The prevalence puzzle: Autism counts and Socioeconomic Status and the Increased Prevalence of Autism in California. I think the most definitive research is yet to be completed…but it IS underway. Take a look at CRAIG NEWSCHAFFER’s work and this: EARLI Study - Research Into Early Causes of Autism.

I hope this is helpful info.

Is pastoral art/literature an expression of human disdain towards urbanization and the alienation of people from their species-essence (human nature) in a capitalist society?

Thanks for the question Douglas.

This question (or some version of it) has actually been widely debated in the arts, philosophy and even religion for many decades. A fairly pervasive view is that yes, many of the creative, philosophical and spiritual subjects and expressions (across all mediums, really) just after the industrial revolution began were a reaction to that industrialization and the alienation of human beings from natural environments, from their historical social relationships, and indeed from their spiritual nature. This observed pattern/reaction was a fairly dominant feature of discourse at that time, and has persisted across multiple fields of study. Here is just one example of that view (from Romanticism and the Industrial Revolution):

“Romanticism was also closely tied to the Industrial Revolution in Europe. From the latter decades of the 18th century to the middle of the 19th century, most of Europe and particularly what is now the United Kingdom saw a massive migration of rural workers into large metropolitan areas. These workers were making the jump in order to work in the large factories that were springing up all over metropolitan areas as manufacturing capacity, aided by steam engines and copious supplies of coal, exploded all across Europe. Romanticism also played upon this drastic societal change, as many in Europe witnessed the large-scale pollution of coal-burning industry and the problems it caused, including water pollution and incredibly poor air quality for many major cities, as well as the many health problems that sprang up in its wake. Romanticism emphasized nature over industry, a point where again we can see the dominant force of the age (the Industrial Revolution) itself helping to create an art movement that began as a foil to that dominant force and then grew.”


Along with the Romanticism of the visual arts, literature and even music, there was also an equivalent romanticism in philosophy and a parallel transcendentalism in spirituality. Here alienation from Nature itself was a chief concern — as was the Enlightenment’s seeming overdependence on empiricism, rationalism and reductionism (a la Descartes, etc.). From 19th Century Romantic Aesthetics:

“We have fallen out with nature, and what was once (as we believe) One is now in conflict with itself, and mastery and servitude alternate on both sides. It often seems to us as if the world were everything and we nothing, but often too as if we were everything and the world nothing. (Hölderlin, Preface to Hyperion, HSA 3: 326).”


And from Romanticism:

“Philosophical Romanticism holds that the universe is a single unified and interconnected whole, and full of values, tendencies and life, not merely objective lifeless matter. The Romantic view is that reason, objectivity and analysis radically falsify reality by breaking it up into disconnected lifeless entities, and the best way of perceiving reality is through some subjective feeling or intuition, through which we participate in the subject of our knowledge, instead of viewing it from the outside. Nature is an experience, and not an object for manipulation and study, and, once experienced, the individual becomes in tune with his feelings and this is what helps him to create moral values.”

One of the more influential thinkers and writers of this era was Henry David Thoreau, and I would encourage you to read any-and-all of his writings here: Thoreau’s Writings. It’s actually pretty entertaining reading, and IMO still holds relevance and potency.

As you know, Marx himself expounded extensively about a similar flavor of alienation, unnatural rearrangement of social relations, and destruction of the creative capacities and nature of human beings. His take, however, was that the heart of the problem was less empiricism or rationalism, but rather capitalism in concert with industrialization — and in fact he sought to examine the underlying socio-economic dynamics using the tools of the Enlightenment (math, science, rational discourse, etc).

Since the time of those initial reactions and expressions, advanced human societies have largely adapted to urban, industrialized life, along with its cultural diversity and affluence, individualistic isolation, increased pollution and violence, wide array of interests and discourse, etc. — that is, its many pluses and minuses. There are still movements that seek to reconnect people with each other and with Nature, as well as intermittent cultural convulsions when modernity’s negative externalities become too dangerous or extreme (the 1960s in the U.S. was, I think, a fairly pronounced example of this). But for the most part, like proverbial frogs in a pot of water that is slowly coming to a boil, human beings have largely become numb to the deleterious impacts of industrialized, urbanized life. In fact, some folks will fiercely defend its “advantages.” But, as increasing breakdowns and challenges seem to attest — and here I am referring to everything from increases in mental illness and autism, to increases in cancer and diabetes, to the steady decline in human IQ, to the increasing depression and anxiety of each generation, to the increasing homogenization and nutritional emptiness of our food supply, etc. — the “frog” of humanity is slowly being destroyed by everything the Romantics were railing against.

My 2 cents.

Why do American Christians tend to gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?

Thanks for the question Alex.

I think the OP’s question is based on a popular misconception. If you look at the data (see Pew’s Religious Landscape Study), those who self-identify as Christian in the U.S. are actually fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints (i.e. pro-government programs to help the poor vs. anti-government, pro life vs. pro choice, supportive of same-sex marriage vs. opposed, protecting the environment vs. less business regulation, etc.). It is true that these proportions don’t mirror the general population precisely — Christians do tend to skew slightly more conservative on certain social, political and economic issues. Again however, within the Christian community, folks are fairly evenly divided between liberal and conservative viewpoints.

So that leaves us with two distinct questions:

1) Why are misconceptions about U.S. Christians so out-of-line with the available data?

2) Why do any Christians at all “gravitate towards free-markets and economic liberty, instead of socialism?”

These are fairly easy to answer, IMO.

First, pervasive misconceptions about Christians and Christian beliefs have persisted for millenia…so that’s not exactly new. What is new is a media landscape that loves sensationalism, and that reliably turns its attention to the most vocal and “colorful” variations of any given group. All environmentalists aren’t vegans, all gun owners don’t love the NRA, all Muslims aren’t terrorists or terrorist supporters, and all Christians don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the strong cultural memes that circulate via mass media are compelled to capitalize on loud, combative, sensational extremes so they can maximize advertising dollars. So those who passively and unquestioningly consume that media can arrive at some pretty bizarre generalizations about various groups. Not that those generalizations have no basis, but they tend to focus on highly exaggerated “far end of the spectrum” squeaky wheels. Can we even generalize that U.S. Christians “believe in God?” Sure, that usually holds…but even in this instance there are plentiful exceptions (the Pew study reference above indicates only 76% of Christians are “absolutely certain” in the existence of God…).

Second, there have been concerted efforts by Right-leaning political interests in the U.S. to capture various groups, and generate opposition to others, for their own nefarious ends. You have the Southern Strategy, two Red Scares, the McCarthy era, and a consistent propaganda effort since about 1972 (by neoliberal think tanks, wealthy donors, conservative media, etc.) to demonize socialism and “big bad government,” and lionize free markets and “more efficient” business solutions that can supposedly remedy ALL social and civic issues. It is no accident that the term “godless communists” entered the popular vernacular, was perpetuated there, and was relentlessly associated with anything that interfered with corporate power and profits. For some time, part of the neoliberal objective has clearly been to consolidate very different ideologies under one single, pro-corporate, anti-government agenda. Each targeted group (fiscal conservatives, religious conservatives, right-libertarians, gun-lovers, immigrant-haters, etc.) has been carefully marketed an appealing brand of political groupthink that claims to champion their key concerns. In reality, of course, those key concerns are always subjugated to the primary aim of disabling government in favor of enriching a few owner-shareholders at everyone else’s expense. It’s little more than a long con.

So, you might then ask, why don’t Christians see through the sham? This leads into an interesting discussion about whether culture determines religious orthodoxy, or religion influences culture. I think there is some give-and-take there, but that established cultural programming usually wins out in the end. Historically and into modern times, “Christian” nations generally do not reflect Christ-like values, but rationalize or justify pre-existing cultural values via distorted religious legalism. If all U.S. Christians really wanted to emulate Christ and follow biblical teachings, they would have difficulty being conformant capitalists at all — and certainly would not support the “greed, guns and greatness are good” sentiments that so permeate the political Right today. Authentic Christian believers do, in fact, tend to be much more Left-leaning and socialistic. I actually wrote a book about this issue, A Progressive's Guide to the New Testament, which covers the evidence to support this view with great care.

My 2 cents.

Why are economists giving up on Milton Friedman theories?

Thanks for the question. So here’s the deal with Friedman…

IMO a lot of his theories sound really good — especially to those who lean toward market fundamentalism (Austrian School folks, Rothbardian right-libertarians, Randian objectivists, neoliberals, etc.). And Friedman’s self-confident style of discourse — often pedantic and even combative — has added to his appeal…again, especially for certain kinds of personalities and ideological leanings. And one lasting truth is that Friedman does have some interesting ideas, and that some of those ideas have what we might call “partial merit.” Friedman’s monetarism is a good example, since it only holds true under very specific conditions — conditions that support a relatively constant and self-adjusting velocity of money. And since there have been short periods where this kind of predictability and stability were available, Friedman’s views were vindicated by the use of monetary tools at those times. But when new variables have been introduced into the picture — indeed when the larger, longer and predictable macroeconomic economic cycles are taken into account — then the stability of monetary velocity and long-term “neutrality” break down…and break down fast. And Friedman’s prescriptions break down right along with them.

There are things I like about Fiedman — his promotion of guaranteed minimum income, for example — but, like many of his other ideas, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support the efficacy of that approach. And…and this is the really important point IMO…there is a LOT of evidence that whenever Friedman or his Chicago Boys got involved in economic policy in a given country or region, things got pretty bad for those populations. All around the globe, developing countries in particular are still reeling from the structural adjustment policies, aggressive privatization, loosening of government regulation and other bad advice that Friedman promoted over 40+ years. And this is why economists are “giving up” on Friedman’s ideas…not because they don’t have “partial merit,” because they do. But they also — by and large — have had pretty disastrous results whenever they were not implemented within, and constrained by, what is essentially a more Keynesian macroeconomic framework.

In this particular case (the linked article for the OP’s question), the “permanent income hypothesis” again sounded really good — reasonable, predictable, rules-based. Friedman was a genius at bringing order to chaos. It’s just, well…people, and markets, and the consequences of economic policies, and the highly variable inputs and outputs of all human systems, remain pretty chaotic regardless of the rules (or, in this case, expectations) imposed on them.

My 2 cents.

Is it possible to imagine a pure economic action independent of politics?

Thanks for the question. Like many others, I see them as inseparably intertwined. There are folks (usually on the market fundamentalist end of the spectrum, such as anarcho-capitalists) who like to believe that economic systems can somehow operate independently of politics — and that, in fact, this is a desirable state. And, as an ideal, I can see why it would be an attractive fantasy: rational actors motivated purely by efficiency and utility, exchange value dictated solely by demand and supply, etc. But in the real world, economic choices always involve political causality, and vice versa; motivations and calculations are not rational, but psychosocial within a given cultural context. Which is, I suspect, why the term “political economy” came into being.

That said, can we “imagine” conditions where the two are teased apart? Well, interestingly, if we go far enough downstream in terms of individual transactions, econometrics, automated trades and the like, it is possible to divorce politics from the conversation altogether, and just focus on the math. But, in isolation, that doesn’t really help us manage the overall economic system — or navigate it with any amount of insight or wisdom. Purely mathematical maps must be augmented by behavioral and sociopolitical maps to flesh out the macro and micro economics in play enough to, say, develop policies and strategies. So it is possible to analyze and act in brief, targeted bursts of “non-political economic action,” but it is like any other specialized discipline or activity that is superficially isolated from its larger context: it is not the full picture.

My 2 cents.

What is the moral basis for the existence of government?

Thanks for the question.

First, I would say that government has no moral basis (or authority) unless it has been granted them by its citizens. There are various mechanisms to do this — to temporarily transfer collective moral agency to elected representatives and civic institutions, for example — that are grounded in an ongoing collective agreement, and allow adjustment, accountability and malleability over time. It is in these cases that we can say that the moral will of the populace is being expressed by its government, and thereby providing its “moral basis.”

Second, as a fine example, I would encourage examining John Rawls’ “original position” argument as one morally framed approach to governance (i.e. one that promotes fairness, justice and equality according to the most generous definitions of those terms as broadly accepted values). His thought experiment is very simple, very clear, and very “reasonable.” And within his arguments, the moral authority of representatives operating behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance becomes self-evident.

Third, I would say that the morality of government must therefore reflect the moral maturity of its populace. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the equation, because once the two (collective will vs. civic institutions) starts getting out-of-synch, the the moral agreements that justify government break down. Such an unfortunate state of disequilibrium is pretty much where we are today in the U.S., where some 30% of the electorate has regressed to a level of moral immaturity that is aggressively corroding more advanced civic institutions.

Fourth, I would loudly assert that this isn’t the end of the conversation — not even the beginning of the end — because there are so many other considerations. For example, there are additional features that bolster the intimacy and harmony between collective will and civic institutions: things like subsidiarity, direct democracy, egalitarian efficiency, critically reflective participatory action, reducing interference with liberty…and many more. These really must be considered in the context of any “moral basis” for government, because they directly impact the efficacy, stability and continuity of the collective agency that governance manifests.

For more on how I would propose approaching all of this (and why), consider checking out L e v e l - 7 Philosophy and “The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty” at Essays by T.Collins Logan.

My 2 cents.

What do civilians of former communist countries in Eastern Europe think about communism?

Well it appears that neoliberal propagandists are still up to their old tricks — trying to remake communism into an all-bad Boogeyman that must be feared and loathed. If the anti-Communist answers so far in this thread really are from folks who lived under communism in the former Eastern Bloc, then they are not representative of the majority. For example, according to a number of studies from a couple of years ago (see links at Polls show: Eastern Europeans miss Communism):

- 72% of Hungarians polled said their country is worse off economically than it was under communism. Only 8% believed things were better.

- 63% of Romanians said life was better under communism, while 23% claimed their lives were worse. 68% said communism was a good idea that had been poorly implemented.

- 81% of Serbians said living was better under communism, and 45% trusted civic institutions under communism more than they did at the time of the poll.

- Residents from 7 out of 11 member countries said their countries were harmed more than benefited by the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

It also depends who is being asked — see:
Have living standards in Eastern Europe decreased after Communism? - Debating Europe and The Post-Communist Generation in the Former Eastern Bloc. Even among those more successful countries, sentiments are still divided — mainly with younger generations believing their lives are better off without the communism they never experienced, while older generations maintain quite a bit of nostalgia for those times. You would think that East Germany would be prominent exception, but even there more than half of the population either thinks things were better before capitalism, or were about the same (see: Majority of Eastern Germans Feel Life Better under Communism)

Also, young people who weren’t alive when the U.S.S.R. collapsed will not recall that older people and the poor all across Eastern Europe were protesting their loss of pensions, healthcare, social services, etc. when it happened. And in the U.S., the neoliberal propagandists like to talk about all the terrible things that were going on in the former U.S.S.R., and are loath to admit any positive accomplishments. And of course this is reinforced by Hollywood depictions and the very real history of horrific problems during the Soviet era. But the fact is that those populations did have pensions and healthcare, and that the poor in many cases had a higher and more secure standard of living than the poor in those countries do today under capitalism.

Pro-capitalist pundits love to tout the wonders of the profit motive, but remain blind to what collectivist or nonprofit approaches can achieve. Frankly I think they are terrified by the prospect of socialist success stories, including recognizing America’s success as the result of a mixed economy (i.e. with both socialist and profit-centric elements). Such successes, after all, mean that capitalist owner-shareholders could lose some of their control over worker-consumers and other resources, and not be able to continue manipulating and exploiting them to enlarge their own personal wealth. Perhaps that is why neoliberals are still trying so hard to tear down successful socialist institutions in the U.S.A….?

My 2 cents.

Why is property considered a social construct or a social thing and not something else like natural? I just don't see how it's a social thing.

Property ownership is an entirely contrived and arbitrary social construct. The only thing “natural” about it is the selfish desire to keep things we want to ourselves, or “marking our territory” to attract a mate or feel less threatened. But such primitive instincts are not, in themselves, justified or “right” until society agrees that they are. And there are a LOT of primitive instincts (for example: to kill others, to have sex all the time with different people, to keep eating even whey we’re full, to destroy stuff for fun, to steal things we want, etc.) that are NOT sanctioned by society. So why do we sanction the concept of private property? Why does that have a special, elevated position among all of our animalistic impulses…? Getting down to exactly why this is the case can take some digging into our own tacit assumptions about “why things are.” Most of the time, we operate on an immense framework of culturally programmed reflexes, and have very little awareness why we do the things we do — or believe the things we believe. It takes real effort to challenge that programming, and even more effort to undo it.

My 2 cents.

What is the relationship between political and economic freedom?

They are inseparably linked — and as yet very few societies have been able to champion both at the same time. To have sufficient agency to claim to be “free,” there must of necessity be both egalitarian economic mobility and opportunity, and the broadest consensus of democratic will in self-governance. Sure, civic institutions and competitive markets are helpful first steps…but until you also ensure equity of economic and political influence for every individual, then concentrations of economic power will always coincide with concentrations of political power — it is inevitable and unstoppable. That is why it is so important to extend and support democratic mechanisms across all aspects of society — including economic systems, institutions and processes. This has been the primary failing of modern democratic societies, and why they are increasingly being “captured” by plutocrats and crony capitalism. To reverse this trend, we must move toward a political economy that champions equity rather than arbitrary privilege, and consensus and direct/semi-direct democratic mechanisms rather than insulated party bureaucracies.

My 2 cents.

Why do Americans hate the idea of a socialist government? Socialism and communism are not the same thing.

Thanks for the question. In the U.S. we can draw a fairly straight line between anti-socialist sentiments and decades of neoliberal propaganda. For example the Red Scares that were invented after each World War planted the rhetoric and polemics that later became more widespread, “mainstream assumptions.” With Americans, many falsehoods that were propagated in this way have to be carefully confronted in order to relieve a prejudicial ignorance. For example, I often find myself defending these factual positions against the steady stream of misinformation flowing out of conservative think tanks, media, political candidates and pundits:

1) The most successful economies in the world are mixed economies that have combined socialist and capitalist principles and practices (this includes the U.S.A.).

2) Socializing certain sectors of an economy has almost universally solved many long-term problems that the profit motive could not regarding public goods, providing much better outcomes for the citizenry. For example, in healthcare, public infrastructure, education, basic utilities, land management, and so on. The insistence by market fundamentalists that the profit motive can solve all complex problems is simply mistaken…and indeed quite harmful in terms of public policy over the long run.

3) Authoritative Marxism-Leninism was a grossly corrupted form of communism that completely negates the fundamental tenet of nearly all forms of socialism (including Marx’s original ideas): that democracy is central to the foundations of a socialistic civil society.

4) Libertarian Socialism (left-libertarianism) has actually been the dominant leaning of libertarianism throughout most of its history, and is actually the only form of libertarianism that has been successfully implemented on various scales.

For more on why this propaganda has been so integral to U.S. politics, I encourage reading this: L7 Neoliberalism

My 2 cents.