Monday, February 28, 2005

Mutually Assured Competition

Right, I might as well start talking about some of my new links.

Kevin Carson - mutualist, Prodhounist (it seems) certainly and market individualist. Excellent. Now, I think that a lot of the spirit and values he seems to embody seem interesting, and I think that it's worth pointing out that Marx hated Prodhoun so much partly because they were fishing in the same teritory - i.e. that their values weren't that far apart, but their plans were.

In Contract Feudalism Carson sets out a mutualist position:
Contrast this monstrous state of affairs with what would exist in a genuine free market: jobs competing for workers instead of the other way around.

Instead of workers living in fear that bosses might discover something "bad" about them (like the fact that they have publicly spoken their minds in the past, like free men and women), bosses would live in fear that workers would think badly enough of them to take their labor elsewhere. Instead of workers being so desperate to hold onto a job as to allow their private lives to be regulated as an extension of work, management would be so desperate to hold onto workers as to change conditions on the job to suit them. Instead of workers taking more and more indignities to avoid bankruptcy and homelessness, bosses would give up more and more control over the workplace to retain a workforce.
One might even ask why they would bother - and possibly they wouldn't, and so this should lead to Co-operatives.

But, problem. Uncle Charlie Marx established a little principle - that price and value don't necessarilly coincide. Where conditions are correct, value can be transfered from one hand to another at a price below it. We can see this in an industry where one firm may have better access to transport, to natural resources, etc. which can produce goods below the market price but still sell at or just below the going market price of their good, to make an excess profit.

Obviously, unless these advantages can be monopolised, other firms would note the excess profits, and invest in the advantaged firm (or in their own to increasse their efficiency and thus draw level again). The same is true across branches of industry.

The net effect is that less labour intensive industries will tend to suck up value from more labour intensive industries. Typically, farming (hugely labour intensive) transfers a great deal of value to high-tech industry. Profit rates are equalised across the economy.

This would still happen under mutualism, more productive/efficient co-ops would soak up value, would have transfers from competitors, who would then be faced with having to decide whether to let people go (voluntarilly, of course) in order to compete.

What this means, is that you can have a capitalism without capitalists. You can have all the profit seeking behaviours, without the personal gains for any real sensuous human being. Paul Mattick concieved the central dialectical contradiction of capitalism as between use and exchange value. Put another way, between investment and consumnption. Capitalism exists to create more exchange value and more capital. If we remove the share going to the luxury life-styles of the capitalists, we could still find ourselves being squeezed to the bone as we deliver up the value to King Capital itself, like some dark Aztec god.

So, mutualism is not an alternative to capitalism, it is capitalism without the capitalists. That may be an improvement, but I wouldn't prefer it over socialism.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

War of Attrition

OK, as mentioned. First, from today's commentry, Cole informs us that
It also reported that the clerics of Ramadi issued a fatwa forbidding the killing of Muslims. This is a reference to the guerrilla attacks on Iraqi policemen.
This follows his comment the previous day (on the same theme, that:
AP reports that the one-day total for war-related violence in Iraq, including the police station bombing in Tikrit reported here yesterday morning, came to 30. That is about 11,000 persons a year if the rate were constant and extrapolated out. In fact, the wire services manage to report only a fraction of daily deaths from war-related violence. And, of course there is a sense in which a lot of the murders are an indirect result of the poor security produced by the guerrilla war.
those are serious numbers. Worth looking at. See, the killing isn't entirely random - obviously many by-standers and civilians are getting killed, but many of the dead are police and army recruits.

OK, back to the CIA. Total population of Iraq is 25,374,691 (July Est.) of which 3,654,947 are deemed to be fit for military service. About 1.1 million of these will be culturally Sunni. With 304,527 reaching military age annually (again about a third Sunni). With unemployment at about 70% most of that number will be available to recruit.

So the slaughter is about 0.1% of the total available force, if that shows up. Further, it is localised, so in some areas it may be much higher as a ratio. I can't, off the back of these figures, though, see it succeeding as a tactic.

The occupation has happened, killing workers is futile, peace is needed to restore the class struggle. I'll just note though, mysteriously enough, that the CIZ Factbook lists america as the lead importer of Iraqi goods, a whopping 48.8% - wonder what that could be?

EXTRA: Having found the fighting age section of the factbook, I should add that the US estimates that 73 million males 18-49 are in the country, so that gives us a possible capitalist insurgent pool of about 735,000 - much smaller and reassuringly more manageable. Sorry for any inconvenience caused by bad facts. But you could bet there'd be some old buzzards with a shotgun willing to join that...

Blog Update

Right, new toys. Firtly, demotions:

By-elections seems inactive, I'll move it back up next by-election, obviously.
Billmon is posting regularly, but not with the old insight and analysis, just amusing pictures, I'll leave that where it is. The Rooksby experiement has failed, and so he too has been consigned to the bloggers yard.

New blogs on the roll include Kevin Carson at the Mutualist blog - he's interestingly described the Iraqi electoral set-up as Hamiltonian Democracy which is worth further investigation (He'd also enjoy the book I'm currently reading about American ballot procedures in the nineenth century, I'm sure, more of that later in the week).

I've added Juan Cole's Informed Comment - I don't know about his opinions, but at least he's monitoring Associated Press reports about Iraq (more on that in next post) and so qualifies as a new monitoring service. Especially as the detail of events in Iraq has dropped off the radar. Look up his discussion on the wranglings over appointing a new Government...

From Despair to Where describes itself.

I've added the CIA World Factbook to the useful links section, seeing as how I refer to it so much.

Finally, I'm laying plans for producing an Index...bear with me, that'll take work, but I'll get there.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Recalcitrant minorities

My latest copy of The People, journal of the Socialist Labor Party, has an interesting point.

It cites former Labor Secretary Robert Reich (who worked for Bill Clinton) as saying: Ownership in America is now more concentrated than since the days of the Robber Barons of the nineteenth century...the richest 1% owns more than the bottom 90% put together (this compares with the figures posted by London Socialist on our Vauxhall campaign blog for the UK).

Now, the writer in the people cites the US census as saying there is a population of 293,382,953 yankland side. So that means 2.9 million people own America.

See, I always fall for the illusion that such a small percentage means a very small number of people, I forget just how many people there are. That figure is worse, obviously, because it ignore dependents. In calculating the size of the US ruling class, we need to about treble that (2 children, ish, plus any spouses, relatives, etc. without independent means). So the US ruling class amounts to 8,801,489 people.

Hence we can see, if they are organised, and they do have the free time, they could make a serious clout in politics. Both simply by manning the political machinery, and providing a substantial vote. If a revolution were to occur, they could well turn to violence. After all, committees of public safety included rich and powerful people during the strike wave of 1871 and the St. Louis Commune yankland side.

Using the CIA World Factbook on US population, we find that 66.9% of the population would be in fighting age (16-64 - obviously, there are no rules about such things, but I'm assuming these people will be fit enough to pick up arms or lead armies). 49.89% of that age group are male. So, assuming we can just break down our figures like this (and it isn't accurate by any means) 8,801,489x0.669x0.4989= 2,937,621 (I know, that looks like we're back where we started, but hey, it was an important route).

So, there is a potential for a recruitment pool of 2.9 million fighting men. As we have seen in Iraq, about 20,000 active guerrillas with a reasonable hinterland population have wreaked untold havoc. In the vastness of the US, they could do the more so. After all, these people would not be too disimilar to the dispossed Baathists in Iraq who make up part of the insurgency.

If a socialist revolution were faced with these people taking up arms as a recalcitrant minority, we would have to deal with them, if only to defend ourselves. Yes, we can reckon on splits in their ranks, but we could still reckon on thousands of them being available to take us on.

Our advantage would have to be the thing absent from Iraq, functional civil society, a working economy. Faced with our rock steady control of our own world, I believe their political defeat would be rapid - I don't believe a military defeat would be possible (it could even make things worse). Iraq is posing this question now, and I hope that a handful of gunmen cannot make their way, and that peace is restored in Iraq, so the class war can be resumed.

Those bent on revolutionary change must consider the real strengths in society as they find it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Election Madness.

Ken has posted on the election prospects of the Tories.

His case is strong, perhaps stronger than he thinks.

I won't go into details, but I spent much of Sunday poring over the Election Results of 2001, from here (PDF file).

The thing I was investigating was who came first and reasonable second in each constuency. I defined reasonable as within half of the winning votes.

Now, overwhelmingly, it was Labour who managed to win by more than double the Tory vote, in places like Leeds, Liverpool, etc. The Tories only managed this this in single figures worth of seats, and the Lib-Vermins in only one or two.

Overwhelmingly, most seats were between Labour and Tories, very often voery close, with the third party running miles (unbridgeably miles) behind. The Lib-Vermins came second in a handful of seats, and almost always in opposition to the Tories, very rarely chasing Labour - even in Liverpool where they hold the council.

In Scotland and wales, I noted that the SNP and Plaid Cymru very rarely managed to come a reasonable second, i.e. they are the weak opposition in those ocuntries.

This suggests several things.
1) That Labour would benefit from an efficient electoral system that could convert all their wasted votes into seats.
2) That in some cities the Tories are virtually non-existant (I'll qualify that, Labour often won overwheelmingly with quite low votes, so perhaps Tories aren't bothering in Leeds, or the low turnout is stay away labour voters not wasting their time).
3) Following on from that, it indicates why when Labour got its disasterous 27% in 1983 it still got more than the Tories with their 32% in the last election.

Why am I bothered with all this. Well, it shows that the real support, whichever way you cut it, is still with the capitalist parties. The rag-tag-and-bobtail Trot groups standing in the election - i.e. all the other parties with 'Socialist' in their party name, managed a combined 180,000 votes, about as many as UKIP (who won no seats). Labour got ten million or so.

Finally, it shows the Tories are a substantial political force, with substantial ideological support within the working class. This cannot be ignored.

Voting Labour and leaving that support untouched, voting Labour and leaving Labourites minds unchanged, will just leave the threat of the right-wing electoral storm untouched. We need to win hearts and minds, not votes.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Levelling classics

I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life; but, for my single self,
I had as lief not be as live to be
In awe of such a thing as I myself.
I was born free as Caesar; so were you:
We both have fed as well, and we can both
Endure the winter's cold as well as he:
For once, upon a raw and gusty day,
The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores,
Caesar said to me 'Darest thou, Cassius, now
Leap in with me into this angry flood,
And swim to yonder point?' Upon the word,
Accoutred as I was, I plunged in
And bade him follow; so indeed he did.
The torrent roar'd, and we did buffet it
With lusty sinews, throwing it aside
And stemming it with hearts of controversy;
But ere we could arrive the point proposed,
Caesar cried 'Help me, Cassius, or I sink!'
I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder
The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber
Did I the tired Caesar. And this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature and must bend his body,
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him.
He had a fever when he was in Spain,
And when the fit was on him, I did mark
How he did shake: 'tis true, this god did shake;
His coward lips did from their colour fly,
And that same eye whose bend doth awe the world
Did lose his lustre: I did hear him groan:
Ay, and that tongue of his that bade the Romans
Mark him and write his speeches in their books,
Alas, it cried 'Give me some drink, Titinius,'
As a sick girl. Ye gods, it doth amaze me
A man of such a feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world
And bear the palm alone.
Julius Ceasar, Act 1, Scene 2.

I am incapable of reading that without being moved; as being a simple, concise plea for egalitarianism. Shakespeare's eloquence speaking through a mouth I suspect he disapproves of.

But that is a case of me bringing my own mindset to the peice. It is worth remembering that Cassius, Brutus and Ceasar are all from the same ruling class, the elite of Rome. Cassius' objection is not so much to Ceasar being great, but that Ceasar is no greater than he, is a part of the same class. the core complaint could be read as one against social mobility rather than against elitism or as a leveller tract.

Not withstanding, I think that now it stands as a good egalitarian republican sentiment.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Iraq Elections

Well, Wikpedia has an excellent write up on the results of the Iraq election. I promised to comment when the results are in, so here goes.

I waited for the results because only then can turnout be confirmed, and only then can an assessment of the election be made.

1) It seems clear that 58% turnout is a good result, and demonstrates a willingness to support democracy. 8,550,871 votes compares to a population 15-64 years: 56.7% (male 7,280,167; female 7,094,688) (CIA World Factbook). On the negative side, the influence of Al Sistani as an eminence grise is more alarming, it sets up the possibility of an Iran style system where the civil political forces are hemmed in by the theocratic. Not that alarming, though, Britain had a similar system with the House of Lords in the ninteenth century, and I remain quietly confident that civil society in Iran will prevail.

2) It's interesting to note spoilt/invalid ballots though, at 94,305 votes came in 5th - that's quite high, very high, I'd venture to say. Quite what it means is anyone's guess. Some have suggested people were voting to get the purple dye to be seen to have voted (so much for the secret ballot), despite being against the elections. Perhaps there are genuine literacy issues. Perhaps there was a genuine protest going on. Anyway, that's 3 seats worth of invalid votes.

3) Interestingly, apparently the Largest Remainder with a Hare quota system was used to allocate seats on a national Party-List so that should represent the most accurate transfer of votes into seats possible. Full description of the electoral rules here. That it was on a national list means that there would be no windfall gains for regions asssigned a remainder of constituency seats, i.e. distortion is at a minimum. However, it does mean that all the lists are highly centralised, perhaps dangerously remote from what appear to be tight-knit communities.

4) Obviously, the secrecy (i.e. not knowing who the candidates were) and other parts of the election in a state of war does mark against the perfection of the election. It must be born in mind.

Overall, though, hopeful. Given how fragile democracy can be (another discussion from a book I read lately) we need to look at how deep democracy can root itself.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The elections are coming

Right, blogroll update - I've added Vaux Populi the new Socialist Party election blog for our campaign in Vauxhall we plan if (if? when) there is a general parliamentary election this year in the UK.

It's a group blog, I'm one of the bloggers - Bill, obviously. Keep an eye on it for ways to get involved, updates on the campaign, etc. etc. link to it, love it. Rally to our musty banner.

"Not the conservative mottoe of 'a fair days wage for a fair day's labour' but the revolutionary watchword of 'the abolition of the wages system!'" - Uncle Charlie Marx.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Dead Russians test - Tankie, or not Tankie?

Well. I was saved from Stalinism, or at least it's labour party equivilant. As a lad I learnt the simple formula - the rights of some should be curtailed to allow the rights of others to be taken up. Simple. I was half convinced by the Cubaphiles who argue that freedom of speech is meaningless unless you have something to eat.

On the one hand, this is elementary utilitarianism. For the hardcore utilitarians, it was better that an innocent man may hang, rather than see systems of justice generally be impaired. etc. Utilitarianism still infects the left.

Such thinking makes for hard political choices.

Take Russia for example. A lot of tankies try and make out that the privatisation in Russia failed, that collectivised forms prevailed. Others, try the tack of making out what an utter disaster the collapse of the USSR was. This article (PDF) discusses the catastrophic decline in life expectancy in Russia between 1990 and 1995, falling from around 64 years for men down to 58. Given the thousands upon thousands of deaths (albeit statistically extrapolated ones) we could expect to have heard an outcry over the murderous regimes that oversaw these deaths.

As the article notes, many of the excess deaths were from chronic but previously treatable ailments that the health system could not longer deal with (note to self, more on this later).

In a very real sense, the collapse of Stalinist Soviet State Capitalism wrought catastrophic and appalling consequences on the Russian workers. the question to be posed, then, is it better to have a tyranous form of government, and at least not die and have material security, or should we, in the motto of New Hampshire, "Live free, or die"?

Formulate another way. If the only way to abolish the tyranny and torture of poverty as we know it, was to live in a Stalinist dictaorship, should we accept it? Where do your priorities lie?

Mercifully, the same article indicates that the decline in life expectancy began in the early 1960's - about the same time Paresh Chattopadhyay in his The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience: Essay in the Critique of Political Economy (Praeger Series in Political Economy) indicates the extensive accumulation of capital in the USSR stalled. A twenty year decline.

(More of his works here)

The main cause was alcoholism, alcohol related accidents and suicides. That is, it seems that people did kill themselves because of living in a totalitarian regime; and that Stalinism is not a workable solution to poverty. The collapse of its own health system was a conseuqence not of privatisation, but of the failure of soviet economics.

Dilema averted, practical morality asserts that the world is on our side in this one, and the unpalatable options seems unworkable. But, which side should we be on, where should our priorities lie?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Smoking in the Hotel

First off, not avoiding Iraqi elections, I'm holding comment until the result comes in. There are some interesting features of those elections worth exploring in a dry theoretical manner. I will do so at the appropriate juncture.

Ken has commented a couple of times recently on the Scottish Smoking ban - usually negatively.

I've been meaning to write around this theme - liberty and the Good - for a while, and have some pocket research for a subsequent post on the subject. I know you're on tenter-hooks.

Now, I like the idea of a smoking ban, in as much as I like the idea of smoke free pubs, I've only found one in London so far, and that one is far away and crowded. There, my cards are on the table.

I can empathise with Scottish politicians who introduced the ban - I remember watching the debates on Telly - faced with the opportunity to save thousands of lives, they have leapt at the opportunity to do good, to achieve The Good. It seems a rational case of protecting Peter sober from Peter drunk. It must be a good feeling to have that sort of Power, to be able to use it, and at a stroke impose the good life.

This is troubling to libertarians. Troubling to me, with my democratic conservatism thesis I'm brewing.

But, lets look at market models, and see if there was any other way this could have been achieved. See, whilst I would like some sort of free association, mutualist outcome for this, I can't see any operators other than conscious authority that could produce the Good of the smoke free pub.

Now, hostellers - big or small - are subject to Market Equilibrium as described in Hotelling's model - firms will locate themselves at the point at which they can attract the maximum custom. That means pubs will want to attract all humans around them. That is, they want their customers to include smokers and non-smokers. Now, Smokers provide revenue - sales of baccy products. So there is an extra incentive to include them. If a pub were to exclude smokers, then any neighbouring pub permitting them entry, would gain custom - not just of the smokers, but likely their non-smoking friends as well. Barring smoking is not merely failing to provide a service (a place to smoke) but actively creates a disincentive to attend a pub, for smokers.

In an ideal market, niche pubs would start to spring up, to cater for the non-smoking crowd. But since pubbing groups are usually mixed, and majorities will normally back down to the minority of smokers in order to keep the group together (the failure of consensus models) there is no way of identifying and selling to that market. Further, the transport costs of a widely spread non-smoking market make it less likely to be able to draw people in from far and wide in the way that, say, a Goth pub like the Devonshire Arms can.

Thus, to have smoking and non-smoking pubs would require co-operation, or at least co-ordination, to ensure a proper mix, to offer real choices denied by the imperfect market information. That would require authorities. Ideally, I'd prefer democratic authority, but even that would be anti-libertarian tyranny over the smoking minority.

Enough rambling. Just remember, liberty and The Good don't necessarilly coincide. I'll explore that disturbing thought later.