09 November 2010

Politics, Part (-isan) 2

(cont'd from previous posts)

In the previous two posts in this series, I've argued that the most significant political changes in the last election have to do less with the shift of power from the Democratic party to the Republican party in the House and Senate and more with: (a) a shift in the Constitutional balance of power from the Executive to the Legislative branch, and (b) the increased influence of private, corporate sources of money on the political process after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision—an assertion, by the way, of Judicial branch power.

It is merely a historical accident that the Rs stands to benefit from both these trends at the present time. Given other circumstances, the Ds could just as easily capitalize on both changes. In fact, I would argue, if they don't organize to take advantage of both aspects of the current situation, they stand to lose even more of the power they managed to gain in the 2008 election come 2012.

The former trend (a), I argue, is, at base, a good thing, representing a shift away from what I felt to be the authoritarian tendencies of the Bush administration. The second trend (b), on the other hand, hides a decidedly more disturbing shift. Let me explain.

In a recent interview with Lawrence O'Donnell on MSNBC's "The Last Word," Congressman Ron Paul (father of Senator-elect Rand Paul—named, by the way, after the Congressman's favorite 'philosopher') made the following statements:
"Individuals have rights. You don't have rights because you belong to a group. Property rights are identical to personal liberty and social liberties."
"Property rights is liberty."
(This last statement by Rep. Paul is not reflected in the transcript but can be heard at minute 16:30 here.)

Ron Paul is the presiding spirit of the Tea Party and the Libertarian wing of the Republican party. Here he boils his philosophy down to the slogan level. It is an effective and persuasive formulation—at least for some. Freedom and liberty are the catchwords of the present-day right wing. And here they are defined exclusively in terms of property rights.

As an aside, when you hear a Libertarian, or a modern-day conservative, speak about liberty or freedom, know this: they are speaking about freedom from government. Not the freedom to pursue happiness or any such fuzzy, substantive concepts. It is strictly a "non-interference," "don't mess with my stuff" type of liberty.

On the Libertarian view, only individuals have rights. And there are no individual human rights which are not also property rights. And vice versa. So, for example, animals, the environment, and groups (women, non-property owners, labor, gays, slaves, African-Americans, immigrants, the poor, etc.) as such, have no rights other than in their own bodies—which, of course, can be alienated or expropriated in the free market. Animals do not even have a right to their own bodies; they cannot hold property. No one owns the environment, and, until someone does, it is fair game for exploitation as a matter of individual property rights and an unfettered market place. And group rights only derive from the rights of individuals therein. There is no such thing as 'social justice'.

The liberty you have is commensurate with the property you own; and the property you own is the fruit of your labor which is an extension of your body. This is the idealistic, idealized basis of the Libertarian philosophy. And it simply makes no sense in the real world.

What we've seen in recent years is a trend toward an amassing of wealth in fewer and fewer individuals and, more significantly, in larger and larger corporate entities.

It is axiomatic in the Libertarian view that those who hold more property have more personal and social liberties. Conversely, those who hold no private property have no personal and social liberties. A natural imbalance is bound to exacerbate over time as more and more rights and liberties accrue to the wealthier members of society by virtue of their power, and more and more rights and liberties (and thus private property) dissipate from the less well-off who are less able to defend them.

How, in the Libertarian society, do individuals gain more liberty? They band their properties together and purchase more property rights via the form of a corporate entity. The sole purpose of a corporation is to make a profit for its owners, i.e., to increase their contractually-limited collective rights and liberties. The corporate vehicle provides them with, for example, limited liability from their collective wrong-doing. It absolves them, under the guise of bankruptcy and reorganization, from paying their outstanding debts. And as a side matter, practically speaking, corporate entities are better able to assert and defend their rights and liberties in the judicial system by virtue of their access to the necessary capital it takes to pay the sort of extensive legal bills it takes to obtain the results they desire.

The Libertarian watchword is small government, and this has become the mantra of much of the new House majority (how genuine an expression of their underlying goals it is is a question for another post). The aim is less regulation of corporate profit-making, i.e., more corporate liberty and, thus, the concentration of more property in corporate hands. That is to say, the desired result is that these corporate persons may exercise more and more of these rights (i.e., accumulate more property) without interference from the government—executive, judicial, and legislative. That means without the necessary checks on their ability to assert their rights ad lib against those who have less property (and, thus, less liberty and less rights) AND against the public good.

The Libertarian society has no room for nor a concept of the public good. Thus, everything from public streets and roads to public parks and natural resources and air space to the military, police, and fires department is subject to expropriation from the public sphere and, indeed, should be privatized. I've sketched one way in which this particular scenario might play out here.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a corporation is considered a 'person' under the U.S. Constitution; that, for First Amendment 'free speech' purposes, money is speech; and that corporations may contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns. This is a disturbing trend, one that the Libertarian ideology—despite its homely, individualistic, idealized self-image—merely serves to perpetuate.

For this reason, Libertarianism, though it claims to be grounded in individual property rights, cannot and should not be differentiated from corporatism.

This, then, represents the third trend in the American political landscape we've seen coming to a head in this latest election: the radical corporatist shift of the government, supercharged in unprecedented fashion by the influx of corporate money into political campaigns resulting from the second trend noted above.


Frances Madeson said...

Yes, we've been effectively priced out.

I just saw Ron Paul when I watched the first hour or so of Zeitgeist Addendum the other day. http://www.zeitgeistmovie.com/
It does a good job of explaining the monetary system.

Unless and until we can unhook our electoral politics from the corporate moneybags, there doesn't seem to be much point in further participation.

Personally I'm fascinated by the idea of building and strengthening alternative currencies. (Steven called the Bunker Pagoda version Gratitudicals—that was so brilliant!) Capitalism's promise (and draught of soma) to individuals was always in the form of the upward trajectory of compounding interest. Who wasn't happy to follow that compelling graph line wherever it would lead? But now with certificate of deposit rates of 1.3%, they have largely reneged on that promise. Further allegiance to such a nutty and treacherous system, or loyalty to its proponents, would be completely absurd.

My local State Senator, for whose 2008 primary campaign I worked my ass off (the vote was an even split on Grand Street against a 30-year do-nothing incumbent, and was considered a great victory!), has introduced legislation to create a third category of corporation in addition to profit and nonprofit, called Benefit Corporations, which would seek to mitigate some of the more egregiously anti-social aspects of corporate pyschohood. You can read the bill here. http://open.nysenate.gov/legislation/bill/S7855B Some people find it sexy, but it's sexy like the Sauces & Pickles section in The Joy of Sex--armpit kissing, that sort of thing. I can live without it.

Your observation that Dean was marginalized with the attendant piss-poor election results for the party is key. But even key-er is to ask yourself why the leadership in effect bizarrely bulldozed that solid and winning foundation, instead of building upon it. Why? There's no good answer for that, Jim.

Exit Emanuel Rahm with empty saddlebags just begging to be filled.

Jim H. said...


I must see the movie.

I disagree about participation, but it must be massive and impactful. A tall order, I know.

The idea of alternative currencies is new to me. I've been charmed by Grameen Bank's approach. We've a friend who helps set up co-operatives (there's that word again) in impoverished communities here and abroad using the microloan formula. You can contribute/participate at the KIVA site in my links at the right.

Benefit Corporations sound fascinating as an alternative. And, yes, NY State is strategically the place to begin.

Hey, hadn't heard from you in awhile. I was beginning to worry. You don't call, you don't write...

Jim H.

P.S. Your name came up in my meeting in D.C. with BlckDgRd. All positive. Mostly wonderment.

Frances Madeson said...

I've been by; I was just playing the records, that's all. Sorry, I thought you saw me there. (Oh man, you give good P.S.)

Jim H. said...

Btw: Check your Amazon stats. Looking forward to getting my hands on it. Still want to have that discussion about publication.

Frances Madeson said...

Out of the dreaded seven figures--all right!
Thank you. I think I'll celebrate over at BDR's by listening to some of his Urban Verbs records.

Anonymous said...

and (b) the increased influence of private, corporate sources of money on the political process after the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision—an assertion, by the way, of Judicial branch power.

The causal analysis here is lacking. CU didn't change the landscape, and surely didn't cause a hurried response in "the economy" -- political or otherwise.

Here's the dig on CU:


Frances Madeson said...

What did Amber say about Chris Bowers? I couldn't quite catch it.