Sometime in 2009 I posted an article on the US Mensa discussion forum for Politics that argued for creating a no-fault Guest Worker card and immigrant labor policy.
I was surprised to get a great deal of negative flack on the Forum. When I defended the guest-worker idea saying that it would reduce unnecessary suffering on the part of immigrant workers, the negative responses ranged from “so what?” to “they deserve to suffer and we deserve to exploit them.” I was a bit shocked, after all these were Mensans (Mensa is a worldwide organization whose members are in the top 2% of intelligence as measured by IQ), and it’s a commonplace that the more educated one is, the more liberal one tends to become. So I had a few exchanges with various posters and came to the conclusion that roughly three-fifths of the discussion forum posters were self-proclaimed Libertarians. One of the posters told me I should read Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action, saying that book was the authoritative reference on economic reality.
There’s no justification for demeaning people, yet apparently the poster thought that for having read Mises’s book, he was entitled to hold opinions such as “they deserve to suffer and we deserve to exploit them.” I was curious how an otherwise supposedly intelligent person could arrive at a position of such obvious moral lapse, and yet walk away from his attitude’s consequences for society. The simple question to him would be “would you be willing to trade places with these people you disparage”, and the answer would be No; but the following question is “how do you justify contriving to keep any segment of civilization deprived and disenfranchised in such ways to benefit yourself?” The only answer to this would be “I want mine and I don’t care about others,” but there is no excuse for such an attitude in today’s world (circa 2009) when the world’s economic output is sufficient to care for everyone. So the Mises philosophy would have to justify malevolent greed, and do so in such a way that “supposedly well-meaning people” could adopt his views without shame.
I decided to confront these ideas – whatever ideas supported these supposedly intelligent people to say that personal greed is paramount and all the rest of society can take the hindmost. That is, after all, the attitude of the so-called 1%, more accurately 0.1% and even more accurately 0.01%. “It’s our world to play with as we see fit, and the rest of you are only here to fill the roles we give you.” Namely, to hell with Democracy, as well as to Hell with People. Worldwide.
I embarked on a large project, to teach myself all the background of Economics, so that I could rebut Mises in Human Action anywhere he puts people behind other people’s strivings for wealth. I immediately added Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman to the list of Mises’s fellow travelers: I will dispose of their Libertarian philosophies one day. I realized the task would be at least arduous, insofar as before I read Human Action to rebut it, I would have to read all the economists who preceded Mises: Smith, Say, Ricardo, Mill, Menger, von Wieser and Böhm-Bawerk, and numerous lesser names. How to study the field? Should I just start reading Adam Smith?
I began with Fernand Braudel’s three volume series “Capitalism and Civilization” as my landlord had more than once recommended the third volume of it. I read a few additional histories, one by Henry Spiegel, one by Phyllis Deane, and one by Ben Seligman. I have a deep mental “stack”, so it’s alright for me to pursue digressions on the way to resolving specific questions, and I read Proudhon’s What is Property?, where he explains how “property is theft.” I read George Woodcock’s biography of Proudhon (Proudhon). I then ran across the fact that Proudhon had written a book titled The Philosophy of Poverty, and that Marx had rebutted it with his The Poverty of Philosophy. Apart from enjoying the fact that jibes were being passed around in book titles, I thought Proudhon and Marx would have been ‘on the same side’, so I borrowed the Marx book to read Marx’s letter to J. B. Schweitzer about Proudhon and was dismayed to see that Marx thought Proudhon a sellout – but by then I understood why.
The most important reading I’ve done to date, though, is the History of Labor. I read Philip S. Foner’s 10-volume series The History of the Labor Movement in the United States, followed by Art Preis’s Labor’s Giant Step. I don’t think anyone with an ordinary conscience could read the Foner history without being appalled at the extents to which the owning class would go to suppress wages and freedom for their own benefit. Foner died before issuing his 11th volume in the series, and his history ends with William Z. Foster’s TUEL at the point where it was to turn into the TUUL. In reading the history of the AFL, I saw the vast, vast corruption of the process of representation – namely, the AFL selling out to employers so the people running the AFL could wear suits and hob-nob with the rich and powerful – I saw how the IWW was created in order to serve laborers the AFL refused to serve – saw how stubborn the AFL was about the idea of Trade Unions versus Industrial Unions. Preis’s book about the CIO begins after a small gap of years after Foner’s story ends. The AFL’s policies were forever such that an alternate union was needed if laborers overall were to be enfranchised, so the AFL leaders should never have been surprised at the formation of the IWW or the CIO. But the labor history was very discouraging. I have always been aware of being “unhappy about middle-class attitudes” without being able to explain what they are; “I know them when I see them.” Samuel Gompers was a personification of these attitudes I despise, and I learned a lot about what my attitudes really meant and what they were about: Gompers was willing to sacrifice the interests of the laborers he pretended to represent, in order to secure his own comfort. It was his ego-driven denial that he could be so negatively characterized that I recognized to be the source of my antipathy towards his attitudes. Namely: “I will express amazement that you could challenge my position, given my stated good intentions.” All he has to do is refuse to debate his attitudes, and he can keep them and keep acting from them. Not so much anti-intellectual, as anti-admit-other-views, anti-admit-how-I-can-be-seen-by-others, and anti-personal-accountability for being this person who lies that their actions are in benefit to others when they are not. I hold the largest anger at such people who refuse consciousness concerning their own actions and the effect those actions have on others and on society. And this sort of person seems always to ascend to leadership positions, with the result that the progress of human history is halted or seriously delayed. The AFL’s corrupt adherence to Trade versus Industrial unions only finally ended in 1952, thanks to a succession of corrupt leaders of the AFL, beginning with Gompers. So that’s 57 years’ worth of delay and denial – due to the egos of those involved.
I’m reading “wildly” at the moment – wishing I could read 5 books per day, or even just 1. What I see is what I missed in school – that I think everyone in the U.S. misses in school – real, honest history. Because the primary thing I’ve learned about what is wrong with our society is that very few Americans have any idea what happened in the past. I’ve been saying that what we have now is the fact that the rich have arrested history for 100 years: “they” will not allow forward social progress. If they did, we would have Socialized Medicine by now. I said 100 years as a round figure – but people had been arguing for Socialism since well before 1912. The Socialists were making headway with their own party such that if they had continued (unopposed), we might well have a Socialist national administration by now. I figure if everyone (many within the 99.99%) were to read the Foner history, we would get a lot more activism; because the excuses the rich use to keep us stagnated are the same excuses they used 100 years ago, and people familiar with the actual history of labor’s struggles would not tolerate the nonsense these people dispense.
One big topic is Socialism versus Capitalism. Which is “better?” But based on what I’ve read by now, I think this is not the issue at all, in fact. The simple issue facing America and the World is that the Rich run the place to suit themselves. It is much less a concern for the economic system than the mere fact that we do not have actual Democracy, anywhere the Rich can prevent popular-democratic outcomes. Based on the little I’ve read (compared to the extent of what I have yet to read), I figure that “Socialism” is the natural next step after “Capitalism”; and people have known this since about 1830; and yet we have to keep living with Capitalism, because it is the mechanism by which the Rich stay Rich. The “common folk”, if and when you can pry them away from the TV, would agree that they would rather have “Socialism” if that is the only way to get the Rich out of power. But Socialism isn’t required for that to happen. All that is needed is for the average American to notice that they are not represented under our Democracy – and to vote the rich out of power.
I have called for people to pass along the idea of not voting for anyone who owns or earns more than 10 times what you own or earn. If you are not Rich, then you can’t expect to be politically represented by a Rich person, and obviously should not vote for one.
I have called for people to simply refuse to vote ever again for either major party (Republicans or Democrats.) Walter Weyl wrote a book (The New Democracy) in 1912 complaining how the two parties were sold out to the interests of moneyed people, and nothing has changed since then except that (seemingly) the American people forgot the fact and have only lately rediscovered it.
I think one answer for the current situation is for all of us who are not members of the ‘elite’ to understand that we are therefore members of the ‘proletariat’. When the middle-class can forget the lesser classes by simply going home to turn on the TV, we have a problem. Getting the Rich out of power is not going to level society all at once; “we” are not going to invade your upper-middle-class home to seize your sewing machine just because someone down the hill who is poor does not own one. That hysterical reaction should be dismissed out of hand, and anyone who promulgates it should be ignored (overall).
First we restore genuine Democracy in America – and we know we have done that when the 80% of voters who said they wanted Single-Payer Health Care get it. As someone who is watching the mainstream media rewrite and eliminate history, I remind you that the 2000 election was stolen by the Supreme Court in an action the American People have yet to punish; that not-actually-a-President Bush nominated Alito and Roberts; and that Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo and a host of others are War Criminals (and Traitors) who have yet to face justice for their crimes. We know America is on the track to recovery when our War Criminals are submitted to the Hague for trial; when the people will censure the five justices who “appointed” Bush, and remove the remaining three still on the court who cast that vote (Thomas, Scalia and Kennedy); when we can get an independent reinvestigation of “9/11″, since it appears that 9/11 required US complicity to have occurred, so “9/11″ was a hoax – and the public deserves to see this in glaring detail, the extent to which criminal mentality supports the neoliberal/neoconservative rush toward Fascism on a worldwide basis.
If you ever meet any of these people who have sold us out – the Rich and the caterers to the Rich – the people who smugly stifle Democracy worldwide for their power and profit – put your hands in your pockets, and before you walk away from them, say
“Thank Me For Not Killing You.”