Thursday, December 30, 2010

Why I Am Not a Democrat

Once upon a time, I identified as a Democrat. Then I realized Democrats are just as right wing as Republicans, just as war prone, just as authoritarian, and just as servile to big business. It's not a choice between being a Democrat, a Republican, or a moderate; it's a choice between being a Democrat, a Republican, a moderate, or someone with a principled ideology (Say, a leftist, socialist, anarchist, traditional conservative, or libertarian).

Don't believe Democrats are similar to Republicans? Well, ask yourself, whose administration uses cluster bombs as part of a secret war in Yemen? Whose administration increased deportations of immigrants? Whose administration has been using drone attacks as part of an undeclared war in Pakistan? Whose administration re-authorized the Patriot Act, which gives federal agents the power to write their own secret extra-judicial warrants? Under whose administration has the FBI harassed anti-war activists? Who promised to run the most transparent White House in history, but then presided over the inhumane detention of an alleged whistleblower? Whose Solicitor General worked successfully to prevent death row inmates from accessing DNA evidence which could prove them innocent? Who appointed a former executive from insurance giant WellPoint to control health care policy, while proclaiming it a victory over corporate interests? Whose administration expanded America's military presence in Colombia in spite of serious human rights concerns? Whose administration used the state secrets privilege to prevent torture victims from suing their torturers? Whose administration continues to carry out renditions, in which terror suspects are secretly kidnapped and detained in other countries? Whose administration successfully denied habeas corpus rights to detainees at Bagram Prison? Whose administration threatened Britain in order suppress investigation of Bush era torture? Whose administration asserts the authority to kill American citizens outside of a war zone with no judicial process?

If you guessed Barack Obama, you're right! And before you say that this is just one Democratic President, consider that the previous Democratic president, Bill Clinton, ordered the bombing of a Somalian pharmaceutical factory, causing the suffering and death of thousands. Likewise, Clinton's sanctions on Iraq are estimated by Unicef to have killed around 500,000 children. Indeed, Democratic presidents such as FDR, Woodrow Wilson, and even the often praised JFK, promoted incredibly deadly wars. Thaddeus Russell explained it quite well in his piece Why Liberals Kill, writing "Though opponents of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cheered loudly when Obama spoke reverentially in his campaign speeches of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy, those heroes of the president promoted and oversaw U.S. involvement in wars that killed, by great magnitudes, more Americans and foreign civilians than all the modern Republican military operations combined."

If we wish to stop war crimes and protect liberty and peace, we won't do it through political parties. Align yourself not with parties but with ideals, and then you can work consistently to stop these sorts of atrocities.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How Government Crushes Competition and Ends Entrepreneurs

This video really illustrates how unjustified government regulations suppress entrepreneurs. This hurts consumers, hurts upward mobility, hurts innovation, and by decreases the bargaining power of workers. The Institute for Justice fights such superfluous regulation in court and through consciousness raising. Whether you're a libertarian, a free market conservative, or a left winger who cares about workers and consumers, this kind of destructive government overreach should concern you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why Boyd K. Packer's Speech Matters

Many of my Mormon friends seem to find it difficult to understand the controversy and protest sparked by Boyd K. Packer's speech last week at General Conference. So here's why we protest:

Imagine you are raised to believe from when you are very young and impressionable that the LDS faith is true. You believe that it represents absolute moral authority and that leaders like Elder Packer speak on behalf of God. For most who disagree with me here, this part will not require any imagination.

For the rest of this post, I ask that you exercise an important element of the human condition called empathy. Imagine that after having this Mormon upbringing you realize you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, or otherwise queer. Naturally, you try to fight it, for you believe such identities are impure, unnatural, and immoral. Yet somehow it won’t go away. You hear Boyd K Packer say that gays are not preset, implying that you can change. Of course, you’ve already tried to do so, and so you internalize guilt and self loathing. For if these tendencies are not inborn then it must be your fault they persist. Furthermore, every time someone like Packer denounces the sinfulness of homosexuality, you know that if you start to accept these tendencies it will threaten your relationship with your family. You hate yourself for reasons you can’t discuss, and if you’re really unlucky you’ll be bullied for those same reasons. Are you finally starting to see why this matters?

To quote Classically Liberal, “Most the gay people I know were assaulted in school, one time or another, because they were gay. They can't tell their fundamentalist parents because they fear rejection from them. They can't talk to their homophobic minister who has regularly consigned them to hell fire for eternity. Is it any wonder that so many of these kids decide they would rather die?”

This is why we care when Elder Packer condemns homosexuality and asserts that we can change. Because such ideas, no matter how removed they may be from my non-LDS life, cause real pain and even death for children. And that should concern everyone with a conscience.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Advocate Censorship on a Forum I Frequent? Expect Something Like This:

From this thread.

Alright, so a bunch of points have been made throughout the debate on free speech and where its limits ought lie. I'll ignore the barrage of personal attacks between Kenny and the censorship apologists as irrelevant. Let's talk substance.

First, I'll note that Nitish cited the popular "Shouting 'FIRE!'" exception to free speech. Likewise, Kenny mentioned the "Clear and present danger" exception. Both of these ideas come from the same despicable Supreme Court case, Schenck v. United States. This case ruled that the U.S. government had the authority to arrest anti-war protesters because their speech could hamper the war effort. Yet it could be just as plausibly argued that American involvement in the war posed a clear and present danger and that the anti-war activists, in the words of Christopher Hitchens, "were the real firefighters, shouting fire when there really was a fire in a very crowded theater indeed." So, if this precedent were current, banning Quran burnings would be constitutional. Thankfully, that precedent was overturned by Brandenburg v. Ohio, which barred the government from restricting speech unless that speech is both intended to incite and likely to incite imminent lawless action. While speech offensive to Islam is likely to incite lawless action, incitement is not the intent, and thus the speech is constitutionally protected by current precedent.

Nitesh wrote:
A possible future danger? It's already happened. It is happening. It will continue to happen. Aren't we in a "War against Terrorism" right now? How would burning a holy book not create clear and present danger?

Yes, inflammatory anti-Islamic speech does provoke terrorism. But if this logic were applied to stop the anti-Islamic violence of the American government, those negative impacts of anti-Islamic speech would be greatly diminished. Do Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups use the fact that individual Westerners burn Qurans or cartoon Mohammed as their primary recruiting tool? No, those grievances are secondary to the fact that the United States government cluster bombs Yemen, increases the use of drone strikes which kill civilians, kills Iraqi civilians even after "combat operations" are over, asserts the power to execute a Muslim American cleric without pressing charges against him, denies Muslim victims of torture the right to sue, funds an Israeli government which used white phosphorus to burn Muslim civilians alive, etc. No matter how much anti-Muslim speech you stop, the West will remain the target of terrorism unless you stop Western governments from initiating anti-Muslim violence. Giving our government more power to regulate speech will be used to interfere with those of us arguing against this violence. Indeed, even with the Bill of Rights untouched by those who would protect Muslims from being offended, the FBI just last week raided the homes of anti-war activists.

Marianne wrote:
Hate speech laws in the United Kingdom are found in several statutes. Expressions of hatred toward someone on account of that person's colour, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation is forbidden. Any communication which is threatening, abusive or insulting, and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress someone is forbidden.The penalties for hate speech include fines, imprisonment, or both.

The UK's weak protections on free speech have not been used to facilitate mature discussions, but rather to prevent mature discussions by allowing one side to fine or imprison, rather than refuting, their opponents. Let's look at a few examples. From Wikipedia, indeed the same entry she quoted:

On 13 October 2001, Harry Hammond, an evangelist, was arrested and charged under section 5 of the Public Order Act (1986) because he had displayed to people in Bournemouth a large sign bearing the words "Jesus Gives Peace, Jesus is Alive, Stop Immorality, Stop Homosexuality, Stop Lesbianism, Jesus is Lord". In April 2002, a magistrate convicted Hammond, fined him £300, and ordered him to pay costs of £395.

Now, you might think that being queer identified I might find this result satisfying, but I don't. How are we to have a "mature discussion" of whether my sexual preferences and others like mine are sins if my opponents can be arrested and fined for expressing their views? Furthermore, incidents like these provide homophobes with argumentative ammunition. One red herring brought by homophobes is that recognition of queer civil rights leads to the persecution of Christians, and incidents like this support that conclusion.

On 4 March 2010, a jury returned a verdict of guilty against Harry Taylor, who was charged under Part 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. Taylor was charged because he left anti-religious cartoons in the prayer-room of Liverpool's John Lennon Airport on three occasions in 2008. The airport chaplain, who was insulted, offended, and alarmed by the cartoons, called the police.[11][12][13] On 23 April 2010, Judge Charles James of Liverpool Crown Court sentenced Taylor to a six-month term of imprisonment suspended for two years, made him subject to a five-year Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) (which bans him from carrying religiously offensive material in a public place), ordered him to perform 100 hours of unpaid work, and ordered him to pay £250 costs. Taylor was convicted of similar offences in 2006.[14]

So, in the UK I could be fined, imprisoned, and barred from publicly possessing certain literature and images simply for rudely expressing my view of a faith, even if it's a faith which says I deserve to be tortured for my opinions, sexual orientation, and gender identity. As you might say across the pond, that is bollocks.

The UK's weak protections for free speech have stamped out even mature and non-inflammatory debates. Specifically I refer to the litigation friendly libel laws. Such laws permitted the British Chiropractic Association to sue the excellent popular science author Simon Singh for correctly debunking pseudoscientific claims they had made. Admittedly, Singh eventually won, but only after enlisting the support of most of the British and American scientific and skeptical communities while losing plenty of money on legal fees and tons of time he could have spent writing.

Yours in free speech even for assholes,

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Curse of Political Dogmatism

"The world is far too lovely a place to walk through it along a party line." -Bill Kauffman

As someone who is active as both a libertarian and a radical leftist, I have encountered my fair share of political dogmatists. Rather than honestly engaging their ideological opponents, they seem steadfastly convinced that the opposing party is either morally repugnant, intellectually vacuous, or both. To many of my comrades on the left, libertarians are selfish sociopaths and anyone ever influenced by Ayn Rand has zero moral credibility. This is not to say my libertarian allies are necessarily more tolerant. A common sentiment, especially among voluntaryists and anarcho-capitalists, is that anyone who supports any sort of statism is supporting the initiation of force, and is therefore not merely wrong but evil.

Such petty partisanship risks dooming our movements to the epistemic closure which plagues the mainstream American right. Seemingly immune to facts, right wingers pontificate about the evils of liberalism, progressivism, Marxism, and socialism. The truth or falsehood of statements comes second to whether those statements fit a particular conservative orthodoxy, an orthodoxy confirmed through the echo chambers of talk radio and FOX News, while contrary information is seen as mere propaganda either from the "radical left" or the "liberal media."

But even if we don't sink to such intellectual lows, leftists and libertarians both rob themselves of key insights if they refuse to look outside their inner circles.

What do leftists stand to lose if we demonize libertarians and "the right"? Well, anti-war activists find many allies among paleoconservatives, particularly Ron Paul, who popularized the concept of "blowback" in his 2008 presidential campaign. More paleoconservative anti-war commentary may be found in The American Conservative magazine. When we wish to discuss police militarization and the disgusting, often racist violence of the drug war, we would be foolish to ignore the work of Radley Balko. The fact that he began his research on police misconduct at the Cato Institute and continues it at Reason Magazine, both libertarian outfits funded by Koch Industries, does not detract from his insights one iota. Any opponent of corporate power would be well served by reading Timothy Carney, a free market libertarian who primarily writes about government collusion with big business. Even those who are clearly our opponents can provide useful material. For instance, Ayn Rand was in many respects my antithesis, as she loved big business, defended misogyny and homophobia, supported imperialism, and denigrated anarchists, leftists, and libertarians. But her notion of the anti-concept, a cognitive package deal which conflates distinct ideas under one definition to obscure thought, is incredibly useful to understanding political language, even if you disagree with the examples she gives. Likewise, her critique of "states' rights" is excellent for addressing the theocratic tendencies of paleoconservatives, and I can't count how often I have quoted her defenses of individual rights and rational ethics when I debate homophobes. Some leftists may never expose themselves to the quality libertarian, Objectivist, and conservative writings I just referenced. Instead, they'll buy into straw men, perceiving libertarians and conservatives as merely bigots, selfish curmudgeons, and apologists for the status quo.  And they'll have fewer allies and fewer strong arguments as a result.

Libertarians would lose just as immensely if they refused the intellectual output of the left. It's no accident that Lew Rockwell, easily one of the leaders of the libertarian movement, has referred to Howard Zinn, a known socialist, as among his favorite historians. Zinn's skepticism of war and the state exudes from every essay and book he has written. Like radical libertarians, he has some choice words for the war crimes of historical sacred cows such as FDR and Abraham Lincoln. Left wing activists like Jeremy Scahill, Cindy Sheehan, Glenn Greenwald, Naomi Wolf, and Amy Goodman have popularity in some libertarian circles for this same style of principled opposition to the growing national security state. But even leftist writing which libertarians may find harder to stomach often contains points that are quite useful for expanding liberty. Noam Chomsky's attacks on free market economics primarily consist of pointing out the prevalence of protectionism and corporate welfare under capitalism, and can thus be valuable reading for those who wish to genuinely free markets. Similarly, despite its smears against free market economists, Naomi Klein's "The Shock Doctrine" describes some very real cases of authoritarian corporatism masquerading as free market privatization. Furthermore, Klein's documentary "The Take" shows worker cooperatives that are far more libertarian than capitalist firms ever have been.  Tim Wise may be often condescending and hostile towards libertarians, but his writings on racial privilege can help us counter the inequities that result from a history of enslavement and state assaults on people of color. And don't let Marxism automatically turn you off. The influence of Marx makes Rosa Luxemburg's case for free speech no less powerful, it makes Angela Davis's critique of the prison system no less valid, and it makes Paulo Freire's arguments for critical pedagogy no less eloquent.

Why does it matter that we pursue the truth without regard for these ideological boundaries? Because, to quote Freire, "apart from inquiry, apart from praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other."

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Two Challenges for NOM

The National Organization Against for Marriage, an activist group founded by religious leaders to oppose gay marriage, has been busy revealing their own hypocrisy lately, as usual. However, like all hypocrites, they have the opportunity to reach intellectual consistency, and so I will present two challenges to NOM.

1. I challenge NOM to condemn those who want myself and my fellow queers killed, beaten, or imprisoned.

Brian Brown and other leaders of NOM often express disdain for gay rights rhetoric about "hate." When we protest their rallies, or their favorite Californian Proposition, and use this word, they insist that we are smearing them. You see, they harbor no hatred towards homosexuals and other members of the queer alphabet soup (LGBTQQTAI...), not at all. Rather, they strongly disagree with us on a political issue. They believe that marriage, specifically heterosexual marriage, is a sacred institution, and thus it must be granted special recognition by the state which gay marriages must not receive. Now, ignoring that this position is wrong on many levels, it does not in itself imply hatred towards homosexuals.

However, regardless of whether NOM's leaders hate us, many of their allies in the religious right unambiguously hate us, to the point of wishing violence upon us. For instance, the following is a sign wishing death upon gay couples which a supporter brought to a NOM rally in Indianapolis. Freedom to Marry has a petition requesting that NOM repudiate such rhetoric.

Such violent fantasies and rhetoric are commonplace in the world of the religious right. For instance, this post at the libertarian blog Classically Liberal begins by describing a police raid on a gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas. In that raid, officers engaged in needless, superfluous violence against patrons, and in response, "The Fort Worth city council decided that the time had arrived to have a police liaison officer who works with the gay community to prevent these sorts of abusive actions." However, some Christians didn't like the idea of police making an effort to avoid bigoted beatings and privacy violations.

One minister, Richard Clough, claimed that the the media and gays conspired and "distorted the facts of what happened the night of the Rainbow Lounge to promote the homosexual agenda." Ah, those clever gays. See how they get police to come in, beat them up, and then use that to promote their devious agenda. That is a really bizarre theory but one befitting the man's theology. Consider that he believes Jesus was god, that he planned to come to earth and die, and that he got some nasty people (Jews and/or Romans depending on who you believe) to torture and kill him, so that he could forgive the sins of the world. Similar in a way as both theories contend the victim had an ulterior motive and manipulated the attack to their own ends. I just never figured out why a god, who is all powerful, didn't have the power to forgive sins without all that torture and killing going on.

One news account says the fundamentalists claimed the city "didn't take their Christian beliefs into account."

Wrap your mind around that for a minute? The police aggressively and unnecessarily raid a gay bar and start hurting people in the process. To help prevent such future incidents a police officer is assigned as a liaison to the gay and lesbian community. And this somehow violates the "Christian beliefs" of these bat-shit crazed fundamentalists. What beliefs were ignored here?

Are they saying that their belief is that gay people should be beaten by police officers? Are they saying that basic civil rights of gay people should be ignored simply because they are gay? What are they saying?

What Christian doctrine is at stake here? When it comes to Christian doctrine I think of things like the virgin birth, atonement, resurrection, the trinity, etc. Apparently there is a Christian doctrine that applies to police pushing around gay people. And since these fundamentalists are complaining about measures to stop such activities I have to assume that the doctrine they think exists is one requiring violence against gay people.

About 100 of these people turned out to protest measures to end violence against gay people.

Such hateful attitudes must be condemned by the National Organization for Marriage if I am to take them seriously when they say they don't hate us. Likewise, the Texas Republican Party's desire to reinstate sodomy laws, in effect incarcerating queers for consensual sex, must be condemned. When a preacher like Rick Warren compares us with pedophiles, such statements should be condemned.

And until the National Organization for Marriage comes out against such violent, bigoted, anti-freedom rhetoric, I will not be able to take them seriously when they say hatred is not among their motivations.

2. I challenge NOM to support the total privatization of marriage.

In a recent op-ed for, Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage refers to gay marriage as "a government takeover of an institution the government did not make, cannot in justice redefine, and ought to respect and protect as essential to the common good."

Now, if government did not make marriage, why in the name of Jesus (In his name I pray, peace be upon him, Amen, etc., etc.), does government need to be involved in the marriage business at all? If government takeover of marriage is so dastardly, why should government have any role in marriage other than enforcing contracts made between private individuals in a free market? If government "cannot in good justice redefine" marriage, how is it just for a ballot initiative to exist with the explicit purpose of defining marriage? How is it just for state and federal governments to grant thousands of benefits to legally married couples, rather than leaving marriage benefits at the discretion of churches, employers, and other non-governmental entities?

Furthermore, Gallagher writes "The majority of Americans are not bigots or haters for supporting the commonsense view that marriage is the union of husband and wife." If this is both a majority view and a common sense view, why does it need the endorsement of the state to remain a social norm? Why can't conservatives like Gallagher let that free market they claim to love so much apply to marriage? As Glenn Greenwald writes in his piece Marriage and the Role of the State, a response to Ross Douthat:

the mere fact that the State does not use the mandates of law to enforce Principle X does not preclude Principle X from being advocated or even prevailing. Conversely, the fact that the State recognizes the right of an individual to choose to engage in Act Y does not mean Act Y will be accepted as equal. There are all sorts of things secular law permits which society nonetheless condemns. Engaging in racist speech is a fundamental right but widely scorned. The State is constitutionally required to maintain full neutrality with regard to the relative merits of the various religious sects (and with regard to the question of religion v. non-religion), but certain religions are nonetheless widely respected while others -- along with atheism -- are stigmatized and marginalized. Numerous behaviors which secular law permits -- excessive drinking, adultery, cigarette smoking, inter-faith and inter-racial marriages, homosexual sex -- are viewed negatively by large portions of the population.

Greenwald compellingly continues:

But if the arguments for the objective superiority of heterosexual monogamy are as apparent and compelling as Douthat seems to think, they ought not need the secular thumb pressing on the scale in favor of their view. Individuals on their own will come to see the rightness of Douthat's views on such matters -- or will be persuaded by the religious institutions and societal mores which teach the same thing -- and, attracted by its "distinctive and remarkable" virtues, will opt for a life of heterosexual monogamy. Why does Douthat need the State -- secular law -- to help him in this cause?

If Maggie Gallagher and her colleagues at the National Organization for Marriage genuinely believe in freedom of religion and oppose government takeovers of marriage, they should support its total separation from the state. In such a climate, churches like the LDS Church and the Catholic Church could exclusively recognize heterosexual marriages and churches like the Quakers and Episcopelians could recognize both gay and straight marriages. Partnership benefits could be offered at the discretion of individual employers and insurers, rather than mandated by the state.

If the National Organization for Marriage believes in the intrinsic superiority of heterosexual marriage, they should have enough faith to let it thrive in a free market rather than demand special protections from the state. And no, Brian Brown, telling me "marriage isn't a salad bar" will not be sufficient to revoke this challenge.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Dangerous Deification of Voting

From the time Americans begin school,they are taught that their civic duty is to vote. The message is reiterated in every public school social studies course, and amplified further once you take civics or government. Outside of school the same message continues to reverberate. At concerts you encounter Headcount, working to register others to vote. Tune into comedian Craig Ferguson, and you just might find him excoriating nonvoters as "morons." And when presidential elections happen, you would think that important events ceased to occur, as the media drops everything to focus on every word and scandal surrounding the leading candidates. The message is not that electoral politics is one way to influence the policies of your government, but that it is the way to influence the policies of your government.

Recently I have seen this attitude illustrated on both sides of the aisle. Paul Krugman wrote in his New York Times op-ed column: "Just to be clear, progressives would be foolish to sit out this election: Mr. Obama may not be the politician of their dreams, but his enemies are definitely the stuff of their nightmares." From an admittedly far less influential right wing figure, a friend of a friend on Facebook who claims to be a "freedom lover" wrote of neocon airhead Sarah Palin, "I would pick her over Romney in a heart-beat. Other than Ron Paul and maybe Christie, who is there for 2012?" And just yesterday I saw it on the left again, with an Obama supporter brushing aside my list of Obama's war crimes and civil liberties violations on the grounds that Republicans are worse.

These figures of the left and right strike me as obsessed with which flavor of corporatist warmonger holds power, and unfortunately, the attitude that this is all politics is leads most people to either embrace the partisan pursuit of power or become utterly apathetic and inactive.

But most of the great achievements in our country's history have been made through non-electoral means. The era of Jim Crow did not end because some Democrats were elected, it ended because of civil disobedience, boycotts, sit ins, and court cases such as Brown v. Board of Education. Women won the vote through the courageous civil disobedience and demonstrations of the suffragettes. Women have choice on abortion not because of Democratic lawmakers, but the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade. And the relevant public opinion change that made that ruling possible was again not a result of elections, but the activism of the likes of Moses Harman and Margaret Sanger, who were often jailed for their "obscene" writings on birth control.

It's these non-electoral approaches which have the potential to solve the most pressing problems identified by the left and the right (Although I will ignore the cultural right's concerns with "moral values" and immigration, as I deem these non-issues).

Having just insulted the right, I suppose I should address their legitimate concerns first, and why I feel they can solve them through non-electoral methods. Let's talk free markets. Property rights are under assault in this country. Licensing laws, regulations, and other bureaucratic red tape make it difficult to run a business, particularly a small business. So, should we vote Republican? Certainly not if your goal is economic freedom. Even most conservatives today acknowledge the government expanding nature of the Bush Administration. But what about Ronald Reagan, the hero of the limited government right? The website of The Ludwig von Mises Institute, a free market think tank, has several articles documenting the protectionism, deficit spending, regulations, and other big government policies that belied Reagan's free market rhetoric. My two favorites are Murray Rothbard's The Myths of Reaganomics and Sheldon Richman's The Sad Legacy of Ronald Reagan. But Democrats don't even pretend to support free markets. So what can be done?

Some of the best advocacy of economic liberty is currently being done by The Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm. They file lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of superfluous licensing laws (Seriously, why the fuck should you need a license to be a florist, train yoga teachers, perform cosmetology [even if your type of cosmetic work is never dealt with in the licensing process], repair computers, or call yourself an interior designer, just to name a few). They fight for property rights in cases of eminent domain abuse, and while they lost the infamous case Kelo v. City of New London, the awareness they've brought to the issue through their Castle Coalition has led to meaningful reforms, as explained in this video. Other economic liberty cases fought by the Institute for Justice may be found here.

Another concern frequently brought up by the right wing is the threat campaign finance law poses to free speech. Contrary to the opinions of some of my fellow leftists, such laws do pose a very real problem, as left wing blogger Glenn Greenwald explained here. But the 2008 Republican candidate for president, John McCain, was a co-sponsor and has his name in the title of the most infamous campaign finance law. How were these laws changed on a national level? Through the masterful arguments of attorneys like Ted Olsen and Floyd Abrams before the Supreme Court in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, as well as briefs by groups like the Institute for Justice, the ACLU, and the Cato Institute in that same case. And who challenged (And continue to challenge) local threats to free speech from campaign regulations? Again, public interest legal groups like the ACLU and the Institute for Justice.

Another very legitimate right wing concern (Which many on the left care about too) involves politically correct universities squelching the academic marketplace of ideas through unconstitutional speech codes. The only people solving this problem are the civil liberties activists at FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. In addition to litigation they draw awareness to these issues through a YouTube channel and a Speech Code of the Month award.

While right wingers do have other legitimate concerns, it's time to talk to my allies: The left. Comrades, we agree on a hell of a lot. Whether it's war, classism, corporatism, immigration, queer rights, misogyny, the prison system, racial privilege, or the Bush administration's abuses of power, I'm probably left of you.

So, let's talk the war crimes and power grabs that characterized the Bush administration. Have Barack Obama or the Democratic Congress reversed the tide on this? Hardly. The Democratic Congress has re-approved the PATRIOT Act, granted immunity to telecom companies for spying for the government without a warrant, continuously renewed funding for the futile wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and amended FISA to weaken privacy rights. Barack Obama now claims the authority to assassinate an American citizen with no legal due process, his Justice Department has won him the power to detain people without even minimal habeas corpus protection, and he has increased the use of drone bombing campaigns, even in countries on which we have not declared war.

What are the non-electoral methods for dealing with this dire despotism and senseless violence? The bravest among us may choose to follow in the footsteps of Henry David Thoreau, who refused to pay taxes in protest of the Mexican American War. But for those who prefer a route less guaranteed to lead to incarceration, there are still many solid options. The ACLU and the lesser known Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) have filed lawsuits addressing most of the worst civil liberties abuses started under Bush and expanded under Obama. Most of what we now know about the brutal Bush torture programs comes from documents released due to FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests filed by the ACLU. On the other hand, Barack Obama has sought to block the release of such information. The other major force against war crimes and related human rights abuses is Wikileaks, a website which analyzes and releases classified information from governments, corporations, and church hierarchies, and protects the whistleblowers who provide the documents. Two leaks which have catapulted the site into the public eye are the Collateral Murder video, and over 90,000 pages of documents known as the Afghan War Diary. Both leaks reveal the brutal, cruel, counterproductive, and often criminal nature of U.S. wars abroad. Both contradict a narrative of American Exceptionalism which has been propped up through secrecy, censorship, and propaganda. So, of course, the United States government wishes to destroy Wikileaks. A classified document detailing this desire and plans to bring it about on the part of U.S. intelligence was released by Wikileaks in March 2010. Bradley Manning is currently being prosecuted by the United States government for allegedly leaking the Collateral Murder video and other classified information to Wikileaks. Why does Wikileaks arouse such fear, loathing, and action on the part of the military industrial complex? Because, like the ACLU and CCR, they do more to counter the America's imperial hubris than any politician ever would. And unlike those civil liberties law firms, Wikileaks can't be stopped by courts.

Another key left wing issue, and one which hits me closest to home, concerns LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer [or Questioning]) rights and equality. While the Democratic Congress passed the Matthew Shepard Act, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to hate crimes law, some queer activists rightly ask whether hate crimes laws work and whether any principled leftist can respond to a problem by granting more power to our racist, classist criminal justice system. The two greatest queer victories on a national level have happened in, you guessed it, the courts. Both the Defense of Marriage Act and California's Proposition 8 have been found unconstitutional this year. And on a local level, positive change often comes from outside government entirely. In my own state of Utah, the moralistic Mormon majority has not stopped the Utah Pride Center from making this a better place for queers. The Center runs an LGBT youth center, where young adults whose identities are often reviled by their parents and communities can truly be themselves. Support groups abound, including for identities often misunderstood and feared even in the LGBT community, such as transgender individuals. One Pride Center group, TransAction, engages in activism for Utah's trans community. One event I found particularly inspiring was our pool party and barbecue. For obvious reasons, many transpeople are uncomfortable using pools and locker rooms. At this event, I saw one transwoman swim for her first time in about a decade. The importance of organizations like the Utah Pride Center is obvious: They allow often marginalized queer individuals to function among like minded people, and be treated as full fledged human beings rather than second class citizens and freaks. This certainly beats occasional pandering by politicians.

In just about every other case of bigotry the non-electoral approach continues to prove its superiority. Feminism and African American civil rights were briefly discussed at the beginning of this post, but what about the rights of Latin Americans, and undocumented immigrants in particular. In spite of all the hullabaloo surrounding Obama's plan for immigration reform and opposition to Arizona's SB1070, deportations have increased under Obama. The real groups fighting for the rights of Latin Americans and immigrants are grassroots organizations like the Brown Berets, United Farm Workers' Union, Alta Arizona, and (Yes, I'm sure by now I sound like a broken record) the ACLU.

Another key issue for the left is corporate power. But the mainstream progressive reforms tend to support corporate interests. The corporatism of health care reform has been thoroughly documented by Glenn Greenwald in articles like this. Timothy Carney's column provides some of the best analysis of the corporatist nature of progressive legislation around today. In addition to fighting anti-competitive regulations as the Institute for Justice does, one can bring awareness to often secret corporate misconduct, as Wikileaks does, or lead workplace activism, as the radical union Industrial Workers of the World does.

The best ideas of the left are predicated upon the fight against violence and hierarchy, and thus cannot be achieved by voting particular leaders into an intrinsically hierarchic and violent organization. The best ideas of the right are built upon principles of individualism and emergent economic order, and thus cannot be realized by voting different leadership into a centrally planned collectivist institution. In order for the best ideas across the political spectrum to realize their true potential, they must realize electoral politics for the distraction it is and focus their energies in real, meaningful activism.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Kyriarchy All Up in This Bitch Good Movements

Many left libertarians, particularly of the feminist variety, use the term kyriarchy as an umbrella term denoting intersecting structures of domination and power. For instance, I spend a lot of my time critiquing the kyriarchy that results from an intersection of statism, militarism, nationalism, transphobia, ageism, ableism, homophobia, misogyny, puritanism, racism, corporatism, class divisions, and other such phenomena.

Well, lately I've been noticing that one of the main problems with kyriarchy is that specific liberation movements end up plagued with many structures of domination.

One great example is this article by Courtney Desiree Morris, describing gender violence in radical left and anti-racist movements, and how this enables state violence against such movements. The entire article is well worth reading, but I'll post a few key excerpts below.

To save our movements, we need to come to terms with the connections between gender violence, male privilege, and the strategies that informants (and people who just act like them) use to destabilize radical movements. Time and again heterosexual men in radical movements have been allowed to assert their privilege and subordinate others. Despite all that we say to the contrary, the fact is that radical social movements and organizations in the United States have refused to seriously address gender violence [1] as a threat to the survival of our struggles. We’ve treated misogyny, homophobia, and heterosexism as lesser evils—secondary issues—that will eventually take care of themselves or fade into the background once the “real” issues—racism, the police, class inequality, U.S. wars of aggression—are resolved. There are serious consequences for choosing ignorance. Misogyny and homophobia are central to the reproduction of violence in radical activist communities. Scratch a misogynist and you’ll find a homophobe. Scratch a little deeper and you might find the makings of a future informant (or someone who just destabilizes movements like informants do).

Then, she provides an insightful historical perspective in which to ground discussion of gender violence in leftist and anti-racist movements.

Reflecting on the radical organizations and social movements of the 1960s and 1970s provides an important historical context for this discussion. Memoirs by women who were actively involved in these struggles reveal the pervasiveness of tolerance (and in some cases advocacy) of gender violence. Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, and Elaine Brown, each at different points in their experiences organizing with the Black Panther Party (BPP), cited sexism and the exploitation of women (and their organizing labor) in the BPP as one of their primary reasons for either leaving the group (in the cases of Brown and Shakur) or refusing to ever formally join (in Davis’s case). Although women were often expected to make significant personal sacrifices to support the movement, when women found themselves victimized by male comrades there was no support for them or channels to seek redress. Whether it was BPP organizers ignoring the fact that Eldridge Cleaver beat his wife, noted activist Kathleen Cleaver, men coercing women into sex, or just men treating women organizers as subordinated sexual playthings, the BPP and similar organizations tended not to take seriously the corrosive effects of gender violence on liberation struggle. In many ways, Elaine Brown’s autobiography, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, has gone the furthest in laying bare the ugly realities of misogyny in the movement and the various ways in which both men and women reproduced and reinforced male privilege and gender violence in these organizations. Her experience as the only woman to ever lead the BPP did not exempt her from the brutal misogyny of the organization. She recounts being assaulted by various male comrades (including Huey Newton) as well as being beaten and terrorized by Eldridge Cleaver, who threatened to “bury her in Algeria” during a delegation to China. Her biography demonstrates more explicitly than either Davis’s or Shakur’s how the masculinist posturing of the BPP (and by extension many radical organizations at the time) created a culture of violence and misogyny that ultimately proved to be the organization’s undoing.

These narratives demystify the legacy of gender violence of the very organizations that many of us look up to. They demonstrate how misogyny was normalized in these spaces, dismissed as “personal” or not as important as the more serious struggles against racism or class inequality. Gender violence has historically been deeply entrenched in the political practices of the Left and constituted one of the greatest (if largely unacknowledged) threats to the survival of these organizations. However, if we pay attention to the work of Davis, Shakur, Brown, and others, we can avoid the mistakes of the past and create different kinds of political community.

And of course, on these matters racial privilege ends up plaguing even explicitly anti-racist movements.

Race further complicates the ways in which gender violence unfolds in our communities. In “Looking for Common Ground: Relief Work in Post-Katrina New Orleans as an American Parable of Race and Gender Violence,” Rachel Luft explores the disturbing pattern of sexual assault against white female volunteers by white male volunteers doing rebuilding work in the Upper Ninth Ward in 2006. She points out how Common Ground failed to address white men’s assaults on their co-organizers and instead shifted the blame to the surrounding Black community, warning white women activists that they needed to be careful because New Orleans was a dangerous place. Ultimately it proved easier to criminalize Black men from the neighborhood than to acknowledge that white women and transgender organizers were most likely to be assaulted by white men they worked with. In one case, a white male volunteer was turned over to the police only after he sexually assaulted at least three women in one week. The privilege that white men enjoyed in Common Ground, an organization ostensibly committed to racial justice, meant that they could be violent toward women and queer activists, enact destructive behaviors that undermined the organization’s work, and know that the movement would not hold them accountable in the same way that it did Black men in the community where they worked.

But then awareness of the racial privilege can end up turning into a form of rape apologism when the violence is committed by men of color.

We often worry about reproducing particular kinds of racist violence that disproportionately target men of color. We are understandably loath to call the police, involve the state in any way, or place men of color at the mercy of a historically racist criminal (in)justice system; yet our communities (political and otherwise) often do not step up to demand justice on our behalf. We don’t feel comfortable talking to therapists who just reaffirm stereotypes about how fucked-up and exceptionally violent our home communities are. The Left often offers even less support. Our victimization is unfortunate, problematic, but ultimately less important to “the work” than the men of all races who reproduce gender violence in our communities.

Of course, the problem isn't just in anti-racist movements. Sexual liberation movements have been plagued with problems of perpetuating kyriarchy for years. As a privileged white male, I'm relatively ignorant of racism in these movements, but here's the Wiki on racism in the LGBT community for your perusal and privilege checking. However, I have noted various sex and gender issues that plague our communities and movements.

Take, for instance, transphobia. Among lesbian feminists, particularly in the 1980's, transphobia has been rampant. Janice Raymond even published a book called The Transsexual Empire in which she argued that transwomen were infiltrating feminism, and even compared them to rapists. Transgender rights activist Patrick Califia writes in his book Sex Changes that back when he identified as a lesbian he participated in witch hunt style behaviors regarding transwomen. Even when not displaying this sort of outright hostility, the overall LGB(t?) movement has often pushed transgender concerns under the rug. We are often so interested in issues like marriage equality and convincing straight people that "we're just like you," that we push things deemed harder to normalize, such as deviations from gender norms, out of the spotlight. Well, maybe it's that I'm genderqueer and quite a few of my friends are outright trans, but these issues are just as important, if not more, than marriage. Sidestepping the rights of an entire segment of our community is not pragmatic, it's callous and simply entrenches transphobia.

Bisexuals and pansexuals often face a similar stigma within the queer community. For people who experience attraction pretty much exclusively to one gender, those of us who can lust and love across the gender spectrum seem like an anomaly. So, many people brand self proclaimed bisexuals and pansexuals "closet cases" who refuse to admit that they're gay. Bisexual females are often suspected of simply being straight girls claiming bisexuality for experimentation and to appear sexy (the sad part is that many straight girls do this, breaking lesbian hearts and giving honest bisexuals a bad name). Bisexual males are often deemed suspicious for STD's, and have even been suspected not to exist. Elena of Women's Glib wrote a great post on these issues, albeit not specifically as they apply within the queer community, fairly recently.

Another problem that I've seen in our community is the pervasive nature of slut shaming. Now, my thoughts regarding the slut/stud dichotomy and judgmental attitudes towards sex in general are made clear in this video and in my founding of the Facebook page Rational people against puritanical and misogynistic "slut" shaming. I have never encountered a community completely free of this sort of sexual prescriptivism, however. Even when I'm with far left, or godless, or queer, or feminist, or even blatantly sex positive friends, I occasionally encounter some variant upon this sexual taboo, this dichotomous judgment.

Now of course, this post is far from an exhaustive discussion of how bigotry pervades movements that seek to fight it, how kyriarchy's branches entangle themselves in groups that seek to kill aspects of it. Hell, I haven't even mentioned how reformist wings of most movements seek to simply moderate the police and prison system's attitudes towards groups, while I think police power, and indeed the power of the state itself, is oppressive regardless of inequities. But one post cataloging every example of such unfortunate kyriarchal structures in movements is both impossible and unnecessary.

Because the real task belongs to each of us involved in such movements and communities. As we work together to fight oppression in society as a whole, we need to take a serious look at oppression that happens in the corners that are already "ours." And then, as Gandhi said, "we must be the change we want to see in the world."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Striking the Roots of Racism

Several days ago I had a fascinating conversation with a good friend regarding the origins of racism and the optimal methods for ameliorating its impact. The following post is largely based on that conversation, but also draws heavily from my study of such anti-racist thinkers as Tim Wise, Arthur Silber, and Cornel West.

Due to the human tendency towards "in group" and "out group" thinking, just about every human is to an extent racist. This does not mean they hate people based upon race, or that they harbor any ideological racism. But they do hold some emotional bias. This unconscious, unintentional racism has been confirmed by studies. As they say on Avenue Q, "everyone's a little bit racist," even far left, anti-racist bloggers like me.

And so, if we're all racists, whites make up the majority of our population, and whites are conferred with greater power than blacks thanks to years of slavery and Jim Crow, economic inequities between races should not be surprising. It should disturb you that a study by economists at MIT and the University of Chicago found that resumes with "white" sounding names were 50% more likely than the same resumes with "black" sounding names to lead to call backs for interviews. But it should not surprise you. It likewise should not be surprising that when minimum wage laws decrease the amount of people businesses can profitably employ, blacks are the ones hurt most (And in fact whites are often helped). But it should certainly give you pause.

Power of course only exacerbates the problem, particularly power involving authorization to use legal force, break the law with nearly guaranteed impunity, and imprison individuals. Yes, breaking news from the department of "Fucking obvious, but unremarked upon by respectable politicians": The criminal justice system is really racist. Michelle Jones thoroughly documents this in The New Jim Crow, specifically focusing on the war on drugs and the mass incarceration state to which it contributes. A few damning facts she points out include:

*There are more African Americans under correctional control today—in prison or jail, on probation or parole—than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.

*As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

* A black child born today is less likely to be raised by both parents than a black child born during slavery. The recent disintegration of the African American family is due in large part to the mass imprisonment of black fathers.

*If you take into account prisoners, a large majority of African American men in some urban areas have been labeled felons for life. (In the Chicago area, the figure is nearly 80%.) These men are part of a growing undercaste—not class, caste—permanently relegated, by law, to a second-class status. They can be denied the right to vote, automatically excluded from juries, and legally discriminated against in employment, housing, access to education, and public benefits, much as their grandparents and great-grandparents were during the Jim Crow era.

But there's a problem with all these facts: Humans want to consider ourselves and the things we love good and moral, and in our society, racism is deemed the height of evil. So we resort to denial. Admit to racism? It's hard to save face with that confession. Unpack the invisible knapsack of privilege? We might no longer feel we earned all we have.

And so, the white establishment must smear those who challenge their delusional vision of a fair and equitable America. Why, accusing white people of racism? These "civil rights activists" must be racist! Conservative firebrand David Horowitz wrote an entire book based on this premise titled hating whitey.

Similarly, employment difficulties of blacks must be denied. The truly skilled white privilege denialist will here play the victim, noting affirmative action programs as a form of "reverse racism."

The most illustrative example of the vehemence of our racial denial is the debacle surrounding Jeremiah Wright. Many politicians on both sides of the aisle are connected to preachers who compare my LGBTQ friends and I to pedophiles or who wish death upon us. Billy Graham had connections to multiple presidential administrations and had a repeated record of explicit racism against blacks. Yet when Reverend Wright told the reality, albeit in an incendiary manner, of American imperialism, war crimes, and racial oppression, that was too much.

And so the denial permeates our political spectrum. Even that radical socialist Barack Obama, known for his "deep seated hatred for white people", operates on the factually dubious assumption of a post-racial America. His most famous line of oratory hinges upon this PC delusion: "There's not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America." As Arthur Silber wrote yesterday on this matter:

Second, and of equal significance, is the fact -- acknowledged by almost no one, and certainly not by good liberals and progressives -- that Obama himself is a notably vicious racist: "All this means that it is Obama himself who has adopted the white racist framework. Yes, I repeat that: Obama has adopted the white racist framework with regard to every issue of importance."

This is true because Obama denies the truth of American history in some of its most essential aspects and fully embraces the myth of American exceptionalism -- which is a myth of white American exceptionalism. It is also true because Obama has intentionally adopted more particular racist tropes, such as the myth of "irresponsible" black fathers. (And follow some of the many links provided near the beginning of this article for much more on this topic.)

Please don't say Obama can't be a racist because he's black, or half-black, or however the hell you want to describe it. Just don't. I know you can be smarter than that, if you'll only try. In America today, the fastest path to power is via the white, male ruling class. Obama wanted and wants power, period. So in every way that matters, he identifies with the white, male ruling class. Now he's the leader of that class. See how that works?

So, how do we deal with all this racism? Certainly addressing symptoms such as the drug war and poverty would help. However, with deep seated problems, we must strike the root. This requires that we view racism not as an epithet to hurl at political opponents, but instead as an idea and structure of domination to seek out and ameliorate. For how else can we honestly find the racism lying latent in our psyches and our favored institutions? And if we can't even admit to the problem, it will be damn hard to solve.

Connor Boyack on Immigration

Over at Connor's Conundrums, Connor Boyack presents his views on immigration. Boyack is one of my fellow Utah residents, and is a libertarian, Constitutionalist, and Mormon writer. While I disagree with him on religion and overall have more radical views than he does, he is easily one of the most thorough and rational bloggers I've encountered. It shows in this piece. Boyack first presents a detailed history of immigration law in America, offering a persuasive case that originalist and libertarian interpretations of the Constitution would make our current restrictive immigration laws unconstitutional. He also offers well sourced rebuttals to the economic and crime based anti-immigrant arguments.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Free Market Socialism: An Introduction

My good friend Ciaran, who introduced me to the insights of free market libertarianism (Particularly the works of Frederic Bastiat and Ludwig von Mises), expressed his confusion at the notion of free market socialism. As the concepts are typically considered polar opposites, I figured I would offer some glimpses at various strains of free market socialist thought. To avoid the obvious contradiction, let me make clear to all readers that socialism does not here refer to the nationalization of industry, or other forms of government takeover. This is typically what such great free market economists as F.A. Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and even Frederic Bastiat meant when they said socialism. However, throughout history socialism has had a broader meaning, which basically boils down to the abolition of the existing capitalist order in favor of a more equitable system without such hallmarks of capitalism as strong class distinctions, boss/employee hierarchies in the workplace, and oligarchic control of the means of production. Throughout the rest of this post, I will give examples of how radical left wing free marketeers have sought to abolish these facets of capitalism while still maintaining libertarian notions of private property rights. Specifically, I will be drawing on the works of the modern individualist anarchists and self proclaimed free market anti-capitalists such as Kevin Carson, Charles Johnson (Often known on the internet as Radgeek), Roderick Long, Sheldon Richman (Editor of the free market periodical The Freeman), and Brad Spangler (Director of the market anarchist Center for a Stateless Society).

First, we'll discuss a favorite in socialist thought: unions. Unions are typically seen as opponents of the free market by libertarians, and many progressives and supporters of labor see statism as a friend of workers' rights. There are many objections to these ideas raised by free market anti-capitalists.

The first is that a variety of government restrictions on free association and contract (i.e. free market activity) explicitly restrict the power of labor unions. In his post Free the Unions (and all political prisoners), Radgeek explains:

Too many of my comrades on the Left fall into the trap of taking the Labor Day version of history for granted: modern unions are trumpeted as the main channel for the voice of workers; the institutionalization of the system through the Wagner Act and the National Labor Relations Board in 1935, and the ensuing spike in union membership during the New Deal period, are regarded as one of the great triumphs for workers of the past century.

You may not be surprised to find out that I don’t find this picture of history entirely persuasive. The Wagner Act was the capstone of years of government promotion of conservative, AFL-line unions in order to subvert the organizing efforts of decentralized, uncompromising, radical unions such as the IWW and to avoid the previous year’s tumultuous general strikes in San Francisco, Toledo, and Minneapolis. The labor movement as we know it today was created by government bureaucrats who effectively created a massive subsidy program for conservative unions which followed the AFL and CIO models of organizing—which emphatically did not include general strikes or demands for worker ownership of firms. Once the NRLB-recognized unions had swept over the workforce and co-opted most of the movement for organized labor, the second blow of the one-two punch fell: government benefits always mean government strings attached, and in this case it was the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which pulled the activities of the recognized unions firmly into the regulatory grip of the federal government. Both the internal culture of post-Wagner mainstream unions, and the external controls of the federal labor regulatory apparatus, have dramatically hamstrung the labor movement for the past half-century. Union methods are legally restricted to collective bargaining and limited strikes (which cannot legally be expanded to secondary strikes, and which can be, and have been, broken by arbitrary fiat of the President). Union hiring halls are banned. Union resources have been systematically sapped by banning closed shop contracts, and encouraging states to ban union shop contracts—thus forcing unions to represent free-riding employees who do not join them and do not contribute dues. Union demands are effectively constrained to modest (and easily revoked) improvements in wages and conditions. And, since modern unions can do so little to achieve their professed goals, and since their professed goals have been substantially lowered anyway, unionization of the workforce continues its decades-long slide.

Explicit regulation and statist neutering of unions is one thing, but it is also notable that government restricts business competition. This produces what Roderick Long terms an "oligopsonistic labour market," meaning a market in which there are few employers compared to laborers, and thus bosses have more bargaining power than workers. Sheldon Richman expanded on this point in his article Workers of the World Unite for a Free Market.

In general, any government intervention that makes it harder to start businesses pushes people into the labor market with less bargaining power than they would have in a free market. Less bargaining power for workers means more bargaining power for bosses. So it stands to reason that some percentage of the workforce must put up with lousy job conditions they would reject in a minute if there were a wider array of better opportunities, including self-employment. But there isn’t because the State, with the backing of established businesses, has kept those opportunities from coming into existence—sometimes by outright prohibition, sometimes by “progressive” measures to “protect” consumers and workers. Technology now makes it more feasible for people to work independently, but statutes and ordinances still stand in the way.

It all comes down to the same thing: squelching competition and creating dependence on thusly protected big hierarchical and often authoritarian firms. (Yes, small business gets some State benefits too, but see Roderick Long’s response here. Also see C. L. Dickenson’s “Free Men for Better Job Performance” here and here.)

Concerns about working conditions sound “left wing” but that’s only because libertarians have neglected the issue, without good reason in my view. (It was not always so. Nineteenth-century liberals explicitly appealed to working people and condemned the State-derived power of “capital.”) Too many contemporary libertarians mistakenly think that since sound economic theory tells us that poor working conditions can’t endure in an advanced competitive market, workers have nothing to worry about in a “capitalist” country like the United States. The problem with the argument is that “capitalism” doesn’t equal “free market,” and we haven’t had a free market—not even close. In fact, the economy we live in is far more the product of government-business collusion—going back to the beginning—than economic freedom.

Where the progressives and state socialists go wrong is in thinking that weak worker bargaining power is inherent in the market itself. It is not. It is the result of State privilege. Therefore the solution is not further government intervention, as the progressives want, but repeal of privileges, subsidies, licenses and the rest of the sources of political advantage that protect the well-connected at the expense of the rest of us.

While these state interventions demonstrate that labor interests and genuinely free markets are not enemies, they still leave open the question of whether a free marketeer can in good conscience support labor unions. Some certainly do. For instance, Brad Spangler, after making a point similar to the one above on how the state reduces labor's bargaining power, wrote on his blog "I urge, and challenge, free-market libertarians to show their solidarity with labor by supporting radical unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)." So what's so great about these radical unions? And can free market libertarians reasonably support unions at all? In his essay The Ethics of Labor Struggle: A Free Market Perspective, Kevin Carson discusses how well various labor tactics fit into libertarian ethics. He begins by responding the common libertarian objection that union effectiveness is based upon forcing worker compliance with strikes.

Vulgar libertarian critiques of organized labor commonly assert that unions depend entirely on force (or the implicit threat of force), backed by the state, against non-union laborers; they assume, in so arguing, that the strike as it is known today has always been the primary method of labor struggle. Any of Thomas DiLorenzo's articles on the subject at Mises. Org can be taken as a proxy for this ideological tendency. I quote the following as an example:

Historically, the main "weapon" that unions have employed to try to push wages above the levels that employees could get by bargaining for themselves on the free market without a union has been the strike. But in order for the strike to work, and for unions to have any significance at all, some form of coercion or violence must be used to keep competing workers out of the labor market.(9)

This betrays a profound ignorance of the history of the labor movement outside the sterile bubble of the Wagner Act.

First of all, when the strike was chosen as a weapon, it relied more on the threat of imposing costs on the employer than on the forcible exclusion of scabs. You wouldn't think it so hard for the Misoids to understand that the replacement of a major portion of the workforce, especially when the supply of replacement workers is limited by moral sympathy with the strike, might entail considerable transaction costs and disruption of production. The idiosyncratic knowledge of the existing workforce, the time and cost of bringing replacement workers to an equivalent level of productivity, and the damage short-term disruption of production may do to customer relations, together constitute a rent that invests the threat of walking out with a considerable deterrent value. And the cost and disruption is greatly intensified when the strike is backed by sympathy strikes at other stages of production. Wagner and Taft-Hartley greatly reduced the effectiveness of strikes at individual plants by transforming them into declared wars fought by Queensbury rules, and likewise reduced their effectiveness by prohibiting the coordination of actions across multiple plants or industries. Taft-Hartley's cooling off periods, in addition, gave employers time to prepare ahead of time for such disruptions and greatly reduced the informational rents embodied in the training of the existing workforce. Were not such restrictions in place, today's "just-in-time" economy would likely be far more vulnerable to such disruption than that of the 1930s.

Carson continues, discussing the previously noted restrictions on organized labor, and noting free market labor organizing tactics which have been banned.

More importantly, though, unionism was historically less about strikes or excluding non-union workers from the workplace than about what workers did inside the workplace to strengthen their bargaining power against the boss.

The Wagner Act, along with the rest of the corporate liberal legal regime, had as its central goal the redirection of labor resistance away from the successful asymmetric warfare model, toward a formalized, bureaucratic system centered on labor contracts enforced by the state and the union hierarchies. As Karl Hess suggested in a 1976 Playboy interview,

one crucial similarity between those two fascists [Hitler and FDR] is that both successfully destroyed the trade unions. Roosevelt did it by passing exactly the reforms that would ensure the creation of a trade-union bureaucracy. Since F.D.R., the unions have become the protectors of contracts rather than the spearhead of worker demands. And the Roosevelt era brought the "no strike" clause, the notion that your rights are limited by the needs of the state.(10)

The federal labor law regime criminalizes many forms of resistance, like sympathy and boycott strikes up and down the production chain from raw materials to retail, that made the mass and general strikes of the early 1930s so formidable. The Railway Labor Relations Act, which has since been applied to airlines, was specifically designed to prevent transport workers from turning local strikes into general strikes. Taft-Hartley's cooling off period can be used for similar purposes in other strategic sectors, as demonstrated by Bush's invocation of it against the longshoremen's union.

The extent to which state labor policy serves the interests of employers is suggested by the old (pre-Milsted) Libertarian Party Platform, a considerable deviation from the stereotypical libertarian position on organized labor. It expressly called for a repeal, not only of Wagner, but of Taft-Hartley's prohibitions on sympathy and boycott strikes and of state right-to-work prohibitions on union shop contracts. It also condemned any federal right to impose "cooling off" periods or issue back-to-work orders.(11)

Wagner was originally passed, as Alexis Buss suggests below, because the bosses were begging for a regime of enforceable contract, with the unions as enforcers. To quote Adam Smith, when the state regulates relations between workmen and masters, it usually has the masters for its counselors.

Far from being a labor charter that empowered unions for the first time, FDR's labor regime had the same practical effect as telling the irregulars of Lexington and Concord "Look, you guys come out from behind those rocks, put on these bright red uniforms, and march in parade ground formation like the Brits, and in return we'll set up a system of arbitration to guarantee you don't lose all the time." Unfortunately, the Wagner regime left organized labor massively vulnerable to liquidation in the event that ruling elites decided they wanted labor to lose all the time, after all. Since the late '60s, corporate America has moved to exploit the full union-busting potential of Taft-Hartley. And guess what? Labor is prevented by law, for the most part, from abandoning the limits of Wagner and Taft-Hartley and returning to the successful unilateral techniques of the early '30s.

Carson later notes some tactics which, if these regulations were not in place, could permit organized labor to have immense bargaining power over business, while never using force to stop "scabs" from continuing work.

[I]t certainly was easier to win a strike before Taft-Hartley outlawed secondary and boycott strikes up and down the production chain. The classic CIO strikes of the early '30s involved multiple steps in the chain--not only production plants, but their suppliers of raw materials, their retail outlets, and the teamsters who moved finished and unfinished goods. They were planned strategically, as a general staff might plan a campaign. Some strikes turned into what amounted to regional general strikes. Even a minority of workers striking, at each step in the chain, can be far more effective than a conventional strike limited to one plant. Even the AFL-CIO's Sweeney, at one point, half-heartedly suggested that things would be easier if Congress repealed all the labor legislation after Norris-LaGuardia (which took the feds out of the business of issuing injunctions and sending in troops), and let labor and management go at it "mano a mano."(18)

If nothing else, all of this should demonstrate the sheer nonsensicality of the Misoid idea that strikes are ineffectual unless they involve 100% of the workforce and are backed up by the threat of violence against scabs. Even a sizeable minority of workers walking off the job, if they're backed up by similar minorities at other stages of the production and distribution process on early CIO lines, could utterly paralyze a company.

Outside of the strike concept, radical unions such as the IWW have supported on the job direct action. Carson writes:

An alternative model of labor struggle, and one much closer to the overall spirit of organized labor before Wagner, would include the kinds of activity mentioned in the old Wobbly pamphlet "How to Fire Your Boss," and discussed by the I.W.W.'s Alexis Buss in her articles on "minority unionism" for Industrial Worker.

If labor is to return to a pre-Wagner way of doing things, what Buss calls "minority unionism" will be the new organizing principle.

If unionism is to become a movement again, we need to break out of the current model, one that has come to rely on a recipe increasingly difficult to prepare: a majority of workers vote a union in, a contract is bargained. We need to return to the sort of rank-and-file on-the-job agitating that won the 8-hour day and built unions as a vital force....

Minority unionism happens on our own terms, regardless of legal recognition....

U.S. & Canadian labor relations regimes are set up on the premise that you need a majority of workers to have a union, generally government-certified in a worldwide context[;] this is a relatively rare set-up. And even in North America, the notion that a union needs official recognition or majority status to have the right to represent its members is of relatively recent origin, thanks mostly to the choice of business unions to trade rank-and-file strength for legal maintenance of membership guarantees.

The labor movement was not built through majority unionism-it couldn't have been.(15)

How are we going to get off of this road? We must stop making gaining legal recognition and a contract the point of our organizing....

We have to bring about a situation where the bosses, not the union, want the contract. We need to create situations where bosses will offer us concessions to get our cooperation. Make them beg for it.(16)

As the Wobbly pamphlet "How to Fire Your Boss" argues, the strike in its current business union form, according to NLRB rules, is about the least effective form of action available to organized labor.

The bosses, with their large financial reserves, are better able to withstand a long drawn-out strike than the workers. In many cases, court injunctions will freeze or confiscate the union's strike funds. And worst of all, a long walk-out only gives the boss a chance to replace striking workers with a scab (replacement) workforce.

Workers are far more effective when they take direct action while still on the job. By deliberately reducing the boss' profits while continuing to collect wages, you can cripple the boss without giving some scab the opportunity to take your job. Direct action, by definition, means those tactics workers can undertake themselves, without the help of government agencies, union bureaucrats, or high-priced lawyers. Running to the National Labor Relations Board (N.L.R.B.) for help may be appropriate in some cases, but it is NOT a form of direct action.(17)

Thomas DiLorenzo, ironically, said almost the same thing in the article quoted earlier:

It took decades of dwindling union membership (currently 8.2% of the private-sector labor force in the U.S. according to the U.S. Dept. of Labor) to convince union leaders to scale back the strike as their major "weapon" and resort to other tactics. Despite all the efforts at violence and intimidation, the fact remains that striking union members are harmed by lower incomes during strikes, and in many cases have lost their jobs to replacement workers. To these workers, strikes have created heavy financial burdens for little or no gain. Consequently, some unions have now resorted to what they call "in-plant actions," a euphemism for sabotage.

Damaging the equipment in an oil refinery or slashing the tires of the trucks belonging to a trucking company, for example, is a way for unions to "send a message" to employers that they should give in to union demands, or else. Meanwhile, no unionized employees, including the ones engaged in the acts of sabotage, lose a day's work.

DiLorenzo is wrong, of course, in limiting on-the-job action solely to physical sabotage of the employer's property. As we shall see below, an on-the-job struggle over the pace and intensity of work is inherent in the incomplete nature of the employment contract, the impossibility of defining such particulars ahead of time, and the agency costs involved in monitoring performance after the fact. But what is truly comical is DiLorenzo's ignorance of the role employers and the employers' state played in establishment unions making the strike a "major 'weapon'" in the first place.

Instead of conventional strikes, "How to Fire Your Boss" recommends such forms of direct action as the slowdown, the "work to rule" strike, the "good work" strike, selective strikes (brief, unannounced strikes at random intervals), whisteblowing, and sick-ins. These are all ways of raising costs on the job, without giving the boss a chance to hire scabs.

Sabotage and other forms of direct action pose interesting property rights questions for libertarians. Carson's answer to these questions is as follows:

As I already mentioned, sitdowns and monkey-wrenching would appear at first glance to be obvious transgressions of libertarian principle. Regarding these, I can only say that the morality of trespassing and vandalism against someone else's property hinges on the just character of their property rights.

Murray Rothbard raised the question, at the height of his attempted alliance with the New Left, of what ought to be done with state property. His answer was quite different from that of today's vulgar libertarians ("Why, sell it to a giant corporation, of course, on terms most advantageous to the corporation!"). According to Rothbard, since state ownership of property is in principle illegitimate, all property currently "owned" by the government is really unowned. And since the rightful owner of any piece of unowned property is, in keeping with radical Lockean principles, the first person to occupy it and mix his or her labor with it, it follows that government property is rightfully the property of whoever is currently occupying and using it. That means, for example, that state universities are the rightful property of either the students or faculties, and should either be turned into student consumer co-ops, or placed under the control of scholars' guilds. More provocative still, Rothbard tentatively applied the same principle to the (theatrical gasp) private sector! First he raised the question of nominally "private" universities that got most of their funding from the state, like Columbia. Surely it was only a "private" college "in the most ironic sense." And therefore, it deserved "a similar fate of virtuous homesteading confiscation."

But if Columbia University, what of General Dynamics? What of the myriad of corporations which are integral parts of the military-industrial complex, which not only get over half or sometimes virtually all their revenue from the government but also participate in mass murder? What are their credentials to "private" property? Surely less than zero. As eager lobbyists for these contracts and subsidies, as co-founders of the garrison stare, they deserve confiscation and reversion of their property to the genuine private sector as rapidly as possible. To say that their "private" property must be respected is to say that the property stolen by the horsethief and the murderer must be "respected."

But how then do we go about destatizing the entire mass of government property, as well as the "private property" of General Dynamics? All this needs detailed thought and inquiry on the part of libertarians. One method would be to turn over ownership to the homesteading workers in the particular plants; another to turn over pro-rata ownership to the individual taxpayers. But we must face the fact that it might prove the most practical route to first nationalize the property as a prelude to redistribution. Thus, how could the ownership of General Dynamics be transferred to the deserving taxpayers without first being nationalized enroute? And, further more, even if the government should decide to nationalize General Dynamics--without compensation, of course-- per se and not as a prelude to redistribution to the taxpayers, this is not immoral or something to be combatted. For it would only mean that one gang of thieves--the government--would be confiscating property from another previously cooperating gang, the corporation that has lived off the government. I do not often agree with John Kenneth Galbraith, but his recent suggestion to nationalize businesses which get more than 75% of their revenue from government, or from the military, has considerable merit. Certainly it does not mean aggression against private property, and, furthermore, we could expect a considerable diminution of zeal from the military-industrial complex if much of the profits were taken out of war and plunder. And besides, it would make the American military machine less efficient, being governmental, and that is surely all to the good. But why stop at 75%? Fifty per cent seems to be a reasonable cutoff point on whether an organization is largely public or largely private.(19)

If corporations that get the bulk of their profits from state intervention are essentially parts of the state, rightfully subject to being treated as the property of the workers actually occupying them, then sitdowns and sabotage should certainly be legitimate means for bringing this about.

As for the other, less extreme tactics, those who object morally to such on-the-job direct action fail to consider the logical implications of a free contract in labor. As Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis describe it,

The classical theory of contract implicit in most of neo-classical economics holds that the enforcement of claims is performed by the judicial system at negligible cost to the exchanging parties. We refer to this classical third-party enforcement assumption as exogenous enforcement. Where, by contrast, enforcement of claims arising from an exchange by third parties is infeasible or excessively costly, the exchanging agents must themselves seek to enforce their claims. Endogenous enforcement in labour markets was analysed by Marx--he termed it the extraction of labour from labour power--and has recently become the more or less standard model among microeconomic theorists.

Exogenous enforcement is absent under a variety of quite common conditions: when there is no relevant third party..., when the contested attribute can be measured only imperfectly or at considerable cost (work effort, for example, or the degre of risk assumed by a firm's management), when the relevant evidence is not admissible in a court of law...[,] when there is no possible means of redress..., or when the nature of the contingencies concerning future states of the world relevant to the exchange precludes writing a fully specified contract.

In such cases the ex post terms of exchange are determined by the structure of the interaction between A and B, and in particular on the strategies A is able to adopt to induce B to provide the desired level of the contested attribute, and the counter strategies available to B....

Consider agent A who purchases a good or service from agent B. We call the exchange contested when B's good or service possesses an attribute which is valuable to A, is costly for B to provide, yet is not fully secified in an enforceable contract....

An employment relationship is established when, in return for a wage, the worker B agrees to submit to the authority of the employer A for a specified period of time in return for a wage w. While the employer's promise to pay the wage is legally enforceable, the worker's promise to bestow an adequate level of effort and care upon the tasks assigned, even if offered, is not. Work is subjectively costly for the worker to provide, valuable to the employer, and costly to measure. The manager-worker relationship is thus a contested exchange.(20)

The very term "adequate effort" is meaningless, aside from whatever way its definition is worked out in practice based on the comparative bargaining power of worker and employer. It's virtually impossible to design a contract that specifies ahead of time the exact levels of effort and standards of performance for a wage-laborer, and likewise impossible for employers to reliably monitor performance after the fact. Therefore, the workplace is contested terrain, and workers are justified entirely as much as employers in attempting to maximize their own interests within the leeway left by an incomplete contract. How much effort is "normal" to expend is determined by the informal outcome of the social contest within the workplace, given the de facto balance of power at any given time. And that includes slowdowns, "going canny," and the like. The "normal" effort that an employer is entitled to, when he buys labor-power, is entirely a matter of convention. It's directly analogous the local cultural standards that would determine the nature of "reasonable expectations," in a libertarian common law of implied contract. If libertarians like to think of "a fair day's wage" as an open-ended concept, subject to the employer's discretion and limited by what he can get away with, they should remember that "a fair day's work" is equally open-ended.

This may strike some libertarians as a convoluted rationalization of transgressions against property and contract, but it still presents a well thought out and thoroughly libertarian case for direct action by labor.

Interestingly, the previous Kevin Carson passage provides a perfect segue into another area of free market socialist thought. When he discusses how to deal with state property, which to a pure market anarchist is not legitimately owned by the government, he hits on a key element of free market socialism. The market anarchist, such as Murray Rothbard, believes that because governments obtain property either by force or fiat, it is not legitimately owned by them. Thus, privatization should occur. Unfortunately, the typical meaning of privatization in America involves a conservative practice. When the American government "privatizes" something this either means paying a corporation with tax dollars (Which a pure free marketeer considers ill gotten gain) to do something ordinarily done by government, giving government property to a corporation, or selling said property to a corporation. The first is irrelevant to our discussion of government property, and the second two are clearly illegitimate and distort the market, as they effectively amount to giving away or selling stolen goods. So how does one privatize government property? In his essay How and How Not to Desocialize, Rothbard writes:

It would be far better to enshrine the venerable homesteading principle at the base of the new desocialized property system. Or, to revive the old Marxist slogan: "all land to the peasants, all factories to the workers!" This would establish the basic Lockean principle that ownership of owned property is to be acquired by "mixing one's labor with the soil" or with other unowned resources.

Desocialization is a process of depriving the government of its existing "ownership" or control, and devolving it upon private individuals. In a sense, abolishing government ownership of assets puts them immediately and implicitly into an unowned status, out of which previous homesteading can quickly convert them into private ownership. The homestead principle asserts that these assets are to devolve, not upon the general abstract public as in the handout principle, but upon those who have actually worked upon these resources: that is, their respective workers, peasants, and managers. Of course, these rights are to be genuinely private; that is, land to individual peasants, while capital goods or factories go to workers in the form of private, negotiable shares. Ownership is not to be granted to collectives or cooperatives or workers or peasants holistically, which would only bring back the ills of socialism in a decentralized and chaotic syndicalist form.

There is a reasonable libertarian case to be made for not giving the property to a co-op or collective initially as the form of privatization. However, who is to say that if given control over a factory, the workers would not want to implement a cooperative themselves with their individual shares? As they homesteaded it, this would be their right within a genuinely free market. Radgeek advocates for this and related market socialist forms of privatization (Which he argues could be reasonably be termed "socialization") here and here.

Another issue which tends to separate advocates of pure free markets from socialists is the matter of public property. One common market anarchist view is that in a free market, all property would be privately rather than publicly owned, and thus tightly controlled by the owner. While this would deal with the tragedy of the commons quite nicely, it would also likely decrease options available to the poor, and freedom of movement for everyone. However, public does not imply government owned, and thus there is room in a free market society for public ownership. In 1996 Roderick Long wrote a piece titled In Defense of Public Property, which deals with the issue well. On the matter of whether public property fits libertarian theories of property rights, Long argues

On the libertarian view, we have a right to the fruit of our labor, and we also have a right to what people freely give us. Public property can arise in both these ways.

Consider a village near a lake. It is common for the villagers to walk down to the lake to go fishing. In the early days of the community it's hard to get to the lake because of all the bushes and fallen branches in the way. But over time, the way is cleared and a path forms — not through any centrally coordinated effort, but simply as a result of all the individuals walking that way day after day.

The cleared path is the product of labor — not any individual's labor, but all of them together. If one villager decided to take advantage of the now-created path by setting up a gate and charging tolls, he would be violating the collective property right that the villagers together have earned.

Public property can also be the product of gift. In 19th-century England, it was common for roads to be built privately and then donated to the public for free use. This was done not out of altruism but because the roadbuilders owned land and businesses alongside the site of the new road, and they knew that having a road there would increase the value of their land and attract more customers to their businesses. Thus, the unorganized public can legitimately come to own land, both through original acquisition (the mixing of labor) and through voluntary transfer.

This provides a fairly clear route for a socialistic manner for eliminating government ownership of places like parks, which have been homesteaded by the public at large.

Ultimately, it's important to remember that even if you don't think that roughly socialist economic relations are beneficial, in a libertarian society they may coexist with capitalist relations. Wendy McElroy, no anti-capitalist, explained this quite eloquently in her blog post Capitalism v. The Free Market.

At the risk of being misunderstood, I am not a capitalist. Instead, I advocate the free market. Capitalism is a specific economic arrangement with reference to the ownership of property and capital. It happens to be the arrangement I prefer because I believe it is more just, a far better reflection of reality and produces more prosperity than the alternatives. But I wouldn’t crusade for capitalism the way I would crusade for freedom of speech. What I would crusade for is a free market in which individuals exchange or co-operate with each other according to their own choices.

What’s the difference? Consider: I live near an old-fashioned Mennonite community that organizes its economic life along socialist ideals rather than capitalist ones. The community is absolutely voluntary – that is, it results from the free choices of individuals. In a free market, my neighbors can peacefully disagree with my assessment of capitalism and set up whatever voluntary alternative appeals to them…for whatever reason it appeals to them (e.g. religion). My approval of their non-capitalist lifestyle is not necessary until or unless they attempt to make me adopt their preference. That’s the free market: everyone peacefully pursues whichever economic goals they wish by whatever means is voluntary. If your chosen means is not capitalism and you don’t want my advice…then I wish you well… even though I doubt you will succeed in the way I define ‘success.’ Nevertheless I feel no urge to knock on your door as an evangelist for capitalism who is determined to demonstrate the error of your ways.

I think it would be fitting to close with a video series of Gary Chartier explaining why "advocates of freed markets should oppose capitalism." A written version of the same general arguments is available here.

I have tagged in the Facebook note for this post many advocates of free market anti-capitalist thought, as well as some of my best free market capitalist and non-market socialist leaning friends. I would be interested to read debate on these topics.