Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Talking To Each Other, At Long Last

Long ago when I was back in college, a bunch of us anti-war types realized that the then-dawning Libertarian movement had enough features in common with us that we really could sit down and talk about our similarities and hammer out our differences. We held what we called a "Left-Right Conference" at the University of Michigan, and invited everyone we knew in a student-political context. Well, only half a dozen people showed up -- which was a pity, because we found that yes, we really did have a lot in common.

Well, all these years later, we finally are seeing the dialog start. I happened on a political site called AlterNet, where there was an article posted called "Why Being Liberal Really Is Better Than Being Conservative"; it pulled out the usual cliches about how Liberals really are concerned for their fellow humans while Conservatives are passionately bound to "authority, loyalty and purity" -- and, being raised in old-fashioned Family Values, they were all victims of abusive parents. *Sigh*

Well, I was among the first half-dozen people to respond to the article, but I wasn't the first to bring up the word "Libertarian". The whole discussion -- over 100 posts now -- has gotten into a discussion of what Libertarian ideas are, and how they could be realistic in our modern "corporation-run" world. The posters are clearly coming from both ends of the political spectrum, and there are a lot of them. The ranting name-callers have given up, and the serious dialog has started. I've put in at least three posts explaining how a Libertarian (or even Anarchist) society would deal with social welfare ("Who'll take care of the sick and injured?" "YOU will -- you and everyone who thinks like you.") and corporate greed ("Organize!"). The discussion has gotten detailed and lively.

But the big point is, these left-wing Radicals and right-wing Libertarians are *talking* to each other, talking intelligently, noting similarities and hammering out differences -- finally, after all these years.

If only this tendency will spread! I expect I'll spend my spare time for the next week hunting up political blogs and forums to see how many of them really are conducting on ongoing, online, Left/Right Conference. I think this is what will bring on the real change in American politics -- after all these years.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(


Aya Katz said...

Leslie, are the posters polite to each other at this site? There's been a lot of left/right dialogue on Hubpages, but unfortunately it often devolves into name-calling, and while Libertarians are represented there, they are in the minority.

Anonymous said...

I tried reading the discussion, but the best I could do is skim it, paying special attention to the threads you commented in. Two issues stuck out to me.

Why do you think it’s so hard for Liberals to accept the reality that they have to do X themselves? It’s assumed that if the government is doing something, 50%+1 want to do it, but are the liberals saying that those same 50%+1 aren’t willing to do it themselves, or pay for it themselves? In that case, are they saying that ignorance of the cost is the only reason they would want to do X?

Second, I don’t understand why if people get together and call themselves a corporation, they are evil. If those same people call themselves a government, the liberals love them. And if they call themselves a union, they are the next best thing to angels. All three groups have the same goal, to make a better life for themselves. But the corporation is the only one that doesn’t force people to support it against their will.

Anonymous said...

The left-right dialog on Fourth Turning goes like this:

(sneer) "you liberals all ...." "The stupid Repugs" "everybody knows they're just lying to get us all under their Marxist one-world government" "everybody knows they're lying to turn us all into minimum-wage slaves of the big corporations" "You (epithet)" "nyaah, you're another" .... "useful idiot" until I put a bunch of them from both sides on Ignore. Though I did suggest concerning one guy that they toss him a coin under the bridge and forget him.

Leslie Fish said...

*Snerk* The name-calling idiots have pretty much gone by now (note the dates on the posts), and the posters remaining are discussing all this stuff rationally.

As to why Liberals have trouble with the idea of doing anything for themselves, I think that's a class artifact. Most Liberals I've met came from the middle-class, and grew up assuming that if they simply had enough money, they could *always hire somebody else* to do whatever they wanted done. Direct action is as foreign a concept to them as physical labor.

The problem with corporations is that they can define themselves as *legal persons*, which means that no one officer of the corporation is responsible for its misdeeds, and all the officers can play the Blame Game until they find some lower-ranking junior officer to be the goat, leaving the rest of the corporation to carry on as before. Being able to duck responsibility fairly easily is a recipe for corruption.

In both cases, I think it's a case of having enough money to buy enough power to be able to duck personal responsibility.

Unions (labor or consumer) don't have things so easy. Union officers are elected by the whole membership -- like a govt. -- but they don't have the layers of appointed bureaucrats to use for a shield. Neither do they really have the power to *force* the membership to do their will; the most a union officer can do to the membership is threaten to throw them out of the union -- and the members can then turn around and "de-certify" the union.

As for unions "forcing" the bosses to do their will, the only real power they have there is the ability to call a strike and give the boss a financial squeeze. Bosses have a lot more power than that over their workers. If the union strikes, the boss loses money -- but he's not in any real danger of losing his livelihood; if the boss fires the worker, he *is* in real danger of losing his livelihood, his house, his meals, and everything else. It's something of a predator/prey relationship; the boss makes his (quite good) living off the workers, while the workers have little to no defense except the union. (In fact, before unions gained enough strength to become legal, the workers had *no* defense.)

As for corporations not having the power to force others to their will, remember that there are two ways to "force" someone; by direct threat, and by cutting off all other choices. Govts. are good at the former, corporations at the latter.

For example, it's been known for nearly a century that you can run internal combustion engines on fuel-grade ethanol, and diesel engines on any oil that will burn, but the oil corporations have managed to keep anyone from developing alternate fuels (at least, until now). Most Americans need vehicles to get to their food, their jobs, and just about everything else; with all the other fuel-sources cut off, they have *no choice* but to buy gasoline and diesel fuel from the oil corporations.

Of course a corporation that gets big and rich enough can buy power from the govt., thereby using the govt. to force people directly to do their will. But if there were no govt. to buy power from, they'd be reduced to hiring private guards (as the big mining companies did in the early days of the labor movement) -- and private guards (as the early labor movement proved) are a helluva lot less numerous and easier to shoot down than soldiers.

The left-wingers don't seem to realize that without the govt. the big corporations would be a lot weaker. The right-wingers, of course, don't even see that there's a problem, despite BP and the Gulf spill.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Anonymous said...

My take is this, and I was reared middle-class, of that odd subclass called "highly educated, poorly paid." that includes professors, ministers, schoolteachers, and the like.

I was trained as a child in the 1940s and 1950s to cook from scratch, hand-sew and machine-sew from patterns or to mend things, to wash dishes by hand and in general, to keep house.

Those skills have not only served me very well, they have actually qualified me as having a rare and precious ability among certain sorts of people. I can't tell you how many times my home-made vegetable soup served to open doors and give me social credibility back when I was just starting to get established. Let alone that I could actually mend clothes with nothing more than a needle, thread, and scissors! Or nail clippers.

And - granted the labor wasn't too heavy - I could probably find work keeping house just about anywhere if need be. The problem being the heavy cleaning. But I know what needs to be done and can do just about anything that is within my strength.

BUT - the skills I learned and have made such good use of were extremely gender-specific, in keeping with the ancient customs now vanishing into the mists of history. I could no more do the men's work of the period - fixing cars etc - than I could fly under my own power. (Absent aircraft or drugs.)
Any other life skills I acquired, I did in adulthood, deliberately, often by paying for them, but sometimes by having my employer sign off on my training. And they brought me up against my physical limitations very sharply and painfully. Superwoman I'm not.

BTW - I think your picture of "middle-class" is "upper middle class", though these days the culture of "Leave it to the qualified professionals" is so engrained, a river rafting guide got a citation for "interfering with a rescue" when he struck out on his own to pull a rafter out of the water - before the professionals did thing one. Or were even there. Who today can fix a modern car outside of a fully equipped shop?

Anonymous said...

Must be nice to live in a right to work state. Plus, unions have an antitrust exemption. It sounds like your problems with corporations denying competition more accurately apply to unions. It's ILLEGAL to try to form a competing union, and it's legal for unions to say if you want a job, you MUST join the union. Very few corporations are allowed to operate like that. My advice whenever someone complains about corporations is, “find investors and make your own.”

In Michigan, 40,000 child care providers woke up one morning to find they were all paying union dues. This includes small home businesses with no management or with the union members directly negotiating their wages with parents.

Without the ability for multiple people to come together, take on investors, and form corporations, how will people gather the capital needed? The alternative in my mind is one rich investor. Or are you a fan of systems like Distributism?

Anonymous said...

One thing that, in my experience, both "Liberals" and "Conservatives" suffer from is an over-reliance on government. When we libertarians start discussing how to do things without the government being involved, they look at us like we were speaking Manchu.

Leslie Fish said...

Hi, all. I'grrl, I sympathize completely; I've been in that "subclass...highly educated, poorly paid" all my working life (hey, nobody gets rich as a folksinger!). The fun is, now an awful lot of people with middle-class educations are finding themselves with lower-working-class incomes, and I think we're no longer a *sub-*class. The next step is to find each other and organize. Heheheheh.

Yes, I remember when the Girl Scouts had merit-badges in all the things you mention, when its guidebooks were designed to teach girls how to run a household on the frontier, just as the Boy Scouts were supposed to teach boys how to survive as frontiersmen. Alas, all that has changed in the last few decades. If I were the paranoid type ("Total paranoia is total awareness"!) I'd swear that the US educational system was doing everything in its power to make citizens helpless and dependent. Dependent on who? Guess.

Dora, I kinda suspect that teenaged baby-sitters in Michigan will be exempt, really; I mean, "one-man shops" aren't usually covered under union regs. Besides, I used to live in Michigan and I know that those folks are generally not the sort to take nonsense lightly.

Actually, it *is* legal to form a competing union (ask anybody who works at the Post Office just *how many* unions cover them -- and compete for the coverage). The way it's usually done is, you get together after hours with a bunch of co-workers who are annoyed at the way their local union is working, you hunt up a union that you like better (or you quietly *form your own*), then you all apply to the NLRB for a "decertification election". At the election, you vote to throw the old union out (decertification -- or "de-cert" for short), and put the new one in. Or, you can vote to put *no* new union in. The IWW (Heheheh. Let me put in a plug for my brand) has instigated more "de-cert/re-cert" elections than any other union in the country.

Nah, you can't just trust the word of political pundits on stuff like this; you have to go look up the facts yourself. Seriously, have you ever seen any of those complainers about unions ever *mention* the word "decertification"?

It always was possible for people to "come together" and "gather the capital needed" to start a business; it just used to be a lot slower and more difficult. With the kind of communications we have today, even the Little Guy can do it. This is how most private charities and political action groups get started; they used the media to go out and advertise the product, whatever the product is, so as to collect the money. (I have no idea what "Distributism" is!)

--Leslie <;)))><

Leslie Fish said...

But moving on (I had to do this in two parts because of word-count limitations), there's the example of how my band funded our second album ("Solar Sailors"). We wrote up a prospectus on the project, mentioned how well our first album ("Folksongs for Folks Who Ain't Even Been Yet") had done (all 500 copies sold out), sent it out to everyone we knew in a folkmusic (or pesonal!) context, and asked for investments. We got investments of $50 to $100 from enough people that we could publish the album (all 2000 copies). We then sold the album at our gigs and everywhere else we could. The first money we got from selling the album went to paying off our investors, and all the rest was ours. We later transferred the publishing rights of both albums to my current music publisher, Random Factors, who combined both albums on a single CD: "Folksong for Solar Sailors", currently available at the website. So, in various incarnations, those albums have been small but consistent sellers for over 20 years. Sure, this was a microscopically-small business, and a matter of low finance, but it worked. Considering how lousy I am at business, organizing or any kind of math, I'd say that if I could do this anybody could.

And then there's the case of the charitable investment company I read about years ago (in, of all places, "Readers' Digest") that makes a point of giving micro-loans ($100-$1000) to starting-up small businesses in Third World countries. They loan money (at 1% or less interest) for things like, say, a pair of old widows needing to buy a large mortar and pestle for a manioc-root-pounding business, or a farmer needing a good shovel and a water-pump. They've found that more than 90% of the micro-businesses they fund with their micro-loans are successful, and always pay back their loans in full.

This shows me that the average citizen and the average teeny-tiny small business have better sense and better ethics than the big corporations do. Maybe a lack of power-intoxication has something to do with it.

Eric, I know exactly what you mean! I think, again, that it's a matter of economic class. Poorer folk are more likely to learn to make do for themselves because they don't have the money to hire someone to do the work for them, and they either don't know how or are afraid to ask the govt. to help them.

--Leslie <;)))>< )O(

Anonymous said...

One trouble with unions, I think, is that all too often, once they get people who draw paychecks from the union, is that the union becomes an end-in-itself rather than a means-to-an-end. And that goes double, triple, and with horseradish sauce on it for unions that have been infiltrated or taken over by thugs.

A friend of mine has never forgiven the union her dad was in for prolonging a very long strike unnecessarily---the union's leaders got much better "strike pay" than they could make working, while people like my friend's dad got a lot less than they would have from the job. And my mom told me (she had lots of rellies who worked for the railroads in various capacities) about how the unions would insist on keeping things the way they had been, even though times and technologies had changed.

Never having been in a job where a union was, I will admit that my views may be somewhat jaundiced, but unions are as subject to the Iron Law of Bureaucracy as any other large organization.

Aretae said...

Ms. Fish,

I'm a friend of Jen+Mark Horning, and I was wondering, from your lovely post here, whether you were friendly with the left-libertarians ? I'm on the fringe of the movement, but Kevin Carson, Roderick Long, Brad Spangler, Sheldon Richman are all bigger players in the space.

KateGladstone said...

Leslie — You asked what Distributism is. Here's some info: