Capitalism is normally associated with a market economy, as if that’s all that it is. But markets and trade are very old practices which existed in primitive communities, in slave, and in feudal societies. So what differentiates the capitalist market economy from these others? It is the existence of people who do not own land, and are neither slaves, nor serfs, nor vagabonds who are compelled to work, as was the case in Europe after the Black Death, and a practice carried over to the American colonies.
People who are neither slaves nor serfs are euphemistically called “free laborers.” And if these “free laborers” are not working and are homeless, they are modern vagabonds.
Today, the punishment is less severe than being branded or executed – it is a fine and/or incarceration.
I experienced the working of such a law in Dade County, Miami, Florida, in the 70ies. I had traveled to Miami University in my VW camper, and parked legally on a street by the University, and went to sleep in my camper. Well, in the middle of the night I was awakened with rapping on my windows. When I came out I was confronted by a bunch of policemen telling me that it was illegal to sleep in a vehicle in Dade County. I questioned this by offering the scenarios that I could be very tired from driving or even somewhat inebriated and couldn’t drive. The answer was: “We have your license plate recorded and if you do this again, you will be arrested.” I took off to Key West where I parked on a beach and slept in my camper.
Is It Legal to Sleep in Your Car Overnight?
In lieu of deprivation to subsistence land, the community which does this should offer some kind of compensation. Milton Friedman suggested a negative income tax to cover at least food and shelter.
What we in the United States do have is a food stamp program, but not a universal shelter program.
I suggest that there be at least free camping rights around the country – what is called “freedom to roam” (as exists in the European Nordic countries). If this existed then Bertrand Russell’s proposal [in Proposed Roads to Freedom: Socialism, Anarchism and Syndicalism, 1919] that each person be allotted a vagabond’s wage would be approximated.
George Carlin says that he does not vote because its a waste of time. His reason is that the public is a bunch of ignorant, self-centered consumers, and since the politicians come from the public, they also are self-centered opportunists. Well, he is right on both counts that the public sucks and that the politicians suck is the context of mass (macro) democracy. Given such a procedure of voting, and the present structure of government, he is right in not wasting his time voting.
But his reasoning that publicly minded people do not want to enter the political arena is wrong. The reason is not that they don’t want to, but that they know that they cannot win in a mass (macro) democracy; so they don’t try. In the US, we have a track record of seemingly good candidates entering the political arena and losing. For example, there is the case of Eugene Debs who ran for president five times unsuccessfully. I remember Eugene McCarthy trying, Ralph Nader, as well as Ron Paul.
Why can’t such people win? Because elections are won through propaganda and advertising – through a control of the news media. Winning takes lots of money and the support of corporations which control the media, and they also have an influence on existing politicians who manipulate votes and voting.
The bottom line is that only those candidates who are rich and have the support of the rich win elections. And our political choices are between a rich Tweedle Dee and a rich Tweedle Dum.
The prevalent forms of government in the world are variously called representative democracy, parliamentary democracy, and liberal democracy. They come in different varieties. On the national level, it is either a unitary system — centralized or decentralized; or a federal system with states or cantons. They all rest on two major flaws or mistakes. The first is that they place executive powers in single individuals, such as a president, a prime minister, a governor, a mayor. The second flaw is that they elect them by mass democracy; whereby thousands or million people are voting for a candidate.
In this post I will be concerned with the first flaw — giving power to a single individual.
What I am writing about politics is not philosophy but practical advice. The advice is so common sensical that I am at a loss to understand why what I have to say is not followed by most people. The principle that I have in mind is:
Don’t let a wolf tend to the sheep.
Yet, when we put single individuals in charge of anything, we are inviting corruption. What do I mean by political corruption? I mean that the politician will take bribes and make threats. And how will he get away with it? If there is no surveillance, then it will be a matter of his word against his accuser. And the corrupt politician will win by the principle of innocent until proven guilty. And, of course, the attorney general or chief prosecutor is himself subject to corruption, to be dismissed or retained by a single individual – either a prime minister or a president, who himself is subject to corruption – and prosecuted either by impeachment, no-confidence vote, or non-election. And unless the official is too cocky, as was the governor of Illinois, Blagojevich, or too brazen, and too megalomaniacal, as was Yanukovich, President of Ukraine, politicians can get away with murder, as does the president of Russia, Putin.
Practically all democracies give executive power to a single individual — be he a monarch, president, or prime minister. Indeed, this is true also of all subordinate executive offices; such as that of a governor or a mayor, and that of other executive posts. To entrust executive posts to single individuals is a great mistake. Why? Because single individuals are prone to corruption. They can be bribed or threatened — and they often are.
By contrast, in the ancient Roman republic, this danger was known and safeguarded against by having two consuls and two or more tribunes, who had veto power over each other. In cases of national emergencies, power was granted to a single individual, and he was called a dictator.
Such a system of government with power residing in single individuals is very welcomed by the rich. Why? Because they are in a position to buy whatever they desire of the politician, or they can threaten such an individual, or even assassinate him or her for non-compliance.
What I have written above strikes me as truisms, as common sense. In recent years, this truism was given some empirical backing by the writings and speeches of John Perkins, in his Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. He recounts in detail that his job was to first bribe heads of state to foster some policies favorable to some business or other; and if the bribe did not work, then they were threatened with losing the next election, threatened with a coup, an assassination, or, finally, a military invasion. And he gives us examples of each. Those presidents who take bribes become filthy rich, like Marcos of the Philippines, Noriega in Panama. By contrast, Mossadegh was deposed as Prime Minister of Iran by an American coup in 1953. In 1954 President Arbenz of Guatemala was removed from office by an American orchestrated uprising.
According to Perkins, the Presidents of Panama and Ecuador were assassinated by plane bombs because they refused to cooperate.
It seems obvious that if you want to be able to control the policies of a country, make sure that that country has either a monarch, a president, or a prime minister. These are all individuals subject to bribes, threats, coups, non-elections, and assassinations. And they, in turn, can exert bribes, threats, and assassinations.
What is the alternative?
In the US we have the Supreme Court which is composed of nine individuals. We can have a similar arrangement for the executive.
The only country that has eliminated dictators (that is, single rulers) is Switzerland: it has neither a monarch, nor a president, nor a prime minister; instead, it has a Federal Council, consisting of seven individuals. Each is the head of a ministry, but the decisions of each ministry are made by the seven Federal Councilors.
It would also be a great deterrence to corruption not to have either a governor or a mayor, but councils.