The making of a nationalizing (i.e., centralizing) and democracy-constraining (i.e., anti-populist) U. S. Constitution

“Well, the lack of influence goes back in the United States roughly two hundred fifty years. So, we can start with the Constitution, which was established explicitly on the principle of preventing democracy. There wasn’t any secret about it. In fact, the major scholarly study on the Constitutional Convention, by Michael Klarman, a Harvard Law professor, is called The Framers’ Coup, and it’s about the coup against democracy by the Framers.

The theme of the of the founders was expressed quite well by John Jay, who was the first Supreme Court chief justice: “those who own the country ought to govern it.” That’s what we see today: those who own the country have succeeded in governing it.”

Noam Chomsky, Noam Chomsky: The Elites Are Fighting a Vicious Class War All the Time, Jacobin, June 10, 2021.

Max Weber’s definition of capitalism

I keep repeating that the necessary condition for capitalism is the political prohibition of people to a free access to subsistence land. And as I scour the Internet to see who else currently says this, I do not find anyone. There are many people who recognize and condemn the bad symptoms of capitalism, but doing this does not tell us what capitalism is. The only recent scholar who had zeroed in on the nature of capitalism was G. A. Cohen, whose insightful talk I have posted and transcribed here: Criticism of Capitalism by G. A. Cohen, reflecting on Al Capp’s creature, the Shmoo.

However, scouring past literature, I find Max Weber’s characterization of capitalism totally in agreement with mine. The only comment that I wish to add to his analysis is this. Weber was interested in characterizing, what he called “rational capitalism.” This is the sophisticated capitalism which exists with bookkeeping and calculations. However, cruder forms of capitalism also exist. And both kinds are captured by his fifth characteristic — the existence of “free laborers.” These are people who have no free access to subsistence land.

Below is the relevant chapter from: Max Weber, General Economic History (1923, English translation, 1927)


[275]

PART FOUR

THE ORIGIN OF MODERN CAPITALISM

CHAPTER XXII

THE MEANING AND PRESUPPOSITIONS OF MODERN CAPITALISM

Capitalism is present wherever the industrial provision for the needs of a human group is carried out by the method of enterprise, irrespective of what need is involved. More specifically, a rational capitalistic establishment is one with capital accounting, that is, an establishment which determines its income yielding power by calculation according to the methods of modern bookkeeping and the striking of a balance. The device of the balance was first insisted upon by the Dutch theorist Simon Stevin in the year 1698.

It goes without saying that an individual economy may be conducted along capitalistic lines to the most widely varying extent; parts of the economic provision may be organized capitalistically and other parts on the handicraft or the manorial pattern. Thus at a very early time the city of Genoa had a part of its political needs, namely those for the prosecution of war, provided in capitalistic fashion, through stock companies. In the Roman empire, the supply of the population of the capital city with grain was carried out by officials, who however for this purpose, besides control over their subalterns, had the right to command the services of transport organizations; thus the leiturgical or forced contribution type of organization was combined with administration of public resources. Today, in contrast with the greater part of the past, our everyday needs are supplied capitalistically, our political [276] needs however through compulsory contributions, that is, by the performance of political duties of citizenship such as the obligation to military service, jury duty, etc. A whole epoch can be designated as typically capitalistic only as the provision for wants is capitalistically organized to such a predominant degree that if we imagine this form of organization taken away the whole economic system must collapse.

While capitalism of various forms is met with in all periods of history, the provision of the everyday wants by capitalistic methods is characteristic of the occident alone and even here has been the inevitable method only since the middle of the 19th century. Such capitalistic beginnings as are found in earlier centuries were merely anticipatory, and even the somewhat capitalistic establishments of the 16th century may be removed in thought from the economic life of the time without introducing any overwhelming change.

The most general presupposition for the existence of this present-day capitalism is that of rational capital accounting as the norm for all large industrial undertakings which are concerned with provision for everyday wants. Such accounting involves, again, first, the appropriation of all physical means of production — land, apparatus, machinery, tools, etc. as disposable property of autonomous private industrial enterprises. This is a phenomenon known only to our time, when the army alone forms a universal exception to it. In the second place, it involves freedom of the market, that is, the absence of irrational limitations on trading in the market. Such limitations might be of a class character, if a certain mode of life were prescribed for a certain class or consumption were standardized along class lines, or if class monopoly existed, as for example if the townsman were not allowed to own an estate or the [277] knight or peasant to carry on industry; in such cases neither a free labor market nor a commodity market exists. Third, capitalistic accounting presupposes rational technology, that is, one reduced to calculation to the largest possible degree, which implies mechanization. This applies to both production and commerce, the outlays for preparing as well as moving goods.

The fourth characteristic is that of calculable law. The capitalistic form of industrial organization, if it is to operate rationally, must be able to depend upon calculable adjudication and administration. Neither in the age of the Greek city-state (polis) nor in the patrimonial state of Asia nor in western countries down to the Stuarts was this condition fulfilled. The royal “cheap justice” with its remissions by royal grace introduced continual disturbances into the calculations of economic life. The proposition that the Bank of England was suited only to a republic, not to a monarchy, referred to above (page 265) was related in this way to the conditions of the time. The fifth feature is free labor. Persons must be present who are not only legally in the position, but are also economically compelled, to sell their labor on the market without restriction. It is in contradiction to the essence of capitalism, and the development of capitalism is impossible, if such a propertyless stratum is absent, a class compelled to sell its labor services to live; and it is likewise impossible if only unfree labor is at hand. Rational capitalistic calculation is possible only on the basis of free labor; only where in consequence of the existence of workers who in the formal sense voluntarily, but actually under the compulsion of the whip of hunger, offer themselves, the costs of products may be unambiguously determined by agreement in advance. The sixth and final condition is the commercialization of economic life. By this we mean the general use of commercial [278] instruments to represent share rights in enterprise, and also in property ownership.

To sum up, it must be possible to conduct the provision for needs exclusively on the basis of market opportunities and the calculation of net income. The addition of this commercialization to the other characteristics of capitalism involves intensification of the significance of another factor not yet mentioned, namely speculation. Speculation reaches its full significance only from the moment when property takes on the form of negotiable paper.

Marshall Sahlins (1930-2021)

Marshall Sahlins, Stone Age Economics, 1972.

Chapter 1: The Original Affluent Society

If economics is the dismal science, the study of hunting and gathering economies must be its most advanced branch. Almost universally committed to the proposition that life was hard in the paleolithic, our textbooks compete to convey a sense of impending doom, leaving one to wonder not only how hunters managed to live, but whether, after all, this was living? The specter of starvation stalks the stalker through these pages. His technical incompetence is said to enjoin continuous work just to survive, affording him neither respite nor surplus, hence not even the “leisure” to “build culture.” Even so, for all his efforts, the hunter pulls the lowest grades in thermodynamics-less energy/capita/year than any other mode of production. And in treatises on economic development he is condemned to play the role of bad example: the so-called “subsistence economy.”

The traditional wisdom is always refractory. One is forced to oppose it polemically, to phrase the necessary revisions dialectically: in fact, this was, when you come to examine it, the original affluent society. Paradoxical, that phrasing leads to another useful and unexpected conclusion. By the common understanding, an affluent society is one in which all the people’s material wants are easily satisfied. To assert that the hunters are affluent is to deny then that the human condition is an ordained tragedy, with man the prisoner at hard labor of a perpetual disparity between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means.

For there are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be “easily satisfied” either by producing much or desiring little. The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way, makes assumptions peculiarly appropriate to market economies: that man’s wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although improvable: thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that “urgent goods” become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, departing from premises somewhat different from our own: that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty-with a low standard of living.

That, I think, describes the hunters. And it helps explain some of their more curious economic behavior: their “prodigality” for example-the inclination to consume at once all stocks on hand, as if they had it made. Free from market obsessions of scarcity, hunters’ economic propensities may be more consistently predicated on abundance than our own. Destutt de Tracy, “fish-blooded bourgeois doctrinaire” though he might have been, at least compelled Marx’s agreement on the observation that “in poor nations the people are comfortable,” whereas in rich nations “they are generally poor.”

This is not to deny that a preagricultural economy operates under serious constraints, but only to insist, on the evidence from modern hunters and gatherers, that a successful accomodation is usually made. After taking up the evidence, I shall return in the end to the real difficulties of hunting-gathering economy, none of which are correctly specified in current formulas of paleolithic poverty.

…………………………..

Free Access to Subsistence Land = Socialism

If Socialism is to be viewed as the antithesis of Capitalism, then the following must serve as foundational axioms of each. Socialism is a political system which allows (i.e., gives a right to a) free access to subsistence land. Capitalism is a political system which does not allow (i.e., forbids) a free access to subsistence land.

Why is this important? Because human beings are animals, and all animals must eat to live. And all animals get their food from their environment, as do all foraging human beings and those who have learned to cultivate their source of food. But with the establishment of States and industrial production, humans have been driven into cities, which Desmond Morris, in the following video views as Human Zoos.

Whether such laws allowing or denying free access to subsistence land are enacted by a single individual (a monarch, a dictator, a president, a prime minister) or a group (a parliament, a congress, a council) is irrelevant.

How power is exercised (i.e., who grants or denies this right) is a different question from whether you are granted this right or not. And one answer to this question of power is given by the word “democracy.” But I distinguish Mass Democracy in which thousands and millions vote for some official (as is practically a universal political practice), from Micro Democracy where the units of government are about 150 voters. A federated Micro Democracy is the ideal of theoretical Anarchism (as expounded, for example, in Proudhon’s The principle of federation, 1863.)

“We have everything but we have no money.”

All over the world there are people who live in small villages, grow their own food and raise animals for food as well. I am especially interested in how this is possible in eastern Europe. It is possible, of course, if one has access to free subsistence land. And, without the infrastructure of water pipes, gas pipes, or an electric grid, or a sewer system, this is comparable to living on a homestead in the 19th century American frontier. Water is obtained from wells or a spring, heating is by burning wood, and a toilet is an out-house.

I have previously posted: “A documentary of how an American lived for 6 weeks in a Ukrainian village”. This gives you a good feel of how such a life is lived in a Ukrainian village.

But I keep looking for other videos. Recently I watched the following video:

Village Life in Romania

What struck me and stuck in my brain in this video was the comment of an old woman living in a remote village. She said, “”We have everything but we have no money.” She did not mean this literally because she was receiving a small pension from the government. The way I interpret what she said is this: We have all the necessities for life, but we have no money for luxuries. By “luxuries” I mean to include all those things which lessen the burdens of living.

What has puzzled me about village life in eastern Europe is: What about property taxes?

I found the following facts about property taxes in Ukraine. Unlike the property taxes in the United States, and most of Europe, which are based on an assessment of the worth of your property on the real estate market, in Ukraine property taxes are based on the square meter of your dwelling. An apartment dwelling of 60 square meters (645.8 square feet) and a house of 120 square meters (1291.6 square feet) are not taxed at all. And each additional square meter is taxed at the rate of 1.5% of the minimum national living wage. [This is about $216 dollars a month; so, each additional square meter of space would cost about $3.24.] My house in Chicago is 121 square meters and the assessed property value in 2017 was $303,220. My property tax in 2017 was $5,772.80 (this is with an exemption for our ages). In Ukraine, my property tax would have been $3.24

In addition, according to Article 121 of the Ukrainian Land Code each citizen has a right to get land for free. [See: “How to get land in Ukraine for free?”]

So, at least in Ukraine, it is still possible to live without money.


You may be wondering why this an issue?

I view city-life as being precarious. What happens when the infra-structure collapses as it did in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in 2005:

In general, a city is a Technology Trap.

Three forms of slavery: chattel slavery, serfdom, and wage-slavery

 

 

Philosophers often use thought-experiments for the clarification and testing of theories. For example, to clarify and justify the present political institutions, philosophers appeal to a Social Contract. This is an imaginary agreement among an imaginary group of people with imaginary traits. Several years ago John Rawls wrote A Theory of Justice appealing to such a Social Contract.

A thought experiment is a species of hypothetical reasoning. It is the testing of a hypothesis under imaginary circumstances.

I propose to use a thought experiment concerning two individuals on an island, whom I will call Robinson Crusoe and Friday. And my task is to characterize the economic-political systems of slavery, feudalism, and capitalism as a relation between two individuals.

Slavery will exist if Crusoe forces Friday to do anything he wants him to do. Friday will fish, hunt, and gather plants. He will bring them to Crusoe and prepare and cook these things for him. He will build for Crusoe a hut, he will fetch water, and he will wipe Crusoe’s butt. Crusoe, in turn, will allow Friday to feed on the scraps which are left over. If Friday misbehaves, he will be punished by the whim of Crusoe.

Feudalism will exist if Crusoe lets Friday fend for himself on the island, i.e., Friday may build himself a shelter and keep a store of food for himself, provided that Friday brings to Crusoe a certain quantity of food, and does a certain amount of labor.  Crusoe will set up some form of punishment for non-compliance.

The creation of a capitalist situation on the island is initially puzzling to formulate because of mistaken definitions of what capitalism is.  A useful way of giving a definition is through the method of genus and difference. Capitalism is in the genus of trade: it is a market economy. But trade is just barter with or without money, and is well nigh universal.  It existed under slavery and under feudalism.

So called anarcho-capitalists say that capitalism is free trade under conditions of private property.  How will that be modeled in the Crusoe-Friday scenario? We can suppose that Crusoe and Friday have divided between themselves the island in half.  They do not trespass on each other, and periodically trade.  Crusoe is good at fishing, while Friday is good at gathering coconuts. There is an agreed division of labor and trade. This satisfies the anarcho-capitalist’s definition, but it is not the capitalism which socialists were objecting to. What is missing? Wage-labor.  So if there is to be “voluntary” labor by Friday for Crusoe, what possibly can induce Friday to work for Crusoe, given that they possess equal shares of the island?

One scenario is this. Crusoe has a rifle and there are feral pigs on the island. Using the rifle, it is easy to kill pigs. So, Crusoe makes a deal with Friday, allowing Friday to do all the pig hunting for the two of them.  As a result, Crusoe has leisure, while Friday does the work of hunting.

This, however, does not model historical capitalism. Why? Because under present day conditions of capitalism, if Friday does not enter into this agreement as a worker, he will become homeless and risk starvation. How can such a situation be modeled on the island? I can think of only one scenario. Crusoe claims the whole island as his private possession, and Friday is welcome on the island on the condition that he will work for Crusoe. What is the alternative for Friday if he refuses? He is compelled to leave the island in whatever way he can manage, and risk the perils of the sea.  Alternatively, Friday can, of course, trespass without Crusoe’s permission; but if caught, there will be punishment.

So, Friday is forced into working for Crusoe because he does not have free  access to subsistence land on the island.  This, as I see it, is the difference which must be added to the genus of trade in order to define capitalism per genus and differentia.

Why I have no strategy for bringing about significant changes

In my last blog I said that I have no strategy for realizing my ideals. Here I want to explain why I said this. A government can be changed either peacefully or violently. First to do either, there must exist some group of people who want a change. Next that group of people must get organized. Well, historically this happened in the United States in 1861 in the South which formed the Confederate States which seceded from the Union. The “decider” — President Abraham Lincoln — did not allow this to happen. And as Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, he decided to “quell this rebellion.” Formally, this was not a civil war, but a domestic insurrection. Perhaps some other person as President would have allowed the secession to take place. As example, the Soviet Union dissolved peacefully under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev.

So, one way to get out of a bad government is by secession. But it depends on who is the “decider” whether this will be allowed. Most countries (especially under monarchs or dictators) are imperialistic; trying to gain and to control more and more territory, as is documented by the endless wars in recorded history. And colonies are let go only after much fighting. We have the example of the British colonies in America rebelling and seceding from England; or India getting independence from England.

Any domestic rebellion in the United States would be immediately crushed by the overwhelming force of the police and the military. Good examples of this are the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and the Pullman Strike of 1894. In both cases federal troops were used to pacify the situation. The former by orders of President Hayes; the latter by orders of President Cleveland.

My point is that it is impossible to do anything in the United States against the will of the President. Why? Because he is in charge of soldiers who will carry out his orders. Remember, people will do almost anything for money, that is, do their “job.” And neither policemen nor soldiers are exceptions.

Ok, so what is the peaceful strategy for changing the government or its policies? All the “deciders” in government are elected officials. The rest of the civil servants do the will of these elected “deciders”, except for the Supreme Court whose members are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate, and who can be removed only by impeachment.

Changing the government under the US Constitution would require an Amendment to the Constitution, something which is extremely difficult to do. So, the only practical strategy is to elect trustworthy and benevolent politicians. Good luck!

Given that the United States has Mass or Macro Democracy, by which I mean that thousands or millions of people vote to elect a candidate. And in order to persuade the voters to vote for a candidate, it requires lots of advertisement. And advertisement costs lots of money. And the higher the office, the more money required. [e.g., in the 2020 presidential race, Donald Trump and Joe Biden together spent $1.3 billion.] So only either the wealthy, or the friends of the wealthy get elected. Therefore, the government of the United States is controlled by the wealthy. There are exceptions, but so what? It only gives the illusion of the possibility of change for the better.

I think it was the Presidency of Barack Obama which created the greatest disillusionment in American people for their government. Here was a black pied piper promising change, but who led us lemmings over the cliff.

Chris Hedges “The Legacy Of Barack Obama Has Been The Near Collapse Of The Left!”

Given the above considerations, leaves me with no acceptable strategies for any political changes.