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Politics, free trade, violence

As some of you probably know, SF author, biologist, (and friend of mine) Peter Watts was charged a couple of months ago with assaulting a US border patrol officer. The case has now come to trial and Peter has been found guilty of obstruction, for failing to get on the floor immediately when told to do so after being punched in the face a couple of times. The more serious charge — that Peter had assaulted the officer in question directly — was thrown out of court. But failure to immediately and unquestioningly obey any order by a border patrol officer is apparently "obstruction", which in turn is a subset of "assault", carrying a maximum 2-year prison sentence. (Being incapacitated — for example, due to being dazed due to having been beaten up — is not, it seems, a mitigating factor.)

The problem behind this unjust and bizarre mess is buried a couple of layers deep.

Given: the assault (on Peter Watts, by the Border Patrol) shouldn't have happened. Nor should he have been charged, much less tried and convicted of assault in the opposite direction. Nor should failure to immediately and unquestioningly obey an order after being punched in the face be a crime — any kind of crime.

But there's a more alarming moral to be drawn here.

I note with some alarm that the saucepan of free international travel we've been swimming frog-like in for decades is now steaming.

It's not just the USA where border agencies have quietly acquired vast, unaccountable, and draconian powers. Here in the UK, the government is responding to anti-immigration sentiment by erecting a near-iron curtain around all ports and airports, monitoring all traffic, and dealing harshly with anyone who wants to travel for reason other than tourism or business. Ditto most of the EU (within the EU things are as different as they are within the United States, for much the same reason — it's a free trade/movement zone). The barriers are going up all around the developed world, and while the spikes are intended to point outward, other developed world travellers get caught on them. (I'm not just thinking of Peter Watts here; in SF fandom there's also the case of Cheryl Morgan. Just off the cuff, among friends of mine.)

Capital can flow freely, but labour is in shackles world-wide.

If you don't see a very specific political subtext here (being sold to the voting masses on the back of crude xenophobia and racism), let me be more explicit: labour wants to migrate where working conditions and pay are best. Capital wants to invest for growth where working conditions and pay are worst.

By penning us (the labour) in, capital can maintain, for a while, the wage imbalances that maximize profit. (Take raw material. Process as cheaply as possible. Sell for as much as possible.) In the long term, it's unsustainable — labour in the high-cost developed world is taking a hammering due to being uncompetitive, and wages will be forced down until it is competitive, while labour costs in the developing world are skyrocketing. It'll end when American and EU wages meet in the middle with Chinese and Indian wages ... unless American, EU, Chinese, and Indian wage-earners are forced to recalibrate their expectations against the DRC or Somalia.

f you don't think this affects you, if you don't think you're on the same side of the barricades as the sweatshop workers in Bangladesh and the marine biologists in Toronto, you're deluded; unless you've got a seven-digit trust fund to dine out on, the tidal flow of globalized capital is running against your class interests.

Welcome to the future that globalized capitalism has bought for us (and see also the vital, pressing need for election funding reform in the USA, which is the pivot on which this whole mess revolves). I'm beginning to think that, regardless of his prescription, Karl Marx's diagnosis of the crisis of capitalism was spot on the money. And crap like this is going to keep happening as long as we're workers first and citizens last.



I had a rambling, incoherent response, but it boiled down to, "Yeah, what he said!" So I'll pretty much stick with that.

Interestingly, I don't think it'll end the way you describe -- I think there will be water wars before that happens. Maybe I'm just optimistic.

Over the course of my lifetime, I've watched the politics of my country work real hard at eliminating the middle class -- the gap between what I earn and a few percentage points down the line is scary. And going up a percentage point (from 95% to 96%) is something like a couple hundred thousand.

What happened to Watts is disgusting. I hadn't thought about tying it to economics, but it is there, isn't it?


Just after I finished your article, my wife suggest that since the kids aren't here we should go to the bedroom and do some fun grownup stuff. I told her, "No thanks dear, I don't need sex. I just read Charlie Stross' latest analysis of world politics."

Yes. It was that good. Completely fucking brilliant. I think I'll have a cigarette and go to sleep now.

Have you considered running for office?


I didn't want to drag Naomi Klein's disaster capitalism hypothesis into this -- she's somewhat divisive and many folks have already decided that she's Wrong, so it's a good way of closing down discussion. But there's something to be said for that, too.

When wages are depressed, consumption goes down. So if corporations want to keep selling shit, they need to seek markets other than the traditional middle-class consumers. Governments have deep pockets. Ergo, sell to them. There's a reason the prisons industry is booming; it costs $100,000 a year to keep a man in prison in the USA, but average wages are under $50,000 a year, so the same man can be a better profit source as a prisoner than as a wage earner.


I think most of us always knew what was wrong with capitalism, though the bad stuff can hit maxima and minima. However, no one has really come up with a great prescription for its ills. But we can still do better than what we have least I pray we can.

An optimist thinks this is the best of all worlds; a pessimist fears this is true.


Another contributing effect is the tendency for stupid, frightened people to support totalitarian governments, confident that the government will never abuse its power to harm citizens/white people/members of $RELIGION/whatever, and for politicians to exploit the stupid, frightened people to get elected. (We will not discuss how other politicians exploit stupid, idealistic people. Take it as given.) This is part of breaking a populace apart into interest groups, where the separate groups are appealed to individually. (A parliamentary system can expose these groups as separate parties, where the jockeying in a two-party system may not be casually visible.) As a politician, it is not hard to appeal to e.g. both the xenophobes and the financial industry, because their interests don't conflict much.

The idea that draconian border control can appeal to both the xenophobes and big business may be true whether or not it is required to explain current events.


Capitalism, when it's small and local and employee owned, isn't too bad. It's when the guy who takes all the profit never has to look anyone but his accountant in the eye that you get the really evil stuff happening. The problem comes when you realize that the people who are most successful at small scale capitalism by their nature graduate to large scale capitalism, and the further they get from the shop floor, the worse things get.

There is hope though. Just as Marx was pretty good at figuring out what is wrong with capitalism, he also had a sharp insight when he linked the economic system to the means of production. We just have to keep the world from destroying itself long enough to see the next revolution in production, and then survive the ensuing upheavals and reprisals of a dying system, and after that things will look different. Hopefully better, too.


A couple of legal comments on the side:

  • Our Gracious Host is concerned that "Being incapacitated — for example, due to being dazed due to having been beaten up — is not, it seems, a mitigating factor." Well, it is and it isn't.
    On the one hand, incapacitation is a factor that must be considered (both constitutionally and under the Michigan statute) in setting the sentence; it's thus a bit premature. The judge could, within his discretion, give a "time served" sentence under these circumstances if he's convinced that although what the jury did was permissible (that is, convict), on balance they shouldn't have done so.
    On the other hand, it wasn't a mitigating factor as to obedience per se, because that's a matter of purely prosecutorial discretion: What charge to bring. To be mitigating, Mr Watts would have had to prove not just that his incapacitation caused some delay or made it difficult to comply; he would have had to prove that his incapacitation was so severe that he could not possibly have complied.
    The above has nothing whatsoever to do with:
    • whether that's what the law should be in general, or in these circumstances;
    • whether the prosecutor abused his/her prosecutorial discretion in bringing these charges as they were brought, or indeed any charges at all;
    • whether Mr Watts may have a proper counterclaim for malicious prosecution for the assault, since he was acquitted and the court proceedings as relayed to outsiders seems to indicate that it was an abuse of discretion to prosecute at all, let alone as a felony, on the assault charge;
    • whether Mr Watts has valid grounds for appeal;
    • or whether Mr Watts has any other valid grounds for a counterclaim that could make life miserable for the authorities so that he is offered an expungement,
    are matters left for another time and forum. I am only trying to explain the context.
  • If I may disagree slightly with Our Gracious Host: I think he has hit on one of the several factors that inform immigration and visitation policy. I do not think that the capital flow/labor movement distinction is a primary, or even secondary, explanation... although it is almost certainly the explanation that will most closely touch anyone who reads his blog. Both historically and presently, certain subtle and not-so-subtle varieties of racism are far more dominant (consider, to hit very close to Our Gracious Host's home, current Edinburgh University admissions policies, when there isn't even a recognized border to protect!). Historically and excrutiatingly currently, lip service to "national security" is more dominant in immigration and visitation policy.
    The labor/capital flow distinction matters, but only in a detailed level; in particular, Cheryl Morgan's recent problems at a detail level are best explained that way. The labor/capital flow distinction must be acknowledged. However, immigration cannot be properly reformed by making the labor/capital flow distinction a part of eliminating racism and illusory national security concerns from immigration policy.
  • 8:

    There's a reason the prisons industry is booming; it costs $100,000 a year to keep a man in prison in the USA, but average wages are under $50,000 a year, so the same man can be a better profit source as a prisoner than as a wage earner.

    Yes, but where does that money come from?
    Supposedly, Federal Reserve made up 1.34 trillion dollars in 2009 to finance US deficit.

    If the population is going to get less well off, and the standard of living will go down, where will the tax money come from? Corporations pay taxes only if they can't avoid it. At least in the US, income tax revenues have been dropping for a long time.

    There is a whole set of programs in SAP designed to allow creative accounting that ships profits off somewhere else.



    As a member of a third world country, namely, Bangladesh, this post really resonated with me.

    The saddest fact is that our world was much 'freer' for travel during my father's time than it is in mine. And although I am an agnostic, having a name like Monwar Hussain and being dark-brown really doesn't help. My US travel visa application got rejected in 25 seconds, and I think they allowed me those seconds to justify the 200 dollar price-tag. :S

    How long do you think this will last? Terrorism, the burgeoning second and third world and economics... are just these the reasons? Is, as George Friedman of Stratfor says, this proactive fear going to be any good for the West?

    Thank you for this post. :)


    Looking from outside of the (should "the" be here? always have trouble with articles) First World and from the other angle of sight: free move of labor from places with worse conditions to places with better ones is bad for those places where conditions is worse. Why? Because best people leave the country. The "best" here means better education, the professional and cultural development level. Due such selection, the level of the development of the society composed from those who stay at home declines. They definitely can't progress at par with better places and even can get troubles with sustaining of the existing industry and infrastructure. And while the gap widening (probably even following the exponential law) they have less products to trade with better places.

    The effect from free capital movement is opposite: it makes worse places better. Creates jobs, rises local wages level etc.

    Being a kind of latent libertarian I taking the side of the exponent and the personal freedom, including the freedom to move to places with better working conditions, but it can be not the best choice for Doing Good For All People of the World...


    Is it not also the case that within certain limitations,immigration is useful for keeping wages down, and in the case of London, apparently staffing all the dead end late night jobs which nevertheless need doing in a capitalist economy (And many of which would hardly be needed in a hypothetical communist or socialist economy). Furthermore it also provides new out groups to enable divide and rule.


    A few years ago people could freely cross the Canada-U.S. border. No passport was needed. If any ID was requested, a library card would do.

    Now there's passport requirements, and thugs to greet you. It's not just security; it's protectionism. Many people who crossed the border to work are no longer allowed to do so.

    From durham wheat to softwood lumber to livestock to manufactured goods, the U.S. increasingly refuses to honor NAFTA.

    In recent years Canada has refused to join the U.S. in a "common securty perimeter", Gulf War II and a continental missile defence system.

    I'm sorry, I disagree with the gist of this article. While globalism helped define the last century, so far this century we're heading away from it at a full run - at least on the Canada-U.S. border.

    Canada *is* working on a free trade deal with the EU. Some labor mobility agreements have already been signed as part of the negotiations. These allow oil workers and other professionals to work on either side of the Atlantic. Coming soon, Canadian companies will be able to bid on EU government contracts, and vice versa. Far from putting labour in shackles, they're removing the shackles even before the trade bits are in place.


    It would seem to me that globalization means the jobs and all else (products, education, Internet) come to you where you are, so you're increasingly less likely to find the grass far greener on the other side of the fence. The third world's best and brightest don't need to leave loved ones, and disconnect from building up their countries, in order to find good and challenging careers since employers are setting up there to take advantage of lower wages, and meanwhile there are fewer unsupportably-high-wage jobs in developed countries and thus less demand for immigration.

    Then too, if you're worried about the amount of CO2 planes belch out, or how fast they can spread a disease like SARS halfway across the world, or passengers wearing the wrong kind of underwear, maybe a scaling back in travel was in the cards anyway.


    @10 The situation with labor movement is somewhat more complicated than that. Yes, there is a "brain drain" effect as the most highly-skilled people move to places where they can be paid more, but people also have social ties. Overseas workers are often a substantial source of capital and investment for the country they left (see remittances).

    Also, one shouldn't overestimate people's desire to move permanently. In the US, for instance, there are a lot of people from Mexico who come up to work for a time, and then go back home, taking their wages with them, and use them to improve the local economy.

    There is a school of thought in economics, to which I mostly subscribe, that we should be actively encouraging temporary labor movements even if we might want to keep somewhat limiting permanent labor movements. The temporary worker from another country is good for everyone: the richer country gets an eager, willing worker who absorbs surge need in the economy without taking up a full-time ongoing job, and the poorer country gets a returning richer citizen with more skills and training and exposure to a more mature market (and sometimes legal) system.


    I know this is ancient history, but I did not even have a passport when I went to Canada in 1987, 1993 and 1994. It would never have occurred to me that I needed one and I had absolutely no problems, just answered questions about sea mammal products and the like. Sad to think that for a few years we were relatively free and had no Cold War existential threat. Sadder to think that we were more free in the Cold War. I always though 9/11 was a joke compared to the whole nuclear annihilation thing I grew up with, but that would be heresy to express openly in the current climate.


    Russ, between 2003 and 2007 about a million Poles moved to the UK -- mostly young, talented, and highly skilled. They wanted to earn in the high-paid west, and there were jobs for them -- but from 2008 onwards, most of them departed. The economy is in the shitter and barely surfacing, and if you're going to be unemployed, you might as well do it at home.

    It turns out that only 10-20% actually wanted to emigrate; the rest were working overseas to accumulate caputal before returning to their families.


    Charlie @ 16: That's a pretty common pattern. Despite the national myth here in the US that immigrants and settlers came to start a new life in freedom, many just came to earn a quick buck and return home to buy the nicest house in their village.

    The US has always been a bit tough on border control -- the old quotas, for example. On the previously relatively small populations of Mexico and Canada didn't make us worry too much.

    Now, however, we have the fear of terrorists added to the fear of immigrants. It makes for a potent political mix that gives border guards delusions of grandeur. Anyone who doesn't agree with them must be an Anti-American criminal & terrorist lover who wants American babies to get blown up and their parents jobs taken by foreigners.


    I think you have missed the mark in blaming global capitalism as a problem per se, and a factor in the status of border patrol.

    It isn't capitalism that is the problem, it is corporatism. We have allowed corporations to increasingly control government and their response has been to determine how globalism capitalism works.

    Regarding border patrol, it isn't just this branch that is the problem. We (as in US, UK, etc) have granted powers to policing/military authorities that have resulted in them becoming increasingly immune to any consequences of wrongdoing.

    This seems remarkably similar to the rise of fascism in interwar Europe to me, but I could be off the mark there too.

    OTOH, was there ever a time that authorities weren't abusive to citizens, especially those considered "them" rather than "us"? I think there is a certain rose tinted spectacles view that authorities used to be "kinder and gentler" in the past. I don't think that was so.


    What did happen to Cheryl Morgan? I looked up her blog but she only refers to it obliquely.

    This whole Watts incident is infuriating - The US regularly does this kind of thing to European celebrities and I have to assume we only hear of it when it's a famous person involved. Makes one wish never to have to visit the place.


    Somebody should bring a Castells-like interpretation into the mix, but I'm to lazy for that at the moment (his network society/information age triology has some interesting things to say about the reasons why there is no real global labour market - and of course, downplays the role of states in favor of networks).


    "Sadder to think that we were more free in the Cold War."

    Ah, but in the cold war, capitalists thought they had rivals - so they had to moderate things, a bit. Once it was over they didn't need to be so cautious. The value of a bit of healthy competition!


    Let me just point out: opening the borders to free migration is the free market, capitalist policy.

    Your argument isn't with capitalism, but with a political system that lets the current crop of economic incumbents rig the rules in their favor with anti-capitalist regulations and restrictions.


    As Alex suggests, "we" have the best "capitalism" money can buy. (Where the buyers are a bunch of competing profit maximizers of different sizes (probably with a power law distribution of sizes), but still.)
    Labor/capital mobility differences are just one aspect of the competitive environment.


    The USA is too far gone to serve as a positive actor in the world for the foreseeable future. Given the USSC's recent corporate advertising ruling, even modest electoral funding reform would take a revolution.

    The only way any the rest of the developed world will can avoid converging to a common wage level with China is to decouple ideologically and financially from the United States.

    The Americans will not stop pushing until everyone else has been impoverished. Plan accordingly.


    This might sound stupid, but I don't understand greed. By nature I'm not a greedy person. As far as money goes I'm only interested in making enough to support my family (in a middle-class lifestyle) and am simply confused by people that have (what looks to me) a pathological desire to make more money (or status - same difference sort of right?) than they need.
    Greed is the root of the money and capitalism issue - right?
    I'm not clueless. I have theories (and they're quite involved. So much so that I don't want to parade them around in Charlies soapbox), but what's the deal? Why is enough not enough?


    Also, I forgot to mention: You're dead wrong about who's on what side of the fence. Most of the economy isn't low-skill low-wage jobs like manufacturing. A majority of developed-world businesses would gain more than they lose from open borders, because they'd have cheaper access to high-skilled workers in the developed world.

    The fence is there to protect the workers in the developed world from unwanted competition, not the corporations.


    AndrewG@17: half of Puerto Rico (and their ever more intermixed descendents) now lives in the continental United States. Considering that Puerto Rico is a very nice and rather rich place, you might want to avoid proclaiming common patterns where there aren't.

    Charlie, with all due respect, I think you've got this confused. Unless I'm confused! Which is common. There seem to be two mistakes in your economic analysis and one in the political one.

    First, most services still aren't tradable, even ones you might think should be. (My wife is a radiologist ... liability law does a great job of keeping image-reading from being exported to anyone who hasn't either trained at a U.S. school or performed at least a couple years residency in the United States.) Roofers and barbers and nurses (and radiologists!) have every reason in the world to oppose immigration.

    Second, in the absence of migration, wages don't have to converge to the same level. Unit labor costs have to --- well, in theory ought to --- converge to the same level. That isn't the same thing as wage convergence, since productivity varies wildly across countries, even in well-understood manufacturing industries with low skill requirements and technologies in which labor and capital are not easily substitutable.

    Finally, the political mistake is that Americans really couldn't care less about migration from Canada. (Sure, in theory there could be a secondary migration; in practice it ain't happening.) The insane tightening of that border is a form of security theater writ large; total stupid paranoia.

    Of course, I could be wrong, or I could be misunderstanding you. (The great thing about my job is how it beats the ego out of you!) But as it stands, this post seems more than a little off-base.


    Ding! You just said "cheaper access to high-skilled workers".

    But you can already get that access without importing the labour; you just export the work. See also "outsourcing".


    Noel, you might be being a bit US-centric in your reading of this post. (Have you looked into what it takes to get a Green Card or citizenship in the US lately? Or what it takes -- as of the past two years -- to get permanent residence status in the UK?)

    It's getting a lot harder to migrate, and less safe even to travel. The terrorism paranoia is a flimsy excuse at best, one that takes perpetual re-inflammation to keep going. So why's it happening?


    Noel @ 27: Puerto Rico has the highest population density in the US apart from DC. It also has a rather high crime rate and high unemployment. Added to that they are already US citizens, so it's really more migration than immigration/emigration.

    The same thing happened with Bermuda and the smaller Caribbean Islands historically. Once they "filled" people were forced to migrate to other British colonies.

    For countries with plenty of room and opportunity at home (such as Poland today, or Italy, Germany and Scandinavia in the past) this does not apply.


    From durham wheat to softwood lumber to livestock to manufactured goods, the U.S. increasingly refuses to honor NAFTA.

    That's been the case pretty much from when we signed the deal, actually.

    Check back through the records, and you'll find lots of instances where the US levied tariffs on Canadian hoods that were later found to be against NAFTA and illegal, but then refused to repay them.



    Capital wants to invest where returns are highest.


    Cheryl was turned back in San Francisco and will probably never be able to come to the US again.


    Have to admit, can't really buy the economic angle here. Just say it as 'Capital wants', and it sounds initially plausible, and it's certainly the kind of thing I'd like to believe, but think about it a bit longer, and I don't think it quite adds up.

    You'd need something like Chinese factory owners bribing American Senators to pass restrictive laws to prevent their workers leaving for higher wages. But Capitalism is an emergent system, not merely a conspiracy of capitalists. And in any case, it will be quite a while before the supply of fresh rural Chinese labour dried up.

    I suspect the truth is simpler: China, while it's come a long way in the last 20 years, is still the most repressive large society ever to have developed an industrialised market economy (at least since the 19C British empire). Globalisation is pretty inevitably going to transfer some of that repression outwards, so the shooting of a trade unionist or environmental activist in Xinjiang gets transferred, via the miracle of efficient market forces, to a wage cut or beating 10 thousand miles away.


    Charlie@29: "It's getting a lot harder to migrate, and less safe even to travel ... So why's it happening?"

    I wouldn't necessarily assume that the two phenomena have the same cause? Migration restrictions have been piling up since the 1990s, with the exception of the expiration of limits on Eastern European emigration to the rest of the E.U. That comes after a period of liberalization, but that follows a long slow aggregation of restrictions that started in the 1880s and didn't really turn around until the 1960s.

    The travel problems, meanwhile, pretty much all date to the period after 9-11.

    The cause of anti-immigration sentiment, I think, is pretty obvious: rising wage inequality. The data is at best unclear as to immigration's actual contribution to rising inequality, but it doesn't surprise me that people would be more opposed to it when the fear of sliding down the economic ladder is chest-clutching and real.

    The cause of travel insanity, the kind of stuff that trapped Mr. Watts, is also obvious, I think: you've mentioned it yourself! Security theater, writ large. Tough angry border patrol officers make some chunk of the citizenry feel safer ... and most of the rest don't give a rat's ass.

    One thing to think about is that the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, always a good barometer of plutocratic opinion, has long championed free migration. They seem to think that profits would rise more from having more cheap labor in the United States than they would fall from having that labor leave their home countries.

    That same paper hasn't seen a security measure that it didn't like.


    Andrew@30, read Hatton and Williamson for a good overview. Parts of Scandinavia were virtually depopulated during the period of greatest emigration, and more people of German descent reside in the United States than in Germany. Consider my last name!

    Don't overgeneralize.


    The free movement of people and capitalism had unpleasant long-term consequences in Sri Lanka and Fiji. Both had large immigrant populations from Tamil Nadu, India by British capitalism. Decades later, this has led to a vicious civil war in Sri Lanka. Fiji has had a series of military coups over the same issue, and could build up to a civil war if sufficiently stoked with weapons.

    OK, those were in the days before air travel. Charlie @16, you said that the Poles went home because if you're going to be unemployed, you might as well do it at home. Works in the EU where every member state has a decent welfare net. In the Solomon islands, immigration brought on by economic upturn has now led to yet more fighting because being unemployed is close to a life or death issue.

    Which is not to say I'm in favour of massive restrictions on international travel, but historically it hasn't always been to the benefit of societies.


    Hmm, why does movement of people around as in settling them in Fiji or Sri Lanka remind me of the Roman and others policies of moving disaffected tribes to different places?
    Ultimately we have a global 'free' market in which the powerful bend laws and cultures to their aims, and at the moment the vast disparities in development make that much easier. Eventually in theory everywhere will be developed, then what will they do?*

    *Although chances are we might have run out of planet by then.



    To be mitigating, Mr Watts would have had to prove not just that his incapacitation caused some delay or made it difficult to comply; he would have had to prove that his incapacitation was so severe that he could not possibly have complied.

    To elaborate slightly, in many municipalities in the U.S., "failure to comply" is a crime no matter the ability or the intent of the person being ordered to do so. If you can't put your hands behind your head for medical reasons, say acute tendonitis, or if you have difficulty understanding the orders, say acute tinnitus, it doesn't matter, for the simple reason that these laws as written do not make that distinction. And this is - so I am informed - intentional. You get roughed up by the police for no reason, perhaps sustain injuries that require medical treatment? Well, you get a "failure to comply" or "resisting arrest" charge slapped on to anything else that may have been entered onto the police blotter. Then, after the initial charges are summarily dismissed because of their blatant falsity, you're still convicted, as these laws as written are both broad and vague and can mean anything the police/prosecutor want them to mean.

    This is done, my lawyer acquaintance avers, to make it nearly impossible to successfully sue the police, municipality, or state for any sort of compensatory or punitive damages. Btw, he has gone over the years from thinking that this is a terrible, unconscionable thing to reluctantly believing that it is a rather distasteful necessity, due to the quality of the people law enforcement attracts and retains.

    Think of this as the 21st century equivalent of those little two-bit towns in the days of yore that survived on speed traps.



    I think you have missed the mark in blaming global capitalism as a problem per se, and a factor in the status of border patrol.

    It isn't capitalism that is the problem, it is corporatism. We have allowed corporations to increasingly control government and their response has been to determine how globalism capitalism works.

    I recall a lot of cyberpunk written in the 80's that had corporate states as a prominent feature of the cultural/economic landscape and whose machinations frequently drove a lot of the plot. Back then, it all seemed kinda cool, like smoking non-American cigarettes.

    Doesn't seem so cool now though. I suspect these sorts of corporate governance models rely on a pool of young able-bodied workers, simply because even the middle-aged can't hack the requirements. Slow down in the slightest, or acquire ridiculous encumbrances like, God forbid, a family, and you go under.


    We need more people realising this - the so-called free market is not really a free market, it is a market which is relatively free for capital but it is growing ever more restrictive for labour.

    A truly freed market would be radically different to the current state - not only would labour would be free to move, but it would also be less dependent upon capitalists.


    Charlie@3: According to Wikipedia the median income of men who work full time was $45,113 in 2007 and for women it was $35,102. I think that the median is more relevant than the mean in this case. Prisoners are mostly taken from the less affluent half of society and therefore have less than a $45,110 income.

    Of course if they really wanted to make money from prisoners they would try to imprison more women, I expect that female prisoners make better call-centre workers than male prisoners as well as typically earning less money when free.



    Somalia is a truly freed market. It's also one of the worst places in the world to live.


    I don't want to be a dick, but "according to Wikipedia" means essentially nothing. Wikipedia is not a reliable source of information for a wide variety of reasons. No statements based on data found in Wikipedia can be considered reliable statements unless verified by other, outside, reliable, primary sources. I'm not even going to get into discussing your claims -- I'm just begging the world: stop citing Wikipedia. It is never appropriate. Even when the information is correct, it is not appropriate to cite Wikipedia, but the primary source.


    Larry @ 22:
    I find it impossible to believe in your perfect freedom loving theory of capitalism as being both manageable or sustainable. This is free market capitalist propaganda. A perfectly deregulated world, with no government oversight to barrier the flow of capitalism?
    Where have I read some of the outcomes of this. Let me see...
    Oh yes, the amusing yet wonderfully envisioned duo by Frederick Pohl and Cyril M Kornbluth, "The Space Merchants" and "The Merchant's War". While both novels speak directly to consumerism, I have yet to see a way to truly divorce rampant consumerism from the free market capital worldview and in some ways it seems to be an inevitable evolution of this structure.

    I'll leave aside my views of the questionable level of 'success' in newly deregulated markets, and even their stability over time, as being entirely aside to our host's gracious purpose here.


    Of course this raises the question is there any complex human system which is "both manageable or sustainable" and how are "manageable or sustainable" defined? And I would like to point out that as long as government is democratically elected it is possible for voters to vote for policies which some might consider as consumerist. My point is that this is all very complex and we should avoid being overly simplistic. We should also be very careful with our terminology. Already in this discussion I have seen terms used in ways which are not compatible and thus I am concerned that there is the appearance of more disagreement than might actually be the case.


    Cheryl explains the problem in this post
    She's trapped in the bureaucracy.


    I hope Krugman reads this and mentions something about it on Sunday at FDL.

    Given that one of his big things is economic geography he ought to have something to say -- although being a not entirely typical (but still pretty typical) free-trader, he's not likely to see it this way.


    Jonathan: I think that Wikipedia is an adequate reference for less serious discussions and that it's better than citing no references at all (as most people do). See the above URL for more of my thoughts on this issue.

    The "Earnings" section of the above URL has the numbers I cited. It took my 2 mouse clicks to get this from the Wikipedia page.



    My sympathies to your friend Peter, and to you. It's really demoralizing, being the protagonist in a story by Kafka. And seeing it happen to someone you know can rock your world-view pretty badly.

    But sometimes the surface is all there is. Think about the history of the founders of what became the USA -- the puritans. They were paranoid to start with, they believed that their leaders had authority from God, and then they were persecuted and attacked. These things persist in the culture. The American attitude to authority and American xenophobia are quite different to the British kinds. And the fearfulness is increasing as the population ages.


    Jonathan, as a general warning, you're correct, but applying it to a Wikipedia article citing the US Census Bureau as a source? You're looking like a dick from here.


    Your comment about Poles in the UK reminded me of a quote from the American composer Virgil Thomson, explaining why he stayed in Paris through most of the Great Depression--"I said to my friends that if I was going to starve, I might as well starve where the food is good."

    This might be viewed as a counterexample to the principle illustrated by the migrating Poles, but there were certainly more factors than economics involved in Thomson's case. As a homosexual man in the years before Stonewall, he might simply have found Paris a more tolerant place than most American cities would have been. Then too, the face that his Parisian circle of friends included such figures as Jean Cocteau, Igor Stravinsky, James Joyce, Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein (who wrote the libretti for two of Thomson's operas) surely didn't hurt.

    Returning to the topic of your original post, your economic analysis makes sense to me as a hypothesis; I'd be interested to see the responses of professional economists like Paul Krugman or Brad DeLong. As far as the b.s. that's gone down in connection with Peter Watts and Cheryl Morgan (not to mention the entry hassles of such people as Abbas Kiarostami, M.I.A. and others much less famous), every time I read about this sort of thing I feel like I need to re-read Norman Spinrad's Russian Spring to confirm whether his vision of a neo-fascist future U.S.A. matches current events as closely as I suspect it might (minus "Battlestar America", of course).


    Just commenting on Stross@3, since I already told Peter Watts and Cheryl Morgan what I thought, on their respective blogs: It seems an incomplete model that most people in a Capitalist society are pigeonholed into being one of (extracted from above OP and comments:
    (1) friend of mine (Our Gracious Host is his own friend, too);
    (2) officer of a draconian border agency;
    (3) tourist;
    (4) businessperson;
    (5) other developed world traveller;
    (6) someone with seven-digit trust fund to dine out on;
    (7) sweatshop workers in Bangladesh;
    (8) Karl Marx;
    (9) vanishing middle class;
    (10) kids;
    (11) people running for office;
    (12) politicians;
    (13) prisoner;
    (14) wage earner;
    (15) someone engaged in Terrorism;
    (16) judge;
    (17) juror;
    (18) immigrants and settlers;
    (19) other persons in policing/military authorities;
    (20) capitalists;
    (21) a fascist;
    (22) a dick;
    (23) member of disaffected tribes;
    (24) lawyer;
    (25) free-traders;
    (26) protagonist in a story by Kafka;
    (27) Puritans;
    (28) professional economists.

    I may have missed some. But is that the only kind of actors in the global system of intelligent agents? Because “If one tries to stuff pigeons into pigeonholes, and there are more pigeons than there are
    pigeonholes, then at least one hole is shared by multiple pigeons.� This can be easily generalized the the case where there are infinitely many pigeons, which is the version we will use: If one tries to stuff infinitely many pigeons into a finite number of pigeonholes, then at least one hole is occupied by infinitely many pigeons.

    Surely there's more to the world than this? We are all creative people here. Is there more that we can deduce?


    Ah, the good old "his face assaulted my fist" charge?

    Nothing, absolutely nothing, demonstrates the abusability of powers and need for proper oversight and accountability, than giving them to a police-force. (Or worse a quasi-police-force.)

    Every single time.


    Where did my earlier post vanish to?


    Sorry Charlie, but Marx was WRONG.
    Does NOT mean "capitalism" or especially corporate capitalism is right though.
    Or desireable, or comfortable.

    We have petty, vicious little minor officials here, also, who relish their spite and power, and it is definitely getting worse, and it is not just the Bodrer/Immigration people.
    We have something called PCSO's in England, and they appear to be uniformly composed of what my father's generation would have called: "proper little pocket 'itlers".

    As for vicious border guards, I suggest that people remember what the DDR Grenzpolizei were like.
    I do remember them - NOT nice to know.
    What I want to know is WHY US guards are now behaving almost as badly as their communist predecessors?


    Greg #54 - you will of course be cheered to learn that a lot of PCSO's are moving into the police after enjoying the job enough that the police looks like a nicer long term option. Add that to asking what kind of person likes doing the modern policing job, beset as it is with managerialism and suchlike.


    Craig@25, we are both beta males, who just want to have a nice life. Alpha males have to show they are the best and have the best. Hence the need for bling, surgery-"enhanced" women and brandy at £200 a glass. Caviar sturgeon are rapidly becoming extinct because the rich need to eat stuff that is rarer to prove they are special alpha++. It tastes better if you know its endangered, apparently

    We need alpha and beta males just like salmon do, because the alphas are more likely to crash and burn and the betas are better at surviving.

    Off topic-ish, this reminds me of the Open Letter to Laura Schlessinger

    "Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?"

    Can we mention here the capitalist underpinnings of the drugs trade that have destroyed parts of Mexico and most of the US's "backyard"? The prison industry benefits marvellously from this, of course.

    Policing powers are being extended to various new groups in the UK, including corporations.


    Greg, I find your dismissal of one of the most important economists of the 19th century to be somewhat lacking in justification. Perhaps you'd like to quantify the wrongness of Marx's analysis?

    (His prescription -- as opposed to the diagnosis -- we'll set aside for now because, er, he's wrong. But that's about 1% of his total work. What's wrong with the other 99%?)



    Was that an honest question, or are you using a semantic argument to derail conversation? I've seen many conversations sidelined by passive-aggressive insistence on definitions, hence my concern. I will address it as honest, since you seem to be concerned by conflict arising where it need not.

    To define 'manageable and sustainable'. A system which is crafted to install a sense of consideration in actions and responsibilities, especially in regard to the impacts on the social, cultural, mental, emotional, physical, environmental, financial, and political health of the United States for me in specific, and to the world as a whole by extension. I don't blame corporations, consumer culture, citizens, politicos, or anyone specifically and entirely. And no system is perfect, but running full steam ahead into financial and ecological ruin while screaming "Buy! Buy! BUY!" fails my sustainability test.

    Democracy does allow you to vote for a consumerist or corporatist government. You can also vote yourselves right out of democracy and into any other form of government you like. This is one of the challenges of a democracy: Freedoms granted may be revoked by a majority vote. Sadly, many people are comfortable being told what to think.

    Addressing the issue in a simplistic manner is all that is possible. A truly exhaustive discussion, with mutually agreed definitions to everything and everyone making certain to use 'the right word' each time the speak, is not what we're in here. We're on a blog.


    Of course, the liberal heritage was always about three freedoms - free trade, free movement, and free speech. Perhaps Andrew Wilson is right and the liberal era is over.

    Meanwhile, what does it say that the last time I crossed the US border I thought the CBP were significantly less unpleasant than the British?

    (Ernest Bevin: "My foreign policy? To buy a ticket at Victoria Station and go whereever I damn well like")


    Wikipedia citation is a slippery slope to making outlandish claims, is all I'm trying to say.

    I agree with Charlie that Marx is too often and too generally dismissed. Certainly he was wrong in particular historical instances, but he's proven quite prescient in other respects. His continued relevance in academic discourse is a testament to this fact.

    Throwing out Marxism with Marx is a bit like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, or like the insane attempts to debunk evolution in the US (the "Darwin was WRONG" arguments that ignore the later refinements of evolutionary theory and the fact that, like most scientific "theories," the word "theory" remains in use only because of custom and the mutability of its finer points, not because it is "unproven" in any significant fashion). We shouldn't adopt a literally-Marxist stance, but to abandon Marx's thought as an anachronism is not necessary or desirable.


    58 & 61

    I was talking about the prescription, principally.
    However, he also made predictions, which failed miserably.
    He imagined things going on as they were in the mid- 19thC, with no amelioration of the lot of the "lumpenproleteriat".
    He did not foresesee the rise of the trade unions, and really skilled workers, and a burgeoning middle-class, and at least semi-responsible capitalist companies, that realised that a better-educated, better-paid, non-militant workforce is MORE PRODUCTIVE.

    Something US corporations and some here, have lost sight of. They are only looking at next years' profits, not whether the company will survive 10 or 50 years, profiting everyone.


    Frankly, my first reaction was: "Oh yeah? Tell me something I didn't know...", and "I expected better from Charlie" (like, to reach this realisation about 10 years ago)... But maybe I'm just an old commie anarchist -- and hey, the more people realise this, the better :-)


    Marx devoted an awful lot of his work to an analysis based on a theory of value that was fundamentally incorrect. The result was he made a large number of specific predictions which were incorrect, immiseration of the proletariat falling rate of profit &c. Most economic schools (except the Marxists and the Austrians on the far left and far right respectively) have abandoned any abstract theory of value and have concentrated on pricing as a product of supply and demand.


    An apposite quotation: "I am not a Marxist" --- Karl Marx

    As for Greg's observation that Marx failed to foresee the rise of the labor unions: it's worth remembering that the rise of those unions did, at least in the United States, involve an armed class struggle involving spasmodic deadly violence from the 1890s clear into the 1930s. Marx was right that that sort of thing was likely to occur; what he didn't anticipate was that the outcome might be a kind of uneasy, negotiated truce, rather than outright victory of one side or the other.

    At least until the 1980s, when that truce came increasingly undone --- with the overt union-busting of Reagan, and with the conspicuous failure of the Democratic presidency afterward to undo the damage. (In fact, the Clinton administration made things worse, neutering or destroying 1930s-era regulatory restraints on capital --- particularly in its most concentrated form, the finance industry itself.)

    As an apparent result of which, we now seem to have the old instability back. Which is not a cheery prospect. The '30s were a strange and dangerous time --- it's not just that Communism was a live and vibrant political force, to an extent that's scarcely remembered today; fascism was as well, and entirely respectable. If we don't get our FDR soon, we may end up with something a whole lot worse.


    55, 62, 64 I respectfully suggest that the success of the trade-union movement in the last three decades of the nineteenth century — the alleged refutation of Marx — was at least in part because both trade unionists and their foes had read Marx.

    The biggest problem with Marx and his diagnosis is that it fails to account for time (and its close cousin "rate of change") as the critical, unpredictable, uncontrollable variable in establishing a balance among labor, capital, and distribution. Consider, as a specific example, the way Our Gracious Host earns his living... which is founded on certain unpredictable change elements that Marx implicitly denies as even possible. Some of those changes are technological (e.g., color offset lithography, mechanized typesetting, the bloody electronic bloody computer); others are social and enabling (e.g., the viability of mass print publishing because those below the top 15% of society became literate and obtained enough above-subsistance capital to be able to expend some capital on leisure).

    In short, Marx's diagnosis and prescription depend upon a rather clean laboratory, and it is more obvious for the prescription that we're not in a clean laboratory than it is for the diagnosis. On the other hand, Newtonian mechanics can't solve for the n-body problem, but that doesn't mean they're entirely useless... even in practice.


    As for Peter Watts' case, I agree that it's shameful, and I hope that the court sees its way to leniency in his sentencing.

    I'm not sure how much of this isolationism is a trend, and how much of this is our usual American bipolar disorder flipping back to paranoia. Since I'm in an interracial marriage, I don't have to look back far to see how violent the US government was to those who were "different." Even today, because of that marriage, I'm somewhat more limited in where I can comfortably live than I was before. And so it goes.

    Without invoking Naomi Klein, I've got to agree about the disaster part of #1 being a shorter-term problem than labor war. Our system of global capitalism does depend on long, often kludged-together supply lines that either start at or go through politically tense areas. I really, really admire the people who hold it all together, but I'm pretty sure it can't accommodate large flows of people chasing money. Actually, it doesn't look like it can accommodate large flows of money chasing people either. Things will get interesting when all that virtual money crashes the system.


    There is a confusion here that result in conflating all of Marx's theoretical might to the single point of his political and economic theory. Although his influence has waned in these fields, Marx remains an important touchstone (even if you won't really find many "Marxists") in the social sciences and among cultural theorists.


    Marx was as influential in economics as Galen was in medicine, and about as wrong. The Marxist labor theory of value underpinned almost everything he wrote, and was as well founded as phlogiston theory.

    The idea that "labor" and "capital" are coherent entities with monolithic and necessarily adversarial interests is one of the bitter fruits of his false theory.


    Thanks for your definition of "manageable and sustainable'.

    I disagree with the statement "Addressing the issue in a simplistic manner is all that is possible." I think we can do better; while it is true that we can not have a "truly exhaustive discussion, with mutually agreed definitions" I do think we can begin to make inprovments. I was going to write that "I doubt Charlie set up this blog just so people can drop by and throw rhetorical feces at each other" but I realized that some people might think that I was making a rude characterization about them and/or their arguments. So I will instead say that I doubt that Charlie set up this blog so that I can throw rhetorical feces and thus keeping that in mind I hope for a quality exchange of ideas.

    And I think that Charlie's observations about the rise of border issues in the USA and UK are well worth considering. And it is also interesting to see those areas where capital is restricted and can not flow freely and the consequences. Consider the capital related to 'recreational substances' which is not completely free to flow and the corruption and other related problems.


    Yesterday, the teabag party people yelled "faggot" at Barney Frank and racist words at black Representatives, while inside a federal building. Free speech still stands, but it sure shows that people are changing.

    The idea that "labor" and "capital" are coherent entities with monolithic and necessarily adversarial interests is one of the bitter fruits of [Marx's] false theory.
    In one sense, this is tautological, just like "Information Wants to Be Free": Both "labor" and "capital" (the latter more than the former) are inchoate concepts that do not have any desires, adversaries, or anything else. In another, though, it represents a rather common misunderstanding of Das Kapital that arises from a language barrier. Part of it is just that Marx really wasn't a very good writer. But:

    German — and, in particular, nineteenth-century German — is a much more figurative language than native English-speakers give it credit for being. A literal translation of Das Kapital (and, to a lesser extent, Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei) conflates "the abstract concept of", "individuals who have direct/personal control of", and "the aggregate of individuals who have direct/personal control of" in a way that can be extremely disorienting. This overloading of a seemingly simple operator leads to, well, bugs, and lots of operating-system errors caused by pointers out of bounds. (There: Have I sufficiently mixed the metaphors to make my point?) Further, Marx confuses things by inconsistently calling that aggregate of individuals a "class" in some circumstances and by the conceptual label for the aggregate interests in others.

    In that sense, the adversarial relationship Marx describes is meaningless for the abstract concept, often meaningful but nonpredictive for individuals, and relevant only for the aggregate of individuals. This is more than a mere "class struggle", because every individual in a society is dependent, to a greater or lesser degree, upon both the labor and the capital individually controlled by other individuals. Denying the adversarial relationship disclosed by understanding Marx's text in context has little validity; instead, denials of the adversarial relationship via interpretation of third- and fourth-hand retellings of Marx's text is both politically and (too often) academically de rigeuer.



    Although he was completely wrong (I maintain) this does not mean all is well within "capitalism"
    Nor with the organisation of supposedly "free" states, that lead to increasing central and local micromanaging and restrictive controls.

    There MUST BE, SOMEWHERE a better model to follow.
    I suggest that one does exist, one that is usually denigrated completely by both "left" and right" - I think it goes by the label of "syndicalism" - but I might be wrong.
    UK examples include:
    The John Lewis Partneship, Ove Arup, and Scott Bader - all major players in their own fields, who are OWNED BY THEIR EMPLOYEES, and by employee-trusts.
    Discuss - and why, also, these are not commoner than they actually are.


    Greg@73, the relative rarity and distribution of worker co-ops doesn't seem to have been a hot area of research in economics, but a very good recent book that deals with the subject in depth is "Governing the Firm: Workers' Control in Theory and Practice" by the Canadian economist Gregory K. Dow (you can preview the book on Google).


    Capitalism is bad, but free markets and private property are good. Free markets because they keep corporations competing against each other, and private property because the weaker I am, the more I need my property protected from the strong.

    Capitalism has a formal definition, but the reality is that capitalism ends up being a cooperation of big business and big government against the little guy.


    Greg #73 - John Lewis may indeed be ultimately owned by its workers, but in practise it is run along similar lines to any other top down profit maximising entity. Whether the resulting profits are fairly shared out I have no idea, but I don't quite see how it and other examples match previous ideas of worker ownership and control.

    Having said that, if you could actually re-distribute ownership to the workforce that would probably have a positive effect on the balance of power and resources*. However the difficult bit is in slowing the accretion of power and money through generations that will occur through active planning and chance.

    *But any attempt to do so will be resisted by quite a bit of society, and you will also have to prepare people for their expected role in being part owners and the responsibilities it brings along with it.


    Yes, you can outsource the work. Sometimes. But there are costs. The infrastructure's worse, communication's more difficult, etc. Most companies that outsource would rather hire local, but at the outsource salary.


    I think the Tea Partiers are frustrated. They can see that the HCR is nowhere near constitutional (*force* somebody to buy from a private company??), they can see that a majority of US citizens don't want it, they can see that Congress is pulling a trick to get it passed. Yeah, they're frustrated enough to spew around epithets.


    Good points, up until the hard left at the end. Your diagnosis of global capitalism as the cause of labor immobility sounds nice, has a nice david and goliath sound to it, and satisfies your Marxist political inclinations. Unfortunately it just doesn't fit the facts.

    You don't seem to address how and why these systems are put into place, other than to suggest it helps capitalists extract "profit". But who appears to be demanding strict immigration laws? Not Wal-mart or the big banks. Not GM or Microsoft, or a shady cabal of investors and their lobbyists, and certainly not most professional economists. It's regular people of lower and middle income, most of whom are afraid of losing their jobs. The very people capitalism's opponents claim to want to help. Your arbitrary connection of capitalism and abusive border patrols lets casual racists and their elected politicians ignore their responsibility for these injustices.


    The problem with worker cooperatives is this, with small ones taking on a additional staff member lowers the profit share of the existing staff as the new member is likely to be less productive than experienced staff members so the existing staff have an incentive not to take on additional staff which doesn't exist in a joint-stock company, where employment and ownership are separated so taking on additional staff doesn't dilute ownership. Large cooperatives have the same difficulties with the principal-agent problem of any corporation with diffuse ownership, none of the owners has a enough of a stake to devote sufficient resources to scrutinise the management. A large shareholder of a joint-stock company can justify spend considerable resources on monitoring the managers.


    I'm a few dozen comments late, but ... Wikipedia is useful if you know how to read it. In some cases it's better than books from academic presses.

    I'm reading Maria Misra's history of India since the Indian Rebellion (aka Sepoy Mutiny). _Vishnu's Crowded Temple_, Yale University Press. Most of it *seems* to be reliable, also well-written and perceptive. However, the author isn't all that familiar with Islamic history and gets Syed Ahmad, who led an abortive jihad in the Northwest Frontier Provinces, completely wrong. She describes him as a Wahhabi (subset of Hanbali school), when in fact he was a follower of Shah Waliullah's school (subset of Hanafi). Wahhabis arrived in South Asia much much later.

    Wikipedia gets all of this right.


    This awful economic system we are forced to endure makes me so mad. I am going to emigrate to escape the shackles of those nasty capitalists. Hmm...Myanmar... Cuba...North Korea...wait, never mind.


    And the wooden spoon award for straw man arguments goes to Bill Sagert!

    (You missed Germany and France off your list. Not to mention Sweden. Which, even with economic woes, makes the USA look like a crapsack dystopia.)


    I also think Charlie may be wrong in suggesting that our woes are ECONOMICALLY driven.
    Why is the current system so coming to resemble the discredited communist one, in terms of repression?
    After all US border security costs vast sums of money, for virtually no return.
    Here, we have a guvmint determined to spend £12-Billion (at least) on an ID-card-and-"security" system that won't work from day one, but will inconvenience every single citizen.

    @ 78

    The tebaggers are Poujadist semi-fascist morons. [see note]
    Agreed Obama's Health-insurance policy (just passed) is bad, but only because a REAL European-style NHS-system couild never have flown.
    What they have got is the best of a bad job.
    I suspect there will be changes, before long.

    Note: Teabaggers seem to be at least 95% Creationists, with a high proportion of other crank views (9/11"truth", ant-vax, Ron Paul, etc ...)
    Which should indicate something, apart from the fact that they are loonies.


    Russel: if you're so keen on free markets being good, kindly point to one.

    (The only one I really know of is the free market in illegal drugs; all other markets are regulated, to a greater or lesser extent, in order to protect the public by maintaining quality standards and preventing monopolies.)


    In the British co-operative movement (the only one I am familiar with) the government-approved rules allow for new employees to pass through a six month probationary period before they become full share-owning voting members of the co-op. Some of the less idealistic co-ops take new people on for six months then fire them.

    After 6 months the new employee should be making a valuable contribution to profit.


    @82 I'm sure our host is perfectly able to defend himself, but anyway: what part of 'regardless of his prescription' did you miss?

    It's one thing to correctly diagnose an illness, quite another to cure it, and our kind host can very well think Marx was right in his analysis of capitalist crisis but wrong in his proposed solution. And it's a terribly cheap attack to imply that since he criticizes capitalist economy he automatically must admire communist dictatorships...


    Incidentally, can anyone point to a likely in-bound link that would account for the influx of libertoonians?


    My guess would be its appearance on Hacker News. It was only briefly on the front page, but HN tends strongly towards the libertoonian.


    As a possible soundtrack for this item might I suggest Another Imperial Day by New Model Army (Carnival 2005). No only because I am inclined to suggest New Model Army wherever possible but paticularly because of the lines that go.

    another payload of world trade because
    goods are free to move but not people
    oil is free to move but not people
    jobs are free to move but not people
    money is free to move but not people



    Although he was completely wrong


    Go and read chapter 1 of the Communist Manifesto, mentally replacing "bourgeoisie" with "corporations", and tell me it doesn't ring any bells...



    cepetit @ 72
    Analysis of economic theory using computer debugging terms, priceless. Thanks for making my day.

    Anyways, I think that it should be noted here (because most have missed the point) that Marx's work was mostly a criticism of Capitalism (as practised in 19 century England) and that the most dangerous thing he said was that "There had to be a better way." He was very vague on what this "better" way was suppose to be though.


    It wasn't Capital or Corporations or Free Traders that assaulted, arrested and tried Mr. Watts. Government thugs did that.
    So are we all agreed that corporations should have more power and government less?


    * Rolls eyes at the libertoonian *

    (What you're forgetting is that your government thugs are employed by a government overseen by the best lawmakers that corporate money can buy.)


    Denying the adversarial relationship disclosed by understanding Marx's text in context has little validity; instead, denials of the adversarial relationship via interpretation of third- and fourth-hand retellings of Marx's text is both politically and (too often) academically de rigeuer.

    I think that's exactly right, but actually slightly beside the point. The whole effort to sabotage Marx's reputation as an economic thinker doesn't have to work by mis-representation and mis-understanding. It's much far more intellectually lazy than that: they just hold him to an entirely different standard to any other thinker.

    Just look at the criticisms of Marx that people have been voicing here: he subscribed to a the labour theory of value; his theory got a few predictions wrong. Ricardo subscribed to the labour theory of value. Smith thought the joint-stock corporation would never get off the ground as a way of harnessing capitalist self-interest. No-one takes this as evidence that they have nothing meaningful to say about economics.

    The predictions thing is particularly unfair because, by any fair assessment, Marx was quite staggeringly prescient. The man was talking about regular boom and bust cycles long before Austrians of Keynesians got in on the scene, and predicting that market structure would tend towards concentration at a time when this was far from obvious.

    I'm not always the biggest fan of Marxists, but with the sort of low-level trolling that counts for academic criticism of their man, you can see why they get a bit exasperated.


    Oddly enough, I was thinking about this sort of thing the other day when I was talking about US Government regulation of industry and commerce during the Theodore Roosevelt Administration. That said, I DID NOT draw a corollary between the Watts Incident and penning Labor in place.

    You've given me something to ponder, Charlie. Up to this point, I had not been terribly sympathetic to Dr. Watts. This is the first post I've seen on the topic that has given me pause on the matter.

    S. F. Murphy
    On the Outer Marches


    Russ Allbery"

    "There is a school of thought in economics, to which I mostly subscribe, that we should be actively encouraging temporary labor movements even if we might want to keep somewhat limiting permanent labor movements. The temporary worker from another country is good for everyone: the richer country gets an eager, willing worker who absorbs surge need in the economy without taking up a full-time ongoing job, and the poorer country gets a returning richer citizen with more skills and training and exposure to a more mature market (and sometimes legal) system."

    That's odd; judging from median wages in the USA, we've had perhaps 3 years of almost surge need in the past going on forty years now.


    I have not seen one comment in this thread bring up a glaring problem in American and probably British jurisprudence. The failure of American juries to acquit in the face of the law. The catch all law mentioned by a previous poster, Watts' failure to obey immediately. Yes I am talking jury nullification. Juries have the power to judge the law as well as the facts. The next time you are called for jury duty, perhaps you should serve. Me too I have been getting out of it by citing precisely my objections to all law except the common law.
    Rothbardian Libertarian (not from Hacker News), lover of Stross's stuff, N. Stephenson, Ellison, AND most of the Baen military stuff, and Niven and Pournelle..


    Brett Dunbar @ #80:

    [In a cooperative] the existing staff have an incentive not to take on additional staff which doesn't exist in a joint-stock company, where employment and ownership are separated so taking on additional staff doesn't dilute ownership.

    In a joint-stock company, taking on additional staff adds cost, and being understaffed doesn't directly hurt the owners, because they're not the ones working their arse off. That is an incentive not to take on additional staff.

    Large cooperatives have the same difficulties with the principal-agent problem of any corporation with diffuse ownership, none of the owners has a enough of a stake to devote sufficient resources to scrutinise the management. A large shareholder of a joint-stock company can justify spend considerable resources on monitoring the managers.

    Yes, if stockholders weren't monitoring management, they might not run the business sustainably, and if enough corporations screwed up, there might be an economic crisis. Or something.


    Voltaire once said something about the Devil having to appear, and act like, God, if god ever got tired and pissed off.

    The Soviet system, which was truly horrible, has collapsed. The current threats, though nasty, are not actually in the same league (yet).
    So WHY
    are Brit and even more, US guvmints being so horrible to everyone, not just visitors and "aliens", but their own citizens?

    The economic arguments are not valid, since all this "security" costs vast amounts of money.
    It was one of the things that brought the soviet system down, because they couldn't spend enough money & time watching everyone, and keeping records, etc ....

    Discuss - please?


    I have heard several cases in Britain of juries going against direction by the judge to find defendants who were clearly guilty as innocent, where the law is obviously an arse. The only ones I can find links for are multiple sclerosis patients *and* their suppliers of illegal medicinals. One chap was growing large quantities. Others have been found guilty of the same "crimes".


    Watts' jailing isn't about economics - it's about authoritarianism. Cutting down on freedom has always hurt bottom lines, ever since freedom was invented in classical times.

    No, the Clinton's and Bush Administration's and New Labour's interests were primarily in cutting down on freedom.


    I've been thinking that maybe after the election, they should have to swap states. They'll have to do what the new state wants, but be re-elected by the old state.


    Jury nullification is evil.

    For every John Peter Zenger, there are dozens of the estates of Emmitt Till (which suffered from jury nullification six times when the matter actually reached a jury); there are several Claus von Bülows (who was not guilty of what he was charged with under the beyond a reasonable doubt standard... but was convicted based on personality and reputation the first time around); and there is even more reluctance to prosecute "pillars of the community" than there is now.

    Juries are imperfect; so is every other human institution. That's part of what makes humanity so interesting. A jury system in criminal law, as imperfect as it is, as subject to abuse as it is, works vastly better than a nonjury system, particularly for unpopular defendants (just ask anyone of Algerian extraction in southern France from the 1960s on).

    In short, jury nullification is code for mob rule. That wouldn't help anyone — in general, or Dr Watts in particular, since he's a furriner and an intellectual and inclined to question preconceived accepted wisdom (per his books).

    I'll cut off at this point before hijacking this topic further.


    Do you mean Theodore Roosevelt (with the emphasis on trust-busting) or Franklin Roosevelt (with the emphasis on positive control of conditions to avoid a different kind of abuse)?


    @93: Oooh can I respond?


    * Rolls eyes at the libertoonian *

    (What you're forgetting is that your government thugs are employed by a government overseen by the best lawmakers that corporate money can buy.)

    Actually, Charlie, I *like* the alternative. Instead of having government thugs who are trained in the use of their weapons, here's an idea. Why don't we have a volunteer libertarian militia guard our borders with whatever weapons they can afford, whatever training they can handle and afford, and a copy of Black's Law Dictionary to figure out what to do in each ambiguous case?

    That's the libertarian ideal, right?

    Or should we just have Blackwater cobble together their own set of in-house rules for dealing with border issues, and hire them as the lowest bidder.

    That's the current Tea-flavored libertarian ideal, right? Hire mercs to do the dirty work, and make it hard to prosecute them?

    None of this would have done Dr. Watts much good. On the bright side, at least he's a convicted felon, not a bullet-riddled corpse in the snow, which is probably where a militia or a bunch of mercs would have left him for asking questions.

    Remember, the second amendment gives you the right to bear arms in the US, not the intelligence to use them properly in complex, ambiguous circumstances. If the second amendment actually gave people good judgment, I'd have more respect for the political right.

    No, I agree that the jury didn't do a great job in Dr. Watts' case. They followed the law, and in doing so, they didn't do justice. I *am* hoping that the judge decides to give Dr. Watts a minimum sentence. Perhaps those who know him should be sending letters in attesting to his good character?



    Just look at the criticisms of Marx that people have been voicing here: he subscribed to a the labour theory of value; his theory got a few predictions wrong. Ricardo subscribed to the labour theory of value.

    I've never understood this pigg-stubborn denial of the labor theory of value by these people. Point out how hard someone works and for how little and they'll sneer about "discredited theory", true. But notice that whenever the subject is about executive pay, they defend it as justified "because of what the person brings to the table". That's not the labour theory of value?

    I get the sense that they've spun off into "My logic is to be illogical" . . . and they're proud of the fact (or at least, pretend to be when they're in public.)


    Let's run the list of what I meant.

    Theodore Roosevelt.

    1. The Coal Strike of 1902, took action to intervene personally, something no recent president had done.

    2. Northern Securities v United States, put teeth back into the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, overturning U.S. vs E.C. Knight.

    3. Elkins Act, ending railroad rebates to large customers.

    3. Creation of the Department of Commerce and Labor.

    4. Hepburn Act, ending additional rebates on a number of other business endeavors.

    5. Pure Food and Drug Act, inspired by Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle. Granted, this falls short of what Sinclair wanted, which was a socialist revolution but he didn't seem to complain about the royalty checks.

    So yes, I was thinking Theodore Roosevelt. Not FDR.

    S. F. Murphy
    On the Outer marches


    The standard conspiracy theory seems to be that all the police state legislation/infrastructure is being put in place in advance of all the forthcoming societal disruptions from peak oil/global warming/food & water shortages etc. This must be bollocks, for if it were true we would be seeing simultaneous serious efforts to avoid/mitigate these problems, rather than the business-as-usual-plus-a-couple-of-windfarms we actually see. So nothing to worry about then, apart from the possibility that the people who own the world have realised that a) any such efforts would be futile, so much installing low-energy lightbulbs on the Titanic as it were, and/or b) any such efforts would likely result in them not owning the world any more, so screw everybody else, let's see how long we can keep this thing going before it really hits the buffers...


    About the windfarms, at present rate of growth they are going to beat nuclear by Obama's second term. Solar is right behind.
    Nukes take so long to ramp up (we have to build a new bunch of giant forges to build nuke head ends, before we can build the nukes, since the ones we have now are booked for the next six years)that they will never catch up with wind and solar even if we start building more nukes.
    We should and probably will build more nukes, but effectively it's over.


    Ricardo had *a* labor theory of value, but it wasn't the one Marx used. Ricardo explicitly conceded that capital contributed to the value produced and wasn't simply the way the Evil Capitalists appropriated surplus value produced by labor.


    Ricardo had *a* labor theory of value, but it wasn't the one Marx used. Ricardo explicitly conceded that capital contributed to the value produced and wasn't simply the way the Evil Capitalists appropriated surplus value produced by labor.

    1) Well actually it's a little more complicated than that. Ricardo changed his mind:

    2) Even if he hadn't, you're sort of illustrating my point. Unless I missed an economic revolution or two, its not like everyone suddenly started thinking that the Ricardian account of value was spot on. So long as he was subscribing to a labour theory of value, you'd think he'd be about as wrong as Marx. But apparently not. And the only difference here, as you point out, is that Marx made the observation that employees regularly get the shaft from employers, and had the temerity to actually incorporate it into an economic theory.

    You might disagree with the specifics of his theory. In fact, you'd be well advised to. But the man was clearly a brilliant economic thinker. The idea that he wasn't doesn't seem to be backed up by anything stronger than the impulse not to say nasty things about capitalists.


    Labour wants to migrate where working conditions and pay are best. Capital wants to invest for growth where working conditions and pay are worst

    I'll agree with the first statement, but refine the second into "Capital wants to invest for growth where overheads are least". Add terms like "stability" and "risk" to taste.

    Saying that it's just working conditions is simplistic - if the infrastructure or a suitably trained workforce isn't present, it just isn't going to happen. I'll grant you that wages and conditions are a key driver of overheads, but they aren't the only one - and in certain situations, they are comparatively insignificant.

    By way of example, Capital may want to churn out software in Bangladesh, but it can't because there isn't a critical mass of skills. It may want to churn out clothing in the West Bank, but political instability prevents it. It may want to make cars in Rwanda, but the infrastructure ain't there.

    Whenever things tip over into first-order analysis that "$BUSINESS makes more money from us if we're fighting wars or in prison" (post 3), it ignores the inconvenient fact that governments can only pay because they collected taxes... from people who can't pay tax if they're in prison... or from businesses who can't sell to people who are in prison... and that they can't pay other businesses because they're funding the prison industry... (The Economist did a nice article recently on how California has a problem in this area)

    Douglas Adams analysis of economic meltdown based on shoe-shops is similarly rigorous :)


    @ 102
    "its about Authoritarianism"

    Now WHY WHY WHY ??

    And it is NOT about economics, because authoritarianism is expensive.
    Unless, of course, the authoritarians are too stupid to see this?
    All of them?


    When a jury refuses to convict on the basis that the law is unjust, that is known as a 'perverse' verdict. A few years ago this happened in the trial of some anti-nuclear activists who planned to trash a Trident sub.

    The article gives some details, a number of recent examples, and a potted history of perverse verdicts, which, it says, are "part of a greater English tradition, going back to the trial of William Mead and William Penn, nonconformists charged in 1670 with unlawful preaching and conducting a seditious assembly. The jury was threatened by the judge and locked up for two nights "without meat, drink, fire or tobacco" after it refused to convict them but still stubbornly stuck to its verdict. The jurors were then fined and imprisoned till they paid, but were ultimately released by the Chief Justice, upholding "the right of juries to give their verdict by their conscience"."

    One important thing that the article doesn't mention is that, sadly, juries are not usually told that they can refuse to convict on the grounds that the law is unjust.

    I'm a lurker here coming out of cover, by the way, not a US-style 'libertarian' passing through. Although I am a libertarian -- a libertarian socialist. I wonder if they can get their heads around that idea...


    But as I think has been said before, who is authoritarianism expensive for? Not those currently in charge, who want to keep running things for their benefit for as long as possible.
    Talking about authoritarian regimes, they can keep going for quite a while, eg China, Spain under Franco, etc, with what we consider few freedoms, but yet sufficient economic activity taking place that people don't usually starve to death.


    @ 116
    You undermine your own case, and make mine.
    What state was Franco's Spain in when FF died, and how broke was the place?
    The DDR in 1989?
    Yes, the tiny elite in charge do OK, but the whole country goes down the tubes.
    So, yes, they ARE stupid, but one would have thought that the guvmints of the USA and Britain, at least would know better - by example if nothing else.


    @guthrie v Greg: are you two not failing to distinguish between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes?


    Greg #117 - sorry, what, you expect our governments to know better? When we are lambasting politicians for not seeing further than the next election; when the sector most lauded for most of the last decade is the one which promotes the shortest term thinking; when ignorance of history seems to be a virtue; when the chancellor of the day hides tens of billions of pounds off the balance sheet in PFI and PPP in order to merely put off the day of reckoning; when the MOD is looking at even greater shortfalls in funding because large projects have been put back for short term funding flim-flammery, and so on.

    ChrisL- how do you distinguish between totalitarian and authoritarian regimes? I don't know much about the politics lark.


    I don't mean to say that authoritarian regimes somehow last forever, rather that the people running them naturally want to keep power as long as possible, and don't seem to care much if it damages the country in the process, see Zimbabwe for example.

    How many large companies have suffered because the top brass or owners have never relinquished control until it was too late?


    guthrie: from the much-lambasted Wiki:

    "Totalitarianism is generally characterised by the coincidence of authoritarianism (i.e., where ordinary citizens have no significant share in state decision-making) and ideology (i.e., a pervasive scheme of values promulgated by institutional means to direct the most significant aspects of public and private life)".

    The "authoritarianism" article actually has a comparison between the two, full of social-sciences techno-speak: basically it seems like authoritarian regimes are mostly interested in controlling things for the sake of their own power, where a totalitarian regime wants to control things for the sake of controlling them. Religious/ideological dictatorships &c.


    As an aside, rememeber that while emigration is a right, immigration is a privilege.

    A country belongs to its citizens, and they have an absolute and unconditional right to determine who shall be allowed in, and on what conditions. Them as don't like the conditions are at liberty to leave; the exit's thattaway, don't let the door hit you in the arse on the way out.

    That's democracy; rule by the people -- which is to say, in practice, rule by "A" people, the historically grounded, legally bounded People of State -- Magyars, Turks, whatever.


    Note also that if you increase the amount of labor in the national economy, other things being equal, wages will go down.

    This is why, in most times and places, labor unions have opposed large-scale immigration, particularly from low-wage areas.

    Conversely, people who want cheap labor have been in favor of it.

    These days, they often hide their desire for cheap, docile servants under a the banner of purported enlightenment, Third-worldism, or something of that nature.



    "But notice that whenever the subject is about executive pay, they defend it as justified "because of what the person brings to the table". That's not the labour theory of value?"

    -- no, it's the exchange theory of value. Labor, like anything else, is "worth" what you can get someone to give you for it.

    Nothing has inherent economic value, only what it can be exchanged for in a specific time and place.

    If you can get someone to give you X for your labor, then it's worth X, neither more nor less.


    This probably goes under the heading of do not feed the trolls but...


    -- no, it's the exchange theory of value. Labor, like anything else, is "worth" what you can get someone to give you for it.

    Nothing has inherent economic value, only what it can be exchanged for in a specific time and place.

    If you can get someone to give you X for your labor, then it's worth X, neither more nor less.

    So then such Titans as Angelo Mozillo and Dicky Fuld have to be worth the hundreds of millions paid to them by their respective companies, even though they caused their companies to lose billions to tens of billions of dollars?

    Since this is a theory and not an axiom, how may it be disproven?


    scentofviolets @ 124: AFAIK, none of the theories of value I've encountered preclude any damned fool (or a Board of Directors full of them) from drastically mis-pricing anything -- including the salary of the CEO, or of any other employee. Unfortunately, most of the damage caused by this particular type of stupidity is usually paid (at least mostly) by others, including other employees, the owners (stockholders) of the company, customers, and the general public.



    "labor unions have opposed large-scale immigration, particularly from low-wage areas.

    Conversely, people who want cheap labor have been in favor of it"

    Not really just "people", but governments whose job it is to think about demographics. Sixty years ago, when the UK first established a social "safety net", the pensionable age of 65 was only a few years short of average life expectancy.

    Now that people are living longer and birth rates are falling, the burden of providing the taxes is on a proportionally smaller tax base - less people of working age per retired person.

    An advantage of immigration is that tax revenues go up (so long as the immigration isn't illegal) so the government is happy; and spending doesn't have to drop (so voters are happy). If it delays the problem for thirty years, then that's over the horizon in political terms.


    In fact, as an expatriate living in South Korea, one discovers how for so many Americans here, the nationalized health insurance (and for many Canadians, the more forgiving job market) means a step up in quality of life from the options available to them in their homelands.

    (And that's despite having no right to own land or to operate your own business, to hold a second job, for the first ten years of residence unless you marry a local. Despite the racist media, and the vigilante groups stalking foreign teachers. That's in the absence, in practice, of more than a one or two of the legal rights guaranteed all residents of the country, unless you're very lucky. In a society with usually the highest annual suicide rate and death rate for pedestrians accidents in the OECD, for reasons which become obvious on arrival. Despite all that, it's enough of a step up for a lot of people to attract a million non-Koreans to live here, sometimes for very long stretches of time. Until the student loans are paid, until they've saved up for a house, until whatever it was they felt they couldn't do (or couldn't comfortably do) back home.)

    An NGO-worker friend who was in Mozambique for years called these people "first world refugees" and though it's problematic in that it lightens the meaning of refugee (many of whom dream of living in these conditions), it does raise an interesting question:

    That gate-building Charlie mentioned isn't quite universal. Korea, for example, is taking in large numbers of permanent immigrants in the form of women from the developing world, who are the mail order brides for unmarriageable (because poor) rural men here. Most of the people who come here to work come temporarily, but many end up staying because they've married in and see better economic or other opportunities here. It's only a matter of time before enough of the old guard running the show here dies off or retires, and the next generation might well recognize that importing high-quality foreign labour and expertise (ie. outside of the sham TEFL industry-driven cram school business, which in my opinion is a leech on Korean society) on a longer-term basis might be useful to South Korea, too. If they have the money, they might even manage it. (Then again, they may not reocognize it, or may choose too continue offshoring elite education to growing degrees instead.)

    So: which countries will continue or begin to eagerly take in elite foreign workers and how will their development differ from that of the gated nations? And how many people will choose to opt out of those gated nations? And how will this affect labour mobility, and development?

    Also, on a personal note, I can add that the same increased gating of nations means that retaining and passing on citizenship to one's kids while working abroad is getting harder for workers abroad. At least under UK law, I inherited UK citizenship from my Glaswegian grandfather when I was born in Malawi to a father who'd been born and grew up in Malawi. But if I were to have a kid abroad (with a non-Canadian, note), that kid cannot inherit my (later naturalized) Canadian citizenship from me or their Canadian grandmother, because I was born abroad myself... let alone the UK citizenship, which cannot be passed to the 4th generation, and which my father cannot, being born abroad, pass on to his grandchildren. The UK law is, IIRC, from the 70s. The Canadian one is from a few years ago.

    (Hypothetically, I shudder to think of what would happen if I were to have a child here with someone else (ie. non-Korean) similarly unable to pass on her citizenship. I doubt it'd be easy to get the kid Korean citizenship.)


    Nationalism and the nation state, as we think of it today, are actually relatively new concepts, even though we now treat them as the natural order of things. A few historical nations fit the bill, more or less, Persia come to mind, but most were manufactured in the last 200 or so years through a mind boggling set of wars and political machinations. The United States was one of the first and it exemplifies the ideology as well as exemplifying the performative inconsistencies of attaching that ideology to real people and real land. Following that logic, who are the historically grounded people who naturally have a right to the territory of the USA: the Native American tribes, the original settlers, etc? What is important is not so much that we are a "historically grounded" people who deserve the land more than other people by divine right, so much as that we have a functioning polity which can be disrupted if we take in more people than we can practially integrate into our way of life, or if we take in more people than our natural systems can support. (Obviously the rubber hits the road when we set the values for what base levels of political/social education and quality of life/integrity of nature are.) So as an extremely abstract theoretical matter, I don't think I have more rights to live in the US than some guy running from genocide in Rwanda, but as a practical matter, we tend to need to operate as if I do. (And of course, emotionally, I feel that I belong in and to the land of the United States and in particular to my native region, which is part of why so many people subscribed to the new nationalism. However, my ancestral Poland is now the western part of Ukraine and there are plenty of Ukrainians who think it has always already been part of Ukraine. So you can see where that train of thought would lead us if we let the nativist sentiment be the political underpining of our political systems.)


    These days, they often hide their desire for cheap, docile servants under a the banner of purported enlightenment, Third-worldism, or something of that nature.

    Whereas those who Truly Care for them know that it's in their best interests to be locked in immigration detention centres guarded by racist goons. They love it really.

    What does one do, I wonder, if you read Altemeyer's The Authoritarians and realise're one of them?


    Scratch the word "poltical" in front of "underpinning" in the last sentence of post 129.

    I realize I breezed through a lot of things up there, but hopefully the gist came through: the nation state is a product of Enlightenment ideologies with remarkably little in the way of historical precursors (considering that historical precursors are nationalism's bag as it were.) Now that nation states are the ocean we swim in, we have to act like they are real for most practical purposes. However, we should not fetishize them. Doing so leads to all sorts of nasty developments. National Socialism and Communism were at least theoretically going to dissolve the nation state, either into a racially hierarchical empire or into a borderless worker's paradise. Liberal democracy on the other hand seems much more at home with the nation state. Is that why it "won?" If the nation state ceases to be the most effective poltical form for new conditions, will its associated ideology also start to fail? Tune in later to find out.



    AFAIK, none of the theories of value I've encountered preclude any damned fool (or a Board of Directors full of them) from drastically mis-pricing anything -- including the salary of the CEO, or of any other employee.

    This is getting too political and while it's worth discussing, this is probably not the place so this will probably be my last post on this specific subject. Here's the deal: how do you know whether or not something has been mispriced? This is unfortunately a fundamental question, I say unfortunately because there is something profoundly ascientific about the world view that doesn't even consider this, let alone consider it a problem.

    Stirling's "exchange theory of value" is for that reason circular and fundamentally untestable. Why is so-and-so being paid this much? Because that is how much someone is willing to pay them. Why just this much, as opposed to another value? Because that's how much they're worth. How do you know so-and-so is worth this much? Because that's how much someone is willing to pay them. Astoundingly, amongst a certain kind of libertoonian this loop is even smaller. This isn't any way to conduct science - and I had thought we had all agreed that economics deserved to be called a science.

    It is, however, an excellent way for elites to explain why they are elite and others not so much; obviously this sort of "theory" is literally impossible to refute. Making these points about the philosphy of science as it pertains to these theories of value, incidentally, is the only reason this was worth a follow-up post.


    Alex: What does one do, I wonder, if you read Altemeyer's The Authoritarians and realise're one of them?

    That's simple: you're proud to be one of the stiff-necked, clear-eyed, hard-headed folks who are unafraid to look reality in the eye -- not a wishy-washy liberal like Altemeyer.

    (cf. what is it like to be a bat?.)


    Let me wave a finger in the air and speculate, wildly, that the reason for drastic mis-pricing errors is the absence from the actually-existing market of perfectly-informed rational actors, the late-period capitalist equivalent of New Soviet Man (or the Physicist's Cow which is a perfect sphere of radius r and uniform density D -- great for theoretical purposes, less good if what you want is a glass of milk).

    One thing I notice when shopping in a supermarket is that too much choice is actually detrimental to my ability to buy what I want; I end up making iterative comparative analyses of near-identical products, trying to figure out which is better for my needs, and the opportunity cost of such flailing around in search of incrementally improved groceries is considerably more than they're worth.


    The Nation State a post 1800 invention (or thereabouts?)

    Complete bollocks.

    England - since about 850
    France - since about the same time.
    Italy - not a nation-S until 1860, but the idea of "Italy" was around since before the renaissance ....
    Norway? Sweden?
    etc .....


    Two points regarding this old chestnut from Econ 103 (remember, most business types never get past 100-level econ, so they don't see this in intermediate and/or advanced economics, even at the undergraduate level):

    Note also that if you increase the amount of labor in the national economy, other things being equal, wages will go down.
    This is why, in most times and places, labor unions have opposed large-scale immigration, particularly from low-wage areas.
    Conversely, people who want cheap labor have been in favor of it.
    These days, they often hide their desire for cheap, docile servants under a the banner of purported enlightenment, Third-worldism, or something of that nature.

    (1) This is based on an untenable assumption; "other things" are by definition never equal. And that's for a very simple, and obvious, reason: The Econ 103 version quoted above assumes that there is no competing economy for comparison; that is, that we're dealing solely with a monolithic labor market with an elasticity of 0 relative to consumption, to production, to raw materials, and indeed to anything else. It's not even the economic version of Newton's First Law... because that hoary old chestnut can at least be approximated in "reality" by figuring out how drag fits into a specific problem.

    (2) Point one should give away the other problem, albeit this is one that is much more pervasive in economic analysis: The Missing Variable Problem.

    There's a problem that is virtually always missing from every economic relationship that is expressed as an equation: t. In Mr Stirling's expression, it should read:

    if you increase the amount of labor in the national economy over a short period of time, other things being equal, wages will reach a new, lower equilibrium level over a sufficiently long time absent any change in consumption
    Another basic-science problem provides a good illustrative analogy: Drop a one gram-cube of pure metallic sodium into a beaker half-filled with 25oC distilled water and measure the result. Now do the same, but pulverize the metallic sodium before pouring it in (stand back this time). Over a sufficiently long period, the amount of hydrogen released by each of these two rather fun basic chemistry experiments is close to the same (that is, with standard lab equipment; it's measurably different in a well-equipped academic lab, but not by a whole lot). One of the two, however, is a distinct fire hazard, because the rate of the reaction also puts off a great deal of waste heat that, in the other reaction, gets mostly absorbed by the distilled water (which is a fabulous heat sink).

    Some might argue that "in the long run, we're all dead"; the problem is that nobody gets to the long run if the short run kills us first. In game theory (the branch of dispute resolution that studies Monte Carlo situations has developed some really nice historical illustrations), this is sometimes called the "survivable worst excursion" problem, better known to those of us who lived through it as "nuclear deterrance": The long-run showed a stable result, but any short-run error could be catastrophic.


    Folks, folks, dont you see that all we need is MORE of the Free Market Magical Pixie Dust, not less! Get your hands off my FMMPD! Deregulate magical pixie dust creators! Erm....


    Greg: History books are generally written from our perspective, not the past's; so everything is recast in our terms so that we can relate better to it. Also, I am talking about modern nation states and the ideology of nationalism as the driving force in politics, not vague ideas of ethnic identity. To take an example. The King of France had an idea that there was a "France" that he ought to be sovereign of, but putting that idea into practice was actually a fairly fractious process, contested every step of the way. There were poets and philosophers who might give this concept a twirl in their writing, especially if it suited their patron's political tastes/interests, but it was mostly just romantic gloss. There were plenty of different regions and/or ethnicities in France who did/do? not feel "French." There was no centralized bureaucratic apparatus to govern "France." There was no consensus that the people of Alsace or Brittany are necessarily French. Ironically, the idea of France was probably most heavily supported by the Church because of old Roman provinicial boundaries which tended to become episcopal ones. (By the same logic, however, northern "Italy" is also French and in fact, France asserted that claim quite often.) There was no impediment to the King of England or the Holy Roman Emperor having direct control over large pieces of France, giving only lip service at best to the French King's sovereignty over them in that capacity. Until recently, there was no widespread belief that all the citizens of France had to be native speakers of French or that all Francophones had to be under the dominion of France. "France" eventually glommed together from disparate parts to gel into what we now consider a nation state. A nation state/apparatus/identity that was largely formed in the context of the Religious Wars, the Revolutions and Napoleon and which threatened to fall apart several times, even fairly recently. (Or to become part of a supra-national entity like Napoleon's empire.) For part of the Third and Fourth Republics, Algeria was tied to France in much the same way that Scotland is tied to England currently (parliamentary representation and all that.) And this is an example from the very heart of Western Europe. The case for Germany or Italy is weaker. The case for England is stronger, but even there you should take a closer look at the historical details. (Territory resettled by Danes; part of Northumbria becoming part of Scotland; ruled as part of Danish empire; ruled in tandem with various French duchies; north/south differences; gradual assimilation of Cornwall; intermittent rule over Ireland; conquered by Welsh nobleman with Flemish mercenaries; administered often in tandem with Wales; ruled by Kings/Queens of Scotland/Netherlands.) For that matter, you could also argue that England devolved from a pure nation state when it became part of the UK and gave its sovereignty to Scottish monarchs. I mean, come on, it's a fekin' island and it still does not have one national identity. Once you get out of the European context, you quickly lose almost any sense of modern nation states being "historically grounded" (as Mr. Stirling asserted for the Turks of all people.)


    Fantastic post, strong stuff and well written.

    For those downplaying the link between border regimes and labour issues, note that the first immigration controls in this country were introduced in response to / at a time of heightened agitation by / involving 'foreign' Jews (e.g. Russian exiles) in the factories of the East End of London.

    The first pamphlet opposed to border controls was written by the/a workers movement (recently republished) and has the fabulously SF-sounding title, "A Voice from the 'Aliens'" (PDF here:

    More than 100 years old and still relevant. Can much SF say the same? :p


    On the contrary, in Europe at least, the nation state in close to its modern condition is actually an outgrowth of renaissance humanism, making it over 500 years old. It was at that time that the international networks of Papacy, chivalry and suchlike were weakening and kings found it suited their power hunger best to encourage national feeling, because of the advantage it gave them compared to mere feudalism.
    Henry the 8th is one of the classic examples.

    @guthrie v Greg: are you two not failing to distinguish between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes?

    What is the distinction? Despite Jeane Kirkpatrick's inane natterings on the subject in her famous essay Dictatorships and Double Standards, which would have been more accurately titled Dictatorships and Doublethink do you really care if the thugs who grab you or your friends off of the street, take you to a secret prison, torture you and then dump you in a shallow grave are thugs from an "authoritarian" government versus thugs from a "totalitarian" government? Has anyone ever been hanging in a cell while they attach the electrodes to their genitals thinking "Thank God these thugs are authoritarians and not totalitarians". I think not.


    Simplest distinction is this:

    In an authoritarian state you can avoid being dragged into prison, tortured and shot by kowtowing to local police chief, paying requisite bribes, and shouting praises to President-for-Life. Basically, if you are a loyal dog, you are safe.

    In a totalitarian state even the most loyal dog can be grabbed at any time, for no reason at all. And knows it.


    If it is an outgrowth of something that is 500 years old, then obviously it is less than 500 years old, wouldn't you say? There is a difference between appealing to an aspirational patriotic spirit, e.g. as Jean of Arc did, and having a modern nation state with a modern concept of nationalism. (And ironically Jean was captured by Burgundians who apparently did not realize they were supposed to be Frenchmen.) England and other European countries were making baby steps towards the nation state in that period, but it really jumps off in the 17th/18th centuries. Holland's radical break from the Empire might be taken as a better example of an early nation state than rulers like Henry VIII who still had internationalist ambitions. We are/speak Dutch, have a different religion and live in a non-contiguous territory hundred of miles away, why exactly are we being ruled by Spaniards again? In the last three hundred years the entire world has been shoe-horned into this model and you can easily map the process, especially since a lot of the ink used is blood, but everyone still pretends it is "natural." It has advantages and disadvantages like any other system, but it is not anywhere near as old or as uncomplicated as it claims. My own country is weird because our foundational national myth was more futuristic/aspirational rather than focused on the past. (We can haz all the Native American's stuff; we just need to be a nation to gets it; hey, we'z a nation now, guyz and we lives in all that spot out there we aren't there yet.) You can see how that ought to be at odds with the bedrock concepts of nationalism and yet it worked. Why? Because nationalism is about any myth that gets people to give their ultimate allegiance to the nation regardless of whether the myth makes any sense or has any relation to historical reality. I am going to mangle the quote, but I think it was Michelet who said national identity is as much about forgetting as remembering.


    Given that theocracies are usually completely totalitarian, does that still apply?
    Even though Stalin's Sovunion and the Kims's current N. Korea were/are classic thocracies.
    Could you be hied off to the inquisition with NO WARNING?
    I suppose, if church policy changed while you were not looking, it could - just like Stalin's later purges, in fact.
    Also/but, by your definition, Adolf's Germany was Authoritarian. Dolfie was remakably loyal to his own followers - at least one person implicated in the July plot (Ernst Junger) survived, because Adolf refused to believe the dirt the Gestapo had on him.


    Greg@144: Supposing you live in one of those states, and someone makes a certain accusation about you, along the lines of "thoughtcrime"... from your perspective, yes, you're off to the gulag with no warning.


    Private elron #143 - my meaning by talking about outgrowth was more to do with the changes which have happened since then, nevertheless, the idea of England as unified country, with a sense of national identity and loyalty of the upper classes especially to a king and country, along with appropriate propaganda for the lower classes, was effectively in place with Henry the 8th. I don't see why having international ambitions mitigates against nationalism exactly, and also of course agree that things are rather complex, but not so complex that you can say that nationalism is only 2 or 300 years old.
    The problem here perhaps is you have a specific definition of nationalism in mind, whereas mine is somewhat looser.

    On the other hand I am usually entirely in agreement with almost any critiscism of SM Stirling anyone chooses to make.


    As a thirty-something American - I figured I'd offer this public service announcement - I'm not sure how it works with authority figures (cops/federal officials/bouncers/border patrol etc) in the rest of the world.

    In the USofA the drug war is alive and well, and a matter of national priority thanks to Reagan, regardless of current politics 30 years of bureaucratic inertia and 'policy' pattern its going to take longer to change.

    At any rate, my point is this - when a cop says 'stay in the car' or 'get back in the car' or 'get on the ground' its best to cooperate - 'as-far-as-I-know' we are not in the habit of detaining people travelling lawfully to and fro the US in secret CIA prisons without trial/parole/etc....

    Do not try to have a man-to-man discussion with patrol officer X, do not ask 'why', do not ask him to justify himself legally - that's all up to the courts... he's operating under the assumption that you are (possibly/likely/definitely) a drug (dealer/user) or other criminal and, being in the US, also possibly crazy/under the influence and/or armed..... meanwhile, sir peace officer or border patrol officer is most interested in getting on with his day without hassle or unnecessary paperwork. as mentioned above, yes-sir, no-sir, sorry-sir, thank-you-sir, and you're on your way.

    Its easy to extrapolate- to read too much into this event, but its nothing more far-reaching than 'pocket-hitler-syndrome' or similar power-drunk 'thugs' protected by a system to ensure that the hopeless 'war-on-drugs' continues.....

    maybe Americans in general are just well-trained to submit to the proper-authorities to avoid 'complications' while in the rest of the world you can actually have a discussion with 'people' in uniform , question/challenge/inquire into their behaviour, etc...

    so rule #1 - especially with the border-types who are now paranoid about dirty-bombs-etc - just don't mess with 'em. border patrol has the legal right to dissassemble your automobile because they think it might have bomb/drug/something in it - and they don't even have to put it back together again when they guess wrong...... and this has been the case since forever - and yes, most of these small-minded jackbooted types get off on the power trip....


    Brandon@147: actually, the US does detain would-be border-crossers without trial or parole. Not having officially crossed the border, they're not officially in the US and therefore not subject to US rights, and no-one has to read them their rights, give them a trial, etc. There was a case a few years ago that got a bit of attention, because the guy in question (Italian with an American girlfriend, IIRC) happened to have educated and media-savvy relatives and friends.

    Australia operates a similar kind of policy with refugees -- don't accept their claims of persecution, don't officially stamp them into the country, and if you've got a certain kind of nasty mind you can "safely" keep them locked up in a detention centre until the cows come home.


    Brandon, you're right: you're an American, and your cultural expectations are not global.

    I hope you can forgive me for saying this, but the unthinking obedience to authority figures that you're advocating is exactly the kind of behaviour that facilitates totalitarianism; I'm sure Herr Himmler would have approved enthusiastically.


    I think that American attitudes towards authority are more subtle than that, though you end up with a lot of the same results. And to borrow Charlie's metaphor, the process does resemble the proverbial frog in a saucepan, as responses shift slowly to acceptance of these things rather than overnight submission to our new ant overlords. I also there is a slow expansion of these attitudes from border and antiterrorism security to other areas like classroom behavior and the like. Also, even though the mechanism it authoritarian, the motivation can come from the right or the left these days.

    I discussed Watts' case with coworkers and spouse with some surprising and mostly disheartening responses. Broadly, in December it was: he did not deserve that treatment, but he probably did some stupid things. Then after the facts came out from the trial, "well, it's a shame, but you cannot get worked up about things like that. Particularly since I have no intention of becoming an activist."

    As to American versus global pespectives, I saw several Canadian SF writers take ridiculous anti-Watts stances over this issue and I don't think it was just a personal antagonism but a "principled" reaction. There are also plenty of places where people wished all it took was the right attitude and they would be mostly safe from the guys in uniform. And there are plenty of people in Europe who are anxiously awaiting, consciously or unconsciously, the return of the axe in the bundle of rods. (Which sadly was once the symbol of protecting elected officers from coercion and not tyranny for its own sake.)

    As for the thread hi-jack (apologies there) from my reply to Stirling, modern historians have a very specific concept of nationalism as it has emerged in the modern world. (Specific, but of course complex enough to generate millions of pages of tenure acquisition goodness.) The term has such ubiquitous and variable resonances for ordinary discourse that I should not belabor its use as a term of art for professional historians. England was odd in having a strong central monarchy almost continuously from the time of Athelstan; so it quacks a lot more like modern nationalism than most cases. My main point (which I think most of the responses did not object to) remains that even if you allow a few countries in Europe to have "nation states" 500 years ago, it does not change the fact that the rest of the world, including most of Europe, simply did not operate that way until quite recently. And the process was not so much universal acclamation as pound square peg in round hole with spiked implements until frame shatters, then reglue pieces together as desired.


    Wow. I haven't read the entire comment thread . . . but just on the force of the post . . . it is refreshing, no downright heartening to see someone else in the sf world respond to this sort of stuff the way I do. I'm used to treading carefully on political matters, feeling frustrated when I seem to be surrounded by folks with no social consciousness, to the point of being ready to quit going to conventions altogether after spending a good while busting my ass on them. I wouldn't stop reading, but as someone who doesn't really have time to have arguments online, I'd definitely get disconnected from the community and miss out on new work, I'm sure.

    I only found you because of what happened to Peter Watts. As someone who crosses regularly between the US and Canada and has close friends in Canadian fandom, I cannot forget about him. I'm not afraid for myself. But I am angry because going to Canada is how I stay sane. "Look, I'm crossing an international border, and they're letting me! I'm still safe. I am not trapped in a plastic bubble full of neocons."

    Knowing there are likeminded sf writers and fans, besides the few folks I know (because based on meeting you at few times at conventions you do seem to be both) encourages me to stay in the fandom as well as keep reading, not to discard it as something frivolous I ought to give up in order to help with The Struggle. I am trying to work more with local activist organizations than I used to, and spend less energy on sf conventions. But now I can see that the two might not be as entirely at odds as I thought.

    Thank you.

    In response to the comment

    What I want to know is WHY US guards are now behaving almost as badly as their communist predecessors?

    I suggest that poster take a look at:
    American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination

    Also, I think folks tend to forget that these issues aren't just about just economics but the composition of states. The problem seems to be when power becomes centralized. Those who have financial interests grow to become part of the centers of power, or attempt to influence the centers of power. It seems that there is no such thing as a stable government which is also representative of the citizenry and moves in their interest, not the interests of those who seize control of it (quietly OR openly). Political philosophy, anthropology, neurology, and sociology, are all just as important as economics to understanding why the places we live are the way they are, why the globe we're on is the mess it is. I hope folks consider that more often (and I should note that I am not assuming you do not, Gracious Host. I fact, having read your work, I know that you do not, which is one reason why I like you.)

    I should note, for the pidgeonhole discussing person, that I'm not easily pigeonholeable, politically, except to say I'm not a royalist or a fascist. I'm afraid of guns and don't like people to feel the need for them (including me; I don't even eat much meat although I'm no vegan -- yet), but I am also afraid of governments (and thus have issues with weapons laws). I favor a social safety net, but I dread the ways in which that net is used to restrain and control the lives of people who depend upon it. I distrust capitalism, but I have seen how centralized planning authorities have trouble meeting the needs of the masses.

    My only stake is to prevent human suffering (and please, leave the sadists and masochists out of this argument, that's a whole other kettle of worms, you know what I'm talking about) and allow progress in scholarship and the arts for the public good (which certainly does not seem to be served by by privatization or the rampant fulfillment of the self-interested desires of those few wielding power, particularly financial power, at this point in time).

    There have to be other folks out there who think like me, but in the US they never seem to be the ones doing the talking; it's all hard left and hard right, with some wishy washy people in between who have good principles but want to keep their middle class comforts. I find my political brethren in Canada and the EU, whether they think socialism is dangerous or embrace it, whether they tell me to stop bashing the US when I get on one of my hot button topics, or join in and tell me I'm not harsh enough. But the US is big, and it is easy to feel isolated here, internet or no. Because whatever folks say online, it's where you live that matters, what laws apply to you, what change you feel you can realistically hope for.

    Also, in regard to folks' denial that xenophobic tendencies are encouraged by corporations it does seem that folks are ignoring the shadow puppetry of those in power, who also control the media, if you trace social connections and financial ones, you can see how large non-media corporations are in bed with broadcast media (and business papers like The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, as well as corporate newswire services like Reuters). Through the broadcast media, and through of course, careful editing of school textbooks (which are after all, edited and laid out by people in the service of multinationals like Pearson with their fingers in many pies), people who under other circumstances (like the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile) might reach out to folks of our nations and backgrounds are instead taught to fear for their own survival, to fight against what is in their own best interests. See the Tea Partiers, many of whom because of age or earning power will actually benefit from various elements of Obama's health plan (like closing the "doughnut hole"), however flawed the plan is overall.

    As someone who wants to migrate out of the US out of fear for my future -- I don't want to grow old in a place where social safety nets are viewed a luxury if not a sin, and have felt that way for years, but have hung around waiting for my partner to come around and agree to leave with me -- I can tell folks that migration isn't just about money.

    I'd happily work in a warehouse in Canada (well, anywhere but Saskatchewan, Yukon, Nunavut, or the Northwest Territories) for the rest of my days, rather than be stuck here as the blood drains out of this sham of a country built on a lie of self-sufficiency.


    My experience, from early 2008:

    "Take this seriously!" bellowed the overweight TSA stormtrooper as I smiled mildly at nothing in particular, my mind far away as she brandished her metal detector at my crotch.

    "I'm sorry, that's not my job," I responded.

    "WHAT DID YOU SAY?!" she screeched, in that way that only the underpaid and over-uniformed do when the charade that maintains their "authority" threatens to come crashing down.

    "I said it isn't my job, taking it seriously. Taking it seriously is YOUR job. My job is simply to stand here and try to forget that this gratuitous waste of my time and my money is happening. My blood pressure. You understand." I delivered all of this in a calm, soft voice that she had to lean closer to hear.

    "You're JOKING!" she said. "Joking is not allowed!"

    "No, sadly, I'm neither joking," I responded, "nor have I threatened you, wasted your time, or otherwise interfered with your duties. I merely smiled." I smiled again.

    "Now, you certainly have it in your power to waste more of my time," I continued, "you can make me miss my flight. You can physically and mentally degrade me further than you already have. But if you do any of that because I smiled at nothing what does that make you? I think that kind of deliberate evil goes a long way beyond doing your job, don't you?"

    She stood silently enraged for several seconds, presumably replaying what I'd said in her mind. Then she nodded, and then jerked her head, indicating that I should leave.

    I left.

    Once upon a time a man suggested that people stop a war by "walking in, singing a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out". He was right, in a way.

    Maybe we can end this madness by smiling.


    Hey, you want to grovel, that's your choice.

    And btw, crack used to have a much longer sentence than cocaine powder and Congress is decreasing it to a slightly longer sentence. I think that means they know something about drugs.


    "Doiughnut Hole" ??

    Sounds obscene (I hope).
    What is it?


    As I understand it, the "doughnut hole" is a provision gap in the existing medicare (or medicaid; I sometimes get the two confused). The system will pay for cheap medication, and for expensive medication, but there's an awkward hole in the middle where the sort of stuff that millions of elderly folks need all the time isn't covered because it's too expensive to be cheap, but not expensive enough to qualify as expensive.

    (Governments are keen on/good at this kind of thing, alas; I can rant at considerable length about the UK's disability provisions and the holes in them.)


    Let me do this; after all, I went almost $1000 into my donut hole last year (because of a stroke). In Medicare, you get help with your meds until you get up to a particular amount of dollars ($2830 this year), including both what you pay and what your Plan D insurance pays (I have Kaiser where Plan D is just part of the plan).

    When you and your insurance pass $2830, you have to pay for all meds until you get to $4550 (actually, Kaiser helps me with that, too, but plain Medicare plans don't).

    After $4550, you get catastrophic coverage, where Medicare pays almost all the med costs.

    The Health Reform Bill plans to gradually reduce the donut hole ($2830 to $4550) and then get rid of it.

    Although I'm glad they passed the Health Reform Bill, I expect that meds is one place where I will be paying more than I am now because the bill pulls $500 million out of Medicare Advantage plans, which is what I have.



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