Monday, December 11, 2006

Signs of the Economic Apocalypse, 12-11-06

From Signs of the Times, 12-11-06:

Gold closed at 631.00 dollars an ounce on Friday, down 3.2% from $651.20 at the close of the previous Friday. The dollar closed at 0.7574 euros Friday, up 1.0% from 0.7498 euros at the end of the week before. That put the euro at 1.3202 dollars compared to $1.3338 the Friday before. Gold in euros would be 477.96 euros an ounce, down 2.1% from 488.23 for the week. Oil closed at 62.03 dollars a barrel Friday, down 2.6% from $63.67 at the close of the previous Friday. Oil in euros would be 46.99 euros a barrel, down 1.6% from 47.74 euros for the week. The gold/oil ratio closed at 10.17 Friday, down 0.6% from 10.23 at the end of the week before. In the U.S. stock market, the Dow closed at 12,307.49 Friday, up 1.0% from 12,194.13 at the end of the previous Friday. The NASDAQ closed at 2,437.36, up 1.0% from 2,413.21 for the week. In U.S. interest rates the yield on the ten-year U.S. Treasury note closed at 4.55%, up 12 basis points from 4.43 for the week.

Let’s take a little break from the housing bubble, debt levels and the impending currency collapse of the dollar to think some more big picture thoughts about the end of the neoliberal era. Where are we? Where should we want to go?

Believe it or not, classical economics, the foundation of neoliberal ideology, was inspired by satanism. I’m not referring to Adam Smith, but to the poet who inspired him, Bernard de Mandeville. Mandeville was said to be a member of the notorious Hellfire Club in London. Mandeville’s poem, The Grumbling Hive (also appearing in The Fable of the Bees), published in 1705, puts the argument for individual selfishness at most basic.

The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves Turn'd Honest… tells of a wealthy and powerful beehive whose inhabitants act only in pursuit of gain and esteem. Nevertheless, they espouse an ethic that condemns this behaviour and frequently lament that their society is full of sin. Irritated by their constant complaining, their god decides to make them all virtuous. In a flash, their society comes to a stop: commerce and industry are abandoned, and the bees leave their once flourishing hive and withdraw to live simply in the hollow of a tree. The moral is that virtue can only lead to a poor, ascetic society, whereas the vices are the necessary engines of a wealthy and powerful nation.

In 1714, the poem reappeared as part of The Fable of the Bees, or: Private Vices, Publick Benefits, in which Mandeville explains and defends the claim that private vices lead to public benefits. Mandeville does so by examining human nature in the same meticulous way "a surgeon studies a carcass". This uncompromising examination leads him to conclude that man is "a compound of various Passions, that all of them, as they are provoked, come uppermost, and govern him whether he will or no." The gratification of these passions, Mandeville writes, is wholly selfish. Mandeville defines vice as "every thing, which […] Man should commit to gratify any of his Appetites," and virtue as "every Performance, by which Man, contrary to the impulse of Nature, should endeavour the Benefit of others, or the Conquest of his own Passions out of a Rational Ambition of Being good." But, since on Mandeville's view of human nature, man is a selfish creature, wholly governed by his passions, people's behaviour will always be vicious, and true virtue can have no role in managing people's destructive desires. Should people become virtuous through divine grace, no one would pursue temporal success and society would go the way of the bees. Thus, virtue has no connection with maintaining society or worldly success. (

Serving others by serving self. (the alternative: serving self by serving others). In the eighteenth century such thoughts may have seemed novel and promising. Indeed the vice of greed and self-interest did release huge amounts of energy. But now, at the end of that run, some of us may ask ourselves: Is that the best we can come up with? Can there be an economic and social system based on serving self by serving others that still unleashes creative energy?

As we wrote last week, the main problem with all the modern economic systems, capitalist or socialist, comes from the presence of perhaps 6% of the population with no conscience: psychopaths:

[N]eoclassical ideology has been a boon to those in our midst who are incapable of moral reasoning: psychopaths, those with no conscience. In fact, it could be argued that Neoclassical economics could only be the basis of organizing society if either no one were psychopathic or if everyone were. In our mixed world, where perhaps 6% of the people have no conscience, neoclassical economics is a way station to tyranny since it simultaneously provides a way for the unscrupulous to gain wealth and power while inhibiting the natural conscience-based morality of normal humanity.

What economic system can work if 6% of the population has no conscience whatsoever and no ability to develop one?

All economic systems in recorded history have been exploitative. These can be divided into two types: those based on tribute and those based on capitalism. In the latter can be included all types of socialism that have actually existed from European-style social democracy to Stalinism or Maoism, since they have existed only during the period in which capitalism has been the dominant mode of production.

A word here about “exploitation.” Economic exploitation occurs when one group of people expropriates the surplus produced by another group. If we think back to a primarily agricultural economy, that surplus would be food grown or slaughtered. The person who produces the food, the peasant farmer or herder, needs to produce more than his family eats in order for the society to support people like priests or warriors or bureaucrats who don’t produce food. Marxist theorists have developed the concept of ‘mode of production’ to describe the predominant way that surplus is extracted. The ‘means of production’ are the ways that things are produced.

The difference between capitalism and earlier, tribute-based modes of production is that capitalism extracts the surplus through the normal rules of economic behavior. It is axiomatic. By going to work, borrowing money, buying things we need, surplus is extracted from us workers under capitalism. By ‘workers’ I mean most of us. That doesn’t mean ‘blue collar’ only, but all those who need a paycheck and who can’t survive on their investments alone. If you can survive on your investments, you are part of the bourgeoisie. Other systems, such as feudalism, extract the surplus through extra-economic means, such as at the point of a sword. When surpluses are extracted at the point of the sword, you have a tribute-based mode of production (see John Haldon, The State and the Tributary Mode of Production, London:Verso Press, 1993).

But, if all economic systems in recorded history have been exploitative, what about those before recorded history? The great American anthropologist, Marshall Sahlins, published a book in 1972 called Stone Age Economics. In it, he argues that hunter-gatherers, long thought to live lives “nastry, brutish and short,” in fact lived in “the original affluent society,” as he titled a chapter of the book.

Hunter-gatherers consume less energy per capita per year than any other group of human beings. Yet when you come to examine it the original affluent society was none other than the hunter's - in which all the people's material wants were easily satisfied. To accept that hunters are affluent is therefore to recognise that the present human condition of man slaving to bridge the gap between his unlimited wants and his insufficient means is a tragedy of modern times.

…"Mere subsistence economy", "limited leisure save in exceptional circumstances", incessant quest for food", "meagre and relatively unreliable" natural resources, "absence of an economic surplus", "maximum energy from a maximum number of people" so runs the fair average anthropological opinion of hunting and gathering

The traditional dismal view of the hunters' fix goes back to the time Adam Smith was writing, and probably to a time before anyone was writing. Probably it was one of the first distinctly neolithic prejudices, an ideological appreciation of the hunter's capacity to exploit the earth's resources most congenial to the historic task of depriving him of the same. We must have inherited it with the seed of Jacob, which "spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north", to the disadvantage of Esau who was the elder son and cunning hunter, but in a famous scene deprived of his birthright.

Current low opinions of the hunting-gathering economy need not be laid to neolithic ethnocentrism. Bourgeois ethnocentrism will do as well. The existing business economy will promote the same dim conclusions about the hunting life. Is it so paradoxical to contend that hunters have affluent economies, their absolute poverty notwithstanding? Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity. Inadequacy of economic means is the first principle of the world's wealthiest peoples.

The market-industrial system institutes scarcity, in a manner completely without parallel.
Where production and distribution are arranged through the behaviour of prices, and all livelihoods depend on getting and spending, insufficiency of material means becomes the explicit, calculable starting point of all economic activity.

The entrepreneur is confronted with alternative investments of a finite capital, the worker (hopefully) with alternative choices of remunerative employ, and the consumer... Consumption is a double tragedy: what begins in inadequacy will end in deprivation. Bringing together an international division of labour, the market makes available a dazzling array of products: all these Good Things within a man's reach- but never all within his grasp. Worse, in this game of consumer free choice, every acquisition is simultaneously a deprivation for every purchase of something is a foregoing of something else, in general only marginally less desirable, and in some particulars more desirable, that could have been had instead. That sentence of "life at hard labour" was passed uniquely upon us. Scarcity is the judgment decreed by our economy. And it is precisely from this anxious vantage that we look back upon hunters. But if modern man, with all his technological advantages, still lacks the wherewithal, what chance has the naked savage with his puny bow and arrow? Having equipped the hunter with bourgeois impulses and palaeolithic tools, we judge his situation hopeless in advance.

According to Sahlins, one reason for misconceptions about hunter-gathers comes from observation of surviving hunter-gatherer tribes. Sahlins argues that agriculture-fueled civilizations have pushed hunter-gatherers off the best land and on to marginal lands. But even contemporary hunter-gatherers in Australia or the !Kung in the Kalahari desert have been shown to enjoy a plentiful and varied diet. Not only that but the average amount of time it takes a person to meet their needs is no more than about four hours a day. The rest of the time is spent in dancing, ritual and mythologizing.

Despite a low annual rainfall (6 to 10 inches), Lee found in the Dobe area a "surprising abundance of vegetation". Food resources were "both varied and abundant", particularly the energy rich mangetti nut- "so abundant that millions of the nuts rotted on the ground each year for want of picking". The Bushman figures imply that one man's labour in hunting and gathering will support four or five people. Taken at face value, Bushman food collecting is more efficient than French farming in the period up to World War II, when more than 20 per cent of the population were engaged in feeding the rest. Confessedly, the comparison is misleading, but not as misleading as it is astonishing. In the total population of free-ranging Bushmen contacted by Lee, 61.3 per cent (152 of 248) were effective food producers; the remainder were too young or too old to contribute importantly In the particular camp under scrutiny, 65 per cent were "effectives". Thus the ratio of food producers to the general population is actually 3 :5 or 2:3. But, these 65 per cent of the people "worked 36 per cent of the time, and 35 per cent of the people did not work at all"!

For each adult worker, this comes to about two and one - half days labour per week. (In other words, each productive individual supported herself or himself and dependents and still had 3 to 5 days available for other activities.) A "day's work" was about six hours; hence the Dobe work week is approximately 15 hours, or an average of 2 hours 9 minutes per day. All things considered, Bushmen subsistence labours are probably very close to those of native Australians.

… Also like the Australians, the time Bushmen do not work in subsistence they pass in leisure or leisurely activity. One detects again that characteristic palaeolithic rhythm of a day or two on, a day or two off- the latter passed desultorily in camp. Although food collecting is the primary productive activity, Lee writes, "the majority of the people's time (four to five days per week) is spent in other pursuits, such as resting in camp or visiting other camps":

"A woman gathers on one day enough food to feed her family for three days, and spends the rest of her time resting in camp, doing embroidery, visiting other camps, or entertaining visitors from other camps. For each day at home, kitchen routines, such as cooking, nut cracking, collecting firewood, and fetching water, occupy one to three hours of her time. This rhythm of steady work and steady leisure maintained throughout the year. The hunters tend to work more frequently than the women, but their schedule uneven. It 'not unusual' for a man to hunt avidly for a week and then do no hunting at all for two or three weeks. Since hunting is an unpredictable business and subject to magical control, hunters sometimes experience a run of bad luck and stop hunting for a month or longer. During these periods, visiting, entertaining, and especially dancing are the primary activities of men."

The daily per-capita subsistence yield for the Dobe Bushmen was 2,140 calories. However, taking into account body weight, normal activities, and the age-sex composition of the Dobe population, Lee estimates the people require only 1,975 calories per capita. Some of the surplus food probably went to the dogs, who ate what the people left over. "The conclusion can be drawn that the Bushmen do not lead a substandard existence on the edge of starvation as has been commonly supposed."

Posessions are more of a hinderance then a help:

In the non subsistence sphere, the people's wants are generally easily satisfied. Such "material plenty" depends partly upon the simplicity of technology and democracy of property. Products are homespun: of stone, bone, wood, skin-materials such as "lay in abundance around them". As a rule, neither extraction of the raw material nor its working up take strenuous effort. Access to natural resources is typically direct- "free for anyone to take"- even as possession of the necessary tools is general and knowledge of the required skills common. The division of labour is likewise simple, predominantly a division of labour by sex. Add in the liberal customs of sharing, for which hunters are properly famous, and all the people can usually participate in the going prosperity, such as it is.

For most hunters, such affluence without abundance in the non-subsistence sphere need not be long debated. A more interesting question is why they are content with so few possessions for it is with them a policy, a "matter of principle" as Gusinde says, and not a misfortune.

But are hunters so undemanding of material goods because they are themselves enslaved by a food quest "demanding maximum energy from a maximum number of people", so that no time or effort remains for the provision of other comforts? Some ethnographers testify to the contrary that the food quest is so successful that half the time the people seem not to know what to do with themselves. On the other hand, movement is a condition of this success, more movement in some cases than others, but always enough to rapidly depreciate the satisfactions of property. Of the hunter it is truly said that his wealth is a burden. In his condition of life, goods can become "grievously oppressive", as Gusinde observes, and the more so the longer they are carried around. Certain food collectors do have canoes and a few have dog sleds, but most must carry themselves all the comforts they possess, and so only possess what they can comfortably carry themselves. Or perhaps only what the women can carry: the men are often left free to reach to the sudden opportunity of the chase or the sudden necessity of defence. As Owen Lattimore wrote in a not too different context, "the pure nomad is the poor nomad". Mobility and property are in contradiction. That wealth quickly becomes more of an encumbrance than a good thing is apparent even to the outsider. Laurens van der Post was caught in the contradiction as he prepared to make farewells to his wild Bushmen friends:

"This matter of presents gave us many an anxious moment. We were humiliated by the realisation of how little there was we could give to the Bushmen. Almost everything seemed likely to make life more difficult for them by adding to the litter and weight of their daily round. They themselves had practically no possessions: a loin strap, a skin blanket and a leather satchel. There was nothing that they could not assemble in one minute, wrap up in their blankets and carry on their shoulders for a journey of a thousand miles. They had no sense of possession."

Here then is another economic "peculiarity"- some hunters at least, display a notable tendency to be sloppy about their possessions. They have the kind of nonchalance that would be appropriate to a people who have mastered the problems of production.

"They do not know how to take care of their belongings. No one dreams of putting them in order, folding them, drying or cleaning them, hanging them up, or putting them in a neat pile. If they are looking for some particular thing, they rummage carelessly through the hodgepodge of trifles in the little baskets. Larger objects that are piled up in a heap in the hut are dragged hither and thither with no regard for the damage that might be done them.

The European observer has the impression that these (Yahgan) Indians place no value whatever on their utensils and that they have completely forgotten the effort it took to make them. Actually, no one clings to his few goods and chattels which, as it is, are often and easily lost, but just as easily replaced... The Indian does not even exercise care when he could conveniently do so. A European is likely to shake his head at the boundless indifference of these people who drag brand-new objects, precious clothing, fresh provisions and valuable items through thick mud, or abandon them to their swift destruction by children and dogs.... Expensive things that are given them are treasured for a few hours, out of curiosity; after that they thoughtlessly let everything deteriorate in the mud and wet. The less they own, the more comfortable they can travel, and what is ruined they occasionally replace. Hence, they are completely indifferent to any material possessions."

The hunter, one is tempted to say, is "uneconomic man". At least as concerns non subsistence goods, he is the reverse of that standard caricature immortalised in any General Principles of Economics, page one. His wants are scarce and his means (in relation) plentiful. Consequently he is "comparatively free of material pressures", has "no sense of possession", shows "an undeveloped sense of property", is "completely indifferent to any material pressures", manifests a "lack of interest" in developing his technological equipment.

Economic Man is a bourgeois construction- as Marcel Mauss said, "not behind us, but before, like the moral man". It is not that hunters and gatherers have curbed their materialistic "impulses"; they simply never made an institution of them. "Moreover, if it is a great blessing to be free from a great evil, our (Montagnais) Savages are happy; for the two tyrants who provide hell and torture for many of our Europeans, do not reign in their great forests, I mean ambition and avarice... as they are contented with a mere living, not one of them gives himself to the Devil to acquire wealth."
In agricultural societies, however, the work is hard because the peasant not only has to provide food for himself and his household, but also has to turn over a good portion of the surplus to a landlord of some type. These landlords, then, spend the surplus on weapons, followers and social display. While we admire the fruits of the exploitation in museums, the peasant himself would be better off before agriculture. Those extra four to ten hours of work go to provide someone who doesn’t work a sword and a horse to kill and burn the houses and fields of other peasants like himself.

The battles over who gets to share how much of the surplus production of the peasantry make up the history of human society until capitalism arrived in the 1600s. We should distinguish capitalism from commercialism or mercantilism, here. Capitalism did not arise until the 17th century, in spite of the prior millenia of buying and selling things. Capitalism resulted from the coming together of large fortunes with free wage labor to such an extent that it became the predominant mode of production.

We could say that hunter-gatherers didn’t know how good they had it, but there is actually evidence that they did. Much of their social structure was designed to prevent the kind of concentration of power that would split off a class of exploitative landlords. Most people think that technological development led to agriculture, which created a surplus that “led” to the ancient urban societies with class divisions, etc. In fact, it may have been the other way around, concentration of power led to exploitation which increased the need for intensified production which led to technological development and agriculture.

If we are looking for a dynamic economic system that prevents accumulation of power by individuals and which allows for the most possible freedom and creativity, then really we are looking at anarchism. The only effective anarchism would have to be one that takes into account the presence of psychopaths. David Graeber offers some suggestions of just what such a system would look like in his Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004). If we take Peter Kropotkin’s definition of anarchism, the impossibility of such a system without the awareness of the psychopaths among us become inescapable:

The name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government—harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being. (Graeber, p. 2)

According to Graeber, anarchism,

is also a project, which sets out to begin creating the institutions of a new society “within the shell of the old,” to expose, subvert, and undermine structures of domination but always, while doing so, proceeding in a democratic fashion, a manner which itself demonstrates those structures are unnecessary. (Graeber, p.7)

Graeber looks to the methods used by those societies that have found ways to prevent the concentration of power for clues. He points to the work of Marcel Mauss and Pierre Clastres in particular. Mauss, one of the founders of French sociology, opposed the view that “primitive” peoples acted economically much the way we do under capitalism (a view popular among classical economists). Mauss argued that goods were exchanged in archaic and primitive societies by complicated bonds of gift exchange. Graeber argues that these systems can help us find a way of mental prison of neoliberal ideology:

In the end, though, Marcel Mauss has probably had more influence on anarchists than all the other ones combined. This is because he was interested in alternative moralities, which opened the way to thinking that societies without states and markets were the way they were because they actively wished to live that way. Which in our terms means, because they were anarchists. Insofar as fragments of an anarchist anthropology do, already, exist, they largely derive from him.

Before Mauss, the universal assumption had been that economies without money or markets had operated by means of “barter”; they were trying to engage in market behavior (acquire useful goods and services at the least cost to themselves, get rich if possible...), they just hadn’t yet developed very sophisticated ways of going about it. Mauss demonstrated that in fact, such economies were really “gift economies.” They were not based on calculation, but on a refusal to calculate; they were rooted in an ethical system which consciously rejected most of what we would consider the basic principles of economics. It was not that they had not yet learned to seek profit through the most efficient means. They would have found the very premise that the point of an economic transaction—at least, one with someone who was not your enemy—was to seek the greatest profit deeply offensive.
(Graeber, p. 21)

Clastres took this idea and applied it to political systems:

He insisted political anthropologists had still not completely gotten over the old evolutionist perspectives that saw the state primarily as a more sophisticated
form of organization than what had come before; stateless peoples, such as the Amazonian societies Clastres studied, were tacitly assumed not to have attained the level of say, the Aztecs or the Inca. But what if, he proposed, Amazonians were not entirely unaware of what the elementary forms of state power might be like—what it would mean to allow some men to give everyone else orders which could not be questioned, since they were backed up by the threat of force—and were for that very reason determined to ensure such things never came about? What if they considered the fundamental premises of our political science morally objectionable?

The parallels between the two arguments are actually quit striking In gift economies there are, often, venues for enterprising individuals: But everything is arranged in such a way they could never be used as a platform for creating permanent inequalities of wealth, since self-aggrandizing types all end up competing to see who can give the most away. In Amazonian (or North American) societies, the institution of the chief played the same role on a political level: the position was so demanding, and so little rewarding, so hedged about by safeguards, that there was no way for power-hungry individuals to do much with it.
Amazonians might not have literally whacked off the ruler’s head every few years, but it’s not an entirely inappropriate metaphor. By these lights these were all, in a very real sense, anarchist societies. They were founded on an explicit rejection of the logic of the state and of the market. (Graeber, pp. 22-3)

The crucial point for Graeber is that the way to counteract power is to prevent the very things that allow some to take power:

But Mauss and Clastres’ argument suggests something even more radical. It suggests that counterpower, at least in the most elementary sense, actually exists where the states and markets are not even present; that in such cases, rather than being embodied in popular institutions which pose themselves against the power of lords, or kings, or plutocrats, they are embodied in institutions which ensure such types of person never come about. What it is “counter” to, then, is a potential, a latent aspect, or dialectical possibility if you prefer, within the society itself. (Graeber, p. 25)

Can a counter-power society be high-tech? Are such structures only possible with a low level of technological development? Who knows? It is clear that the exact type of technology we have now presupposes large concentration of power. A better question might be: How would we get there from here? What type of technology could fit with a decentralized society? Here is where the imagination comes in. Ran Prieur has been discussing this on his blog recently. In order to make such a thing happen we would need to think and act in new ways. Graeber discusses the role of imagination (and mentions the imagination that is required for empathy) in a “counter-power,” or stateless society?

To sum up the argument so far, then:

1) Counterpower is first and foremost rooted in the imagination; it emerges from the fact that all social systems are a tangle of contradictions, always to some degree at war with themselves. Or, more precisely, it is rooted in the relation between the practical imagination required to maintain a society based on consensus (as any society not based on violence must, ultimately, be)—the constant work of imaginative identification with others that makes understanding possible—and the spectral violence which appears to be its constant, perhaps inevitable corollary.

2) In egalitarian societies, counterpower might be said to be the predominant form of social power. It stands guard over what are seen as certain frightening possibilities within the society itself: notably against the emergence of systematic forms of political or economic dominance.

2a) Institutionally, counterpower takes the form of what we would call institutions of direct democracy, consensus and mediation; that is, ways of publicly negotiating and controlling that inevitable internal tumult and transforming it into those social states (or if you like, forms of value) that society sees as the most desirable: conviviality, unanimity, fertility, prosperity, beauty, however it may be framed.

3) In highly unequal societies, imaginative counterpower often defines itself against certain aspects of dominance that are seen as particularly obnoxious and can become an attempt to eliminate them from social relations completely. When it does, it becomes revolutionary.

3a) Institutionally, as an imaginative well, it is responsible for the creation of new social forms, and the revalorization or transformation of old ones, and also,

4) in moments of radical transformation—revolutions in the old-fashioned sense—this is precisely what allows for the notorious popular ability to innovate entirely new politics, economic, and social forms. Hence, it is the root of what Antonio Negri has called “constituent power,” the power to create constitutions. (Graeber, pp. 35-6)

How to get there from here? Graeber suggests that uprisings and revolts are counterproductive. Strategic withdrawals of energy from power institutions are more promising as tactics, especially when combines with strategic investments of energy in voluntary, free-will networks:

There is a way out, which is to accept that anarchist forms of organization would not look anything like a state. That they would involve an endless variety of communities, associations, networks, projects, on every conceivable scale, overlapping and intersecting in any way we could imagine, and possibly many that we can’t. Some would be quite local, others global. Perhaps all they would have in common is that none would involve anyone showing up with weapons and telling everyone else to shut up and do what they were told. And that, since anarchists are not actually trying to seize power within any national territory, the process of one system replacing the other will not take the form of some sudden revolutionary cataclysm—the storming of a Bastille, the seizing of a Winter Palace—but will necessarily be gradual, the creation of alternative forms of organization on a world scale, new forms of communication, new, less alienated ways of organizing life, which will, eventually, make currently existing forms of power seem stupid and beside the point. (Graeber, p. 40)

Autonomist thinkers in Italy have, over the last couple decades, developed a theory of what they call revolutionary “exodus.” It is inspired in part by particularly Italian conditions—the broad refusal of factory work among young people, the flourishing of squats and occupied “social centers” in so many Italian cities... But in all this Italy seems to have acted as a kind of laboratory for future social movements, anticipating trends that are now beginning to happen on a global scale.

The theory of exodus proposes that the most effective way of opposing capitalism and the liberal state is not through direct confrontation but by means of what Paolo Virno has called “engaged withdrawal,” mass defection by those wishing to create new forms of community. One need only glance at the historical record to confirm that most successful forms of popular resistance have taken precisely this form. They have not involved challenging power head on (this usually leads to being slaughtered, or if not, turning into some—often even uglier—variant of the very thing one first challenged) but from one or another strategy of slipping away from its grasp, from flight, desertion, the founding of new communities. One Autonomist historian, Yann Moulier Boutang, has even argued that the history of capitalism has been a series of attempts to solve the problem of worker mobility—hence the endless elaboration of institutions like indenture, slavery, coolie systems, contract workers, guest workers, innumerable forms of border control—since, if the system ever really came close to its own fantasy version of itself, in which workers were free to hire on and quit their work wherever and whenever they wanted, the entire system would collapse. It’s for precisely this reason that the one most consistent demand put forward by the radical elements in the globalization movement—from the Italian Autonomists to North American anarchists—has always been global freedom of movement, “real globalization,” the destruction of borders, a general tearing down of walls. (Graeber, pp. 60-1)

Graeber concludes with some practical suggestions on how to eliminate disparities of income between the developed and the less-developed countries:
Globalization and the Elimination of North-South Inequalities

As I’ve mentioned, the “anti-globalization movement” is increasingly anarchist in inspiration. In the long run the anarchist position on globalization is obvious: the effacement of nation-states will mean the elimination of national borders. This is genuine globalization. Anything else is just a sham. But for the interim, there are all sorts of concrete suggestions on how the situation can be improved right now, without falling back on statist, protectionist, approaches. One example:

Once during the protests before the World Economic Forum, a kind of junket of tycoons, corporate flacks and politicians, networking and sharing cocktails at the Waldorf Astoria, pretended to be discussing ways to alleviate global poverty. I was invited to engage in a radio debate with one of their representatives. As it happened the task went to another activist but I did get far enough to prepare a three-point program that I think would have taken care of the problem nicely:

• an immediate amnesty on international debt (An amnesty on personal debt might not be a bad idea either but it’s a different issue.)

• an immediate cancellation of all patents and other intellectual property rights related to technology more than one year old

• the elimination of all restrictions on global freedom of travel or residence

The rest would pretty much take care of itself. The moment the average resident of Tanzania, or Laos, was no longer forbidden to relocate to Minneapolis or Rotterdam, the government of every rich and powerful country in the world would certainly decide nothing was more important than finding a way to make sure people in Tanzania and Laos preferred to stay there. Do you really think they couldn’t come up with something?

The point is that despite the endless rhetoric about “complex, subtle, intractable issues” (justifying decades of expensive research by the rich and their well-paid flunkies), the anarchist program would probably have resolved most of them in five or six years. But, you will say, these demands are entirely unrealistic! True enough. But why are they unrealistic? Mainly, because those rich guys meeting in the Waldorf would never stand for any of it. This is why we say they are themselves the problem.
(Graeber, pp. 77-9)

To be continued...


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