Thursday 19 July 2007

Liberty- But Not For the Few

Pommygranate has quite reasonably asked what my gripe with Walmart was.
A just point, and I felt it deserved it's own post.

My problem isn't with Walmart on its own, it is with multinational corporations full stop.

I don't just think that they are a threat to our freedom, I think they make a mockery of the concept.
Yes, I think we have to fight the inching march towards totalitarianism.
But we also need to free ourselves from this conditioned wage slavery too.

Let's get back to basics.
The form of any social structure, is basically geared to human needs.
Our mode of living needs to distribute food, extract raw materials from source, manufacture the material goods we need, distribute them and maintain the necessary infrasctructure our society needs to acheive that.
That's basically what is necessary for our species to survive and develop.

So at this level, it is wise to be Utilitarian.
Utilitarianism has gone out of fashion, which is a pity really. The Works of John Stuart Mill are worth studying, not only because he made one of the first coherant arguments for female equality, but because in works like 'On Representative Government' and 'In Defence of Utilitarianism', he presents a good description of gradual evolution towards true democracy and social equality. He rightly points out that social modes of government are dictated by the level of technological progress acheived.

For example, the Athens of Classical Times was not a democracy in the way we would see it. The majority of the subjects of Athens were slaves, and a minority of the rest were full citizens.
Marx, of course, makes much the same point. He saw no point in trying to overthrow the Capitalist system whilst it was working (His followers must have stopped reading by then), but he pointed out that one day, it MUST run out of steam. Continual Economic growth, like perpetual motion, just isn't feasible.

One day, the economic model we are used to, the financial concepts we are familiar with, must have reached the end of their day.

This shouldn't shock us. The Mercantilist mode of trade that lasted until the advent of Capitalism, depended on Trading Monopolies and Slavery.
These things ended, not because people suddenly became more moral, but because they now hindered human progress, where once they aided it.
Life was just much harsher once.

Morality is a luxury.
But it is the most important luxury.
Technology and Social Progress allowed us to lead a form of existence that was better for all than the previous mode, with slaves, serfs, absolute monarchs, etc.

Technology and Social Progress have now reached the end of another cycle.
It is the Capitalist mode of life that now stands in the way.

It was still on the way up when Marx wrote. He said that himself.
And it was still flourishing in 1917.
But anyway, Soviet Russia was not a Communist state, nor a Democracy.

The point is made here. Collectivisation has been perverted to mean private ownership by the state.
That's not the idea.

Whilst a tiny minority own the entire produce of the world- and thus own our labour- DEMOCRACY IS A SHAM.

Let me put this to you.
Imagine a country where there are two parties, the Black Party and the White Party.
A large corporation- We'll call it Greedycorp- says it will close down all its factories and move them abroad if the Black Party win.
If it employes two hundred thousand people, an announcement like that can give a lot of votes to the White Party.

Whoever wins, Greedycorp will make similar profits. Basically, a few large corporations can decide who governs and what laws are passed, by threatening to throw their rattle out of the pram.
A Greedycorp employee would be stupid not to vote for the White Party. We can't blame him/her.
But doesn't it mean our votes are bought?

To me, true liberty means the entire apparatus of production and distribution should be under democratic control.
Not owned by unaccountable vested interests.
Not owned by an all powerful state.
But under the democratic control of the people.
Run by democratically elected executives.

When all the people have a share in the management of our existence, then the attitude of all to the society we live in will change.

The people themselves will have the power to provide full employment, end poverty and make their own economic decisions.

And I think that you would find, everyone was a lot more involved.
That is my vision of Freedom.
That is my vision of Democracy.


Anonymous said...

Who is Walmart? I can't keep up with all these new bloggers...

Anonymous said...


My vision of freedom is shoppers having full shelves to choose from and a competing bunch of retailers to visit.

No-one forces you to shop at Walmart (Asda).

This is what happens when governments try to control the food supply.

Anonymous said...

CBI - Strong reservations about this post.

Let's start another wya? What do you like in your life?

Do you like buying a wide range food and goods easily? Do you like having a computer? Do you use mobile phones?

None of these things can be brought to us without international companies. None at all. All are far to complex and have massive supply chains that drive the need for big companies to manage the production and distribution.

If you want to limit the political power of these organisations then you can advocate various strategies such as limiting donations to parties.

Also if the workforce is educated, including the management, then they are not all evil types as you imply.

Look at Tom Hunter this week for example.

Suggesting an end to large multinationals will make the world a smaller and poorer place.

My only slight digression from this would be when the media is stongly controlled by a single person or group in a country. this can have a very real effect on the workings of democracy and strong laws should be in place to prevent oligopolies in the media; something the UK could do with.

Anonymous said...

The two good things the EU treaty brings us is protection from companies that abuse a dominant position and prevention from governments interfering in the market too much.

These things stop companies having too much power over us. If you don't like what Walmart/Tesco/whoever are doing, go somewhere else!

Anonymous said...

I don't like Wal-Mart. Cheap quality. They repackage merchandise in smaller quantites and people think they are getting bargains when they are just buying more of the smaller quantities. They have done more than a few shady international business deals, especially in China. Their ethos are questionable.

Anonymous said...

Crushed-I understand where you are coming from, and Wal-mart is just the most obvious example of people's self-interest subverting a long-term vision that would include short-term sacrifice. Past societies called this self-interest decadence, and recognized it as leading to the collapse of civilization.

Pittsburgh's social history is an excellent example of the vagaries of corporatism. Prior to the introduction of the Bessemer converter, the production of steel was a highly skilled occupation, and controlled by the most skilled--the puddlers. Their union allowed for a checked system of profiting, which involved wage profits that fluctuated with overall profit. Owners sought to crush this threat to their profits (even though it was the puddlers own labors that created said profit) and invested in technologies that would displace the autonomous, skilled worker. Enter the Bessemer, which required an enormous initial expenditure, but very little costs to run since unskilled and semi-skilled workers could operate the furnace. The resulting corporate class controlled labor, controlled city and state politics, controlled the social and economic environment of the city, and controlled the wages of the unskilled workers they preferred to hire. I'll be happy to recommend further reading.

The point is mainly that the accoutrements of a successful society--the baubles and trifles marketed by corporations as "necessary" to survival--are a balm that soothes and blinds most people to corporate control of labor, profits, and liberty.

Anonymous said...

Helen- How do you have the audacity to come onto my boyfriend's blog after maliciously attacking me? Do you have absolutely no morals or couth?I would suggest your recent behaviour makes you the piss off!

Anonymous said...

What a brilliant post. It seems a lot of us our on the same wave length tonight as I have written a blog which ended up as a rant about our government as well.

It's not as eloquent as this one though.

Anonymous said...


I don't like Wal-Mart

then you are free to take your business elsewhere.

Ed - well said. they are the twin benefits of the EU and we shouldnt overlook them (despite Sarkozy's best efforts to end competition as a policy goal)


"The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits"
Milton Friedman

Anonymous said...

I meant are, not "our" in my previous post. Damn. My brain seems to be malfunctioning tonight. Where, oh where, is Mr. Webster at when I need him the most?

Anonymous said...

Helen - if we didn't have "baubles" then there would be no demand for the steel in the first place - so your precious steel workers would be tilling the soil. A worthy activity but industrialisation (and de-industrialisation) has enabled people to drag themselves up the skills ladder not down. The ultimate destination for anti-capitalists (for you and CBI seem to stand on this ground) is for us to go back to a subsistence economy - with all its fruits such as short life expectancy, killer diseases round every corner, etc. This romanticised view of the past is just that - I doubt if you were to go back to pre-enclosure England you would find that everything was hunky-dory.

Anonymous said...

JJ- You should check Walmart out, he's a very witty blogger. some very funny posts there about how to emply a workforce on two dollars an hour.

Pommy- I certainly don't advocate state ownwership in that sense. I was suggesting that the executive boards of corporations be under democratic control, as in popularly elected.

CityUn- I agree, we need international organisations to manage production, manufacture and distribution.
It is the accountability of such organisations that is the concern. I simply want to see them made democratically accountable.
I'm not implying they are evil, merely that their interests do not necessarily correspond with ours. The simple fact is, we are beholden to them.
The fact is that a small minority owning outright the means whereby the rest of us live makes our 'freedom' hollow.

Ed- This is very well in theory, but there is a limit to the number of 'somewhere elses's'. It's not really free trade, its an oligopoly.
Sure thet might eachother for market shares, but between them they squeeze out the little guys.
Why do you think Fair Trade has no chance?
You must have heard of suicide pricing? Large corporations with large market shares do it frequently. It means dropping your prices on certain goods so a loss is made. If you are big enough, you can carry it, but your smaller competitors then go out of business- and the prices return to normal.

Alexys- This part of my point. In terms of social function, most corporations now do more harm than good- certainly when looking at mankind as a whole.
This isn't so much a moral point (though of course that comes into it) as the simple fact that our society has now moved to the point there are better alternatives.

Helen- It is a kind of decadence, it is the end of an economic phase. The good thing is, it can't continue too much longer, as the main motor behind continued economic growth is the expansion of consumer debt.
People forget that at one time, people would have thought slavery and trade monpolies were necessary for trade to work.
Capitalism worked well, brought progress and diffused wealth for two centuries. It had a good life span. It can't do those things any more.

Ubermouth- Please. Everyone is friends here. Please. I want to keep it that way.
And you know you are one of the most important of all :)

Shelly- I'd like to say that maybe there's revolution in the air, but maybe that's being wildly optimistic.
We are given two choices- private ownership of all the resources and infracstructure by a self serving elite, or private ownership pof all resources and distribution by an all mighty state.
I propose a third option. DEmocratic control of the resources and infrastructure by us- the people.

Pommy- Friedman would be right within the constraints of the existing system, since unprofitable businesses are inefficient and carry out their functions badly.
But ultimately it is the function that is important, and if it can be done better- and in a way that empowers the people more thoroughly, than we need to consider that.
I certainly don't mean Nationalisation. To me Nationalisation and the current system are exactly the same- An Oligopoly versus a state Monoploly. I propose a demopoly.
There- I've invented a word!

Anonymous said...

Ed- I certainly don't advocate returning to a subsistence economy.
My contention is that the current system is failing because it is INefficient today in delivery.
Large parts of the world are undeveloped because there is currently no incentive to develop them.
The market isn't going to develop the Central African Republic, or Burundi.
Continual growth is only possible to a limited degree and will not deliver progress and development on the scale it once did.

Anonymous said...

I do not befriend abusers, and liars Crushed- do you?
I thought you were against oppression and malicious persecution?
Perhaps, your commments would have been better said on another blog a week ago.

Anonymous said...

Freedom of choice is slavery.

I hate being confronted with a multitude of washing powders when all I want is one that works at a reasonable price.

Do you think that we will all become citizens of corporate entities rather than national ones ? I know people who work for Richard Branson and who are more patriotic about Virgin than they are Britain.

Anonymous said...

I live in your idea of heaven Mr Ingsoc, its called the public sector funded... its not a model place to work really and just as insecure - in its own way, as the private sector.

Aren't big companies under democratic control? I thought this was why we had things like company law, health and safety law, environmental law, equal rights laws etc.?

Anonymous said...

Did you hear about Rough Trade?

Anonymous said...

EK - thing is if there was only one washing powder there would be no incentive for it to improve - we would still have our women slaving over a washboard half the week. I like having a choice of washing powder because it gives me a choice between, say, Bio and non-Bio; evironmentally sensitive and bleaching, etc.

Burundi is "undeveloped" because the institutions and corporations don't have the infrastructure and stability to grow. Certainly a little outside help could kick-start these places. Check out Asia to see what happens when companies and trade are embraced. Japan has no natural resources of its own but is one of the richest parts of the planet. Square that circle without international corporations!

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, and isn't banning one type of organisation or another a bit, well, anti-freedom?

Anonymous said...

Ubermouth- I don't like either of those things. I can't think of any abusers or liars I defend.

E-K- I knew you'd see it! That is EXACTLY what I mean. But the idea that only multinational corporations can give us choice is another canard. Corporations like HSBC have more clout than most of the two hundred nations of the globe.
Multinational corporations work because they are multinational and thus very efficient, whilst our anachronistic nation states are easily bought over.

Mutley- This is the Hobson's choice they give us. NO I DON'T ADVOCATE THE PUBLIC SECTOR.
To me, it's about breaking down power monopolies.
What I mean by democratic control, is the officials running say, transport being publically elected officials.
It is the Co-Operative model, rather than the Public sector model I am advocating. Nationalisation is WORSE than what we have- it centralises more power.

Jeremy- I have heard the expression, but I thought it referred to ladies of the less than classy kind.
Is there another meaning I should be familiar with?

Anonymous said...

"Morality is a luxury."

Sad, but the truth. We have the knowledge of knowing what is wrong and right, but not the commitment or will to go on the right path...

Anonymous said...

Ed- There is no way Burundi CAN grow.
But the existence of places like Burundi have a negative effect on our own way of life here.
Infrastructure is the key to civilisation and quality of life. We have it they don't.
People don't starve because the world is short of food, but because we can't get it to the people.
Japan has been an honorary Western nation since she beat Russia in 1905, she is part of the club.
Africa has emraced the market- it's is bled dry by it- but it's at the wrong end.
We have the resources and the knowhow to end poverty in Africa in a matter of years, but sitting around and hoping for the market to do it as like sitting around and waiting for Christ's Second coming to do it.
I'm not on about banning anything, merely putting these organisations under popular control.
I think the resources of the whole people should be administered, not owned, not by tha state, not by private individuals.
But run by the people, for the people.

Anonymous said...

CBI, for what it's worth I have replied to your comment on Council Tax as follows:

Yes, legally a tenant pays Council Tax. But economically the Council Tax is borne by the landlord...

Imagine two landlords letting two identical properties, one on one side of a street (side A, which is in a borough with a very low council tax of £50 per month) and one on the other side (side B, in a different borough with a very high council tax of £200 per month).

If you are looking to rent, and know that the rent on Side A is £950 a month, you know that your total housing costs are £1,000 (£950 rent plus £50 Council Tax).

How low does the landlord on side B have to reduce his rent before you would consider renting on side B?

Answer = £800. Think about it.

The increase in Council Tax between side A and side B is borne by the landlord, the property owner. Not by the tenant.
"monthly mortgage payment on a property is less than it would be to rent the same property"

This is quite simply not true. Most recent BTL-ers are running a cash loss every month; their mortgage repayments are higher than the rent they get (once you net off insurance and the like).

Anonymous said...

You are a fraud and only spit out others philosophies that you do not ascribe to.

Anonymous said...

But what about new industries? Would somebody have elected Vodafone to take a huge risk by investing money in a network that nobody yet used? Your recipe is one for stagnation - does anyone suggest that we are at the peak now?

Some public services like the Police and Railways might be better administered your way, but supermarkets, mobile phone companies, staple manufacturers? Where is the incentive to innovate? Where is the incentive to invest in new technology? Where is the competition coming from?

State enterprises didn't only fail because the state didn't take an interest but because they grew fat on their monopoly so didn't invest in becoming more efficient. Was China "invited" into the "club"? No, it realised that its citizens could be enriched by unleashing the market and we all rushed to buy its products.

I now know what a left-libertarian is though, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Wait, what ? You have a Wal-Mart over there? Shut up! I have to see pictures of what an English Wal-Mart would sell. This is too funny! Please please say it's so! Then get over there and get me some pictures! What? Go, now!!!

Anonymous said...

Okay, I see your point. But as you say, it's a vision. I dunno how it'd work - you'll have to come up with a proposal for that:-). Btw; what course did you do in uni? I'm wondering if it was something to do with all this stuff you write; english, literature, economics, philosophy, political science?;-)

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Walmart was international...Walmart is the spawn of the devil, its absolutley disgusting!

Anonymous said...

CBI you're basically a communist without the confidence of the government?

You'll have to first show that the current system isn't working. Noting that there is no reason to develop central Africa is not a bump on the system, its a bump on the people.

Anonymous said...

Crashie- It is called Expediency. The benefit of technological progress is that id removes indiviual expediency more and more. As we progress our combined survival and welfare really does become more intricately bound.
Morality and Expediency draw together.

Mark- I was looking purely from the point of view of the first time buyer, but I take the point.
Thanks for showing it from that angle.

Ubermouth- We've already discussed this now, so a comment isn't needed.:)

ed- The important pint is that State Enterprises MUST be a big no-no.
Separation of power is a large part of my vision. A number of separate, democratic bodies, each with limited functions. Ultimately i think all forms of libertarianism are basically pulling the same way, but from different angles.
We certainly all know what we are fighting AGAINST, and at the moment that certainly means getting Labour out.

Poody- we don't have Walmart, but I used them as an example. we have ADS and Tescos, which aren't much better, but any reader knows Walmart, and I try not to make my posts unintelligible.

Eve- I have a degree in English Lit, I specialised in Medieval Epic and Romance.

Jenny- I have a feeling they might own ASDA now. Most of these corporation are. Years ago, I had a diectory of the main holding Companies behind all the blue chip companies in the UK. Out of about 500 blue chips, there was only about 60 holding companies.
Ever heard of Five Continents?
You won't have done, they're a holding comoany, but they own a large proportion of the world's soft drinks- as in one five continents.
I know they own Corona and Schweppes, don't know who else...

Lord N- The only problem with Communism was that it turned out to be a state run tyranny.
But in the TRUE sense, democracy and communism aren't only not incompatible- they are exactly the same thing. All the people deciding on EVERYTHING together, with no one excluded from the process.

Have a look at the inner cities of the western world and tell me it's working.

Anonymous said...

democracy and communism the same?

"All the people deciding on EVERYTHING together, with no one excluded from the process."

Democracy is based on the majority rules, communism is based on no one rules (everyone owns everything).

Again, look at those midwest inner-cities, tell me how the system is failing? The people yes, the system, no.

Anonymous said...

And the women of Athens were not "free" at all. They didn't even go out. I, too, thik we would all do well to reread JSM. I can't disagree with your vision here, Crushed. Great post.

Anonymous said...

Sorry CBI you haven't answered my question - where does the incentive to take risks come from in your model?

Anonymous said...

Lord N- 'communism is based on no one rules (everyone owns everything'
Or more exactly everyone rules (no one owns anything)
I really meant western cities in general, with a large sub-strata living with heroin, prostition and squalour as simply the only life they know- and the only life we can offer, a life of hopeless welfare dependency till early death.

Welshcakes- Mils is an underrated philosopher.
Unfortunately, since we moved, I can't my Collected Works, It's not where it should be. A mystery, and annoying too.

Ed- There'd always be the incentive to take risks. Scott didn't traipse to the Antarctic for Money.
Armstrong didn't land on the moon for money.
These are the risks that matter, the risks that push us forward.

Anonymous said...

I think a civilization that sees no alternative to corporate exploitation than primitive, squalid conditions is doomed to fail. In the case of the steelworkers, why would experienced, highly-skilled metallurgists revert to subsistence living? If our future is to be re-written we must admit to failed systems and direct our course to a more egalitarian method of labor management and profit control.

I’ve never espoused a return to a romanticized past. I am in the history business, and am fully aware of the strides that have been made in the last 500 years. However, history has taught me as well that civilizations that narrow their focus and blindly maintain a status quo will fail. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
I sincerely hope you will never experience corporate control of local politics, medicine, pensions, and governments (including the powers of police protection, eminent domain, taxation, and escheat). It should make everyone cautious to know that many corporations do, in fact, exert this control.

Anonymous said...

WOWWW...!:-D I'm so proud I guessed it right (although, just in case i was wrong, I threw in some other miscellaneous subjects;-p)! Interesting... I wish I'd taken English literature. I'm sure it'd be more fun than what I'm studying...:-)

Anonymous said...

Helen -'I think a civilization that sees no alternative to corporate exploitation than primitive, squalid conditions is doomed to fail.'
Couldn't agree more.

Eve- I wasn't a very studious student. But I did graduate, by some miracle.

Anonymous said...

"I really meant western cities in general, with a large sub-strata living with heroin, prostition and squalour as simply the only life they know- and the only life we can offer, a life of hopeless welfare dependency till early death."

CBI: you're vision is basically that people have NO control over their lives, their choices in life have NO meaning and only the STATE can fix anything for them.

Look at those same cities you harp on, look at all the people that do NOT live as you say, is it the system again? or is it simply the people?

Anonymous said...

Lord Nazh- You said 'you're vision is basically that people have NO control over their lives, their choices in life have NO meaning and only the STATE can fix anything for them.'

True, except the last line. I Don't think the state can fix anything. I think the peole themselves can if given democratic control over their own lives. That means resources and infrastructute.