Archive for September, 2011

Happy Agricultural Reform Day! link roundup

September 30th, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

No, really: on this day São Tomé and Príncipe celebrates the nationalization of large plantations. There should really be more holidays like that.

31 years ago today the Ethernet specification was published, and without it this blog wouldn’t be possible.

8 years ago today, Yusuf Bey died. I’m mentioning that mostly as an excuse to link to the insane saga of Your Black Muslim Bakery.

I’ve now risen high enough in Google’s algorithms to get some interesting search engine traffic. My favorites from the past week or so:

  • “how to short germany”. Sorry, we’re not a financial advice blog here, can’t help you.
  • “i’m reading huckleberry finn for english but i’m not getting what’s going on at all”. My one post on Huck Finn probably didn’t help this guy either.
  • “коммодификация”. Google Translate tells me this is Russian for “commodification”.
  • “how does someone steal shoes from department stores”. I believe stuffing them under your coat is a popular method.
  • “do we still have capitalism”. Good question! I think I actually do have some helpful things to say about this.
  • “the book of job translation in modern english”. I think this person was actually looking for information about “the job of book translation”, which I do have one post about. But “the book of job translation” isn’t a bad description of a lot of the other writing here.
  • “business cycle turkey”. Mmmm, turkey.

Anyway, your links:

  • What’s that expression, it’s not the crime, it’s the pepper spraying? The media was all set to ignore the Wall Street protests, until the cops decided to go buck wild. Click that link to see former Daniel Patrick Moynihan advisor Lawrence O’Donnell sounding like vintage Ice Cube: “There’s a Rodney King every day in this country, and black America has always known that.”

  • Speaking of Ice Cube, “My Summer Vacation” is a great track about some LA gangbangers moving to Saint Louis to start up a new franchise. Listen to that as you read about how today’s gangs spread to America’s smaller cities.

  • And speaking of Occupy Wall Street, check out my pal Chris Maisano and my organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, in this Salon article.

  • More OWS: I haven’t written anything about Occupy Wall Street because I’m not sure what to say about it, even though I’m rooting for it to succeed and expand. Perhaps because it’s not sure what to say about itself. Still, it’s looking like things are starting to gather some momentum.

  • Just to be clear, the Obama administration is now in the business of assassinating American citizens whenever they feel like it, with no due process or legal oversight. In a different context, we’d use words like “death squad” to refer to stuff like this.

  • Groupon seems like it’s either an egregious scam or the next big tech company or possibly both, or perhaps just pure bezzle. Felix salmon explains why the company may not be doomed, and why the huge amount of money taken out of the money-losing company by its founders could be a rational venture capitalist strategy rather than the crass looting I always figured it was. I still think they’re doomed, though.

  • I already mentioned it, but here again: this series of articles about the replacement of human labor with robots is quite good on the specifics of automation, but it goes with what’s basically a “jobless future” argument, and is therefore probably wrong: capitalism is endlessly capable of coming up with things that humans can be paid to do. It’s always a mistake to say “in the future there will be no jobs” rather than “in the future we could spent a lot less time in paid labor”. The real lesson here is that there’s no reason to keep coming up with alienating jobs for people, and we have the opportunity to live lives that are mostly free of the drudgery of unwanted work, but only if a political movement arises to make that happen. As always, see “Anti-Star Trek”, along with “Against Jobs” and its follow-up, for my more considered reflections on this topic.

  • Oceania has always been at war against inflation.

  • Tom Slee asked very nicely that everyone go read this old post. Tom Slee is great, so you should do what he says.

  • “That’s probably the pragmatic way to look at it. But it seems to me, though, that it’s a concession to a step back in civilization”. You’ll just have to watch the whole thing to find out what the context of that statement is. Salim Muwakkil is kind of a national treasure, but you probably don’t know about him unless you’ve lived in Chicago. Should you happen to catch the fever, though, go on to watch this clip, especially after about the six minute mark. “Did that kind of radicalize you, when you were shot?”

  • If you like quantitative data, survey research, and corrections for measurement error, you’ll love this video about how the Census Bureau fixed an error in their new count of same-gender couples. Which is to say, I loved it. And if that doesn’t have enough complicated mathematical equations for you, there’s a technical paper!

  • New home sales in 2011 are on pace to be the lowest since at least 1963. Sales this year are at less than a quarter of what they were in 2005, at the peak of the bubble.

  • Epic Bureau of Economic Analysis fail. I knew that their initial estimates of the severity of the recession were off, but I hadn’t caught that they revised the GDP growth number from Q4 2008 from -3.8% all the way down to -8.9%!!! Let this be a lesson to all us quants who rely on U.S. government statistics.

  • Some random day trader got on TV and caused a big uproar by confirming every suspicion you ever had that finance guys are amoral, callous assholes who don’t actually care about the health of the global economy. Then people started to wonder whether the whole thing might be a Yes Men hoax.

  • Via the Jacobin crew, I found out that it’s Capitalism Awareness Week. I hope that this consciousness-raising effort serves to increase awareness of the capitalism epidemic and the risk it poses to the public.

  • “If you’re quick with a knife, you’ll find that the invisible hand is made of delicious invisible meat”.

  • I still don’t know what the current Palestinian statehood initiative is actually going to amount to, but at least it’s leading to things like this. Tony Blair is truly one of the most contemptible living humans.

  • Anyone who took that Onion story about congressional hostage-taking seriously, or thinks the Onion “went too far”, is, to quote Charles Barkley, a stone freaking idiot.

  • Corporations have figured out that they can manipulate Tea Partiers into doing their lobbying for them.

  • Regime change doesn’t work.

The Conservative Leftist and the Radical Longshoreman

September 29th, 2011  |  Published in Political Economy, Politics, Work, xkcd.com/386

Via Yglesias, I find to my dismay that some alleged progressives at Lawyers, Guns, and Money are exulting in the failure of supermarkets to replace human checkers with automatic checking machines. Like Yglesias, I don’t think bemoaning automation in this way is helpful. He gives the empirical argument that slow productivity growth hasn’t historically been good for workers, and that too-low wages are probably one of the things impeding the adoption of productivity-enhancing technology. The second is an argument that I made before, specifically using the supermarket checkout machine as an example. But now I want to make a broader ideological point about this.

These two posts, the one from Erik Loomis and especially the follow up by “DJW”, contain two distinct arguments for the anti-machine position. To take the second and less compelling one first, there’s the claim that maybe being a supermarket checker isn’t so alienating and menial after all:

Secondly, this line of thinking makes some assumptions that I’m sympathetic to, but can’t entirely get on board with. First, the assumption that we can theorize about jobs in this concrete and certain way and determine that supermarket checker (and I assume many much worse jobs) are ‘menial’ and we should hope for a world in which humans don’t do that sort of thing. I like my early Marx, too, but I can’t get on board with this. I simply don’t think we have the tools to do this kind of universal theorizing about the essential nature and value of this or that job. People have long found meaning and dignity in all manner of repetitive and uncreative work. Others have approached the world of work with indifference; they work to pay the bills and finding meaning and value in other aspects of their lives. Marx, of course, chalked this sort of thing up to alienation and false consciousness and the like, but I’m more of pluralist about what a dignified and fully human life looks like. At a minimum, I don’t have all the answers, and have a healthy distrust of letting my own tastes and proclivities get in the way of respecting other’s ability to determine what they value about their lives on their own terms.

This is reminiscent of my exchange with Reihan Salam from a couple of months ago, and I don’t find this argument any more compelling from the left than I did from the right. I’ll just note that by framing the issue in this way, DJW totally effaces the real nature of work in a capitalist society. To pretend that the existence of many people who work as supermarket checkers reflects their “ability to determine what they value about their lives on their own terms” is to ignore the reality that for the worker without independent wealth, the only “choice” is between obtaining the wage they need to get by, or starving in the streets. You don’t see a lot of trust-fund kids or lottery winners working as supermarket checkers.

Moreover, there’s no principled rationale here. If the menial jobs we have are good, then why wouldn’t more would be better? we could solve the jobs deficit through a campaign against technology throughout the economy. This would also have the effect of lowering our material standard of living, but to this way of thinking that’s presumably a good thing.

I doubt the LGM bloggers really endorse such a program, though. As I said, I don’t think the argument is based on an ideological principle at all; rather, it’s the result of a pragmatic calculation:

First, let’s be clear that this is some deeply utopian stuff. This makes third party advocates seem downright practical. We’ve had a modern capitalist economy for quite some time now, in many different countries, and I can’t think of any that have come anywhere close to this, or made it a meaningful priority. Of course some unpleasant and meaningful jobs have been largely eliminated, and more probably will be in the future, but when this does occur it is almost always with indifference or actual malice toward the eliminated worker, rather than compassion. And while the overall mix of jobs in a society may improve for the better over time, it’s virtually never the case that workers in eliminated fields end up better off. If the elimination takes place in a moment of robust employment they may be OK, but for the most part those who lose the jobs are going to be worse off for a good long while. Even in the most robust and humane welfare states the modern world has developed, unemployment is generally associated with a decline in living standards, sense of self-worth, and so on.

Leave aside for a moment that this argument sort of implies that no-one should ever lose their job, which is inconsistent with the assumption of a capitalist economy; I’m willing to chalk that up to a sloppy formulation. The general principle being expressed here isn’t unreasonable or irrational: sometimes it’s better to help a few workers here and now than to run off after utopian pie in the sky, and we should be wary of the slippery logic that it’s OK to impose hardship on a few workers for the sake of the greater good. This is the same thinking that’s at work in defenses of licensing cartels that protect some workers at the expense of consumers and excluded laborers, and in attacks on investments in urban infrastructure that may have the effect of pricing some people out of their neighborhoods. These aren’t silly things to be worried about–if you can’t achieve anything positive, you should at least do no harm. And as the left has gotten weaker and weaker, such arguments have gotten more and more plausible. But we’ve reached a point where some people seem to be opposed to any policy at all that imposes a burden on any group of workers.

It’s an attitude that bespeaks an intensely conservative and defensive politics, and one which has internalized the great right-wing motif of the past several decades: there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism. To Loomis and DJW, the possibility of a historically novel progressive alternative is literally unthinkable. For them, the only choices are a) an intensification of neoliberalism’s logic of inequality and joblessness; or b) a desperate struggle to hold on to the remnants of the 20th century Keynesian social compromise. Given those options, I’d take the second choice as well.

But I don’t think those are the only options, and moreover I don’t think that in the long run this position is really as pragmatic as it seems. It commits the left to an endlessly reactive, defensive struggle over a shrinking commons, while leaving us bereft of any compelling vision to offer people. And trying to fight off automation won’t be a matter of a few rear-guard skirmishes, but of all-out societal-scale war: see Farhad Manjoo’s ongoing series on the pervasive effect of robotization throughout all sectors of the economy.

That isn’t to say that I’m always opposed to defensive struggles–sometimes that’s the best you can do, and sometimes winning a small human-scale victory is worth compromising our broader vision a bit. But the LGM authors go a good deal farther than this: Erik Loomis’s original post didn’t say that de-automation was a good second best outcome, he said that he was “very glad” to see the self-checkout machines disappear, because they are “a calculated plan by grocery stores to employ less people.” DJW, meanwhile, straightforwardly embraces Luddism. I’m taken aback by a worldview that would make such defensiveness and conservatism central to its ideology. That’s not what the left has been about at its best–and as Corey Robin explains, it’s not even what right-wing “conservatism” was ever about.

Left out of consideration in these anti-technology arguments is any conception that increased productivity could be used to benefit the masses rather than the elite. The decoupling of rising productivity from rising fortunes for workers is, after all, only a phenomenon of the past 30 years. In the period prior to that, rising productivity went with rising wages: this was the heart of the postwar Keynesian social compact. And in the period prior to that, rising productivity went along with a shortening of the working day, through a long series of bitter struggles. It’s odd, and a bit sad, to see the LGM bloggers ahistorically naturalizing the left’s weakness, especially given that at least one of the authors I’m discussing is a college professor. I thought it was the professors who were supposed remind us of history, and to cling to impractical utopianism. But to find an antidote to the timid conservatism of the professor, we have to turn to the harebrained utopian dreaming of….dockworkers.

Containerization and automation have drastically decreased the need for human labor in America’s ports, as anyone who’s watched Season 2 of The Wire knows. But among some longeshoreman the response wasn’t to resist the machines, but to accept them–with conditions:

In modern times, far more than other unions, the longshoreman have used technological change to their advantage. In 1960, the West Coast longshoremen agreed to far-reaching automation that replaced inefficient break-bulk cargo, which relied on hooks to move the cargo, with containerized cargo, which relies on cranes. In accepting automation, the union recognized that productivity would soar and the number of longshoremen needed would plunge; there are now 10,500 West Coast longshoremen, down from 100,000 in the 1950’s.

In exchange, the union received an unusual promise: port operators pledged to share the fruits of the new automation. Management promised all longshoremen a guaranteed level of pay, even if there was not work for everyone. Management also promised to share the wealth.

Bill DiFazio wrote a book about some longshoremen like this in New York, and he makes a case against the view that without wage labor, our lives will lose meanings and we will drift into dissipation. He found instead that the lives of the longshoremen were greatly enriched, as they were freed from dangerous labor and became more deeply involved with their neighborhoods and their families.

Basically, I think this is the deal we need to strike throughout the economy: automation (and relatedly, free trade) in exchange for compensating the displaced. However, the longshoremen were only able to achieve this victory because they occupy an unusual strategic choke-point in the economy. Shutting down the ports can cripple wide swaths of business, and this gives dockworkers a kind of negotiating leverage that isn’t available to, say, supermarket checkers. Which is why I think that the demand to compensate workers for technological change now has to be fought out politically and electorally, at the level of the state, rather than in the individual workplace. That’s the essence of my argument for the Basic Income: just like the dockworkers’ agreement, it ensures a level of pay whether or not there is work for everyone, only it generalizes the principle to encompass the whole economy.

You can dismiss that as utopianism if you like. Certainly the call for work reduction and the decoupling of income from employment has been made many times through the generations, from Paul LaFargue to André Gorz to Stanley Aronowitz. But the left does itself no favors by remaining in a defensive crouch, clinging to nostalgia for a political order that was rooted in a very different political economy–and which wasn’t even all that great to begin with. Despite what William F. Buckley once said, the right didn’t win by “standing athwart history yelling ‘stop!'”–and on issues where they did do that, like racial segregation and gay marriage, they have lost or are losing. The modern right provided an offensive strategy and a grand vision of what was wrong with the society that existed and what had to be done to turn it into something better: one market under god.

Their dream of unrestrained capitalism, of course, turned out to be a nightmarish fraud. But that’s all the more reason to demand something new and better, rather than merely clinging to what’s left of the old.

The Basic Income and the Helicopter Drop

September 26th, 2011  |  Published in Political Economy, Socialism

I haven’t been a regular reader of Steve Randy Waldman, which I now realize was a big mistake. I just discovered a post of his from last year that relates to one of my political preoccupations: the idea that everyone should receive a “Basic Income” to which they are entitled as citizens and which is not in any way conditional on whether or how much they work. In the process of figuring out his argument, I also realized that the debate we’ve been having between “fiscal” and “monetary” solutions to the employment crisis is kind of a distraction from the real issues.

The Basic Income is, obviously, a fairly radical demand, and one that may seem implausible in the context of American culture and its Protestant work ethic. However, there are reasons to think that you could build a diverse political coalition around it. One reason is that the Basic Income is embraced not only by left-wing socialists, but by some right-wing libertarians. Of course, the right wing version of the policy is different, because right-wing proponents want it to do different things; in particular, they don’t want a basic income so high that it discourages people from working, whereas I regard that as a feature rather than a bug. Nevertheless, there is potential for alliances in the short run.

But thanks to Waldman, I now see that there is another argument for basic income; this one comes neither from the socialist left nor the libertarian right, but from the technocratic liberal center. For as Waldman explains, a form of Basic Income could be used by the Federal Reserve as a tool of macroeconomic stabilization and regulation of the business cycle.

Recall that the Fed is supposed to use its policies to keep unemployment as low as possible, while also keeping inflation under control. As Waldman explains in this post, there have been two different periods of Federal Reserve policy in the United States: one in which inflation was controlled by causing mass unemployment (and thus there was a direct tradeoff between the employment and price stability mandates), and one in which they focused on controlling asset prices and access to credit:

Prior to the Great Moderation, central bankers had to provoke recessions in order to control inflation. Broad-based wage growth led to increases in nominal cashflows by “spenders” that could only be tempered by creating unemployment or other conditions under which workers would accept wage concessions. In the post-Reagan world, growth in the sticky component of disposable income shifted to the wealthy, who tend to save rather than spend their raises. The marginal dollar of consumer expenditure switched from wages to borrowed money. The great thing about consumption funded by credit expansion, from a central banker’s point of view, is that it is not sticky downward — no one who gets a loan today assumes that she will be able to expand her borrowing by the same amount every year. Credit-based consumption is susceptible to monetary policy with far less impact on employment than wage-based consumption.

In other words, the stagnation of median wages and the funnelling of income growth to the top 1% is directly related to the pattern of credit expansion and asset bubbles that we’ve seen over the past 30 years. See Waldman’s post for an explanation of why, while it’s possible to have an ongoing dynamic where economic growth is fueled by repeated bubbles followed by debt cancellation, this isn’t a desirable state of affairs. What I’m interested in is the later post where Waldman gives a third stabilization strategy: having the Fed hand out free money, the mythical “Helicopter Drop”:

We should try to arrange things so that the marginal unit of CPI is purchased with “helicopter drop” money. That is, rather than trying to fine-tune wages, asset prices, or credit, central banks should be in the business of fine tuning a rate of transfers from the bank to the public. During depressions and disinflations, the Fed should be depositing funds directly in bank accounts at a fast clip. During booms, the rate of transfers should slow to a trickle. We could reach the “zero bound”, but a different zero bound than today’s zero interest rate bugaboo. At the point at which the Fed is making no transfers yet inflation still threatens, the central bank would have to coordinate with Congress to do “fiscal policy” in the form of negative transfers, a.k.a. taxes. However, this zero bound would be reached quite rarely if we allow transfers to displace credit expansion as the driver of money growth in the economy. In other words, at the same time as we expand the use of “helicopter money” in monetary policy, we should regulate and simplify banks, impose steep capital requirements, and relish complaints that this will “reduce credit availability”. The idea is to replace the macroeconomic role of bank credit with freshly issued cash.

He further elaborates that he thinks “central banks should make equal transfers to all adult citizens irrespective of income, job, or tax status.” Although he doesn’t use the term, this is just basic income by another name–the only difference (and obviously, it’s a significant one) is that the level of the the BI grant fluctuates rather than being set at a stable level. So you could say that there are now three distinct versions of the basic income, coming from across the political spectrum: the leftist version demands a high BI, the rightist version wants a low BI, and the centrist version advocates a varying BI.

But I’m not sure where any of these proposals would fit into Mike Konczal’s typology of ways to fix the economy. This is obviously a “demand side” argument, but it sort of cuts across the argument between people who think we can get back to full employment purely through monetary policy and those who think we need fiscal stimulus and/or debt deleveraging. Waldman is making a monetary policy argument in the sense that he’s advocating stimulus via Federal Reserve control of the money supply. But this isn’t anything like the way the Fed currently operates–indeed, as Waldman acknowledges, you’d have to change the law to allow the Fed to do what he’s advocating here, since at present they’re only allowed to exchange money for assets, and can’t just give it away.

So rather than break things down into “monetary” and “fiscal” camps, maybe it’s better to think of the situation as follows:

  • The big divide is between people who want to reflate the economy by continuing to channel money to the top of the income distribution and expanding debt for everyone else, and those who want to do it by a broad-based, redistributive program that puts money in the hands of the masses.
  • Within the “give more money to the rich” camp, there is a split between people who want to rely on tax cuts, fiscal austerity, and deregulation of business, and those who want to have the Fed print money and use it to inflate the price of risky assets.
  • Within the “give more money to everybody else” camp, there is a split between people who want the government to directly employ people with some kind of jobs program, and people who just want to start giving everyone money.

While I would prefer the job-creation version of egalitarian stimulus to either of the inegalitarian alternatives, I think it would be even better to have a smaller amount of job-creation spending for things we really do need (like infrastructure), combined with the Basic Income/Helicopter Drop plan. This woud be both more just and more radical; and as Waldman also points out, in some ways guaranteed income is a substitute for the declining labor movement:

If people grow accustomed to getting sizable checks from the central bank, that would change behavior. But not all changes are bad. For example, it may be true that many workers would be pickier about what jobs to take if government transfers generated incomes they could get by on without employment. Employers would undoubtedly have to pay people who work unpleasant jobs more than they currently do. But that’s just another way of saying that workers would have greater bargaining power in negotiating employment, as their next best alternative would not be destitution. That we’ve spent 40 years increasing the bargaining power of capital over labor doesn’t make it “fair”, or good economics. Supplementary incomes are a cleaner way of increasing labor bargaining power than unionization. Unionization forces collective bargaining, which leads to one-size-fits-all work rules and inflexible hiring, firing, and promotion policies, in addition to higher wages. If workers have supplementary incomes, employment arrangements can be negotiated on terms specific to individuals and business circumstances, but outcomes will be more favorable to workers than they would have been absent an income to fall back upon.

Of course, there are other important things that unions do, like intervene in politics and advocate for better conditions in the workplace. For that reason, I won’t go all the way to the “unions bad/redistribution good” argument that Waldman seems to be making and which characterizes a lot of progressive neoliberalism. However, I do think this is a useful counter to the argument of people like Doug Henwood that stimulus via monetary policy doesn’t do anything to increase the power of labor. It all depends just what kind of “monetary policy” you’re talking about.

Link Roundup of Doom (or, the Crusties Were Right All Along)

September 23rd, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

I try not to go in for dour pessimism in my writing, but this weeks links are heavy on the doom-and-gloom. The one pleasant thing to come up today was the 20th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind. (Although maybe it’s not all pleasant if, like me, you feel incredibly old contemplating that fact.) See Latoya Peterson, Amanda Marcotte, Spencer Ackerman and Matt Yglesias for extended coverage.

You probably have to be almost exactly my age to see this anniversary as a huge deal–any older and you’d have already known about the underground Nirvana came from, any younger and you wouldn’t realize how much music and culture seemed to change after Nevermind. Yglesias and Ackerman both say that Nevermind didn’t fundmentally shake up their understanding of music, but I can’t say the same. I didn’t have any older siblings to introduce me to punk rock, so I learned about it through Nirvana. There are very few moments in my life that I can vividly recall with a kind of “where were you when JFK was shot” specificity; one of them is the 9/11 attacks, and another one is the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I was 11 years old, sitting at my desk in my bedroom and doing my homework. I had the radio tuned to a Top 40 station (probably KDWB), because that’s what I listened to at the time. But when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” came on I actually stopped what I was doing, turned around, and just sat there staring at the radio, listening to it. I had no idea what it was or where it had come from, but it was unlike anything I had ever heard before; I immediately decided that whatever it was, this was the kind of music I listened to from that point on.

From there, it was on to Fugazi, and then Minor Threat, and many more obscure finds from the bins at Extreme Noise Records. So this week’s roundup of doom and gloom will be accompanied by a carefully chosen gourmet pairing of apocalyptic hardcore and crust punk, which I might never have known about if not for Nevermind.

  • We’re doomed, political dysfunction version. Musical accompaniment: Extreme Noise Terror, “Fucked Up System”:

  • We’re doomed, wage stagnation version. Musical accompaniment: Assrash, “Kings of No Future”.

  • We’re doomed, not even pretending to be a free country anymore version. Musical accompaniment: Doom, “Police Bastard”:

  • We’re doomed, really really not even pretending to be a free country–hey, maybe that Mubarak guy was onto something! version. Musical accompaniment: Discharge, “Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing”.

  • We’re doomed, not only is Obama clueless about the economy, he’s a worse feminist than Larry Summers version. Musical Accompaniment: Spitboy, “Isolation Burns”.

  • We’re doomed, they killed Troy Davis edition. Musical accompaniment: Amebix, “Axeman”.

  • We’re doomed, Euro crisis version. Musical accompaniment: Tragedy, “Beginning of the End”.

  • We’re doomed, the FBI thinks counterrorism=Muslim-bashing version. Musical accompaniment: Destroy, “Burn this Racist System Down”.

  • And to sum it all up: Code 13, “Doomed Society”.

Politicizing the Fed

September 21st, 2011  |  Published in Politics

A while back, I wrote a post where I argued that the American political system was subject to a process I called “contagious delegitimation”. In short, dysfunction and lack of legitimacy in some parts of the American system of government leads other, still-functional parts of the system to take up the slack in an attempt to deal with social problems. But without an ability to take coordinated action alongside the dysfunctional parts of the system, even those agencies that can still act will be delegitimized and hamstrung as their efforts fail to have a sufficient impact. Later on, I added some additional institutional scaffolding to this argument, drawing on Matt Yglesias’s argument about the inherent instability of Presidential systems in the presence of ideologically disciplined parties.

I was specifically concerned that we were going to see a rapid politicization and delegitimation of the Federal Reserve, which has been trying to make up for the inaction of other branches of government by stimulating the economy through monetary policy. Recall that the Fed only had to take up QE2 in the first place because congress was too dysfunctional to pass another stimulus bill, which would have been a preferable way to deal with the weakness of the economy. The inability to get that stimulus was itself partly the product of congressional intransigence, which produced first-round stimulus that was too small and hence appeared not to work even though it almost certainly made the downturn less severe than it otherwise would have been.

Then there was the last meeting of the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee. A lot of liberals were happy that Ben Bernanke outlined an ever-so-slightly looser monetary policy, by committing to low interest rates until at least 2013. What was especially notable was that Bernanke pushed this policy through over the objections of three dissenting board members–the first time there had been this much division on the board since 1992.

But as Doug Henwood has argued, purely monetary stimulus is pretty weak sauce in the absence of fiscal stimulus from congress. So now Bernanke has to keep cranking up the high-powered money gun to try to get some traction, even as he starts to lose members of his board. Of course, the dissenting views of people like Narayana Kocherlakota are quite theoretically incohrerent, as Mike Konczal has ably documented. But the mere fact that these dissenters are there, and are vocal, is a challenge to the traditional view of the Fed as a technocratic institution above the fray of the electoral cycle. It is increasingly clear that the differences on the board are differences of political line, not mere technical disputes about the best way forward.

Attacking the Fed was, for a long time, confined to the political fringes–Ron Paul on the right, William Greider on the left. But then you had Peter Diamond withdrawing from a board nomination, Rick Perry making accusations of treason and intimations of violence against Bernanke, and more besides. And now the congressional Republican leadership is directly warning the Fed not to keep trying to bring down the unemployment rate. In other words, we’re starting to see the Fed become as political as the Supreme Court.

To be clear, I don’t think that politicizing the Fed is at all a bad thing in and of itself. “Independent” central banking has always been a neoliberal construct, and one which systematically favors capital over labor. What worries me is that this is happening in the context of a broader disintegration of American political institutions, which I’m not sure anyone has a good solution to.

When I talk about money all you see is the struggle

September 16th, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

Consider these as you reflect on this week’s anniversary of 9/13:

The Right’s Favorite Strike

September 16th, 2011  |  Published in Political Economy, Politics, Socialism

Capital Strike

Capital strike. Now that’s a name I’ve not heard in a long time. But it’s not dead…not yet.

The idea of a “capital strike” has been around forever. It’s the obvious complement to the labor strike: just as workers can shut down production by refusing to come to work, capital can shut down the economy by refusing to invest and hire workers. You can find discussions of capital strikes during the Great Depression. But as a theoretical concept, the capital strike was popularized by the neo-Marxist theorists of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Adam Przeworksi used it in Capitalism and Social Democracy to explain why reformist projects of redistribution ultimately run up against a revolutionary limit. He notes that:

Under normal circumstances it can be expected that the increase of aggregate demand should stimulate investment and employment. Redistributional measures . . . are usually justified by appeals not only to justice but also to efficiency. (Przeworski, p. 44)

But as long as investment decisions are left in private hands, there’s a problem:

Such a program cannot be successful, however, when economic demands grow spontaneously and when they are accompanied by structural transformations. . . . Increased government intervention means precisely that non-market rationality is imposed upon the process of accumulation, that is, that capitalists are forced to make allocations which are suboptimal with regard to profit. Measures of nationalization, distribution of land, and monopolization of credit and foreign exchange by the state threaten the very institution of private profit. Under such circumstances, rational private capitalists will not invest. (p. 45)

Likewise, Claus Offe used the possibility of capital strike to identify the limits of the welfare state:

The constraints that the capitalist economy imposes upon the state, thereby disorganizing its capacity to maintain ‘order’ by responding effectively to political demands and requirements, are based upon capital’s power to obstruct. As long as investment decisions are ‘free’, that is, as long as they obey the rule of maximum expected profitability, the decisive variable constraining ‘realistic’ political opinions is what Kalecki has called ‘business confidence’. The ultimate political sanction is non-investment or the threat of it (just as much as the ultimate source of power of the individual capitalist vis-à-vis the individual worker is non-employment or termination of employment). The foundation of capitalist power and domination is this institutionalized right of capital withdrawal, of which economic crisis is nothing but the aggregate manifestation. (Offe, Contradictions of the Welfare State, p. 244)

Today, however, this leftist argument isn’t heard much, probably because real challenges to the power of capital are so thin on the ground. But lately I’ve noticed that “capital strike”, like “capitalism” before it, seems to have gone from a left-wing pejorative to a term that is proudly claimed by Capital and its agents. Here’s Charles Krauthammer explaining that Capital is on strike against the Obama administration (he says the phrase right at the end of the clip):

And just yesterday, John Boehner said in a speech that “job creators” (Republican code for capitalists) are on strike:

I can tell you the American people — private-sector job creators in particular — are rattled by what they’ve seen out of this town over the last few years. My worry is that for American job creators, all the uncertainty is turning to fear that this toxic environment for job creation is a permanent state. Job creators in America are essentially on strike. The problem is not confusion about the policies. . .the problem is the policies.

Thinking in terms of a capital strike is also helpful in understanding the debate in economics between, on the one hand, liberal technocrats like Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman, and on the other hand reactionary economists like Robert Lucas and Robert Barro. Barro, for example, argues that investment requires “Stable expectations of a sound economic environment, including the long-run path of tax rates, regulations and so on.” He then proposes a series of policies that he believes will reassure investors and create such a “sound” economy, including cutting Social Security, abolishing corporate and estate taxes, and of course cutting income taxes.

In response, DeLong, Krugman, and others have spent plenty of time showing that business is not overly worried about uncertainty, but rather is concerned about weak consumer demand. Tax rates are at historically low levels; the rich are richer than ever; corporations are sitting on their cash hoards; and so on. All true: but none of these arguments really matter.

People like Barro aren’t neutral, objective economic analysts–they’re advocates for one side in a power struggle between capital and labor. It may well be true that capital is not, in fact, on strike against taxes and regulations. Given the incoherency of the capitalist class that I’ve previously discussed, it’s hard to imagine capital getting its act together in this way. And for all the fulmination of the teabaggers, we’re certainly not in the position Przeworski described, where “the state threaten[s] the very institution of private profit”. But just as in a labor strike, sometimes you don’t actually have to go out on the picket line: you just have to convince the other side that you’re ready and willing to strike. Just as a union might use a strike authorization vote to increase its leverage at the bargaining table, so the the right’s economic propaganda is designed to tilt the political playing field away from labor and toward capital.

But “capital strike” started out as the left’s term, and it might be to our benefit to reclaim it. Doing so would give us an additional answer to the austerity faction, one that goes one step beyond the technocratic liberal answer that “there is no capital strike/all we need is to increase aggregate demand”. We can go on to point out that, if there is a capital strike, that doesn’t imply that we should just give in to Capital. When labor goes on strike, the boss can give in to the workers’ demands, but the alternative is for the Pinkertons or the President to break the union. Likewise, when faced with a capital strike, we have alternatives to capitulation; these range in severity from wealth redistribution, through to debt forgiveness, and all the way to outright expropriation.

Libya and the Left

September 13th, 2011  |  Published in Imperialism, Politics

I’ve been putting off this post, waiting for the Libyan revolution to reach some kind of decisive conclusion to its military phase. But it looks like that could take a while: the game of “Where’s Muammar” may go on for a while, and in the worst case scenario his loyalists could mount a prolonged insurgency. But despite that it’s pretty clear that the rebel forces are going to take some sort of tenuous command over the country. So it’s worth looking back on the war for Libya, and NATO’s participation in it.

When Tripoli fell to the rebel forces, I was glued to Al Jazeera as one neighborhood after another fell, and various Gaddafi family members were captured by the rebel army (or not). In some ways, the moment was much like the fall of Mubarak, which I memorialized in rather sentimental and grandiose fashion. But I find my feelings about Libya to be a bit more complicated.

That’s not just because the next steps for the Libyan rebels are so unclear, nor only because the “Transitional National Council” currently moving into Tripoli is stuffed full of dodgy former-regime elements, nor just because of the unpleasant undercurrent of racism among some of the revolution’s supporters. One of the major things that sets Libya apart from what happened in Egypt–aside from the far greater level of death and destruction, obviously–is that the activists in Tahrir Square were clearly making their revolution against the preferences the United States, the Arab despots, and the rest of the imperialist power structure; the U.S. only turned on Mubarak when it became clear that his position was untenable. In Libya, by contrast, the rebels have come to power backed by six months of relentless NATO bombing raids.

I didn’t welcome US participation in the war in Libya, but that was as much for American reasons as Libyan ones. I was worried about intervention both because the lack of congressional approval seemed manifestly illegal and set yet another precedent for future executive lawlessness, and because I was skeptical that war would lead to a good outcome. I still don’t think those positions were wrong; as Glenn Greenwald points out, the fall of Gaddafi is by no means enough to vindicate the decision to go to war. And even if things have turned out a bit better than I expected, surely Iraq has taught us that “victory” can quickly degenerate into insurgency and civil war.

Yet it remains the case that the rebels look like they will succeed in deposing the vile Gaddafi, and they have done it with NATO support. That’s a hard thing to process for somebody like me. As a leftist and an activist, I cut my teeth on anti-imperialism; by chance, the other day I stumbled across this photo of 17-year-old me speaking at a protest against the sanctions on Iraq, circa 1997 or 1998:

Back then, we had to organize against the bombing of Iraq at a time when most people didn’t even realize we were still bombing Iraq.

My experience in the anti-sanctions movement, combined with the repeated discrediting of the humanitarian-warmongering arguments of the “decent left”, made it very hard for me to cheer on the NATO-backed Libyan rebels. I’ve learned the hard way that optimistic liberal claims for US warmaking in the post-Cold War era have been consistently and catastrophically wrong: in Haiti, in Somalia, in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, in Iraq. But I’ve been forced to conclude that what happened in Libya is something rather novel, which we shouldn’t reflexively interpret through the lens of those earlier wars. And if we aren’t willing to change our theoretical framework when the world changes, then we’re not much better than the liberal hawks, living in the dreamworld of their perpetual 9/11.

Richard Seymour has a more hardline anti-interventionist post on Libya which, while it makes a number of important points, nevertheless seems to me like it strikes rather the wrong note. Seymour observes that “The rebel army is commanded by someone who is most likely a CIA agent”, and goes on to predict that the US and its allies will quickly move to set up a pliable regime pro-Western “liberals” who will go along with the designs of neoliberalism.

I agree with this, as far as it goes. But Seymour goes on to say that “I don’t think we’re witnessing a revolutionary process here.” This strikes me as far too simplistic. The leadership of the TNC may not be revolutionaries, but they appear to have only the most tenuous control over the forces that actually defeated Gaddafi, like the Berber units in the Western mountains and the dozens of privately organized militias. Recall that it was just a few weeks ago that the rebels looked to be too busy assassinating one another to make any military gains. The usual bourgeois foreign-policy types are warning of splits and “instability” on the rebel side, because what the US and NATO want most is a stable and cooperative regime. But the fractiousness and disorganization that so terrifies the Western foreign policy intelligentsia is precisely what may yet allow a revolutionary dynamic to emerge.

Here’s what I think we lefty anti-imperialists ought to recognize about Libya. First, there was a real revolutionary insurgency on the ground that started long before NATO got involved; that makes the situation completely different from Iraq or Afghanistan. Second, while we should certainly be wary of the attempts of the imperialist powers to control the outcome of events in Libya, we need to acknowledge that they would have made such attempts even if they hadn’t intervened militarily. And in that case, the interference would have been entirely at the level of covert operations and diplomatic back-channels, and hence harder to expose and criticize. Note that this also means that trying to separate a good Egyptian revolution from a bad Libyan one entails fetishizing military force: it’s clear that U.S. pressure on the Egyptian army played some role in pushing Mubarak out of power in the end, but that doesn’t invalidate the work of the Tahrir protesters.

It’s impossible to know whether the rebels could have won without NATO–which, if it was possible, would have been a preferable outcome. On that score I’m not nearly as certain as Gilbert Achcar that NATO involvement was a necessary evil. But what is certain is that the fall of the house of Gaddafi was not something NATO did for the Libyan people; ultimately, it was Libyans who did the fighting and dying on the ground. We should recognize and respect that sacrifice, rather than immediately reducing the rebels to a passive tool of imperialism.

Ultimately, I think the right tone on the Libyan situation–cautious, critical, but hopeful–is the one struck by Lou Proyect. Lou is certainly no humanitarian imperialist–I first came across him when he was eviscerating the proponents of the war on Serbia in the late 1990’s. But in the past few months he’s been doing thankless rhetorical battle against the tired pro-Gaddafi arguments of the vulgar anti-imperialist “left”, and he recognizes that there’s more to the Libyan rebels than the stooges speaking to the cameras in Benghazi.

The position I’m trying to stake out, I guess, is that capitalist wars are never good in and of themselves, since they aren’t undertaken for good reasons, but that doesn’t mean they can’t ever have good consequences, nor does it mean that the enemy of my enemy is always my friend. Given the overall horrible track record of recent U.S. wars, my prior is still to be against intervention in almost all circumstances, and Libya hasn’t changed that. But I’m still willing to admit that this time things haven’t turned out as badly as usual.

As it stands today, there still aren’t any significant NATO ground troops, and the TNC is so far holding firm on the position that there won’t be any. Meanwhile, the toppling of Gaddafi is leading to unpredictable outcomes and new embarassments for the U.S. and its allies, such as the revelations about Gaddafi’s close cooperation with the CIA and MI6 in subjecting Libyans to rendition and torture. If the Bush administration taught us anything, it’s that imperialist war planners don’t always know what they’re doing; there’s no reason that Libya can’t end up diminishing Western power as well.

As I argued in the second issue of Jacobin, the revolutionary upsurge in the Arab world signifies, among other things, the waning grip of American imperialism. (So too does the Obama administration’s desperate and ridiculous scramble to stop the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN.) In Libya as in Egypt, the imperialist powers were following behind events, rather than making them. If we fail to comprehend that, we risk attributing a false omnipotence to the United States and its allies, and thus missing a real anti-imperialist victory when it’s right under our noses.

And if all of that doesn’t convince you, how can you hate on rebel forces that roll like this?

Because it’s Friday, 14 million people ain’t got no job…

September 9th, 2011  |  Published in Uncategorized

It somehow became a convention of modern blogging that you should periodically throw up a post of links to stuff that you think is interesting, but aren’t going to write a whole post about. Some of the pros do one every day, while the amateurs usually do one weekly. If you do it weekly, my understanding is that Friday and Sunday are acceptable days for linkdumps. You’re also supposed to have a clever title of some sort, but for now I’ll settle for a reference to a great Ice Cube vehicle:

Friday came out in 1995. Today, there are a whole lot more people who ain’t got no job, though sadly they probably still have shit to do. Anyway, here goes; this edition guaranteed to be 100% 9/11-free.

  • Jon Huntsman has complicated opinions about Captain Beefheart. Being something of a philistine, I prefer Doc At the Radar Station.

  • Around the world, ruling parties lose when the economy is bad, regardless of ideology. Which implies that even if the voters are wrong about the economy in theory, they’re right in practice: if you don’t get results, they’ll throw you out.

  • Trying to stimulate the economy purely by monetary means might just end up inflating asset bubbles.

  • People in their 20’s are mad as hell, but seem like they’re going to continue to take it for a while longer. The mixture of righteous anger and ideological confusion on display here is fascinating.

  • The U.S. economy has about the same number of jobs now as it did in 2000, despite a much bigger population. Just imagine what things would be like if we had dealt with this by decreasing hours rather than shedding jobs, and if the income growth of the past ten years had gone to increasing wages instead of swelling the incomes of the top 1%.

  • The rise of the gig economy is good reason to expand the welfare state and decouple its benefits from employment.

  • Ladies and gentlemen, the Internet: Jack White and the Insane Clown Posse collaborate on a single built around a Mozart sample. The song is entitled “Lick me in the arse”.

  • It’s impossible to know what really went down in the crazy battle over the Innocence Project at Northwestern’s school of journalism. But my inclination is to come down against the servile and morally bankrupt culture of “objective” journalism, and in favor of a project that, whatever its errors, demonstrably saved the lives of people wrongly condemned to the state of Illinois’ machinery of death.

  • As I’ve noted before, sometimes “job killing” policy is a very good thing.

  • Peter Dorman speculates about the incentives and ideology of the elite in finance capitalism, and why it’s so hard to pit one segment of big business against another.

Copying, Stealing, and the Moral Economy of Knowledge

September 6th, 2011  |  Published in anti-Star Trek, Political Economy

There’s a perpetual argument, among people who care about intellectual property law, about whether unauthorized copying (downloading mp3s, say) is properly called “stealing”, and whether it’s morally equivalent to taking a physical object from someone. There are powerful forces that want to draw an equality between copying and stealing, as we recently saw in comical style in the Aaron Swartz case. The contending positions in this debate reflect fundamental differences of opinion about how we should view the circulation of immaterial goods like musical recordings or software; I want to draw out some of these differences by contrasting three recent posts from three different authors on the copying-versus-stealing issue.

Matt Yglesias recapitulates the standard argument of intellectual property critics, which is the one I’ve always been most sympathetic to: copying and stealing are totally different things. This position turns on the distinction between what economists call “rivalrous” and “non-rivalrous” goods. A good is rivalrous if you can’t give one person access to the good without reducing someone else’s access to it. If I walk into a store and take a pair of shoes, for example, then I have more shoes than I had before, but the store has less shoes. With non-rivalrous goods, on the other hand, you can expand access without reducing anyone’s ability to enjoy the good. So if I copy an mp3 file, then I have one more mp3 than I had before, but nobody else has less mp3s. The upshot of this argument is that it doesn’t make sense to restrict the distribution of non-rivalrous goods unless such restrictions are necessary to encourage people to create the non-rivalrous goods in the first place. That latter rationale is the one written into the part of the constitution that permits copyrights, but IP critics today hold that copyright has expanded far beyond this original purpose.

Yglesias was responding to a post from Gavin Mueller, which stakes out the position that copying and physical stealing are basically the same. But rather than take the IP lobby position that copying is stealing, Mueller basically argues that stealing isn’t really stealing either, because things like mass-produced shoes aren’t scarce in the way the theory of rivalrous goods requires. I have some problems with Mueller’s argument, so let me reconstruct it in a form that I think is more defensible.

In a capitalist economy, manufactured commodities aren’t “scarce” in the narrow sense. That is, the quantity of shoes in the world isn’t fixed. There are factories around the world that could ramp up production of shoes if they wanted to, especially in a recessionary period like this one. What constrains the supply of shoes at the margin is the lack of demand for them. But if some people go and steal some shoes from a store, then the owner will have to order more shoes sooner than she otherwise would have, and as a result there will be more shoes in the world than there would have been otherwise. As long as the amount of shoplifting is small relative to the amount of shoes that are sold, the result will not be to put the shop out of business; rather the loss will be absorbed through some combination of reduced profits or higher prices for paying customers.

You could therefore make the argument that a certain amount of shoplifting is welfare-improving for society as a whole, particularly if the owners and paying customers are richer than the shoplifters, and thus able to afford absorbing the cost of the shoplifted loot. Moreover, shoplifting is good Keynesian stimulus! The problem, of course, is that it’s heinously unfair to decide who gets free shoes on the basis of who’s crafty and daring enough to be a good shoplifter–but that’s a different kind of argument, a moral argument, and I’ll get to that below.

For the third position in this debate, we have Kevin Drum, who also takes the position that copying and stealing aren’t so different–but he touches down close to the IP lobby position that copying is like physical stealing, and both are always wrong. Drum bases his argument on the monetary cost of copying or stealing. If you steal shoes from someone, you’ve deprived them of the retail price of the shoes (or perhaps somewhat less than that if the shoes were bought on discount, old and worn, etc.) Likewise, if you copy somebody’s album, then “his loss is the royalty payment he won’t get on the album you didn’t buy.”

The problem with this line of argument is that Drum has redefined “stealing” in a way that makes it almost infinitely expansive: whether you steal a person’s shoes or copy their album, he says, “in both cases, you’re causing [them] to take a financial loss.” But the right not to take a financial loss is not a right that capitalist societies have traditionally recognized–indeed, the notion that property owners should be guaranteed a revenue stream from their property is a rentier logic. It’s a bogus argument when it’s made by German banks demanding full payment on their crappy loans, and it’s equally bogus in this context.

By the “financial loss” criterion, all kinds of things that we think of as legitimate constitute “stealing”. If I badmouth a bad auto mechanic on the Internet and reduce his business, I’m “stealing” his reputation. If Apple introduces a really popular new iPhone that causes people to switch from Android, it’s “stealing” Android’s market share. Drum recognizes this and admits that “there are lots of ways of causing people to take a financial loss, and not all of them come under the rubric of stealing.” But he doesn’t make a real case for why copying is more like shoplifting than it is like posting negative Yelp reviews. Instead, he blows off the whole argument by saying that “it mostly seems to be a way of avoiding the very real fact that you’ve caused someone a financial loss by appropriating something you haven’t paid for.” But this just begs the question: the whole issue under debate is about what it’s legitimate to make people pay for.

My take on all of this is that these issues can’t be resolved by appeals to economics or financial damage. This argument is really about two conflicting sets of values about how culture and knowledge should be treated, or two different “moral economies”. The term “moral economy”, as used by historians, refers to the beliefs people hold in common about what constitutes legitimate and proper behavior by economic actors, and what is unacceptable even if it is legal or profitable. As E.P. Thompson said in a famous essay about English bread riots in the 18th century:

It is of course true that riots were triggered off by soaring prices, by malpractices among dealers, or by hunger. But these grievances operated within a popular consensus as to what were legitimate and what were illegitimate practices in marketing, milling, baking, etc. This in its turn was grounded upon a consistent traditional view of social norms and obligations, of the proper economic functions of several parties within the community, which, taken together, can be said to constitute the moral economy of the poor. An outrage to these moral assumptions, quite as much as actual deprivation, was the usual occasion for direct action.

Thompson goes on to observe that at this time, “bakers were considered as servants of the community, working not for a profit but for a fair allowance”; hence their behavior was constrained not just by what was legal or profitable, but by what was considered morally right.

Moral beliefs about what is legitimate economic behavior are not unique to early capitalism, but exist even in a hyper-marketized age like our own. As Karl Polanyi argued, all economies are embedded in a broader set of social relations. And moral economies are very much in play in the debate over copying and stealing. In the Aaron Swartz case, for example, a lot of the outrage was about a moral assumption: that academic work done mostly for free, by professors who are often supported by taxpayer money, shouldn’t be locked up behind an incredibly expensive paywall.

In the general debate over intellectual property, I discern two antithetical moral economies, which I think lie beneath many of the contending positions.

The first views the wealth of human culture and knowledge as something that is the shared cultural wealth of all of us. It recognizes that all new works of art and science are built on the foundation of older works, and go on to influence future works in their turn. It regards sharing, adapting, and improving older works as a positive value, and restricting access to existing culture as a negative value. Thus, in this moral economy, it is of the utmost importance that we be able to share and copy freely. Any restriction on the right to share and copy must be rigorously justified and shown to be in the interest of increasing our cultural wealth overall–as in the U.S. Constitution’s statement that copyright is allowed if it serves “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” While it isn’t inherently incompatible with intellectual property, the trajectory of this moral economy is to create a new kind of class struggle and to put us on the road to dotCommunism.

The contrasting moral economy holds that when someone participates in generating a new work of culture or knowledge, then that person has the inherent right to control the distribution and reuse of that information, and to receive payment for any profitable use to which that information may be put. Far from seeing pervasive restrictions on copying as a necessary evil, it sees them as exalting and honoring the hard work and creative genius of those who make new art and science. In this moral economy, to appropriate the creations of another is to violate the creator. But that way lies anti-Star Trek.

I think the debates about intellectual property would be a lot more productive if we recognized that they are fundamentally about two different and competing moral orders. I know that whenever I talk about these issues with normal people–i.e., not geeks who are obsessed with IP law–they aren’t very interested in arguments about economic efficiency or rentier capitalists. They’re interested in what’s right, and views about that range from the demand that culture should be free as in freedom to the insistence that above all else, you must pay the writer.*

* Which, to be clear, I’m in favor of. I just have other ideas about how the writer should get paid.