Monthly Archives: April 2011

The utilitarian case for the monarchy

by Robert Henderson

The utilitarian case for the monarchy is not about pageantry, deference or the vulgar belief that it is worth keeping because it acts as a tourist magnet. It is not about the cost of the monarchy compared with a president. It is not about whether the individual members of the Royal family are worthy beings or if its very existence is an insult to ideas of politically correct equality. The utilitarian case is purely political: our monarchy underpins Parliamentary government.

In resisting the abuse of the many by the few, Britain begins with the great advantages of a parliamentary system and an in practice non-executive head of state chosen by a means utterly outside political manipulation short of the outright criminality of murder, blackmail, illicit threats and bribery, namely birth. These provide a massive barricade against a Prime Minister who would be a despot. He cannot act without the support of an elected parliamentary majority. His cabinet in practice must be overwhelmingly drawn from elected politicians. He may change his cabinet but he cannot do so without regard to a cabinet member’s status and popularity within the party on whose support he depends.

Most importantly, the prime minister (or any other politician) cannot become head of state. This is of central importance, because whether the powers of a president be executive or ceremonial, the mere existence of the office of president provides an avenue for those who would subvert parliamentary control of the executive. The example of De Gaulle in France
in the early years of the Fifth Republic demonstrates how easily a President’s powers may be extended by the overtly democratic means of a referendum against the wishes of a Parliament. As things stand, a would be British dictator would have to do one of two things. The constitutionally legitimate path would require him to first persuade Parliament to
adopt the idea of an executive presidential system and then win the backing of the electorate for a change to a presidential system either through a referendum or an electoral mandate. His illegitimate path would consist of either a referendum put to the country against the wishes of Parliament or an outright coup backed by the military and police.

This is not to say that a prime minister equipped with a large majority cannot have a great deal of freedom and personal power. Both Thatcher and Blair achieved this. But however big their majority or great their personal authority they could not routinely make policy without some regard to the wishes of their ministers, backbenchers and the electorate. Whatever dark thoughts Thatcher may have had about mass immigration or membership of the EU, she was in practice hamstrung in doing anything about it by the opposition of powerful ministers such as Nigel Lawson and Geoffrey Howe. Tony Blair’s desire to severely reduce the welfare state was thwarted over many years by his Chancellor Gordon Brown. To those leashes on their dictatorial desires can be added the fact that both Thatcher and Blair left office before they wanted to as a result of dissent amongst their parliamentary parties. Had either been an elected president operating outside parliament, neither would have been removed before the end of their term of office.

A parliamentary system such as that of Britain has other restraints on abuses of power. First-past-the-post elections based on constituencies means that MPs are not solely beholden to their party elite s as is the case with a party list system, and general elections, at least since 1945, have normally produced a single party with a majority in the House of Commons.
This latter fact means that the vast majority of modern British government have not been able to fail to honour their manifestos on the grounds that they were part of a coalition.

If a demand for a president arose in Britain there would be an opportunity for those pressing for such a change to seek an executive president with the executive removed from Parliament on the grounds that it was “more democratic” and provided a check on the power of the executive. . Anyone who thinks this is a good idea should look at the American experience where the powers of the president are constrained by a division of powers outlined in a written constitution administered by a supreme court. The President appoints his cabinet subject only to the agreement of the Senate, the President’s nominees being normally accepted. Supreme Court judges are also nominated by serving presidents and vetted by the Senate. These nominations meet more Senate opposition, but most of those nominated are passed and if one is rejected, the President still gets to nominate an alternative. That means a president will broadly speaking get a judge into the court who is sympathetic to the president’s political views. As Supreme Court judges are elected for life, a president
who is able to get even two new judges onto the court may affect its political bias for decades.

Even if a supposedly non-executive president was adopted with the executive remaining in Parliament, the relationship between the prime minster and head of state would be different. If the president was elected, there would be a second font of democratic authority regardless of the president’s powers. This would mean that there would be a constant temptation for a powerful politician to get themselves or a stooge elected to the presidency and then use their control of Parliament to increase the president’s powers. If the president was simply appointed by politicians a prime minster with a large majority could either take the presidency themselves and use his parliamentary control to increase his powers or place a stooge in as president, use Parliament to increase the presidential powers then control the stooge.

None of this is to pretend that the British system of government is perfect for the executive has found many ways of thwarting proper parliamentary oversight and control . The way it does this is fivefold (1) the entanglement of Britain in treaties, most devastatingly those related to the EU, which remove sovereign power from not only Parliament but Britain; (2) the increasing grip of party elites on the selection of candidates for Westminster seats, something of particular importance with the rise of the career politician who has never done
a job outside of politics; (3) an ever swelling use of secondary legislation, particularly statutory instruments, which provide much less opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny than primary legislation; (4) the increasing appointment of peers as ministers and non-politicians as “Tsars” for particular policy areas and (5) the use of the Royal Prerogative by prime ministers.

There are ready cures for these ills. Treaties could be repudiated to regain sovereignty; the power of selection of Parliamentary candidates invested solely in local constituency parties would greatly reduce the power of party elites; a requirement that a Parliamentary candidate should have ten years work experience unconnected with politics before being able to stand for Parliament would end the career politician; withdrawal from the EU would greatly reduce the amount of secondary legislation and increased time to scrutinise what was left and the use of peers and non-politicians banned.

That leaves the Royal Prerogative which represents a particularly danger to democratic control because the powers exercisable under it are large. This is because of the long, organic
development of the relationship between Parliament and the Crown, the powers and rights of the Crown are little circumscribed by law, although most, and all the important ones, are now invested in practice in the office of PM. The dissolution or proroguing of Parliament and the calling of elections are by the prerogative. The PM and his ministers are appointed by
the Crown. In principle, the monarch could appoint a Government in which none of its members sat in Parliament. No Bill can become a law without the monarch’s signature. Treaties and the making of war and peace can and are made without the assent of Parliament. All foreign relations are in principle within the monarch’s remit. Justice is the monarch’s. The Monarch can do no wrong. Many senior state appointments such as appointments to the higher judiciary and bishoprics are one by the prerogative. The monarch is head of the armed forces. There is prerogative power which allows the Crown to expropriate or requisition private property (with proper compensation) in time of war or apprehension of war. The Crown has limited powers of legislation under the prerogative, principally as respects the civil service and UK dependent territories. This legislation is made by Orders in Council, ordinance, letters patent and royal warrant. A ragbag of other rights such as treasure trove and bona vacantia (the reversion to the Crown of property where there is no inheritor) and arcane rights such as the monarch’s right to (most) swans also exists.

The simplest thing would be to cancel all prerogative rights which have a serious political dimension. This would reduce greatly the power of the PM and consequently pass power to Parliament. Such powers as are left to the monarch should be laid down clearly in law. That would do a great deal to increase the power of Parliament and the ordinary member.
However, more could be done without producing a situation which would leave a Parliament with an executive unable to act. I would ban the whipping of MPs, restrict the size of government to reduce the government “payroll vote” ( modern governments draw in more than 100 MPs) and make the justice system truly independent by removing the political officers – Lord Chancellor, Attorney-General and Solicitor-General – from the process of justice.

The banning of whips would not mean a government with a working majority was constantly defeated because most party members will vote for their party programme. Governments would have to get used to accepting the odd defeat on even important policies as a fact of life not a cause to call a motion of confidence. The reduction of the “payroll vote” would lead
to more independent minded backbenchers who would see being a backbencher as an honourable and worthwhile end it itself. The removal of the politicians from the process of justice is necessary to observe natural justice.

Two other things would be s desirable as a check on the executive: a written constitution designed not to promote a political agenda but to protect democratic control and prevent governments from undertaking anti-democratic policies or reckless behaviour which self-evidently will be damaging to the country. If there is a Supreme Court to administer it, judges should be selected for a fixed period of five years and chosen by a free vote of the Commons. Alternatively, the administration could be done by a reformed second chamber (see below).

The second thing is electoral reform. To address the problem of parties with even less than 40% of the popular vote ending up with large majorities, for the Commons I would suggest double member constituencies with each elector having a single vote. The two candidates receiving the most votes in each constituency would be elected. This would probably both reduce the size of majorities whilst giving any elector a choice of two MPs to go to rather than one.

As for the Lords, if you want a house which will not engage in a democratic mandate war with the Commons or simply replicate the party dominance of the Commons, I suggest selecting a house by lot from all those who put themselves forward to serve a single term of ten years, sufficient time for them to become proficient as a revising chamber.

Just Watched It All on the Telly

Very fine, I thought.

Libertarian Alliance Statement on the Royal Wedding

Statement by Sean Gabb
For the Libertarian Alliance
On the Happy Occasion of the Royal Wedding
29th April 2011

On behalf of those Officers of the Libertarian Alliance who do not yet regard the Monarchy with the contempt it richly deserves – which may or may not for the moment include me – I wish to congratulate William Mountbatten-Windsor and Catherine Middleton on this evening before  the happy occasion of their nuptials.

I must say that, although thoughts of an “elected” President incline me to projectile vomiting, my own regard for the Monarchy has been sorely tested over the past three or four decades. It does not concern me if Her Present Majesty is not a woman of great intellectual distinction – after all, our last Monarch who did not at least border on the subnormal was James I, and he was a Scotchman without potty training. Worse by far than slight stupidity is lack of character and lack of judgement.

Let it be granted that our Her Present Majesty is now a shambling old woman in her eighties. Until she became that, however, there was much she could have done to slow the progress of England into a sinister laughing stock. In strict law, she is our Head of State and Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Commander in Chief of the armed forces. She appoints all the bishops and judges and all the ministers and civil servants. She declares war and all treaties are signed on her behalf. The only thing she cannot do is make laws by her own authority and impose taxes. She must have the consent of Parliament for both. She can also veto any parliamentary bill she dislikes – and her veto cannot be overriden by any weighted majority vote of Parliament.

During the past three centuries, the convention first emerged and then hardened that all these powers are exercised in practice by a Prime Minister who is leader of the majority party in the House of Commons. The power of veto has not, I think, been exercised since 1708. The tacit deal has been that we regard whoever wears the Crown in public as the Lord’s Anointed, and the Monarch acts only on the advice of a Prime Minister who is ultimately accountable to us.

The resulting constitution is unwritten, and is usually rather opaque to foreign observers, who tend to the error either that the Monarch is all-important or that England is some kind of republic. Neither is the case. The deal described above rests on the assumption that politics is other than a cartel of tyrants and traitors. When the politicians begin to abolish the rights of the people, it is the duty of the Monarch to step in and to rebalance the Constitution.

That duty has been apparent since at least 1972, when we were lied into the European Union. Elizabeth the Useless should have acted then. There have been many times since when she should have acted. At all times, she could have sacked the Government and dissolved Parliament without provoking riots in the street. So far as I can tell, she has acted only twice in my liftetime to force changes of policy. In 1979, she bullied Margaret Thatcher to go back on her election promise not to hand Rhodesia over to a bunch of black Marxists. In 1987, she bullied Margaret Thatcher again to give in to calls for sanctions against South Africa.

And that was it. She is somewhere on record as having said that she regards herself more as Head of the Commonwealth than as Queen of England. Certainly, I have never seen evidence that she has lifted a finger to defend the rights of her English subjects. In my view, that abolishes my duty of allegiance to her or any of her likely successors – who are equally useless. All that stops me from becoming a committed republican, as said, is the certainty that a head of state chosen by any of the likely other methods would be still worse.

I sometimes feel regret that a constitution that reconciled liberty with political stability for longer than any other in recorded history has been subverted. More often, I range between bitterness and anger. I used to regard the French Revolutionaries with all the horror of a smug and patriotic Englishman. Nowadays, I think rather fondly of the tumbrils and the guillotine and those ghastly women knitting away beneath it….

But I suspect I am wandering from my stated theme. On behalf of the Libertarian Alliance – with the reservations stated above – I wish all happiness and prosperity to the Royal couple. At the last Royal Wedding, back in 1981, I spent most of the day in bed, listening to Die Meistersinger. This time, I suspect I shall be bullied into having a shave and watching every ghastly detail on the telly. Well, at least Tony Blair and Gordon Brown will not be polluting the event by their presence. If the Mountbatten-Windsors had shown a little more backbone when these wretches were in office, I might think more of them today.


Manifesto of the Freedom Democrats

Note: This really is the politics of the sticking plaster. There is no recognition here of the ideological or repressive state apparatus. The assumption seems to be that these people will be allowed to win an election and then put their silly programme into action. But they will not be allowed to win – even if they can persuade anyone at all to vote for them. If they do win, they will not be allowed to do what little they promise. Rather than fussing about reforms to vocational education, they should be explaining why and how they ought to carry through a modern equivalent of dissolving the monasteries.

They might also give some pointer to a website. Bah! [SIG]

Out of the ashes of the old is born new life.  We are pleased to announce the formation of the Freedom Democrats under the chairmanship of Gary Marshall and assisted by vice chairman Cllr. Michael Simpkins.  A new political party occupying the centre right ground of British politics,  our ideology in one of Modern Nationalism.  We aim to appeal to Nationalists both British and English, Patriots and other such like minded people.

Modern British Nationalism or Patriotism is defined as the political and ideological structure to ensure the continued existence of our British way of life, the preservation of our culture and heritage and freedom from multi-culturism and political oppressiveness for ourselves and our descendants.  It does not discriminate on the grounds of race or ethnicity of any one group of people living in Britain as a British citizen but believes in the integration of all into the British culture and way of life.  Modern Nationalism is one country, one culture.  It objects to all forms of political extremism.

In forming our policies we have consulted with industry professionals including teachers and military chiefs.  Here are just a few bullet points. 


A comprehensive system with teacher assessment and streaming and the option to divert from GCSE studies to vocational training from the age of 15.

Free university courses for selected trades that directly benefit the country such as nursing and medicine.

The option to earn credits for a free higher education by working in the voluntary sector from age 14. 


Full life sentences for capital offences. (Life means life) 

Prison term served lengthened from the current half to two thirds for short term sentences.

 No early release for repeat offenders. 


A fair system of short term work permits based on a “need & skills” basis and linked to matching every foreign worker with a UK born apprenticeship and a focus on obtaining negative net migration using only the emigration/immigration of foreign born nationals and not British nationals. 


Reverse the recent cuts to our Harrier, Nimrod and aircraft carrier fleet.

Military equipment where possible to be British designed and built.

Introduce an optional 3 year engagement for over 18’s unemployed for 12 months or more with the emphasis on trade training. There is no guarantee of Job Seekers Allowance for those who decline the option.

Priority on housing lists for service personnel leaving after 12 years service or for those medically discharged during conflict. 

As you can see there are distinct differences between our policies and those of some more extreme nationalist parties.  Modern nationalism is also moderate nationalism.

We are pleased to announce that our party has already achieved electoral success on two councils in the south east with further candidates standing for election on May 5th in Devon and Kent.

Existing British Freedom Party members may, by forwarding their membership cards to us continue membership with our party until 31st October.  New memberships will be for 12 months from date of joining.

We invite you to view our web site Freedom Democrats for a full list of our policies.

Disclaimer:  You are receiving this email as your details may have been passed onto us as someone who may be interested in news of the Freedom Democrats. To stop further emails please reply to this message with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject.

Freedom Democrats.  16 Walsingham Place, Truro, Cornwall UK TR1 2RP

Richard Troxell. Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage

by Kevin Carson

Richard R. Troxell. Looking Up at the Bottom Line: The Struggle for the Living Wage (Austin: Plain View Press, 2010).

The first two-thirds of this book is a series of anecdotes or vignettes. Even for those of us who reject a government role in creating a living wage, these stories should remind us of how bleak life is for the working poor, and how precarious life is for those who are homeless and unemployed—or perhaps just living from paycheck to paycheck. Too often, right-wing libertarians react to such accounts with a ho-hum “the poor will always be with us” attitude, condemning the “victim culture” or dismissing poverty as inevitable given the underclass’s “short time preferences” or its position on the Bell Curve. Worse, their knee-jerk response is to regard those who point out such problems as enemies, or at best deserving of suspicion. For a libertarian culture that too often seems to position itself as the defender of the existing corporate model of capitalism as a proxy for “the free market,” anyone who points to widespread poverty and concentration of wealth under corporate capitalism must be some sort of statist who hates the market. What such people think the pathological side-effects of corporate capitalism have to do with a “free market” is beyond me.

Troxell’s proposed agenda for solving the problem, which he presents in the latter part of the book, is a combination of affordable housing, single-payer healthcare, and local living wage ordinances tied to the price of housing.

As a libertarian, I can’t endorse any proposal for government intervention in the economy. But I’m convinced that most of the evils Troxell rightly objects to result from existing government intervention—on the side of corporate interests, employers, landlords and the rich. The proper solution is not for government to start intervening on the side of the poor, or to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor—but to stop redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich.

Interestingly, I was apparently offered a review copy of this book as a result of having caught someone’s favorable attention with an earlier column at Center for a Stateless Society—“Yes, the Rent Really is Too Damn High”—in which I called for just such an agenda.

A huge part of existing concentrations of wealth result from rents on artificial scarcities and artificial property rights created by the state. A huge part of poverty results from inflated costs of basic subsistence created by similar such artificial scarcities and mandated inflation of the overhead cost of daily life. A libertarian agenda for poverty relief would be to dismantle such artificial scarcities and overheads and let the competition of a freed market redistribute wealth from the present rentier classes to the poor.

Troxell quotes Baylor political science professor Jerold Waltman’s book Case for a Living Wage, in which he sets the criteria for a living wage: 1) it should enable the recipient to live at a certain minimum level, and 2) should prevent too much inequality from emerging. But in a very real sense, a freed market would create a living wage by these criteria.

The natural function of a market price system is to tie the price of goods and services to the cost or effort of providing them, and to tie wages to effort or disutility. The normal equilibrium of the market—the natural ratio toward which exchange is always tending—is, when goods are reproducible and there are no artificial barriers to market entry or competition, is the exchange of equal efforts or disutility. In a market of free exchange between equals, trade is effort for effort.

Artificial scarcity and artificial property rights—privilege—break this link between effort and consumption.

As I argued in the column mentioned above, a large share of the so-called “property rights” enforced under capitalism are property rights in controlling access to natural opportunities.

The Marxist Maurice Dobb once gave the example of government granting to its favored clients a monopoly right to erect toll gates across the roads, and to enrich themselves by pocketing the tolls. Standard marginalist economics, Dobb argued, would treat opening the gates as a “productive activity,” and claim that the tolls contributed to production by the amount they added to price. Forbearing to interfere with production would be a productive activity, and the tribute collected for this forbearance would be the reward for productive services.

This is what Thorstein Veblen called “capitalized disservicability”: the assignment of an economic value to the magnanimous act of allowing production to occur without interference. Among the less academically inclined, I believe it’s called “protection money.”

Such artificial property rights include many things other than land. Every state grant of power to control the conditions under which other people may undertake productive activity is a source of illegitimate rent. Both tariffs and “intellectual property,” for example, are forms of protectionism in that they restrict the right to produce a given good for a particular market area to a privileged class of firms.

In every case, the person who would apply his labor, energy and skills to the earth and its natural resources is forced to pay tribute for the right to produce and work to feed a useless parasite in addition to himself. And in every case, the privileged classes of landlords, usurers and other extortionists seek to close off opportunities for self-employment because such opportunities make it too hard to get people to work for them on profitable terms.

Much or most of the price of most of the goods you buy consists of embedded rents on artificial property rights. Much of the product of your labor goes as rent to your employer, because the artificial dearth of natural opportunities to produce creates a buyer’s market for labor in which workers compete for jobs instead of jobs competing for workers.

The rent is, indeed, too damn high.

The person who “owns” title to a piece of vacant and unimproved land, instead of working for everything she gets, is able to force someone else to work for part of what she herself gets. Part of the purchaser’s or tenant’s labor is directed, not to her own consumption, but to the consumption of the landlord. Likewise, that part of the price of proprietary software, music and other content, which is above the marginal cost of reproduction, amounts to an equivalent value of the purchaser’s laborer which goes to feed the “owner” of the copyright. When zoning laws criminalize microenterprise in the household, and compel the producer to rent stand-alone commercial real estate, or when “safety” and “health” regulations compel her to purchase industrial-grade equipment rather than using the spare capacity of ordinary household goods that she already owns, the margin this adds to her price results in an equal rent which the owner of an established business can collect from the customer.

As the Wobblies’ Big Bill Haywood said, for every man who gets a dollar he didn’t sweat for, there’s another man who sweats for a dollar he didn’t get. Or as the individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker put it, the deficit in unpaid labor for the non-privileged results in an equal and opposite efficit of unearned income for the privileged.

One side-effect of privilege is that the concentration of wealth in the hands of people with a high propensity to save and invest, and the reduction of income to those with a high propensity to consume, results in chronic tendencies toward overinvestment and overproduction. The system is plagued with idle productive capacity which cannot dispose of its full output when fully utilized, and with surplus investment capital which can find a profitable outlet only in speculative bubbles.

I fully agree with Troxell that a living wage—properly understood—would remedy much of the economy’s chronic inclination toward crisis.

Charles Johnson, in “Scratching By,” describes all the ways the homeless and working poor are nickled and dimed to death by local government. The effect of all these policies is to raise the fixed costs of living:

Artificially limiting the alternative options for housing ratchets up the fixed costs of living for the urban poor. Artificially limiting the alternative options for independent work ratchets down the opportunities for increasing income. And the squeeze makes poor people dependent on—and thus vulnerable to negligent or unscrupulous treatment from—both landlords and bosses by constraining their ability to find other, better homes, or other, better livelihoods. The same squeeze puts many more poor people into the position of living “one paycheck away” from homelessness and makes that position all the more precarious by harassing and coercing and imposing artificial destitution on those who do end up on the street.

As described by Ivan Illich in Tools for Conviviality, as late as 1940 a major share of housing in Massachusetts was still self-built. Today, with new modular techniques, the construction of safe, comfortable and affordable housing should be easier than ever. But local building codes—written largely at the behest of building contractors—criminalize such techniques in order to lock their obsolete methods into place and protect them from competing with cheaper alternatives.

The natural effect of competition in a freed market, when all these state-enforced artificial scarcities are abolished, is to socialize the rents previously collected from them. Eliminating copyright socializes the price of proprietary content. Opening vacant land to free homesteading socializes the portion of land rent that resulted from artificial scarcity. Abolishing the zoning and licensing restrictions on household microenterprise socializes the premium brick-and-mortar downtown businesses charged on artificially inflated entry barriers. Abolishing patents socializes the benefits from increased productivity of human labor.

So in a sense, I am for socialized housing, socialized healthcare, etc. Instead of leaving the basic artificial scarcities in place and then procuring healthcare and housing at taxpayer expense for those who can’t afford them, I want to make healthcare and housing affordable by abolishing the monopolies that make it possible to get rich off them in the first place. Although Troxell says it of his version of a living wage, it’s also true of my version that it would reduce public expenditures on food stamps. The welfare state, when you get right down to it, is a case of the capitalists working through their state—which is, after all, the “executive committee of the ruling class”—to clean up the mess created by their privilege.

Even if Troxell doesn’t agree with my emphasis, or with the principles on which my opposition to government intervention is based, I suspect he would agree with most of the agenda I propose for dismantling government support to privilege.

Some forms of that support he points to himself, such as the vagrancy laws which he discusses at considerable length. At one time, the common lands were a vital insurance policy for those who fell on hard luck. The land-poor might reduce their total need for agricultural wage labor—and thereby increase their bargaining power against the landed classes for what wage employment they did take—by meeting some of their subsistence needs through production on the common. That was, in fact, one of the chief reasons for Parliamentary Enclosures in the 18th century: the landlords complained that, when peasants had access to the common, it was difficult to get them to work as many hours, or for such cheap wages, as the gentry would prefer.

Vagrancy laws are a way of accomplishing the same result today, by criminalizing the very act of living without a permanent place of residence. All legal restrictions on individual access to public rights of way—so long as no one obstructs anyone else’s movement or harasses them—are illegitimate. Such legal restrictions are in fact a violation of property rights: the individual’s right of equal access to a public right of way. Restrictions on shared housing by people not related to other, living in cars, and the like, should also be removed.

By the way, Troxell points to the oddly selective enforcement of Austin’s “No Camping Ordinance,” which supposedly criminalizes camping in public. For some reason, people camping out to be first in line for a sale or to buy football game or concert tickets aren’t arrested. Imagine that! If you didn’t know better, you’d almost think the ordinance was deliberately targeted against homeless people.

The only proper basis for appropriating previously unowned land should be human labor. Absentee titles to vacant and unimproved land should be treated as null and void. Contractor-written building code restrictions on self-built housing, which criminalize vernacular or unconventional building techniques on spurious safety grounds, should be eliminated. Vacant lots, undeveloped acreage, unused government property, vacant government buildings, military bases (Troxell mentions an attempt to turn Austin’s decommissioned Bergstrom AFB into a homeless community), etc., should be opened for free homesteading. Military bases and vacant government offices should become the sites for squatter communities like Christiana in Denmark, and vacant and undeveloped land should host vibrant favelas of the sort that sprang up with self-built housing in England’s Pittsea and Laindon communities, in Essex, from the early 20th century until the immediate post-WWII period (as described by Colin Ward in Talking Houses).

Like many favelas in Latin America, and like Cory Doctorow’s near-future American favelas in Makers, these examples of self-built housing were by no means “substandard” or “primitive” in any objective sense. When inhabitants of squatter communities feel any sense of confidence at all, they take pride in improving their living spaces. As Colin Ward described them, most of the self-built houses in Pittsea and Laindon were quite well-built. The residents were typically people whose incomes were too low to qualify them for loans from building societies, and the houses they built—although generally safe and sturdy—would have been in violation of housing codes passed after WWII. Doctorow’s description of the building skills of his fictional squatters, in the shantytowns and falelas which grew up in half-built subdivisions and abandoned shopping malls, are quite reminiscent of those of real-world communities like those in England and Latin America:

They started with plastic sheeting and poles, and when they could afford it, they replaced the sheets, one at a time, with bricks, or poured concrete and rebar.

None of them had mortgages, but they had neat vegetable gardens and walkways spelled out in white stones with garden gnomes standing guard.

Getting back to the planks of our agenda: All legal barriers to running a microbakery out of one’s own home with an ordinary kitchen oven, making clothing with a sewing machine, opening a beautician shop in a spare room with the simple purchase of a chair and tools, running a cab service with the family car and a cell phone, providing daycare for the neighbors, etc., should be eliminated.

Drug patents should be abolished, legal barriers to the provision of service by clinical practitioners (dental assistants, physicians assistants, etc.) eliminated, and legal barriers to cheap cooperative health insurance like Ithaca Health (or membership-based contract practice through cooperative clinics—e.g. John Muney’s $80/month plan in New York) should be removed.

Troxell mentions “Fresh Start,” a proposal to unite a variety of local social services into a single integrated program that would deal with homelessness on an integrated, process basis. In the process of discussing it, he refers to one of the contributing factors to the problem: the shutting down of the great majority of YMCAs, which once provided a source of cheap housing for the indigent. Taking these things together, I couldn’t help but think of some proposals by Dougald Hine and Nathan Cravens to accomplish the same result outside the state, through voluntary self-organization. What they came up with was essentially a P2P version of Fresh Start.

In “Social Media vs. the Recession,” Dougald Hine wrote:

Looked at very simply: hundreds of thousands of people are finding or are about to find themselves with a lot more time and a lot less money than they are used to. The result is at least three sets of needs:

practical/financial (e.g. how do I pay the rent/avoid my house being repossessed?)

emotional/psychological (e.g. how do I face my friends? where do I get my identity from now I don’t have a job?)

directional (e.g. what do I do with my time? how do I find work?)…

Arguably the biggest thing that has changed in countries like the UK since there was last a major recession is that most people are networked by the internet and have some experience of its potential for self-organisation… There has never been a major surge in unemployment in a context where these ways of “organising without organisations” were available.

As my School of Everything co-founder Paul Miller has written, London’s tech scene is distinctive for the increasing focus on applying these technologies to huge social issues… Agility and the ability to mobilise and gather momentum quickly are characteristics of social media and online self-organisation, in ways that government, NGOs and large corporations regard with a healthy envy.

So, with that, the conversations I’ve been having keep coming back to this central question: is there a way we can constructively mobilise to respond to this situation in the days and weeks ahead?…

Information sharing for dealing with practical consequences of redundancy or job insecurity. You can see this happening already on a site like the Sheffield Forum.

Indexes of local resources of use to the newly-unemployed—including educational and training opportunities—built up in a user-generated style.

Tools for reducing the cost of living. These already exist—LiftShare, Freecycle, etc.—so it’s a question of more effective access and whether there are quick ways to signpost people towards these, or link together existing services better.

An identification of skills, not just for potential employers but so people can find each other and organise, both around each other and emergent initiatives that grow in a fertile, socially-networked context.

If the aim is to avoid this recession creating a new tranche of long-term unemployed (as happened in the 1980s), then softening the distinction between the employed and unemployed is vital. In social media, we’ve already seen considerable softening of the line between producer and consumer in all kinds of areas, and there must be lessons to draw from this in how we view any large-scale initiative.

As I see it, such a softening would involve not only the kind of online tools and spaces suggested above, but the spread of real world spaces which reflect the collaborative values of social media. Examples of such spaces already exist:

Media labs on the model of Access Space or the Brasilian Pontos de Cultura programme, which has applied this approach on a national scale

Fab Labs for manufacturing, as already exist from Iceland to Afghanistan

studio spaces like TenantSpin, the micro-TV station in Liverpool based in a flat in a towerblock—and like many other examples in the world of Community Media

Again, if these spaces are to work, access to them should be open, not restricted to the unemployed. (If, as some are predicting, we see the return of the three day week, the value of spaces like this open to all becomes even more obvious!)

Nathan Cravens of the P2P Foundation took the ball and ran with it, elaborating Hine’s basic idea into a Triple Alliance:

The Triple Alliance describes a network of three community supported organizations necessary to meet basic needs and comforts.

  • The Open Cafe, a place to have a meal in good company without a price tag
  • The CSA or community supported farm
  • The Fab Lab, a digitally assisted manufacturing facility to make almost anything

The Fab Lab, he explained, was intended to be based on something like the Open Source Ecology project in rural areas, and hackerspaces in urban areas.

The one thing I felt was lacking—which ties in with Troxell’s mention of the old YMCAs—was cheap housing as a fourth leg of the stool. Here’s my proposal for the housing leg from The Homebrew Industrial Revolution, which was based on my discussions with Cravens on the P2P Research email list (and which incidentally also used the old YMCA as a model):

Open-source housing would fill a big gap in the overall resiliency strategy. It might be some kind of cheap, bare bones cohousing project associated with the Cafe (water taps, cots, hotplates, etc) that would house people at minimal cost on the YMCA model. It might be an intentional community or urban commune, with cheap rental housing adapted to a large number of lodgers (probably in violation of laws restricting the number of unrelated persons living under one roof). Another model might be the commercial campground, with space for tents, water taps, etc., on cheap land outside the city, in connection with a ride-sharing arrangement of some sort to get to Alliance facilities in town. The government-run migrant worker camps, as depicted in The Grapes of Wrath, are an example of the kind of cheap and efficient, yet comfortable, bare bones projects that are possible based on a combination of prefab housing with common bathrooms. And finally, Vinay Gupta’s work in the Hexayurt project on emergency life-support technology for refugees is also relevant to the housing problem: offering cheap LED lighting, solar cookers, water purifiers, etc., to those living in tent cities and Hoovervilles.

Cravens, in turn, raised the possibility of providing something like the YMCA model in the same building used for the hackerspace or open cafe.

Vacant public buildings or military bases would be obvious candidates for such complexes. As cash-strapped local governments find themselves increasingly short of enforcement funding and looking for creative ways to deal with the rising tide of underemployment and poverty they may well—as some already have—relax their restrictions on such informal arrangements.

The Men of Avignon

by Mark Hackard

Note: Yes, I know this is a very naughty piece of writing, and I shall doubtless be denounced again as the reincarnation of Herr Hitler himself for publishing it. However, I too regard modern art as “profit-driven psychological warfare,” and the essay is worth running for that wonderful phrase alone – though it is filled with much else that flits into the memory. I’ll not say that I agree with smashing up spurious works of art. This being said, the best response to objects like Piss Christ may well be to destroy them whenever they are put on display. Of course, they are private property – but so is a terrorist bomb. Given enough practical criticism, there might even be a return to the pursuit of transcendence. [SIG]

On Palm Sunday of this year Charles Martel, victor of Tours, could smile upon his descendants. A small band of Franks wielding hammers again rose in defense of the West. The action was local-scale and humble; there was no smashing of the Saracen horde. Four young men entered art mogul Yvon Lambert’s gallery in Avignon and destroyed the Piss Christ, a world-famous image of a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine (It had previously been attacked in Australia; the coup de grace fell to the French). Their raid does nothing to shift the odds against traditionalists- it is rather an emblem of resistance, akin to stealing a general’s banner from the enemy camp. In such symbols the struggle endures.

The story of 20th-century art is one of subversion, the use of creative media for purely destructive ends. Painting, music, literature and sculpture were used as refined weapons in the avant-garde’s rebellion against Christendom. The enterprise was wildly successful- a witch’s brew of Freud and Marx prepared by the Frankfurt School would only accelerate the dominant liberal trajectory toward cultural dissolution. By 1987 an “artist” like Andres Serrano, with the patronage of collector-oligarch Charles Saatchi, could display his Piss Christ in America to the widespread approval of the elites. Its veneration in public as an object of beauty only highlights the Revolution’s progress.

Before the onset of post-modernity, art diverted from its original purpose, transcendence, still had the capacity to seduce. Escaping the boredom of late 19th-century bourgeois Europe, stockbroker Paul Gauguin could cast idyllic scenes of Tahiti’s primitive splendor and indulge himself with its native women. And the bored bourgeoisie back home were captivated, at least for a time. Under Gauguin’s influence Pablo Picasso would then paint the lascivious and animalistic Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, portending the rise of a cruel and inhuman spirit that would characterize the coming decades. Fedor Dostoevsky had already spoken of beauty’s elemental danger in The Brothers Karamazov:

Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty heart and mind begins with the ideal of Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom…Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind, beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? What’s awful is that beauty is a thing mysterious and terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.

The battles won and lost in these dark recesses produce visible consequences. In our time Sodom would triumph; rejecting the Madonna, civilization proudly set its faith in reason while pursuing desire. Gauguin would die of syphilis, and within the generation Europe experienced a new phase of revolutionary politics and the savagery of mechanized war so well depicted in Picasso’s Guernica. Traditional culture and polity in the West, what Fr. Seraphim Rose termed the Old Order, recognized beauty as an expression of divine hierarchy. Yet the forces of the new era worked to annihilate any such notion. Sic transit gloria mundi– the glory of the modern was truly fleeting, and the false beauty of Sodom would be unmasked in spiritual alienation and death.

With today’s regime committed near-religiously to transgression, there is no further need for seduction in art. Refined weapons have become blunt instruments of demoralization. The repulsive and perverse are simply proclaimed beautiful, and all are expected to accede to the lie. Nobility is mocked, higher love altogether denied, and Eros grotesquely parodied in pornography. Art and its applications in mass entertainment are best identified as profit-driven psychological warfare. In concert with the machinery of political economy, contemporary culture robs the peoples of the West of their identity and denigrates their ancestral faith. In return it offers filth and fun. The alleged consummation of human development, the Open Society has descended to a condition of sub-humanity.

The Piss Christ was exhibited in the United States and Europe for years and served as a testament to the values of the new era. Calculated blasphemy became a holy relic of “our treasured freedoms” for leftists, and American conservatives did nothing besides run through well-rehearsed motions of hapless opposition to gain votes and raise campaign funds from gullible donors. Republicans would never violate the dogmata of secular pluralism in order to defend Christianity and the Western heritage. Their ultimate loyalty has always been to Mammon, the god of liberal democracy. One need only witness calls by U.S. senators to outlaw Koran-burning, as Washington’s trillion-dollar mission to transform Afghanistan into a Muslim Mayberry could be jeopardized by one such stunt! Meanwhile our finest art galleries maintain warehouses of sacrilege and obscenity, with similar content beamed daily to the proles via television.

It is not farcical elections and their attendant theatre that will save the West; it is the strength of will of a blessed few. The now-mangled Piss Christ confirms this. How heartening it is that the men of Avignon evinced not the least concern with sacrosanct rights of expression, the marketplace of ideas, or any other regime methods of division and control. They showed the courage to shatter a minor idol of the age and dent, however slightly, the liberal order’s myth of invincibility.

A genuine Counterrevolution in the Occident will be creative, and moved by the force of love- not just for beauty, Truth and the Good, but for their reflections in our brothers and friends, our kith and kin. In all its glamour and power, the regnant anti-culture will have wrought only its own negation; so it was attested on a Palm Sunday with the defiant swing of a hammer.

Why I Became a Left-Libertarian

by “Martin”

Essay by “Martin” at the Liberal Conspiracy.
As Libertarians across the US flock to cinemas to watch the film version of Atlas Shrugged (the film has a limited release and harsh criticism from everyone outside those who are already fully bought into Ayn Rand’s philosophy of corporate apologism and advocacy of selfishness as a way of life), the UK’s own Libertarian Party is caught in a minor controversy over its leader.

So it’s not a brilliant week to be a reader of Nozick, Rand, Friedman or Mises. But then, it’s never a good time to declare yourself associated with any philosophy that holds laissez faire capitalism to be a virtue.

But to an increasing number of self-described libertarians, myself included, the “right wing” libertarians of the LPUK/LPUS are quietly abandoning the doctrinaire “virtue of selfishness” model of freedom advocated by the Capitalist Libertarians who insist on the productive wonders of hierarchical, wealth concentrating and politically powerful private corporations.

The left-libertarian, on the other hand, prefers to recognise these economic powerhouses as what they are: the beneficiaries of near invisible State subsidies in a variety of forms.

These subsidies include

– artificial property rights,
– a regulatory system that benefits large, established players at the expense of smaller suppliers,
– subsidising of long-distance transportation at the expense of local enterprise more able to adapt supply to demand,
– and overhead capital costs made so high that most regular people are unable to ever go into business themselves.

In short, Capitalism as we know it couldn’t survive without the state; “free market” capitalism is an oxymoron. In reality, capitalism – even anarcho-capitalism – is in effect, privatised feudalism.

So why do so called Libertarians come out in full force to support an economic system that is anything but libertarian?