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I've been thinking about the Occupy movement, and (harking back to my Frank Herbert), there are some key logs that I haven't heard being discussed.

Being a Virgo, I naturally put these in a list, ordered by urgency.

  1. Eminent domain is the only solution to the "too big to fail" problem. For decades, we've seen corporations of various types become increasingly conglomerated to the point where a sudden cease to their operations would be catastrophic. Real people would be affected, might even die, for lack of the critical resources they provide. The litmus test is that they support the infrastructure in some fundamental way, whether it is a financial, labour or housing market, energy, or food channel on which national security depends. Keeping such an entity private is simply a license for the owner to print money*.
  2. Corporate personhood is anathema to democracy. By granting rights of property to corporations 150+ years ago (to shelter shareholders from legal responsibility), common law started down a slippery slope where now corporations have rights to free speech, privacy and influence over cameral legislative process. You cannot reduce the influence of corporations in any fundamental way without taking away this personhood. Both ownership and liability in a democracy must lie with the shareholders, not with a pile of assets answerable only to its own rules of governance.
  3. Environmental balance** can only be achieved by closed systems, not open ones. As long as an economy processes unique resources and produces waste, it will always create environmental degredation. This is true no matter what the economic model is, whether market-driven, supply-side, centrally directed, or what have you. Cap and trade, carbon tax, and environmental regulation will always be insufficient to stop the current wave of extinction and permanent environmental destruction as long as the economy isn't a closed system of resource commoditization with one input (sunlight).

Personally, I think these are facts, beyond political debate. But the implications are very important:

There's a lot of ways to align a corporation to the state. Fascism is the simplest—history has some quite effective if very evil examples. Communism is another, where the corporation is run on non-market lines under state ownership, which is often corrupt and inefficient. Plutocracy is also corrupt, but considerably more efficient for those in control.

Corporate personhood gives people the freedom to experiment with means of production that may go awry, but may have extraordinary payoffs. Do we want to trade that freedom of creating the Internet for the safety of not letting banks cause another meltdown, or Monsanto unleashing a rogue GM product on the planet?

As for ecological balance, we'd have to give up an awful lot of freedoms (travel, non-local produce, warm houses) if we don't find new means of living within our solar energy budget.

I think these facts will have to be addressed and a complete revolution*** is more or less inevitable, somewhere in the next 100 or 200 years. But looking back on revolutions that "gave inevitability a push" like Lenin's, Mao's, Pol Pot's, I can't say I'm very sanguine about where a revolution that embraces these facts as problems to address will go.

But one thing I'm sure of, and that's that the Occupy Movement is nothing but a temporary indulgence for the ills of our civilization if it doesn't address them.

And maybe that's for the best. There were times in the past where the same situation we have now was occuring on a grand scale. They were temporarily solved (i.e. for thirty years in the states, for e.g.) by taxing the rich, investing in public institutions, and reclaiming devastated environments. FDR's administration and the shepherding of the economy by Galbraith and his ilk pretty much did just that. But it was a vicious, forty-year fight against the oligarchs with many setbacks and many wasted lives.

But I also have one foot in the free software world, and there's a place where economics could find some inspiration. Software has a "too big to fail" as well, and that's "too many dependencies to uninstall". The TCP/IP stack, for example, is one such item. The Unix process model is another. The HTTP server is another still. These things inevitably become free or free models replace the originals, because they power everything under the hood and are necessary to maintain a certain level of techne, or "software civilization". They're the software equivalent of baseline infrastructure, and so they have moved from proprietary, private hands to the public domain. Shouldn't the banking system also be public domain? The power grid? How about the transportation network?

But if we do that, where does innovation go? Where is growth? Well, take a tree as a model—Where's all the new growth? It's only on the surface, just under the bark. It grows in sync with the amount of sunlight it can absorb. Everything under that thin growing membrane is simply... infrastructure.

I don't think I'll ever see
A revolution as total as a tree... ;)

*Quite literally in the case of Fed loans to investment banks buy government bonds, which is STILL going on the U.S. right now.

**I'm avoiding the term "sustainability" because using stored energy, i.e. fossil and nuclear fuel is technically "sustainable" over quite a long period of time, but causes environmental imbalances that change the ecology itself

***Sort of like the slow, ponderous transition of European power from the Church to the nation-state, not Russia from Tzarist autocracy to Soviet autocracy.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 1st, 2011 06:02 am (UTC)
I heartily endorse this post, including the Smiths reference.

Except... possibly I'm misreading you, but I don't think "Corporate Personhood" is a sine qua non of innovation. There are plenty of reasons why people innovate and lots of sustainable rewards for doing so, i.e. "esteem", "fame" etc...
Nov. 1st, 2011 12:16 pm (UTC)
No, I don't think it's sine qua non at all, but I do recognize that even in my own work, there are innovations that I introduced in real-world situations that I might have been more hesitant to try if I knew that I could be personally held liable for some disastrous result.

This concern does have a real chilling effect on innovation, because we are a society of laws, and a society of laws is maintained by lawyers.

In an even playing field where there is no liability shelter for anyone, this would be less of a concern, but limited liability entities are required in the legal arms-race of modern enterprise.... God knows I'm miserable now.
Nov. 1st, 2011 12:19 pm (UTC)
Ah, I see where you were coming from now. Heaven knows we're all miserable now ;p
Nov. 1st, 2011 05:05 pm (UTC)
Heaven, yes. Yang yang yang.
Nov. 1st, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
I agree with this... as far as it goes. I think it would benefit from a nice social and psych evaluation of the actual members of the movement. Who are these people (I have my suspicions, but I am notoriously black and white in my views, so will abstain), and more importantly, what social trends have created so many of them?

I also find it interesting that something that is based essentially on a lack of knowledge regarding how the world actually works (the occupy movement) can get the attention of so many.
Nov. 1st, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't like to put forward my prejudices as generalizations either, but I can say something:

Back in college, I was a member of the student union, in the division that organized lectures and debates of a political nature. We had Noam Chomsky come one time, and afterwards, at a sort of dinner for the members and Dr. Chomsky, I asked him what he would suggest, rather than protest, as an effective means of political change in America, since the anti-war protests of the 60s were largely a failure and changed nothing about the military-industrial complex. He became rather angry with me and insisted that the protests had made real difference. He cited some milquetoast examples. These examples were rather like the current set on the TV news.

I do note that the generation now doing the "occupations" are largely the children of Dr. Chomsky's generation, and that Dr. Chomsky has spent the intervening twenty-three years writing books that are largely a self-congratulatory sermon to his choir. I tried a protest, too. The largest one in history, in 2003. I think it was about as effective.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 01:37 am (UTC)
Corporations invented the Internet? I thought it was the government and some universities and libraries and things like that.
Nov. 2nd, 2011 07:24 am (UTC)
Since when were Universities not incorporated?
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )