Laissez-faire - sociable man - Part 1
What kind of world are our leaders giving us? Today, CNN reports that global temperatures have risen a degree in the last thirty years. This year – 2002 – is becoming the warmest year in recorded history. The AP reports that glaciers in the Andes are losing as much water in a week as they used to lose in a year. The reason for this is greenhouse emissions from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, one sixth of the population of the earth – at a minimum – are malnourished. AIDS is attacking subsaharan Africa and Asia like the bubonic plague. Some predict a future of cities overflowing with a new "sub-proletariat". At the same time, American jobs are being lost as corporate America descends on the third world to exploit these new "sub-proletarians". The result is impoverishment for the wage earners in both places. What is being done about global warning, deforestation and poverty? What does it all mean to you? Are you one of the those people working longer hours for lower pay and fewer benefits? Are you one of the millions of talented, energetic and intelligent people who keep everything going – giving your very life to the corporate moguls who think you owe them something? Do you watch the way they mismanage your shop, your company, your country and your world and wonder if you and people like you couldn't do a better job? Are you a "conspiracy theorist"? Do you wonder – as I wonder – if the reason for our persistent and worsening problems is not merely inability – it is a refusal by our leadership to deal with problems. Why for example, are we investing virtually nothing to develop renewable energy? Most of us like our technology. I know I do. But it's dirty. And it depends on petroleum, forcing the United States and other industrial powers into "foreign entanglements" in places like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. The basic technology is well known. The hydrogen fuel cell was invented in 1843 – before the invention of the internal combustion engine. Why aren't we developing this technology? Why do some actively oppose it? There is a reason, and it isn't pretty. We need new leadership. It is that simple. The recent scandals in corporate boardrooms confirm what decades of steadily worsening problems already proved. Our MBA's, professional politicos, public relations experts and assorted other "professionals" aren't serving our interests. They are serving their own – at our expense. Their entire corporate power structure is bent on one goal – enriching themselves if they have to pave the last acre of rainforest to do it. If you are one of the millions who watch your world deteriorate, and feel powerless to stop it, you must become one of the new leaders. You must join with others who share your concerns. You must unite with them, and that means you must understand in detail the failings of the present leadership, and have practical and workable alternatives. I offer this website as a starting place to begin the hard work of learning about the power structure, and thinking about alternatives. With this site I offer – for whatever its worth – a new social, political and economic world view. To get started, click here.
RENEWABLE ENERGY: THE NEXT CULTURE-CHANGING INDUSTRY
Let me begin with a simple business proposition.
If you thought this was a leftist web site, it is.
Be patient. You’ll like it.
Below is the next “million dollar” idea. It is the next major technological development that will be as significant in its social and cultural impact as the automobile, the television or the personal computer. I’m giving it away, to anyone out there with the capital to bring it to market.
I call it individual energy independence, and a marketable system can be made with existing off-the-shelf technology. All you have to do is find suitable solar panels, an inconspicuous wind turbine and a hydrogen fuel cell stack. Not only is the technology available, it has actually been around awhile.
The purpose of the fuel cell stack isn’t really power generation. It is power storage. A storage system is necessary for any residential system. When you have lots of sunshine, and/or lots of wind, you route your surplus power into your storage system, and draw on it when the sun goes down and/or the wind stops blowing. Unfortunately, the traditional power storage method was the “wet cell” battery, like the one under the hood of your car. Such a battery amounts to a “toxic waste dump in a box”.
The hydrogen fuel cell offers a clean and low maintenance storage system. You simply use your surplus power to separate hydrogen and oxygen in plain water. When the sun goes down and the wind dies, you recombine your hydrogen and oxygen using your fuel cell, recovering the power used to separate them. It’s just like a battery. A working version of a system very similar to this has been in operation at Humbolt State University since 1993. That’s continuous, maintenance-free operation – and it’s just a prototype.
You will need an electrical engineer, if you aren’t one yourself, to design the arrangement of the components in order to deliver a steady current to your house. That’s actually easy. Any pedestrian engineer should be able to design a system – for breakfast. Finally, you will want to get a two-way meter box, and take advantage of Federal laws that require the power company to purchase any surplus power you aren’t storing in your fuel cell stack. [How did we get that one past the conservatives?]
You’re not done yet. You have to sell them, which means you have to have some inventory – or at least you have to have a supplier who can deliver to you in a hurry. Any number of electronics manufacturers can do this for you on a contract basis. As for sales, go down to your local “replacement window” storefront, hire some of their salesmen and sell the system “in home”, the way security systems are sold.
If this sounds like good old-fashioned American business, it is. It’s also the most effective thing anyone can do to de-stabilize the corporate power structure. Keep reading.
These systems will sell.
Anybody who buys one will realize an instant savings in his monthly balance of payments. After all, he isn’t paying a power bill, anymore. The bigger the house he’s got, the more it costs him to heat and cool it, the more he saves. Since he has a bigger house, he probably also has a bigger bank account, and a better credit rating. In other words, he can afford one. But it won’t really cost him anything. You see, he can finance it with a home improvement loan, and amortize it over ten years or more, and the deduct the interest payments on his income tax return. Meanwhile, it will add value to his house, which means he can recapture the cost of the equipment when he sells or refinances. It’s a good deal, all the way around. If you want to keep the cost down, sell it to him at a low margin, do in-house financing and make your money on the backside with the interest.
After you’ve set up and sold a few, you’ll be ready for the next step.
Build a “green” subdivision. Put the system in every house in the subdivision, set up a small power grid, and turn your homeowners association into the world’s first residential renewable energy cooperative. While you’re at it, install a “digester”, and generate methane gas from everybody’s sewage.
Make them look like any other “California style” ranch house, and people will buy them. It seems nobody much likes the power company. After you’ve built one such subdivision, build another one. When the idea catches on with other developers, sell them the equipment wholesale.
The first systems will be expensive. The first televisions cost $2,000.00 – in 1950, when $2,000.00 was a lot of money. And they were crummy sets, too. People bought them anyway. The more they bought the cheaper they got, and the better they got. That’s how it is with any new technology. What kind of PC could you buy in 1985, at a cost of $2,000.00? Nothing like the one’s that sell for $600.00 today. Trust me, the more of these you make, the more design improvements you will make, the more efficient your production will become, the cheaper and better the systems will get. Which will help you sell more of them. It won’t be long before everybody has one. Hell, even slumlords will be putting them in after a while. .
This start-up business will make you a fortune. You could become the Henry Ford of renewable energy.
While you’re at it, you’ll be changing the world – just like Henry Ford. He created a whole culture that didn’t exist before. So will you. With this simple technological improvement, you will create a culture of freedom, equality, democracy and environmental sustainability.
Click here to see how it works.
THE NEW CULTURE OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
The new culture you will create with your residential power generation system I call “Laissez-Faire Socialism”. If that sounds like a contradiction to you, that is only because the prevailing model of social and economic theory make “socialism” and “free enterprise” appear to be contradictory. Both the left and the right seem to accept this view, because our entire modern industrial society is based on this prevailing model of economic theory. In fact, the fundamental assumptions about human nature are contained in the theoretical model of the bargaining process based on a mythological “first human” known as “economic man”. As it turns out, “economic man” is a distortion – creating a distorted view of society that appears to be “natural”. In fact, our rapacious, relentless corporate power structure is most unnatural. A freer and more democratic society is not only achievable. It is inevitable. Renewable energy is the next step toward the natural evolution of that new society.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, let’s explore the natural evolution of culture that results when individuals establish their own energy independence.
What you create, when everybody generates his own power, is a private system of socialized electric power. You see, a power grid already exists. It is a nationwide grid that allows transfer of power from places with a power surplus to places with a shortage. The power companies trade the power back and forth. That’s the business Enron was in. Power companies generate the power centrally, and distribute it to consumers – like you.
When everybody has your generation system on their roof, the tables will be turned. Now the power will be generated by the present residential consumer. The power grid will distribute power from places where there is surplus – the desert for example – to places where there is shortage – Seattle for example. It could be distributed free. After all, you’re power is free. What do you care if you give some of it away. But if you want to make some money off of your abundant sunshine, don’t worry. That meter box on your house can be made to work both ways.
Your biggest customer – are you ready – will be corporations. Those skyscrapers don’t have enough roof space for electric power generation. Some manufacturers – steel comes to mind – use incredible amounts of electricity they couldn’t generate if they had a square mile devoted to solar panels. No problem. Right now they’re paying the power company. They can pay you just as well. You might even be able to give them a better deal.
The social implications are staggering in their magnitude. What you will create is a new culture of self-sufficiency. You will give every person who installs one of these systems a minimum boost in disposable income on the order of ten or fifteen percent of their present monthly income – without costing their employer an extra cent. They will use this to buy other stuff – increasing demand and giving the economy a shot in the arm. Or they will pay down some of their existing debt. This will lower demand for capital, lowering interest rates – giving the economy another shot in the arm. Finally, they will put more money into investments – giving the economy a third shot in arm. Every one of these economic stimuli will benefit ordinary people, more than capitalist elites. More spending, and increased production creates jobs – that pay the same wages to people with reduced expenses. Lower interest rates further reduces the average consumer’s balance of payments – at the expense of financial institutions. Greater investment by ordinary consumers democratizes – however slightly – control over the corporate power structure.
In short, renewable energy generation may eventually break the grip of the debt-driven consumer treadmill that imprisons so many of us in that “guilded cage” called capitalism. That’s the real reason people will buy the system.
The environmental benefits will be equally sweeping. If everybody was a renewable energy producer – distributing surplus over the power grid. – we would realize a 25 percent reduction in production of greenhouse gases, sulphur dioxide, etc, right out of the blocks. Add hydrogen fuel cell automobiles – fueled by the same electrolysis for your house, and we take care of almost all of the remaining source of emissions into the atmosphere. In other words, air pollution will be a thing of the past.
We also end our dependence on foreign oil, with all of the diplomatic and military headaches that come with it.
By bringing one emerging technology to market, you can create a little piece of grassroots socialism, by socializing electric power. You can put a boatload of money in the pockets of ordinary consumers – at no additional cost to their employers. You can clean up the air over Los Angeles, and end global warming, foreign oil dependence and domestic drilling, too.
And make a fortune in the process.
That’s the beauty of it. It’s capitalism, baby. It’s good old-fashioned entrepreneurial American know-how. Its capitalism working to transform capitalism into something a lot more democratic than what it is now.
The delightful irony is that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and the rest of the Republic neo-fascists can’t say much about it. It’s just business, Dubya. The fact is that new technology and new products change society. The automobile did it. The personal computer did it. So will residential renewable energy production. It will create more democracy. It will create more socialism – private socialism. We’ve already seen some of that. What is the internet, but a private system of socialized information?
It’s private business. It’s capitalism. It will free people from the consumer treadmill. That’s why corporate America hates the idea.
I’m talking about a great way to finally turn the tables on those corporate bastards. You don’t think the suits hate this idea? Tell me this. Westinghouse makes refrigerators, ranges, and washing machines. George Westinghouse made the first electric generators a hundred years ago. General Electric makes jet engines – not exactly a low-tech industry. Why don’t they make residential power generation equipment? Why haven’t their legions of engineers done any work on improving efficiency of the fuel cell. A jet engine uses turbines to compress air for combustion. Why hasn’t General Electric applied some that technology to the wind turbine? Why aren’t they involved in hydrogen fuel-cell research and development? Why isn’t the company that made them for the Apollo missions? They’ll sell you a washing machine, why not sell you a fuel cell stack to power it? How come all of the companies in renewable energy are “start-up” garage businesses?
This technology isn’t new. It was around twenty five years ago, when Jimmy Carter called for “the moral equivalent of war” to develop alternative energy. Solar panels have been powering satellites in orbit since the 1960’s. The first hydrogen fuel cell was made in 1843. No, that’s not a typo. The year was eighteen hundred and forty three. If we had taken Jimmy Carter’s advice, this technology would be as far along as the personal computer. We might already be living with socialized electric power.
Why do you think we didn’t do it? Why do you think corporate America and its conservative lackeys rose up in arms to defeat Jimmy Carter’s obviously sensible proposal. They said, “government shouldn’t be subsidizing this business.” Then they, the captains of the private sector completely ignored this technology – when they knew that average Americans were ready for it. The reason is simple. They don’t want socialized anything – public or private. The only reason they didn’t strangle the internet in its crib, was because they didn’t see it coming.
This technology exposes the “Achilles heel” of the corporate power structure. Accordingly, it is a golden opportunity for all of us on the left. This is the issue that we can use to pressure the suits, and force them to show us their true colors.
Conservatives oppose this technology. It’s not that they’re indifferent to it. They affirmatively dislike it. For all of it’s economic, environmental and even national security benefits, they oppose government sponsored research and development into it. They say that government shouldn’t be financing development of such technology – as if government research and development into jet propulsion, computers, electronics, radar, television, satellite communications, and who knows what else hasn’t made tidy fortunes for these corporate hypocrites. They say its “unproven”, as if the television sprang fully developed onto the market in the 1940’s. They say its “inefficient”, but what they really mean is that it is inefficient for a centralized producer. Production by individual consumers is as efficient as it gets. But they don’t want individual consumers producing their own power and getting off the grid – or worse, selling surplus power back to corporations.
It tilts the balance of economic power toward you – and away from them. It smells too much like freedom and equality
Corporate America knows what I have recently figured out, and what I am now passing on to you. Renewable energy is just the beginning. It is the first stage in the process of undoing the corporate power structure. It works by attacking the primary tool used by corporate capitalism to keep you in your place. That tool of corporate control has many names. One is the “rat race”. I call it the treadmill of mindless overproduction, consumption and the debt financing that drives it. Renewable energy breaks that treadmill, and will eventually lead to the evolution of a technologically advanced, decentralized, democratic, clean, sustainable and free society – from the bottom up.
I just showed you – in detail – how to accomplish the first step.
Click here, and I’ll show you more.
INDUSTRIALIZATION AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
The next stage down the road to Laissez-Faire Socialism begins with something known as “quality management”. It’s already happening, and it “dovetails” with the economic benefits of renewable energy.
In order to understand the serious threat posed by renewable energy to the global corporate power structure – and to understand the cultural, social and political changes that will bring about Laissez-Faire Socialism – you have to understand how the corporate power structure works.
The place to begin is industrialization. Many on the left mistrust industrialization. For one thing, they perceive it as being dirty – as indeed it has been. They also are keenly aware of the levels of poverty, ignorance, exploitation, oppression and general social decay that has accompanied industrial capitalism.
Nevertheless, faulting industrialization and technology is misplaced.
As far as environmental destruction is concerned, that is not the product of industrialization, it is the product of the energy source for industrialization. Previously, that energy source was fossil fuels. A major task of this site is to point out that new alternatives will virtually eliminate fossil fuels as the fuel source for industrial society. In other words, the dirtiness of industry was temporary.
The social impact of industrial capitalism is another matter. Again, however, it is not industrialization, but capitalism, that has created this social decay. In fact, industrialization is essential to building a free society. The entire political left – committed to liberty, human rights, equality, and human dignity – sprang into being along with industrialization – even before capitalism was recognized as a new social and political system.
Anyone who thinks that industrialization has been a net liability to our quality of life, needs to read some history. The basic concepts of liberty, equality and human rights didn’t even occur to anyone before the 1700’s. Before the 1700’s slavery, serfdom or some form of brutal and oppressive servitude existed in every civilization on earth for the entire 6000 years of human history, up until that time. Since the 1700’s, property slavery and true serfdom have been all but eradicated from the face of the earth. It only exists in backwaters like Ghana in sub-saharan Africa, and it exists there illegally. As for “wage slavery”, a curious correlation exists. The more industrialized and technological the society, the less “wage slavery” you see. Places like Germany barely have it at all.
As for general social conditions, you should acquaint yourself with life in medieval England, for example. In those days, 80 percent of the population were agricultural serfs with a life expectance of 35 if they were lucky. There was no sanitation, no medical care, no schools, and almost no books. In Wales, in the 1300’s half of all women died in childbirth. There was constant, incessant warfare from the 500’s to the dawn of industrialization. In 1347, a plague killed a third of the population of Europe. There was nothing anybody could do about it, except wait and see if it was going to kill them.
In short, life was “nasty, brutish and short”. Whatever poverty, ignorance, oppression, warfare or environmental destruction has existed under industrial capitalism, capitalism clearly didn’t invent these things. For many people, capitalism has in fact improved life.
Or more accurately, industrialization has improved life.
The way it does this is very simple. Industrialization creates incredible surplus, which it does by harnessing external energy sources, and by vastly improving the organization of production. Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of agriculture. In medieval Europe, 70 to 80 percent of the population worked in agriculture. Today, in the United States that number is four percent.
Think about the economics of poorly organized human powered production. Civilization itself is the product of surplus production made possible by settled agriculture. The prodigious food production possible in the fertile river valleys where civilization began, made it possible for human beings to do other things besides look for food. With their new found free time, they learned how to build. They learned how to work metals. They began to track the motion of heavenly bodies – starting with the sun. They developed mathematics to help them do this. In fact, sophisticated mathematics existed in virtually every early civilization, from the Babylonians, to the Egyptians, to the Maya in Central America.] They learned to make sculpture. They built roads. They built ships and traded among themselves over vast distances.
There was just one problem. Human powered agricultural only created so much surplus. Therefore only a small portion of the population was freed by human-powered agriculture. Most people had to stay in the fields to keep it all going, and some method had to be devised to decide who worked, and who created. That is where social classes came from. They were invented and existed in virtually every civilization that ever developed, because the economics of human powered civilization require them.
In other words, democracy isn’t possible – or at least it isn’t very practical – in a human powered agricultural civilization. That’s why it didn’t exist. Even the examples of “democracy” like Greece and Rome, weren’t democracies so much as they were participatory oligarchies. On the other hand, pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer societies are quite democratic. There were no social classes among Native American tribes, Australian aborigines, Polynesians or any other remaining neolithic people I can think of.
Industrialization changed all of this when it dramatically increased the surplus created by labor. Remember, all surplus consumed by anyone is produced by labor. Capital is nothing but one system among many to regulate distribution of what labor produces. If you doubt that everything is produced by labor, pull out a dollar and tell it to fix you a sandwich.
Not only does industrialization rely on machines for its prodigious production capacity, it relies on much more sophisticated organization. Consider the difference between the galley – the ship used for most of recorded history, and the “tall ships” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Those new ships didn’t make much use of machines, but they did harness a natural energy source. This changed the nature of the labor used from the mindless toil of humans literally “chained to the oars”, to the far more sophisticated, complex and intelligent work of true sailing.
Thus industrialization created a sufficient surplus to support a much larger population of “free” people enjoying that surplus. At the same time, it created a population smart enough to figure that out.
In fact, industrialization has become so good at creating surplus, that there is no need for any human being to be permanently relegated to a life of mindless toil. There is still some mindless toil that needs to be done – but it is such a small part of the economy that it can very easily be democratized without placing any great hardship on anyone. Want to see how to do it? In exchange for two or three years on the back of the garbage truck, we’ll send you to college.
As we speak, the technology of industrial production is starting to come of age. With it a whole new world of possibilities for freedom, equality and social justice are emerging. These possibilities are becoming so natural to implement, they are in fact becoming irresistible. Oh, and the technology for clean industry – primarily through clean energy sources for it – is also emerging.
Which brings us back to that strange new science called “quality management”. To see the revolutionary implications of this, click here.
GETTING OFF THE “TREADMILL”
Believe it or not, the possibilities for industrial efficiency – and a concurrent increase in the intelligence and interest level – of the work itself, is just beginning to be realized. Computers and robotics are making possible tremendous flexibility in manufacturing. The CNC lathe, for example, makes it possible to machine much smaller lots of finished parts, reducing inventory demands, by shorting the set-up time for machine tools from hours to minutes. This technology is already ushering in a renewal of custom made – as opposed to mass produced standardized – products. With it, it is creating the possibility of small scale and therefore locally owned manufacturers of high quality custom made products. Right now, there is a man in California who makes custom made motorcycles – right down to cutting the engine out a solid block of aluminum. He uses no wage labor, but does all of the work himself.
Remember how corporate capitalists don’t like renewable energy. They don’t like this new industrial efficiency, either. Specifically, they don’t like the potential for vast improvements in product quality.
Many of you reading this may work in manufacturing facilities that have gone through ISO 9000 certification. You may have been subjected to Total Quality Management or “TQM” as its known. Just the other day, I received an advertisement for “Six Sigma Black Belt” training. “Six sigma” is a reference to a mathematical coefficient used in the techniques that manage production processes. All of these things are a part of a minor revolution taking place in the American manufacturing sector.
Somebody figured out that quality control improves profitability. That somebody was the Japanese.
Actually, it was an American named Edward Deming. Here’s how it works. To quote the Jack Lemon character in “Glengarry, Glen Ross”, “you don’t sell a man one car, you sell him five cars over fifteen years.” Sell him a lemon, and you’ll only sell him one. The problem is that capitalism, as it makes use of production machines, becomes a virtual machine itself. The point of capitalism is to invest in the creation of a production apparatus, and the use that apparatus to generate revenue in the form of sales. When people stop buying, you stop making money. Unlike agricultural production, where the demand never ceases as long as people have to eat, demand for industrial products is much softer. How many cars do you need? When everybody has one, the market for cars dries up – and with it the businesses that make them and sell them..
This creates a really interesting dilemna for the capitalist who is in the car making business. He needs for you to keep buying his cars. This means that he needs for your car to wear out – but not too fast. If your car doesn’t wear out, you don’t need another one. If it wears out too fast, it’s a “lemon”, and you won’t buy another one from him, which is the point. Product quality is what brings you back. Why do you think there are so many loyal Honda owners?
.But that’s just the beginning of the relationship between quality and profitability. Simple thought question: who wants to buy materials, build machines, pay for the electricity to run the machines, pay the people to run the machines, then take the product that comes out of the machine and throw in the dumpster behind the plant. That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, to me. Every time you produce a product that doesn’t meet your specifications, that’s all you have done. Of course, you could sell it anyway, and many manufacturers do just that – but if you sell too many off-spec units to angry customers, all you will be doing is selling your way into bankruptcy. That assumes that one of those off- spec units isn’t actually dangerous, opening you up to a major lawsuit that your conservative lackeys can whine about.
On the other hand, an entire industrial science has emerged to perfect the manufacturing process to the point that it produces very little scrap – and very few off-spec products. Customers are happier, and you save money in your production costs.
That’s how the Japanese kicked American ass in the 1970’s. That was the time when Chrysler was slouching toward bankruptcy. Remember the Plymouth Duster. Have you seen one on the road lately. Chrysler automobiles of the mid to late 1970’s were hopeless piles of junk. Meanwhile, Nissan, Toyota and Honda were cleaning up in the American market. We still haven’t caught up with them. The bad news is that we may never catch up with them.
You see, all of this increased profitability from quality management has a big downside – from the point of view of the corporate power structure.
First of all, it requires a high level of sophistication in the organization of the workplace. That’s really what “Total Quality Management” – and other similar systems – is. It involves the design of improvements in the entire production system, in order to eliminate waste. It has one major requirement. You must have an intelligent, well-trained and – this is the key – motivated work force. Galley slaves will simply not do in the modern high-tech highly sophisticated industrial workplace.
In the “sweat shops” of the nineteenth century – the shops Karl Marx was familiar with – you had that very rudimentary “division of labor” about which he spilled a great deal of ink. Essentially, you divided the work into small repetitive tasks, and “mass produced” huge volumes. Most people have heard of the demonstration Eli Whitney gave the continental congress of the efficiency of producing muskets using interchangeable parts. You don’t really need an especially highly motivated worker. You just need one hungry enough to show up, and do what you tell him to do.
Those days are over. Hunger, fear of losing your job, and the thousand small indignities corporate managers inflict on the work force undercut your quality management system. In fact, a “disgruntled” employee – they are almost inevitably justified in their anger – can seriously gum up the works of your production process. In other words, positive motivation has become a necessity in today’s highly sophisticated industrial environment. What do I mean by motivation. For today’s wage-earner, jaded by years of “employee recognition” and other “rah-rah” cheerleader pep talks, motivation means one thing. Money talks.
Which isn’t a problem. After all, the increased profitability from productivity gains makes real wage increases completely feasible.
But increasing efficiency and product quality creates another problem. It produces a better product, and it produces it cheaper. That isn’t a problem for any sane businessman. After all, better products for less money is supposed to be what the whole market economy is all about. In fact, we have the technology and the production systems today to produce an automobile with a service life of a half a million miles – not the 100,000 miles that is typical for American made cars.
But industry is very slow to develop that technology. In fact, quality managers and consultants around the world will tell you that executive management is way behind in understanding and utilizing the available technology. You see, product quality, improvement in production processes, increased training and technical sophistication in the work place have put the corporate power structure in a delightfully difficult jam, by creating a set of trends whose solution will ultimately dismantle that power structure.
Upward pressure on wages – and it is pressure – tends to enable the industrial worker to accumulate his own surplus capital. This comes on top of the economic benefits he is realizing from his personal electric power system we sold him. Remember? In other words, it enables him to get off the treadmill.
Meanwhile, increasing product quality – including product durability – further helps him get off the treadmill. It does this by lengthening the buying cycle. As it stands, your average consumer buys a car every three years – and finances for four. This way, the average consumer makes a car payment that is mostly interest for their entire working life. A car that lasts ten or fifteen years translates into more money in his pocket. Even if a better car costs more, it won’t cost five times more, or anywhere close to it.
By now you should be figuring out what that middle class treadmill is – and more importantly why it exists. The buying cycle is absolutely essential to the continued existence of the corporate ruling class. Beginning with manufacturing corporations, like Ford or General Motors, they have to maintain continuous sales volume. The investment bankers, stock brokers, bond traders and other assorted parasites who lend them “operating” capital and the like, depend on the same sales volume to pay the interest on those obligations. Meanwhile, an entire finance industry has grown up to finance the consumer side. They similarly depend on repetitive consumption – by you – to maintain their “money machines”. And lets not forget the industry that fuels the whole system with the ultimate “consumable” of industrial capitalism, namely the purveyors of petroleum.
Like every other system of exploitation, it all depends on you. Specifically, it depends on you to continue to do two things: Produce goods, and consume them – over and over again, paying the manufacturer, the oil company and the finance company perpetually until you die. They keep you on the treadmill by paying you just enough to give it all back to them in exchange for the things you use. It’s like the old “company store”, set up nationwide. You don’t make enough to accumulate any savings, so you go into debt to buy a car, a washing machine or a house. Your pay increases, but never enough to enable you to stop working – for them. Thus, the average middle class wage earner is working to make products somebody else sells back to him – on credit with interest. The result is a wage earner who owns lots of stuff – and has very little freedom. The term for it is a “guilded cage”.
This mindless repetitive consumption – that keeps up that whole world of stock holders, investment bankers and finance companies – is the source of environmental degradation. Strip mining, clear cutting and paving the countryside is the compulsion of society driven by an elite that needs you to buy, buy, buy. Don’t fix up the house you live in. Buy another one. Don’t drive the same old “rust bucket”, the new models are coming out. We can sell you anything on the “easy payment” plan. Whatever you do, don’t save your money. Even the Social Security system reinforces the treadmill. No, I don’t advocate abolishing Social Security – at least not yet – I simply point out that it is very poor system for “social security”, necessary because it’s the only way the treadmill allows people to ever quit working.
Increase wages – which the new sophisticated work place requires – and then slow down the buying cycle with more durable goods – also made possible by the same sophisticated workplace. The wage earner now makes more money. In addition he is spending a whole lot less because he is replacing his equipment less often. This means he is paying less for debt service. When he installs your power generation equipment – and even uses it to run his fuel cell powered automobile, he isn’t giving his money to the oil company, either.
Now, he can get off the treadmill.
Make no mistake, these ideas scare the power structure to marrow of its bones. It may scare you. “What am I going to do about a job?” The answer is the key to building a decentralized, democratic, clean, free and technologically advanced society.
People will still work in manufacturing. They just won’t work there as long. Early on, the work day will shorten, and the retirement age will get lower – a lot lower. That’s how slow down the buying cycle. Work less and make fewer products. You can even keep the same sized workforce. They just work shorter hours, and retire sooner.
What do they do, then? Play golf?
Some will. Some will lay around and watch TV. But a lot of people, still fairly young with pockets full of cash, will do something really obvious. They will start their own businesses. Not only that, they will have heads full of knowledge about sophisticated production processes, materials, product design and so forth.
The beer industry provides a model for the future of industrial production. Busch, Miller and Coors – don’t buy Coors, the son of a bitch that owns it is right-wing kook from hell – have crowded out what used to be a large variety of small breweries. Until recently, that is. Now we’re seeing the emergence of the micro-brewery. There are hundreds of them. In fact, most large cities have at least one making a local brew. Sam Adams – which started out as Boston micro-brewery – sell its brew nationwide. These micro- brews cost a little more, but they are a whole better than the moose piss Anheuser Busch produces.
Remember the guy who makes the motorcycles – all by himself? This will be the model for the future of “micro-manufacturing”. He’s the first of his kind, not the last. The computer driven, quality driven manufacturing systems are creating the possibility of small scale local manufacturers of products that used to require huge production volume to stay in business. It won’t be long before every city, in addition to a “micro-brewery”, has a local “micro-manufacturer” of precision custom-made automobiles. This kind of “cottage industry” already exists in the computer industry. Instead of buying a “Dell” or a “Gateway”, you can find literally hundreds of computer nerds within ten miles of where you’re sitting who will custom make you a computer to any specifications you want.
You can now see what the future economic infra-structure will look like. Local manufacturers, local distributors and local retailers will make everything needed for the local economy. Instead of working on a treadmill, mass producing throw-away goods, so you can give all of your money to some banker in New York, you will take your time producing high-quality goods, for other people producing similar high-quality goods. You will work less. You will produce products worth owning. And you will have time to enjoy your prosperity.
Capital won’t cease to exist. I’m sorry Karl, but Capital is just too useful a social convention to cavalierly discard. Instead, capital will become decentralized, and with it power. As for the bankers, financiers and other centralized owners of capital. What Karl Marx predicted for the state, will happen to them. They will wither away. So will the poverty, ignorance, oppression and environmental destruction that have been their primary gifts to us.
With industrial workers accumulating capital, and creating small scale micro- manufacturing in decentralized self-sufficient local economies, all sorts of opportunities for the development of human potential through new social arrangements become possible.
To explore some of these new possibilities, click here.
A NEW KIND OF BUSINESSMAN
For a site that promotes socialism – naturally evolving socialism – I sure talk a lot about business. On the other hand, how does a naturally evolving socialism dispense with business? Consider the following line of questions. [These are “cross-examination questions. You answer them “yes” or “no” – and I already know the answers.]
Q. In the 6000 years of recorded history, Capitalism is a relatively recent development, is it not?
A. Yes. It’s about 300 years old.
Q. Before capitalism, did anybody make their living as a merchant?
A. Yes, of course.
Q. In fact, going all the way back to the time of the Pharoahs, ships were plying the Mediterranean, loaded with goods for foreign markets, weren’t they?
A. If you say so. [Go find an ancient history text. Take it to the bank, the answer is “Yes”]
Q. Even before the dawn of civilization, did neoltithic hunter-gatherers trade among themselves?
A. You better believe it.
Q. Have you ever heard of Peter Stuyvesant?
A. [I don’t care if you’ve heard of him or not, I’m about to tell you who he was.]
Q. Do you recall that he was the guy who bought Manhattan Island for a handful of beads
A. Oh yes. Some call it the greatest real estate swindle in history.
Q. Really, did the Native Americans have the technology or the social organization to make use of it as anything but the undeveloped island that it was?
A. Not really.
Q. I mean, Peter Stuyvesant didn’t buy it complete with skyscrapers and the Brooklyn bridge did he?
A. Well, I guess not.
Q. Getting back on the subject of trade, did those Native Americans need the concept of “trade” explained to them?
A. Certainly not.
Q. In fact, they even had a primitive medium of exchange?
A. What do you mean?
Q. Those beads they got, that some people refer to as “wampum”. They didn’t have any useful value, did they?
A. Maybe as ornaments.
Q. Not only that, notwithstanding all of that stuff about how the Native Americans didn’t understand land ownership, in fact the Native Americans who traded with Peter Stuyvesant understood perfectly well notions about exclusive use of territory, and that those “rights” could be bargained for. Didn’t they?
A. Looks that way.
Q. While we’re on the subject, do you think the chief who dealt with Peter Stuyvesant would mind if I made myself at home in his wigwam, and helped myself to the stuff he used – without at least being invited?
A. He would probably mind.
Q. Doesn’t this suggest that notions of trade, some rudimentary notion of property rights, and even a medium of exchange are fundamental to social organizations everywhere?
A. I suppose we could do a full survey of every culture, and see. But it looks that way.
Q. A survey? How do people live together without killing each other, without an orderly way to respect each other’s space and the tools and equipment they use. If you’re watching TV and go the refrigerator, don’t you have some mutual agreement that no one can grab your chair?
A. Sure I do.
Q. Isn’t that the beginning of the notion of “property rights”?
A. [I don’t care how you answer this one. You get the point.]
Q. So where did the Stalinists [Not Lenin. I’m not sure that Lenin didn’t appreciate this problem] get the idea that they could build a society with no “private property” and no trade among ordinary people? What made them think they could centrally manage the myriad small contracts and agreements that naturally occur among people, and manage this in a nation of 200 million people? In fact, if trade and some form of property rights existed before Capitalism, they will exist after it, won’t they?
A. It sure looks that way. [Actually, here’s where the judge interrupts and asks, “How many questions is that, Counsellor?”]
Commerce is the process that drives social evolution. It includes trade in goods and services, as the most fundamental form of commerce, but eventually in includes commerce in ideas and culture itself. If socialism requires that we eliminate commerce among people, then socialism is simply impossible. In other words, socialism must take account of business.
The implications of this are even more far reaching than it appears. The businessman – i.e., the merchant or the “salesmen” – is at the center of the process of trade, commerce and negotiation between people. Accordingly, he is not simply something to be tolerated, he is an important player in the evolution of any socialist society. After all, the organizing ideas that make for a socialist society have to be communicated and integrated into people’s day to day life. Not only that, they have to be recognized as legitimate. In fact, most concepts of social organization are so firmly ingrained in people, they aren’t even aware of them. “Things have always been that way”, they think, even when things clearly haven’t been.
The conclusion to be reached is as revolutionary as it is simple. Businessmen are going to have to become socialists – a difficult task, stated that way. The way I go about it is to turn it around and say that socialists need to become businessmen and businesswomen. That way, we aren’t faced with the task of the “re-education” of a whole class of people, with all of sinister connotations of that term. If socialists become businessmen, they can gradually transform the business culture -- especially if their model of business organization works better. [If it doesn’t work better, the culture won’t take root, which would suggest that socialism is one those things like alchemy that just can’t be done.] Let’s take a look at how this might work.
First of all, we need to start with a basic understanding of what a “business” is. To do that, we need to start with the notion of “trade”. I won’t spend a lot of time here, since everyone has a great deal of experience with this. Trade is traditionally understood as a negotiated exchange. The most common form is the exchange of goods and services. Most cultures have a “medium of exchange”, which we have developed into the concept of “capital”. Money is nothing more than a symbol of the abstract value of something. It allows for something really useful, namely exchange over time as well as space. I can “save” – which means that I can produce now and consume later – even years later.
Money also makes the negotiation process in trade much easier. If we are bartering, you may not have anything I want right now. If you have money – a symbol of value – you can give that to me, and I can use it to get what I want from somebody else. This vastly expands the possibility of a social network of trade, and allows for the kind of specialized industry we see in modern industrial society. The negotiation process is simply the process of each party to the exchange advancing his own interests in the exchange. That’s the reason we engage in trade, to start with. If I had everything I wanted, why would I need to trade. The optimum outcome in a negotiation is when both parties have more of something than they need, and are satisfied that they have advanced their interests in the exchange.
Trade accomplished with a medium of exchange has created the entire concept of “industry”. Once you discover something that lots of people want, you produce it in quantity, and trade with a variety of different people. Or you buy lots of it from your “source” and transport it to the people who want it. Or you put up a building, buy it from the source, and keep it there until people want it. This is the origin of manufacturers, shipping companies, warehouses, wholesale distributors, retailers and so forth. Since symbolic value – money – drives this system, enterprises that manage, account for and invest money spring into being. These include banks, lenders, factors and other enterprises. Trade begins in basic necessities – food, clothing and shelter. As the trading network grows, new needs emerge. Someone carrying goods over long distances needs pack animals, carts, trucks and biggest of all, ships.
Indeed, every discrete position within the “supply chain” has its own needs for new equipment and facilities. The farmer needs a tractor. The shipper needs trucks and ships. The distributor needs a warehouse. The retailer needs shelves and display racks. All of them need money to pay for the construction of these things. In fact, the central importance of credit should become apparent. Say a farmer wants to use a tractor instead of mules. It might take him years to “save” enough to buy a tractor. If he can get one now, he can produce enough surplus to pay for the tractor much sooner. Indeed, he can realize enough surplus to pay for the tractor, pay some extra to the lender – it’s called “interest” – and still have plenty left for trade with other people. Its called a “win- win” exchange – just like the original trade between the two cavemen who first invented the whole idea of trade.
All of these “enterprises” require two central things. Labor and organization. In fact, you should see that different enterprises organize themselves with respect to each other, since each organization depends on others for continued trade. That’s what a business is. It is an organization of people who produce goods or services for trade with other organizations or individuals. Every organization necessarily includes labor. Somebody has to produce the goods or deliver the services. Somebody has to plough the field and harvest the crop. Somebody has to drive the truck. Somebody has to unload the truck. Even in a business enterprise as abstract as a bank, someone is doing work. How do you think your check goes from the grocery store, to their bank, to any intermediate bank, to your bank, to the envelope that contains your bank statement, and “settles” all of the “accounts” along the way. Somebody has to physically do that work.
A businessman is nothing more than an organizer of any of the various enterprises in this vast network of trade. The labor the organizer himself does in this process considerable. He has to identify a product or service, which is the same thing as saying that he has to identify a need to be met. He has to find a source for the finished product, or for the materials from which it is made. He has to figure out what equipment he needs to make the product, store the product, transport the product, and deal with his customers. He has to design a production process or organize the work in some way. If he has any ambition to build a very large and profitable business, he’s going to need people to help him, and he’s going to have to pay them. He may be risking his resources, credit, and time on the enterprise, but his employees are usually not willing to risk theirs. They expect to be paid. Finally, he has to find customers – and he may need help doing that. They’re called “salesmen”. To pay for all of this, he’s going to need some money – before he’s even sold the first unit. Which means that he is going to have to do a different kind of sales. He’s going to have to sell his business idea, and his ability to put that business together to lenders or investors. Indeed, every single aspect of this process involves negotiation of terms, always with the view of maximizing his available resources.
Nobody with any sense is going to go through this process for nothing. The object of the exercise is the same as it has been for the entire history of organized commerce – a lot longer than the history of capitalism. The object is to make money – or stated in non- culturally bound terms, the object is to create a place for oneself within the larger society to get the things he wants or needs in exchange for providing useful goods and/or services. The funny thing about it is, that’s the same reason you go to work for somebody else in their business.
Notice a few things. First of all, the process of “organizing” a business doesn’t make sense outside the context of a larger society. People marooned on desert islands don’t organize businesses. The statement made by many an entrepreneur that “I built this business with my own two hands” is true, of course. But it is incomplete. Every entrepreneur also built his business with other people’s two hands as well. In most cases, these other people who assisted with the enterprise were well compensated for their assistance. Investors earn a share of the profits. Lenders earn interest. Suppliers of wholesale goods, raw materials and equipment earn their profits on the sales. Even the customers of the new business benefit. Why would they buy the product or service if it isn’t going do them any good? Many products return value worth many times more than the purchase price.
The process of organizing a business involves a whole array of “win-win” relationships. No businessman worth a damn has any problem at all with “spreading it around” to various other businesses with whom he deals. In fact, the more people who make money, the more successful he will be.
Except when it comes to labor.
For some reason, many business organizers – though certainly not all of them – think labor has some unusual obligation to forego a decent share of the profit from the business. The labor furnished by the wage earner is every bit as critical to the success of that business as anything else supplied to that business by anybody else. No bank, investor, supplier or anybody else expects to furnish the business organizer with one single thing that he needs in exchange for a bare subsistence. Wage earners are no different. They want to prosper every bit much as anybody else in the supply chain. In other words, in exchange for their time, talent and energy, they want to “maximize their profit”, just like everybody else.
Some people seem to think that’s unreasonable. They are perfectly willing to pay someone a wage that doesn’t even cover his personal overhead – and then expect him to give them back a hard days work. If the wage earner asks for a better deal, or horror of horrors, explains that he expects to prosper from his labor just like the boss, the boss explains that he can’t “afford” to pay more. The boss doesn’t tell that to the bank, that’s for sure. The bank doesn’t care. They want their interest, and they get it.
The reason that labor is treated so badly by so many business organizers is very simple. Businessmen can get away with it. In fact, the entire economy is structured to help them get away with it. But that’s changing.
The new industrial workplace is highly automated and sophisticated in its organization. It requires a new kind of intelligent, diligent and literate employee. Even as simple a job as running a cash register requires a certain minimal technological literacy. Consider the bad service many people complain is epidemic in the fast food joints they go to. It turns out that even McDonalds needs help capable of doing more than just showing up. Unfortunately, that kind of help is getting harder to come by.
It seems that as the technological demands on the work force have grown, the infrastructure for creating the labor pool has continued to deliver the old kind of help – obedient, intimidated, unmotivated, and most importantly unimaginative. In fact, many businesses continue to insist on that kind of help – oblivious to the fact that such help isn’t what they need anymore.
Leftists have bought into conservative propaganda to the effect that “business”, “trade”, and “property” are uniquely capitalist. They aren’t. Business is even older than civilization itself – and that means it isn’t the exclusive preserve of capitalists. In fact, the laissez-faire socialist businessman of the future is the businessman who is going to be able to make use of the technological sophistication of the modern industrial workplace. He will do this by doing a very simple thing – respecting the legitimate interests and aspirations of the wage earner who – at long last – finally has a critical role by reason of his skills and initiative that must be recognized by business managers – whether they want to or not.
The new wage earner – well educated, highly trained, and increasingly prosperous – is simply not going to work for peanuts. He’s going to start thinking like the bank, or the investors. He’s going to start wanting a bigger cut. In some cases, he’s going to want a piece of the business. Investors become “limited partners” or “shareholders”. Many wage earners are going to start wanting the same deal. Business organizers are going to deal with them on this basis. It won’t even be that hard. Promoting and selling a business idea – even a front end investment of time for lower pay – is something business organizers have been doing for literally thousands of years. Leftists – newly remade into business organizers – will show everybody else what they should have been doing with labor all along.
The result will be a vast change in the pattern of working lives. Remember that the new economy of more durable goods, made by wage earners who have gotten off the “treadmill”, will enable them to leave the world of working for someone else much sooner. They will be establishing their own business enterprises. The upward mobility within companies will improve. Long term employees are going to be participants in something that is just becoming practical, namely workplace democracy. Along with all of this expansion of commerce, will come the same increase in general prosperity that has accompanied expanding commerce throughout history.
Gone will be poverty, ignorance and oppression. Those things will finally be seen for what they are. Because they systematically disempower large segments of the available talent and energy of society, they are a drain on the economy and an impediment to prosperity.
Sounds rosy, doesn’t it? To hear me tell it, a new world of social justice is right there in front of us, just waiting to explode into being. In fact, that is exactly what I think we are seeing. The question is what’s holding it up. The answer lies in understanding the problem. It is not a technological problem. It is a conceptual problem. It lies in our fundamental understanding of the nature and purpose of society itself. The world of early rapacious capitalism carried with a world-view that defined the very culture of capitalism. Many still cling to that worldview. In the case of conservatives, they are quite obnoxious about the whole thing.
And they win. They win, because nobody knows how to beat them in the argument about the fundamental questions of society. Nobody knows how to beat them, because nobody understands that culture of capitalism, and therefore nobody understands the new culture – and its new worldview – that will replace the old. In order to understand this, we have to explore the old culture of capitalism just a little. To do that we start with understanding poverty, and why it is so persistent in a world of plenty.