Category Archives: Spring 2001 (3/9/01)

Decapitate the Energy Behemoth

We are at a critical point in global energy usage. Global economic growth, and the emissions produced by fossil fuels powering the growth, are spiraling upwards at a dizzying rate. Mammoth-scale power generation and energy usage are a recipe for disaster in the form of climate change.

However, burgeoning interest in renewable energy may avert the crisis. Wind and solar energy technology, around the corner since the 1970\’s, is finally readily available, and continues to improve. Overall energy efficiency is increasing.

Perhaps most promisingly, renewable energy technology works best on in a decentralized, locally based system. The large, capital-intensive infrastructure that supports the fossil fuel energy market is not required by solar, wind, and fuel cell technology, which are well suited for home, neighborhood, and regional power generation.

Some folks, including Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, are calling renewable energy firms the next dot-coms. But therein lies the problem! The technology is being developed largely in a free-market manner that continues to emphasize the very economic growth that is overwhelming the planet. And implementation often depends heavily on government incentives.

The energy revolution must extend all the way from the development stages to installation. We must develop a structure for technology development and implementation independent from the old funding giants that are the cornerstone of the energy status quo.

Renewables are here!

Renewable energy has been a household term for the past two decades. People in the US and Europe overwhelmingly support use of renewable energy. Wind energy is now cost-competitive with the artificially low fossil fuel energy prices. Houses and neighborhoods can be cleanly powered through a combination of photovoltaic (PV), wind, and hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Energy captured by wind turbines and PV panels can be used to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. Energy is stored in the form of hydrogen gas, which can be recombined with oxygen later in a fuel cell to generate electricity. Fuel cells can use other fuels than hydrogen, like methane and other natural gasses, with relatively few emissions.

However, when fuel cells use hydrogen, the only products are heat, pure water, and an electric current. Pretty neat, huh? This technology is all available today, and continues to improve rapidly.

Energy status quo

With such promising technology, why does oil and coal still dominate the energy market? Why is renewable energy just now seriously emerging? Fossil fuels still supply 85% of US energy and 75% world-wide.

This dominance was launched by two key technological developments: that of the internal combustion engine and of electric power, both at the (previous) turn of the century. The economic growth fueled by the petroleum industry, the automotive industry, and world-wide electrification shaped our contemporary world, complete with global warming and environmental and indigenous peoples\’ destruction.

This harmful growth burgeoned with the cheap oil available during the 1950\’s and 60\’s. Few paid attention to the fact that complex worldwide economic and social structures were increasingly dependent upon one fuel, available primarily in one part of the world. The petroleum industry gained tremendous political influence in the US and elsewhere.

With the oil crises of the 70\’s and 80\’s, governments and industry were forced to think about non-petroleum ways to satiate their addiction to economic growth. But because of the overwhelming focus on oil and coal, the technology for a large-scale shift to truly renewable energy was not yet available. The Carter administration funded a number of crash efforts into renewable energy development, but none of these were successful because the efforts were biased by the existing fossil fuel infrastructure.

And, of course, most of the research funding went to nuclear power, progeny of the defense industry and major mining companies like Kerr-McGee.

Independent US companies did in fact develop quite a bit of renewable energy technology, but it was all shipped to Europe. The US and many other industrialized countries chose to use more coal to meet the market share neglected by oil. Then oil prices dropped and everything was \”fine\” again.

European green energy

European countries responded much differently to the 70\’s oil crisis. With an established environmental consciousness, and without such strong oil and coal lobbies, European governments made a commitment to green power through systems of tax incentives and mandated green power purchases. Until recently, most renewable technology used in Europe was actually produced in the US. Recently, European firms have taken over their market.

Does green power require large Euro-style governmental support? Yes and no! Wind power, for example, has been most successful in Denmark, where turbines were first developed in the early 1980\’s by local agricultural engineers as a craft. More than 75% of Danish wind farms continue to be owned locally. Because the power is used locally, there is little \’not in my backyard\’ opposition. Local ownership has also been key in German wind power development.

In contrast, in the UK, although the public largely supports wind power, only 22% of wind projects have been implemented, because locals object to ownership by a national utility.

However, some kind of government investment in green power, whether on European Union or local scale, has to this point been important in establishing renewable energy as a major power source. Despite selected public opposition, renewable energy is much more widely used in Europe precisely because of the EU\’s commitment. Without some kind of a guaranteed market, such as that provided by a government power purchase, profit-blinded energy corporations are reluctant to invest in an unexplored market.

Increasing interest

Renewable energy is actually beginning to surface in the mainstream energy mire. \’Sustainability\’ has replaced \’national security\’ as the energy industry buzzphrase.

Groups as diverse as Royal Dutch/Shell, the World Energy Council, and Greenpeace are considering scenarios including renewable energy. In 1995, Shell experts estimated that by 2060, 50% of energy used would be green. Greenpeace advanced a plan to reduce fossil fuels to a third of energy generation by 2030, completely phasing them out by 2100. Other groups estimate that by 2050, increases in energy efficiency will cut our energy consumption in half.

What?! Why is Shell talking about sustainability? The energy industry refers to sustaining the economy, not to sustaining life. The energy industry recognizes that a transition to renewables must occur at some point; they want to engineer the shift in order to maximize their profit…. or minimize their losses. The industry recognizes that, as in any major cultural shift, there will be some winners and some losers. They want to win, at all costs.

Massive social, political, and economic change are required to thwart their schemes. How can the technology that will facilitate such massive social change be developed by capitalist energy firms most interested in garnering a greater market share? To fully establish a renewable, sustainable energy scheme, economic growth must be de-emphasized, and de-coupled from energy consumption. The focus must be on quality of life, which is NOT dependent on astronomical economic growth and energy consumption. We must use less energy and increase efficiency.

The energy behemoth must be forced to veer off its current course, and must eventually be decapitated. Governmental incentives are the cattle prod; direct action is the guillotine.

Hope Lies with the SUn

Energy is the foundation of life. We can no longer afford to treat energy generation as the vague realm of benign public utilities and powerful corporations beyond our control. We must educate ourselves about this fundamental part of life and society, and literally retake the power for the people. This article gives a brief overview of renewable energy sources. Renewable energy currently constitutes 3.4% of US total energy supply, the vast majority of which is generated by biomass.

Solar

Energy from the sun is the foundation of renewable energy. Technically, sunlight, wind, and biomass are all forms of energy from the sun. Although both solar and wind are extremely promising renewable energy sources, they account for only 0.4% of the US primary energy supply, and a smaller fraction of our electricity generation.

Photovoltaic (PV)cells use the sun\’s energy to generate electricity; the electricity can be used directly, to charge batteries for later use, or to generate hydrogen from water by electrolysis/ PV cells are only about 15% efficient; more research must be done to increase the efficiency and make PV generated electricity less expensive. PV cells, particularly when paired with hydrogen fuel cells, hold great promise for a decentralized, clean energy system.

The sun can also be used to directly heat water, buildings, and to provide ventilation.

Wind

Heat from the sun warms air, causing the air movement we call wind. Wind energy is very successful in several European countries, especially Denmark, where it accounts for 3.5% of their primary energy. More than 75% of Danish wind turbines are owned collectively; turbines are operated singly or in small groups. Denmark also has a number of off-shore wind farms. In contrast, the US and the UK have concentrated on large land-based wind farms which have not been as successful.

There are a number of tricky issues with wind turbines, such as the maintenance associated with so many moving parts and buffeting by strong/varied wind speeds. Wind power has essentially no emissions. It is estimated that 30% of European electricity demand may be met by wind by 2030.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen is a good way to store energy. The gas can be produced from water by electrolysis powered by photovoltaic panels or wind turbines, or from natural gas, methanol or biomass with added heat. Hydrogen can be recombined with oxygen in a fuel cell to generate extremely clean electricity, or burned as fuel. When coupled with wind/solar technology, hydrogen is a potentially very decentralized, clean way to generate electricity and heat.

Caution: Hydrogen could also be used in a way requiring a large transportation infrastructure similar to that of natural gas (the \’hydrogen economy\’). This is the industry\’s goal.

Biomass

Biomass involves using organic matter (manure, dedicated energy crops, agricultural waste, liquid/solid/gaseous fuels (like biodiesel, hydrogen, ethanol, etc.), heat and chemicals.

Biomass accounts for 3% of both US total energy supply and electrical supply. Biomass emits little carbon and can reduce nitrous and sulfur dioxides and other air pollutants.

Concerns: What kind of land should be dedicated to producing energy crops? Also, organic matter can be used to produce certain plastics and chemicals that would be superfluous in a truly sustainable society (think Archer Daniel Midland, DuPont, etc.)

Geothermal

Geothermal energy employs steam or very hot water coming form the earth to power turbines and generate electricity.

Geothermal energy meets only a tiny fraction of the US electricity demand.

Current technology is very reliable (>95%) and emits almost no carbon. Geothermal energy is not cost competitive with current fossil fuel technology, because the US government is not interested in investing in technology/exploration. Total possible generating capacity is not know but estimated to be large with the right technology.

Other Possibilities

Folks like to talk about capturing energy from tides, waves, magma within the earth, and other wacky sources. Right now these are not technically feasible options, and will not be needed if we commit to using less energy.

Berkeley Deosn\’t Need Mor Cars

Despite What City Thinks

The City of Berkeley is developing its General Plan, which has not been updated since 1976. There are already a lot of good policies in the plan, but many of the existing ones haven\’t been heeded. There is actually a policy on the books giving the goal to reduce automobile use, and ones calling for for the encouragement and increase of bicycle and transit use.

The reason that automobile use has increased is in large part because of land use decisions. More and more parking lots and office developments are being pushed through, which only bring more cars, while housing stock has been reduced, transit has been cut, and despite lots of energy from activists, bicycle improvements have been slow coming. A temporary moratorium has just squeaked through to halt development of huge office parks and parking los in west Berkeley, but we have for now lost on the Underhill parking lot and the Oxford lot, right next to campus where students are desperate for affordable housing, is being targeted for more parking ad nauseam.

One of the decisions that the General Plan will make is whether to allow car-free housing. Right now, there are zoning ordinances which require parking to be built when housing is built. This eats up available land for more housing and more open space, while greatly increasing the costs of building the housing. The business \”community\” has come out opposed to Car-Free housing, claiming that it will increase traffic problems. Even though over 40% of people who live downtown don\’t own cars, and over 66% of those in South Side don\’t own cars — and are a captive audience for local businesses — their opposition is strong.

The business interests\’ goal is to build more parking garages, in hopes of turning downtown and Telegraph Avenue into suburban mall affairs, although they\’ll need a \”freeway\” straight into the heart of Berkeley to succeed. The ironic thing is that they say that \”Downtowns are back\” (kind of like \”America is #1\”), without realizing why downtowns are becoming popular again — it\’s because people are realizing the heartlessness of the car-based suburb. The most unpleasant thing about being in Berkeley\’s downtown is the excessive traffic and its resultant harsh air and noise pollution, and how uncomfortable and unsafe it is just to cross the street.

When you look at a map of downtown, you see lots of huge paring garages. It looks like a mouthfull of missing teeth. Not to mention the insanity of placing parking garages rather than mixed use buildings so close to a BART station — one of the most busy in the whole system. Studies have shown that placing parking near BART stations reduces transit use and send the absolutely wrong message.

A major independent Transportation Demand Management (TDM) study is just completing that proclaims that no new parking is needed (but rather, existing resources need to be handled better), but in the past the right wing 4/9 of the city council (including Mayor Dean) will ignore such studies so all progressive issues continue to squeak by if they make it at all.

Another issue to be decided is whether to include the Ecocity Amendment to the General Plan, which would allow transferring development rights so that buildings could be taller but open space would increase — more parks and space for people, and more environmentally sound buildings. This has got wealthy \”NIMBYs\” from the hills up in arms as they oppose tall buildings and are unsympathetic to environmental issues. The Ecocity Amendment would also plan a pedestrian zone in downtown and the daylighting of creeks, which would replace certain streets with a wild creek area and park space.

Protests to call attention to these issues are needed now. The final hearing is set for April 25th. Contact the BCLU at (510) 273-9288 to get involved with planning actions to support more sane city planning.

Invisible Hands

With the upcoming Summit of the Americas and its central agenda of establishing the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), we again face the neoliberal specter-vicious, ferocious, relentless in its drive to enforce a world capitalist order.

Through its various institutions, public and private, national and transnational, this neo-liberal capitalist order seems to be extending itself everywhere, into all domains. It becomes increasingly global-total, complete-and thus exclusive, uncompro-mising, all-powerful. It allows no alternative, nothing different from itself, and will let nothing stand in its way. It seems unconcerned and unphased by what-ever damage it may do-supremely confident and untouchable.

Proponents of this globalization claim it to be a rightful triumphant march into eternity of the victorious capitalist mode of production. Opponents call it a corrupt aberration, a re-versal of the achievements of the many for the sake of the sinister greedy designs of the few. Neither questions the overwhelming power of this increasingly global system.

But in the shadows of this triumphant global march of power, unspoken and unspeakable, lies a profound weakness.

The neoliberal project plays out a dynamic which in its conceptual and world-historical content differs substantially from the popular presentations of globalization, whether by its promoters or opponents. Here, to delineate the conceptual and historical space of neolib-e-ralism, or \”new liberalism\”, we must first ascertain what \”old liberalism\” is. In particular, we must look at whether neoliberalism, insofar as it is new, is new because it is something essentially different from old liberalism, or if it is \”new\” only in the sense that it is a more recent stage or part of the same \”old\” liberal-ism.

Postulates of power

Liberalism is primarily a social and eco-nomic philosophy, though it encompasses other aspects and thus can be characterized as a complete world view. As the term itself implies, a central concern of liberalism is liberty or freedom: liberalism can thus be defined as a philosophy of or belief in free-dom as the essential or primary \”thing\” in life-the essential principle from which all others follow, the essential value upon which all others are built, the essential goal through which all others are attained, and in particular, the fundamental guiding value of political economy.

While it may not generally be known under that term, liberalism is in fact a very familiar notion. It is, in a slightly modified localized version, the official ideology of the United States, as well as other \”Western Democra-cies\”. The notion of human rights or civil rights is one of the basic elements of the liberal ideology. Freedom of speech, associa-tion, conscience, occupation, etc., are all typical values or desiderata of liberalism. The sepa-ration of church and state, equality before the law, checks and balances are all classic lib-eral constructs. Representative democracy is the basic liberal form of government. Individu-alism is a liberal mantra. Choice is a liberal obsession.

But how is this freedom to be imple-mented and secured? The liberal solution is simple: Liberty = Property. Only through the free disposition of private property can all other freedoms ultimately be secured. The free disposition of property can be broadly under-stood as the freedom to own whatever one desires and do with it whatever one sees fit, and in particular involves the freedom to deploy and control one\’s existing private property to increase one\’s property holdings (accumulation of capital). The freedom (right) of property is thus the fundamental freedom and one which must be defended at all costs, since all other freedoms depend upon it. Note that in this context, private property refers not so much to one\’s personal effects-the things one uses in the course of daily life-but rather to ownership of things beyond one\’s personal effects, things which other people may need or use. In particular, it refers to private owner-ship of the means which oth-ers need for their economic activity, i.e. the means of produc-tion.

As a corollary to the basic principle of lib-erty, a fundamental liberal principle is that any restrictions on liberty must be justified. While certain real or perceived infringements on the \”rights of others\” may serve as such causes for restriction within the context of social in-stitutionalization of human relations, when it comes to securing the continuation of the private-property profit system, liberalism pro-vides for absolute liberty in imposing restric-tions (up to and including total annihila-tion) on those who would stand in that sys-tem\’s way. No degree of cruelty, no level of destruction, nothing is unjustified in defense of the right of private property.

Furthermore, when the rights of two prop-erty holders collide, the holder of the greater property prevails. When rights in property collide with other rights, the property rights must prevail (thus, for example, from a liberal point of view, the genocide of the indigenous population of North America, while perhaps unseemly and maybe even unfortunate, is certainly not unjustified: their right to live stood in the way of the right to accumulate property by the colonial capitalist ruling class, which is a higher right). The system of private property is complex in all its details, but it\’s basic logic is simple.

Liberal ideologues are not unaware of the potential (and indeed inevitable) problems of such an arrangement, and have suggested various ways of curbing its excesses so as to ensure its stability: however, they do not question the desirability or even the inevitabil-ity of the basic arrangement itself. This is not surprising, for as the history of its emergence and development makes clear, liberalism is the ideology of capitalism.

Liberal ideology, rather than presenting a single coherent world picture, fractures on many points into apparently contradictory views, which in summary may be reduced to the issue of positive versus negative liberty. Positive liberty refers to the view that liberty is something that needs to be enabled and em-powered, while negative liberty indicates that liberty requires the absence of interfer-ence. With reference to the function of gov-ernment (the guarantor of liberty), the princi-ple of posi-tive liberty is expressed in the ideological and functional constructs of the welfare state, while negative liberty is identi-fied with liber-tarian notions of laissez-faire, free-market capitalism. In the United States, this opposi-tion is often understood in terms of Democrat vs. Republican. This apparent inter-nal conflict or contradiction is important for the function of the liberal system.

Now, it requires no great feat of the imag-ination to see that freedom, insofar as it has any reality, comprises both positive and nega-tive aspects, and simply emphasizing one over and against the other per se, either in degree or in toto, is not a fundamental argu-ment of principle: what is required for freedom de-pends inextricably upon the act for which one seeks to secure freedom, upon the spe-cific conditions and requirements which make the given exercise of \”freedom\” possible. As an abstraction, a disembodied concept, free-dom means nothing.

By shifting the dialogue on freedom into this rarefied, disembodied realm, the liberal ideo-logical machine guts the notion of free-dom, emptying it of precisely that which makes freedom meaningful, and thereby elimi-nates the concern with freedom as an obstacle to total domination by the coercive institutions of free-market capitalism. This sort of shift and redirection from essential substance to rare-fied abstractions and institutional arrange-ments is a fundamental liberal technique for the implementation of the repressive hierar-chies of capitalist power relations.

The primary institution which supports the implementation of the core liberal principle of private property is the free market. Much like the marketplace of old which served as a gathering place for the community, this free market defines the space of interaction be-tween people. However, unlike the market-place of old, the function of which was strictly subordinated to the customs and traditions of the community, this free market is controlled by entrepreneurs. The market system defines the transactional economic relations through which capital may be accumulated by various individuals and entities of the bourgeois ruling class, as well as ensuring that those who own no or insufficient capital be free to sell their labor to the holders of capital. The primary freedoms enshrined in the market are the freedom to exploit and to profit.

The behavioral model of the market is one of competition. Market participants are to be guided by greed and self-interest, with those most aggressive in their quest for profit emerging on top in a hierarchy of domination. The full expression of self-interest (i.e. free-dom) as demanded by this competition is seen as being conducive to the greatest good. The market is a primary modality for deter-mining the variable aspects of socioeconomic organi-zation, such as wealth distribution.

Within the liberal ideological apparatus, the market is primarily viewed as a self-con-tained perpetual machine; however, like all ma-chines, it is subject to malfunctions and thus may require repair or intervention. The inter-vention is traditionally provided by the state, which through its overwhelming coer-cive force is able to function as an arbiter of market relations, facilitating smooth function-ing of inter-capitalist competition, ensuring the availability of workers for exploitation, and enforcing their subservience to the require-ments of the capitalist ruling class.

Again, within the liberal dialogue, the in-volvement versus non-involvement of the state in market processes is treated like a point of contradiction, with two sides favoring either one or the other position, along the lines of positive vs. negative liberty as dis-cussed above. However, from the point of view of the functioning of the system, these two sides are not in any fundamental contra-diction to each other: the nature and degree of involvement of the state (as well as the relative dominance of one of these two sides in any given period) is dictated by specific historical conditions. In the end, the modality of the market is an unquestioned postulate of liberal societies.

Implementing a new world order

Toward the end of the 19th century and extending well into the 20th, a new trend emerged in the dominant economic ideology. This trend reached its peak in the wake of the Great Depression, with the as-cendancy of Keynesianism. Basically, this new trend in-volved increased government intervention (particularly in the realm of fiscal policy) and policies of the welfare state, and stood in contrast to the traditional laissez-faire free market notions dominant in earlier liberal thought. Against a backdrop of increasing instability in international financial and money markets, British economist John Maynard Keynes proposed the formation of a perma-nent organization to oversee and guide the economic operation and interaction of the various capitalist states. An agreement on this was signed in July 1944 by forty-four nations at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The name of the newly formed organization was the Inter-national Monetary Fund (IMF).

The International Monetary Fund and its related institutions are often seen as the van-guard in promoting and imposing neoliberal policies-policies which are viewed as being diametrically opposed to the Keynesian eco-nomics upon which those institutions were founded. As globalization critic Susan George states in A Short History of Neo-Liberalism, \”In 1945 or 1950, if you had seriously pro-posed any of the ideas and poli-cies in today\’s standard neo-liberal toolkit, you would have been laughed off the stage or sent off to the insane asylum… The idea that the market should be allowed to make major social and political decisions; the idea that the State should voluntarily reduce its role in the econ-omy, or that corporations should be given total freedom, that trade unions should be curbed and citizens given much less rather than more social protection-such ideas were utterly foreign to the spirit of the time.\” So why the sudden change?

As should be clear from the preceding dis-cussion, the \”left-wing\” Keynesian econom-ics are not in fact diametrically opposed to the \”right-wing\” liberal/neoliberal economic poli-cies. Both are part of the standard liberal tool-kit. They are the left and right hand of the capitalist ruling class. Depending on the \”spirit of the time\” (the objective historical condi-tions), either one approach or the other (or some combination thereof) will be used.

The point that the IMF, World Bank, etc. were Keynesian in origin is telling-but it is easy to be misled as to just what it tells. The very notion that there should be something like the IMF (a coordinating and regulating agency) goes against the supposed spirit of neoliberalism, of the free market unfettered by intervention. Yet there is no question that neoliberalism is precisely what the IMF pro-motes. Unraveling this apparent contradiction is crucial to understanding the dynamic of capitalism.

The liberal economic order which devel-oped in the context of the industrial revolution took its root in the area of economic activity which was the first to be industrial-ized-agri-culture-and can be traced back to the enclo-sure acts, thousands of which were passed in England in the late 18th and early 19th cen-tury. During the middle ages, the primary form of economic organization was what is known as the manorial system, which consisted of self-sufficient economic units (manors) or-ganized and governed largely by local cus-tom. In England, under the manorial open field system, most of the land was held in common. Families were allotted strips of land to cultivate and had access to common land (the commons or meadow) which could be used for pasture, collecting firewood, gather-ing fruit, public celebrations, etc. The lord of the manor received certain services or pay-ments in kind from the tenants. The mano-rial (feudal) system was above all a static system: while you could not do or live differ-ently from the way you and your ancestors had lived, you could also not be prevented from doing and living in that ancestral way. Tenant farm-ers, generally speaking, could not be evicted and their rents could not be raised.

With the rise of imperialism and the revival of commerce, large landowners and members of the gentry discovered new oppor-tunities for increasing their wealth, which first of all took the form of producing wool for export, and later expanded to large-scale agriculture to supply urban markets. To facili-tate this process, which began in the 16th century, it was necessary for the would-be entrepreneur to secure large contiguous tracts of land for his exclusive use-what today would be called privatization. While at first this process was carried out through local arrangements be-tween major landholders, it encountered much resistance from the tenant farmers and small freeholders, and so the incipient bour-geois class sought and received assistance from the increasingly powerful central gov-ernment, which legislated and enforced their business interests in the form of Enclosure Acts.

The Enclosure Acts repartitioned and di-vided up common land into large private es-tates, revoked the traditional gleaning rights which allowed poor peasants to scavenge ungathered crop on their lord\’s fields, gave the small farmers the poorest pieces of land or expelled them outright, and required that costly fences and gates, which small farmers could not afford, be built around all such re-divided landholdings.

This process of \”sensibly dividing the coun-try among opulent men\” (Adam Smith) had an important side effect: it generated a large class of landless, homeless and moneyless peasants, left to subsist as beggars and vagabonds in the cities. They would eventu-ally form the basis of the industrial proletar-iat-the wage slaves. However, the peasant class, which had never held \”jobs\” in the modern sense, was neither willing nor able to submit to the dehumanizing rigors of indus-trial slave labor. To bring it into line, the free-market entrepreneurs called upon the power of the state. Thus, as early as 1530, in a break with the Christian tradition of almsgiv-ing, a law was issued in England mandating that beggars upon a first offense be \”whipped until the blood streams from their bodies\”, whipped and incarcerated for half a year upon a second offense, and executed upon the third. Such proto-liberal policies proved suc-cessful in instilling the Protestant work ethic which Max Weber celebrated as a precondi-tion for capital-ism.

This is precisely the picture of freedom that liberal ideologues of capital envisioned. You must freely submit to the domination and ex-ploitation by the holders of private property, and being unwilling or unable to do so justi-fies the imposition of punitive restrictions upon you: \”Sloth should be punished by temporary servitude at least\”, in the words of Adam Smith\’s teacher Francis Hutcheson. Any means of gaining subsistence outside the parameters of the capitalist system as dic-tated at any given time by the bourgeois ruling class by definition infringes upon the unalien-able right of property (profit) and must be prohib-ited (criminalized).

All this of course is in essence not much different from what today we call IMF poli-cies: all the things which those policies seek to prohibit, undercut or destroy are things which for whatever reason do not correspond to the current requirements of the capitalist mode of production as practiced by the imperialist corporate ruling class-whether these things be local customs, social arrangement, labor regulations, strong local industries, even life itself. The institutionalization of that which supports the capitalist mode of production and the criminalization of that which opposes, interferes with, or differs from it, is a funda-mental precept of liberal philosophy. Killing people per se is not a violation of the much vaunted liberal principle of human rights-so long as the killing is justified by a greater good, i.e. the good of those with greater capital.

The enforcement of free-market conditions through brutal state repression may appear as a contradiction to the libertarian principles of governmental non-interference and non-regula-tion, but again, the contradiction is only appar-ent. In the end, the fact that \”freedom\” was imposed upon you makes you no less free, however brutal the mechanism of impo-sition.

This situation parallels the contradiction pointed out by observers such as Chomsky, to the effect that neoliberal policies seek to shelter the corporations and the rich while subjecting the poor to free-market discipline, which too is indeed no more than apparent, which is to say, really no contradiction at all. The point, as it were, of subjecting to or shel-tering from the vagaries of the free market should not be seen as fulfillment or failure of some sort of religious belief or ideological drive, even to the extent that such a drive does exist. Rather, such a selective applica-tion of market discipline, far from being a contradic-tion of the espoused liberal princi-ples, is in fact an essential step in their im-plementation. A king that can factually be overthrown and beheaded, however almighty and supreme he may fancy himself, cannot substantially act as such, precisely because he can indeed be beheaded and overthrown: thus, he must shelter himself behind guards and palaces like a cringing powerless coward. And it is indeed through a thorough institu-tionalization and systematization of these \”guards and palaces\”, as it were, that the king can finally ascend to the ultimate throne of power.

Totalizing domin-ion

Neoliberalism is frequently put for-ward as representing a cancellation or roll-back of various \”gains\” made under liberalism: deregu-lation, cuts in social services, loosen-ing of environmental regulations, rescinding of labor rights, infringement upon human rights, usur-pation of democracy-basically, an attack on all things good. However, such a characteriza-tion reveals a poor understanding of the rela-tionship between neoliberalism and what came before. To do so, let us examine the concept of institutionalization.

Institutionalization can be viewed as the creation of formal arrangement to control and govern some activity or set of relations in a manner disconnected from the actual content of the activity. The institutionalized set of rela-tions penetrates all specific relations under the institution, while at the same time veiling the institution behind these specifics and ren-dering it intractable by forcing a reproduc-tion of the institutional relationships whenever any specific relation is instantiated. To put it an-other way, an institutional arrangement forces people to go through certain channels and act in certain ways whenever they wish to do something about a specific set of issues or affairs, thereby guaranteeing that those insti-tu-tional arrangements persist even though that may not be what the person wants. Lib-eral institutional arrangement are put forward by liberals as being essentially neutral if not good, and thus not prejudicing any particular outcome of the institutionalized process: they are the rules for playing out the game of free-dom which liberalism posits as the ulti-mate if not only game.

The IMF, WTO, etc. are liberal institu-tions. The stock market, representative democ-racy, the existing legal system, and the like are also liberal institutions. The governing princi-ple of liberal institutions is individual free-dom: thus, you can vote for whomever you want, you can invest in whatever stock you want, you can do business with whomever you want-so long as you don\’t prevent others from doing the same. So what if you believe that profit is immoral (as the Christians did before the ad-vent of capitalism) and don\’t want to deal with profiteers in your commu-nity? Or what if you have a well-established traditional sustainable way of life and don\’t want to be serviced by corporations? Well, that is a violation of the rules of the game, because it infringes upon the freedom of the capitalist ruling class.

Liberal institutions are characterized by the use of contradictory principles (conflicts) in order to achieve an ultimate objective: allow-ing the conflicting forces which may naturally exist or arise in relation to a certain issue to play themselves out within a carefully crafted context prevents those forces from challeng-ing the interests embedded in the institution itself and reinforces the institutional frame-work. These conflicting forces may play them-selves out both in time and in space.

The incipient bourgeoisie needed to insti-tute various rights and freedom in order to destabilize and displace the preceding en-trenched feudal/manorial hierarchy. While the details differed locally, generally speaking, under the manorial system the serfs of a manor in theory had no rights at all in relation to their lord and existed solely at his whim. However, in practice, the relationship of lord and serf came to be governed by various entrenched and essentially inviolable customs which provided the serfs with a stable if mea-ger existence and practically granted them all sorts of rights which in theory they didn\’t have. The bourgeoisie sought and implemented a reversal of this order, whereby in theory the (ex-)serfs would have all sorts of rights, whereas in practice they may have none at all and exist solely at their bourgeois master\’s whim. This transformation was achieved by institutionalizing those rights.

The processes of institutionalization en-sured that the rights acquired by the bourgeoi-sie would not be challenged in the same way they were obtained, by shifting the locus of those rights away from the immediate politi-cal, economic and military power at the capitalists\’ disposal and onto a complex system of power management (government) which on the face of it would protect the rights of the bourgeoisie only insofar as it protected the rights of people in general. By providing a mechanism (democracy) for challenging the representatives of government without infring-ing upon the essential function of government itself, opposition to the tyrannical rule of capital was effectively neutralized. It made the people free to expend what for them would be enormous energy and resources in the political arena, the rules of which were crafted so as to ensure that those efforts would prove ineffec-tual.

The institutionalization is itself a pro-cess-it is not something that can necessarily be im-posed all at once in a single stroke. Thus, for instance, in the United States (\”the greatest democracy\”), the voting franchise was granted to various segments of the population in a gradual manner, once the power of the ruling class was sufficiently entrenched and institu-tionalized to ensure that it would be unchal-lenged. An underclass within the system is much less of a threat than an underclass out-side the system, because it is that much more difficult for it to challenge the system. Granting specific rights and freedoms substan-tially ensures that those rights and freedoms will be exercised in accordance with the rules of the game laid out by the grantor, and that other rights and freedoms will not be exercised at all. Such a granting or guaranteeing of these rights is precisely what is required as a pre-condition for their eventual complete revoca-tion. Your human rights, however unalienable they may be claimed to be, are vested in you not because you are human, but at the whim of the ruling class-at the whim of the ruling system.

These essential values and rights which we all supposedly cling to and uphold, and assert as being infringed upon by an unrestrained all-too-global turbocapitalism, are thus pre-cisely those rights which must be clung to and upheld for this turbocapitalism to gain motive force. And as an object or focal point for such clinging, in terms of its efficacy as means of lubricating the neoliberal trajectory, nothing beats the state.

It is in a way not surprising to see promi-nent critics of neoliberalism such as Pierre Bour-dieu put forward the state as the thing that will protect us all from capitalism gone wild. In their forlorn attachment to the nanny state, advocates of the liberal-reformist agenda have blinded themselves to the fact that the neoliberal order which they suppos-edly oppose suckled at that nanny\’s breast. This philosophy of wooing the parent to exco-riate the child is morally, philosophically, ideologically and practically bankrupt.

It is a philosophy which proffers reinforc-ing the maggot to ward of the fly, strengthen-ing the larva to protect against the moth-bliss-fully unaware that the larva begets and is the moth, and will no less become a moth for being stronger. No doubt the larva-moth entity, at least, appreciates these sorts of efforts.

By focusing on some immediate surface contradictions, liberal critics of neoliberalism find it sensible to insist upon the former as a means of warding off the later. The former, in terms of historical order, is, essentially the welfare state. But as we have seen, the wel-fare state and free market system are not in any fundamental contradiction to each other. The capitalist ruling class deploys one or the other in accordance with the specific historical conditions at any given time, in this way play-ing out a dynamic through which its power may be totalized. The structures ap-pealed to by \”progressives\” as a bulwark against further encroachment by corporate interests are thus all too often precisely the prerequisites for corporate domination.

So what is neoliberalism all about? It is all about extending, fortifying and totalizing the program of domination laid out under liberal-ism. By leveraging the technologies devel-oped and the concentration of capital achieved under the welfare state, the capital-ist ruling class is poised to extend its dominion into regions and spheres of human activity previ-ously at the periphery of or even beyond its control. The market, which served as the primary determining process of social organi-zation, is to become, as much as possible, the only process.

This is to be achieved by maximizing the number and effect of market transactions, by diversifying, extending and multiplying the number of markets and submarkets. Already we see things like the \”volume of trading\” being put forward as an important indicator of our collective well-being, although it is well known that the vast majority of such trading is purely speculative and materially useless.

Deregulation is a strategy employed in a similar vein. Deregulation should not be viewed as a move toward the absence of regulations: a given deregulated market or sphere of activity may have as many if not more regulations than the regulated one did. Rather, deregulation is a set of regulating principles intended to increase the volume of transactions and reinforce the process of accumulation of capital.

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Invisible Hands: Part II

Capitalism has been geared toward and has generated great efficiency, which, taken to its logical conclusion, would in itself spell the end of capitalism, as it would mean the end of profit. Based on a systemic awareness of this state of things, neoliberalism seeks to prolong the existence of capitalist arrange-ments by generating inefficiency. A good ex-ample of this is what is known as \”overhead\”. By having resources used up in implementing various market schemes and corporate ar-range-ments and rearrangements, a need is created for acquiring and exploiting even more re-sources, thereby generating more possibility for profit. Thus, for instance, open-ing up spheres of activity to free-market com-petition and having many companies \”compete for the customer\’s dollar\” lays open that sphere of activity to agglomeration into global corporate structures. With its typical dynamic of deploy-ing conflicting forces to achieve an ultimate objective, the transna-tional ruling class touts the diversity and qual-ity of services which its free-market deregulation schemes are to pro-duce, know-ing full well that all that diversity will be soon enough absorbed into it\’s global corporate structures, if it hasn\’t been already. The em-phasis on individuality and diversity in social as well as economic spheres is a prelude to globalization-the enforcement of a single global order.

The devolution of individuals into atomis-tic consumer entities and the concomitant disso-lution of communities is important in support-ing the envisioned global order. The same vapid consumerist individualism which pro-duced a continental homogeneity in North America is to be extended across the globe. The latent threat that communities may break with the global order of domination is to be diffused and eradicated by ensuring that all human relations be systematized and chan-neled through institutions controlled by global capital.

In short, neoliberalism aims at the imposi-tion of a completely liberal (free, open) global society: a global order in which the private property rights already secured on a more limited scale by the capitalist elite will be im-posed over and above all other rights every-where worldwide. It projects a complete sup-pression and vitiation of difference and dis-sent, a totalization and standardization of existing power structures on a planetary scale. Individual freedom, the clarion call of liberal-ism, is to be fully subsumed in proc-ess-in the institutional systemic arrangement of the liberal world order. The neoliberal proj-ect is thus to be a fulfillment of the Enlighten-ment vision whereby God reunites with the world of his creation, i.e. the capitalist ruling class institutes complete global control and domin-ion. This transcendental vicarage has precedent in Jesus, but he came too early-before the development of the free market.

Fractures of world order

While ac-cumulation of capital is correctly seen as a primary goal in capitalist economic activity, the neoliberal quest for power is more than just a matter of having a lot or the most money: the power of a currency is restricted insofar as there are objects, activities and relations which cannot be purchased or con-trolled through that currency. The set of sys-temic and institutional arrangements which support the expression of money-power are known as the market, and thus extending the power and purchase of that money is effected by extending the reaches of the market sys-tem itself to cover everything. As we have seen, this sort of radical extension of the mar-ket can only be effected after a substantial concentra-tion of capital has already been achieved, and is a natural continuation of that process of concentration, which forms some-thing analo-gous to a critical mass which initi-ates a reac-tion that is new in time but not in essence. In this respect, neoliberalism is not essentially new.

What implications does this conclusion have? Insofar as the current stage in the de-vel-opment of capitalism is a necessary and natu-ral part of that development, rooted in its very inception, and is not an aberration or unfortu-nate choice made all of a sudden based on some contingent explosion of \”cor-porate greed\”, notions or attempts to \”fix\” the system are nonsensical. Whilst one can at least in principle reasonably argue about the possibil-ity of \”fixing\” something that is broken, to speak of fixing something that is not broken and is functioning just as it is supposed to, is to engage in a dialogue devoid of meaning.

Neoliberalism entails the decoupling of the market as an institution from specific concerns of production or social benefit-the totaliza-tion of market to the exclusion of all other principles. It is a shift from primacy to exclu-sivity. Its single-minded purpose is the perpet-uation of capitalist accumulation.

The fundamental, essential purpose of an economic system is to support life, not to perpetuate the system. Today, the ability of capitalism to support life is increasingly being called into question. By presenting and institu-tionalizing its own self-perpetuation as a pri-mary objective, the capitalist mind-control machine seeks to equate the preservation of the system with the preservation of life itself. The group (corporate) consciousness of the capitalist ruling class and the logic of its insti-tutions will not hesitate to fulfill this prophecy in an apocalyptic moment of global destruc-tion.

And while troubled and troubling calls have been and are being issued from all quar-ters, what with all the threats facing the planet and the human race, there is still a notable lack of critical clarity in those calls. It is as if to sug-gest that all these \”little\” things that are going on that are going to destroy the planet if they continue are all just slight oversights or inno-cent faux-pas, and well, if we just did a little more of this or a little less of that, every-thing would be just fine. The matter is how-ever much more grave than that. Perhaps people\’s unwillingness to face up to these problems is grounded fundamentally in a lack of solutions: reality is much too grim to face. However, the immediate lack of solutions to a critical con-stellation of problems more than anything indicates the need to search for and work toward those solutions.

There have been some stirrings in \”the movement\” to the effect that what we are fighting is not globalization but global capital-ism, and this is a good start. Now let us mod-ify this a step further: what we are fighting against is not globalization or global capital-ism, or neoliberalism, but capitalism, and what we are fighting for is not justice or democ-racy, but life.

In this vital struggle, it is important not to set up straw men that disperse people\’s criti-cal energy for the sake of yielding largely Pyrrhic victories. Thus, for instance, loosening environmental and labor standards is often cited as a notable component of neo-liberal policies and presented in such a way as to suggest that such loosening is somehow es-sential for the promotion of corporate power. Now, while such standards may indeed pro-tect workers and the environment to some extent and in that much are beneficial, \”corpo-rate power\” does not depend upon nor is it strengthened by the absence of such regula-tions. The loosening or looseness of regula-tions is more indicative of the weakness of capitalist structures than of their strength: thus, corporate power is much stronger in the \”First World\” than in the \”Third World\”, which is often cited as a locus for this looseness. The neoliberal wishes to loosen environ-mental regulations not because he is hell-bent on destroying the environment as an end in itself, but because he knows that \”good liber-als\” will fight him on the issue, and that is exactly the sort of avenue into which he wishes to channel all opposition to his plan of world domination. This good liberal/bad liberal game is a losing game, and it behooves us little to absorb ourselves in playing it.

Critiquing the neoliberal institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO, Susan George writes: \”The common denominator of these institutions is their lack of transparency and democratic accountability. This is the essence of neo-liberalism. It claims that the economy should dictate its rules to society, not the other way around. Democracy is an en-cumbrance, neo-liberalism is designed for winners, not for voters, who necessarily en-compass the categories of both winners and losers.\” This all too common sort of analysis sets up the typically liberal division of a func-tional whole into two sides, two teams, and proceeds to attempt to play one side off against the other.

This false division between politics and economics is a division which is crucial to the rationalization and propagation of the lib-eral/neoliberal system and which it is crucial to expose and surmount in moving forward with our revolutionary struggle. This false division fosters the notion that the abuses and excesses of capitalism can be guarded against or even eliminated by a personnel change in the governing apparatus of the capitalist state-voting the corporate cronies out of office. The existing liberal democratic form of government, however, far from being a messi-anic antipode to corporate domination, is a system hand-picked to promote the conditions necessary for implementation of the very corporate takeover that it is touted as being a defense against. Democracy is the political engine of neoliberalism. \”Democratizing\” the WTO, etc. is precisely what would render it even more powerful and intractable by making its institutional dictates the \”will of the peo-ple\” (i.e. making the will of the people subor-dinate to, and expressible only in terms of, its institutional arrangements). Institutions like the WTO or FTAA must be shut down, not gus-sied up in populist trappings.

Any democracy that can be practically im-plemented under the existing socioeconomic order is a democracy subject to the ruling position of the capitalist hierarchy. The exist-ing democracy which George feels to be at odds with these neoliberal institutions in fact expresses the institutional arrangements of state power necessary to implement the power of those very neoliberal institutions. And it is all too clear that the capitalist ruling class believes there can be no democracy without capitalism, and will kill you to prove it.

Adam Smith, the liberal ideologue of capi-tal, spoke of an invisible hand that guided the free market process toward the desired re-sult-the wealth of nations, i.e. the expan-sion of the imperial power of the capitalist ruling class. In a way, he was half right. The neolib-eral free market process has two hands, the left and the right, between which it has squeezed the world to near death. These invisible hands wear many gloves: education and incarceration, regulation and de-regulation, democracy and fascism, welfare state and free market, Democrat and Republi-can, internation-alism and nationalism, public and private, peace processes and wars, envi-ronmental protection and ecological destruc-tion, humani-tarian interventions and genocide. The machin-ery of capital deploys these hands in pursuit of a grand transcendental vision of total domin-ion whereby all things in the world shall be brought under the single governing principle of the market.

Yet this vision, even as it appears imma-nent, proves elusive. In seeking to end the conflicting process of history through totaliz-ing and thereby eternalizing a supreme capital-ist world order, the would-be masters of that world face the contradiction of having to end the very dynamic which has maintained their power. Competition, conflict, strife, war are the motive forces of capitalist rule. Thus, the vision inevitably becomes apocalyptic: in eternalizing the order and thereby reuniting creation with the Creator, only by ending all life at that grand moment of union can it be ensured that life never again strays from the Creator\’s will. In the face of this, inevitably life rebels.

At its highest levels, the ruling class too be-comes aware of the fallacy of its vision, but finds itself organically incapable of radically changing that vision. Cracks and fault lines appear, fracturing the eerily beautiful vision into an ugly, decrepit facade. Neoliberalism is, in a sense, a desperate measure in an at-tempt to repair that cracking facade. This moment, when the corporate ruling class ap-pears to be at the height of its power, is si-multaneously a moment of greatest weakness-the potential of a tumultuous col-lapse. The revolutionary task is thus, in a sense, to turn that potentiality into reality.

As we face the ruling class\’s newest bid to institutionalize its hierarchical power rela-tions-the FTAA-we must bear in mind that this overt superficial display of overwhelming power belies a great underlying weakness. We must not allow ourselves to be beguiled by the false prospect of immediate access to this useless power and must not fall into the de-featism of reformist schemes. As protest and resistance mounts, and the capitalist power structures implement their repressive measures, justified and propagandized through the corpo-rate media on grounds of a need to prevent some angry kids from break-ing a window, let us remember that what they rightly fear most, is that those kids may grow up and smash the whole facade of the de-crepit bourgeois edifice that is destroying the world. We must grow up.