Tuesday, November 10, 2015

the environment, capitalism, modernity and marx

Capitalism does harm the environment in some ways because it is a system that pursues profit before anything else. For instance, coal and other carbon based fuels will continue to be used by capitalism in general and developing countries (China, India, etc.) in particular as long as they remain cheaper than non carbon based alternatives.

It is difficult to work out the real state of the environment. This requires more scientific investigation by unbiased experts. They do exist but their voices tend to be drowned out by alarmists and deniers on global warming and other issues. It has become very difficult to sort out the reality since environmental issues have become heavily politicised. There is a litany of issues which require scientific investigation: climate system, ocean-acidification, ozone depletion, phosphorous levels, land use change, biodiversity loss, nitrogen levels, freshwater use, aerosol loading and chemical pollution. Nevertheless, there is no real option but to continue to make the effort.

As well as sometimes harming the environment, capitalism also improves the environment. eg. It is a huge environmental advance for humans to live in big cities with all that they offer compared with previous regimes such as hunter gatherer society. The built environment, planned and developed by humans, is a beautiful part of our modern environment. It seems reasonable to assume that even the latte drinking, dog walking Adam Bandt supporters in Fitzroy agree with this, in their actions at least, since they haven't moved to remote areas off the grid, yet.

Some authors make the distinction between modernity (good) and capitalism (bad or not so good): An Ecomodernist Manifesto. Modernity is all the great things developed by scientific – technological humans that enhance our lives. Civilisation, electricity, transport, cities, the internet etc.

The distinction between modernity and capitalism is a good one. But can they be decoupled so easily? We do live in a capitalist system and so more often than not the capitalist dog wags the modernity tail. This severely limits the ability of us moderns to do all sort of things, including improving and appreciating the environment. We would make a lot more progress if we replaced capitalism with a system not based on profit (Socialism → Communism)

But given that there is currently no mass movement in support of a socialist revolution it is far, far better to embrace capitalist creative destruction, warts and all, than the Deep Green alternative of throttling back on development in general to a zero growth state. This futile idealism would condemn the developing world to ongoing poverty and the developed world to intellectual poverty. The whole idea that we should cautiously huddle on the earth (light footprint) is a denial of what humans are, a social, tool making species who has progressively made scientific and technological breakthroughs which enable us to understand and control the natural world more and more. Certainly, we should not overestimate our knowledge. There are many things about nature that we don't understand. But the Deep Green philosophical stance that we should worship nature is looking backwards. Nature is powerful and magnificent. We should embrace that and strive to emulate it, not humbly worship it. See Tale of a Doomed Galaxy:
The civilization I’m imagining was smart enough not to stick around. They decided to simply leave the galaxy.

After all, they could tell the disaster was coming, at least a million years in advance. Some may have decided to stay and rough it out, or die a noble death. But most left.

And then what?

It takes a long time to reach another galaxy. Right now, travelling at 1% the speed of light, it would take 250 million years to reach Andromeda from here.

But they wouldn’t have to go to another galaxy. They could just back off, wait for the fireworks to die down, and move back in.

So don’t feel bad for them. I imagine they’re doing fine.
Forms of Green ideology and policies exist that totally distort the better ways to look at these questions. As a corrective it needs to be pointed out that the earth and humans are incredibly robust, not fragile. Humans are part of nature. We are social, tool making, future planning (teleological) animals. That is how we differ from other animals and in fact it makes us superior to other animals. There is no static balance in nature. Irreversible change has always been the real state of the natural world. See Alston Chase's In a Dark Wood: The Fight over Forests and the Myths of Nature where he critiques the biocentric viewpoints that "There is a balance of nature", 'that nature can be "healthy' or "unhealthy" ' in a similar sense to the human body being healthy or unhealthy, that "in the beginning all was perfect" (a Garden of Eden or Golden Age) and that "Nature is sacred".

It would be a huge error to follow some sections of Green ideology down an anti development or zero growth pathway. Technological risk taking, what we have always done, is an essential way for the human race to proceed: the proactionary principle:
The Proactionary Principle emerged out of a critical discussion of the widely used “precautionary principle” during Extropy Institute’s Vital Progress Summit I in 2004. The precautionary principle has been used as a means of deciding whether to allow an activity (typically involving corporate activity and technological innovation) that might have undesirable side-effects on human health or the environment. In practice, that principle is strongly biased against the technological progress so vital to the continued survival and well-being of humanity.

Understanding that we need to develop and deploy new technologies to feed billions more people over the coming decades, to counter natural threats from pathogens to environmental changes, and to alleviate human suffering from disease, damage, and the ravages of aging, those involved in the VP Summit recognized two things: The importance of critically analyzing the precautionary principle, and the formation of an alternative, more sophisticated principle that incorporates more extensive and accurate assessment of options while protecting our fundamental responsibility and liberty to experiment and innovate.

The precautionary principle, while well-intended by many of its proponents, inherently biases decision making institutions toward the status quo, and reflects a reactive, excessively pessimistic view of technological progress. By contrast, the Proactionary Principle urges all parties to actively take into account all the consequences of an activity—good as well as bad—while apportioning precautionary measures to the real threats we face, in the context of an appreciation of the crucial role played by technological innovation and humanity’s evolving ability to adapt to and remedy any undesirable side-effects.

While precaution itself implies using foresight to anticipate and prepare for possible threats, the principle that has formed around it threatens human well-being. The precautionary principle has become enshrined in many international environmental treaties and regulations, making it urgent to offer an alternative principle and set of criteria. The need for the Proactionary Principle will become clear if we understand the flaws of the precautionary principle.
In Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) Thomas Malthus claimed that exponential population growth was produced by God so that human beings would be forced to learn such virtues as abstinence and restraint. According to him, it would always be the case that population growth would outstrip the resources available to satisfy the needs of society, and thus it was not possible to improve society by increasing production, since the population would always increase to catch up with and eventually outstrip it. (Reference: Marx and Morality by Vanessa Wills, pp. 139-51 and 227)

Marx's criticisms of Malthus were (1) that Malthus blamed the poor for their poverty and recommended them to abstain from procreation, rather than blaming the real culprit, capitalism (2) Malthus believed that the productive forces would reach a ceiling beyond which they would not further increase.

The modern Green Malthusians also preach catastrophe arising from population increasing beyond what the Earth can support (see the litany above). Those who have challenged this Green orthodoxy such as Julian Simon (who won a bet against Paul Ehrlich) or Bjorn Lomborg (in The Skeptical Environmentalist) are often written off as right wingers because they support capitalist development. But we need to remember that Marx also supported capitalist development insofar as it liberated the productive forces which provided the potential for the needs of everyone to be met. His criticism of capitalism was that in the course of its development it shut down the productive forces due to periodic economic crisis arising from its internal dynamics. The argument to develop productivity to the maximum is a Marxist argument, not a right wing argument. The other part of Marx, which is not identified with right wing, is that distribution ought to occur by work under socialism or by need under communism.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

All along the watchtower by Michael Hyde

This week I read Mike Hyde's "All Along the Watchtower: Memoir of a sixties revolutionary". I know Michael and bought his book at the launch a few years ago but delayed reading it. I suppose I thought I'd lived it, at least in part, and so didn't have to read it.

Those times were marked by dramatic events: the Ronald Ryan hanging, widespread rejection of religion, the Vietnam war, conscription by a ridiculous process of birthday marbles being drawn from a box, China's Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Tsetung, feminism, drugs, sex and rock n roll.

In part of the book Michael comes across as an angry, justice seeking, sex obsessed political activist, almost a cardboard cut out. Nothing wrong with that at all, but I'm looking for a deeper insight into the human condition. The dark side. So what I liked even more was that he interleaves this with a graphic description of the fear (panic attacks) of what might happen to him, his conflicting friendships including one with a friend who went to fight in Vietnam, the tension between his activism and his family (his father was a priest but ended up supporting Michael) as well as the dysfunctional communist party that some of us joined. I was impressed that he included the dark, difficult and conflicted personal side as well as the excitement and optimism of the hard fought struggle which eventually changed public opinion from apathy to fierce opposition to this disgusting, unjust war. This is a warts and all account which captures the spirit of the times of a section of the radical youth.

The political stance in the book is about supporting the "enemy", ie. raising money for the Vietnamese National Liberation Front (NLF) and the case for why that was the right thing to do. We used to chant at demos, "One side right, one side wrong. Victory to the Viet Cong". A lot of things flowed from that, too numerous to mention but he covers them all in the book.

I can personally identify with this book. Thank you, Michael. For many years I wanted the 60s to repeat themselves. One day they will but in a different form.

The title is from a Dylan song but apparently the Jimi Hendrix version is more popular.

Critical review by Ken Mansell

Thursday, October 22, 2015

rationale for a computer literate society (Mark Guzdial)

Requirements for a Computing Literate Society slides by Mark Guzdial. Mark's blog is here. I particularly liked slides 6, 7, 8 (rationale for teaching of abstract processing), 9, 13, 14 (Lake Wobegon effect: we don't know as much as we think we do), 23, 25, 27 (media computation as a motivating path to learning computer science) and 45 (conclusion)

Alan Perlis argued that all students should learn to program because:
  • Computer Science is the study of process. Automated execution of process changes everything including how we think about things we already know (slide 6)
  • The purpose of a course in programming is to teach people how to construct and analyze processes ... A course in programming is concerned with abstraction: the abstraction of constructing, analysing and describing processes ... The point is to make students construct complex processes out of simpler ones ... A properly designed programming course will develop these abilities better than any other course. (slide 7)
The Power and Fear of Algorithms. The Economist (Sept., 2007) spoke to the algorithms that control us, yet we don’t understand: Credit Ratings, Adjustable Rate Mortgages, Search Rankings. C.P. Snow foresaw this in 1961. Those who don’t understand algorithms, can’t understand how the decisions are made:
“A handful of people, having no relation to the will of society, having no communication with the rest of society, will be taking decisions in secret which are going to affect our lives in the deepest sense.”

Saturday, September 19, 2015

how syrians can return


Go to the above link to sign the petition. 
I’m writing this to you from a refugee camp in Germany. All the Syrians here are so grateful for the welcome people have given us but we want to live in Syria, not Germany.

I was 22 when the fighting started in 2011. I was living in a neighbourhood called Ghouta, a short drive from Damascus. A year after the uprising the regime of Bashar al-Assad placed Ghouta under siege - this means nothing comes in or out - no food, no medicine, nothing. A year after that the regime attacked us with chemical weapons and more than a thousand were gassed to death. For years they have also dropped barrel bombs and missiles on us from regime aircraft. Normally we got struck eight times a day. How could we continue to survive that hell on earth?

I had to cross twenty checkpoints on fake documents to make it out of Syria. Each time your heart stops as you know that there is a chance you will be arrested and taken away. I made it out and survived a death boat. I have survived so many ways a human being can be killed.

At home I was a medical student. We had so many attacks I assisted more surgeries than most surgeons do by the time they retire. My dream is to only have to perform ‘normal surgeries’, what I trained for, not picking shrapnel from bombs out of children's limbs.

We cannot go back while the war continues which is why we are asking for you to do everything you can to stop the war. All your governments agree there needs to be a political transition in Syria but no amount of words have made it happen. The Assad regime is still in power, killing seven times more civilians than Isis.

World leaders have to act to stop the bombs from the sky. We can survive sniper fire, chemicals but the barrel bombs are unbearable. A no-fly zone or creation of safe zones would save lives instantly. And I would be the first person on the plane home.

Right now everybody in Europe is talking about us refugees. But not many are listening to us. Please sign this petition to Europe’s leaders asking them to do more to stop the bombs and help us return home.

Abo Adnan

Sunday, August 30, 2015

syria needs a no fly zone

Syria needs a no fly zone

Here are 5 things everyone should know about what is happening in Syria today:
  1. The Assad regime is killing 7 times more civilians than ISIS.
  2. More than 11,000 barrel bombs made of scrap metal and high explosive have been rolled out of regime helicopters onto hospitals, homes and schools since the UN banned them. They are the biggest killer of civilians. They drive extremism.
  3. These barrel bombs are the leading cause of displacement, forcing refugees to cross the Mediterranean and other borders.
  4. Many of the barrel bombs are dropped on areas under siege. More than half a million people in Syria live in areas with no access to food, water or medicine since 2013, including the areas of Ghouta that were targeted by the sarin gas attacks in the same year.
  5. The international anti-Isis coalition is flying in the same airspace where many of these barrel bombs are dropped, choosing to look the other way.
  6. There is no military solution to the fighting in Syria. But like in Bosnia, a no-fly zone can help protect civilians from the worst of the violence and encourage the fighting parties to come to the negotiating table.
Too many Syrians spend their days looking up at the sky, wondering when the next barrel bomb will drop and what it will hit. Today we look up in solidarity with all those who continue on, and call on all those with a conscience to join the call to #clearthesky.

Join 100+ non-violent Syrian groups in asking for the international community to enforce the UN ban on barrel bombs with a Bosnia-style no-fly zone.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ursula Le Guin: "We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable ..."

Ursula Le Guin, author of my favourite novel, The Dispossessed.
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.”

Monday, July 20, 2015

human existence produces human consciousness

or, a gritty materialist view of our all too human consciousness

Typical stereotype of Marx's view of human consciousness:
“Marx was a materialist. He believed that nothing exists but matter. He had no interest in the spiritual aspects of humanity, and saw human consciousness as just a reflex of the material world. He was brutally dismissive of religion, and regarded morality simply as a question of the end justifying the means. Marxism drains humanity of all that is most precious about it, reducing us to inert lumps of material stuff determined by our environment. There is an obvious route from this dreary, soulless vision of humanity to the atrocities of Stalin and other disciples of Marx.”
- Eagleton, p. 128, goes onto refute this stereotype.
Something closer to the real Marx:
Human consciousness is developed or shaped through our bodily, material needs and very real desires (eg. food, shelter, companionship, sex, love, freedom from fear and violence). We are intelligent (sometimes), active, practical (makers and doers), grounded, self directed, unfinished beings. We are always becoming and never quite finished, until death.

Our social development requires both co-operation and struggle with other humans (there are often disagreements) and natural things to develop our productive capacity in order to overcome material scarcity. In the course of self development other humans and nature resist, as well as enable, our immediate goals. This creates self awareness and above all, awareness of others. In view of our drives we can't help but work together socially to transform the natural and human synthetic world to better meet our needs. “All for one and one for all” is a desirable goal even if we never attain it. At root our economic life represents a bridge between our biological needs and our social life.

Our bodies, our senses and our reasoning abilities are closely connected. There is no basis in reality for a separate development of our material beings and our ideas. Hence idealist philosophy, the approach that ideas come before or are more important than our practical life, is fundamentally wrong. We are not intelligent robots; we are embodied, mortal humans. Our bodies, meanings, values, purposes and intentions are all interconnected.

Over time, everything changes as humans evolve and society develops. We are strung out in time. Since our consciousness is corporeal or embodied then it lags behind the physical or material development of the world. Our consciousness is belated, there is a lag between practice and theory.

“It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” (Marx ). Our ideas, concepts and consciousness are tightly interwoven with our material activity and language of real life which has developed from our life and death struggle to make nature serve our needs.

Life and death struggle. It follows therefore that there is a dark side, which has to be faced, a shadowy and not so secret underside to civilisation. At the root of our most lofty conceptions lie violence, lack, desire, appetite, scarcity and aggression, “the horror teeming under the stone of culture” (Theodor Adorno)

Humans, as active and practical beings, strive for the freedom to shape their own narrative. In creating civilisation we have turned Nature, albeit imperfectly, into an extension of ourselves. But for nearly all of us, our freedom is restricted by class society. We are wage labourers forced to work in order to put food on the table and pay off the mortgage.

Social being has the edge over consciousness. This is because the understanding that sticks arises from what we actually do. Tacit knowledge (experience, competence, deed, commitment) trumps explicit knowledge (book learning).

It follows that to change our consciousness we need to change our activity. Talk may well lead to action but talk alone is not enough. We swim in a world of social relations, of social class. “We don't know who discovered water, but we know it wasn't the fish” (Marshall McLuhan). Only by breaking the mould through self conscious practical activity can we make the transition from passive acceptance of social norms to active resistance. But what practical activity will do the job in a world dominated by bourgeois social relations? That is a hard question. If we grow up brainwashed in an alien system then how is it possible to find an effective way to rebel and overthrow that alien system?

Can our knowledge be objective? Yes and no. Our knowledge is historically and socially determined. Before Copernicus, in the minds of men and women, the Sun revolved around the Earth. According to nearly all reports from capitalist media, socialism has been tried and failed. Yet we have found successful, although far from perfect, ways to wrestle knowledge from nature and society. This is called science but the nature of the diversity of the sciences, including Marxism as a science, needs to be further clarified.

Marxists tend to be millenial optimists. Is this justified or whistling in the dark? “The future is bright, the road is tortuous”. Is that a boring cliche or a deep truth? The reality is that progress always happens more slowly than is hoped for by revolutionary radicals. In my view the world does progress but very slowly in real terms most of the time. We don't live long enough! In real life tragedy is often the norm. The Arab Spring was followed by the tragedy in Syria and elsewhere. As noted above, our (revolutionary) consciousness is belated.

Did Marx denounce moral thinking? What he denounced was historical inquiry which ignored material factors in favour of moral ones, the abstraction of moral values from their historical context and then pronouncing them as absolute moral judgements. We could call that approach utopian or moralising. A better approach to moral analysis is to investigate all aspects of a society – its facts and values, it's science and morality; the historical and social context. The error here would be to separate out morality from the total social analysis.

There is an extensive modern literature on the nature of human consciousness and theory of mind. Presumably, some of this would build positively on the broad outline provided by Marx. I would like to hear more about modern authors who have contributed to such an approach, that our consciousness is grounded in our bodily, material needs and our social desires.


Eagleton, Terry. Why Marx Was Right, Ch 6 (my essay is, in the main, but not entirely, a summary of this chapter)

Marx, Karl. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Preface)

Adorno, Theodor. Prisms (I haven't read Adorno but liked the quote)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Iceland 2008 – now, timeline with supporting links

Oct: Economic crash, 3 banks collapse

Pots and Pans revolution

Government resigns
Feb: new Government elected (Social Democratic Alliance and Left-Green coalition)

Director Central Bank resigns

new constitution process begins

Aug: Kaupping Bank gags national broadcaster RUV from broadcasting a risk analysis report originating from Wikileaks. This enrages people when they find out.

June: Icelandic Modern Media Initiative Freedom of Information resolution unanimously approved by parliament

(a) New constitution crowd sourced – a National Assembly of 1000 individuals randomly selected to elicit their opinions of what should go into the new constitution
(b) Consitutional Committee (7 experts) produces report on ideas and information for the new constitution
Nov: (c) Constitutional Assembly elected (25 seats)

International Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) formed

July: Constitutional Bill presented to Parliament
Parliament rejects Constitutional Bill

April: Geir Haarde (former PM) found guilty of negligence (not sentenced)

Oct: Government submits Constitutional Bill to referendum, with some additional related questions. 69% respond that the Constitutional Bill should be used as a basis for the new constitution

Nov: Pirate Party of Iceland formed. Platform of democratic reform, adoption of a new constitution, copyright reform, safeguarding freedom of expression and freedom of information

Jan: New Information Act passed

April: New Government elected (Independent and Social Democratic alliance). Pirate Party receives 5.1% of the vote

June: Pirate Party is the most popular party in Iceland with 34.1% of the vote. The next Icelandic parliamentary elections will be held on or before 27 April 2017

For trends in the polls since 2013 see Icelandic_parliamentary_election,_2017

LINKS, some annotated
* indicates well worth reading IMHO

1) The ongoing pots and pans revolution as a response to the economic crash of 2008

update (Sept 16)
* Reykjavik Rising (video 54 min) provides an excellent background to the thinking of some of the activists behind the pots and pans revolution and subsequent events.

* Iceland's unfinished revolution? An interview with Hordur Torfason
The award-winning human rights activist credited with starting Iceland's 'pots and pans revolution' ... So in the crash in October 2008, I had already done things like this. I’ve learned a lot of what I would call facts or methods through my years of dealing with people. So what I simply did is what Socrates did in the old days, I went around asking people questions. I just placed myself in front of the parliament building and I asked people, ‘Can you tell me what has happened in this country?’ and ‘Do you have any idea what we can do?’ I stood there every day during the lunch-hour and it didn’t take me long to understand the seriousness of the situation, the anger among people and how scared people were.
* Lessons from Iceland's 'pots and pans revolution' (2015)
In the long run then, what may turn out to be a more significant outcome of the revolution is the cluster of citizens’ initiatives that emerged, dedicated to improving the way democracy works. Rather than focusing on banking reform, the post-revolution push from Icelandic civil society has been on fundamental democratic reform. The logic runs: why treat the symptoms of a system that has become corrupt when you can tackle the disease itself?
Big rallies outside Iceland's Parliament continue in 2014-15:
March 2015: anti-government-protest-draw-thousands-doors-icelands-parliament
Nov 2014: thousands-gather-outside-icelands-parliament
Solomon comes to Iceland (2012)

2) The Banks

* Icesave dispute -Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Icesave dispute was a diplomatic dispute that began after the privately owned Icelandic bank Landsbanki went bankrupt on 7 October 2008, with a subsequent dispute evolving between Iceland on one hand and the United Kingdom and the Netherlands on the other
* A short history of banks and democracy (2013)
The extraordinary bounce-back of the banks reveals the most disturbing, but least obvious, largely invisible, feature of the unfinished European crisis: the transformation of democratic taxation states into post-democratic banking states (includes a section on Iceland at the end)
3) IMMI (International Modern Media Initiative) and FOI (freedom of information),

* John Perry Barlow - On The Right To Know (2008 Digital Freedoms Conference)
Speech at Digital Freedoms Conference, Reykjavík (Iceland) → his comment about Iceland becoming the Switzerland of bits was influential in kick starting the FOI movement. Video, roughly 60 minutes, entertaining history of his involvement in internet freedom issues. At 33 min. he makes the point that an important historical battle is being waged over control of information.

* The official IMMI web
International Modern Media Institute (Icelandic and English sections)
About IMMI
The International Modern Media Institute was founded in 2011 with the aim of bringing together the best functioning laws in relation to freedom of information, expression and speech, reflecting the reality of borderless world and the challenges that it imposes locally and globally in the 21st century
* Reports & Academic Papers
This page includes the report "Beyond WikiLeaks: The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the Creation of Free Speech Havens" (pdf 24pp)
* Heimildarmyndir um IMMI
“From the Hell of the Crisis to the Paradise of Journalism” (1 hour 13 minutes) provides a dramatic and informative introduction to what has been happening in Iceland since the economic crisis of 2008 to the near present. Some sections in Icelandic but nearly all of it is in English.
FOI progression since the IMMI resolution: A new Information Act was passed in January 2013. It does not satisfy the IMMI resolution’s level of quality and assurance, as referred to with regards to the public’s access to information.
The Data Narrative - The Reykjavik Grapevine (2013)
Smari McCarthy: there has yet to be a country in the world that has promoted global competitiveness on the basis of the best human rights, data protection and legal transparency
Read a five-point guide for a better internet (2013)

4) The people want a new constitution in Iceland but their efforts so far have been foiled by a parliament which still represents vested interets

* Aðfaraorð – Iceland_New_Constitutional_Bill.pdf (2011)
A proposal for a new constitution for the Republic of Iceland delivered to the Althing by The Constitutional Council on 29 July 2011

Content includes: transparency, fairness, environmental protection, national ownership of natural resources and stronger checks and balances between the 3 branches of government
* Iceland: direct democracy in action (2012)
Do you want the proposals of the Constitutional Council to form the basis of a legislative bill for a new Constitution? 67% said Yes.

Would you want natural resources which are not in private ownership to be declared the property of the nation in a new Constitution? 83% said Yes.

Would you want a new Constitution to include provisions on a National Church of Iceland? 57% said Yes.

Would you want a new Constitution to permit personal elections to the Althing to a greater degree than permitted at present? 78% said Yes.

Would you want a new Constitution to include provisions to the effect that the votes of the electorate across the country should have the same force? 67% said Yes.

Would you want a new Constitution to include provisions to the effect that a specific proportion of the electorate could call for a national referendum on a specific matter? 73% said Yes.
* Jon Elster í Silfri Egils 13. maí 2012
Interview with constitutional expert Jon Elster about Iceland's new constitution - mostly in English after an Icelandic introduction (video)
Hope from below: composing the commons in Iceland (2011)
Icelandic constitution on the way (2012)
The Icelandic constitutional experiment (2012)
Real democracy in Iceland? (2012)
From the people to the people, a new constitution (2012)
Real democracy still missing (2013)
When politics strike back: the end of the Icelandic constitutional experiment? (2013)
Democracy on ice: a post-mortem of the Icelandic constitution (2013)

5) The Pirate Party (Iceland)

There are currently 3 Pirate MPs: Birgitta Jónsdóttir (Southwest), Jón Þór Ólafsson (Reykjavik South) and Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson (Reykjavik North)

update (July 14): * Exclusive interview with Pirate MP: Resigned from Parliament to mix asphalt
Jón Þór gave his word shortly after the elections two years ago, that he would step aside for his supplementary MP, Ásta Helgadóttir, and he is sticking to that word. So, he is retiring from politics and returning to his previous day job, which is to load asphalt onto trucks at an asphalt mixing plant. Of course it is stuff like this which is leading many voters to the party. It seems to be something different from the more established parties ...

What could other parties learn from the success of the Icelandic Pirates?

This, he believes might help explain why the Icelandic Pirate party has been surging in the polls, while Pirate parties in Europe are struggling: It isn’t all about the internet.
“Of course I don’t know enough about all the details, and there are different factors in each country, but to my understanding some of the European Pirate parties have not prioritized democratic reforms, and direct democracy in the way that we have done. But some of it has to do with the fact that Iceland is a small society, and you can more easily achieve things in a small society you can’t in larger societies.”

* Icelandic_parliamentary_election,_2017
June 2015 Opinion Polls: Pirate Party 33.2%; Independence 23.8%; Progressive 10.6%; Social Democratic Alliance 9.3%; Left-Greens 12.0%; Bright Future 5.6%; Others 5.5%
* We, the people, are the system | Birgitta Jónsdóttir | TEDxReykjavik
The 21st century will be the century of the common people – the century of you, of US
* Birgitta Jónsdóttir official blog
Poetician and activist in the Icelandic Parliament for the Pirate Party
* Making Better Decisions - The Reykjavik Grapevine (2013)
Smari McCarthy: For the last several years I’ve been thinking about the way we make decisions in societies, and the way in which we often sacrifice our ideals on the altar of expectations. This line of thinking has led to the development of a number of systems broadly termed “liquid democracy”: electronic voting and deliberation systems geared towards helping people make better decisions together. In the Pirate Party, for whom I’ve become a candidate, we use one of these systems of my design to make decisions. Anybody can propose an idea, and after a rudimentary sanity check it goes into a process where anybody can comment and propose changes to the proposal, after which the entire thing goes to a vote
* Pirate Party Iceland Chatgroup (Facebook)
This a group where Icelandic Pirates of the English persuasion come togeather and discuss politics, policies and current events in the Icelandic Political arena
Pirate Party, Iceland

No joke: Iceland's Pirate Party surges into first place in the polls
Show Notes and Podcast: The Order of the Pirate Unicorn Podcast 008 | PirateTimes
Background information about iceland's pirate party
Iceland: portrait of the pirate as a young politician (2014)
* Rebuilding democracy in Iceland: an interview with Birgitta Jonsdottir (2015)
Smári McCarthy | Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing
Smári McCarthy is an Icelandic/Irish innovator and information activist. He is executive director of the International Modern Media Institute, a co-founder and board member of the Icelandic Digital Freedoms Society (FSFÍ) and a participant in the Global Swadeshi movement. He is a founding member of the Icelandic Pirate Party,and stood as their lead candidate in Iceland's southern constituency in the 2013 parliamentary elections. He was the spokesperson and one of the organizers of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative.
You Have It All Wrong! - The Reykjavik Grapevine (2012)
Early interview of Smari McCarthy about the formation of the Pirate Party
6) other political issues

A cold reception: the rise of anti-Islamic sentiments in Iceland?

RELATED LINKS ABOUT DEMOCRACY, not about iceland in particular

Democratic Reason: The Mechanisms of Collective Intelligence in Politics by Helene E. Landemore :: SSRN

Connecting the Basque and Icelandic cases: an ethnographic chronicle about democratic regeneration

* Bergeron's Children - Smári McCarthy - Appropedia: The sustainability wiki
Story telling which links together the Economic Crash of 2008 - the Arab Spring of 2010-11 – the current Icelandic Freedom of Information movement
Smári McCarthy: Failure Modes of the Modern Rational Utopia (2013)
video: High-modernist idealists, when given unfiltered power to act on their ideologies, have a tendency to try to enact their vision through authoritarian means - the creation of laws and regulations, the manipulation of the major consensus narrative, through socioeconomic restructuring and societal design. As with the sudden introduction of any large scale perturbation to a chaotic system, the results are often unpredictable. There is plenty of evidence of historical flawed attempts at constructing rational utopia, where the perceived ability to control society leads to disaster, but the modern rational utopia - in its technologically superpowered glory - promises to fail in ways we have not yet fully fathomed. I talk about how authoritarianism is changing its nature, how rational utopias come about, look at how they fail and why fail, and try and figure out what we can do about it.
Passing Over Eisenhower (2013)
Smari McCarthy: there is a plan emerging. The hackers and the human rights activists, the net-freedom-blah people and the technophiles have been awakening from the post-Arab spring burnout and remembering the things that need to be done to prevent the next Mubarek. Better, simpler, more usable cryptography. Peer-to-peer, verifiable, anonymous monetary systems and democratic decision making systems. Secure communications and full transparency within governance.
Liquid Democracy In Simple Terms

The Joy of Revolution (chap. 1)
To begin with the political aspect, roughly speaking we can distinguish five degrees of “government”: (1) Unrestricted freedom (2) Direct democracy ____ a) consensus ____ b) majority rule (3) Delegate democracy (4) Representative democracy (5) Overt minority dictatorship The present society oscillates between (4) and (5), i.e. between overt minority rule and covert minority rule camouflaged by a façade of token democracy. A liberated society would eliminate (4) and (5) and would progressively reduce the need for (2) and (3). I’ll discuss the two types of (2) later on. But the crucial distinction is between (3) and (4)
Delegative democracy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Delegative democracy, also known as liquid democracy, is a form of democratic control whereby voting power is vested in delegates, rather than representatives. This term is a generic description of either already existing or proposed popular control apparatuses

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Greece: sign a petition or start a revolution?

The economic crash of 2008 hasn't gone away, has it? Perhaps I should resume my study of political economy. I tried before but abandoned it because it was so difficult.

The crisis in Greece isn't going away. It wouldn't surprise me if it spread further.

Here are some facts that were posted to the xmca list (Mind, Culture and Activity) about the situation inside Greece:
Unemployment in Greece is officially at 26% of the working population (1.4 mil. people –unofficially they are more than 3 million If you take into consideration those that they have stopped reporting their employment state, and mostly those employed only a few hours per week gaining less than 200€ per month)

Another 3 million people live near the poverty limit (that is, they cannot afford buying all meals of the week, or pay their utilities, let alone their mortgages, or taxes),

And another 3 million people can hardly cover all of their mortgages and taxes.

Leaving less than a couple of millions that can run a life of the average middle class in a western country

Needless to refer to the few thousands that have built monumental fortunes by evading taxation and suppressing labor costs.
These facts were posted as background information to raise support for a petition. But even more interesting someone else then posted this reply:
Only a socialist revolution can save the Greek people and can grant her an honorable, sustainable human life, as advocated by KKE (Communist Party of Greece). All options other than this are either a lie or an illusion, which does conceal today's capitalism's realities or consciously deceive the working masses.

Syriza govt is managing this crisis for capital and tries to keep the country in the line of interests for greek and international capital, not for the working class. Like Podemos in Spain. Capitalist Europe is shrinking in all respects and it is time for working peoples to search for other, much more realistic options. Otherwise, peoples will miss these days.
I scrolled through my blogroll for related articles and found this one, which drills down deeper into the facts and the anger: Email from Greek Voter With "No Dreams and Nothing to Lose"; Greek 'No' Vote Demographics

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Renewable energy costs more than fossil fuels

This is the beginning of a long thread (actually, a couple of long threads) from the Making Sense of Climate Denial Course ("Climate change is real, so why the controversy and debate? Learn to make sense of the science and to respond to climate change denial"), which ran from April-June, 2015.

If you want to read the full thread which contains this introduction then go here straight away. Otherwise, keep reading here if you first want the introduction which sparked the thread before deciding whether or not to read the whole thing.

It represents a challenge to the course organisers on the issue of whether renewables are more expensive than fossil fuels.

Fact: Renewable energy costs more than fossil fuels
discussion posted 4 days ago by ArthurD
Vote for this post, there are currently 3 votes 3 Votes

This simple fact is common ground among all serious participants in debates concerning what to do about global warming.

It is the central reason why many argue for a carbon tax and subsidies to renewables. Without such measures there is no hope of renewables replacing fossil fuels.

It is also the central reason for concern that the world will continue on the present "business as usual" track towards significant problems from global warming before the end of the century. No such measures are in fact being taken to the extent that would be required to make a significant difference.

The vast majority of emissions are expected to come from poor countries like India and China rapidly industrializing over the next few decades.

They are not cannot and will not be switching from fossil fuels to renewables because they cannot afford the extra cost. Consequently 4 times as much additional energy is being supplied by coal each year as by renewables.

There are NO serious claims that renewables will become cheaper than fossil fuels. What IS being claimed is that they will become cheaper than they are now but that it is still NECESSARY to make fossil fuels more expensive through such measures as carbon taxes in order to internalize the external costs imposed by emissions.

Numerous posts with "good news" about trends towards renewables demonstrate that many students in this course are unaware of these facts.

Worse, course staff are actively in denial about them.

I started a thread on this, which had 47 posts --> this course helps preserve fossil fuels

Another student posted several links as follows:
"I'm a serious student of the economic debate, with a degree in economics and in science: renewables demonstrably cost less than consumables, and I nor the World Bank, nor http://thesolutionsproject.org/ nor https://www.irena.org/DocumentDownloads/Publications/Renewable_Power_Generation_Costs.pdf nor Swanson's Law nor http://www.skepticalscience.com/renewable-energy-is-too-expensive.htm nor the IEA do not tacitly or otherwise agree to the myth of cheap consumables; it's a bald misrepresentation to suggest consumables are cheaper."
Not one of these links claims that renewables are or will become cheaper than fossil fuels so that poor countries could switch to them while industrializing. The last, from the group behind this course, repeats what is in fact usually claimed:
"When you account for the effects which are not reflected in the market price of fossil fuels, like air pollution and health impacts, the true cost of coal and other fossil fuels is higher than the cost of most renewable energy technologies."
This is true but completely irrelevant to the question of whether renewables will or can replace fossil fuels in the poor countries that are industrializing.

They are paying ACTUAL costs in the ACTUAL situation of no "carbon price" and people on $2 per day have much higher priorities. They do NOT "account for the effects". (Neither for that matter do most developed countries that could afford to, but the point is that even if they did, poor countries still CANNOT do so while industrializing).

The response of course staff was to close down the thread before I could even point out that NONE of the links offered even denied, let alone refuted the commonly accepted basis for all serious debate that renewables are not replacing fossil fuels because their actual costs are greater.

Please take a look at the closed thread and then come back here and follow this thread if you are interested in serious discussion of what can be done about the ACTUAL situation rather than pretense that endlessly repeating what OUGHT to be can change what is continuing to happen - "business as usual" with rapidly growing emissions.

For the subsequent (lengthy) discussion of these introductory comments go here

Thursday, July 02, 2015

"A wish for a better reality" Smari McCarthy

In the minds of some people there is a connection between different issues that amounts to a continuity. You may call it hope, you may call it wishful thinking or it may be a reflection of reality. In the mind of the Icelandic / Irish information activist Smari McCarthy these events are closely linked: the Economic Crash of 2008 - the Arab Spring of 2010-11 - the current Icelandic Freedom of Information movement

I think he is right.

This story, Bergeron's Children (source) by Smari McCarthy explains how:


On the 19th of December 2010, I received a message from a guy I’d met some months previously. ‘TUNISIA’, it said. Capitals, no punctuation. Nothing else.

I searched, saw what was happening, and pinged another contact, a Tunisian guy, asking how I could help. Over the next couple of weeks, we accumulated a set of videos from the protests all over Tunisia, and I bundled them up into an easy to view, share and mirror package.[1] This was the beginning of massive weaponised Streisandisation. The theory is, when you try to restrict access to information, the value of that information goes up. Barbara Streisand learned this the hard way.[2] Anybody who’s ever seen porn knows this instinctively.

Shortly after the Streisandisation project began, Ben Ali fled the country. Unrelated, but revolution was here. And while the victory belonged to the Tunisian people and outsiders should not lay claim to it, I can’t say that I wasn’t somewhat proud. But before the joviality had passed its apex, another message from the same contact: ‘EGYPT’.

This is a guy who had been monitoring North African human rights issues for decades. He knows this stuff in and out. This is a guy who was tortured, and fled, and survived. So when this guy sends me a message, I take it seriously.

A Swedish-originating hacktivist (hacker+activist) group I’ve been working with, Telecomix, took the Egyptian cause to heart. Peter Fein describes Telecomix as the Yin to the Yang of Anonymous.[3] They break, we rebuild. When the Internet got cut off in Egypt, the plain old telephone system was still left running. So the Telecomix agents thought: ‘If the phones are running, we can install modem stacks and people can dial in.’ Reverting to an ancient technology to protect freedom of expression has never been so fun. Somebody came up with the great idea of crawling the Internet in search of Egyptian fax numbers, and a message was constructed and sent to all of them, giving information about how to dial in to the modem racks we had set up in Sweden and Germany. Egypt fell, kind of.

As the year moved on, things slowed down. As NATO started bombing Libya, I kept waiting for a message. None came. So I did as any man would in that situation, and went to Norway. Sitting there one evening, watching Tim Minchin videos and debating information politics, I received the third message: ‘SYRIA’.

Why was Libya so overlooked, as the bombs fell from on high? Could it be callousness on the part of my delightfully informed comrade, or was it something else? Considering the dynamics of what played out in Tunisia and Egypt, and what has since been going on in Syria, it’s hard to think that the Libyan uprising is motivated by the same ideals. The tribal origins of the revolution, coupled with the almost immediate influx of weapons from various Gulf countries and from NATO gives the impression that it was a power grab. Oman, Jordan, Bahrain. Egypt. Iraq. Throughout the region, people were taking to the streets. In Libya it was different. More focused. Some weird politics were in play.

But this is not about Libya. The Arab Spring undoubtedly put a mark on 2011, but for me it was only the origin of the confusion that shaped the year, and the cadence to which my life harmonised.

July. I was sitting at a café in Porto, feeling relaxed and happy with life, when news comes: a city in Syria, Homs, has disappeared from the Internet. A massive contingent of information activists from all over the world start trying to figure out why. After a while, it becomes clear, as we start to see scattered and vague reports of tanks rolling into the city. Then, at more or less the same time that the tanks were blowing holes in buildings in Homs, a massive nationalist Christian conservative fertiliser bomb goes off in Oslo. Just around the corner from where I had been when the ‘SYRIA’ message arrived.


To make sense of 2011, I go back to Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, ‘Harrison Bergeron’.[4] The 1995 film adaptation will do even better.[5] The setting is the United States in the second half of the 21st century. After the Cold War, there had come a massive economic downturn: the great recession, which never really ended. ‘In all previous recessions,’ Harrison says, ‘once the economy bottomed out and production increased, unemployment decreased. But in the Great Recession due to new and improved technologies, fewer and fewer workers were required in all sectors. With so many people forced from their jobs the traditional economic recovery was impossible.’ The widening gap between rich and poor ended in a Second American Revolution, following which the government mandates total egalitarianism: citizens are subject to mind-numbing television programmes and fitted with electronic headbands to regulate their intelligence to a social norm.

It is a society in which everybody is forced to be equal, yet what is presented as equality is really a docile acceptance that one should not engage creatively: in fact, should not engage at all, since any engagement in the issues of the society would be a cause of disequilibrium. Anybody who lacked the cognitive capacity to understand the implications would be left behind, and therefore it is considered imperative that all be forcibly reduced to the same level.

Being rather smarter than would otherwise be acceptable, Harrison finds himself recruited to the secret organisation that runs this society. They aren’t allowed to breed, but they are allowed to enjoy all of what human culture had to offer, in terms of culture and technology. Unlike everyone else, they have not been subdued by an information vacuum and prepackaged ideologies. But our protagonist rebels against all of this, taking control of the broadcasting system...

You can guess the rest; it isn’t really important. What matters is the seed of rebellion planted by Harrison. It is only hinted at in the closing moments of the film, but slowly, after his subversive act of defiance against the shadow government, people start to wake up.

I can imagine how it played out. Teenagers daring each other to take the headbands off in secret. Adults sneaking to read a book or two. People having conversations about the state of the world. About history. About culture. Somebody might become good at playing the violin.

And one day, somebody gets a text message. ‘AMERICA’, it might say.


By August, Telecomix was providing infrastructural support to half a dozen revolutions. Some, like Egypt, were nominally complete but still reeked of militarism and repression. Others, like Libya and Syria, were ongoing and becoming bloodier each day.

The toll a revolution takes on the revolutionaries is immense. People get tired. Exhausted even. Post-traumatic stress disorder, combat fatigue. Burnout. What we learned, during all of this, is that support staff also get burned out. It’s like the drone pilots dropping bombs on innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. The cause is more moral, but the scenario is the same. When a soldier goes to war, he stays on the battlefield with friends and comrades for extended periods of time. He and his allies are immersed in the context of their reality, and they back each other up. Just like the protesters on the streets of New York or Oakland, of Madrid or Athens, Damascus and Cairo. That contextual immersion is lost on the drone pilots and hacktivists: when our shift is done, we unplug and leave the war zone. We walk through peaceful streets and have dinner with friends who don’t know or don’t care what happened today in some far away place. Our context shifts from war to peace. Eleanor Saitta wrote that her ‘friends at Telecomix are not on the front lines in Syria, but they know many people there well, and even fighting that war at a remove can tear you apart.’[6]


I never got the message saying ‘AMERICA’. I never got one saying ‘UK’. There were many I wish I had received but never did. Yet mixed with that wish was a deep and unnerving fear. A wish for a better reality mixed with fear that the reality I had lived with all my days was at an end. For much of 2011, my heart would jump whenever my phone beeped or rang. Sleep was more disturbed than ever, marked by cold sweat. I was not alone. Many of my friends were suffering, and many thousands of others were fighting a brutal war against oppression, felling dictators when they could, but more often failing.


Then we ask why. Why now? What made 2011 different from other years? In many ways it was similar to 2008, when my home country crashed. Iceland’s economy burst and lost almost all of its mass over the course of a few weeks. Iceland is recovering, but there is little will amongst the political class to work through the legacy of the crash which marked the beginning of the end. 2011 was the third year of the Great Recession which had taken many small countries in its first wave.

The politicians and economists hoped that once the economy bottomed out and production increased, unemployment would decrease. They refused to acknowledge that, due to new and improved technologies, fewer and fewer workers are required in all sectors. With so many people forced from their jobs, the traditional economic recovery is impossible. The question becomes: what does a nontraditional economic recovery look like?

The sequence of events was unexpected. All of us who had thought about this eventuality seem to have expected the rich countries to go first. Some, like mine, did. But with our western tunnel vision, we overlooked the way in which the same forces were working on the countries where the stuff we use is made: people are competing against indefatigable machines on a free market. The owners of the devices and productive capacity that keep us alive have alienated all of us. The difference being that, outside of the most developed countries, infrastructural elasticity is much lower and personal freedoms comparatively nonexistent. Of course they were going to go first.


But now 2011 is past, and I’m not sure what is going to happen. Some countries are calming down, while others are still ratcheting up. At the time, I often thought that 2011 would be the year of the revolution, where we fix our world; now I see that this wasn’t the year in which we win the wars, but it was the year in which we picked our fights. It was the year in which we all became Bergeron’s children, waking from repose, casting off docility, and becoming human again. Not everybody is there, yet. A lot of people still have their headbands on. A lot of people have so forgotten how to be free that it feels alien to them.

There’s plenty of work to be done, but it’s going to get done. Globalisation may have been used against us so far, but now it’s working to our advantage. Humanity has, for the first time, a real ability to work together, but first we need to overcome some hurdles. In the words of Harrison Bergeron, ‘I hope we can all be together again real soon, as whole people, family – no bands, no government, just people...’

(1) A ‘mirror’ is an exact copy of another website, hosted on a different server. A ‘package’ like this makes it as easy as possible for anyone with access to a server to make a copy of the site, which makes it harder for the material on the site to be taken offline or blocked.
(2) See ‘Streisand effect’, Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streisand_effect
(3) Peter Fein, ‘Hacking for Freedom’, I Wear Pants, 17 June 2011 - http://blog.wearpants.org/hacking-for-freedom/
(4) Collected in Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Welcome to the Monkey House (New York: Delacorte Press, 1968).
(5) Harrison Bergeron, Directed by Bruce Pittman, 1995.
(6) Eleanor Saitta, ‘Our Stories, Our Weapons’ in ‘Two Stories of Uncivilization’, New Public Thinking, 30 August 2011 - http://newpublicthinkers.org/?p=107

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

iceland: a different vision

After hearing that the Pirate Party has become the most popular political party in Iceland (one source) I've been searching for information which explains how this happened.

What accounts for the difference in the way Iceland is developing politically?

The video at the top of this page, “From the Hell of the Crisis to the Paradise of Journalism” (1 hour 13 minutes) provides a dramatic and informative introduction to what has been happening in Iceland since the economic crisis of 2008 to the near present.

Alternatively, the paper on this page, Beyond WikiLeaks: The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative and the Creation of Free Speech Havens (pdf 24 pp), provides a written down version of similar information.

The video opens with this quote from "Demian" by Herman Hesse.
"We were not separated from the majority of men by a boundary, but simply by another mode of vision. Our task was to represent an island in the world, a prototype perhaps, or at least a prospect of a different way of life"
  • A particularly severe Banking crisis in 2008
  • Icelandic citizens in response held a weekly kitchen revolution outside parliament with clear demands (the Government, the Bankers and Monetary authorities should resign). These goals were achieved. Unlike other countries those responsible were punished.
  • A new government constitution was developed initially through crowd sourcing of 1000 citizens randomly (direct democracy) to develop it
  • The media was held complicit in not spotting the weakness of the Banks
  • Wikileaks helped by publishing information about corruption in those same Banks at that time
  • The Bank involved took legal steps to suppress that information – but this resulted in making things worse for them
  • In response the opportunity was taken by visionary leadership to launch a freedom of information revolution
  • One aim is transparent government, to move from secrecy by default to transparency by default
  • A large section of the video goes into detail of the FOI legislation, under nine subheadings: Freedom of Information; Whistleblower Protection; Source Protection; Communications Protection; Limiting Prior Restraint; Judicial Process Protection; Protection of Historical Records; Defamation Law and Libel Tourism Protection. They are serious and well researched about the legal issues surrounding FOI. Also see Progress Report for detail
  • In a world where the internet and governments are becoming less free the Icelandic visionaries see an opportunity to promote freedom as a nation building exercise
  • Never waste a good crisis (advice to those in other countries)
    • countries need to update their outdated constitutions (Birgitta)
    • be clear about what you need to do and how to do it (Smari)
    • catch the spirit of the nation by listening to the people (Birgitta)
    • radical change only happens during crisis, at other times people become too complacent (Birgitta)

Friday, June 26, 2015

with rebellious joy: Birgitta Jónsdótti

I have seen signs
the end of the world
as we know it
has begun

Don't panic
it might look terrifying
on the surface

Yet inside every
human being
a choice
to be a catalyst

Earth is calling
Sky is calling
Science is calling
Creation is calling:

Wake up, wake up now

Transform your heart into
a compassion machine

Now is the time
to yield to the call of growth
to the call of action

You are the change makers

Sleepers of all ages


wake up: NOW

Iceland’s Pirate Party is the largest political party in Iceland, according to the latest MMR poll ... The party now enjoys the support of 32.4 percent of respondents (source)

Birgitta Jónsdótti blog (Poetician and activist in the Icelandic Parliament for the Pirate Party)

Aiming for the Stars: The Goal and Purpose of a New Pirate International by Ásta Helgadóttir

update (Sat June 27):


Pirates are free

Pirates are freedom-loving, independent, autonomous, and disapprove of blind obedience. They stand for informational self-determination and freedom of opinion. Pirates bear the responsibility entailed by freedom.

Pirates respect privacy

Pirates protect privacy. They fight against the increasing surveillance mania of state and economy because it prohibits the free development of the individual. A free and democratic society is impossible without private and unobserved free space.

Pirates are critical

Pirates are creative, curious, and do not acquiesce in the status quo. They challenge systems, search for weak spots and find ways to correct them. Pirates learn from their mistakes.

Pirates are fair-minded

They keep their word. Solidarity is important when it comes to collective aims. Pirates counteract the blind-eye-mentality of society and take action when moral courage is necessary.

Pirates respect life

Pirates are peaceful. Therefore they reject the death penalty and the destruction of our environment. Pirates stand for the sustainability of nature and its resources. We do not accept patents on life.

Pirates are eager for knowledge

The access to information, education, knowledge and scientific findings has to be unlimited. Pirates support free culture and free software.

Pirates are social

Pirates respect human dignity. They commit themselves to a society united in solidarity where the strong defend the weak. Pirates stand for a political culture of objectivity and fairness.

Pirates are international

Pirates are part of a global movement. They take advantage of the opportunities offered by the internet and are therefore enabled to think and act without borders.

update (Mon June 29):
A New Pirate International
pirate times
pirate party australia

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Role of PPPs in Transition

Guest post by Arthur Dent
PPP = Public Private Partnerships

A scenario for transition from capitalism with socialized investment following another Great Depression and its (im)plausibility is discussed elsewhere.

For present purposes those assumptions are as arbitrary as the selection of some hypothetical specific PPP infrastructure project to pitch to some hypothetical target audience.

The need that has not been acted on is investment having become generally paralysed by world economic crisis. Not just traditional infrastructure but all kinds of large scale fixed capital construction projects are needed.

The essence of transition from capitalism under such a scenario is that it is partially public and partially private.

PPPs would be used for all major fixed capital construction projects that are significant for planning resumption of economic growth and ending mass unemployment. Buildings and plant that were previously (not) being privately financed, by single enterprises or project finance, not just the closely related “utilities”. Public institutions would also initially be largely untransformed, so public procurement of a traditional public utility infrastructure facility by a public agency would be subsumed under PPP arrangements as just another private participant that happens to be a public agency.

Public financial and economic planning and management organizations would be involved either as sponsors or minor participants in many types of build, own and operate projects, often taking substantial financial positions in both debt and equity based on the expropriated funds they are now able to invest as well as making ordinary commercial PPP arrangements with private participants.

The relatively small amount of economic and management expertise fully supportive of transition available to an inexperienced government would be heavily focused on the preparation, procurement and contract management/implementation of PPPs. They would have to structure the contracts so the private participants use their know how to maximize the public benefit in their own commercial interests. This would be very difficult and error prone, but not as implausible as simultaneously taking over all existing large economic institutions without enough skills to actually manage them in the public interest.

The much wider role of PPPs requires much better resourced public institutions responsible for PPPs. The relatively small numbers of government decision makers with adequate skills must supervise and structure appropriate incentives to motivate, much larger number of employees and consultants recruited from the private sector for their know how, despite their lack of support for transition.

Currently known “best practices” for PPPs would be generally applicable. There is no point in listing them. But the assumption of quite different circumstances imply many new lessons could only be learned from experience with at least the following differences from the usual circumstances.
  1. Much greater transparency and much less corruption would be imposed on both the public and private participants as part of the broader social changes involved in transition.
  2. Greater flexibility for detailed renegotiations would be necessitated by the circumstances of economic crisis and the more dynamic situations arising from transition.
  3. Political, foreign exchange and national macroeconomic risks (interest rates etc) would be exclusively borne by the public participants and corresponding contingent liabilities and hedging or insurance costs appear openly on the central balance sheets. The public institutions responsible for exchange rates and macroeconomic stability would be closely involved in understanding the financial flows and risks they are assuming and the prices they require for asuming those risks and any hedging arrangements they may be able to make separately. Both international and local private participants would not need to make separate judgments or their own hedging arrangements for particular projects but only apply the sovereign risk ratings assessed uniformly by their own trusted ratings agencies.
  4. Land use and resource management public agencies would likewise manage and appropriately price the responsibilities for land acquisition, site and regulatory risks.
  5. Design, operations, construction, completion and maintenance performance risks would be exclusively borne by the private parties directly responsible for each aspect with detailed incentives tailored to reward overperformance and penalize underperformance. They would be carefully separated according to the expected and actual costs and risks borne by the participants engaged in each aspect and related global, national and sectoral statistical indexes.
  6. Allocation of upside and downside market risks for supply of inputs and sale of outputs would be significantly more complex since the expropriation of private wealth for public investment in PPPs was made necessary by lack of profitable investment outlets in the prevailing market conditions of economic crisis. The aspect for which each private participant is responsible must be commercially viable to that participant at the low competitive rates of return prevailing under crisis conditions. But the overall project need only be value for money to the public participants based on accepting an even lower (or even negative) return on their investment in order to achieve planned economic growth and rapid recovery from mass unemployment.

Transition from Capitalism

Guest post by Arthur Dent

This article is a placeholder for an introduction to a series of articles on various aspects of economic policy to be advocated before, and implemented during, the early stages of, a transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries under various different possible scenarios.

I am nowhere near ready to write any such articles, even as tentative drafts, so I cannot write an actual introduction.

Meanwhile one of the courses I am studying to become able to write such tentative drafts is a MOOC on “Public Private Partnerships” by the World Bank. 

This requires as a final project for the policy and procedures track, publication of a “digital artefact” plus a description of the target audience in one hundred words.

I have published as my “digital artefact” the eight hundred word article on “Role of PPPs in Transition”:

The key requirement is:
Topic: Identify an infrastructure need that could be developed as a PPP. This could be a project that is in process of development, one on a country’s PPP project lists, or a need that has not been acted on. Think about the key facts or ideas you wish to convey by answering the following questions:
  • What is the infrastructure problem that the PPP is trying to solve?
  • What services are to be provided and are these services affordable?
  • What are the reasons that the private sector would want to participate?
  • How should these risks be allocated? Consider the country context in judging the risks and who should take them.”
I have identified as a “need that has not been acted on” the general paralysis of investment resulting in prolonged mass unemployment in another Great Depression worse than the 1930s following a financial crisis worse than 2008.

Such a worse financial crisis than 2008 does not seem to be entirely implausible since the last one seems to have been merely postponed rather than resolved by the extraordinary measures taken. Nor does another Great Depression worse than the 1930s seem entirely implausible following such a worse financial crisis.

The need is for all the infrastructure required to resume economic growth, not just traditional infrastructure like existing public utilities. The problem that has to be solved is that there are no profitable outlets for private investment in crisis conditions so investment must be socialized rather than left up to private investors.

This would require some form of state capitalism either as a transition back to “normal” private capitalism or as a transition away from capitalism.

The absence of any significant left in advanced capitalist countries, at least in the english speaking ones I am familiar with, makes any transition away from capitalism seem completely implausible. But then the continued absence of any significant left under the conditions of prolonged mass unemployment and economic paralysis seems even more implausible.

There are already important changes in the political climate of countries like Greece, Spain and Iceland that could become precursors of something much bigger. These countries are peripheral rather than central to the advanced capitalist world, but they are part of it and they are already facing serious economic and political crisis situations.

So I am writing for the target audience described at the end of this introduction, in the conceivable scenario described below.

The services to be provided are not traditional public utilities but the ending of prolonged mass unemployment through resumption of economic growth.

These services are affordable because prolonged mass unemployment is not affordable and both labor and capital are cheap in depression conditions. What is missing is profitability, not affordability.

The private sector would not particularly want to participate, but would not have better options available. Corporations would still want whatever contracts are available at the best returns they can competitively get for the benefit of their shareholders, whether or not some of their shares that used to belong to wealthy private individuals now belong to public institutions. Board members and senior managers who no longer wanted to participate because their incentives had been expropriated would be replaced by board members and managers willing to work for the owners, old and new, under the incentives currently being offered.

But the social system would not yet have been changed and risks and incentives would still have to be allocated in the context of an advanced capitalist country in crisis that is merely beginning a transition from capitalism, not one that has completed such a transition. So many of the same principles would have to still apply and new ones could only be understood and evolved over time.


Any transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries as a result of another Great Depression would involve:
  1. Inexperienced left governments required to urgently get the economy moving again and end mass unemployment because previous governments, whether claiming to be left or right, had been unable to do so.
  2. Some level of rapid expropriation of privately owned wealth that was immobilized by the crisis now made available for socialized investment in new fixed capital construction projects to get the economy moving again and absorb unemployment.
  3. The day after a change in government would be similar to the day before. The same social relations based on money, wage labor and capital, the same social institutions such as globalized large corporations, and national and local large, medium and small enterprises and bureaucratic government departments and agencies, and the same economic paralysis.

    To simplify things I further assume a “simple” scenario with:

  4. Expropriation narrowly targeted to take all and only the excess wealth of the top 1% of nationals.
  5. This results in substantial investment funds becoming available to governments starting transition but most of the capital in each such country would still be held privately and by foreigners.
  6. The most important capitalist countries such as the USA, China, Japan, and Germany would not be the first to start making the transition. But international financial and investment flows as well as trade continues.
  7. Many top layers of management in most social institutions would be quite hostile to transition but there are enough supporters capable of supervising or replacing them.
Some of these assumptions may not look very plausible. But advocating measures based on such a “simple” case, would place the responsibility for different policies firmly with those who might prevent the policies discussed for this scenario by resorting to the breakup of international financial investment and trade flows, and civil and international wars.

Target Audience

I am studying economics, finance and other subjects to understand how capitalism works and become able to propose economic policies for transition from capitalism in advanced capitalist countries. Currently there is no significant left movement in such countries, but I am drafting tentative ideas for a wider future audience of prospective government policy makers expected when a financial crisis like 2008 eventually becomes another Great Depression like the 1930s. They are not concerned with some specific PPP project. I am conveying one possible policy option for managing partially socialized and partially still private investment projects using PPPs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

it's too soon to bury Marx

In April last year I published a critique of Marxism, on this blog (The Core Problem With Marxism) and also on reddit, which made sense to me. There was some worthwhile discussion on the reddit thread.

My views were based on a combination of ideas, that marxism was:
  • based on an overblown idea of what science, as in "scientific socialism", could achieve, that marxism was a form of historical or dialectical determinism
  • monist (one True Way) rather than pluralist
  • based on the idea of freedom that recognised necessity
  • based on a belief that Marx / Marxists supported a fact-value dichotomy in their analysis, that facts are objective and values subjective
I went on to argue that these ideas in combination (scientism or scientific determinism + monism + necessity + fact-value dichotomy) opened the door to a deterministic-totalitarian politics in which ethics and democracy were sidelined. I acknowledged that Marx had made important (magnificent) contributions such as his analysis of Political Economy in Capital, but that the combination of the above concepts had led to an overly deterministic trend in analysing how the world worked.

What was I really on about? My thinking was that marxism wasn't doing any better than some form of pragmatic realism with a human face as developed by philosophers such as Hilary Putnam. And that other authors, moral philosophers such as Martha Nussbaum or Iris Murdoch, had done a better job of developing ethical theory than anything in Marx's writings. Marx's alleged neglect of ethics was central to my thinking here. In the reddit thread I said:
"I think we have to turn to authors who have delved deeply into ethical issues to get a handle on these questions. Not Marx but John Rawls, Hilary Putnam, Iris Murdoch, Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum would be my recommendations here"
I now think my critique was inadequate, as applied to Marx. I would now say that my critique may well be valid when applied to the "average marxist", the typical communist party / grouplet or to the practice of marxism in Stalin's Soviet Union but not valid to an understanding of Marx himself. The problem is not Marx but the average Marxist and in this particular case me being an average Marxist.

I'm interested and have been influenced by critiques of marxism by very smart people who have tried it out and had bad experiences. This includes the reflections by Hilary Putnam, Hannah Arendt and Iris Murdoch in particular. See the reference list below. I still think these authors are very smart but perhaps they are reacting more to their experiences with the average Marxist or average communist party rather than a deep understanding of Marx himself. That is the best explanation I can come up with at the moment. Marx in his own lifetime said that he was not a marxist after witnessing a dialogue between some of his supporters.

When I study other pro marxist authors such as Bertell Ollman, Patrick Murray and Terry Eagleton they argue for an interpretation of Marx which refutes my critique.

In looking back now I think it was healthy to challenge marxism in the way I did since it did apply to some of the practice and thinking, including my own at times, of those who describe themselves as marxist. But the subsequent challenge to justify my critique led me to further study of more of Marx's original writings as well as the above mentioned interpreters. In turn, this led to the realisation that my critique was based on insufficient depth of understanding of what Marx was really on about.

  • Marxism is developed by Marx as a science but his idea of science is not anything like what we regard as science today. I think Bertell Ollman argues convincingly that Marx adhered to a philosophy of internal relations and makes other points about Marx's method which are new to my understanding.
  • A theory of possible and probable historical developments through contradiction (and other methods of analysis) is not the same thing as One True Way historical determinism. There remains a larger question of whether Marxism is a monist or pluralist outlook about which I remain uncertain. For now, I still go along with Hilary Putnam's comment that emergent properties of thought (mental states) such as loving, hating, desiring, believing, judging, perceiving, hoping can't be reduced to the physical. We are stuck with this dualism. (Brentano's problem).
    "I am, then, a dualist, or, better, a pluralist. Truth, reference, justification - these are emergent, non-reducible properties of terms and statements in certain contexts. I do not mean they are not supervenient on the physical; of course they are. My dualism is one not of minds and bodies, but of physical properties and intentional properties. It does not even yield an interesting metaphysics." (Three Kinds of Scientific Realism, In Word and Life, 493)
  • Freedom is the recognition of necessity. That principle remains valid but would not be interpreted in a mechanical fashion if we get the nature of Marx's science and history right.
  • Marx never supported a fact-value dichotomy. This was more an issue that developed from Hume and the British empiricists. With Marx facts and values were built into his descriptions of society from the beginning. His ethics develop along with those descriptions. It is true that Marx was impatient with utopian socialists who focused more on the power of argument and ideas than the real social clash of material interests, that is a different issue than my incorrect allegation that Marx supported a fact-value dichotomy.
Much more needs to be said on all of these issues (the nature of science, monism / pluralism, freedom and necessity, facts and values) and other related issues.

What are the practical implications? Simply that well intentioned reform movements as developed by such admirable people as Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum ought to be supported but nevertheless are quite limited in terms of the real task of developing a movement that can effectively challenge and overthrow the real problem: capitalism.

Kerr, Bill. The Core Problem with Marxism
Weissberg, Alex. Conspiracy of Silence (1952)
Putnam, Hilary. How Not to Solve Ethical Problems (essay 12). In: Realism with a Human Face (1990)
Putnam, Hilary. Words and Life (1994)
Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. (1951)
Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution (1963)
Murdoch, Iris. Existentialists and Mystics (1997)
Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marx's Method.
Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society (1971)
Patrick Murray. Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge (1988)
Terry Eagleton. Why Marx Was Right (2011)
Nussbaum, Martha. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (2011)