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Benefits of SOPA?

This SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) conflict just emphasizes what we already know: Money touches everything. But it also suggests that the obvious solutions may actually be the most effective.

Let’s recap: “Money,” as we’ve all been taught, has no inherent worth. At one time, it represented something called “gold,” but that was back when David Bowie was doing his best Lady Gaga impression. Today, money is just shorthand, a representation of power, a centralized, somewhat-monitored method of putting time, energy, goods, and services on a level, exchangeable playing field. The E=MC2 of work, if you will. And when we allow that power to be centralized in the hands of a few, those few are going to do their darndest to keep that power intact. That’s what Darwin called the law of nature and David Bowie called “common sense.”

So if there are profits to be made, us proletariat-types have to either fight or get sucked dry. What we’re seeing with this SOPA bill is not new – it’s simply a further consolidation of power, a way of protecting an enormous investment, and really, who can blame them? We don’t live in a utopia where there’s some unseen moral arbitrator – we live in the frigging jungle where the strong survive and the weak get their heads bashed in. Lions eat deer, and if anyone feels a sense of moral outrage about that, I hope your remote mountaintop cave at least has central heating.

Since there’s no moral arbitrator, why wouldn’t the wealthy push for more power? The worst-case scenario is they fail and have to try again a few years later – scattered public acrimony being a small price to pay for immeasurable power. Remember when the courts legislated that corporations have the same rights as people? (You don’t. You weren’t alive.) There were scattered grumbles. Not many. Remember when the courts granted unlimited corporate spending in electoral politics? (You should. It was two years ago.) There were gentle foot stamps, maybe a couple of strongly-worded signs. For decades, the wealthy have cautiously usurped small amounts of power, hiding their grabs behind closed doors and silky screens. Then they got a bit bolder, testing the waters of reckless power centralization. And we did a little protesting, a little speechifying, fairly sure there was a system in place that would protect us. I mean, we’re a rational, moral country, right?

That “system” was the idea that elected members of Congress represent our interests. But let’s be real – with all that power in one place, why wouldn’t the corporations just gather the politicians under their big, luxurious umbrella? Doesn’t it make sense to invest one million dollars to get a two million dollar tax break? Today, there are 26, count ‘em, 26 lobbyists for every ONE Congressman. (And when THAT got allowed, I don’t think there was much hootin’ OR hollerin’.) Lobbyists make sense. Corporate tax codes written by the corporations they benefit make sense. Unlimited anonymous campaign contributions make sense. We have power and they have power and theirs is centralized and ours is not. This is a problem, because it makes sense for them to push and push and keep pushing.

So maybe you’ve been thinking that certain things are “basic rights” or “God-given.” Let me tell you – if there’s a cent to made or power to be grabbed, nothing is sacred. Not living wages, not torture-free meat, not clean water. We hold the line by taking our whining hats off, unwrapping our moral outrage scarves and raising up our fisticuffs. We fight back by consolidating and combining in support of common ideals. Our power will always be greater than theirs, but only when unified. That’s really the takeaway from this SOPA protest – it seems to be working. Take notes on this so we don’t forget—if we unify and look like we actually care, they back down. But we have to mean it and there has to be a lot of us… and the support of major social entities like Wikipedia doesn’t hurt. Think about it: If only we’d developed our cajones a bit sooner, maybe we wouldn’t have all these corporate people walking around…

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Brent Railey #

    You seem to place the blame only on the wealthy. I see little outrage about the real crux of the problem…the entity that has the monopoly of violence within our geographical borders: the politicians and regulators. Aka: government.

    Corporations are not inherently evil. All people (and all institutions comprised of people) are going to act in terms of their self-interest. As you said: this makes sense. This is psych 101. If they know they can buy off politicians who will then submit legislation, enact executive orders that grant near monopoly privileges, or start wars that will fill their coffers, they will do it.

    However, corporations do not have the power to create and enforce legislation. The government does. It has a monopoly here. And here is the heart of the problem.

    Democracy is not a panacea to all political ills. It works only when there is some sort of moral consistency and decency in the electorate. When the people are corrupt and/or fractured ideologically, or when they no longer respect private property and the rights of others to pursue their interest, they elect lying, theiving bastards. (And both parties are pretty much made up of such parasitic politicians…) These bastards feign interest in the causes of people while taking money forcefully confiscated to fill their own pockets and the pockets of their “friends (defined as those who payed generously into their political compaigns).

    When you have a corrupt congress, a corrupt executive, and corrupt judges, every politician’s vote is for sale to the highest bidder. This is true of the regulatory agencies as well.

    Why are CEOs paid so much now? Mostly for political influence and connections. They can win special favors from the government that grant them tax advantages and/or near monopoly privileges. They know how to use government to create regulatory atmospheres that create immense barriers of entry for competition (Like BP supporting Cap and Trade–and we all know BP is a bastion of environmental stewardship)–competition that is good for the little guy as this drives prices down. To a major corporation, this is well worth the salary and bonuses paid to their CEOs.

    It is because we have a vastly corrupt government who is for sale that we are in the stink we are in. Power has centralized too much. Power is too distants from the governed. This power hasn’t a mordicum of accountability.

    ———-

    You said, “We fight back by consolidating and combining in support of common ideals.” My question to you is this: Whose ideals and why? This much easier said than done. You being a progressive and me being a libertarian–we don’t have much in common. Add a Republican into the mix, and you have real schizophrenia.

    For example: You see corporations as the root of all evil. You see government’s monopoly of violence as a means to cure these ills and have no issue with redistributing the wealth of corporations and individuals who never took anyones’ money by force or the threat of it.

    I see corporations as making predictable choices given the regulatory and governmental interference in the market. I see government at the heart of many of the ills and problems we see. And I see no issue with massive profits–so long as they came from voluntary decisions of individuals and other institutions in the market place.

    How do we come under a single umbrella of “consolidating and combining in support of common ideals”?

    January 21, 2012
  2. Thanks for the feedback! I’ll try and stick to the issues of the post, as my larger concerns about libertarianism could fill quite a few pages. SOPA is a bill that, in its construction, benefited corporations and conglomerates at the expense of individuals, which is why I felt comfortable using the phrase “common ideals.” By that, I meant basic American freedoms we all appear to agree on (unless you’re arguing that SOPA was a good idea?). I think you’ll find that, in many instances, our “ideals” are similar, if not identical – freedom to make/keep money, safety, clean air/water, healthy, affordable food, etc… it’s the methodology we use to arrive at those ideals that often differs. As to this: “You see corporations as the root of all evil…” Question mark? I don’t see anything as the root of ALL evil, but if I had to pick something, I might go with human frailty as a viable candidate. I DO see unrestricted corporate influence as pretty silly, think corporate personhood is a joke, and think that Citizens United is one of the most idiotic Supreme Court decisions in our country’s history. Anonymous, unlimited campaign spending by corporations? Come on… America has a long history of protecting capitalism by regulating corporations, from trust-busting to minimum-wage laws, and you have to engage in some decent mental gymnastics to argue that those rulings haven’t served to strengthen our economic system. In fact, the deregulation of markets (in this country and others) almost always leads to inflation and an eradication of the middle class—which certainly weakens a capitalistic economy. For the long-view argument on this, and for a direct, substantiated refutation of this thought: “corporations and individuals who never took anyone’s money by force or the threat of it,” check out The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.

    I don’t see government as a panacea, but I do see it as the only entity powerful enough to serve as a dam against the flood of unregulated corporate consolidation. I see this as an ill, not because I hate the rich, but because it damages capitalism and erodes the middle class—something of which I’m a part. Do you know of any historical instances where complete market deregulation has led to anything but inflation and poverty? You may know more about this than me, as I haven’t found anything like that. The Friedman/Chicago-school economic worldview is widely considered to be a failure, no?

    Again, I really appreciate your comments—very thoughtful, and I hope we can get more libertarians on here!

    January 21, 2012
    • Brent Railey #

      “SOPA is a bill that, in its construction, benefited corporations and conglomerates at the expense of individuals”…

      Bingo. I wholeheartedly agree with you here. It suffices to say that this is the intended result of most regulation and legislation–as much of it is written by the lawyers of big boy corporations and fed through lobbyists to Congressmen who will take the bribe and create a bill, or it is fed to a regulatory agency and they enact a new regulation. I can go on here, but you made one point at the end of your comment that is more fundamental…

      You can see this by looking at donations to elected officials. Corporations donate to compaigns of both parties to buy allegiance.

      I seem to have overestimated your progressivism. You prefer much more of a mixed economy than I thought.

      —-

      One clarification on my view on corporations–I don’t see them as inherently good or evil, but neutral. There are a lot of them who I feel obtain their profits in illegitimate ways. The banking cartel is fraudulent to the core (most all of their profits are obtained by fraud). The military industrial complex makes its money by catering to the governments of the world. The big-pharma and big-agriculture industries thrive because the have used government to oppress their small competitors. Private schools that take public grants. etc. etc. These are expressions of crony capitalsm. The use their influence over the elected officials and unelected bureaucracies to get guaranteed revenue streams.

      Big Oil has negotiated down their maximum liability with the regulators (like with BP) in the case of a spill.

      Not all corporations are like this. There are 1000s of corporations that obtain their profits legitimately via the voluntary transactions of their private customers.

      —–

      “In fact, the deregulation of markets (in this country and others) almost always leads to inflation and an eradication of the middle class—which certainly weakens a capitalistic economy…”Do you know of any historical instances where complete market deregulation has led to anything but inflation and poverty?”

      Yes. Great Britian from 1780ish to 1900ish. The USA from 1800 to 1900. There was far less regulation and a sounder monetary system in both these countries during these periods. There was also vast increases of wealth and income during these times as well. In the US, what cost you $100 in 1800 would cost $70 in 1900. Yes, there were some booms and bust during that period (3 of them in the USA), but these were results of experiments with paper money and high levels of leverage.

      When you mention inflation, you get to the core of a lot of our issues. However, you misplace the cause of inflation. There is only one industry that can “cause” inflation: the banking industry. Inflation is purely a monetary phenomena. The institution that controls the money supply is the institution that controls whether or not there will be inflation. This is acknowledged by many economists in all camps: Marxist, Keynesian, Chicago, Supply Side, and Austrian.

      Well except for Greenbackers.

      Moreover, the bouts of hyperinflation (like Weimar, Argentina, Zimbabwe) that have taken place over the last century have resulted from excessive governmental borrowing to spend and then monetizing the debt. Essentially, the governments “printed” themselves out of debt. This resulted a drastic expansion of the money supply which then drove prices up exponentially. It was greedy government, not greedy corporations.

      Inflation is a function of the supply of money for the economy. There are other factors, but this is the big one. Only one corporation in our nation can affect the supply of money: The Federal Reserve. This is true in most modern economies.

      I am not a Friedmanite. I am an Austrian. I want to return to the days of David Bowie–with one single exception. Eliminate fractional reserve banking and central banking. This is the main cause of inflation. This allows for a $1 cash deposit to become $5 or $10 of digital notes in circulation. I’d even argue for a free market in money.

      But you are right: Mass inflation or hyperinflation does eradicate the middle class. However, the wealth is reallocated from the responsible savers who stored their wealth in assets that are denominated in currency units (like savings accounts, bonds and treasuries, whole life insurance policies, money markets, physical cash, annuities, fixed income pensions, Social Security) to the institutions who get the freshly minted money first. This is usually government via its bonds bought by the central bank.

      The only corporations that benefit are those who are favored by government and have contracts with the government. They get this new money via government spending. As this money circulates through the economy via the credit markets, the increase of supply provides a false sense of increased income. This affects demand across the board, which puts upward pressure on prices. The last people to obtain the new money are salaried and fixed income workers.

      The times in US history with the highest inflation rates were mostly times of war or shortly thereafter. (Save the late 1970s). This makes sense, because war involves massive spending and borrowing by government. This includes the Revolution (continentals), 1812, the Civil War (greenbacks), WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and the War on Terror. (Inflation hit 5% to 6% in ’05 and ’06)

      You want to end inflation and the evaporation of the middle class? End the Fed. End unbacked fiat paper/digital currencies. End fractional reserve banking. Another nice side effect: this will also be the end endless cycle of massive booms an the inevitable busts the follow.

      January 22, 2012
  3. I don’t know that you overestimated my progressivism as much as underestimated progressives, but… thanks? Again, I want to stick to the core points of the post, as my issues with Libertarianism can take loads of time (and may come up again here in the future). I certainly see flaws in our political system, but find it a bit reductionist to imagine they could be solved by the abolition of the Federal Reserve. I am sympathetic to that argument, and agree with nearly all the Founding Fathers that a country should never turn over the printing of its money to a private institution. The abolition of the Fed is a good and necessary conversation, but it distracts (here, at least) from the main point that completely unrestricted capitalism simply doesn’t work… and that’s been proven time and again. The period in America that you cite as being boom years as a result of deregulation led directly into Roosevelt’s term (after McKinley got knocked down). He promoted a platform that was good for the common man, and a HUGE part of that platform was busting up the trusts that had formed, because they were bad for the democracy and bad for the middle class. You and I both agree that corporations are morally neutral, but the end result of their very purpose is consolidation of capital and power. I argue that a society is both healthier and stronger if power isn’t contained in the hands of a few, and my argument isn’t that we should rip hard-won cash from the hands of the hardworking… my argument is that the government should be there to keep the playing field level. The government should keep money out of politics, the government should find an equitable level of market interference (this, I think, is REALLY the discussion we’re having—I see great benefit to minimum wage laws, work week limitations, etc.), and the government should work harder to represent the will of its constituents. That being said, the constituents need to work harder to understand the government.

    I actually *mostly* agree with you – Like many progressives, I think a smaller, more functional banking/government system would be better. But I don’t attribute all of inflation to the Fed’s number tinkering (inflation occurs as a result of a variety of factors, namely oversaturation of the primary mode of representational wealth – which happens to be paper money here and happens to be controlled here by the Fed/government, but would suffer from equal ills in other forms), just as I spread the blame for wealth consolidation and the middle-class dismemberment. I would really like to see this conversation happen on a national scale – I’ve been telling everyone who will listen that an Obama/Paul election would be GREAT, just because of the issues that would get discussed in a public forum. (not because I want Ron Paul to be President… but that’s another conversation…) Again, thanks for your thoughts, attention to detail and passion about this issue. It’s democratically refreshing.

    January 24, 2012

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