Referring to the link above, here are my comments on Bastani's 'FALC', after reading the whole book:
Riding the experience curve, technologies like solar cells, lithium-ion batteries, wind turbines and LEDs will mean permanently cheaper energy, ultimately not just outdoing fossil fuels but, as with information and labour, taking us beyond scarcity altogether. That is before we even develop the next generation of renewable technologies.
But as we’ve already seen, this is at odds with the essence of capitalist social relations, a system where ‘the most basic condition for economic efficiency … [is] that price equal marginal cost’ – that is, where things must be made for profit if they are to be made at all. That means one likely response to extreme supply in energy is that companies will try to make the appropriate technology artificially scarce, market rationality requiring that at some point in the commodity chain rationing (what is called excludability) has to be inserted. If that sounds bizarre, it shouldn’t. After all it was the very issue that Larry Summers wrote about in 2001, and his recommendations would ultimately inform how the entertainment industries adapted to the challenges of extreme supply with peer-to-peer distribution and file-sharing as they pursued new business models like Spotify and Netflix. As the price of energy, like labour and information, moves ever closer to zero, there too it is likely we will pay through rents rather than purchasing the good itself.
Even though the latter half of this commentary is mostly just laying-out the horizons of *capitalist*-based distribution practices, the tone still sounds *capitulatory* in its prediction that empirical capitalism will accomplish its objective of officially denoting abundance-type items (like energy or digital goods) as *rentier-type* commodities (assets that collect rent), instead of being seen as mass-production-type consumer goods rolling off an assembly line, with diminishing returns per additional identical unit.
I'll even go so far as to note that perhaps *this* is the superstructural political economic battle than we'll be in for, within the context of increasing bulk abundance over such consumer goods -- if a fully-automated factory turns formal ownership into one or more hobbyists (no employees / workers), then by what political rationale or civil right should those owners be able to make hyper-elitist profits from processes that are entirely mechanical?
In 2015 Barack Obama legislated for American companies to engage in profitable off-world resource extraction for the first time – as long as those businesses are majority owned by US nationals. For now NASA formally maintains a neutral position on the matter, but the underlying reality is quickly changing.
That was clearly expressed in a sub-committee meeting for the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation convened in May 2017. Titled ‘Reopening the American Frontier: Exploring How the Outer Space Treaty Will Impact American Commerce and Settlement in Space’, its intended purpose was to test the limits of the Outer Space Treaty and maximise opportunities for private enterprise. Most indicative of this thinking was a speech given by Scott Pace, the executive director of the US National Space Council, towards the end of that year:
It bears repeating: Outer space is not a ‘global commons,’ not the ‘common heritage of mankind,’ not ‘res communis,’ nor is it a public good … these concepts are not part of the Outer Space Treaty, and the United States has consistently taken the position that these ideas do not describe the legal status of outer space.
Here Scott Pace is summarily technocratically handing-down an *edict* on how space is to be legally, formally considered.
Space is *obviously* inherently extra-national and extra-organizational -- why *shouldn't* it be considered and used as 'the commons', contrary to the wishes of Scott Pace and the bourgeois-capitalist establishment?
In the second half of the twentieth century humanity eradicated smallpox. In the first half of the twenty-first it could eliminate thousands of genetic disorders. Forever.
But the possibilities of gene editing go beyond mitigating, and even overcoming, genetically inherited conditions which impact hundreds of millions. The genome could be re-programmed to become resistant or even immune to things like stomach flu, HIV and Alzheimer’s as well as lowering the risk for coronary heart disease, having leaner muscle and possessing stronger bones. This might all sound a little much, and before editing the human genome at scale such efforts should be subject to vigorous public debate. But how much difference is there between improving nutrition for health outcomes and optimising our biological programming? Not much – and while pursuing both is likely ideal, the second is a lot more precise.
It's a questionable comparison. I don't think the techniques of genetic editing versus *nutrition* are so readily equivalent.
Moreover, this topic really exits the *socio-political*, and is more of a scientific-*factional* difference in favored methodologies, for health. (And within the current *capitalist* social paradigm, the issue becomes one of capitalist-factional *ownership* differences.)
[T]he glaciers which feed the great rivers of the Indian subcontinent, the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and the Indus, which provide drinking water to hundreds of millions, are starting to disappear.
This is *unclear* -- if river-feeding glaciers have been *melting*, then wouldn't the rivers they feed have been *surging*, and even *flooding*, in that same time period - -?
Where has all that meltwater gone?
Ending Neoliberalism 1: The Preston Model
Two centuries ago the inventor Richard Arkwright’s home city of Preston was at the leading edge of the Second Disruption as it, like towns and cities across Lancashire, embraced the new technologies of steam-power and coal. More recently, however, Preston had become a backwater, with manufacturing going elsewhere and its early advantage in the Industrial Revolution exhausted long ago. As a result its economic future resembled that of Britain more generally, its best bet being to attract as many low-productivity, service-sector jobs as it could. That explains why, until 2011, local politicians bet the house on a proposed shopping centre, named ‘Tithebarn’, which they reckoned would create thousands of new jobs.
So when the Tithebarn project finally sank, the city’s politicians found themselves out of ideas. The truth was that the global economic crisis which started several years earlier made the development highly unlikely, no matter the wishes of local government. Premised on an economic model of retail and consumer debt, the numbers no longer made sense. Within the broader context of austerity and spending cuts, imposed most harshly on local government, prospects for Preston’s economy appeared bleaker than ever.
But then something surprising happened, with Preston turning what seemed like a terminal setback into an opportunity. It did so by taking inspiration from the US city of Cleveland and its own response to similar problems it faced a few years earlier. There the response to a budgetary crisis had been heterodox and unprecedented, with local government refusing the default medicine of privatisation and outsourcing – focusing instead on energising the city’s economy through the procurement of ‘anchor institutions’ like schools, hospitals and universities. In time it proved a success, so much so that the approach came to be titled the ‘Cleveland Model’.
Its adoption in Preston, relatively unique in the context of the UK, provided the most unexpected of triumphs. Working with the Manchester-based Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES), Preston Council approached the town’s anchor institutions in 2011 proposing to redirect as much of their spending as possible back into the local economy. Six agreed to participate. This cooperative effort between civic and public institutions meant that locally focused contracts covered everything from school lunches to large-scale construction projects. All of this meant that while local anchor institutions spent £38 million in Preston in 2013, and £292 million in Lancashire, by 2017 those figures had increased to £111 million and £486 million respectively. While that alone was impressive, even it fails to illustrate the extent of change that locally focused procurement achieved, with a multiplier effect taking off in the city as pounds continually recirculated throughout the local economy. That meant that while real wages for workers in Central Lancashire fell after 2008, much as they did across Britain, in Preston – despite austerity – they actually went up.
Where other authorities privatised, Preston grew its own businesses, even encouraging worker-owned cooperatives. In late 2016 the city was chosen as the best place to live and work in the north-west, ahead of Manchester and Liverpool. Two years later it took the accolade of being Britain’s most improved city.
Replicating the Preston Model is the first step in building an economic alternative that breaks with neoliberalism without needing national state power. Despite being delivered in local contexts, the consequences of that would be significant.
While breaking with the neoliberal economic paradigm is certainly a plus within the reigning context of capitalism, too much worker-based localism -- eschewing a collectively conscious *workers state* over all social production -- would be inadequate and *counterproductive* in the long run since there'd be no viable path from pan-localism to a full worldwide proletarian revolution, to usurp capitalism once and for all.
Bastani's typically localist / anarchist / libertarian political mindset inherently eschews *centralization* -- which itself confers the political hegemony necessary to overthrow bourgeois rule *decisively*, anywhere and everywhere. That said, revolutionary socialism certainly doesn't have to be top-down, but instead can be bottom-up and cooperative over increasingly centralized geographic terrain, as depicted in the following illustration of mine:
Multi-Tiered System of Productive and Consumptive Zones for a Post-Capitalist Political Economy
People’s Businesses, People’s Banks
Much of this won’t be possible without access to credit, with difficulty in accessing finance widely accepted as the single biggest hurdle for cooperatives and worker-owned businesses.
These firms tend to suffer from limited access to long-term finance in capitalist economies, with conventional institutions sceptical of lending to businesses over which they have no control. This lack of support leads to underinvestment and a tendency to buckle during moments of financial stress, making cooperative businesses susceptible to acquisition by larger non-worker-owned ones who can access credit more easily. This explains why, despite their ‘static’ productivity advantages over conventional organisations, over longer periods worker-owned businesses are structurally handicapped – which explains why they presently comprise such a small part of the economy.
Any of the larger national banks – who hold around 80 per cent of deposits in the UK – would prefer to lend £10 million to a single large business than £50,000 to two hundred smaller ones. So if we want to move away from economies based on oligopoly and capital flight, creating a network of local banks and credit unions will be of paramount importance.
This, unfortunately, is ultimately economically *reformist* since it's not politically *challenging* the rule of capital. Any kind of reformism -- like parliamentarism itself -- thinks that it can get to socialism one baby step at a time, through increasingly bold measures that will eventually 'undo' bourgeois rule while playing by capitalism's own rules.
This is *not* how the world works and is incredibly *naive* as an approach to bring about socialism.
Here too a greater focus on the public sector provides part of the solution, with the large pension funds of these same anchor institutions offering more than sufficient capital to start. While Britain’s unions rightly resist austerity at the national level, they have around £200 billion of their members’ money invested in pensions. By putting this in local development banks, they could not only create more jobs but also ensure better returns for their members. Of course, profit wouldn’t be the bottom line, but as John Clancy has written, their returns from investments in overseas equities often prove distinctly underwhelming, which means funds are actively looking for more sustainable and, if necessary, local investments.
If inevitable imperialist overseas investments unsurprisingly turn out to be *insufficient* to avert the ongoing crisis of capital, then we have to consider that this will be the inescapable situation whether businesses are conventional, *or* worker-owned.
Localism itself isn't a panacea for capitalism -- the final yardstick is that of *profit-making* and competitiveness in the law-of-the-jungle capitalist marketplace. A worker-owned business, in the long-term, will only be able to attract new flows of capital investment by exploiting labor -- the workers-owners themselves -- or else will face bankruptcy, just like any other company.
Bastani, while claiming to be a communist, is here proposing the neoliberal-type *raiding* of pension funds, all for the sake of shifting capitalist operations to a more-*local* scale, which introduces the dynamic of duplication-of-effort overall by forfeiting existing efficiencies-of-scale.
In keeping with the new ethos of municipal protectionism, these banks would be similarly restricted in their lending both by amount and geographical area. What is more, their remit would be to maximise social value as well as returns, focusing on energy transition and accelerating specific sectors as well as financing a new wave of worker-owned business.
As usual, the line of a less-than-fully-socialist politics flounders on wishful thinking and a myopic inattention to matters of *scale* -- capitalism can't simply be 'restarted' like a computer, to arbitrarily return social conditions to those of the 1500s -- I think the likes of Amazon and Chase would raise an objection here, both economically and politically.
Exactly *where* would such a 'municipal protectionism' even *come from* -- ? Should proletarian revolutionaries all over the world really commit to a global general strike, only to then hand power over to countless localist 'municipal protectorates' for the sake of a workerist restarting of *capitalist* social relations, just at an increasingly *balkanized* / subdivided geographic layout -- ? What would be the *point* of that, really?
The positive benefits of growing the cooperative and worker-owned economy are well documented, from helping deal with low productivity to under-investment in small and medium-sized enterprises – not to mention reducing economic and regional inequality. Most importantly, however, within the context of the Third Disruption they offer a practical means by which society can navigate the forward march of automation and, ultimately, artificial intelligence. Despite the immense challenges of both, there is a political solution to a world where labour may well become capital: giving the means of production to workers themselves.
This last statement *sounds* good, but it's intentionally *vague* -- under what circumstances, conceivably, would the means of mass industrial production simply be *given* by private ownership, to the workers of those various industries -- ?
And, *with* control of the means of mass industrial production, what social organization / structure, exactly, would the workers use, according to Bastani's politics -- ? It would be that of subdivided, private-property-like *localist* control, begging the question of how the localities of such a balkanized social layout would *interrelate* economically, as for supply chains and the production of the complex goods of today, like for cars and computers.
Certainly not every locality / municipality should *have* to locally make their *own* cars and computers, when the world has already attained the productive prowess for such by using mass, centralized, corporate-type social structures of production that can each supply consumers of one or more *continents* with its respective output. Devolving from present-day capacities would make the *new* mode of production *uncompetitive* in relation to today's material productivity, as crisis-ridden as it is.
In addition to this network of local banks, central government would create national and regional investment bodies to fund not only businesses but also key infrastructure that delivers social returns – be it reducing emissions or purchasing fixed capital that allows worker-owned enterprises to make more with less. As we’ll see in the next chapter this, alongside dramatic changes to the remit of national central banks, will mean a transformed role for finance in the economy.
Sure, I don't doubt that a new, resurgent ethos of localism could bring about a worldwide implementation of 'municipal protectionism' (Bastani's term), but what's more to the point is Is-this-the-ethos-that-we-should-want.
Why should worker-controlled local factories need to 'purchase fixed capital' -- ? Wouldn't inter-cooperative worker-controlled factories have enough solidarity to then begin producing for *human need*, rather than for the sake of continued *exchange values* -- ?
My position is that exchange values need to be *abolished* as quickly as possible, and this would be doable with a globally *centralized* mass proletarian movement that usurps bourgeois hegemony altogether, and with it the objective need for capital. While technology can play a great role in all of this it can't *substitute* for the worldwide workers' best empirical interests, meaning collective control of their own / our own labor-power.
Ironically / counterintuitively, Bastani apes the technological determinism line of today's tech elites, by focusing so much on artificial intelligence, to the detriment of the working class' own internal cohesion and collective social self-determination. By putting AI at the 'finish line' of any political struggle Bastani *does* acquiesce to a technological-determinist line, unfortunately.
Beyond highlighting the fact that the decisions of central banks are themselves deeply political, the goal for those pursuing FALC should be to openly champion political banking. Rather than joining the cries of ‘end the Fed’, a phrase heard with increasing regularity on the libertarian right, the response should be the opposite: to demand that the intentional, conscious planning at the heart of modern capitalism be repurposed to socially useful ends rather than socially destructive ones. That the Bank of England and US Federal Reserve share numerous characteristics with the Soviet Gosplan should be the basis for political hopes rather than lamented as obstructing the mythical operation of a ‘truly’ free market. Such a thing has never existed, nor can it.
Yes, economics needs to be consciously, collectively politicized, but, *no*, we don't need to use capitalism's received method of *exchange values* as a continued means of material accounting.
The single greatest objection to any imaginable system of exchanges, as with commune-to-commune *bartering*, is that such *still* enables *exchange values*, implicitly. 'Commune A', for example, could simply hold-out from immediately bartering a basket of goods that it locally produced, in order to find a *better* offer, perhaps from 'Commune C', instead of just going with the default neighboring 'Commune B', for a *lesser* basket of goods in turn, by comparison.
These respective ratios of tangible goods for tangible goods, then, *is* still commodity production, even if no currency has to be exchanged for such.
Rather than industrial national monoliths being lauded as the archetype of economic efficiency, the authors argued for a completely different kind of socialism declaring, ‘The role of the owner-state should be separated from the state as an authority in charge of administration … (enterprises) have to become separated not only from the state in its wider role but also from one another.’
I've found this formulation to be too problematic to be considered as a feasible approach to implementing genuine global socialism -- it sounds too similar to the pre-civil-rights-movement racist segregationist 'separate but equal' principle. If localist productive entities are all balkanized / subdivided from all others then one's commune necessarily becomes one's world because there are no guarantees or rights to moving freely to *other* communes.
Really, this so-called 'market socialist' approach resembles backwards *feudalism* more than its advocates would like to admit. Sure, I have no doubt that localist, geographically *bounded* communes could each be self-sufficient for the basics of life and living, but any and all inter-communal *interconnections* would not be built-in to the socialist / sociopolitical *infrastructure* -- instead each bubble of localist "socialism" would fall back to using commodity production and market relations for any and all possible scaling-up of (inter-communal) relations, with each localist commune *constraining* itself by default to its own environs. That hyper-balkanized landscape would not be any better, nor equal-to, the international relations of trade that capitalism enables, though politically curtailed and threatened these days under Trump.
For their critics this was worryingly reminiscent of capitalism and production for profit.
Yet this is effectively what the cooperatives and worker-owned businesses, bootstrapped under the municipal protectionism outlined in the previous chapter, would look like. With the introduction of UBS and a historic intervention in decarbonising the economy, these kinds of enterprise could rapidly become the backbone of economies across the Global North and South. But worker ownership will need socialised finance, with credit explicitly favouring businesses and cooperatives whose objectives extend beyond just profit.
Wishful thinking aside, the capitalist market does *not* operate this way, rewarding workplace workers ownership by dint of their being workers in control of their own workplaces. To suggest that by-default rapacious capitalism can be mitigated by an imagined proletarian-beneficient state / administration is the very *definition* of reformism, or liberalism.
Note that Bastani is not arguing for an explicitly *workers* state, meaning that this 'enlightened' state formulation of his would be institutionally *separate* from the workers and the world of labor -- it would, by formulation, necessarily be a professional, specialized *bureaucracy* of institutionalized state-administrators with their *own* distinctly separate caste interests for the *propagation* of their bureaucracy, into the future. This, then, is *not* a description of socialism.
As a result, national investment banks – alongside municipal banks and NEIBs – will need to be founded, their role being to specifically amplify extreme supply, underpin UBS and ameliorate the five crises.
So then this is labor *exploitation* all over again -- if an area of workers put their foot down and declare that they don't want to have to work for the provision of 'extreme supply', as stated by the bureaucracy, then this scenario reveals an underlying class-like difference of respective *structural* interests. There is nothing to guarantee a pooling of shared productive objectives between the professional bureaucratic administration, and the interests of the workforce -- two distinctly separate groups within this non-socialist formulation of society.
If, for example, the professional administration one day says 'We're not going to put any more funds towards the UBS, and instead we're going to reallocate those monies to the buildup of a *garrison* state so as to better-socially-entrench our commune against all others', there'd be nothing that the workers could do about it, short of a second revolution to displace this new ruling bureaucratic caste in favor of something better.
These two trends – of deflationary prices in the market economy and production of more free things in its non-market equivalent – will ultimately render GDP irrelevant as a means to measure people’s quality of life, especially once the post-capitalist state accelerates such tendencies. That, alongside the implementation of UBS, means GDP will only deteriorate as a significant measure of anything, as limited as it already was. What is more it will fail to calculate those things that matter most in the context of the five crises, including atmospheric CO2, the health and lifespan of the elderly, environmental degradation, access to clean air and drinking water, mental wellbeing and work that is socially and emotionally satisfying.
Which is why the post-capitalist state would move towards an ‘Abundance index’ accounting for all of this, while integrating the emerging economic model of ever fewer things paid for with money. Initially such an index would integrate CO2 emissions, energy efficiency, the falling cost of energy, resources and labour, the extent to which UBS had been delivered, leisure time (time not in paid employment), health and lifespan, and self-reported happiness. Such a composite measure, no doubt adapted to a variety of regional and cultural differences, would be how we assess the performance of post-capitalist economies in the passage to FALC. This would be a scorecard for social progress assessing how successful the Third Disruption is in serving the common good.
Sure, the post-labor paradigm is to be *welcomed*, but, under Bastani's approach here, there would still be a clear *dichotomy* between exchange-value, and social value.
I counterpose, as a matter of line / principle, that all exchange values / money should be abolished *immediately*, so as to relieve post-capitalist society of the exchange-value realm altogether, in favor of a societal approach that can accommodate both real-world material *availabilities*, as well as prevailing social-type *valuations* for the same, as with clean air and an unpolluted environment, as well as collective material infrastructure.
I'll ask the reader to note / acknowledge that these two socially enlightened goals are inherently *trade-offs* to one another -- if environmental 'externalities' are ignored then mass industrial production would enjoy being *unfettered*, but at the cost of damage to the natural environment as well as workers' well-being, pre-automation. And, vice-versa, if nature would be allowed to go fully undisturbed we would destroy our own humanity in the process by not altering the landscape in any human-beneficial ways for fear of compromising the pre-existing natural world in one way or another.
*All* post-revolution models / proposals come up short on this aspect of populistically balancing natural usage with natural preservation, under a pro-social, systematic, equitable universal policy -- except for my own:
communist supply & demand -- Model of Material Factors
https://www.revleft.space/vb/threads/20 ... ost2889338
In brief, this 'labor credits' model begins with a social basis of the worldwide communistic gift economy, for fulfilling unmet human need. If liberated-labor is organically *lacking* for any given socially-necessary work role, the medium of *labor credits* may be used from one liberated-laborer to the next, to standardize a measurement across all, varying work roles, per hour.
What this *means* is that there is *no commodification* of any resulting goods since goods are *not* allocated or distributed whatsoever by any system of exchange values, since money and all exchange values will have been *abolished* by the global proletarian revolution and are not required by this 'labor credits' model. All goods are distributed on the basis of *unmet human need*, which is determined (and transparently publicly available) by people's daily self-prioritized (#1, #2, #3, etc.) demands lists, mass-aggregated by rank position using a computer's sort function.
So there is a 'gap', or *synapse*, between objective necessarily-organic supply and objective necessarily-organic demand, with information between the two domains flowing freely, with various proposed plans publicly available and modifiable by anyone for the provisioning of any and all liberated-production equipment (factories).
I'll remind that there's an inherent *constraint* on any system of conventional abstracted values (money / currency / exchange values) -- that being that the totality of all abstracted values *must* correspond to the totality of all goods and services that are available, and both must correspond to the totality of human labor used in the *production* of that total pool of goods and services:
Pies Must Line Up