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    a slam dunk..., 2008-08-05 09:01:53 | Main | don't confuse us with the facts..., 2008-08-09 09:54:00

    misallocated predicates:

    I see James Galbraith has a new book out, titled after this old column, "The Predator State: Insert Obligatory Subtitle". I guess this would dovetail nicely with the three books I've already got open, but the obligatory subtitle gives pause: "How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too".

    For one, two of said three books are From Mutual Aid to Welfare State and Slavery By Another Name, covering overlapping periods around the turn of the century, suggest on the large scale of 20th century history there's not been much abandonment going on. Conservatives haven't much claim to having ever embraced free markets - the embrace of particular pieces of parchment notwithstanding their apparently never having read them.

    From Mutual Aid covers the period in which fraternal societies with awesome names (the: Ancient Order of Foresters; Independent Order of Odd Fellows; Canonical Association of Strangers) were able to provide health insurance and sundry benefits to their broad memberships, undercutting private insurance and driving down prices for medical care, to only find themselves regulated out of the market in 1913 by the combined interests of organized medical professionals and private insurance companies, with the largest fraternal societies joining to lock out smaller competitors in order to save their own necks. The same forces combine again to defeat the first major effort to legislate mandates for health insurance - universal healthcare, that is - in 1919. The basic gist being that cost-raising doctors' associations and private insurers managed to protect their own interests and cut out smaller, innovative health insurance providers by writing and lobbying for regulatory statutes that defacto protected them from - the author argues - otherwise healthy competition. Later, the remaining benefit societies would be driven out of the market altogether by welfare state coverage for their low income members. Having already signed themselves off to oblivion, oblivion was thus entered. As Gabriel Kolko laid out so well many years ago, this kind of predatory formulation of regulatory regimes is a familiar story: raise the bar to market entry, socialize the costs of entry into new markets, call it progress. With respect to health insurance it's easy to conclude - in comparison to our neighbors' nationalized regimes or some imagined system (one for the record: "this hospital has passed from one corporate owner to another, like a drunken sorority chick pulling a train") of modern mutual aid - that we ended up with the worst of possible alternatives.

    Slavery by Another Name's relevance probably goes without saying, but obviously: if your justice system recaptures emancipated slaves on trumped up charges, and farms their labor out to private interests for fun, profit, and political repression from the end of Reconstruction straight through the Gilded, Progressive, and New Deal eras to the Civil Rights movement, it may well be that you have one of these predatory states operating in your vicinity. If you should find yourself in such unsavory circumstances, the best solution may be to emmigrate, but not to here! So there you are then, back in chains. God bless America.

    Since at least the beginning of the last century and perhaps their invention, "free markets" - defined just about however your particular ideology cares to define them - are rather a moot point. In this brief review of the literature it's easy to conclude that nobody who believed in them - liberal or conservative - ever successfully defended a "free market" from its greatest enemy: the given market actor with the greatest political leverage. The term is at best an archaic oxymoron, at worst a slander against those fine occasions when some combination of human institutions succeed in some strange way to produce - let us arbitrarily describe as - exchanges of mutually beneficial net value. On the other hand, the phrase offers an irresistible freeride on a century's worth of propaganda efforts.

    Which, if I'm not mistaken, is why "Why Liberals Should Too" may be malallocated rhetoric. Unless Galbraith actually wants to abolish markets altogether. That'd be very ungalbraithian of him, to say the least. Whatever it is, call it "free" and you unfail. "Free planning", perhaps?

    If you stack some more current texts onto the pile - a poorly written but nevertheless rewarding Free Lunch, or a Conservative Nanny State - one sees a certain continuity between past and present practice. It's fashionable in some circles to complain of a new Gilded Age and yearn for a new Progressive Era, but here we have the worst of both worlds, entrenching politically-connected interests and fossilizing a hypothetically dynamic society. The obvious Galbraithianism would be to yearn for a return to the Golden Era of our post-war mixed economy, when a confluence of interests and pressures combined to form a certain variety of lubricant for the gears of arbitration between old and new actors - chewing up third world corpses in the beak of a mighty industrial octopus on one end and pumping out a bewildering social revolution from the other.

    But to answer the question, while I do rather like this "predator state" neologism I'm not sure if there's any good reason to keep reading along with this script. Not, anyway, with a row of fascinating looking books on the history of forest management sitting in front of me.

:: posted by buermann @ 2008-08-08 17:04:46 CST | link

      Forestry management. When the onions are restless, I read Wendell Berry essays to them, and when I do that, I consider how much of The Answer to apparently intractable problems has already been addressed.

    posted by Zomg @ 2008-08-08 19:24:34 | link

      Would you send me your reading list?

    posted by Zomg @ 2008-08-08 19:25:31 | link

      It's a random grab bag: a hyper-exuberant pean to Pacific Northwest clear cutting called "Sawdust Empire", by Howard Brier; Thomas D. Clark's "The Greening of the South"; an official history on the US Forest Service, "The US Forest Service, A History" by Harold Steen; and Alston Chase's "In a Dark Wood" - he wrote a graph on the unibomber years ago that was pretty good.

      I believe there's another random bit of piece work that's still on backorder, that I don't recall the name of, and another I ran across reference to that focused on the upper midwest that I still need to track down, if I can remember what it was I saw reference to.

    posted by buermann @ 2008-08-08 21:31:57 | link

      I'm such an incredibly organized self-actualization of the word frump.

    posted by buermann @ 2008-08-08 21:34:15 | link

    go ahead, express that vague notion

    your turing test:

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