Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Anarchism and The State

The state is a central concept in the political philosophy of Anarchism. Anarchism is often defined as being an anti-state ideology. While this is sometimes a useful way to distinguish anarchists from other state socialists it also leads to a fair bit of confusion. We will look at the source of this confusion with the aim of showing that anarchism is in its essence opposed to rulers and is not a naive or idealistic form of anti-statism.

What is the State

Anarchism emerges in Western Europe, in the dark times of the mid to late 1800s. The state is, at this time, of a quite brutal character. The welfare state is almost entirely absent. The institutions that exist are almost entirely either military in character (the police often not being distinguished from the military) or designed to adjudicate conflicts amongst the rich. While there were parliaments and courts, they served a function which is perhaps best described by James Madison:

Landholders ought to have a share in the government, to support these invaluable interests, and to balance and check the other. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.

Here we see expressed in no uncertain terms the role of the state as seen by the ruling class in this period. It is therefore not surprising that the content of anarchist writing in this period is preoccupied with the elimination of the state. In this context, anti-statism is clearly an opposition to an institution whose purpose is to stop the majority from having a fair share in society.

The form of the state, has however, not stood still. The massive wave of socialism that occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s had a transformative effect. The state found itself in a position where it had to change character in order to ensure its very survival against a revolution of the majority. Republics were made more democratic, institutions were made more egalitarian, and the welfare state was created.

This transformation, which can perhaps be called the rise of Social Democracy has important implications as to how we conceive the state. The state of the early anarchists really is largely concerned with the coercive arm of the modern state. This view of the early socialists is summed up nicely by Engels:

Further, in most historical states the rights conceded to citizens are graded on a property basis, whereby it is directly admitted that the state is an organization for the protection of the possessing class against the non-possessing class.

The state, as describe here, is nothing more than a "special coercive force" (also Engels) meant to keep the majority from power. Anarchists generally share Madison and Engels view of the state.

A Difference without a Distinction?

Anarchists want a radical restructuring of society along democratic lines, a democratisation of all organs of governance and importantly the productive forces of society. Because Anarchists speak favourably of democratic polity, or self governance, we are sometimes accused of playing linguistic games when we say we are opposed to the state. Yet the distinction between self-governance and the state is not arbitrary. It is a useful analytic tool that allows us to differentiate two very different states of affairs (if you'll excuse the pun).

Weber, famously described the state as a "monopoly of violence". In fact the monopoly on violence being held collectively by a population in order to protect themselves is not something that should be opposed. Indeed the Anarchists during the Spanish revolution were not willing to allow the fascists to run about with armed forces in Madrid and Catalonia. This is hardly surprising, but it has sometimes been used to show that anarchists are actually statists. Under this definition of statism, they in fact would have to be classified as such.

This description of the state, is however of almost no value at all. The types of situation that fit "statelessness" in this description of the state are places like Iceland in 1000 or recent Somalia. They tend to be enormously violent, and are not generally considered desirable by anyone (save some really strange Anarcho-Capitalist types).

Anarchists are not opposed to the wielding of power as long as it is done collectively, with an absence of a ruling class, and in an inclusive society. The definition of state as given by Engels lets us clearly distinguish a situation in which we [the working class] are collectively guiding the development of society, from a situation of tyranny, guided by a limited "opulent" minority.

The many forms of state socialism are without this analytic distinction, and to their great detriment. They find themselves unable to distinguish the seizure of the coercive arm of the state by a cadre of self described socialists who then declare a workers state, from the real development of a free inclusive and socialist self rule.

The anarchist definition of the state is therefore concerned with the functionality. If it is democratic, inclusive, accumulation has been abolished and the productive forces are wielded democratically, it is a system of self-governance. If it is not, it is still a state.

What Lies Beyond

The state in modern form is no longer merely a coercive force intent on guarding the accumulation of the wealthy, and the institutions that they hold. It is far more democratic now than it was in the past, and has all sorts of auxiliary institutions that serve the interests of the majority including everything from mass transit to the dole.

So when anarchists say they want to eliminate the state, what can they mean? Are they intent on destroying our social welfare programs? Is the military industrial complex and health care all in the same class, both being equally reprehensible? Such an analysis would rightly be viewed as absurd by most people.

The mechanism of transformation of the early republics towards social democracy in the 20th century was largely the result of the majority of people organising in unions and other mass organisations and forcing concessions from the state. They fought, through strike and other means, for the franchise, democracy, the 8 hour day, the 40 hour week, the social programs that we know today and many things besides.

It is this expression of our own power, a power of people when organised amongst themselves that we are able to build the institutions of the new society. The mass movement of people, in opposition to the ruling class, is both the means and the ends. It is not just the mechanism by which democracy will come into being, it is itself inchoate democracy. The softening of the state was a transformation wrought by this power.

The knowledge of self-organisation, of how to cooperate amongst ourselves, has been heavily eroded since the 1970s. Indeed, we face a situation where the state hopes to recede from the costly social welfare programs that were necessary concessions in former times. Times in which radical unions and a strong working class were present. It may succeed in doing so if the populace finds itself unable to muster forces.

What Might We Do?

It is imperative that we work to ensure that we don't lose further ground, but push forward until the state is truly laid to rest for good. Concretely, this should mean retaking or remaking organisations that represent us in such that they reflect the things that matter to us now.

Democratic reforms were a big part of what socialists called for in the early part of last century. As those were given, the call for democracy receded into the background, while calls for wages remained.

While clearly many people among the working poor, which constitutes up to a 1/3 of the population, are concerned with wages, as they should be, many wage earners are fairly comfortable. Instead, they are worried about other issues, such as official corruption, education, the environment and human rights. Recognising this change is important if we are to find a way to cooperate with each other to move forward.

The most powerful tool that we as wage earners posses is our work. We are able to withdraw our labour. If we want to see a real impact on areas such as human rights and the environment, we should not look to the ruling class to do it for us. We should not focus our time on appeals to justice, to a ruling class which have shown themselves fixated on war and hardly lift a finger for the environment.

Instead we should be using the power we have to ensure that it takes place. If a company is polluting, its employees could bring it to a halt. If a company is supplying arms or material assistance to those who violate rights, they can be brought to account. In other words, democratic assemblies of workers can help to bring about the changes we want to see, and in doing so, make the society itself more democratic.

It is up to ourselves to create these organs, or to transform what exists already into a form that this is possible. If we don't do it ourselves, it will not be done.

Where we are

The Irish political landscape is dominated by three political parties. Of the three political parties only the Labour party purports to anything approaching an ideological stance and this is quite weak and malleable. Instead the political establishment functions on a sort of patronage system. Politicians function essentially as technocrats, attempting to maximise their outcomes in elections. In practice this comes down to a simple calculation: who is capable of giving the most support or trouble and what do they want. The end outcome of this is that the largest monetary interests can quickly dominate political decisions.

The current economic situation in Ireland is bleak. Between 80 and 90 billion euro are expected to be poured into a failing banking sector. This sector which experienced a huge boom during the years of the Celtic Tiger, now has its losses being covered by public funds. Due to this huge transfer of wealth from public to private hands, the Irish Republic's credit rating was downgraded from AA to AA- reflecting the fear of even greater spending on the banks.

The crisis results from a chain of events going back to the early 1990s. During this period the Irish government took a policy of creating conditions extremely favourable to foreign direct investment. This included extremely low corporate taxes and very lax financial regulations. This policy had the intended affect of increasing foreign direct investment, especially from US and UK companies.

By the late 1990s the success of this policy had caused immigration to climb and emigration to decline to the extent that the net population was increasing [1]. At the same time, land in Ireland was monopolised by a fairly small number of wealthy landowners and this conspired with rising demand to produce a housing price boom. While some measures were taken in terms of tax restructuring, the political establishment, being beholden to the immediate economic interests of their patrons, did little to change the course. The ability to allocate land development by County Councillors became a valuable asset and helped reinforce the interest in political sponsorship by developers and bankers.

By 2001 the Foreign Direct Investment cooled as a result of the Dotcom crash [2] and by 2005 was strongly negative. The property market became the most desirable place to invest funds and not just for the extremely wealthy. The professional classes and those who made significant enough incomes to obtain bank loans also attempted to cash in on the fantastic rise in property prices. The fact that the wealthy, the intelligentsia and the professionals had, themselves, largely become invested in property meant that all parties had an interest in a rise in property price value.

Of course it is now well known that the meteoric rise in property prices was a bubble, leading to the current situation where there are over 300,000 [3] unoccupied houses and where the housing market has collapsed with prices falling by about 40% with no sign of abating. Of course, other industries of importance exist in Ireland outside of property: everything from medical devices and pharmaceuticals to airlines. Some of the very richest have even managed to maintain their fortunes by having diverse assets in countries less affected by the decline. However, the richest 250 in Ireland lost €43.7 billion to make their total worth approximately €41.7 billion [4]. This is, by any measure, a rather staggering loss.

The wealthiest have quite predictably focused on retaining the value that they have left. The National Assets Management Association (NAMA) is part of this strategy, as it not only helps failing banks to move rapidly falling assets off the books, it also avoids a glut of property entering the market all at once as the result of bankrupt banks. Raising the funds necessary for the bank bailouts requires massive cuts to the public budget which would attack services, wages and jobs. The programme has been widely sold as being a necessary social cost with such slogans as "we are all in this together".

The real opportunities for the rich in Ireland to jump-start the economy are, in fact, quite limited. Talks of Keynesian programmes, regardless of whether they are desirable, are completely infeasible. The domestic economy is simply too small. The banks are beholden to foreign bond investors and there is no local currency which can be devalued to fund such an endeavour. This means that the only feasible line of action is falling in line with international investors and the European banks, specifically the Germans. Practically this means a programme of austerity. With the continuing need for bank bailouts, the realisation that the property market has not ceased to sink and the ever increasing dole queues - This austerity programme will have to be quite deep indeed.

At the same time the political establishment which supports the extremely wealthy has become quite brittle. In the polls, the political fortunes have wavered wildly. For a short time the Labour party was the largest party in Ireland, an historic first, only to recede again. A poll conducted by the Sunday Independent showed that 51% of respondents said that a new political party is needed in Ireland [5]. Clearly there is discontent, but none of the political parties can make a strong case for a better direction then the one already being carried out.

Where we want to be

Our task is to create a new inclusive and democratic approach to politics which eliminates gross economic inequalities. This approach must provide us with the tools to deal with the global environmental problems. It will require an egalitarian system with a scale capable of dealing with the scale of our environmental and economic problems. A social system which scales from the very local to the global with the principle that each decision be made at the most local competent authority for that decision. In the immediate term it is too difficult to tell concretely how such a thing will be carried out as it is both too far in the future and we have not had sufficient success at a smaller scale to know what will be possible. But we must keep this vision in mind in order to know at least the vague direction in which we are to move.

Working backward

Working backward from this end goal to what might plausibly proceed it, it is evident that such a restructuring will require a region with sufficient economic muscle to avoid being decimated by the whims of international markets. The region will need the strength to display some level of leverage over other players who do not share the same vision. The possibility of a simultaneous world restructuring is just too far fetched to be believable. It will necessarily happen in stages of unfolding - even if it happens quite quickly.

From our perspective, being in Europe, it is most sensible to focus on the European region, with an eye to changing this first and quickly extending it to those movements most parallel in the global south. We therefor need to aim to at least capture the imagination of Europe and use this as a base from which to move forward. Moving beyond Europe will require a very international vision embedded deep within the project such that the movement is not retarded by Euro-centric currents. The concepts of human rights, anti-war sentiment and the environment, all of which are necessarily global, are the principles most likely to engender such a world encompassing view.

The project of a popular democratic and egalitarian restructuring of Europe is an old one. However, some things have changed in our favour. The European state, while weak, creates an apparatus which we can use as a locus. It is a point on which demands can be placed, and it represents the most likely organ through which any concerted effort by the European wealthy to stop a popular progressive movement will be exercised. Already legal battles against workers are being elevated to the EU institutions, a move which seeks to avoid the inconveniences presented by the more democratic and less technocratic national political systems and to avoid coming into conflict with national movements.

A concerted attempt to remove the reins from the European elite, however, can not yet be done as the idea to do so is not yet present in the general population. An alternative European vision has not been offered and not many practical steps have been made in this direction.

European level solidarity for trade unions has been far and few between. This is partially because of the very different legal climates in which they operate and partly because a lack of vision. In fact the activist alter-globalisation movements have been much more international in both vision and practice.

In Ireland the unions have been in retreat since around the time of Thatcher. The steady decline of industrial action in Ireland has been very marked culminating in a near total stop by the early 90s [6]. At the same time the density of the unions in the work place has declined and shifted quite heavily to the regions most easy to organise, especially the public sector.

In our immediate period, in Ireland with unemployment at 13% and rising, unions become a generally less powerful option. The fear of joblessness and imminent replaceability make fights against employers difficult to impossible to carry out effectively. A one legged focus on the unions in a down-turn is unlikely to reap much in the way of immediate benefits. As such there is a need for a broader approach.

Our tasks

The process of the decaying legitimacy of the Irish political establishment will have some endpoint. This will result either in a re-establishment of legitimacy after some time or the displacement with some new constellation of ideas and foci of power. Ideally we would use this time to promote a new current within the intelligentsia which would promote an agenda of equality - rather than allow this vacuum to be filled with other ideas.

A recent poll by TASC showed that 87% of the people surveyed believed there was too much economic inequality in Ireland. Nearly half believed that there should be a maximum wage. Such revelations are quite shocking when one thinks about how dominant the current economic programme is imagined to be.

In order to make a progressive movement successful in Ireland, it will be necessary to achieve some concessions. In order to capture the national imagination, they will have to be national in scale. While a fight in the trade unions can stave off wage decreases it has proved to result in very little support outside of the trade unions, which no longer carry the sort of general legitimacy in the population that they once did. While the trade unions will be a necessary ally and therefore need to be convinced of any programme to move forward, we will need a broader scale for a successful movement on the scale of Ireland. The alternatives would be to both reduce unemployment and increase union density significantly or to change perceptions of the trade unions in the general population. Those later alternatives are likely to be larger hurdles.

The wealthy can not avoid attacking the conditions of the majority of the population if they are to protect their winnings and there are few financial solutions to our predicament: we are still beholden to international capital investment and must keep multinational corporations by keeping corporate tax competitive. It seems therefor that any progressive movement will have to come squarely on the side of dispossessing the native rich of some of their assets. How this dispossession happens concretely is hard to foretell because we have only a weak grasp of what is possible given our lack of information about attitudes.

In general resistance to the cuts have often been only reactive, choosing to fight each attack as it comes. Waiting for the axe to fall in the current situation and then trying to fight each cut individually will be a losing battle. It will be much easier for the political establishment to divide people against each other, each group fighting in the hopes of getting their own concessions. Even worse, waiting around allows arguments that if stated in juxtaposition to reasonable solutions, would be irrelevant. Anti-immigrant sentiment and attacks on the weakest sections of society are often enticing to the middle sections of society when under pressure, as they can see clearly that a moderate push can shift the burden further down, without having to come into conflict with the political establishment. Much better would be to take an offensive stance and attempt to side-step these divisions as much as possible.

As a supposition, a movement for a wealth tax or wealth max seems a sensible demand on which to pitch battle. It seems a reasonable option to many and it would not be too far fetched to believe that it could be implemented. A restructuring of income tax would not be capable of raising very significant funds and would be quite hard and expensive to assess. Property tax is too indiscriminate in its application and would make suffer many who are nominally owners of expensive properties, but which are not presently salable. In addition it is not really possible even in principle to value land in the current climate with the tremendous rate of decline and it would not be popular with many in the sociologically middle class. A wealth tax could start with the richest and work its way down - incurring an overhead that was not too great in proportion to the funds which could be appropriated. In addition it may be largely ignored by international investors, as it does not affect corporate profits. This could insulate such a movement from too direct interference before the movement was capable of weathering it.

The implementation of such a tax would need to be looked at in detail. In order to be successful it would need to avoid conflict with the small enterprises such as rural pubs and the like which might have nominally large assets but fairly small revenues. If it negatively impacts people who do not seem rich to their neighbors and who are influential, it could likely be defeated as unfair. Research into an appropriate scaling of cut-off would need to be done in order to ensure that the majority of the population was not only in favour, but could be convinced that action was necessary.

While it is true that giving over funds from the richest to the incompetent political regime might seem a hollow victory, it will provide a modicum of protection to the working class from some of the cuts. More importantly it would attack the logic of the assault which hinges on the premise that there are no alternative to diminishing conditions for the general population. If deeper cuts are sought, deeper taxation might be forced into effect which could lead to a chain reaction. A wealth tax would "place the tail of the snake in its mouth". If successfully achieved, a deepening of cuts could cause the burden to fall more greatly on the wealthy.

A democratisation of corporate management should also be advocated. This on the basis that the current economic crisis is at least partly due to a failure of accountability by those in charge of the allocation of investment. The massive over-production of housing and the over-heating of the property market at the cost of investment in other projects much more important to the health of the economy are strong indicators that another direction should be taken. This demand is quite unlikely to be adopted as it would represent a profound break with the independence of investors from public responsibility. However it is useful in promoting the general idea which we hope eventually to implement.

There are of course other demands and tactics which should be assessed. They should be reflected upon according to the criterion of timeliness and impulse. Timeliness means that the demands will not result in disaster if they are achieved, something which must be viewed in relation to our current position vis-รก-vis the rest of Europe. The demands themselves may later become reasonable but are dependent on the environment. Demands which would cause a capital flight in the immediate period should be discouraged, though the populace is quite cognizant of the dangers of such demands and would be unlikely to accept them. The demand must also have impulse, in the sense that the satisfaction of the demand, its partial satisfaction, or indeed its failure to be satisfied should all be capable of providing a movement with momentum. Failure to achieve a maximum wealth demand in the face of a popular movement need not result in a collapse, but could be used as a further demonstration that the political regime is unresponsive and could be outlet into a more direct expropriation. Similarly, a satisfaction of a wealth maximum would in fact lead to a weakening of the ability of the wealthiest to direct policy autocratically and could start the ball rolling on further moves towards democratisation.

An approach making use of a non-partisan volunteer organisation, seems the best vehicle through which to start such a movement. It can present itself as a reasonable political alternative, while bearing a programme which seems plausible. It need not become embroiled directly with electoral politics, but can act independently of the political consensus, while still putting pressure on it. It can avoid the competition over constituents which necessarily arises from the creation of a political party - cross cutting the usual conflicts the electoral approach presents.

In order to gain support we can use organising techniques from union organiser models. The organiser model relies on the capacity to take quite wide grievances and direct them into a unitary solution. In the Union case this solution is a group of fellow workers deciding together on the solutions to their problems. In the case of a progressive economic movement, it should be the wide range of general benefits of equality [7] which will cover grievances relating directly to the cuts, but extends also to crime, health, education and many other factors. With careful training of volunteers and practice it should be possible to quickly develop an active base using these techniques.

Such a volunteer organisation would have to start with quite small exercises of power. Legitimacy would be the key factor to allowing the demand to get some currency. This means that each step has to be taken with only a short lead on public perceptions. Likely the first steps will be fairly soft activities such as polls, petitions, letter writing campaigns and "equality compliance" score cards for politicians. As it becomes apparent that the politicians have no interest in actually doing what the general population wants it will be possible to move to more direct applications of power. The appropriation of unused property in conjunction with sympathetic community groups would be one possible activity. Even if it was unsuccessful, it could serve to further erode confidence in the political establishments sense of good will.

The organisation would also need to cultivate links with prominent journalists, authors and cultural figures. Successfully achieving deep social changes, it is important that there be a network of sympathy amongst the more socially prominent. Without these people, the political establishment will find itself without a voice. The development of contacts and engendering of sympathy by presenting an alternative which is palatable is key to being able to get this group on board. People in the spotlight are unlikely to risk their reputations on something that sounds crazy - so presenting a message in the most palatable fashion is critical.

A broader popular movement might also serve to give some teeth back to the unions. The argument that union members are simply trying to protect their own becomes harder to make if they were being spurred on by a wider group. Creating an environment in which the trade unions feel capable of acting is at least as important as their objective capacity. This is important because the capacity to withdraw labour still represents one of the greatest potential forces that the population possesses.

At the same time we need to be looking at how to push parallel organisations in other localities. If the approach is even moderately successful, it should be possible to get some cooperation for such a movement in the UK or abroad in other areas of Europe. Replicating the model relatively quickly will be important for taking any further step - which really can not be done without a European scale - so it should not wait lest momentum be lost.

There are no guarantees that any strategy can be made to work. The approach described here has the advantage however of being both plausible and appealing to a wide audience. It retains the core aims with an eye to the eventual goal while simultaneously putting them in a form that can be accepted by the general population and which has some chance of being achieved.

World Bank, World Development Indicators
[3] Based at NUI Maynooth, Prof Rob Kitchin the Director of the State-funded academic study

Science and a Fair Society

Since very early times, humans have wondered about how best to live together. What we now call political philosophy was initiated millenia ago. There have been many schools of political philosophy, many of which have given tacit support and justification of the present social order. Political philosophies of this type have always been popular with rulers, the nobility and the rich. They have for this reason enjoyed a great deal of financial and even legal support.

However, there are also those who have sought to question whether the status quo is indeed the best manner in which humans might live together.

In 300 CE Bao Jingyan wrote a treatise entitled "Neither Lord Nor Subject" [1].

"As soon as the relationship between lord and subject is established, hearts become daily more filled with evil designs, until the manacled criminals sullenly doing forced labour in the mud and the dust are full mutinous thoughts, the Sovereign trembles with anxious fear in his ancestral temple, and the people simmer with revolt in the midst of their poverty and distress; and to try to stop them revolting by means of rules and regulations, or control them by means of penalties and punishments, is like trying to dam a river in full flood with a handful of earth, or keeping the torrents of water back with one finger."

This idea that our social structure itself is responsible for many of the conflicts that we experience has enjoyed resurgence periodically throughout history. Indeed, people are still investigating these questions.

Science has provided us with powerful tools which allow us to systematically investigate phenomenon in the natural world. Psychology and Sociology have turned these tools towards the investigation of ourselves and how we relate to each other. Using these tools we now are in a better position to investigate these question than at any time in history.

Equality And a Healthy Society

Equality has been an important feature of political thought in Europe since the Enlightenment period and gained widespread popularity during and after the French revolution.

The republican revolutions of Europe removed the greater portion of the systems of nobility and privilege that separate people into various distinct legal classes. Feudalism is largely a thing of the past, and has been replaced with a legal equality. Over the course of the 20th century, legal equality has been extended to include nearly everyone (though citizenship is still restricted on grounds of foreign birth or sometimes even more restrictive rules about origin).

However, there are still large material inequalities. In fact, income and wealth inequality in the US and UK has been on the rise for the last three decades.

But why should we care? Is inequality something we should worry about or is it a good thing? Brian Griffiths, former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and an adviser for Goldman Sachs mentioned at a panel discussion in London in 2009:

"We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all,” [2]

This is a bold thesis, however it is also one which does not stand up to scrutiny. Recently, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett have gained some notoriety for a popular book, The Spirit Level [3] detailing their investigations into the question of the impact of inequality using statistical methods.

Their findings give a staggering indictment of the above statement. In fact, increasing equality leads to huge benefits across the board. These benefits are so widespread that even some of the richest people in society benefit from the increase in equality.

Based on the strength of the correlations between equality and improvement in social welfare a decrease of inequality by half in the UK would lead to a huge list of improvements:

- Murder rates would halve
- Mental illness would reduce by two thirds
- Obesity would halve
- Imprisonment would reduce by 80%
- Teen births would reduce by 80%
- Levels of trust would increase by 85%

Although the study has been attacked on the basis that it has derived the correlations by looking at different European countries with different social structures - effectively comparing apples and oranges - the results are so robust that extending the study to look at the various US states in terms of the economic inequality by state showed essentially the same features. It is rare that statistical studies on the scale of society are re-targeted to a new data set this way and retain so much predictive power.

Corrosion of Democracy

It has been known since the time of the Athenian city-state, that large accumulations of wealth can have corrosive effects on democracy. Indeed this underlies the reasoning behind having a system of lots for many of the official positions, so as to avoid the influence that would-be oligarchs would have on the society [4].

The ever increasing inequality in the UK and the US has lead to an erosion of what democratic principles existed. Thomas Ferguson undertook to study the impact of money on elections in the US in his book "Golden Rule" [5]. In his investigations he found that in 9 out of 10 US elections, the outcome could be predicted by campaign spending.

Of course the impact of campaign contributions would be much less of a problem in a system in which individuals were much closer to material equality. The extraordinary inequality present in the US and UK mean that a very few people will have tremendous influence on who gets elected.

While this means that those politicians who are most favourable to moneyed interests are much more likely to be elected, it does not necessarily prove that the money turns into policy decisions. Figuerdo Edwards’ investigation into this question showed that in fact money does buy policy. The study evaluates regulation with regards to telecommunications companies [6]. In his research he found a strong correlation between campaign contributions by telecom companies and favourable policy decisions made in proportion to the contributions given.

Democracy becomes little more than a farce when policy is driven by the tyranny of the dollar and the only function of elections is to provide a veneer of respectability. A properly functioning democracy requires a substantially more equitable distribution of resources.


Those who claim the need for inequality often claim that without the material incentives given by unbounded income, people would cease working harder when they reached the top. In addition those who are at the very bottom wouldn't bother working at all if they weren't in permanent threat of poverty.

This wisdom is widely accepted, but does it stand up to systematic investigation? Dan Pink wrote a popular survey of literature on the subject of motivation entitled Drive [7]. In this work he shows that a large body of research over the course of many decades has lead to evidence that material incentives often do not result in improvements in performance. Indeed, in a large number of cases they have the opposite effect.

The tendency for an outside incentive to reduce the capacity to solve a problem is known as the overjustification effect. Perhaps the earliest demonstration of the effect was with children in the 3-5 year old range which were offered a ribbon for drawing with felt-tipped pens. A second group was given an unexpected reward of a ribbon. A third group was a control and was given no reward. Later, in a free-play setting the children who had been given a reward for the pens were less likely to play with the pens further [8]. The most widely accepted conclusion is that expected rewards undermine intrinsic motivation.

Sam Glucksberg performed a similar experiment testing the ability to solve cognitive tasks on adults with monetary incentives. He found that again, the extrinsic rewards actually diminish the capacity to solve the problem. Since that time the effect has become very well established [7].

So what serves as intrinsic motivation? As it turns out non-tangible rewards, such as verbal praise, do not appear to undermine intrinsic motivation. Praise can in fact reinforce intrinsic motivation [9]. People want to know that their work is both appreciated and socially important.

If monetary incentives do not increase the ability to solve complicated problems then the question must be asked: why is that they we are paying huge amounts of money to CEOs, bankers and others who are supposed to be dealing with the complex problems of organising society?


The connection between material wealth and well being has been the subject of argument for a long time. It has often been claimed that material wealth does not lead to happiness.

Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton performed a study of 450,000 responses to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index [10]. Their finding was that, indeed money does improve self reported emotional well being up to an annual income of approximately $75,000.

Not only is inequality depriving a substantial number of people of emotional well-being, it is also of no benefit to the rich who horde it. In 2004 the mean income in the US was $60,528 [11], this is about 40% larger than the median income [12]. A 40% increase in income to most Americans would, according to this study, lead to a very substantial improvement in emotional well-being. This is without even accounting for the fact that there are even greater disparities in wealth than there are in income.


Many of these ideas have been folklore among socialists for over a century. Of Course, folklore is not a sufficient basis for a fair and egalitarian society. However, it appears that the intuition behind this folklore stands up to scientific scrutiny, while the widely expressed myths of the usefulness of inequality do not. None of these investigations will ensure that we can construct a society that is at once focused on improving the conditions of humanity and base on a very realist, scientific and rational approach to the problems of humanity. However, they do lend powerful evidence that such a world is possible.

[1] Anarchism: a documentary history of libertarian ideas, volume one, From anarchy to anarchism (300-1939) edited by Robert Graham. KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library (Kate Sharpley Library) (46-47). July 2006.

[2] Caroline Binham, “Goldman Sachs’s Griffiths Says Inequality Helps All”. Bloomberg, October 21, 2009.

[3] Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better. London, Allen Lane, 5 March 2009

[4] The Democratic Experiment, Paul Cartledge Retrieved Oct 5th 2010

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[12] "US Census Bureau, mean household income". Retrieved 2006-06-29.

[11] "US Census Bureau news release in regards to median income". Retrieved 2007-08-28.