Came across this interesting article written by Sam Bowman on the Adam Smith Institute blog:
“The public is ignorant about politics and lacks even the basic facts that it would need to make sound judgments about political issues. A new poll by Ipsos-MORI
shows just how deep this ignorance is. Among other things, the poll found that:
- 29% of people think we spend more on JSA than pensions, when in fact we spend 15 times more on pensions (£4.9bn vs £74.2bn)
- 26% of people think foreign aid is one of the top 2-3 items government spends most money on, when it actually made up 1.1% of expenditure (£7.9bn) in the 2011/12 financial year. More people select this as a top item of expenditure than pensions (which cost nearly ten times as much, £74bn) and education in the UK (£51.5bn)
- the public think that 31% of the population are immigrants, when the official figures are 13%. we greatly overestimate the proportion of the population who are Muslims: on average we say 24%, compared with 5% in England and Wales.
- people are most likely to think that capping benefits at £26,000 per household will save most money from a list provided (33% pick this option), over twice the level that select raising the pension age to 66 for both men and women or stopping child benefit when someone in the household earns £50k+. In fact, capping household benefits is estimated to save £290m, compared with £5bn for raising the pension age and £1.7bn for stopping child benefit for wealthier households.
These are not just little mistakes, they’re absolute howlers.
This ignorance is perfectly rational and understandable. The problem is that these are the people who decide who runs the country. How can you choose the best set of welfare policies – ‘the best’ being what you would choose if you had all the information available – when you know absolutely nothing about welfare? How can you choose which of the two main parties is offering the best immigration policy if you haven’t got a clue about immigration?
Obviously, you can’t. And giving more power to well-informed elites seems even more foolish. Political psychology suggests
that that the more information you have about something, the more resistant to new, contradictory information you are – or, in other words, the more dogmatically ideological you are.
That ideology is often dressed up in terminology that sounds neutral but makes significant assumptions about the role of the state and its ability to effectively solve society’s problems. Anyone for some ‘evidence-based policy’?
This is a problem not just for elections, but for any kind of administration of the state that gives experts decision-making power. If they are inherently dogmatic then giving them power may be even worse than putting every policy issue up to a referendum may be the lesser of two evils (while still being very unappealing).
The choice we have in a democracy appears to be between open-minded ignoramuses or well-informed ideologues. There is no reason to think that either will choose anything like the ‘right’ policy for any given problem. And, as Jeffrey Friedman has argued
, unlike when you buy the ‘wrong’ flavour of ice-cream and can immediately buy a different kind next time, the feedback mechanism in politics is weak and difficult to discern.
The answer may be to recognise these crippling limitations of democracy and, wherever possible, prefer decentralized market mechanisms. We cannot solve the problem of ignorant voters or dogmatic elites in democracy, but we can at least try to take as much power out of their hands as possible.”
Pambazuka News recently published a report on how the Rwandan government is using harassment, force and imprisonment to clamp down on street vendors in the capital, Kigali. It is a classic demonstration of the predatory, violent and parasitic nature of the State which deserves some comment.
Street vendors are a ubiquitous presence in African cities. While walking or driving along any main street, you will pass a multitude of men, women and children offering all kinds of items, from water, juice, sweets, gum and savory snacks to shoes, clothes, newspapers, and mobile phone credit. These traders don’t wait for you to come to them, they go to where you are, and will even run after your car or bus to complete a sale! This mobility gives them a major advantage over stationary businesses (although obviously the latter can offer a wider range of stock). It’s clearly hard work with long days, and it can’t be good for them to be breathing in those exhaust fumes on a daily basis. But this activity provides them with a means to generate a valuable income which they can then use for whatever they wish.
However, many ‘development’ experts view these people as a problem, mainly because they do not give any money to the State coffers. They form part of the ‘informal’ sector which employs a large chunk of Africans and which due to it’s ephemeral nature, States are unable to control and exact tribute from. In the UK, we would call this ‘cash-in-hand’ work as distinct from the wages system that most of us are under whereby our earnings are processed by payroll departments who to siphon off 30-40% in taxes on behalf of the state.
Largely in order to deal with this ‘problem’, the Rwandan government has opened several designated markets in the capital city, Kigali where vendors have to pay a fee in order to sell their wares. But of course, the government is not relying on persuasion to encourage vendors to use these markets. With the typical zeal of bureaucratic, top-down planners, the government has declared it illegal for anyone to trade in the streets, and sends its armed men (police) to hunt down and any of these ‘illegal’ traders. Those who are caught have their goods confiscated and are sent away to camps (it’s not a prison though!) for unspecified periods for ‘development’ and ‘rehabilitation’.
This is a classic case of how states get in the way of people using their initiative to make a living. They are not happy to simply provide a framework in which people can find their own independent solutions to the challenges of poverty such as street vending. Instead, they want to control peoples’ activities so as to take money from them in the form of taxes, no doubt to then use for ‘poverty-reduction’ and ‘development’ schemes dreamed up by its ‘experts’.
As Charles W. Johnson points out in his provocative and powerful article Scratching By: How Government creates Poverty as we know it: “the one thing that the government and its managerial aid workers will never do is just get out of the way and let poor people do the things that poor people naturally do, and always have done, to scratch by.”
Just came across a really fascinating couple of videos on the issue of traffic controls. They discuss how traffic lights create far more problems than they solve, and show how the simple act of removing them allow motorists to ‘self-regulate’ the flow of traffic.
I see this as a kind of microcosm of the difference between statism on the one hand and anarchism on the other. Statists of all persuasions want the state to get involved in large areas of society and economics, through regulation, welfare, taxes, tariffs, nationalisation, etc. They feel that without such state input, chaos will ensue and people will end up destroying one another. On the other hand, anarchist perspectives argue that people have a natural tendency to voluntarily cooperate with one another to ensure our common good, and that state interference actually prevents us from doing so.
Here are the links:
Part 1: Roads unfit for people
Part 2: Roads FiT for people
Do you know it’s possible to be anti-capitalist, but also pro-market? This is definitely the direction I find myself heading in these days. Here’s some resources to give an overview:
What is Market Anarchism?
“Market anarchists believe in Market exchange, not in economic privilege. they believe in free markets, not in capitalism. What makes them anarchists is their belief in a fully free and consensual society – a society in which order is achieved not through legal force or political government, but through free agreements and voluntary cooperation on a basis of equality. What makes them market anarchists is their recognition of free market exchange as a vital medium for peacefully anarchic social order. But the markets they
envision are not like the privilege-riddled “markets” we see around us today. Markets laboring under government and capitalism are pervaded by persistent poverty, ecological destruction, radical inequalities of wealth, and concentrated power in the hands of corporations, bosses, and landlords. The consensus view is that exploitation – whether of human beings or of nature – is simply the natural result of markets left unleashed. The consensus view holds that private property, competitive pressure, and the profit motive must – whether for good or for ill – inevitably lead to capitalistic wage labor, to the concentration of wealth and social power in the hands of a select class, or to business practices based on growth at all costs and the devil take the hindmost.
Market anarchists dissent. They argue that economic privilege is a real and pervasive social problem, but that the problem is not a problem of private property, competition, or profits per se. It is not a problem of the market form but of markets deformed – deformed by the long shadow of historical injustices and the ongoing, continuous exercise of legal privilege on behalf of capital. The market anarchist tradition is radically pro-market and anticapitalist – reflecting its consistent concern with the deeply political character of corporate power, the dependence of economic elites on the tolerance or active support of the state, the permeable barriers between political and economic elites, and the cultural embeddedness of hierarchies established and maintained by state-perpetrated and state-sanctioned violence.”
From the introduction to “Markets not Capitalism” – edited by Gary Chartier and Charles W. Johnson: http://radgeek.com/gt/2011/10/Markets-Not-Capitalism-2011-Chartier-and-Johnson.pdf
Three Types of Capitalism
“Defenders of freed Markets have good reason to identify their position as a species of “anticapitalism.” To explain why, I distinguish three potential meanings of “capitalism” before suggesting that people committed to freed markets should oppose capitalism in my second and third senses...
Three Senses of “Capitalism”
There are at least three distinguishable senses of “capitalism”:
An economic system that features personal property rights and voluntary exchanges of goods and services
An economic system that features a symbiotic relationship between big business and government
Rule – of workplaces, society, and (if there is one) the state – by capitalists (that is, by a relatively small number of people who control investable wealth and the means of production)
Capitalism1 just is a freed market; so if “anticapitalism” meant opposition to captalism1, “free-market anticapitalism” would be oxymoronic. But proponents of free-market anticapitalism aren’t opposed to captalism1; instead, they object either to capitalism2 or to both capitalism2 and capitalism3“
From “Advocates of Freed Markets should oppose Capitalism” by Gary Chartier in “Markets not Capitalism” – edited by Gary Chartier and Charles W. Johnson: http://radgeek.com/gt/2011/10/Markets-Not-Capitalism-2011-Chartier-and-Johnson.pdf
“Grassroots (not statist) Panafricanism“
Before considering how pre-colonial African societies were anarchist in nature, we need a definition of this scary-sounding term “anarchism”. Colin Ward defines anarchism as “the name given to the idea that it is possible and desirable for society to organise itself without government.” [Anarchy in Action, p:19 – http://libcom.org/files/Ward_-_Anarchy_in_Action_3.pdf].
In chapter 2 of his phenomenal How Europe Undeveloped Africa (1973), Walter Rodney uses a Marxist-influenced approach to give an overview of the social-economic development of African societies prior to the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century. In doing so, he discuses the strong communal nature of African societies:
“[U]nder communalism there were no classes and there was equal access to land, and equality in distribution — at a low level of technology and production. Feudalism involved great inequality in distribution of land and social products. The landlord class and its bureaucracy controlled the state and used it as an instrument for oppressing peasants, serfs, slaves and even craftsmen and merchants. The movement from communalism to feudalism in every continent took several centuries, and in some instances the interruption of internal evolution never allowed the process to mature. In Africa, there is no doubt that the societies which eventually reached feudalism were extremely few.” [page 61 of the online version: http://abahlali.org/files/3295358-walter-rodney.pdf]
This absence of strong class antagonism prevented (or at least severely restricted) the growth of states in Africa:
“Scholars often distinguish between groups in Africa which had states and those which were ‘stateless’. Sometimes, the word stateless is carelessly or even abusively used; but it does describe those peoples who had no machinery of government coercion and no concept of a political unit wider than the family or the village. After all, if there is no class stratification in a society, it follows that there is no state, because the state arose as an instrument to be used by a particular class to control the rest of society in its own interests. Generally speaking, one can consider the stateless societies as among the older forms of socio-political organisation in Africa, while the large states represented an evolution away from communalism — sometimes to the point of feudalism.” [page 76-77 of the online version: http://abahlali.org/files/3295358-walter-rodney.pdf]
Mbah and Igariwey’s book “African Anarchism” (1997) builds on Rodney’s observations by pointing out that African societies were thus anarchistic:
“Feudalism did exist in some places, but as Rodney has demonstrated, “in Africa, there is no doubt that the societies which eventually reached feudalism were extremely few.” Consequently, some features of communalism continued to hold considerable sway in most African societies, as they do to this day under modern capitalist states. This demonstrates the ancient and tenacious roots of the communal way of life in Africa…
So the African states that we are so familiar with (and so identified with) have their roots almost entirely in European colonialism. Whether we are talking about the borders, the official languages, the political systems, the state machinery, the tax systems, the armies, the constitutions – pretty much every thing to do with African states are by-products of colonialism.
As an anarchist (i.e. someone who feels it is “possible and desirable for society to organise itself without government”), I am encouraged to know that I am merely returning to a key aspect of my recent historical legacy. This is especially so as my people, the Bagisu or Bamasaaba in Uganda, are a defiantly decentralised people with no kings, queens, or even paramount chiefs!
Sam Mbah discusses his book “African Anarchism”:
https://www.facebook.com/AfricansArise – Was blessed to catch the mighty Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 live at the Open East Festival. This is a performance of one of one of the many classics done by his father, the late great Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Make sure you listen to his words right at the end.
Learning about the Adangbe people of La in Accra, Ghana, particularly about the Ga people. The brother speaking is full of great information, I learned so much from him! As he was telling me about the La people being warriors, I kept thinking of this Tarrus Riley tune, La La Warriors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY3kpGCvyrs
My visit to a school in Accra, Ghana.
Chronixx is one of the most exciting talents to emerge in reggae music for years. 19 year old Chronixx (born Jamar McNaughton) is building quite a reputation with his silky smooth effortless vocals and conscious lyrics covering a wide range of subjects. One song among many form him on heavy rotation in my Ipod is Odd Ras (Buss What?), where Chronixx takes aim at much of the craziness going on in dancehall today, including the skin bleeching and tatooting epidemic. As you can see from this selection, Chronixx is equally comfortable with dancehall and one drop riddims. And the interview at the bottom demonstrates that he is humble and serious young man who respects the deep history and lineage of reggae music and is looking to follow in the footsteps of the great pioneers.
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Chronixx – Behind Curtain
Chronixx – Most I
Chronixx – Odd Ras (Buss What?)
Chronixx – Ain’t No Giving In
Chronixx – Interview On Stage
Now I no longer eat animals in any shape or form, I can enjoy this song withouth feeling offended!