Friday, July 23, 2010

The Silver Screen

After a depressing post such as the last one, which addressed the ongoing disaster on the gulf, I felt that it was time for something positive. Surprisingly, it was handed to me all wrapped up like a Christmas gift by the corporate news media.

On July 20th of this year NBC Nightly News ran during their feel good feature, "Making A Difference," a segment about community-owned theaters in 19 small towns across North Dakota. The report centered on theaters in the towns of Rockford and Langdon.

These theaters are perfect examples of how community-ownership could function in an economic democracy. The towns identified a need of the larger community (in this case the continued existence of movie theaters in the old city downtown areas that help to preserve the traditions and heritage of the community) in which the market, even if the economic enterprises were cooperatively owned and managed, wouldn't work. As a result the towns have converted the dead or dying historic privately-owned movie theaters into community-owned, non-profit theaters. In the news report at the Rockford Theater one volunteer stated, "Nobody is in here to make a profit, we're in here to keep the theater open." There was a community need and the towns took action to solve it when the market was incapable of doing so.

I've embedded the video of the news broadcast into the blog. Go ahead and watch it. It just might remind you that there is still hope.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010


"I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in here." Captain Renault, Casablanca

In my last posting I mentioned that Marx used a building’s structure as an analogy of the functional relations of society but that a new model was needed. My recommendation was to use genetics instead.

To recap we could think of DNA as being representative of the economic relationships within society. Just as DNA shapes and decides the functions of the organism the economic systems shapes and establishes the functions of the various social structures. In turn, while an organism protects and strives to pass on its DNA, social institutions work to protect and promote their economic systems. Organisms and social systems are both generally stable and adaptable for long periods of times but there is hope because history shows that just as organisms evolve and become extinct to be replaced by new ones the same happens to economic systems.

So now we can better understand some of the events of today. As we watch in horror at the nightmare unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico due to the explosion of Deepwater Horizon, people look for someone to blame. But as it turns out there’s plenty of blame to go around.

People naturally look to blame the corporation BP, which is a logical place to start. BP in its greed for profits, which is endemic in corporate structure, drilled far beyond what technology will safely allow as proven by its inability to cap the flow of oil. Plus, also due to this same greed it cut corners, which helped set the stage for the disastrous explosion.

But others point out that blame goes far beyond BP. It was well known long before the explosion that the Minerals Management Service (MMS), which is the government agency responsible to oversee the oil industry, was in bed Big Oil and was letting them get away with multiple violations while taking gratuities.

In addition to government agencies that are supposed to protect us the legal system has been shown owned by Big Oil. When the Obama administration ordered a six-month moratorium on offshore drilling Judge Martin L.C. Feldman issued a ruling blocking the moratorium because of "irreparable harm" to the businesses in the gulf that depend on drilling activity. But many say that Feldman is owned by the oil industry. As recently as 2008 he owned stock in Big Oil, including Transocean, a company which owns the oil rig Deepwater Horizon.

Like Claude Rains in Casablanca, it’s almost funny watching politicians and commentators exclaim how shocked they are that government officials and judges are bought and paid for by Big Oil. Yet, as the genetics analogy shows it’s in the nature of the system that the various social institutions should support and work to defend the economic system.

Some might point out that it’s different in countries other than the US. They point to other capitalist countries, such as France and Germany that seem to successfully regulate corporations and limit their influence. Does this somehow cause a problem with the analogy? Actually it’s very consistent.

Animal behaviorists have shown that with the right use of conditioned reinforcement one can train an animal in such a manner as to override their natural instincts.

That’s what the Europeans have done. They keep political pressure on their governments so as to override the natural tendencies of their social institutions to obey their capitalist instincts. As one Frenchmen said in Michael Moore’s excellent movie, Sicko, the American people are afraid of their government yet the French government is afraid of its people.

But I believe there is a better way than the European model. Rather than the constant vigilance necessary to keep the beast under control, which could someday turn on its master as it has in here in the US, a better solution would be to replace it with a new economic system. It’s time for the US and the other nations of the world to evolve from Capitalism to an Economic Democracy.