Anarcho Capitalist Heaven

Imagine if you and I were to play a game of chess.

Maybe you don’t want to play chess against me. Perhaps you don’t know how. Perhaps you’re a chess master and you don’t want to. It doesn’t matter, though, because I insist. In fact, if you don’t play with me, I can cut off your food supply and you’ll have to watch your family starve. How about that nice game of chess? But – because it’s my board I get to play white, naturally. “That’s not an insurmountable obstacle,” you think, until you sit down and notice that my front rank is not pawns, it’s all queens. I explain that I’m just fortunate, is all, and that’s how the cookie crumbles. I move one of my queens to protect another that will take the pawn in rank with your king, “because it’s my board, and this is my room, in my house, and you work for me, these are the rules we play under, and if you don’t like it you can resign, quit, and go starve under a bridge somewhere.”

And that’s how the capitalist dream (aka: Hobbes’ playground) works. It’s the “golden rule” i.e.: them that has the gold makes the rules and it’s how (apparently) Ayn Rand feels people should behave, if they have a chance to. Oddly, Rand and her family fled to the US during the Russian revolution, because they didn’t like how the game of “Tsar” is played and wanted different rules, instead of submitting to main force being exerted by White Russian forces. Perhaps it looks like hypocrisy, but really it’s just common sense, or something. Andrew Carnegie, who later wrote The Gospel of Wealth, writes about the social duty of the noveau riche, but chose to neglect the fact that penniless Carnegie started his ascent to fabulous wealth through the traditional method of insider trading. Like Rand, he was all about preaching submission to power for the powerless, while stacking the deck against them so they had no chance of winning the game he rigged.

Yesterday, I posted a bit about the conditions in mining camps in the early period of the industrial wars. The full details are horrible to contemplate and my description of “a vertically integrated economy” was too dry to convey what it needed to. Let me try again: if you’re a chicken, being raised for food for humans, you are part of a similar “vertically integrated economy” – i.e.: your life may go down one of several paths but they all wind up with you dead, sometimes eaten or fed back to your kin, and none of those paths involve you having the power to make a choice. I know I keep harping on the “social contract” concept but this sort of system is problematic for that idea: how can someone be fairly said to have agreed to participate in such a totally rigged game? I can strut about calling myself a “chess master” and insisting that you owe me a game, but – do you? What really blows my mind is that the industrial capitalists and mine bosses were genuinely huffy at the idea that anyone wouldn’t want to play along in the horrible system they had constructed. Southern slave-owners showed a similar reaction to cognitive dissonance and I still encounter southerners today who say “but they loved their slaves and took good care of them.” Mine operators threw out a variation of that same reasoning – but really what they meant was “it’s the luck of the draw that allows me to shit all over your life, forever, so I must be pretty virtuous, huh?”

From The Devil is Here In These Hills by James Green:

Winter 1914 to fall 1918: during the early 1900s, most american trade unions were democratic institutions governed by officers elected by their fellow workers. But as these unions became formal organizations dedicated to institutionalized bargaining with employers, and to the thankless task of policing “no strike” contracts, a cadre of career-minded officials emerged. Once elected or appointed to office many ambitious working men clung to their positions, isolated their critics, and assembled political machines to insure that they would not have to return to the drudgery of wage-labor. These “business unionists” were, at best, effective negotiators who delivered on the union’s bread and butter demands and then stepped aside as newly elected leaders took their places. At worst, some took bribes from mine bosses to make sweetheart deals, and some fell in with gangsters who saw unions as a racket. The union members who remained loyal to their organizations and attempted to reform them struggled against long odds. In most cases, discontented members could be silenced or co-opted and internal movements for union democracy could often be red-baited and defeated. But not always.

A popular argument from anti-union capitalists is that the unions are corrupt. What they ignore is the face in the mirror, which is their own: the corrupt unions have become as bad as capitalists; there is not much room at the bottom for them to be any worse. Hating the unions for being corrupt is self-hatred.

paint creek strike camp 1910

“Wildcat strikes” are strikes where the union members decide to strike in spite of the unions’ management. Often, those strikes are considered illegal because they are barred under contract – the proverbial “no strike” contract. How that works is that the corporate bosses agree to (let’s say) 3 8-hour shifts a day instead of 2 12-hour shifts and, in return, the union agrees not to strike. Then, when the bosses reduce the workers’ pay because now they are working less hours, the union complains and is told that they agreed not to strike. In other words, the capitalists use contract law to control the unions behavior – normally we would expect to see this as despicable, except authoritarians and capitalists fall back on the old “right to work, right to hire” song, which is basically “my chessboard, my room, my building, my way or the highway.” You may note that the capitalists often defend this as that they are exercising their rights to organize their business as they see fit – by controlling and mooting the unions’  rights to organize as they see fit. When you look at the actions of capitalists, Libertarians, and Randians, there’s a lot of “I get to do what I want” especially when it involves you not getting to do what you want.

[A pugnacious 26-year-old miner named Fred Mooney] who had arrived in Cabin Creek during the midst of the mine war. Mooney was born in 1888 and raised in a 2 room log cabin on Davis Creek in Kanahwa County. The boy saw little of his father, who worked cutting timber and digging coal from dawn till dusk for $1/day. When Mooney married his boyhood sweetheart, Lillian, in 1908, he described himself as an average coal miner: husky, strong and energetic. Ready to assume his role as a bread-winner, the 20 year-old mountaineer took his teenage bride to a non-union mining camp in the Kanahwa valley, where the newlyweds rented a company house, bought some furniture from the company store on an installment plan, and started to raise a family. Mooney loaded more coal than anyone else in the mine. Yet, at the end of each month, after deductions for his company house, his packaged food, his tools, and his clothes, he could see that he was not getting ahead. One day, after three years of hard work and self-denial, Mooney slipped out of the coal camp and walked down the valley to look for a better situation.

Company officials learned what Fred was up to and when Lillian went to shop at the company store, the manager told her the Mooneys had no more credit. Stunned, because she knew her husband had back wages coming to him, Mrs Mooney got mad and stormed at the company clerk. When Fred returned that evening he found Lillian in tears. She told her husband that they had been evicted from the cabin and it was all her fault for losing her temper. Fred consoled his wife by telling her she had voiced sentiments that had burned in his gut for years, but because of the blacklist, he had kept silent. The Mooneys packed up and “moved down the creek a ways” as Fred put in his memoir, chasing that ever-fleeting shadow: a job.

Are we to be surprised that Fred Mooney became a socialist and an agitator? By “agitator” we mean “someone who calls ‘bullshit’ that which is shit that emerges from the back end of a bull.”

Eventually the young couple moved to Eskdale on Cabin Creek, a place that frightened the children and wore on Lillian’s nerves. After Fred Mooney and his family moved into a company house and settled into a routine, he met lots of union sympathizers in the valley, including the local socialists like Harold Huston, who became his mentor. He joined the strike in 1912 and, while his wife and two babies took shelter in the refugee tent camp Mooney took to the hills with Dan Shane [“Few Clothes” from the prior posting] and the armed volunteers who defended the canvas village.

The situation the Mooneys encountered, in which the company owned all their assets, controlled their output, and literally controlled the food they ate – was the situation of every one of the tens of thousands of miners in West Virginia. People being how they are, many of them were proud of how hard they worked, and many enlisted in WWI (“the war to end all european imperialism and aristocracy wars”) and were proud of how well they fought. In fact, the Germans were unhappy to deal with mountain riflemen who could hit a squirrel in the eye with a bolt action rifle because that skill worked pretty well on Germans, too. These were the miners of West Virginia who were given nothing – not even back pay – by their government when they returned from the war and a nation collapsing into depression, so – once again – they moved down the creek aways and marched on Washington, camped in the tens of thousands in Anacostia flats, and were mashed flat by the US army with sabers, gas, tanks, and cavalry. “Thank you for your service.”

chelyan, WV, in the 1960s

When Donald Trump talks about bringing back the coal jobs, he is appealing to a weird thing: he is offering to bring back the hell that people know and grew up in.

As most of you know, the coal jobs didn’t “go away” for any reason other than that the coal companies couldn’t make it profitable enough to dig coal in the US, anymore. Those nasty unions, that asked for safety gear in the mines, better pay, and medical care for their ruined bodies and lungs – they raised the cost of coal past the point where it was profitable, and besides oil and methane are easier to manage. It wasn’t that the unions made it too expensive, it was more a case that the coal companies could no longer abuse their workers enough to drive the costs down to the point where a system of economic entrapment worked, anymore.

Trump promised those poor people to bring back the chains they wore so proudly, for so long. Jesus fucking christ I hate that guy. Because not only was he promising them shit, he knew he was lying. (Or maybe he was too ignorant of the coal economy to have any idea what he was talking about)\

In the last year, I have been near-obssessively educating myself about the history of steel, coal, and labor in the US from the beginning of the industrial revolution, until the sad denoument of the steel industry in the 1980s. I was in college in Baltimore when the Bethlehem Steel plant at Sparrows’ Point [which no longer had sparrows] shut down in 1981. I didn’t understand why the smallish community of trailer homes in that neighborhood, mostly populated with Polish and Ukrainian immigrants’ descendants, wailed so loudly – why couldn’t they get other jobs? For that matter, how is it even possible to run a steel plant at a loss? That, to me, was the question. Naturally, the answer was “they couldn’t run it at enough of a profit to support a collection of fat cat mill boss millionaires, so they shut it down.” If they hadn’t been trying to support a top-heavy capitalist economy, they’d have been fine. As it was, the mill managers didn’t want to spend the money for more tooling and automation so they could compete with the Chinese, so they shut it down. Now, if you look on youtube, you can find footage of Chinese industrial manufacturing facilities where rebar is produced by one woman sitting in a control room driving an entirely automated production line. American industrial capitalists grew up at a time when they could feed human lives, bone and blood into their mines and furnaces, so they never realized that working smarter, not harder, was the future.

But, they blame the unions.

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man’s made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that’s weak and a back that’s strong

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’ when the sun didn’t shine
I picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said “Well, a-bless my soul”

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

I was born one mornin’, it was drizzlin’ rain
Fightin’ and trouble are my middle name
I was raised in the canebrake by an ol’ mama lion
Can’t no-a high-toned woman make me walk the line

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

If you see me comin’, better step aside
A lotta men didn’t, a lotta men died
One fist of iron, the other of steel
If the right one don’t get you, then the left one sure will

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

-Merle Travis

“Anarcho Capitalism” – formerly known as “laissez-faire capitalism.” Laissez-faire, in French, means “let it happen” i.e.: unregulate. The Randian/Libertarian model of capitalism that this posting is about; it virtually guarantees abuse because its profit margins depend on abuse. When you encounter someone who is preaching “free market capitalism” or union busting, they are dodging around without saying flat out that they want businesses to be able to fuck the workers as thoroughly as possible.

PS – what a shithole country.


  1. brucegee1962 says

    I’m fairly sure you know about the psych experiments involving Monopoly? One player was given a built-in advantage — extra money every time around the board, free properties, etc. The interesting thing is that after the favored player won (obviously) they were surveyed as to how much of their victory was due to their built-in advantage, how much to skill, and how much to luck. Invariably they attributed their victory to their own skill.

  2. bmiller says

    I think it’s worse than that, Marcus. One can at least give a…little…credit to fat cat mill bosses. The real problem now is our economy is dominated by useless spreadsheet diddlers, the Bain Capitals, the Cerebuses, of the modern American business world who don’t care about the business per se…just about extracting interest payments and management fees as they eviscerate the companies and sell off the husks. “Vampire Squids”. Andrew Carnegie may have been awful, but he organized the building of an industry. What did “Bain Capital” or Cerebus ever actually build other than ways for other megarich people to extract just a little more blood from the dessicating American economy?

  3. says

    Southern slave-owners showed a similar reaction to cognitive dissonance and I still encounter southerners today who say “but they loved their slaves and took good care of them.”

    If I state that Christian Biblical lifestyle rules are misogynistic, because wives are told to obey their husbands, somebody will always argue with me, stating that, “But the Bible also tells husbands to love their wives, so it’s all fine.”

    I wonder whether such examples actually show cognitive dissonance or merely people in privileged positions who are aware that they are abusing others yet want to excuse and justify this unfair situation to the public so as to keep on benefiting from it.

  4. says

    Andreas Avester@#3:
    I wonder whether such examples actually show cognitive dissonance or merely people in privileged positions who are aware that they are abusing others yet want to excuse and justify this unfair situation to the public so as to keep on benefiting from it.

    In other words, they are resolving other peoples’ cognitive dissonance by employing the ancient technique of “lying.” I’ll buy that.

    The more I learn about the history of the wealthy and powerful, the more it seems to me that they’re quite aware that what they’re doing is wrong – they’re just throwing up a smoke-screen, yelling “fake news”, etc.

  5. consciousness razor says

    I move one of my queens to protect another that will take the pawn in rank with your king,

    A massive blunder! You should resign in shame before it’s too late! (Just kidding.)

    The Queen at f2 checkmates on f7. There’s no need for an additional move to prepare that, since f7 is already protected by the Queen sitting on a2. Alternatively, they could switch roles, with Qaf7, since that would likewise be protected by the Queen on f2.

    The black king is the only one protecting f7 at the start (and the king capturing there would be illegal, and it can’t move), so those are the only mates for move one.

  6. says

    consciousness razor@#5:
    You’re right. Now let me call in a few of the security guards to explain it to you.

    Actually, it is hard for me to get my head into the mindset of an autocrat. Maybe one has to grow into it. Just think what a great leader Barron Trump will make.

  7. Dunc says

    Funnily enough, as I was reading this post, the first thing that came to mind was Merle Travis’s “Sixteen Tons” – then I get the the bottom and there it is…

  8. says

    Yeah, I remember that episode. I think it portrays Gates as more competent than he is. After all, he’s notorious for stealing ideas, and then turning them into shit like Windows.

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