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Is competition in our blood?

I wrote “The Inconvenient Truth about Competition” and posted it to several sites including OpEdNews. There I received several comments from someone called Terrilian, which led to an interesting discussion. Unfortunately, various time, comment-length, and style restrictions enforced by the publisher of that site made it impossible for me to continue to respond to Terrilian as I thought proper. I have decided to post the article that was to have been my latest response to her here and invite her to continue the discussion if she wishes.

First a little background: In the "prime the pump" comment, that is strongly preferred by the publisher of OpEdNews, I wrote,

Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on?

Why must we earn a living? Aren’t we already living?

Terrilian asked me to clarify because the thought I meant that none of us should have to work. So I explained:

I am pro-work, anti-jobs as we know them know. Right now, work and jobs are thought of as equivalent terms but they are not. I want to abolish jobs, which are rationed goods that are not available to all, while having people realize that work is all around them. This includes full-time homemaking/child rearing/elder care.  

I recently saw a documentary called The Economics of Happiness. Information on it is at the website http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org/ It begins with the people of Ladakh, a culturally Tibetan area of Indian-ruled Kashmnir. Before the region was open to Western influence in the mid 1970s, the Ladakhi people lived off their land & traded regionally. All had spacious homes & jewelry & no unemployment or great income inequality. In fact, they did not use much money at all, only for certain luxuries that had to be obtained internationally. They were also proud of their culture.

Enter Western competitiveness & in one generation they had unemployment, poverty, & a sense that their culture was inferior to Western consumerism. We have to get back to a culture where everyone is needed & works according to their talents: builders will be builders, farmers, farmers, healers, healers, artists artists, etc. & economics will not be the center of our lives. This is what indigenous cultures have to teach us if we will only listen.

I object to the fact that we must pay, but no one need allow us to make the money to pay. We can be thrown out of the labor force, yet told it is our responsibility to "pay-our way". I understand the freedom of an individual to chose his employees or the products and services she will use. But why should a person’s ability to survive depend on being wanted by others, especially when the economy does not need everybody?

There have been millions of jobs lost in the US in the last few years. Yet do you hear of shortages at the grocery store or any other shops in your town because there weren’t enough workers to get goods to the shelves? Probably not.

To earn something means that someone else has to decide that you have deserved it. I say that no one has to earn their existence. It is given to them, either by a Creator or by an accident of biology, chemistry and physics. Jefferson was right. All men (and women) are created equal, because they come from the same source. No one on this planet has the right to say that you or I deserve what we need to survive as a biological being (food, clothing, shelter, health care) or to thrive as an engaged member of society (education, transportation, communication and the tools of your chosen trade or profession). But with monetary systems, we have some people improperly deciding the fates of others.

Thanks for asking that question.

Due to the character-count restriction, I did not point out what I will point out here. Not only are some people improperly deciding the fates of others, but they are often doing so on the basis of rather suspect criteria: race, gender, age, sexual orientation, immigration status etc.

Terrilian  then posted a reply called "We Compete Because We’re Alive"

I can’t agree with any of this. Competition is part of our reality and can’t be wished out of existence. Every living organism on the planet competes with others for space, sunlight, water, resources, status. If you try to outlaw competition in economic matters it will just morph into competition somewhere else. It’s what we do on planet Earth.

"It means that we don’t need monetary systems. If we didn’t have to pay for things we actually could do more work. Have you ever wanted to do something but didn’t have the money to buy the tools or the training?"

I certainly have, and it is dammed frustrating. But the only other option to paying for those tools is to take them. I’m a weaver. Should I be able to take a loom just because I want to weave? Should other people have to take my handwoven scarves in exchange for the resources I need to live. Do my wants or needs obligate others to fulfill them? No, and no, and no. Plunder is not a moral system.
Without money you still would have to pay something for your upkeep. Perhaps in indebted labor or in future obligations or in loyalty to the warlord who IS supplying the resources. In non-capitalist feudal times you paid for your "living" as farm labor and cannon fodder. Or by keeping slaves yourself.

I like money exchanges because they are anonymous and they don’t incur a future obligation.

Here is my response, the original "Is Competition in our Blood?" which was somehow too long for the OpEdNews’ comment section:

Competition & cooperation are both part of our lives. But we choose when to use which, & different societies have had different mixes. There is no legislating out competition but we can grow in consciousness about its use.

Your preference for anonymity & lack for future obligation (a preference shared by many Westerners, I suspect) is a cultural preference & not something encoded in DNA.

I think your assumption that either we have money or we go back to such undesirable practices as slavery, indentured servitude, warlords and plunder is unnecessarily restrictive and dualistic. We do not have to go back and forth between two equally unpalatable “options”. We can, if we open our minds, come up with other possibilities.

I can picture a community in which you, a weaver, take a loom produced by someone who likes to make them. He is also a weaver so he does not need your scarves. He needs bread from the baker, who is cold & needs your scarves, which you were able to make because you were weaving, not working in an office for money. You are on a low carb diet so you don’t take bread but you do take veggies from an urban farmer/landscaper who takes care of the loommaker’s yard, etc.

It’s not plunder; it’s sharing. It’s people in a community taking care of each other. No one is a slave or an overlord. Everyone works according to their interests and skills. Diversity of people is respected as more diversity provides more choice. Your obligation to the community is to keep weaving, maybe teaching others who want to learn, in person or through writing a book about it. In other words, to be you rather than what someone else wants you to be because he can profit by it.

See Eisenstein’s "A circle of gifts" http://endmoney.info/?p=334

If no one wants what someone does, maybe there is a related task that contributes to society. If no one likes my poetry, I can read books to children in a library, make audiobooks for the blind, or teach adult literacy & still write poetry because the point is to provide a service, not to work X number of hours. Who cares that it takes me a fraction of the time to write my poetry than it takes the urban farmer to do her work, if farming is her favorite job & she wouldn’t trade it for a hill of gold?

We can have some mediums of exchange. I have nothing against supermarket coupons. But money has intrinsic value & I find that problematical. More evil is done for money than is done for coupons.

While I was writing that comment originally, Terrilian added another comment about The Economics of Happiness. She had visited the web site and was largely in agreement with its localization message. I appreciate her willingness to be open minded and at least have a look. The first step to freeing ourselves from the violence and economic, cultural and environmental plunder that so many of us rail against daily on sites like OpEdNews is to rid ourselves of the intellectual hegemony of corporate economics, the limited politics of our own society, and habit, tradition and history for its own sake. We shouldn’t just discard the past willy-nilly–chances are that our great grandmother’s cooking was healthier than our own–but we should question what we have always done to figure out if it is still working well or should give way to something new.

I, for one, think monetary systems have outlived their usefulness. You may disagree. But to even entertain a question such as "why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on?" means we are thinking and not just walking in lockstep down a well-worn trail, solely because "that’s the way it is." That is the difference between humans and ants.

Are you a human being or are you an ant?

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

Review: The Economics of Happiness

Economics of Happiness PosterPeople throughout the developed world as well as larger parts of the developing world, such as China and India, are being bombarded daily with messages from politicians and pundits saying that the only solution to economic crises is further economic growth. Indeed, economic growth is seen as the most important thing in the world, and even vital issues such as ecological devastation must take a back seat to growth because it is the way out the global poverty, or so say the globalist politicians and their minions in the media. But look around you today, and you will see ever deepening crises of economy, ecology, and human spirit in the world, which globalization only seems to worsen. Moreover, human economics is coming face to face with natural resource constraints.

Peak oil, water shortages, an ever-shrinking reserve of grain in the world caused by failed harvests in the world’s breadbaskets, and a world population that now tops 6.8 billion people should make us rethink the wisdom of a paradigm of infinite growth on a finite planet. Helena Norberg-Hodge and friends have been doing just that, and have produced a 67-minute film called The Economics of Happiness, which not only shows the folly of the globalist paradigm, but shows that, contrary to globalist propaganda, there is a sustainable alternative: localization.

Norberg-Hodge draws on over 35 years of experience with people of Ladakh or “Little Tibet” in the Himalayas to demonstrate the point. The traditional culture of the Ladakhis lacked many of the conveniences most Westerners feel are essential to a comfortable life, but it also lacked many of the banes of Western culture such as unemployment, income inequality, and the loneliness, fear, and discrimination rife in a world full of competition and comparison. In the traditional Ladakhi society, everyone had work, no one went hungry and the people looked out for each other. They had a comfortable material lifestyle with plenty of leisure time and, perhaps most importantly, they were proud of their culture. But starting in the mid-1970s, when Ladakh was opened to the West, the people were introduced to Western-style consumerism and competitiveness. The result was unemployment, growing income inequality, and a feeling of backwardness and inferiority among the Ladakhi people.

It is from this point that the film takes off on a scathing critique of globalization. We are shown how, throughout the world, people and cultures are being swallowed up by what documentary participant Dr. Vandana Shiva calls “Monocultures of the Mind”. Globalization is a monoculture that strives to makeover the entire world in the white Western model. As Norberg-Hodge points out, this monoculture marginalizes the vast majority of the world’s people who are neither white nor Western. This global monoculture also does disservice to the people who are white and Western as very very few of them can achieve the looks, wealth or status of the models, actors, celebrities and top-level consumers that are placed before them in the media as people whom they should imitate (with more than a little help from their corporate friends’ products, of course.)

“The Economics of Happiness” uses voices from six continents and different fields of expertise to point out the various problems related to globalization. These experts explain why localization is the answer to ills that range from poverty and energy waste to loneliness and depression. But the film also makes good use of scenes in which ordinary people make the case for localization. In one instance, a young man from India states that he does not want to be a beggar and that if he could only have his land back, he would return to farming. Globalization has had its harshest effect on the world small farmers who have been pushed off their land and into crowded urban areas where there are not enough jobs and where their individual energy usage, as well as cost of living, goes up.

The filmmakers also visited Detroit, Michigan, where people are reclaiming abandoned land for community gardens and offering food to whomever comes by so long as they are willing to “get dirty” as one of the urban farmers put it. I was especially heartened by this scene, because it showed an example of people being fed without money changing hands. Willingness to be part of the community (“See a weed. Pick a weed.”) was all that was needed to entitle a passerby to some vegetables.

The lack of community in the globalization paradigm was brought home in a scene in which Norberg-Hodge takes two Ladakhi community leaders—both older women—on a tour of a European city. She shows them the good things of modern Western life, such as washing machines, but she also shows them the homeless on the street and an elderly man wasting away in the sterile environment of what appeared to be a long-term care facility. The old man never married and had no children or grandchildren to visit him. A small television was his only company. You could see on the face of one of the elder Ladakhi women that she found this arrangement sad, and did not approve.

The effort to use localization as a way of reconnection with each other and with our natural surroundings was a theme that was carried on in the very screening of the film. I saw it at the David Brower Center in downtown Berkeley, CA, a small venue that had to turn away several hundred would-be audience members. The screening was followed by a panel discussion by Norberg-Hodge and several people from the San Francisco Bay Area, including Richard Heinberg, who was in the film, who are engaged in various localization projects, They not only made presentations, but had a Q & A with the audience, many of whom were activists of various stripes.

It is Norberg-Hodge’s hope that screenings of the film will be a springboard to further connections among activists who would otherwise work on their separate issues without ever meeting. The web site for the film, http://www.theeconomicsofhappiness.org has suggestions on how to get active in the localization process, including hosting screenings for your neighborhood. As the title of the film suggests, you might find the experience enjoyable as well as educational and practical.

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

The Economics of Happiness

Localization can repair the economic and social wreckage wrought by globalization and bring greater happiness, through community. So say sages and activists on six continents, in a new film. In this interview, Helena Norberg-Hodge explains her film, The Economics of Happiness http://theeconomicsofhappiness.org/ . This interview was aired on WINGS – Women’s International News Gathering Service (http://wings.org)

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From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

Criminal of Poverty

This is the first part of my interview with Tiny (a.k.a Lisa Grey–Garcia) in San Francisco, The interview was aired by WINGS -Women’s International News Gathering Service (http://wings.org)

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Tiny is a poet, educator, organizer, and media activist. Her 2006 memoir, published by City Lights, is titled Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America. We agree that money should not exist. And the stories of Tiny, her late mother, Dee, and the poverty scholars of POOR, show all the suffering that its existence and dominance in our culture causes.

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

Poverty Scholars: Poor People are the Experts on their Own Lives

This is the second half of my interview with Tiny (aka Lisa Gray-Garcia) in San Francisco, The interview was aired by WINGS -Women’s International News Gathering Service (http://wings.org)

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Tiny is a poet, educator, organizer, and media activist. Her 2006 memoir, published by City Lights, is titled Criminal of Poverty: Growing Up Homeless in America. We agree that money should not exist. And the stories of Tiny, her late mother, Dee, and the poverty scholars of POOR, show all the suffering that its existence and dominance in our culture causes.

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

Money, incentives and optimization of resources: Questions asked and answered.

 

A gentleman on Facebook who uses the title King of Paupers as part of his username, recently posed some questions to me about the abolition of money in a comment he made to a post about the documentary “Ethos”. Here are his questions and my answers. I did not address his mathematical formula because I did not understand it.

John KingofthePaupers Turmel How are you going to optimize use of resources if you don’t have a medium of exchange? How are you going to maximize incentive without chips to score the game? Don’t throw out the accounting used in the unfair game so you don’t use accounting in the fair game. Focus on the problem (1/(s-i)) and it’s only getting rid of the "i", not the 1/s that does the fair job.

John,

Thank you for your questions.  They raise the issues that need to be addressed.  But in turn, I need to ask you some questions.  You call yourself the King of Paupers; why then do you advance arguments in favor of money? What do you mean by "optimize use of resources"? Money can certainly ration resources, but that rationing is not necessarily optimal.  Let me cite some examples.  British Petroleum probably thought that it was optimizing resources in the form of saving time and money by not installing certain safety devices and not carrying out certain safety tests on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  Yet their desire to save that time and money led to the deaths of 11 men, the ruination of thousands of people’s livelihoods, and still untold devastation to the ecology of the Gulf.  I love baseball, but I fail to see an optimal use of resources in Alex Rodriguez having a 10-year $275 million contract, or Albert Pujols purportedly wanting a 10-year $300 million contract while the people who pick our fruits and vegetables live lives of abject poverty and near slavery.  Which function is more useful to the society, hitting a baseball or supplying that society with food? While we’re on the subject of food, I shop at a nearby Whole Foods Market.  A lot of people call that market "Whole Paycheck".  I wonder how much of its produce and meat are thrown away because people could not afford to buy it.  Both the United States and the United Kingdom, just to use two examples, throw away many tons of food each year.  Meanwhile, people in both nations go hungry because they did not have the money required to buy the food.  There are some people, and I’m one of them, who believe that food is a human right.  But it is an official position of the United States that there is no human right to food, only an opportunity to buy food.  I don’t consider this system by which food is either rationed by money or discarded while people go hungry as an optimal or moral use of resources.

Secondly, as to the matter of medium of exchange: first of all, it isn’t always necessary.  Consider your own circle of family and friends.  You often give and take from each other without a medium of exchange, and even without an expectation of immediate or even eventual reciprocation.  This is called gift-giving.  We need to do more of it, with a broader group of people than just our immediate circle of family and friends, and we need to recognize how much of it we currently do.  People can elect to trade goods and services.  They can also borrow goods.  The direct borrowing of goods, unlike the borrowing of money, is without interest.  You borrow a car; you give it back.  To make the lender whole, you fill up the gas tank before you return the car.  But when you return the car, you do not also have to give the lender a motorcycle. 

If you are interested in accounting for transactions, so that you can measure the flow of goods and services and know how much is needed of what sort of things, you can use mediums of exchange that do not have the intrinsic value that money has.  For example, you can use coupons, as we use supermarket or newspaper coupons today.  If you look on the back or on the bottom of such coupons, you will note that they say that they have no cash value or they are worth 1/20 of a cent, yet they still facilitate the exchange of goods and services. In the computer age, some kind of electronic entry can be the tally marker for accounting purposes.  So the abolition of money does not necessarily mean the abolition of the concept of mediums of exchange.

But unlike the other mediums of exchange, such as the store coupons, money has its own value, and this is a major problem. As David Korten recently wrote, "Money is a system of power. The more our lives depend on money, the greater our subservience to those who control the creation and allocation of money."  This subservience makes a mockery of the fundamental equality of all people.  We are all born naked and helpless, we put on our pants one leg at a time, and rich or poor, we all die.  So no one has a greater right to be on this planet than you or I.  To really optimize the use of resources is to make sure everyone has enough to survive as a biological being (food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare), and to thrive as an engaged member of their society (education, communication, transportation, and the tools of their chosen trade or profession).  Today, most people work as employees for money; some people start businesses to make money.  (I am sure you have often heard the phrase, "They are in business to make money.") Thus, everything in the economy comes down to what it takes to make money, not what it takes to make a particular good or service in and of itself.  And that’s why you get disasters, such as BP in the Gulf of Mexico.  That is also why you get war, because arms merchants and mercenary corporations such as Halliburton, can make a fortune and because land and resources can be seized by the victor and monetized. That is also why you get a waste of resources in trade. Did you know that countries trade identical goods to each other, e.g. the United States and Australia trade wheat? It’s done because there is money to be made from such transactions, even though they waste energy and each country ends up with food that is not as fresh as it would be if it were grown for domestic use.  Again, that is not an optimal use of resources.  As far as I know, nobody works for store coupons or other units of account the way they work for money.

As for maximizing incentive, money is certainly AN incentive for some people, but it is not the only incentive or even the best.  The strongest incentives anybody has for doing anything are desire or necessity.  The two archetypes for these incentives are artists and inventors, but you will find that these incentives motivate people in all fields.  I am sure you have heard that the artist creates because he or she just has to; the book, sculpture, painting, musical composition etc. is inside the artist and has to come out.  Unfortunately, the money-based world exploits this intense desire, often paying little for the work, because of the assumption that it would have been done anyway.  This is unfair to the artist who has bills to pay like everyone else, and perhaps more bills, in the form of material costs, than the average member of the public.  But it is a wrong assumption in another way: the lack of money may prevent the creation of the work, or decrease the overall productivity of the artist, because he or she cannot pay the material costs or take the time to do the work because of the need to work for survival. I have been in that situation as a writer and know other artists with similar difficulties.

Necessity is the mother of invention and curiosity its father. If there were never inventions created except in return for money, we would still be living in caves.  And even cave people were artists, as we know by the various cave paintings of many ancient civilizations.  Human beings work and create because it is part of their nature.  That has been forgotten throughout history and even up to the current day by people who believe that most others are inferior, lazy and bad, and will work only because they have to i.e. because they need the money.  Of course, that idea goes hand in hand with the idea that work is a punishment for sin.  If work is, in fact, part of our nature as human beings, and if we are working according to our personal dictates, i.e. our interests and aptitudes, work is a gift to ourselves and our community, never a punishment.  I think the notion of money as incentivizing work is based on the notion that we must have an incentive outside of ourselves in order to do work.  But money perverts the incentive to work, making us work to fulfill the desires of an impersonal market rather than to fulfill ourselves.  By fulfilling ourselves, I am not suggesting that we would never do things for other people unless we were incentivized by money to do so.  Doing things for others fulfills the altruistic side of our natures. Rather, I suggest that the incentive of money turns our attention to doing anything to get that incentive. Money, whether we need it or just desire it, can incentivize us to do work that is not only a waste of resources, but morally wrong.  For example, today’s designers of sophisticated weapons of war are very well incentivized monetarily, as are the manufacturers and importers of heroin and crystal meth. 

The human race must return to internally-based incentives.  Honoring the diversity of human beings will assure that each society has a good mix of products and services that suit their both their individual and societal needs and desires.  What we have now with money, and especially with globalization, is a greater and greater monoculture that does not need everyone’s product, yet still demands that everyone be a producer (or be the family member of a producer) in order to acquire resources.  Those who are unwanted by the marketplace and unrelated to a producer get little or nothing.  Throwing people away is hardly an optimal use of resources.

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

Ayn Rand Railed Against Government Benefits, But Grabbed Social Security and Medicare When She Needed Them

AlterNet / By Joshua Holland

At least she put up a fight before succumbing to the imperatives of the real world.

January 29, 2011 |

Ayn Rand was not only a schlock novelist, she was also the progenitor of a sweeping “moral philosophy” that justifies the privilege of the wealthy and demonizes not only the slothful, undeserving poor but the lackluster middle-classes as well.

Her books provided wide-ranging parables of “parasites,” “looters” and “moochers” using the levers of government to steal the fruits of her heroes’ labor. In the real world, however, Rand herself received Social Security payments and Medicare benefits under the name of Ann O’Connor (her husband was Frank O’Connor).

As Michael Ford of Xavier University’s Center for the Study of the American Dream wrote, “In the end, Miss Rand was a hypocrite but she could never be faulted for failing to act in her own self-interest.”

Her ideas about government intervention in some idealized pristine marketplace serve as the basis for so much of the conservative rhetoric we see today. “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” said Paul Ryan, the GOP’s young budget star at a D.C. event honoring the author. On another occasion, he proclaimed, “Rand makes the best case for the morality of democratic capitalism.”

“Morally and economically,” wrote Rand in a 1972 newsletter, “the welfare state creates an ever accelerating downward pull.”

Journalist Patia Stephens wrote of Rand:

[She] called altruism a “basic evil” and referred to those who perpetuate the system of taxation and redistribution as “looters” and “moochers.” She wrote in her book “The Virtue of Selfishness” that accepting any government controls is “delivering oneself into gradual enslavement.”

Rand also believed that the scientific consensus on the dangers of tobacco was a hoax. By 1974, the two-pack-a-day smoker, then 69, required surgery for lung cancer. And it was at that moment of vulnerability that she succumbed to the lure of collectivism.

Evva Joan Pryor, who had been a social worker in New York in the 1970s, was interviewed in 1998 by Scott McConnell, who was then the director of communications for the Ayn Rand Institute. In his book, 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand, McConnell basically portrays Rand as first standing on principle, but then being mugged by reality. Stephens points to this exchange between McConnell and Pryor.

“She was coming to a point in her life where she was going to receive the very thing she didn’t like, which was Medicare and Social Security,” Pryor told McConnell. “I remember telling her that this was going to be difficult. For me to do my job she had to recognize that there were exceptions to her theory. So that started our political discussions. From there on – with gusto – we argued all the time.

The initial argument was on greed,” Pryor continued. “She had to see that there was such a thing as greed in this world. Doctors could cost an awful lot more money than books earn, and she could be totally wiped out by medical bills if she didn’t watch it. Since she had worked her entire life, and had paid into Social Security, she had a right to it. She didn’t feel that an individual should take help.”

Rand had paid into the system, so why not take the benefits? It’s true, but according to Stephens, some of Rand’s fellow travelers remained true to their principles.

Rand is one of three women the Cato Institute calls founders of American libertarianism. The other two, Rose Wilder Lane and Isabel “Pat” Paterson, both rejected Social Security benefits on principle. Lane, with whom Rand corresponded for several years, once quit an editorial job in order to avoid paying Social Security taxes. The Cato Institute says Lane considered Social Security a “Ponzi fraud” and “told friends that it would be immoral of her to take part in a system that would predictably collapse so catastrophically.” Lane died in 1968.

Paterson would end up dying a pauper. Rand went a different way.

But at least she put up a fight before succumbing to the imperatives of the real world – one in which people get sick, and old, and many who are perfectly decent and hardworking don’t end up being independently wealthy.

The degree to which Ayn Rand has become a touchstone for the modern conservative movement is striking. She was a sexual libertine, and, according to writer Mark Ames, she modeled her heroic characters on one of the most despicable sociopaths of her time. Ames’ conclusion is important for understanding today’s political economy. “Whenever you hear politicians or Tea Partiers dividing up the world between ‘producers’ and ‘collectivism,’” he wrote, “just know that those ideas and words more likely than not are derived from the deranged mind of a serial-killer groupie….And when you see them taking their razor blades to the last remaining programs protecting the middle class from total abject destitution—Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—and bragging about how they are slashing these programs for ‘moral’ reasons, just remember Rand’s morality and who inspired her.”

Now we know that Rand was also just as hypocritical as the Tea Party freshman who railed against “government health care” to get elected and then whined that he had to wait a month before getting his own Cadillac plan courtesy of the taxpayers.

But, as I note in my book, The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy, that’s par for the course. A central rule of the U.S. political economy is that people are attracted to the idea of “limited government” in the abstract—and certainly don’t want the government intruding in their homes—but they really, really like living in a society with adequately funded public services.

That’s just as true for an icon of modern conservatism as it is for a poor mother getting public health care for her kids.

Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy (and Everything else the Right Doesn’t Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America). Drop him an email or follow him on Twitter.

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

Why Women Who Pick and Process Your Food Face Daily Threats of Rape, Harassment and Wage Theft

We all benefit from a hugely exploitative system, in which our dinner is now directly linked to violence against women.

January 26, 2011  |  

AlterNet / By Jill Richardson

Chances are, you’ve never connected your dinner to violence against women. And yet, a new report published by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) makes that link.

The report, "Injustice on Our Plates: Immigrant Women in the U.S. Food Industry," compiles the experiences of 150 immigrant women who came from Mexico or other Latin American countries to work in the food industry, both in fields and in factories, across the United States. The picture it paints is grim. Women, who make up nearly a quarter of U.S. farmworkers, face the same indignities that immigrant men face — and then some.

Mary Bauer, SPLC legal director, noted that after years of advocacy on behalf of immigrant women, there was a "glaring absence in the literature," a gap the new report is intended to fill. The findings of the report are intimately connected to the food Americans eat, as it is virtually impossible to eat in the United States without consuming some food that was grown, harvested or processed by immigrants. As Bauer says, "There is no one in the U.S. who is not benefiting from this deeply exploitative system."

While the new report may be the first of its kind, the unique plight of immigrant women, particularly the sexual harassment and violence to which they are subjected, is not entirely undocumented. Eric Schlosser wrote of sexual harassment against women workers in a meat processing plant in his 2001 bestseller Fast Food Nation. In addition to the fondling and groping the women endured on the job, women also engaged in consensual relationships with supervisors to gain "a secure place in American society, a green card, a husband — or at the very least a transfer to an easier job at the plant."

And then there’s the nonconsensual stuff: A 2008 piece in High Country News revealed that farmworkers refer to one company’s field as the "field of panties" because so many women workers are raped by supervisors. And as far back as 1993, the Southern Poverty Law Center found in its own study that 90 percent of female farm workers cite sexual harassment as a serious problem.

However, sexual harassment and violence are only one piece of a larger puzzle. The story starts in the women’s home countries — typically Mexico or Guatemala. Some left home to escape domestic violence, and at least one interviewee, an educated woman in Mexico, was promised an office job in the United States only to find herself a victim of a human trafficking operation, forced into slave labor. However, "over and over again we heard the same thing," says Bauer, "Desperate poverty and wanting a better life for their children" drove the women to leave home and head north. For many, coming to the United States involves leaving their children behind. Thinking about the sad stories she’s heard, Bauer notes, "It’s got to be terrible, to choose between being with your children and feeding your children."

The first hardship immigrant women face is crossing the border. With increased security at the border, going from 3,555 Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1992 to over 17,000 as of 2009, Bauer says, "the easy crossing options are going away." That means that rather than walking through a checkpoint in Tijuana with phony papers, more and more immigrants, including women, are forced to walk through the desert. To make the journey, many hire human traffickers, "coyotes," who are paid exorbitant amounts (from $1,500 to $10,000) upon successfully bringing the immigrants to an agreed-upon location. When bringing a large group, a coyote will not hesitate to leave a single straggler for dead in the desert, to avoid risking the big payoff that will be earned by delivering the others safely to the U.S.

One woman profiled in SPLC’s report, Araceli, was left in the desert by her group of 30 others, all men. Fortunately for her, after two days alone in the desert, another group of migrants found her and helped her finish the trek. Another woman, Elvira, describes how her smuggler was about to rape her when she saved herself by declaring, "I have AIDS." She was successful in averting rape, but the coyote ran away, leaving her alone in the desert. Fortunately, the Border Patrol found her and sent her back to Mexico, saving her life in the process. Sexual assault during the border-crossing is so common that some women reported taking birth control pills as a precautionary measure before they go.

The massive increase in border protection has had the effect of solidifying the immigrant population in the U.S. In The Farmworkers’ Journey, Ann Aurelia Lopez writes that prior to 1986, immigrants were primarily solitary men who came to the U.S. for seasonal work, who "left behind intact families, villages, and towns and planned to return to them after the harvest season." But this is no longer the case. Now that it is so difficult, costly, and even dangerous to cross the border, immigrants feel they cannot risk going back to Mexico because they might not be able to re-enter the U.S. Bauer recalled interviewees who were unable to return home even for important occasions, like seeing their elderly parents before they died. Lopez writes of similar scenarios, such as one man who worked in California’s fields who had never met his two youngest sisters in Mexico. Conversely, his parents have never met his wife or children in the United States.

Once in the United States, the types of work the immigrant women find in the food industry is grueling and it pays poorly. Unfortunately, the difficult working conditions are often the least of the immigrants’ problems. In fact, the immigrants said again and again that they did not expect (or want) a handout; all they want is to work and to be paid for their work. And work they do — but they are not always paid. "Virtually all" of the women interviewed for SPLC’s report complained of wage theft. Some women reported occasions where they were not paid at all, but more often the women were paid for less work than they did.

Wage theft can happen to immigrant men too. However, the immigrant women told of another form of exploitation that claims only female victims. When married couples work for the same employer, they are often paid in one paycheck in the husband’s name. This practice is illegal, allowing employers to easily undercut minimum wage laws and subjecting women to their husband’s financial control. In the longer term, if immigration reform is enacted, the women will have a difficult time proving their eligibility for legalization because — at least on paper — they were not working in the U.S.

Americans are guaranteed, by law, a safe and healthy workplace, but in practice, immigrants working in the food industry get no such guarantee. Farmworkers, fewer than 10 percent of whom reported having employer-provided health insurance, are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides on the job. Many complain of headaches and other acute symptoms of exposure, but long-term chronic exposure results in far more devastating health problems. For women, working among these chemicals can mean giving birth to deformed children, such as one who was born without any arms or legs, or another infant who was born so deformed that doctors were unable to determine gender until the autopsy after the child died.

Immigrants who work in meat processing plants are not exposed to chemicals, but they spend their days working among sharp knives and dangerous machinery. But those who lose body parts in accidents related to knives or machines at least have a better chance of receiving health care for their injuries. Far more common are injuries such as tendinitis, caused by making the same fast, repetitive motions for hours each day. While painful and debilitating, these injuries are often dismissed by the medical staff in the plants, and workers are sent back to work with little care or relief for their pain. The best safeguard against injuries from repetitive movements are sharp knives, but one worker whose job was to slice fat from chicken breasts reported that the company would deduct $10 from her paycheck if she requested a sharper knife.

The women, by and large, found it difficult to complain to their employers about the many indignities, health hazards, and even crimes they faced on the job. Bauer reflected that, while some might think the women weren’t complaining because they grew up in a different culture and were ignorant of U.S. laws, she doesn’t believe that is the case. "Many women knew what was done to them was wrong and probably illegal. But other factors made them unwilling to come forward."

Those who did complain were told they could quit if they did not like their working conditions, as there was no shortage of other immigrants lining up to replace them, and sometimes employers even threatened to turn undocumented immigrants in to the authorities if they spoke up. Bauer says, "We don’t give enough credit to workers for making what is really a rational decision." That is, they choose to put up with humiliating, unsafe, horrific working conditions because it’s better than the alternatives of not working at all, or returning to their home countries.

Some of the women said if they knew what it would be like here in the U.S., they would not have come. Others say their lives are terrible in the United States, but they had no choice. After interviewing such a broad range of women for the report, Bauer says she was struck by the "weight of cumulative trauma" the women bore. "Many women suffered in so many ways with no significant report," she says. "You can absorb one really terrible incident, but when it’s coming to you in so many ways it’s courageous and brave to wake up every day and go to work."

That’s the courage that literally puts the food on Americans’ tables.

For Americans who no longer want to support a system of such exploitation, there are several available actions to take, although none are perfect. First, opt out of the system by procuring food that was not picked by poorly-paid immigrants. Most simply, grow your own food or buy it locally from farmers’ markets. Of course, completely opting out of the mainstream exploitative food system is nearly impossible, unless you can get literally everything you need (including milk and meat) locally. But do the best you can. Another option is to buy organic, so at least whoever grew and harvested your food was not exposed to pesticides, although that only solves one problem out of many. And follow along with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ campaigns, calling on retailers to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes picked by immigrant labor and boycotting retailers that refuse. You could also support efforts of the Center for Farmworker Families, which works in both Mexico and the U.S. Long term, however, a political solution is needed, with not only immigration reform, but also a re-negotiation or abandonment of NAFTA, which single-handedly drove many Mexicans north once they were no longer able to feed their families on their family farms.

Jill Richardson is the founder of the blog La Vida Locavore and a member of the Organic Consumers Association policy advisory board. She is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It..

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

Open letter to CollapseNet and all other groups of a survivalist orientation

The following is a letter I wrote to the administrator of CollapseNet, but the message applies to other groups. I believe we are headed toward even more difficult times, but there are different ways to approach the problem. I have made a choice in the matter of which way to focus my attention and this letter reflects that.  If you disagree, fine, and you are welcome to even state so in a comment. But I will not engage in debate on this particular issue because I think it is a waste of our energy. Only time will tell which side was right.

Dear Administrator,

I have not been a member for quite a few months now and had asked once before to be dropped from these emails; I now ask again. I’ve decided to part ways with all people and groups that basically have a survivalist approach toward these difficult times.  Don’t get me wrong. I know collapse is going to happen, and living in earthquake country, I know it is wise to "prepare." But you folks who think that people should buy and store 6 months worth of food, buy gold and silver, and spend $720 on a tracker school and urban escape are yuppies who don’t have answers for urban poor folks like me who don’t have the money to do those things.

That you really don’t have any answers for people like me is not so much of a problem as the fact that you wouldn’t really admit it. You never said "you guys are screwed because you don’t have the money to buy the resources (land, food, etc)." I looked for that honesty and never found it. There were just ideas like Stringing up plastic bottles in your apartment window so that you would have a few scrap of veggies to feed some anorexic looking 20 year old vegetarian female. But a look in the web site of a place that sells the guts of such a system, shows that it costs $700. You just went on with your exclusive stories and your expensive courses and the message that we have got to prepare for the worst rather than use this time build something totally different.

Someone like me is actually your adversary. I am part of the groups you are afraid will come and steal your food and money in the desperate violent times you are sure lay ahead. You will be right if most people look at this collapse phenomenon in fear and survivalism. Ironically, the suggestion some of you make that poor folks like me band into tight-knit communities to help each other out, should enable us to solve our problems in another way. But although you are creating databases of resources, a good idea in itself, the underlying idea of your site is separatist. Those with the money to get survival resources must escape the urban areas to protect themselves and what they have.
And in doing that you are sowing the seeds of destruction for the post-collapse society, because, once again a "civilization" will be built on fear. Will humanity ever learn to get out of that cycle? If it doesn’t, should any of us survive or should we just give Mother Earth a chance to make a different species that will treat Her and each other with more kindness and respect?

Your lifeboat metaphor makes me think of the Titanic. And certainly corporate capitalism and industrial  civilization is headed to the murky depths of history as it has struck the iceberg of resource constraints.  But the problem with lifeboats is that a lot of people never have a chance to make it to a lifeboat. In the Titanic example, only the people in first class–the folks with the money–got on lifeboats and then only some of them. Lives were lost, not only because of failure to prepare adequately–there were not enough spaces for everyone on board–but because of the classism and sexism that prevented the lives of the poorer passengers in steerage and second class as well as most of the men in first class to be saved.

I see no purpose for someone like me to join a lifeboat anyway because the post-collapse world that you envision would not have room for someone like me. I am 55, my training is more academic than practical and my productivity, such as it is, has been hampered by the affects of two strokes and a heart attack. In the low tech, austere, violent world of your vision, I would be quickly tabbed a useless eater and eliminated. I would not want to live in such a world anyway. The low tech part wouldn’t bother me so much as the survivalist mentality.

 
I do believe there are other ways to live but they require changing the metaphor from lifeboat to phoenix, the mythical bird that rises from its own ashes. If you really have good information, why don’t you stay with us and help us learn, as the Rhizome Collective of Austin, Texas did, to build a new and better world right here in our cities ? In other words, have the guts to share instead of being cowards who run away. Your North, East and South compass points are correct.  But your west compass point,  the inevitable  loss of billions of lives, is wrong, terribly wrong. Such loss of life is inevitable only if people focus on that outcome instead of building the alternatives.

I don’t see what you are doing as building an alternative when it is wrapped in exclusivity, fear and survivalism.  You are just making sure your own asses are safe from the "great unwashed." You would deny this I am sure, but I will quote you Albert Einstein: "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war."

You are preparing for war.  I am preparing for peace and prosperity.  Time will tell which of us is right. All I know is that the future is not written in stone. Though I am not a Christian, I agree with a saying attributed to Jesus to the effect of “Store up your treasures in Heaven for where your treasures are your heart will be also.” Or as the New Agers say, “What you think about, comes about.”

What are you thinking?

As Murrow and Olberman used to say, Good Night and Good Luck."

Kellia Ramares
Oakland, CA
Facebook Page: The End of Money
Twitter: EndofMoney
Email: TheEndofMoney@gmail.com

Why must we pay to live on the planet we’re born on?

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia RamaresComments

David Ellerman – Abolish Human Rentals

David EllermanDavid Ellerman – Abolish Human Rentals

The only difference between slavery and wage work is the length of the contract. Ever hear or use the term “wage-slave”?

The links here are to a You Tube Playlist. Each part is about 10 minutes long. Thanks to Mike Leung of the web site Abolish Human Rentals for this.

David Ellerman – Abolish Human Rentals Pt. 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

From: endmoney.infoBy: Kéllia Ramares-WatsonComments