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Take from the Needy and Give to the Greedy 1

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  1. A XVIII 1
  2. A XVIII 2
  3. A XVIII 3
  4. A XVIII 4
  5. ANDREW ELIOTS DIARY 1
  6. ANDREW ELIOTS DIARY 2
  7. ANDREW ELIOTS DIARY 3
  8. ANDREW ELIOTS DIARY 4
  9. ANDREW ELIOTS DIARY 5
  10. Bed house 1

 

October 31 and November 3, 1995

DBYouve been following the World Court case, the Timor Gap Treaty involving Portugal and Australia. Whats happened with that?

On June 30th the World Court announced its decision, actually non-decision. It decided to evade the issue. There were procedural issues, like, Can they go ahead at all with Indonesia not there, and then if they had agreed to that there would have been the substantive issues, but they stopped on the procedural issues. On a vote of 12-3, they said that they could not proceed without Indonesia present, so the issues dead. On the other hand, if you read the whole ruling, its not completely empty. For example, they did say that there can be no doubt under international law that East Timor has the inalienable right of self-determination; but they said they cant proceed any further on the technical matter of the treaty without one of the parties present, and Indonesia refuses to take part, just like the U.S. on Nicaragua. In Nicaragua they did go ahead, but on this one they didnt.

DBYouve commented on the relative power of Australia vis--vis Portugal in arguing this case.

I havent seen the whole record, but what I saw of Portugals case

didnt look to me very impressive. And Australia had (again, what I saw of it) they did it cleverly in the legal sense. After all, we have to remember that even at the World Court or the Supreme Court the law is to a considerable extent a sort of duel where truth and significance are around the fringes somewhere. A lot of it is show and technique. One thing that Australia brought up that embarrassed Portugal a lot, although its irrelevant, had to do with their dealings with Morocco and Western Sahara, which the Australians brought up to show, Youre just being hypocritical. Two seconds worth of thought shows that whether theyre being hypocritical or not has zero to do with this case. But in the court deliberations and the colloquy they apparently have a lot to do with it. Thats standard courtroom procedure. And the Australians seemed pretty good at that. Its a First World country, and they know how to play these games.

DBIm not familiar with the Portuguese position. Are they in favor of the Moroccan annexation of Western Sahara?



I dont know the exact details, but they apparently made some kind of deal with Morocco about maybe Western Saharan minerals or something. The Australians brought this up and said, This is a paralIel, so how can you even bring up the case of East Timor? At most what it shows is that Portugal is hypocritical, which is not the issue. But as courts work, it was an issue.

DBYouve just returned from a series of talks in Washington and Oregon. There were the by now customary huge turnouts and standing ovations and the like. But I sense you feel some disquiet. Whats that about?

To tell you the honest truth, when I see a huge mob, which is pretty common these days, I have a mixture of feelings. Partly Im sort of depressed about it, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, theres just too much personalization. It doesnt make any sense. Its worrisome. The other thing is that the ratio of passive participation to active engagement is way too high. These were well-arranged talks. For example, they did what a lot of people dont do and ought to do. Every place I went there were a dozen tables outside with every conceivable organization having leaflets and handouts and sign-up sheets and telling what theyre up to. So if people want to do anything there are easy answers to what you can do in your own community. The question that comes up over and over again, and I dont really have an answer still, (really, I dont know any other people who have answers to them), is, Its terrible, awful, getting worse. What do we do? Tell me the answer. The trouble is, there has not in history ever been any answer other than, Get to work on it.



There are a thousand different ways of getting to work on it. For one thing, theres no it. Theres lots of different things. You can think of long-term goals and visions you have in mind, but even if thats what youre focused on, youre going to have to take steps towards them. The steps can be in all kinds of directions, from caring about starving children in Central America or Africa, to working on the rights of working people here, to worrying about the fact that the environments in serious danger. Theres no one thing thats the right thing to do. It depends on what your interests are and whats going on and what the problems are and so on. And you have to deal with them. Theres very little that anybody can do about these things alone. Occasionally somebody can, but its marginal. Mainly you work with other people to try to develop ideas and learn more about it and figure out appropriate tactics for the situation in question and deal with them and try to develop more support. Thats the way everything happens, whether its small changes

or huge changes.

If there is a magic answer, I dont know it. But it sounds to me as if the tone of the questions and part of the disparity between listening and acting suggestsIm sure this is unfairTell me something thats going to work pretty soon or else Im not going to bother, because Ive got other things to do. Nothing is going to work pretty soon, at least if its worth doing, nor has that ever been the case.

To get back to the point, even in talks like these, the organizers told me they did get a fair amount of apparent engagement. People would ask, Can I join your group? or What can I do? or Do you have some suggestions? If that works, okay, its fine. But usually, theres a kind of chasm between the scale of the audience, and even its immediate reaction, and the follow-up. Thats depressing.

DBYou continue to be in tremendous demand for these speaking engagements. Are you considering stopping?

I would be delighted to stop. For me its not a great joy, frankly. I do it because I like to do it. You meet wonderful people and theyre doing terrific things. Its the most important thing I can imagine doing. But if the world would go away, Id be happy to stop. What ought to be happening is that a lot of younger people ought to be coming along and doing all these things. If that happens, fine. Im glad to drift off into the background. Thats fine by me. Its not happening much. Thats another thing that I worry about. Theres a real invisibility of left intellectuals who might get involved. Im not talking about people who want to come by and say, okay, Im your leader. Follow me. Ill run your affairs. Theres always plenty of those people around. But the kind of people who are just always doing things, like whether it was workers education or being in the streets or being around where theres something they can

contribute, helping organizingthats always been part of the vocation of intellectuals from Russell and Dewey on to people whose names you never heard of but who are doing important things. Theres a visible gap there today, for all kinds of reasons. A number of people involved in these things have been talking about it. Im sure youve heard of others.

DBI wouldnt entirely agree. There are some voices out there, like Holly Sklar, Winona LaDuke, and others that represent a younger generation.

Its not zero. But I think its nothing like the scale of what it ought to be or indeed has been in the past. Maybe it was that way in the past for not great reasons. A lot of those people were around the periphery of, say, the Communist Party, which had its own serious problems. But whatever the reasons, I think theres a very detectable fact. Theres plenty of left intellectuals. Theyre just doing other things. Most of those things are not related to, are sometimes even subversive to these kinds of activities.

DBA talk you gave in Marthas Vineyard in late August on corporate power was broadcast on C-SPAN a couple of weeks ago. Whats been the response to that?

The usual. Theres a huge flood of letters which Im trying to answer, slowly. Many of them are mixed. Many of them are very engaged, very concerned. People say, Its terrible. Im glad somebodys talking about it. I think the same way. What can I do, very often. Theres a strange fringe. A fair number of people interpret me as saying things that are very remote from what I mean. Ill get a very enthusiastic letter saying this is great, Im so glad to hear it, marvelous and wonderful, thanks,

etc. Id like to share with you what Ive done about this. Then comes some document which is in my view often off the wall, but anyway completely unrelated to anything Im talking about. So somewhere were not connecting. I think I even sort of know why. Theres a strange cultural phenomenon going on. Its connected with this enormous growth of cultism, irrationality, dissociation, separateness, and isolation. All of this is going together. I think another aspect is the way the population is reacting to whats happening to them. By margins that are by now so overwhelming that its even front-page news, people are strenuously opposed to everything thats going on and are frightened and angry and are reacting like punch-drunk fighters. Theyre just too alone, both in their personal lives and associations and also intellectually, without anything to grasp. They dont know how to respond except in irrational ways. In some ways it has sort of the tone of a devastated peasant society after a plague swept it or an army went through and ruined everything. People have just dissolved into inability to respond.

Its kind of dramatic when you take, say, the opposite extreme in the hemisphere: Haiti. Heres the poorest country in the hemisphere. Its suffered enormous terror. People live in complete misery. Ive seen a lot of Third World poverty, but its pretty hard to match what you find in the marketplaces in Port-au-Prince, let alone the hills. Here you have the worst conceivable situation, unimaginably horrible conditions. Poor people, people in the slums, peasants in the hills, managed to create out of their own activity a very lively, vibrant civil society with grassroots movements and associations and unions and ideas and commitment and hope and enthusiasm and so on which was astonishing in scale, so much so that without any resources they were able to take over the political system. Of course its Haiti, so the next thing that comes is the hammer on your head, which we sort of help to wield, but thats another story. However, even after it all, apparently, it still survives. Thats under

the worst imaginable conditions.

Then you come to the U.S., the best imaginable conditions, and people simply havent a clue as to how to respond. The idea that we have to go to Haiti to teach them about democracy ought to have everyone in stitches. We ought to go there and learn something about democracy. People are asking the question here, What do I do? Go ask some illiterate Haitian peasant. They seem to know what to do. Thats what you should do.

Theres another aspect to this, another question thats pretty common. I commonly say, and I believe, that this is a very free society, at least for people who are relatively privileged, which is an enormous number of people. The capacity of the government to coerce is very slight. A very common response (I heard it any number of times on this latest tour, but elsewhere as well) is, What about Kent State? Incidentally, not Jackson State. That rarely comes up. What about Joe McCarthy? Even that doesnt get mentioned because that wouldnt be relevant. I said relatively privileged people. If youre a black organizer in the slums, sure, you have a lot of problems. But most of us arent. Anyhow, the sense that there is repression here is enormous. In comparison, I was in Haiti briefly right at the height of the terror, and people were scared out of their wits, and rightly, but they didnt feel they had to stop because maybe someday there would be repression. If you compare the amount of repression that there is here with what there is in most of the world, where people dont even think about itthey just continueits pretty shocking.

DBSo that perception of omnipotent government power, do you attribute that to propaganda?

In a very broad sense Id attribute it to propaganda, but here you

have to take the term propaganda pretty broadly. The whole doctrinal system, including the entertainment industry, the corporate media, the educational system, the political system, and everything else, theres a public relations industry and a huge system that has been devoting itself for a long time very intensively and even self-consciously since the Second World War towards several tasks. One of them is demonizing unions. Another is making people hate and fear the government, which you might think is a little contradictory, since they control the government. But its not. There are plenty of things wrong with the government. But thats not what theyre worried about. What theyre worried about is the one thing thats right about it, namely, its potentially influenceable by the population.

Thats not true of private tyrannies. General Electric is not influenceable by the population except very indirectly through regulatory mechanisms which are very weak and which they mostly control anyhow. But you cant vote to decide what they ought to do, and you cant participate in those decisions. Those are tyrannies. Imagine yourself in the office of a public relations firm trying to turn people into the ideal state, namely manipulable atoms of consumption who are going to devote their energies to buying things that they dont want because you tell them thats what they wantadvertising. Theyre never going to get together to challenge anything, and they wont have a thought in their heads except doing what theyre told. A perfect utopia. Suppose youre trying to do that. What you do is get them to hate and fear the government, fear the bigness of the government. But not look at the Fortune 500, nor even medium-sized businesses, not ask how they work, not ask what were truisms to important mainstream political economists like Robert Brady sixty years ago, and in fact to the working-class movement throughout its history. These things are just tyrannical, totalitarian systems. You dont want people to see that. You want them

to worry about the one thing that they might get involved in and that might even protect them from the depredations of private power. What would make sense would be to develop a mood of anti-politics. And its worked. People hate the government, fear the government, are worried about the bureaucrats.

Take, say, health. A lot of concern that government bureaucrats will be controlling it. There are many more bureaucrats in insurance offices controlling you. But thats not what people worry about. Its not those pointy-headed bureaucrats in insurance offices who are making us fill out these forms and telling us what to do and weve got to pay for their lunches and their advertising while they propagandize us. Thats not what peoples anger and fear is focused on. What its focused on, through very conscious manipulation and perfectly rational design, is this dangerous federal bureaucracy.

Actually, whats going on now with the attempt at devolution, reducing decision making to the state levelthat makes great sense if you believe in tyranny. There are circumstances in which regionalization would be a very good move. Devolution, lowering the level of power and decisionmaking closer to the popular level, could be a step toward democracy, but not when youve got private tyrannies around. When youve got private tyrannies around, the only institution that at least in part reflects public involvement, that can cope with them, is a very powerful one, namely, the federal government. Lets say you send block grants down to the state. Thats a way of guaranteeing that theyre not going to get to poor people. Any even middle-sized business has all kinds of ways of pressuring states to make sure that that money ends up in their pockets and not in the pockets of hungry children. People can do this through regressive fiscal measures, the whole range of subsidies that governmental institutions provide to private powers that can threaten themIll move to Tennessee tomorrowso sure, devolution

under these circumstances is a great way to increase tyranny and to decrease the threat of democracy as well as to shift resources even more dramatically toward the rich and away from the poor. Thats the obvious consequence of devolution. But Ive never seen it discussed in the mainstream, although its the obvious point.

Whats discussed is complete irrelevancies, like whether we can trust the governors to care for the poor. Whats that got to do with anything? Its totally meaningless. But that kind of absurdity is whats discussed, but not the obvious, overwhelming fact that distributing governmental resources to the lower levels will simply make them more susceptible to influence and control by private power. Thats the major fact. And its part of the same anti-politics. We want to weaken the federal government.

Incidentally, thats only half true. The federal government is not being weakened. Its just being changed. The security system is going up, not only the Pentagon, but even the internal security system, jails, etc. That aspect of the government is going up. Thats not just for control, although its partly for that. Its also because its part of the way of transferring resources to the rich, which is virtually never discussed. In fact, its almost off the agenda, unless you read the business press. But its overwhelmingly significant. It ought to be a front-page article every day. By now it is so obvious its hard to miss. The Russians are gone. The Pentagon stays the same, in fact its even going up. We were told for fifty years, which of course was always ridiculous, that we need this huge military to defend us from the Russians. How stupid can you be, and how indoctrinated can you be? Dont you ever ask a question about what happened? What happened is, its there for the same reason it always was. How else are Newt Gingrichs rich constituents going to stay rich? You obviously cant subject them to market discipline. Theyll be out selling rags. They wouldnt know what it means to exist in a

market. What they know is, the government puts money in their pockets, and the main way it does it is through the whole Pentagon system. In fact, the criminal security system is beginning to take on this character. Its reached, if not the scale of the Pentagon, its reached a sufficient scale so that the big investment firms and even high-tech industry, defense industry, are getting intrigued by the prospects of feeding at another public cash cow. Thats going up. So its not that the government is getting weaker.

But this long and very successful effort over many, many years to get people to focus their fears and angers and hatred on the government has had its effect. We all know theres plenty to be upset about there. The primary thing to be upset about is that it is not under popular influence. It is under the influence of the private powers. Thats the primary source of things we ought to worry about. But then to deal with that by giving private, unaccountable power even more power is just beyond absurdity. Its a real achievement of doctrinal managers to have been able to carry this off.

DBYoull recall Orwells Animal Farm: Two feet bad, four feet good. Public sector bad, private sector good. Its kind of playing out right now.

Its kind of intriguing. Economists know that this is mostly nonsense. But they dont talk about it, except to each other. If you really look at the mantras, take, say, Public sector bad. What does that mean? Is there some evidence that privatization is a good idea? Its just something you repeat because its drilled into your head. Sure, privatization makes things more efficient. Does it? There are experiences. For example, we can look at Mexico. What privatization did was rapidly increase the number of millionaires, accelerate the decline of real wages and social

conditions. Did it make things better? Well, yes, for 24 billionaires. You can object and say, Thats Mexico, a corrupt Third World country. So lets take England, which is a couple of steps ahead of us in privatization. Under Thatcher they privatized the water system. It was a public utility. So now its private. Whats happened? You can even read about it on the front page of the Financial Times. You dont have to go to obscure publications any more. And theyre pretty irate. What happened is, profits have gone through the roof, prices have gone way up, and service has gone way down. In fact, sooner or later, its not very far from now youll be hearing proposals from the private owners that its not cost-effective to deliver water to scattered or small communities. What they ought to do is go to a pump in the center of town and pick it up with buckets because any smart economist can prove that thats more cost-effective and improves the GNP and thats the best distribution of resources. Sure, thats privatization.

And, not for obscure reasons, a private corporation is not in the business of being humanitarian. Its in the business of increasing profit and market share. Doing that typically is extremely harmful to the general population. It may make some numbers look good. It may create whats called an economic miracle, meaning great for investors and murderous for the population. But theres no reason to think its a good thing. Whats claimed is, look at the inefficiency and corruption of the public institutions, which is true. Are the private ones better? The evidence for this is, as far as I know, nonexistent. What can be pointed out, and its correct, is that public industrial systems, like the Brazilian steel industry, often lost money. But that loss of money was part of a way of subsidizing private industry. So if you keep steel prices artificially low, that will be a gain for the people who are using steel, even though that system will run at a loss.

On the other hand, if you think about the effect over the whole

economy, its much more complicated a story, and I dont think theres any single answer to it. Sometimes private industry has been efficient, and sometimes even helpful to people, which is quite different from being inefficient, in fact often unrelated to it. Sometimes it has, and many times it hasnt. It depends on the circumstances, on factors that people dont understand very well. But the idea that somehow privatization automatically improves things is absurd.

DBIn Australia earlier this year you commented that you felt like you were in somewhat of an odd situation in terms of your own political philosophy. You are defending the notion of the state and the role of the state, that the state has an active role to play to protect peoples interests.

This was actually an address at an anarchist conference. I pointed out what I think is true, that your goals and your visions are often in direct conflict. Visions are long-term things, what youd like to achieve down the road. But if we mean by goals that which were trying to do tomorrow, they can often appear to be in conflict with long-term visions. Its not really a conflict. I think were in such a case right now. In the long term I think the centralized political power ought to be eliminated and dissolved and turned down ultimately to the local level, finally, with federalism and associations and so on. Sure, in the long term thats my vision. On the other hand, right now Id like to strengthen the federal government. The reason is, we live in this world, not some other world. And in this world there happen to be huge concentrations of private power which are as close to tyranny and as close to totalitarian as anything humans have devised, and they have extraordinary power. They are unaccountable to the public. Theres only one way of defending rights that have been attained or extending their scope in the face of

these private powers, and thats to maintain the one form of illegitimate power that happens to be somewhat responsive to the public and which the public can indeed influence. So you end up supporting centralized state power even though you oppose it. People who think there is a contradiction in that just arent thinking very clearly.

DBThere are two visions of the role of government. James Madison in 1787 saw its role as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. Then you have FDR in 1937 saying, The test of our nations progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have little. Obviously one of those visions is dominant today. Why?

In the case of Madison, you have to be a little more careful. That was indeed Madisons main theme, and thats what you ought to learn in elementary school, because that in fact won. The Constitution was framed in Madisonian terms. He had a more complex argument. He was strongly opposed to democracy and warned against it. He talked about England, which was the model of the day, and said, If those guys had democracy over there the people would get together and take over the estates of the landed proprietors, and use their property for themselves instead of allowing the rich and powerful to maintain it. So obviously we cant have democracy. We dont want anything like that to happen here. So democracy is a bad thing. The prime responsibility of government is to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority, and we have to set up the constitutional system so that this will work.

But theres a hidden theme there. The hidden theme is that he is precapitalist. Capitalism was just in its early origins, and he was basically opposed to it. His idea was that the opulent minority are going to be benevolent aristocrats, Enlightenment gentlemen who sit around reading

philosophy and who are genuine conservatives in an old-fashioned sense, a sense which doesnt exist in the U.S.: Conservatives in the European sense, who would be enlightened and benevolent. So theyll be like benevolent tyrants. So thats not inconsistent with what Roosevelt was saying, except with regard to the institutional structure.

Madison also quickly learned that thats not the case. A couple of years later he was bitterly condemning the system that he had created and talking about the daring depravity of the times as the rising class of business people become the tools and tyrants of government, overwhelming it with their force and benefiting from its gifts. Thats a pretty good description of whats going on today. That was in the 1790s. When he saw that the minority of the opulent are not nice gentlemanly aristocrats or Enlightenment philosophers who are going to make sure that everybody is healthy and happy, he was outraged and infuriated. Nevertheless, the picture he presented, extricated from the context in which he understood it, has been the dominant view and now has reached an overwhelming level.

Its not anything new, incidentally. The 1920s were not all that different. A century ago was not all that different.

DBIsnt it true that one of the tenets of classical conservative economics and philosophy is an antipathy toward concentration of power, toward monopoly? Yet these Contractors, if you will, who call themselves conservatives, are advocating policies that are accelerating concentration.

What we call conservatism, what used to be called liberalismthe terms are confusingbut classical liberalism was strongly opposed to concentration of power. Not what we call liberalism. Its what today we call conservatism. The terms have totally shifted in meaning, if they ever

had any. The views of, say, Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, the intellectual founders of what people pay homage to but dont understand or choose not to understand, those people were certainly opposed to concentration of power. And its true that the people who call themselves, say, libertarians today, whatever they may have in their minds, they are in fact advocating extreme concentration of power, in fact theyre advocating some of the most totalitarian systems that humans have ever suffered under. Thats not their intent, of course. But if you read Adam Smith, part of his argument for the market was that it would lead to perfect equality, equality of condition, not just equality of opportunity. Like Madison, he was a pre-capitalist and anti-capitalist person with roots in the Enlightenment and had a very different vision of the way things ought to work out. You can ask whether his argument was very good. We really dont know, experimentally, because his argument was that under conditions of perfect liberty a market would lead to equality of condition and of course we dont remotely approach that. But that aside, whatever you think about the intellectual character of his argument, its clear what the goal was. And yes, the classical liberals, the Jeffersons and the Smiths, were opposing the concentrations of power that they saw around them, like the feudal system and the Church and royalty. They thought that ought to be dissolved. They didnt see other forms of concentration of power which only developed later. When they did see them, they didnt like them. Jefferson was a good example. He was strongly opposed to the concentrations of power that he saw developing, and warned that the banking institutions and the industrial corporations which were barely coming into existence in his day would destroy the achievements of the Revolution. As I mentioned, Madison within a few years was already having very strongly stated second thoughts about what he had framed and created.


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