The Cooperative Alternative

Standard

There is an intermediate step between our own lonely individualism and some sort of wonky religious or hippie flower child 1960s-style communalism.  There is plenty of room in between the extremes.

My thoughts about this ideal were sparked again by my interactions with a young woman, on the anxious left-wing activist side of things, thinking to declare as a philosophy major, who wanted me to check out some websites about cooperatives.

While I do not embrace the full package of left-wing ideology, I do see the huge deficit of viable communities and the economic forces that are behind this erosion.  We have traded the mom-and-pop stores downtown for the corporately owned big box.

This is as unhealthy an arrangement as the mass-produced junk food many Americans choose.  And yet, if you question this regime of suburban sprawl and consumerism, you’ll get a response similar to the dialogue, in the movie Idiocracy, when Joe suggests using water rather than Brawndo, an energy drink, for irrigating the crops:

“Community, like a cult or Jonestown?”

If you bring up the word commune there will probably be a strong visceral reaction on the part of conservatives.  There is this delusion of independence, a crucial component of the American cultural mythos, which is what drives many to trade community (and potential for their greater success) for a payment plan.

Whereas a generation or two ago, there was the church and social clubs to provide some level of mutual support, now we have a class of some who make it and others who are an unforeseen circumstance and paycheck away from dependence on welfare programs.  We have traded flesh and blood relationship for faceless state or corporate bureaucracy and a truckload of paperwork.

The current system is so woefully inefficient that we’re probably working twice as hard for half the rewards.  Governments, banks, and big corporations are profiting massively by keeping us divided up and dependent on their systems.  Many believe that they are free because they can watch smut or own a deadly weapon, but they’re really slaves to debt and tossed about by entities that have no actual concern for their well-being or wellness.

But, despite their slavery to this system, the moment you suggest that they consider an alternative, working together with those of like-mind towards a common goal, there is strong resistance.  I mean, how dare you suggest that they give up their own property (that the bank owns anyway) or learn how to share anything?

Reducing the friction of commerce…

The reality is, unless you live alone on your Alaskan homestead, you are dependent on other people.  And my thought here is that we should be more intentional about this and choose what makes the most sense.  

The idea of a cooperative is basically to remove the dead weight of a business and distribute profits more evenly amongst the employed.  It means that all involved in the enterprise share in both the risks and the rewards.  Instead of paying interest to banks or making dozens of taxed transactions, all of this cost can be eliminated.  What it all means, in the end, is working less for more in return.

For example, instead of everyone buying their own lawn mower or hiring someone, why not have one person do this for the community and earn credits?  

My own vision is a mix of both cooperation and autonomy, which is negotiated between the members and the group.  There would not be everyone living in some kind of compound or anything like that, everyone could have their own residence.  There would simply be more shared space for all, fewer redundancies, and potentially more access to costly tools or equipment.

The economics of this kind of cooperative arrangement is so superior that once it was started it would vastly outpace those trying to do it on their own through the currently conventional means.  Ever wonder why so many motels and gas stations are owned by immigrants?  It is because they are financed through their ethnic communities and have eliminated the friction of interest.

Americans, by contrast, always seem to see everything as a competition.  They’ll buy the biggest most ridiculous SUV, they truly can’t afford, to keep up with the Joneses and the only real winner is the financer of this silly display of excess.  We would rather sacrifice our time so that the boss can get his hunting land or an executive makes their bonus than give up this faux image of self-reliance and work together.

Finding our commonality…

A successful cooperative arrangement does require some sort of connection or common purpose to unite the individuals.  In the early Church, their having “all things in common” was a byproduct of faith and a commitment to Christ.  The ideological left, on the other hand, begins with a different moral premise and that is the abolition of private property or Capital.  In both cases, there is a shared identity that is the glue.

That is the biggest roadblock in the rapidly atomizing West, where Protestantism has led to a proliferation of denominations with competing claims and now the dissolution of a shared or universal purpose.  Everything is about us now, about our own opinions and wants, to the point that many marriages end in a protest called divorce.  We can’t sacrifice anything in the present, even if our greater integration as a whole would be better for us in the end.

But there is a huge potential upside.  If we could find a way to look past ourselves for a moment and understand how cooperation is a means to reduce friction or cost.  However, the real need is for more people to let go of this delusion that they are better off on their own and that security comes only through money in their bank account.  The absurd part is that we already do lend our time to many people, for a wage,  their services, or whatever, and would do better to choose better partners.

If there was a way to make cooperative arrangements more palatable I would.  The real problem is that anytime we gain the slightest advantage over our neighbors we would rather keep it all for ourselves.  Many cannot see past this pointless competition and appreciate the great gain of voluntarily distributing costs or sharing responsibilities. Perhaps this is why we can’t have nice things?  I know it is why so many are lonely and discontent. They are looking in the wrong direction for fulfillment.

There are always tradeoffs for every arrangement. And yet there are also things that we are biologically wired for and denying them is to our detriment. We are social creatures. We have a neurological reward system built around having positive meaningful interactions with other people. The economic benefits of greater cooperation, at a local level, would be enormous and the social benefits even greater.

Dangerous Complexity — Supply-Chain Breakdown Edition

Standard

In 2019, before the pandemic insanity, I wrote a blog, “Dangerous Complexity: What To Do About the Complex Problem of Complexity,” which explored various systems where human operators were unable to correctly diagnose a problem leading to disaster. 

In each case a small glitch led to a spiral out of control.  The problem being our capacity, as finite creatures, to sift through all of the alarm bells going off and come to the right answer before the clock runs out.

As I write, countless container ships loiter offshore and waiting to be unloaded.  It is a logistics nightmare directly the result of lockdown mandates.  It is something I had warned about way back when governors were arbitrarily declaring livelihoods to be “essential” or “nonessential” and playing out currently as the slow motion trainwreck of predictable consequences.  

To those seeing conspiracy in this, I would suggest Hanlon’s razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”

This is what you get when you elect lawyers, with the most political experience, rather than those who understand the basics of business, trade, and supply-chains.  Many who hold office, like their constituents, are economic illiterates and can only see what is right in front of their face.  

As a TWIC card holder with a long time interest in economics and logistics, I do feel qualified to explain.  We have been heading this way for a for decades.  The economy has become extremely complex and also increasingly in fragile.

How did we get here?

From Locally Produced To Corporate Globalism

There was a time when most things were produced for local consumption.  For most of human history transportation had been very slow and costly.  Sure, there was the silk road and the spice trade between the continents.  But it was simply impractical, and unnecessary, to ship things long distances. Food was grown close enough to market that it could be brought by horse and cart.  Towns had their own millers, tailors and blacksmiths.

Comparatively to modern times, this was very inefficient.  In the 1800s one farmer could only feed three to five people and 90% of population lived on a farm.  Today one farmer can feed 128 people and only around 1% live on a farm.  This is due, in large part, to the internal combustion engine, as well as advancements in agricultural science, and also the ability (with refrigeration) to move vast amounts of fresh produce to far away markets.  Meat can be trucked from Texas slaughterhouses to New York City grocery shelves in a matter of hours.

But the bigger revolution has been the imperishable items, the gadgets that require labor intensive manufacturing processes, and generally are produced by the lowest bidder.  This is mostly for our benefit.  If an iPhone might cost $2000 if it was produced in the United States and thus outsourcing production means that more people can afford to buy this technological wonder.  Of course Apple and big corporations are the biggest beneficiaries of this global trade paradigm, still the consumer does get a lower prices.

Slowly, but surely, due to the advantages of economies of scale, small local mom and pop businesses are bought out by ever more expansive corporate conglomerates.  Like that old abandoned dairy farm I used to see, from the interstate highway, on the outskirts of Richmond or in upstate NY. Once thriving farms, within miles of the market, are simply unable to compete with those bigger (and oftentimes further away) producers.

Our Very Fragile “Just-In-Time” Supply-chain

Manufacturing our complex technology takes a large variety of materials and components, these are sourced through a tangled web of suppliers.  If parts don’t come in from Taiwan, then automobile factories in Michigan sit idle.  And you don’t just go out and build a semiconductor industry overnight.  Even if it were possible, the raw materials would need to come from somewhere.   All it takes is couple links in the chain to be broken, even just one, and whole swaths of the economy will grind to a halt.  

In the past there were droughts and famines, countless people died of starvation due to changes in climate.  But then the problem was often local, like the potato blight that hit Ireland hard from 1845 to 1852, and contained.  The overall system was robust because it was decentralized and full of redundancies.  There were places to flee to, like the United States, where there was a chance.

But that’s not the case anymore.  Not only are supply lines stretched very thin and delicate, with many moving parts, we also have the ‘just-in-time” manufacturing concept where inventories are kept low as a cost saving measure.  Inventory is a big business expense and “lean manufacturing” has been the rage for this reason. The end result being there is no extra capacity in the system.  

Ports lack the additional capacity and should never have been shutdown.  A minor disruption of an already overtaxed system will very quickly lead to major backlogs and a cascade of failures down the line.  It’s not only unloading the ships, but finding space for containers, having the rail cars and chassis to put them on.  There was already a shortage of CDL drivers before this started and there is no fast or easy way to fix the situation.

We Need Local Production and Built-in Resilience

We are seeing the weakness of the current economic paradigm in full display and it will likely get worse before it gets better.  I would expect slim pickings when it comes to the Christmas season.  No, it is not likely that we’ll run out of food or fuel here in the United States.  We do produce those things locally and therefore have some security in that regard.  However, that doesn’t mean there will be no pain.  Prices are likely to continue to rise.

It is a good time to reflect on where we’re headed.  Do we really want to continue to outsource our blue collar jobs to countries that do not follow our environmental standards or labor laws?  If climate change is an issue, why not use tariffs to bias the market in favor of domestic and local production?  Sure, it makes sense for big corporations and their bottom lines to chase cheap labor overseas, but does it serve national security or the betterment of Americans who aren’t privileged with college degrees?

Efficiency is a good thing.  It is of some benefit for us to have access to the lower priced labor in the developing world.  But then this is not coming at a cost.  It may relatively inexpensive to ship things around the globe in some regards, it certainly has made big corporations very powerful (with a lobbying and propaganda arm to match), yet it does come at an environmental cost and has also left the whole economic system vulnerable to collapse.

It is totally wrongheaded to increase taxes on domestic manufacturing and then remove tariffs on imported goods.  Sure, this might slow economic growth and possibly even lead to a small recession.  But real leadership is about seeing a little further down the road, and being prepared, rather than always doing what is politically expedient.  We need a new crop of elected leaders who are locally, and not globally, oriented.  

Fascism By Any Other Name

Standard

Many Mennonites, in North America today, are horrified to find that some who shared their religious/ethnic heritage collaborated with the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (aka: Nazi Party) and rightfully so.  And, predictably, there have been various woke adjacent Mennonite commentators that, while claiming to be above this somehow parrot far-left radicals that accuse anyone with a positive view of traditional American national values of being “white nationalists” or fascists without seeing it as ironic.

The irony is that these moralizing finger-waggers, blinded by their arrogance like those self-righteous religious elites whom Jesus mocked in Matthew 23 (“If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood…”), are unwittingly aligning themselves with the modern variant of fascism.  Their simple minds apparently cannot comprehend that the same evil, to avoid detection, can be dressed differently and that this time it is their turn to enable the tyrants and true fascists.

Real Fascists Please Stand Up

Fascism is a hard word to define, many dictionary definitions are insufficient or too narrow and do not give a sufficient description. The following quote (from an article, “What Is Fascism?”) gives a better picture of what the term is referring to and why some of us see this emerging in the current corporate and government institutional regime: 

Mussolini coined the term “fascism” in 1919.  The word “fascism” comes from the Italian “fascio,” meaning a bundle or group, and is considered a term for a militant brotherhood. The word “fasces” means an ax tightly bound with sticks, an image that became a symbol of the fascist movement, according to the History Department at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

How is fascism defined? Robert Paxton, a professor emeritus of social science at Columbia University in New York, who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, told Live Science that fascism is “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques.

Two common themes of fascism that Paxton lists “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” also “exclusion of certain groups, often through violence,” and I’ll add that fascists have tended to have an obsession with what they consider to be impurities.  A particular German leader saw certain groups as being vectors of disease and thus justified their elimination.

So, the two primary elements of fascism, distilling this down, are this obsession with contaminates and the merger (or bundling) of power.  The only real difference between fascism and Socialism is that the latter had been more concerned with class distinctions and the prior with racial difference.  But, in the modern era, when the ‘Socialist’ left regularly uses skin color to divide people, and seem fine using corporate power to advance their social agenda, and are the masters of propaganda, it is basically a distinction without a difference.

Sure, they can call themselves “anti-fascists” or “Antifa” and claim that they’re only assaulting Nazis. But, come on people, a guy at the mall can wear a red suit, black boots, and call himself Santa—he’s still not going to come down your chimney with Christmas goodies. And look who is behind most of the violence across this country in the past few years.

Hint: It is not those individuals, totally unarmed, many of them military veterans, who entered the Capital Building on January 6th.

Not defending that either, they should be held accountable, but the difference is that these rioters do not have the corporate media shilling for them nor free reign of the college campus with their demands or sympathetic prosecutors who look the other way at their criminal behavior.

Like it or not, Trump supporters are not anti-democratic, not in the least, and simply wanted allegations of fraud and abuse to be heard. I mean, isn’t it is a little strange that the most well-armed part of our population would go into January 6th planning to take over the government and forget their entire arsenal at home?  If it truly was an “insurrection,” as our totally fair and unbiased political establishment would have us believe, why did they not bring any weapons with them?

Night after night a Federal building, a court house, was attacked by far-leftists in Portland. In Seattle we had a whole section of the city taken over and declared an “autonomous zone” in defiance of the government. Over two billion dollars of damages, dozens murdered, in a summer of violence that our corporate media called “mostly peaceful protests” and yet we’re only talking about the wrongness of this one outburst?  Propaganda much?

Funny how January 6th was not called an unguided ‘mostly peaceful’ Capital Building tour, why is that?

But I do digress.

Fascism is “anti-liberalism, rejecting individual rights, civil liberties, free enterprise and democracy,” and basically Marxism on steroids. In other words, fascism is authoritarian, collectivist, my tribe versus yours, willing to close private business (or churches) and undermine the democratic process to achieve their ends. So, ask yourself, who was asking for mail-in ballots that are an invitation for fraud banned in most countries? Who is asking for collective judgment (or pardon) of people based only on their skin color? Who was creating the dictatorial mandates, in name of keeping us pure of disease, at the expense of our freedom?

Those Who Defend “Papers Please” Are Fascists

My reason for writing this is the response to the meme below by some exceedingly ignorant people from my own Mennonite tribe:

The first response, a virtue signal about those dying in India, a total whataboutism, was completely insensitive to those suffering under the current nonsense. I’m pretty sure this smug individual won’t bother to watch this video nor ever question approved content they spew on social media. They can’t, they were raised in and remain in a religious cloister that taught them, “go along with the group” and “do as your told.” They might eventually drop the cultural costume some day, and yet they have not demonstrated any ability in our brief conversation to think independently or beyond the narrative being pushed.

No, they “believe science,” which is actually only an appeal to an authority they themselves do not posses, and ignore the mounting evidence that the ‘vaccines’ are totally ineffective. They will continue to think of themselves as well-informed, smarter than their cautioning peers, despite the fact that the six-foot social distancing rule was bogus, as was the focus on surfaces and mask mandate. This coming from someone who had N95 masks back in January of 2020 and while the ‘experts’ were still saying that we should be more concerned about the seasonal flu. Masks make a negligible difference if any at all. There is no proof otherwise.

So now that we’re talking about vaccine passports and literally forcing people to get an injection that has little or not value, that should not be necessary for those who have natural immunity through infection, and comes with the unknown long-term risks of any experimental new product, they still don’t see the problem?

I’m sorry, but only a fascist would be okay with this, because only a fascist is okay with “exclusion of certain groups” and take no heed of the individual rights or civil liberties of those who wish only to travel freely without harassment. To see the religious elites of the Mennonites not only tolerate, but enthusiastically endorse such policies, should send a chill up the spine of those moderate or apolitical in their ranks. These ‘educated’ nitwits don’t seem to get that the Nazi party came to power and won Germans over with the good they were doing—the Holocaust came later.