Sunday, 23 January 2011

A cautionary Tale about Counterfeit Cash

I used to do a bit of counterfeiting back in the day, printing up high value bills. I would loan the counterfeit money out and collect real money back with interest so it looked like the money I was making was legit. It was a pretty sweet deal but I work in a more high-tech way now; I figured out a way of just typing the amount of money I want into my own bank account and then transferring it electronically to my clients. Business is good.

The schmucks I loan the money to have no idea that the money is worthless and because they can use it to buy a house or start a business, as far as they're concerned it HAS real worth. They are, therefore perfectly happy to pay the interest I demand.

As far as the people who sell my clients houses and business services know, they are being paid in legitimate tender that has a real worth so they are happy also.

I've been doing this in my neighbourhood for years now and I have noticed that everything is getting more expensive because all the businesses have had to put their prices up to cover the interest payments on my loans. 

Now the whole neighbourhood use my services just so they can afford the ever rising cost of living. I am typing larger and larger amounts into my bank account, collecting ever more interest and getting richer and richer and guess what? Yep, the prices keep on rising! This is the good life for sure!

I calculated recently that around 97% of the money in my neighbourhood is money I've just typed in on a screen. Only around 3% actually exists in cash and because I am charging interest on the 97% as well, the total amount of debt in the neighbourhood far exceeds the amount of money available to pay it back.

But that's ok. It ensures all the businesses keep trading frantically trying to make enough money to pay me back for business loans they took out and it ensures everyone works longer and longer hours to work off the mortgages they got from me. Productivity and the material standard of living in my neighbourhood has never been higher and as a result all of them end up coming back to me for more money, to get the latest model car, or upgrade their kitchen or get the latest mobile phone. 

Then things start to get a bit tricky for me. Prices had risen so much that people could no longer afford them so they stopped spending money. Businesses started to fail, people lost their jobs and worst of all; people started to default on my payments! 

I was not happy. I needed to do something fast. As far as I could see I had two choices: I could write everyone's debts off as being illegitimate because I hadn't actually loaned them anything of value in the first place (I'd just typed a bunch of numbers onto a computer screen) and free everyone from this crippling economic fraud. But of course that would mean giving up the power and wealth I had accumulated over the years and probably going to prison for a very, very long time. 

My only real option then was to type in more money! So that's what I did. I called it 'quantitative easing' and I loaned it out to businesses I thought were good for the money - the big ones and the ones owned by friends of mine. There was no way I was going to lend to the peons any more. Forget about getting a mortgage or starting a small business! I had learned that there was way too much risk in that and I wanted to be sure this time of getting my money back.

But without the money flowing further down the food chain, even the big businesses owned by my mates started to struggle and they too started to default on my payments. I typed in more and more money and told people they could borrow it at very low interest rates. I called the loans 'debt consolidation' to try and squeeze out the last few drops of interest payments but the well was dry. The money was worthless. It had always been worthless of course but so long as everyone believed it had worth, my scam worked. But now you couldn't start a business, buy a house or even afford fuel and food bills unless you where more or less a millionaire it was worthless to everyone except the very rich.

If you think you might have heard this story somewhere before I have to admit you have. It's not a perfect allegory, but I'm sure you recognise it anyway. In America it's called the story of the Federal Reserve, in the UK it's the story of the Bank of England. Every country with a state controlled central bank has it's own version.

The part of the counterfeiter is always played by the state controlled central bank and in all cases the story ends up the same way. In the UK the Bank of England (which had been privately owned since 1694) was subordinated to the Treasury in 1931 and Nationalised in 1946. During that same period (1930 - 1950) the value of the pound (GBP) halved if you take as an average the comparison in retail price index, GDP deflator, average earnings, per capita GDP and share of GDP. By the same comparisons you would need £163.48 of todays GBP to buy 1 GBP of 1930 money.

It's the same story in America. The dollar (USD) has lost 90% of it's value since the Fed was created in 1913.

I use this allegory now because it illustrates the most immediate and pressing issue facing the public today. And I'm going to stick my neck on the line here. If I'm right then the consequences will be dire:

If you have a pension, stocks, shares, bonds, a bank account with savings in it, or even paper money in your pocket; these things will be worthless in the very near future.

I hope I'm very, very wrong but there seems little doubt that the USD will now collapse. It will happen within the next 24 months and it will be very sudden when it comes. The early warning sign to look out for is any rise in interest rates. The US are just about coping with the debt repayments on their $14 trillion national deficit because interest rates are still at rock bottom. When the inevitable rise happens, America will be unable to meet repayments and the dollar will go into free fall. 50-70% of it's value could be wiped out in the space of a few months, or even weeks.

Shocking? That's not even the half of it! The Euro will collapse around the same period, although it's unclear whether one will precipitate the other or not as they are both failing for very different reasons. In the States it is over-printing of currency that will eventually lead to America's creditors waking up to the fact that the USD is worth jack shit and hiking interest rates to cover the risk. When Spain and Portugal fail later this year/early next they won't be able to sell bonds at any price and there's no-one left in Western Europe with pockets deep enough to bail them out.

But don't panic. You can still keep your nest egg safe. The silver and gold price has continued to rise and will go on doing so while those in the know quietly convert their portfolio into hard assets, increasing the pressure on supply. This trend will continue, but watch for a sudden jump as soon as Spain or Portugal start to wobble.

In short, the sooner you can move on this, the better. Depending on how much you have put by, you may be subject to extortionate capital gains tax or similar, depending on what country you're in, so you may have to move your assets in smaller chunks to avoid this. However, you will quickly make back whatever you lose during the transfer as prices will continue to rise sharply throughout the global currency crisis, which will last at least a couple of years. At any rate, you're better off taking the hit now as it's likely to be far less severe than watching the sudden devaluation of your portfolio when all this kicks off.

A quick word of warning though, do not buy gold stocks. What you're doing there is simply buying a piece of paper with an I.O.U written on it entitling you to shares in a gold mining company. Personally I wouldn't trust I.O.U's in a financial crisis! Buy actual gold: Coins, jewellery or bullion - depending on how much you have saved. Keep it in a safe, bury it in the garden, whatever you want but don't put it in a bank obviously. When the liquidators are called in to strip all the computers and the light fittings, do you really think they're going to leave your gold coins sitting in the vault?

And for the love of all that is sane and rational DO NOT listen to the brokers who are telling you to move your shares and pensions into China and Brazil to protect yourself. Both these economies are heavily dependent on exporting to the States. By swapping your allegiances now, you are only postponing the inevitable.

For those who are keeping abreast of the economic situation, this advice will come as no more of a surprise than the allegorical tale I opened with. Many of you in fact will probably already be taking any money you have saved at the end of the month and buying gold coins with it, instead of putting it in the bank.

But for many, this will seem alarming and hard to believe. To those I say simply this. The time for argument and persuasion has passed on this issue. If I'm wrong and the USD and the EURO survive, then you will have transferred your assets for nothing. Well, check the gold and silver prices now and see what direction they're going in. Get independent advice and see if they are set to continue rising, or are headed for a fall. Please don't take my word for it, but buying gold right now is not such a shabby investment.

If, however I am right, then this advice may just save your pension or your savings.

Either way, get advice, but don't sit on this information for too long. Gold prices are going up fast so the longer you leave it, the less your portfolio will be worth when you make your move.

If you know anyone with a pension, or savings please forward them a copy of this. They may well thank you for it down the line.

Monday, 10 January 2011

I am Terrified of Statists.

Of course it's worthwhile for all of us to imagine the kind of society we would want in an ideal world. I mean to properly sit down and consider what jobs we would have, what kind of homes we would live in, how we would get around and how we would tackle issues like poverty, violence, disease and inequality.

Those reading this who have already been some way down the path of anarchist thinking will already have done so in some detail, and will be sure that whatever the solution will ultimately be, statism isn't it.

But in 99% of all conversations with statists they expect you to know the answers to every conceivable aspect of a stateless society. What would you do about healthcare? What about crime? What happens if you get invaded by a country that has a government and a military?

Although there are some excellent theses that have been put forward by anarchist thinkers over the years on all these topics, no one person can be an expert on all these thing and have the perfect answer. If they did then surely that would be an argument for dictatorship! We would all be perfectly happy to let the omniscient guy who always knew what was in everyone's best interests in every situation be in charge.

But that guy doesn't exist, and frankly even if he did, it isn't you, so you end up rushing back to Google and dragging up statistics and charts and historical references to Spain or Somalia or the Kibbutz system to which people either cry 'bias' about whatever source you got the information from, or don't know the history of the references you bring up, or know enough of the history to know that none of them where ultimately successful. Or worse they just turn it back on you and say 'well the government is a social contract, you either agree to what they tell you, or you're free to leave the country'.

In short, trying to encapsulate the entirety of anarchist theory into a single argument-winning sound bite to change a statists' mind is nigh on impossible.

There will always be a "what about?" And "what happens when?" that you just don't have the answer to off the top of your head and the statist knows if they just keep plugging away with these questions, they will eventually catch you out and when you can't give a satisfactory answer to "who would decide the rules of the road in a stateless society" or some such minutia they take your personal lack of omniscience to be a failure of the anarchist position.

Consequently, anarchism is dying in these arguments. And worse; reason, logic, empiricism - in fact philosophy itself is dying because of this ability statists have to use your imperfect knowledge of a future society to sideline the underlying ethical issues.

In 1794 when the Slave Trade Act was passed in America, no-one could have told you that 200 years on there would still be racial segregation and inequality, but for the last 40 years or so things would be at least moving in the right direction. Or that when a predominantly black neighbourhood in New Orleans would be wiped out by floods in 2005 after a hurricane, no-one would come to help, but that just four years later, the United States would have it's first black president.

Of course, the argument against slavery was not framed in terms of what society could look like without it. It was put in much more visceral terms. The case was simple: To force people to work for no money, with no choice about the future of their own lives was immoral. That's what won the argument and that is what will win this one too.

Because the government does act in an immoral way. It acts in a way that none of us would accept from any individual or group of individuals in any other conceivable circumstance. It takes money from us by force and uses it to run our lives in a way we have little or no say over.

That is the stark moral case here. That is the link between the intangible, intellectualised concepts we all use when we're debating with statists, and the cold dark underbelly of what all advocates of a stateless society know to be the reality.

So the time has come to get off the defensive. To stop running off to answer every inane question that a statist asks you because frankly who cares if a mutual society or a dispute resolution organisation is the best answer to dispute resolution. For all we know, it could be both, or neither, or there could be some new technological advancement around the corner that negates the whole issue. There's just no way of knowing.

Instead get on the offensive. Take the moral high ground. Get them to justify the violence and coercion inherent in the status quo, rather than feeling you have to solve every hypothetical problem in an unknown future. And use an argument like the Molyneux “against me” premise. Get them to make the choice between supporting state violence and their relationship with you.

I had a conversation with my dad last night in which he took the position that the only answer to healthcare was to socialise it. I explained that you can't expect the same people who send young men and women off to die in illegal wars in the Middle East to have your 'health care' at the top of their priority list. They either care about all their citizens, in which case we would not be in Afghanistan or Iraq in the first place - OR they care about none of us, which is why we're in Afghanistan and Iraq because they don't care about the lives of the soldiers out there, or the lives of the civilians back home who are exposed to a greater risk of attacks from overseas in which case, I'm not sure they are the best people to trust when allocating what doctors, hospitals and drugs I need to make me better if I'm sick.

I also tried to explain that the reason for the enormous growth in the NHS which costs us over £110 billion annually and now employs 1.5 million people was due to successive governments building up a dependent class with our tax money and then offering them a combination of tax breaks and government programs to secure votes.

He told me this was cynical and much too black and white and that life is all about making compromises and that he used to have these conversations when he was younger but now he is older he has realised that you need the state for some things so you have to put up with some of the unpleasant stuff as well.

In other words the standard, generic unthinking reaction that statists have when either they are faced with concepts they haven't computed before so don't have anything to say about them, or that can't be bothered to have the debate, or that really don't want to admit that the last 30, 40, 50, 60 years of their lives have been lived supporting a violent and coercive regime.

So I changed tack. I told him that I supported his belief that statism was the answer. I didn't agree with it in any way shape or form but that I was happy for him to support the state and write a cheque to the government to pay for the NHS or the war in Iraq or whatever he liked. I would not try and oppose him by force. It was entirely up to him to make the decision he saw fit.

He looked puzzled.

I went on to ask him if he would extend to me the same courtesy; that I could disagree with him and that he would not use force to try and oppose his will on me if I acted on my beliefs because after all, you can't have the freedom to believe something without the freedom to act on it, right?

He agreed that of course I could disagree with him and that he wouldn't try and use force if I acted on my beliefs.

So I asked him then if I was to stop paying my taxes because I didn't want to pay for the murder in the Middle East, would he support my choice, or would be ok with the men in blue crashing through my door and dragging me forcibly into a van, and driving me off to a secure building where I would be held against my will until I paid up.

He said he would be ok with that. He said that conscientious objectors had to go through that so why shouldn't I?

I was stunned. I've had innumerable conversations with him over the years about my anarchist principles and he has always held the opposing view. He has always been politically left and from a generation when that meant increased state control in health, welfare and education.

Up till now our conversations had always been about theoretical economic or social points; just chucking 'stats 'n' facts' around really.

But to have this stark reminder of the implicit use of force in behind ALL statist philosophy right there in my face was impossible to ignore for both of us. He could no longer claim that statism stood for morality, or plurality or freedom. He had chosen the enforcement of tax law over his own son's right to liberty and personal safety.

I am at the time of writing this still reeling from the implications of this and what it means for our relationship. Clearly the pretence that there had ever been a valid debate between us has now gone. After all, you can't debate with someone who's got a gun to your head! 

Editors note: Unless you are prepared to learn some fucking harsh truths from people you love and trust DO NOT attempt this line of questioning. It is not easy. I do not feel good about the outcome of this conversation. There is no doubt about it, statism grabs people as tightly as religion does, and the fervour with which statists will parrot the statist message is frightening. 

As an atheist living in the UK I do not fear theists here, but as an anarchist living in the UK I am absolutely shit scared of statists in this country.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

How to Become God - An Atheist's Guide.

Ever since humanity was still 'mewling and puking in its nurse's arms' it has asked the same question again and again; "where do I come from?"

Some of the earliest humans (although not as many as were reckoned by our Victorian forefathers) attributed the answer to a 'god' or 'gods' of some sort. As civilisations expanded in complexity and power, it was those who wielded the power who expanded these theistic explanations as a way of controlling the populus. The threat of supernatural punishment from the creator(s) of the universe is all uneducated people need to yield up First Fruits to to fund the expansionism the Athenians and others paid for with people's hard earned tithes.

The human race has through dint of hard work and study (not supernatural intervention) grown wiser since then and we can now begin to answer this question with science. It is no longer to be used as a weapon to frighten and coerce people into giving money to organised religion. Those religions that persist in doing so can no longer claim the ignorance available as an excuse to their grandfathers. Their greed is now laid bare for the world to see. Understand it for what it is and then walk away if you have not already done so.

"There is now a huge amount of data and a picture with great detail" says Professor Michael Dine, author of Supersymmetry and String Theory: Beyond the Standard ModelWe know that the universe is 13.75 ± 0.17 billion years old. We know it originated at the 'Big Bang.' and we can trace its origins back to within t = 3 minutes.

And this stuff has been tested against all generally accepted cosmological models as tested against advanced observational and theoretical physics.

Of course there is still a lot we just don't have a clue about too. Like what is dark matter? What is dark energy? Where does all the matter in the universe come from? What happened at t = 0?   

But there are some pretty cool (as a layman I hasten to say compelling) theories out there that seek to answer to these questions. No-one's saying any of them are yet the modern analogue of Newton's Principia, which in 1687 codified physics as we now understand it, but there is a buzz around physics that is palpable even to the least scientifically gifted such as myself.

Among the vanguard of 'right bright bods' working on these theories is Japanese physicist Nobuyuki Sakai.  As far back as 2006 he announced in New Scientist that it was entirely possible (at least theoretically) to create a whole new universe in a laboratory.

The key, apparently is a hypothetical particle called a monopole which is basically a magnet with (yep, you've got it) only one magnetic pole. Their existence was predicted back in 1894 by Pierre Curie but it was Dirac in 1931 (using Maxwell's equations) who found a spiritual home for monopoles in quantum theory.

Quantum theory or 'quantum mechanics' as it's more commonly known has long been the 'yin' to general relativity's 'yang' but modern particle theories like the grand unification and superstring theories both predict the existence of these strange dense spherical particles that, thanks to their 'one way' magnetic polarity, are theoretically capable of consuming infinite amounts of matter and energy. [Insert Heather from EastEnders joke here].

And you can make a universe out of one. Or at least Sakai thinks you can and he's not alone.

Physicists are getting so excited by all this that string-theorist Professor Joseph Polchinski, author of the two volume textbook, String Theory described the existence of monopoles as "one of the safest bets that one can make about physics not yet seen".

And according to "This project is not exactly theoretical physics at work. It is closer to a physical application of observed phenomena, in combination, with the aim of achieving an as yet untested physical effect."

To understand the excitement you need to look at 'inflation theory' which along with the big bang theory forms the two core theories about how the universe was created. It was developed in 1981 by MIT physicist Alan Guth who pointed out that immediately after the big bang the universe must have inflated very rapidly like a balloon to allow all the regions of matter and energy to separate and function as we now observe them.

Inflation theory says that the 'empty vacuum of space-time' is actually not that empty. Rather it has these quantum fluctuations which cause little bubbles to appear in it. Inside these bubbles is a 'false-vacuum' of space-time with very different properties to the space-time outside them.

If you can find one of these bubbles and use a monopole to trigger it, the theory says it should start expanding and go on expanding forever, soon detaching itself from our universe and expanding into its own dimension because of the differences in pressure between space-time inside the expanding 'false-vacuum' bubble and outside it in the normal vacuum of space-time.

Sakai writes "If a false-vacuum bubble is larger than the de Sitter horizon, the bubble inflates eternally. Because the inflating bubble is surrounded by black hole horizons and causally disconnected by the “original universe”, such a bubble is called a “child universe”.

The limitation concerning physicists now is not whether it can be done, but due to the incredible speed with which the bubble would detach itself from our universe and expand into its own dimension, whether we would be able to create instrumentation sensitive enough to detect it. But it seems only a matter of time before Sakai or someone like him manages to create a universe in a lab for the first time, and from there who knows? Perhaps kids of the future will be making universes as school science projects!

So the question this project throws up is twofold. The first part is obvious: What if our own universe was created by an 'intelligent being' after all? (A lab coat making a rather convenient substitute for flowing white robes), but the second part is somewhat more sobering: Who was right? The theists who have told us for millennia that there was an intelligent being who created the universe, or the atheists like me who have argued that in the final tally, all we've got is science?

In this writer's humble opinion when anyone can create whole universes at the flick of a switch, surely this will dispel forever the myth that it takes some omnipresent ghoul in the sky to explain away the nature of our existence. Religion will have no choice but to fold it's hand. After all, who needs God when all of us can be gods?

But what about the latent civilisations as yet unformed that we have the power to create at will? How many wars will they fight? How many deaths will be directly attributable to arguments over the nature of what WE are?

Monday, 3 January 2011

Why you should never get the government involved in anything as important as energy.

We all know that fossil fuels are dirty, smelly, bad for the environment, running out and too damned expensive. We know too, that controlling the last dregs of oil in the world is the reason British and American governments are in the Middle East dropping white phosphorous bombs on shepherds and their families. And we know that our governments intend to stay out there as long as possible, controlling the oil (while telling us they are fighting an imaginary war called 'the war on terror') because the war is generating a biblical amount of money!*
Custer Battles staff Posing with 
$2 Million in Cash they got paid for
 airport security work in Iraq.
[Source: US Congress.House Committe
on Government Reform] (click image to enlarge)
*By the end of 2008, the U.S. had spent approximately $900 billion of taxpayers' money in direct costs on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. And by 2010 the defence budget ALONE was more than $1.03 trillion. That's money they took from taxpayers' pockets and gave to contractors and suppliers that have all made walloping great piles of sweaty cash (see photo) out of this war against an invisible enemy. When you compare that to the paltry $15.11 billion net income off $419.24 billion revenue that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (the world's largest company) made last year it is easy to see how this war is by far and away the most successful business enterprise the world has ever seen.

We know all these things, and yet those committed to renewable energy are still going cap in hand to these self-same governments and asking for hand-outs to subsidise renewable energy development. That just beggars belief, it really does! They can clearly see the kind of people they are dealing with so why take an issue as vital as energy and ask these gangsters to help pay for it? I know the government openly courts these advances and the incentives are lucrative because they want a slice of the action but come on people, wise up!

Would you ask the local burglar to keep an eye on your house while you were on holiday? Would you ask the local drunk to mind your pub for you? Would you leave your kids at Josef Fritzl's Daddy Day Care?

So imagine our surprise when the government's 'green' schemes usually end up damaging the environment, and lining the pockets of industry lobbyists. Who could have possibly predicted that?

Take carbon emissions for example: Britain is signed up to a European guarantee called the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to source 10 per cent of its transport fuel from renewable sources, such as biofuels, within the next 10 years. Wealthy companies like Shell are given astronomical amounts of your money to develop biofuels for RTFO. But because the amount of land needed to grow the crops used to make biofuels is so enormous (about the size of Belgium to meet this target), massive deforestation is required. The carbon dioxide (CO2) that would have been taken out of the atmosphere by trees already growing naturally is far greater than the CO2 emissions you save by using biofuel. Who wins? Shell obviously because they get to keep supplying us with fuel after the oil has run out and are being paid with your money to fund the transition, and the government because they have propped up an industry worth billions in tax revenue and party donations.

One of the most transparent (and hilarious) enviro-cons in the UK was the car scrappage scheme. In a half-arsed attempt to stimulate the car industry under the pretext of taking old unenvironmentally friendly 'bangers' off the road, the government was giving people £2,000* to put towards a new car if they scrapped their old one. Essentially taking perfectly good working vehicles and wilfully destroying them and wasting the tonnes of CO2 used in their production. Who wins? The motor industry who get to use the public purse to pay for sales discounts to prop up new car sales, and the government who have again propped up the car industry worth billions in tax revenue and donations.

*I should point out that it wasn't the government's £2,000 they were giving to people as they don't have any money of their own of course. It's all our money. So what they were actually doing was giving people £2,000 of their own money back - effectively making them buy their own car twice and then forcing them to scrap it and buy a new one. I told you it was hilarious!

And yet mysteriously in both cases the environment ends up being either further damaged or at least not exactly 'protected' in any meaningful way. And these are not schemes dreamt up by imbeciles. They are carefully engineered by bright, educated people in government think-tanks. How can they consistently, accidentally (?) devise such ineffectual schemes that consistently, accidentally (?) end up making rich people richer? A topic for another time no doubt.

But regardless of the woeful misappropriation of environmentalism by the state to allow its acolytes to fill their boots, the statists I talk to about renewable energy (so, usually those on the left, like I was when I was a statist) are usually so hung up on it being the role of government to provide the kind of macro-societal stuff like education, healthcare and energy that they fail to recognise solutions that don't involve the state. And I get that, I totally understand that socialists are interested in the role government ought to have had in providing a better society for all, not just those at the top.

But what they fail to acknowledge is that despite 87 years of Labour and 145 years of Liberal governments coming and going in the UK it just hasn't worked. There is still a permanent underclass of poverty, there is still a growing gap between rich and poor, there is still elitism in healthcare and education. And these things have not gone away under left wing or right wing governments.

And get this; most people vote left because they want government spending on social welfare, education and health to increase. Most people vote right because they want the government to spend less on these things and allow the market to have a free hand to determine what people want and how much they are willing to pay for it. You would expect then to see drastic swings in government expenditure as successive left and right governments took office, right? Wrong:
From Economics by McEachern at this site
This graph (click on it to expand it) shows that expenditure remains almost exactly constant over time. Whatever it is that you think you are voting for by going left or right, it clearly isn't changing the percentage of GDP your government wants in taxation for it. Strange? I should coco.

There are fundamental inconsistencies between what people think they will get when they vote for a government, and what they actually get when the government is in power. There will be plenty of posts to come explaining why this stuff happens, why it is part of the DNA of statism and why it is so universally successful, and, like everything else in this blog, what the simple, logical solution is. But in the mean time, I urge you, if you are in any way shape or form concerned with the environment, renewable energy, conservation, ecology, or any of these vitally important things, PLEASE think twice before immediately lobbying government for a grant, or to pass another bloody regulation banning something. Instead just consider how you can engage your community to look after things themselves. That way your solutions will probably work better, last longer and be much more rewarding for everyone involved.

For anyone interested in a proper workable solution please read the sister article to this one here.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

How Local Communities Can Stabilise the Middle East, End the War on Terror and Solve the Energy Crisis.

We mustn't shy away from the simple truth that we need renewable energy now more than ever. And we need it so badly we cannot entrust any part of its development, financing, management or application to the state* But fortunately there is a solution; one that will enhance geo-political stability, end the energy crisis and redistribute power and wealth away from the oil industry and the state and into the hands of the people.

*I'm assuming most of you already know why not, but if you are new to anarchist thinking or are interested in my take on this please click here.

But first, to understand the power of that solution, it's worth re-visiting the often taken for granted premise for why renewable energy is so important. Because believe it or not advocating renewable energy has very little to do with melting ice-caps, CO2 emissions, ecology, protecting the environment or any of that stuff. All those things are important it's true, but at the heart of the issue is something far less esoteric: Freedom. That's a big claim though, isn't it?

Well let's remind ourselves of the alternative; the oil fields. The ones in Iraq and Afghanistan that our political masters are making us pay hand over fist in tax and blood for them to control. The oil fields that produce fossil fuels that are dirty, smelly, bad for the environment, running out and too damned expensive. The oil fields in other people's countries. The oil fields that are funding the western imperialists who seek to install permanent military outposts in the Middle East. The oil fields that are the pawns in a geo-corporate hustle that is daily handing more and more of the world's resources to a smaller and smaller band of elite capitalists who leave a trail of desperate poverty, inequality and war in their wake.

So when we talk about renewable energy as being about 'freedom' it means freedom from the corporatocracy that dominates western foreign policy. To be able to generate the energy we need to run the country ourselves means we no longer need to steal other people's energy resources at gun point, or to prop up despotic regimes and look the other way while they commit atrocities just so we can get our filthy bloody hands on the oil in their countries; to continue the carefree, affluent, safe and easy way of life we live at the expense of the fallen whose blood runs unseen through the engines and the power lines of our towns and cities.

So, how do we wrest control of our energy away from the corporatocracy and end the energy crisis? Surely this will require some incredibly drastic, radical new ideas that have never been tried before? Surely there will be risk involved, even bloodshed? Surely the infrastructure will be prohibitively expensive, the willpower lacking, the resources unattainable?

Surely the governments and corporations are right when they tell us that we need them to sort out things like energy because they are far too complicated for the likes of us!!!

At the very least there will be enormous upheaval that will disrupt power to businesses, schools, hospitals?!?

And what about enhancing geo-political stability? That was a bloody big call me old son. How on earth are you going to back that one up?

Well, the ideas are not new, radical or drastic. In fact they are being used now by Cumbrian farmers and Oxfordshire villagers alike. They all chipped in a bit to get the thing up and running but there definitely wasn't any bloodshed. Their energy networks are controlled by their own communities without the need for government or corporate intervention. In fact sometimes they make a bit more than they need and sell it back to the National Grid. The switchover usually happens at a little local ceremony with some local dignitary or celeb throwing the switch for the first time, the local paper gets involved and there's usually cake and biscuits afterwards.

Oh, and the energy they generate themselves completely negates the need to go to war in Iraq or Afghanistan or anywhere else to steal theirs; so geo-political stability can easily be restored if we all follow the example of these local villagers and their...

Energy Cooperatives!!!

Baywind Energy Co-operative was the first co-operative to own wind turbines in the United Kingdom. Baywind was modelled on the similar wind turbine cooperatives and other renewable energy co-operatives that are common in Scandinavia, and was founded as an Industrial and Provident Society in 1996. It grew to exceed 1,300 members, each with one vote. A proportion of the profits is invested in local community environmental initiatives through the Baywind Energy Conservation Trust. As of 2006, Baywind owned a 2.5 megawatt five-turbine wind farm at Harlock Hill near Ulverston, Cumbria and one of the 600 kilowatt turbines at the Haverigg II wind farm near Millom, Cumbria.

Another community-owned wind farm, Westmill Wind Farm Cooperative, opened in May 2008 in the Oxfordshire village of Watchfield. It consists of five 1.3 megawatt turbines, and is described by its promoters as the UK's largest community-owned wind farm. It was structured as a cooperative, whose shares and loan stock were sold to the local community. Other businesses, such as Midcounties Co-operative, also invested, and the Co-operative Bank provided a loan.
Community-owned schemes in Scotland include a three V27 wind turbine system near the manufacturer Vestas' Scottish base in Kintyre, operated by Gigha Renewable Energy Ltd. which is capable of generating up to 675 kW of power. Gigha residents control the whole project and profits are reinvested in the community.
Findhorn Ecovillage has four Vestas wind turbines which can generate up to 750 kW. These make the community net exporters of renewable-generated electricity. 
Boyndie Wind Farm Co-operative is part of the Energy4All group, which promotes community ownership. A number of other schemes supported by Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company are in the pipeline.
Unity Wind Ltd is an Industrial and Provident Society that intends to install two 2MW wind turbines at North Walsham in North Norfolk. Its key aim is community wind turbines installed and run by community investment and for financial benefit to the community.*

There are schemes like this all over the world and they are growing in number. They don't rely on privately owned enterprise or statism to survive and flourish. They plough money back into local communities as opposed to forcing them to pay exorbitant taxes and fuel prices. All you have to do is champion these schemes, organise one for your area, tell others about the ones already in existence. Stop moaning about fuel prices, tax hikes, the war on terror, the failure of the environmental movement to make any headway and take matters into your own hands. As these schemes show, it's not as impossible as you might think.

Here's a great introductory video about energy cooperatives:

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Anarchism: Revolution or Evolution? How supporting your local co-op is more effective than overthrowing the government.

If you've stumbled across this blog and don't already know that the three main causes of oppression are organised religion, private enterprise and the state, welcome to planet Earth. Please, come in. Can I get you a cup of tea?

Whenever we've had our liberties trampled it's almost certain to have been under the boot of one of these three dodgy looking characters. The only example I can think of that doesn't (always) involve at least one of them is domestic/familial abuse. And if you are being abused by your partner or a family member the answer is simple: Walk the fuck away and never look back. You can give them all the love in the world but they are broken and therefore incapable of loving you back in a healthy way.  Why so few people manage to grasp this is beyond me frankly.

And isn't it the same with these other purveyors of abusive behaviour? Very few of us even try to walk away from religions that oppress women, from private enterprises that oppress the poor, from governments that impede our civil liberties and fundamental human rights. Why? Because like in all controlling and abusive relationships we've been sold a line; we need them, we'd never survive in the big scary world without them, no-one else can provide for us and protect us like they can. Sound familiar?

And the scary part is that we've been under the shadow of these three for so long that we really haven't got the means to support ourselves en masse without them anymore. It's all very well saying it's time to 'man up', pack our bags and walk out of the door. But walk into what? How would we survive?

So revolution is out then. We would be unwise to try for our 'Winter Palace' moment in Britain in the 21st century. As romantic a notion as it is to just overthrow the status quo, we'd simply be left with a vacuum, which would undoubtedly be filled with opportunists, crooks and charlatans.

The only chance we've got then is evolution. A new society that can be built from within the old, and we already have the seeds. Every cooperative and mutual society is already operating along the lines of anarchist principles (although not many people seem to know it) and they now make up a sizable chunk of the insurance and financial services markets. They compete and win in markets dominated by starkly capitalist principles, yet offer a glimpse of a more egalitarian future where the spoils of enterprise can be more equally distributed than would ever be sanctioned by their privately owned counterparts.

And as I wrote in my last post, not only is it possible to build a universal health care system on anarchist principles that's more efficient than a state controlled one like the NHS, but it looks likely that the Americans will adopt such a system in the very near future. The Germans of course have been using a similar system for years.

Becoming attuned to the kinds of anarchist system already in place helps us to counter the out and out lies fed to us from our abusive trio that they are the only ones who can help us. These alternative systems aren't some weirdy beardy communist jibber jabber, these are modern sophisticated business models used in big, grown up countries to do serious stuff like providing universal health care.

So how can you become more 'anarchic' today? Well, I guess you could go into work and overthrow the boss, sharing his company out equally between you and all your work mates like some 1930's Spanish peasant. But what about switching your current account to the Co-op Bank instead? Or swapping your insurance to NFU Mutual? Or doing your shopping at the Co-op rather than Tesco's?

It's your choice. You can choose to take power back from those 'big three' and anarchism at it's core is about just that - people regaining control over their own lives. And this doesn't mean grabbing a gun or a pitchfork like it used to. It's the same principle that attracted us all to democracy and why so many refuse to accept that democracy has failed. We've been lied to for so long that most people actually believe that democracy or guns and pitchforks are our only two options. How many times have you heard people say "democracy might not be perfect, but it's the best we've got?"

Well that might have been true, or at least less demonstrably false in those halcyon days (if indeed they ever really existed at all) of moral (rather than career) politics, or in the days before the supreme influence of the press on public opinion, or before the lies and the cheating and the stealing and the killing that lead to the electorate's wholesale disenfranchisement from the political system. Whatever, it ain't any more.

But I digress, the point here is supposed to be simple and positive one. Namely that by supporting the cooperatives and mutual or 'friendly' societies that already exist and encouraging new ones to fill in the gaps in other areas of society, we start to build a highly organised, egalitarian 21st century community that will simply leave existing autocratic institutions irrelevant and sidelined. We can all be a part of it simply by the choosing the organisational types we support, and those we don't. It might not be as dramatic as a revolution, but it's a pretty exciting glimpse into the near future don't you think?

Monday, 20 December 2010

Part 2. Does having the NHS give the government the right to tell us what to eat, drink and smoke?

In my post about whether or not having the NHS gives the government the right to tell us what to eat, drink and smoke, unfortunately in the final reckoning I had to conclude that it did.

This really got to me, because as I said at the time, I am a left-libertarian and I don't like the government telling me what to do. The knowledge that I had written a piece legitimising its presumption to tell me what I can or can't put in my own body disturbed me immensely.

However, in my defence I did include a very important caveat in that conclusion. I said that "faced with the two choices we have in society as it stands" I would rather allow the government to have a say in our lifestyle choices in order to protect the NHS from collapse, than leave the freedom to choose entirely up to the individual and let the free market take over in the ensuing meltdown and price millions of people out of the health care system all together - like what happens in America for example.

I also explained that there was a third option that would mean fundamentally changing the way society is structured and that this blog would be covering it in some detail. This is the first article introducing the topic of social cooperatives and in this case how universal health care doesn't have to go hand in hand with an authoritarian 'nanny state' telling us what to do!

First of all some housekeeping. In the previous article I basically cited America as an example of how to run your health care system if you want people to die prematurely. Although this is an accurate reflection of the American system (which is born out statistically), I should point out that America also has examples of the kind of health care system we should be employing over here.

In 1937 the Farm Security Administration (FSA) was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal to provide help for America's poorest farmers who had been thoroughly fucked over in the Great Depression. One of the more innovative policies the FSA oversaw was the implementation of health insurance cooperatives.

The idea is simple. Instead of paying a health insurance premium to a private insurance company who will pay out in the event you need treatment, or paying for a government run scheme like the NHS through taxation, you pay your insurance premium to a health insurance cooperative, which is a kind of mutual insurance company. In other words the cooperative is owned entirely by the policy holders themselves.

Because the cooperative is run as a not for profit organisation and is owned entirely by the policy holders (in other words the patients who use the health care system) it's ultimate concern is patient care; not commercial profit like a private insurance company. This has obvious benefits in terms of keeping premiums low and ensuring it will pay out on the best treatment for the patient, not the cheapest treatment for the insurance company!

Also because the cooperative is owned by the patients it has a vested interest in negotiating the best deals with providers in terms of price AND service. This has advantages over a government run system that draws a steady stream of public money and has no imperative to increase efficiency or get value for money. If anyone is in any doubt about how profligate and inefficient a government run scheme can be because of this have a look at how the NHS spanked £110 billion last year!

So what about cost? At the time of writing this, Bupa's average premium is around £400 a year. As we've already seen though, because a cooperative doesn't have to make a profit, the premiums are likely to be lower than a those of a private company like Bupa.

What about the NHS? As we know in 2009 they spent £110 billion. That's £1174.20 a year each we have to pay for the current scheme through taxation

Ironically although we have long taken the piss out of the American system for being elitist, non egalitarian and generally backward, it is thanks in general to President Obama's health care reform bill and specifically U.S. Senator for Montana, Max Baucus's proposed "America’s Healthy Future Act" that they may well get a system like this before we do.

If only we would implement a similar system here, I wouldn't have to sacrifice my leftism (I still get universal health care) or my libertarianism (no government telling me to eat my bloody greens!!!) by having to choose one of the two thoroughly unsatisfactory health care options we have in this country today.

There are many examples of how taking both government AND private enterprise out of the equation makes society better. Some will throw up their hands in horror and say you can't have anarchy (the absence of government) because it will be chaos. In reality an anarchic society is highly organised as we see in this example. As for the NHS, the government run alternative, I would even go as far as to suggest that it is by far the more chaotic option!