thermidor of progressives

(2011) by kevin carson [40 pg pdf]


intro’d here:

Thermidor of the Progressives: Managerialist Liberalism’s Hostility to Decentralized Organization

Original Tweet:

C4SS Research Associate Kevin Carson’s latest research study is now available. Download Thermidor of the Progressives: Managerialist Liberalism’s Hostility to Decentralized Organization[PDF].

notes/quotes [big font are also quotes.. new wordpress format won’t allow big font in quotes]

p 4

all that remained was to bring them under progressive regulatory control so their increased efficiencies could be harnessed by rational planning for the general good. it was necessary, at the same time, to transfer political power from the jacksonian ‘plain people’ to the ‘administrative and legislative specialists.’

p 5

the meant, according to wiebe, public health authorities demanding ‘the renovation of an entire city,’ and social workers calling ‘quite literally.. for a new american society.’

p 6

the tendency in all aspects of life was to treat policy as a matter or expertise rather than politics: to remove as many questions as possible from the realm of public debate to the realm of administration by properly qualified authorities..

social problem were thus allowed to enter the organization al realm only after being dressed in technical terms…

they deal w/questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men..

p 8

firm as regulated monopoly

p 9

encourage bigness, guarantee profits to big guys, regulate..

p 21

monopoly is a function of lack of competition, which is achieved by erecting barriers to entry – the main thing that states do

but that doesn’t mean we need competition to not have monopolies..

w/o global ‘intellectual property’ regime, it would be impossible for global corps like nike to maintain control of outsourced production and charge a 400% brand name markup.

p 22

it’s impossible to overstate just how central intellectual property is to corporate power.

p 34

what the web has done is replace a consensus system managed by gatekeepers with an adversarial system.

p 35

one of the most important conventions of online reporting and blogging, on the other hand, is the hyperlink. 

link ness

www ness.. io dance ness.. ps in the open ness..

p 40

what were seeing is a reversal of the process that led to the factory system in the first place: a shift from expensive machinery and the resulting system of wage employment in factories, to tools that are affordable for individuals and small groups.


eric husman of grimreader blog, summarized the conventional liberal position, as exemplified by plumer and klein this way: it’s not that they are against small business, it’s just that they are in favor of those things that characterize big business. returns to scale? check. market power? check. bureaucratic and unionized? check? okay, you are an acceptable small business.

we’ve already considered thomas frank’s tendency to substitute lazy juxtapositions for actual arguments: because corporate globalization is often package in the language of techno-utopianism, it follows (for frank) that anyone who celebrates the network revolution is a shill for neoliberalism. and because most celebrations of flexible manufacturing and critiques of taylorist bureaucracy are associate in the popular media w/corporate shills like tom peters, likewise, it follows than any positive talk about decentralized production (‘the superiority of nineties-style flexible production ot he regimented management techniques of the past’) is just camouflage for nike’s and wal-mart’s attempt to buy the world.

p 41

but from reading frank – again – you’d never guess that there’s a micromanufacturing movement whose aim is, in fact, eliminating rents on artificial scarcity and artificial property rights like patents as a source of concentrated wealth, and achieving widely distributed ownership of the means of production by ordinary people. for those people ‘decentralized production’ doesn’t mean outsourcing to a job shop in shenzhen, which produces goods on contract to a western tnc to be sent by container ship to a wal mart in peoria; it means a consumer in peoria selects a toaster or recliner from a range of freely available, open0source product designs, to be produced on demand by a garage factory full of sophisticated (and affordable) cnc machinery in his own neighborhood – free from the entire portion of price constituted by brand-name markup, embedded rents on ‘intellectual property’ mass marketing costs, and long-distance shipping in the price of goods at wal mart. these people don’t just want to outsource production w/in a corporate framework. they want to eliminate the corporate hq and the shareholders, and democratize control of production itself to a relocalized economy of self-employed craftspeople who can afford their own production machinery. they seek, in short, ‘a ore democratic distribution of wealth.’

p 42

using the web to communicate with chinese factories is an improvement.. over the fax machine. but the real revolution is that it only costs a few bucks to ship a part from shenzen to sunnyvale. you want to talk revolution? thank fedex. (joel johnson in reaction to chris anderson’s celebration of garage manufacturing… conflation of production in garage job shops w/outsourcing to china)

p 43

out source to china.. entirely accidental to essence of phenomenon… what matters.. is that general purpose machinery…. is cheapening exponentially…

what’s done in job shops in shenzhen can be done as well in networked local economies of garage factories in the u.s. and will be, when peak oil destroys the entire ‘warehouses on container ships’ industrial model.


as w large scale organization, the affinity seems to a considerable extent to be aesthetic: regulation and licensing – any regulation, any form of licensing, as such – is ‘progressive’ and any opposition to it is ‘right-wing.’

ie: as soon as matthew yglesias posts.. first commenter allusion to upton sinclair or taunt that ‘you wouldn’t let an unlicensed brain surgeon operate on you would you..

part of problem is predisposition to believe that anything called a regulation in fact does what it s official title suggests.

on licensed plumber.. and people who could do it but not licensed.

p 44

… effect of law is to ensure there’s a certain set of people who are perfectly qualified to performa range of plumbing related tasks but can’t legally perform those tasks w/o giving a licensed master plumber a piece of the action – yglesias…

… yglesias: the primary effect of the ‘supervision’ is that the ‘licensed professional’ or ‘master tradesman’ gets a piece of the action for allowing the person who actually does the work access to the market.

yglesias – if i needed to hire a plumber, i’d probably look for a recommendation. i don’t have any real confidence that these licensing schemes are tracking quality in any meaningful way.

p 45

on dr’s rarely deprived of licenses as a result of malpractice, because licensing boards are ll about minimizing political hassle. … hesitant to pull a license because of the financial consequences to the sanctioned dr. disciplinary actions, when they occur, rarely involve ‘improper or negligent care’ but instead focus on criminal issues like ‘inappropriate prescription of controlled substances’.. licensing bodies also attempt to reduce their workload and minimize the high cost of hearings by entering into voluntary settlements for lesser offenses that don’t require finding the physician guilty of negligent care, and that leave no public record of the actual nature of the investigation. potential malpractice liability and reputational mechanisms like patient word of mouth provide far stronger incentives that then toothless licensing system. the main effect of the licensing system, arguably is to create a misplace sense of confidence in the capabilities of a ‘board-licensed’ physician.


kropotkin describing networked free towns and villages of late medieval europe… primary pattern of social organization was horizontal (guilds, etc) w/quality certification and reputational functions aimed mainly at making individuals’ reliability transparent to one another. to the state such local formations were opaque.

… things like systematic adoption of family surnames… and 20th cent followup of citizen id numbers, the systematic mapping of urban addresses for postal service, etc, were all for the purpose of making society transparent to the state. to put it crudely, the state wants to keep track of where its stuff is, same as we do – and we’re its stuff.

before this transformation, for ie, surnames existed mainly for the convenience of people in local communities, so they could tell each other apart. .. rarely continued from one generation to the next…… by contrast,

everywhere there have been family surnames w/cross-generational continuity, they have been imposed by centralized states as a way of cataloging and tracking the population – making it legible to the state in scott’s terminology.

vinay’s identity ness

p 46

to accomplish a shift back to horizontal transparency, it will be necessary to overcome a powerful residual cultural habit, among the general public, of thinking of such things through the minds’ eye of the state. ig, if ‘we’ didn’t have some way of verifying compliance with this regulation or that, some business somewhere might e ‘allowed’ to do something or other. we must overcome 600 yrs or so of almost inbred habits of thought, by which the state is the all0seeing guardian of society protecting us from the possibility that someone, somewhere might do something wrong if ‘the authorities’ don’t prevent it.


in place of this habit of thought, we must think instead of ourselves creating mechanisms on a networked basis, to make us as transparent as possible to each other as providers of goods and services, to prevent businesses from getting away with poor behavior by informing each other to prevent each other from selling defective merchandise, to protect ourselves from fraud, etc. in fact, the creation of such mechanism – far from making us transparent to the regulatory state – may well require active measure to render us opaque to the state (eg encryption, darknets, etc) for protection against attempts to suppress such local economic self-organization against the interest of corporate actors.

or perhaps.. gershenfeld something else law… making last para irrelevent. (and again .. vinay’s identity insight/focus)

if everyone doing their art (the thing they can’t not give away) – who’d be checking for quality.. no?

in other words, we need to lose the centuries-long habit of thinking of ‘society as a hub and spoke mechanisms.. viewing world from perspective of hub.. lose habit of thought by which transparency from above ever even became perceived as an issue in the first place..

perhaps even deeper…  lose that validation or proof is purpose of identity … rather.. 100% trust.. ie: are you human.. ok then

imagine all the irrelevant s we would free ourselves from..

illich – his imagination is ‘schooled’ to accept service in place of value…. schools teach the student to view doctoring oneself as irresponsible. learning on one’s own as unreliable and community organization, when not paid for by those in authority, as a form of aggression or subversion.. reliance of institutional treatment renders independent accomplishment suspect.

p 48

the real question centers on the view we take of human nature.

science of people et al

are the majority of human beings too incompetent and responsible to achieve a social safety net or mechanisms for certifying the quality and safety of those they do business with by voluntary networked means even when there are no technical barriers to doing so? is a class of benevolent, professionally trained overseers necessary to overcome the carelessness and improvidence of the average person? or can people be trusted to know their own best interests, and cooperate with others to achieve them?

establishment liberalism views the latter assumption as based on a naively optimistic view of human nature. but conventional liberalism is at least as vulnerable to the same criticism. we anarchists believe in people’s knowledge of their own interests, and their ability to cooperate and otherwise behave rationally, as the main defense against opportunism and fraud. those who oppose us must trust not only in the ability of ‘properly qualified authorities’ to know our interests better than we do – they must also trust those authorities not to exploit their own authority opportunistically. they must believe, against the overwhelming weight of historical evidence, that ‘all of us together’ can act through large organization in our own interests, rather than being managed by them in the interests of those who actually run them it’s a classic example of the ‘quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ problem: who will watch the watchers?

conventional liberalism’ achilles heel is its own belief, rooted in its history and class origins, that immaculate and political expertise are possible, and that ‘disinterested experts’ are somehow uniquely free from guile and opportunism.

for optimal energy\ness..

let’s do this firstfree art-ists.

for (blank)’s sake

a nother way