BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A
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Your Well-Intentioned Regulations Will Not Bring Justice

June 23, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

Playa Chacala, MexicoYou have heard of “too big to fail.” Well, the World Bank recently posted a piece called Too Small to Regulate. It is an argument for big business. In fact, it is an argument for industries to be run by just a handful of big companies. It is easier, they say, for the government to keep up with a few behemoths than to try and monitor a whole bunch of independents. According to the authors,

The reason regulation is needed is that, as Nicholas Kristof argues in one of his recent columns, a firm’s “business case” does not always coincide with what is socially desirable. Many actions have harmful side-effects on bystanders who are not party to the decisions—“negative externalities” in the language of economics. It is not in the interest of the firm, on its own, to pay heed to the negative externalities it inflicts. Regulation, with carefully calibrated penalties, can help bring a firm’s profit-maximizing motive into alignment with society’s overall interests.  

There are so many people that I wish would read and think about that article. Because there are so many people I know who are both fervent supporters of increased regulation and fervent supporters of small businesses, buying local, co-ops, independents… Like them, I did not always see clearly that those things are very often (maybe mostly) in opposition to one another.

Laws and regulations are not magic. There are costs and consequences. The consequences will always be more severe for the marginalized and discriminated against. The benefits will always be enjoyed disproportionately by the most powerful and privileged. The US is, after all, an oligarchy. How could anyone expect regulations to benefit anyone but the current and aspiring oligarchs who pay for them?

Marijuana is being legalized all over. With legalization and regulation has come a devouring of small-scale growers and retailers. In Canada, growing for your own personal use has been nixed in favor of large-scale capitalist enterprise with prohibitive start-up costs. One Ottawa entrepreneur

underestimated the money they would need by a factor of three, largely because of the government’s regulatory demands. The application ran 300 pages, not including attachments. And before they could even submit applications, Tweed and other growers had to secure sites for their operations and obtain all local permissions. Applicants who passed the initial vetting then had to pass a final, two-day inspection.

California growers are experiencing similar changes as marijuana becomes taxed and regulated. Maybe you think that is a good thing. But one of the reasons for legalizing marijuana was to stop the arrest and incarceration of users and small-time dealers. If the barriers are too high for legal sales, then the same people will  continue to get arrested. If you don’t believe me, then you aren’t paying attention to the people of color who are getting arrested for cutting hair without a license.

A long time ago I read an interview with Michelle Alexander where people asked her about legalization of drugs as a response to The New Jim Crow. She wisely pointed out that the system will find another way to criminalize and caste poor people of color. She was right. And now she is pointing out that white men are now getting rich from selling pot while black men are still behind bars for doing the same thing.

I know what some of you are thinking. You are thinking that we need regulation to prevent discrimination, environmental damage, and other predatory behavior. But does regulation really work?

We had environmental regulation, but that didn’t stop BP from spilling millions of barrels of oil. Our government’s response was not to hold them fully accountable. It was to limit their liability and save the company. Which is what will always happen. Because incorporation is the government giving people permission to do things without personal consequences. Rarely will regulations actually take down a big company. Rarer still will they take down any of the individuals in it, no matter what they did. People died in that BP oil spill. Who at BP is answering for that? Nobody. Because while the feds will happily raid and shut down an Amish farm, you will not be seeing them in the BP executive offices.

I am not saying that no regulation has ever made a difference in anyone’s life. I’ve written before about the ambiguities and moral dilemmas that we face when dealing with the world as it is while still trying to move it towards what it should be. I am saying that we must take into consideration the costs. And we need to think bigger.

We need to be able to imagine a world where we don’t have a government-protected corporation killing people without consequences. We can do better than trying to force the Walmarts of the world to put in wheelchair ramps, hire minorities, and pay a living wage. We can do better than hoping that people get the kind of job that most of us have – one we hate where we can barely muster a fuck to give. We can do better than monstrous organizations run by sociopaths who are o.k. with poisoning people, because they know they will never be challenged professionally, much less held accountable personally.

Those of you who are fighting for regulation really need to think about the consequences of what you are fighting for. Towns all over this country have had their local businesses eaten up by Walmart. Our food system is controlled by a handful of companies. Unless you go live in a tree somewhere, you almost cannot avoid google. And soon even a remote forest probably won’t save you.

Do you want to be a society of wage-slaves for multinationals or a society of independent, democratic, creative, unique organizations where humans have agency? Because if it is the latter, you need to think a little more carefully about regulation as a solution to our problems.

 

White People Lose it Over Buy Black Experiment

June 09, 2009 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

One of the people I follow on twitter linked to this story with the comment that it was racist. The article is about an African American couple in Chicago (John and Maggie Anderson) who have decided to only buy from black owned businesses for one year. It’s called the Empowerment Experiment and WOW do some white people have their panties in a bunch over it.

A typical comment goes something like this – If a white person said they were going to buy only from white owned businesses, then it would be racist. So the other way around is racist too.

Bullshit.

Newsflash. Most white people do only buy from white owned businesses. In fact, a whole lot of non-white people buy from only white owned businesses. In fact, even the woman who started the buy black experiment, who lives in a predominantly white suburb, said in her NPR interview “none of my money went to black businesses last year.”

I lived in Santa Cruz, California for six years. Santa Cruz residents have a very strong preference for supporting locally owned businesses and keeping money in the Santa Cruz community. Santa Cruz is 90% white.

The number of black owned businesses is so small that the U.S. Census Bureau doesn’t even put down a percentage. It just says “S: Suppressed; does not meet publication standards.” Hispanic owned firms also get the big “Suppressed.” In other words, those “Buy Local” bumper stickers around town may as well say “Buy White.”

Does that mean I think people in Santa Cruz are wrong to support local businesses? No. Because, like the couple that decided to buy only from black owned businesses for a year, the intent is to spend money in a way that supports a more just world.

Does that mean there should be no discussion about those kinds of choices? No, because the local store may be owned by the grand puba of the KKK. And a black entrepreneur could be selling products made in a sweatshop.

But those are thoughtful discussions that reasonable people ought to be having. Instead, what we get are comments like this gem over on the Famuan:

Hey bmc if you told 10 white people about this stupid ebony experiment, 10 out of 10 would boycott anything black. weather be shoes of shaq, or golf clubs of tiger, stupid music of kanye. And obviously because of your childish fatherless culture way of thinking your missing the point, by the way because of this story I have boycotted anything black, Look the black community needs to stop acting like thoughtless neanderthals, stop acting childish and at least pretend you have a daddy, As someone has said made a very great valid point.. get off this Hip Hop prison jail metality culture, dont cry about what white people say, and change your so called black communitys flaws

I know I’ve been around too long to be surprised at this kind of shit, but I can’t help it. You’d think people would at least have the sense to be ashamed of their ignorance.

The irony is that addressing what the Anderson’s see as a flaw in the black community is exactly what they are trying to do with the Ebony Experiment. As well-off black people who “made it” and left their blighted inner-city neighborhoods behind, they felt they were part of the problem. Their experiment is about seeing if, by spending their money in the black community, they can help those struggling black communities.

They aren’t advocating that every black person buy only from black people. In fact, they repeatedly call their commitment “extreme.” Their extreme measure is meant, not only to start a conversation, but to collect real data that shows how individuals can make a difference by changing their spending habits

One commenter on the Wall Street Journal said

Right now I buy based on convienence and price. I know nothing of the owner and nor do I really want to concern myself with this issue of his color his politics or his lifestyle.

That’s the real problem. If we all just buy based on convenience and price then we support some truly heinous things, all in the name of saving a few minutes or a few bucks. What if that cheap thing was made by children or slaves? What if the company who grew your bananas poisoned its workers? What if that Coca Cola you love so much is only cheap because goons beat labor organizers to death?

What if our not paying attention to who we buy from ensures a large portion of Americans remain in perpetual poverty?