The Real Reasons Behind San Francisco’s Fast Growing Income Gap

In a recent interview with Time San Francisco mayor Ed Lee was asked a series of questions relating to the ever widening income gap among the populous of a city once known for art, music and activism; it is now becoming known for a median rent of over $4000/month for a 2 bedroom apartment and fleets of Google buses carting around wealthy young techies. His answers are what we have come to expect from a member of the political class, no matter how well intentioned they might be. In other words, he addresses symptoms as if they are the cause.

San Francisco has been hailed by some as a trend setter for a higher minimum wage, but the long term gains are questionable. While increased wealth and prosperity for individuals and communities is a wonderful goal of any civilized society, the first question is to ask whether mandated wages produce that in the long term. Getting a raise is great, but if the gap between the rich and poor is rapidly accelerating despite wage controls, then clearly mandated wages are not having the effect desired. Not to mention the ethical problem of making it illegal for anyone to work for less than the mandated wage.

One could argue, however, that with an unemployment rate of just 4.8%, a booming tech market and higher wages for low skilled workers are, in fact, having the desired effect. But while many of these lower skilled workers have jobs in the city, most of them can’t actually live in the city, and in some cases are being muscled out by landlords eager to jack up the rent. The housing issue is a symptom as well. While the city has worked to maintain its classic Victorian homes they have impeded development of cheaper housing, and have caused dramatic pricing spikes in rent and housing prices.

The rich are moving in, the poor are being pushed out, and the political class is naturally unable, or unwilling, to attack the core issues.

Should we be going after the successful entrepreneurs, though? It is arguable that their immense financial success is in turn creating jobs, which is what we expect from a thriving market. But then again it is doing nothing to the exaggerated gap in income. Again, though, these are symptoms of larger core issues.

Many would argue that without wage controls businesses would pay as little as possible and actually increase poverty. There is a kernel of truth in this. But if we place it into the context of WHY businesses in the current paradigm would do this then we see the solution right in front of our eyes. Due to a combination of IP law, patents, eminent domain and central banking, companies have more opportunity for runaway profits resulting from monopolized money and barriers that keep other entrepreneurs from entering the market. Due to this they not only gain runaway profits, but they would, if they could, pay people as little as possible in order to maximize those profits. For many it might feel like they have no choice but to become wage slaves, or work illegally, and so naturally go to work for those that have been able, via the State, to dominate the market.

So what can we do?

The black market and the open source movement are great places to start as a means of shifting the market into favoring more than just the politically connected, and we have seen the big companies change in response to this, so there is hope. Cryptocurrency is also an exciting and dynamic market for alternate currencies which can become available to billions of people around the globe.

In the end, many will blame the free market for the income gap and discontent in San Francisco, but upon further examination we can see that not only is the market NOT free, but that in spite of the political class creating social and economic distortions which stifle further innovation and competition, the market is still producing better products and services and lower prices than it has before, and that is a hopeful thing. At this point it is beneficial to us to use the production of the market to resist the current paradigm and, in turn, make it better, and freer.

Feigning Dissent: Do Conspiracy Theories Help or Hinder Anarchism?

The Iranian FARS News Agency recently claimed that NSA leaker Edward Snowden has released intelligence showing that space aliens have been in control of the United States since 1945, and that they previously controlled Nazi Germany. While this can be seen as an Iranian government attempt at stirring up anti-United States propaganda in whatever form it can, I can’t help but wonder how many United States readers saw this same news story and believed it as fact. For those that believe this story and other conspiracy theories like it, how much real Statist violence and aggression are they missing?

But I am getting ahead of myself.

There was a time in recent memory when I promoted and shared articles that I believed were strong support for anarchism, and otherwise credible critiques of the political class. After getting called out repeatedly for not vetting my sources, using critical thinking and so on, I started to change the way I approached information sharing and critical analysis.

There was also a time when I was a full on conspiracy theorist, and my road away from that began when I became an anarchist.

Now, I know many people might feel that conspiracy theory subculture is useful for anarchists in the sense that that it is always questioning the “official stories” of the political class, or that conspiracy is a major part of the political class’ actions. I think there is a difference, though, between questioning the political class’ explanations of events and conspiracy theory subculture. On the one hand it is important to assume that the criminal organization of the State is a den of vipers, and that they will go out of their way to lie, cheat, steal, and kill for what they want. On the other hand, it is entirely different to develop a conspiracy narrative which at the outset seems to do the above, but in fact is an unfalsifiable “theory” impervious to critical analysis. So, in order to make sure we have a level headed and critical point of view about the political class, it is important to work with credible, empirical evidence.

The problem is that conspiracy theories typically come without any empirical evidence (or come with incomplete evidence) to prove their claims, and are heavily burdened by conformational biases. The theorist then needs to spend an inordinate amount of time “proving” their case even if their claims are being debunked time and time again. Steve Horwitz has noted that conspiracy theories are “closed systems” in that they are impervious to outside critical analysis. This is especially problematic because anarchism is the opposite: it is an open system that welcomes a changing landscape of ideas.

In my opinion an anarchist is more likely to read up on a conspiracy theory than a conspiracy theorist is likely to read opposing evidence to their central claim; for me, the anarchist is unafraid of being wrong, whereas the conspiracy theorist is terrified.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here: anarchism can be a tough sell. This despite the fact that it is arguably the most credible and rational socio-political framework around. Conspiracy theories act as a weight to anarchism because they too often lack credibility, reason and empiricism. Furthermore, why spend so much time and energy building a complicated narrative without empirical evidence, when the political class daily does horrible things, in broad daylight, and of which we can find just watching CNN? Why invest so much time asking “Yeah, but what about building 7?” when we have so much empirical evidence of murder carried out by the criminals of the State? Or how about the daily violence of police out there beating, kidnapping and killing innocent people? Just skip Alex Jones and head to Copblock.

Ultimately, conspiracy theories take dissent against what we know the State does every day, and we know we can prove, and replace it with what we believe it might be doing, and of which we cannot prove. If the political class were really this good, there would be no need to fight because, well, they are essentially gods capable of overwhelming the hearts and minds of billions of people for thousands of years. Then again, the countless revolutions over the centuries show that, in fact, the political class is far more fragile than all of that.

Make no mistake, the political class has made a true mess of the world, and those in it have more blood on their hands than any of us could ever imagine. But we anarchists need all the credibility and rationality we can get, and thus in my estimation conspiracy theories are fundamentally incompatible with anarchism. Fortunately, the State gives us plenty to work with.

In other words, it is highly unlikely space aliens control Washington. Violent criminals, however, do.

“Do Words Really Hurt? Libertarian Thoughts on Racism and Sexism”

The RNC recently tweeted that Rosa Parks played a role in “ending racism,” which is a problematic claim because, well, racism clearly never ended. On top of this ongoing regression in statist culture, a recent study showed that sexism continues to be a “daily reality” for many women. It comes as no surprise that the political class would attempt to downplay, or even declare over, such things as racism and sexism. But what about the libertarian attitude towards these issues? How do we libertarians talk about racism and sexism? Do we feel they exist, or are they just identity politics? What about racist and sexist language?

A few days ago I posted an article via social networking about sexist language on the left. A fellow libertarian pointed out that that was odd considering my profile banner included the word “twat” in a disparaging manner (by the way props to my wife for pointing this out to me ages ago, and bad on me for not taking her critique seriously). I took it down, which disappointed my fellow libertarian because he hates political correctness. I do as well, but for me I felt the use of the word could be insensitive to others that I am friends with (or married to). It spawned a larger discussion about racism and sexism that can sometimes be troubling for libertarians to navigate.

As an individualist, racism and sexism are something that should be incompatible with my world view. As I see it, they are both at their roots a particularly vile form of collectivism, and should be easy for any libertarian or individualist anarchist to reject. This does not mean, however, that we cannot in some way be affected by statist culture that daily indoctrinates us with collectivist ideas. After 9/11 I remember riding a bus to work when a brown skinned man wearing a turban got on. I am haunted by the memory of staring at him with suspicion and fear. Then my individualism hit me like a bucket of icy cold water. “No,” I told myself, “I will not go there.”

For some libertarians, racism and sexism are statist “identity politics” of the liberal left, and what we really should be talking about is personal prejudice. I think that’s a good point, as we see people constantly using state violence to meet their ends; this includes solving problems related to racial disparities and gender equality issues. When the political class involves themselves in complex social issues, though, they only seem to make more of a mess. I would argue, however, that racism and sexism are very real issues, and that personal prejudice is intertwined with the larger problems. They are not mutually exclusive.

There are two main ways in which racism and sexism seem to manifest: verbal slurs and the initiation of force. I have had to do some serious self-reflection on this. While the use of racial and sexist slurs aimed at individuals does not violate the non-aggression principle, in my estimation it comes damn close. Perhaps that is because they both sicken me so much, but maybe it is also because the language is often followed by actual aggression. In any case, the question is whether or not using such slurs warrants getting popped in the nose. Strictly speaking, no it does not. People are free to say and think whatever they want, as long as they do not initiate force, or threaten to. But perhaps we could look at the issue in light of comeuppance. If you call a black person a nigger and they hit you in the nose, while they may not have the right to do so in light of the NAP, you still had it coming.

Racist, sexist ideas and language are not acts of aggression. However, if the goal is to create a better, peaceful, free society, then I think empathy is something we libertarians and anarchists should be hard at work building up a store of. This means, perhaps, being sensitive to the words we use, and being conscious of the fact that our words can hurt other people. It also means being on guard against the infections of statism which encourage us to have regressive world views in the first place.

Against All Nations And Borders

anarchei:

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Image: Based on work from Wikimedia Commons

Rad Geek:

Libertarianism has nothing to do with national interests. Libertarianism is about individual liberty. The liberty to live your own life, to pursue your own livelihood, and to come and go as you please to anywhere that’s open to you or anywhere you’re invited to go. The implications for immigration policy are obvious: Everyone — not just Americans, not just “citizens,” not just people with government permission slips, but everyone — has rights. They have the right to own or lease property, to take jobs, to make their own living, wherever they want, and to peacefully come and go wherever, wherever and however they please as long as they don’t infringe on any other individual’s equal liberty. That means nothing short of free immigration, open borders, and immediate and unconditional amnesty for all currently undocumented immigrants.

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Invisible Masters: Real and Imagined

American biblical scholar, Joseph Atwill, recently announced that he has uncovered evidence that the Roman Empire manufactured the character of Jesus in order to exert political control over the population of the time. As someone educated in religion and philosophy, I think his claim stinks of poor scholarship. In addition, a cursory Google search of Joseph Atwill will produce a significant amount of biblical conspiracy theory narratives, which further detracts from his credibility. That aside, he does incidentally point to a real facet of the State, and that is the political class’ use of religion as a tool of control.

It is no wonder to me that many anarchists are atheists. The idea of an invisible master that they must obey is, for many, worse than the concrete people who also claim to be our masters. It is also easy to see why the political class invokes religion as much as it does. Let’s face it: if you can make people obey an invisible, imaginary being, then you can absolutely make them obey you. It would seem, then, that the case is closed. Atwell is right: Jesus is a fictional character.

Then Christian anarchists enter the fray and throw the equivalent of a theological monkey wrench into the discussion.

For many Christian anarchists, the Christ of faith is the only authority, and therefore the State is naturally made void by this fact. In addition, this form of “authority” takes on a somewhat different meaning in that it is made manifest by voluntary love and service to individuals, families, and communities; such values are completely compatible with the values of anarchism.

But I might offer another point of view when it comes to the Jesus story. As an anarchist, one of my favorite scenes in the Jesus story is his attack on the merchants in a place of worship. He flips their tables and calls them out as thieves. I am of the opinion that it is this singular act that brought him quickly under the lens of the Roman state. I don’t like to make definitive claims about the dispositions of the historical Jesus because, frankly, the records are, at best, subjective religious narratives. But this part of the story has resonated with me ever since I became an anarchist, and I suspect that that has always been the point of the gospel narratives: inspiration.

So, even if Jesus is imaginary, does it matter? Yes and no. If by believing in something that is a subjective article of faith a person becomes a stark, raving authoritarian, then I think there is a problem, a problem which probably has to do with more than just religiosity. But if through belief in the Christ of faith some can be inspired to resist the State and build a better world of peace and prosperity, then believe away.

I for one believe he was a real person, and for many people the Christ of faith is also quite real. But the one thing I might offer is this: rather than thinking of Christ as lord, savior and master, why not try thinking of him as guide, brother and radical?