Reading Notes /
Chodorov, Frank, The Rise and Fall of Society, An Essay on the Economic Forces That Underlie Social Institutions, 1959
Great book, great writing. For starters I quote Jeffrey A. Tucker’s quotes capping his Preface, also inserting the great cover illustration:
As a science, economics seeks understanding of invariable principles; politics is ephemeral, its subject matter being the day-to-day relations of associated men. Economics, like chemistry, has nothing to do with politics. The intrusion of politics into the field of economics is simply an evidence of human ignorance or arrogance, and is as fatuous as an attempt to control the rise and fall of tides.
I love this cover illustration. It reminds me of The Terminator, Linda Hamilton against the fence at the kids’ park: kablooie, there’s goes the world!
Oh well, better luck next time.
I’ll add the artist’s name next time: female, wonderful.
The imperviousness of economic law to political law is shown in this historic fact: in the long run every State collapses, frequently disappears altogether and becomes an archeological curio. Every collapse of which we have sufficient evidence was preceded by the same course of events. The State, in its insatiable lust for power, increasingly intensified its encroachments on the economy of the nation, causing a consequent decline of interest in production, until at long last the subsistence level was reached and not enough above that was produced to maintain the State in the condition to which it had been accustomed.
If “we are the government,” then it follows that the man who finds himself in jail must blame himself for putting himself there, and the man who takes all the tax deductions the law allows is really cheating himself.
In what respect does the human being, whose social institutions concern us, differ from his food-grubbing neighbors? It is in the fact that he is not, like them, dependent on what he finds, but has the capacity of making use of nature to further his ends. This capacity we call reason, which is the faculty of extracting from a number of related phenomena a causative principle and of applying this principle in his business.
The negation of the individual, by use of words, is the premise of every socialistic rationale; socialism hasn’t a leg to stand on until the individual, like a lump of sugar, is verbally dissolved in the personification of a class. Every political scheme to “improve” Society rests on this trick of words.
We’ve been captured by the state for so many generations present generations don’t see that they’re subjugated, having no memory of freedom, no minds to notice things with.
If we were just lucky enough to be left after the next collapse, that is, of the present state, with so little fat that no state could get strong eating our labor, then maybe we could get stable. If so, we’d be wise to limit our numbers to two hundred: states feed on big numbers.
Note that states palm their predations under cover of collectivism: We Jews have a right to the Canaanites land, God wants us Jews to have it; we Americans have a right to the natives’ land and the n-s’ and the chinks’ and the micks’ labor, God wants us to have it. … We can steal pk’s ideas for an internet from pk because it’s the greatest good for the greatest number. Bill Gates got rich, Steve Jobs got rich, why didn’t he? own stupid fault!
I’m sorry, I must discuss this more clearly, and expand in certain direcions. eg. I must mention that we need terms for percentages to which societies have this and that characteristic: collectivist/individual, creative/custodial …
[Bowdlerizing K., 2016 08 03 Offensive terms go dosido in fashion.]
This impossibility of fixing future values is the rock on which “economic planning” founders. Not only is the planner without data on which to base his prognoses, but the plannee himself cannot furnish it. No man can foretell with certainty what he will want at a future time, or how much he will want it, for no man can predict the influences that will determine his decisions.
The barrier to free choice which the planner sets up acts like the dam in the river; the water does not stop flowing but either overflows the dam or spreads out in a lake. Price control does not stop wanting or bidding; it simply creates what propaganda calls a “black market,” which is in fact the true market, somewhat distorted but nevertheless true. It may be illegal but it is highly moral, for it arises from the individual’s right to himself, to the product of his labors, and to the pursuit of happiness which is the essence of living.
The “economic planner” does not control prices or production; he polices men.
Living without trade may be possible, but it would hardly be living; at best it would be mere existence. Until the market place appears, men are reduced to getting by with what they can find in nature in the way of food and raiment; nothing more. But the will to live is not merely a craving for existence; it is rather an urge to reach out in all directions for a fuller enjoyment of life, and it is by trade that this inner drive achieves some measure of fulfillment.
Differences between myself and my son and his Austrian Economics colleagues are delineated by that last statement. My Free Learning Exchange (1970) offered a free market, the world’s first real one, unregulated information, an internet. The powers repressed it, sabotaged it, the Austrian economists standing around, idle, not noticing. The powers’ plagiarized internet is regulated, the opposite of my offering. Now we have no chance: and must I believe, if any humans are to survive, reduce back to subsistence living, and from there hope to rebuild.
Property can’t be properly invented until kleptocracy is un-invented.
I can’t supervise that rebuilding from here, neither can you (neither can you do much more harm to me): the future will do it, or not.
Meantime, I pray for catastrophic failure as our only chance.
Meantime, I pray for catastrophic failure as our only chance.
Just as trade brings people together, tending to minimize cultural differences, and makes for mutual understanding, so do impediments to trade have the opposite effect.
There is nothing wrong with competition that competition cannot cure.
Every proposal to improve man’s lot by political measures calls for the enactment of a law or an official edict. The law presupposes that some people are not doing what they ought to do or are doing something that ought not to be done. Hence, the purpose of the law is to regulate human behavior. The very premise of the law is that violation or evasion will ensue from its enactment, that it will not be self-enforcing; therefore, the heart of the law is a punishment clause. No law is worth the paper it is printed on without such a clause, and no law has any effect unless it is implemented with a corps of enforcers. Therein lies the secret of the accumulation and perpetuation of political power.
Notice: My FLEX, with Ivan Illich its main designer, was “political” in the sense that centralized coercion was its target, its enemy. Being non-coercive at its core it’s exempt from Chodorov’s generalizations about improving proposals.
The bureaucracy is an aristocracy of office; it is vital to this aristocracy that offices once established be perpetuated, even though the occasion that brought them into being is long past, and that those which cannot be kept alive be replaced by others. The vested interest sees to it that the power of the State does not diminish.
The expenses of the State are the expenses of the bureaucracy, just as the powers of the State are realized in the functions of the bureaucracy. It is the size and importance of this aristocracy of office that actualizes the State.
Every tax bill, even in the smaller cities, contains a promise to levy with a heavier hand on one group of citizens than another, with the implied intention of favoring some of the citizenry at the expense of others. In the rhetoric of politics there is no more compelling peroration than “ability to pay”; it is compelling because it touches to the quick the very common sin of covetousness, because it appeals to the envy and jealousy that few men are rid of.
When we speak of the disappearance of a civilization we do not mean that a people has been extinguished. Every holocaust leaves survivors. What is implied by the fall of a civilization is the disappearance from memory of an accumulation of knowledge and of values that once obtained among a people. The prevailing arts and sciences, the religion and manners, the ways of living and of making a living have been forgotten. They have been obliterated not by a pile of dust but by a general lack of interest in marginal satisfactions, in the things men strive to achieve when the struggle for existence is won. One can manage to get along without knives and forks when the getting of food is trouble enough, and the first business of raiment is to provide warmth, not adornment.
The loss of a civilization is the reverse of that process of cultural accumulation. It is the giving up, as a matter of necessity, of those satisfactions that are not essential to existence. It is a process of forgetting through force of circumstance; it is abstinence imposed by environment. Sometimes nature will for a while impose abstinence, but the record shows that man is quite capable of overcoming such obstacles to his ambitions. The obstacle he does not seem able to overcome is his inclination to predation, which gives rise to the institution of the State; it is this institution that ultimately induces a climate of uselessness, of lack of interest i off intern striving, and thus destroys the civilization it feeds upon. Or so the record shows: every civilization that declined or was lost carried an all-powerful State on its back.
Man, the producer, must have freedom, while man, the predator, puts limitations on freedom, and this inner dichotomy is the plot of his life story. His search for the “good society” is his search for a denouement.
The will for freedom comes before freedom.
I think I disagree there: we were born into freedom, and gave it up. Now we must reinvent it.
Statism … the worship of political power.
… Every civilization that declined or was lost carried an all-powerful State on its back.
In the operation of human affairs, despite the fact that lip service is rendered the concept of inherent personal rights, the tendency to call upon the State for the solution of all the problems of life shows how far we have abandoned the doctrine of rights, with its correlative of self-reliance, and have accepted the State as the reality of Society.
Note from first draft:
bk just sent me the e-book, I know the thesis in advance, know it to be much my own however long before me (or my mentor Illich) Chodorov may have written it, and I’m sure looking forward to reading it, never mind that I never heard of him till a couple of days ago (via bk): may be tempted to quote the whole: So, go to Laissez Faire Books and buy it yourself. Remember, maybe you never heard of me till a minute ago: that’s no accident: maybe in another five minutes you’ll want everything I say engraved in gold.