[p2p-research] Building Alliances
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Fri Nov 6 18:29:33 CET 2009
While I agree with your recommended practice, I disagree with the theory I
sense behind it. :-)
Taxes are often talked about in terms of incentives and disincentives, as
theory. Your comments buy into that premise. From there, endless economists
will create a flurry of fancy sounding mathematical statements to show why
the rich need more money.
If you look at taxes from a human rights perspective, as well as a way to
control for systemic risks resulting from concentration of wealth, then you
get to the same practical suggestion (tax the rich a lot on a progressive
scale) but for different theoretical reasons.
Basically, I'd suggest one focus more on the human rights aspect, as opposed
to the fairness aspect. Slavery was obviously unfair to the slaves, but
people who had paid for slaves thought it was fair to them to own the
property they had paid for. Slavery was in part defended based on human
rights (the human right to own private property -- slaves); it was only when
that paradigm changed that we saw the end of most of it (well, a shift to
wage slavery). The myths we weave around all this really matter a lot.
Just to outline the opposite neoconservative world view that I see
articulated in US politics and on US message boards, it seems to me it goes
something like this:
* Only a few people are specially gifted enough (genes, family culture,
willpower, talent, whatever) to run businesses that produce food and iPhones
and mortgage loans and media (and no one else can ever learn how to do this)
* Having capital, like from inheritances, has nothing to do with having this
natural talent, and capital, as well as elite educational opportunities,
will naturally flow to such gifted people unless obstructed by government
regulation and taxes and affirmative action and so on.
* Those few gifted people will sit around on their lazy asses unless vast
amounts of money are dangled in front of them to get them to take risks with
other people's money.
* If that happens, that the few gifted people don't build businesses, the
rest of us incompetent losers will starve to death or at least not get
iPhones, which is probably worse.
* Thus, most of the money in society has to go to these few entrepreneurs
and money managers to save the rest of us from ourselves; most of the
current problems in society are thus because rich people are too poor.
* Any sort of taxation and regulation interferes with this natural process,
and creates dysfunction and disaster; the current banking crisis is mainly
the product of excessive government regulation and taxation causing banks to
give loans to people who did not deserve them and thus hurting us all.
* Thus, by that systems of arguments, what you are proposing is total
madness that will destroy the engine of global prosperity, the USA. You must
be suggesting this because you hate everyone in the USA because of our
success, so why should we listen to someone who hates us so?
At least, that's basically the dominant ideology in the USA, stripped of
some fancier ways of saying all that.
"The Mythology of Wealth"
"Justifications for elites and social hierarchy goes all the way back to the
pharaohs. For 6000 years, society has organized itself into social classes.
The people who do the work are always in the lower classes. The harder and
nastier the work, the lower down in the social order you sink. The people
who don’t do this work must justify their position. They do it by
establishing their “worthiness”, and a variety of cultural devices have been
concocted over the millennia to accomplish this. The pharaohs, you may
recall, weren’t people at all. They were gods. Roman emperors likewise had
themselves deified, and before that Roman Senators justified their position
as “patricians”. Basically, “my great great granddaddy was a big shot,
therefore I should be too.”"
Anyway, I don't think you are going to get far arguing against that
mythology by accepting the fundamental premise about very narrow
self-interest (greed) being the main important motivating factor.
This may be a case where I, the US American, can point to an assumption that
you, a European, may have in error about the USA. In short, you are too
kind. :-) It may not occur to you that people could really believe something
like that. But they can. I have a lot of neighbors who believe essentially
that. But that was the "Joe the Plumber" argument in the US elections, and
Obama got trashed for rebutting when he said: "... right now everybody’s so
pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the
wealth around, it’s good for everybody".
Joe's point wasn't about "Joe" being a plumber. It was about "Joe"
purchasing a plumbing-related business so he could make money off of
plumbers. But, the ideology suggests, without "hard working" Joe, all those
other plumbers would not have jobs. Thus, sinks would remain clogged,
homeowners would die of dysentery, and all the plumbers would starve, all
because Joe was not given enough incentive to organize all this.
Anyway, I think you are giving US Americans too much credit for sensible
mythology. :-) The depth of the mythological evil is much greater than you
might assume, your being (presumably) raised in Western Europe.
It's been said the reason why the Aztecs ripped the beating hearts out of
young people on top of temples was because the believed in an angry god who
would not let the sun come up tomorrow if they did not do that. That was
such a dangerous risk to take, there was no reasonable way to test the
alternative of not killing people.
The same thing is true about US capitalism. Here is an example:
"Part One: Rep. Alan Grayson on the Number of Dead from Lack of Health Care"
And the reason poor people support this is that they have been taught to
believe it too, because someday they may get to the top of the heap in their
"The Wrath of the Millionaire Wannabe's"
See, if all those people were not sacrificed on the altar of free market
capitalism every day, about one hundred people a year per congressperson,
then the economic sun would not come up tomorrow. And that is such a scary
thought that no change can be tried. That's what it comes down to
mythologically speaking. It sounds like nonsense when it is laid out simply,
but so do many cults.
Also, it may sound nonsensical to discount the example of Western Europe in
general being a happier place than the USA,
but that is easily explained by noting that Europeans are a bunch of wimpy
parasites who are depending on the tough sacrifices US Americans are making
to keep the economic sun coming up every day, even at a cost of tens of
thousands of US American lives every year. See, that's more indication of
how callous someone like you is, to not appreciate that level of sacrifice
for your own benefit. Basically, so the conservative line goes, if the US
had not kicked Hitler's butt, and Saddam's butt, and Stalin's butt, you'd
over there in French-land and surrounds would all be speaking some
combination of Germano-Rusko-Farsi right now, with your women wearing
leder-burkas singing about tractors, and you'd be stopping your work five
times a day to think about your pitiful relationship with God/Communism on
some worn out prayer mat in some rundown hovel. Or worse, you'd have to do
that standing on your head:
"Life at Russian Village"
So, your figures, while logical, don't get at the mythological heart of the
That's what we need the arts for. :-)
Michel Bauwens wrote:
> Hi ryan,
> i think the moral principle is very simple: the public's money should go to
> the public, and the people who produce wealth, the workers and
> enterpreneurs, should get taxed less than those who make money through
> here's the gist of the 2nd argument, applying to the US:
> - "Under current law, income from investments gets taxed at 15 percent.
> Income from work gets taxed at up to 35 percent. No coherent moral
> justification exists for such an enormous tax preference for income from
> I'm not sure what non-controversial evidence you have, but here is some that
> shows there is a bit of controversy involved:
> what this shows is that the very rich pay comparatively low taxes, see:
> - if you look in Who Pays
> 5) you will see that there has been a truly impressive decline in
> income taxes paid by corporations.
> Even in actual dollars though, the very rich get away with paying
> proportionally less in taxes than the merely rich. In Figure 7, you will see
> that the percent of income one pays in income taxes reaches a peak at an
> income of about $600,000 and it steadily declines as incomes grow above that
> This may be falling into propaganda trap of thinking that only income taxes
> matter, however. Clearly the very rich only pay a negligible portion of
> their income in payroll taxes, while this is the major tax on the many
> making less than $100,000 (according to Figure 6a, that is more than 80% of
> If you look in Who Pays Taxes
> you will see that in 2006, 10% of the income in the U.S. went to the tiny
> 0.025% of the population making $5 million or more, but this tiny minority
> paid only 8.9% of the combined income and payroll taxes, not even the 10%
> that is the very least that fairness would dictate they pay.
> It is worth note that while those with incomes in the $42,000 to $62,000
> range paid a greater tax rate than those making over $5 million, they still
> paid only roughly the same rate as the entire population of the U.S.
> If some groups pay less than average, other groups have to pay more than
> average taxes, and the charts in the second article make it clear that it is
> the people with incomes in the range from $2 million to $5 million who are
> making up for those who pay less.
> People making over $2 million a year are quite able to pay a bit more in
> taxes and I do not see them as in need of tax relief. However it is hard to
> see why those making over $5 million should pay so much less, unless it is
> these people who have the best political connections and propagandists. In
> fact, many of them probably are politicians and propagandists.
> the excerpts:
> Few Americans realize just how incredibly little, historically speaking, our
> nation's wealthy now pay in taxes.
> In 1955, the year April 15 became the IRS tax-filing deadline, America's top
> 400 taxpayers paid three times more of their income in taxes than the top
> 400 of 2006, the most recent year with IRS data available.
> According to a new Tax Day report that we co-authored, if the top 400 of
> 2006 had paid taxes at 1955 rates, the federal treasury would have collected
> -- from these 400 taxpayers alone -- an additional $35.9 billion more in
> revenue in 2006.
> The 139,000 U.S. taxpayers who made over $2 million in 2006, our report also
> notes, averaged $5.9 million in income. They paid 23.2 percent of their
> total incomes in federal income tax. The comparable rate for equivalent
> high-income Americans in 1955: 49 percent.
> If the over-$2 million set in 2006 had paid taxes at the same rate as their
> 1955 counterparts, the federal treasury would have collected $202 billion.
> We've now lived through 30 years of "shrink, shift and shaft" federal budget
> and tax policies. Right-wing pols, aided by Democrats who should have known
> better, have shrunk government and the share of taxes paid by the wealthiest
> 1 percent. The tax burden, consequently, has shifted off wealth and onto
> wages, off the federal tax system and onto the regressive tax systems of
> states and localities.
> The direct result: States and localities have gotten the budget shaft -- and
> that has forced years of chronic underfunding for mass transit, education
> and myriad public services.
> So what can we do, as a nation, to start turning this situation around? Our
> Institute for Policy Studies report -- "Reversing the Great Tax
> Shift"<http://www.ips-dc.org/reports/#1207>advances a set of specific
> steps that would generate over $450 billion in
> annual revenue, dollars that would help finance our recovery fairly.
> We recommend that lawmakers:
> *Tax income from capital gains and dividends at the same rates as wage
> income*. Under current law, income from investments gets taxed at 15
> percent. Income from work gets taxed at up to 35 percent. No coherent moral
> justification exists for such an enormous tax preference for income from
> wealth. According to Citizens for Tax Justice, taxing all forms of income
> the same would generate $80 billion a year.
> *Create a new top tax rate for incomes over $2 million. *Presently, a person
> with an income of $300,000 faces the same tax rates as a person with an
> income of $3 million. Instituting a top tax rate of 50 percent on incomes
> over $2 million would generate more than $60 billion a year.
> *Levy a progressive estate tax on large fortunes. *The federal estate tax,
> our nation's only levy on grand accumulations of private wealth, will expire
> in 2010 and revert to the 2000 status quo. Lawmakers aren't going to let
> that happen -- if, for no other reason, to take inflation into account --
> and that reality creates an opportunity to make the estate tax more
> One reform would be to institute graduated tax rates on large estates, while
> exempting estates worth less than $2 million, $4 million for a couple. Such
> an approach would generate over $100 billion a year a decade from now --
> while taxing no more than 1 of every 200 estates.
> All these steps, we believe, would enjoy widespread public support.
> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 10:53 PM, Ryan Lanham <rlanham1963 at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Hi Michel,
>> It is certainly not the case in the United States where most taxes are paid
>> by the rich both in dollar terms and in percentage terms. It's not
>> controversial and readily discoverable. I recommend the CBO numbers.
>> I think we'd have to agree to disagree on exploitation and value
>> extraction. But I don't see where that is the point.
>> The point is that P2P folks often rail against the market, the system, and
>> the government. Why then would they be funded by it?
>> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 9:36 AM, Michel Bauwens <michelsub2004 at gmail.com>wrote:
>>> Hi Ryan,
>>> most big companies and rich individuals pay much less taxes than average
>>> income people, they have access to plenty of loopholes, but even if they
>>> paid, their money didn't come from the sky, but from the value they first
>>> extracted from working people. Since working people create the value, and
>>> are the ultimate source of taxation, there is absolutely nothing wrong with
>>> public funding, on the contrary, it is a moral obligation. We must end the
>>> neoliberal corporate welfare state, but rather than just restoring the
>>> sometimes paternalistic and disempowering welfare state (which as a baseline
>>> to be restored needs to be reformed against bureaucratic control), we need
>>> to augment it with partner state productions, so that more wellbeing and
>>> wealth can be created by civil society. The preferential treatment by the
>>> neoliberal state of the speculatively richest to the detriment of the
>>> producing enterpreneurs and working people would be the way forward.
>>> Being against public funding is also an argument for the pure
>>> commodification of art as a pure market commodity ... that would be truly
>>> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 6:48 PM, Ryan Lanham <rlanham1963 at gmail.com>wrote:
>>>> Wouldn't it be immoral for people who believe in P2P to take money from
>>>> tax payers who are mostly the selfish rich and corporations?
>>>> On Fri, Nov 6, 2009 at 6:28 AM, Kevin Flanagan <kev.flanagan at gmail.com>wrote:
>>>>> Hey Paul,
>>>>> State support for the arts is common in europe.
>>>>> Im most familiar with the Irish and UK Arts Councils.
>>>>> Im not advocating further state support for 'artists'.
>>>>> Im interested in putting together an strong argument for state support
>>>>> for free culture and hacker spaces.
>>>>> Using already in place institutions and infrastructure such as arts
>>>>> I support the idea of a basic income for all.
>>>>> But Im suggesting what I see as a practical and achievable short term
>>>>> If we could specifically get these institutions to recognise the
>>>>> social value and put in policy the importance of commons oriented
>>>>> production for free culture and hacker spaces then maybe in time we
>>>>> can get the state to recognize the value and importance of commons
>>>>> based production on a broader scale.
>>>>> Lets get these arts councils to expand their remit to support
>>>>> specifically free culture and hacker spaces.
>>>>> Surely we can show how the skills developed in hack labs are useful
>>>>> and transferable and worth state economic investment. Hacker spaces in
>>>>> in disadvantaged communities could be a great outlet for young people.
>>>>> I dont have time to look up a good links at the moment because I have to
>>>>> go now.
>>>>> For example it would be nice to see some research on how Brazil has
>>>>> got on with its effort in supporting acces to digital technology.
>>>>> Brazilian minister for digital culture Gilberto Gill supporting the
>>>>> creation of 650 cultural spaces giving citizens access to computers
>>>>> cameras to share music and culture.
>>>>> Ok Im off for now.
>>>>> Kevin F
>>>>> On Thu, Nov 5, 2009 at 6:07 PM, Paul D. Fernhout
>>>>> <pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:
>>>>>> As I see it, more support for the arts is a good idea, but a
>>>>>> As you say at the end, we could look at expanding it to all sorts of
>>>>>> production, but it is hard to judge what is "worthy". A "basic income"
>>>>>> all is probably a better general solution than trying to decide what
>>>>>> projects a person wants to do are worthy of support. References:
>>>>>> A basic income just for "artists" is possible:
>>>>>> but in the end, is a mother or father any less an artist for helping
>>>>>> a young life than someone who works in clay and sculpts statues? And,
>>>>> it is
>>>>>> hard to judge a person's worth or a project's worth at the time. It
>>>>> may only
>>>>>> become clear 1000 years later if something is "worthwhile". And
>>>>>> worthwhile to whom? Maybe it is enough that an individual's life is
>>>>>> worthwhile to themselves?
>>>>>> For me, a big changeover point is if everyone could get laws about a
>>>>>> income passed everywhere. So, rather than have artists fighting
>>>>>> mothers and fathers and mimes and songwriters and so on over who
>>>>> should get
>>>>>> the most subsidies, we have both working together, as an alliance, to
>>>>> have a
>>>>>> basic income for artists, mothers, fathers, writers, journalists,
>>>>> mimes, and
>>>>>> everyone else, even rich CEOs.
>>>>>> It's been said:
>>>>>> "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
>>>>> poor, to
>>>>>> sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets and to steal bread. "
>>>>>> Well, a basic income, in its majestic equality, allows both the rich
>>>>> as well
>>>>>> as the poor to paint local bridges, to mime in the streets, and to
>>>>> give away
>>>>>> home-baked bread. :-) Maybe financially obese people won't want to do
>>>>>> things compared to poor people who know how important those things
>>>>> are, but
>>>>>> with a basic income, rich people could. :-)
>>>>>> See also:
>>>>>> "[p2p-research] Basic income from a millionaire's perspective?"
>>>>>> Is it possible you could make some freely licensed art about that
>>>>> issue? :-)
>>>>>> --Paul Fernhout
>>>>>> Kevin Flanagan wrote:
>>>>>>> It was great to finally get to meet some of you in person at media
>>>>>>> I have some suggestions and questions regarding building alliances
>>>>>>> that Id be interested in thrashing out here on the list.
>>>>>>> My question here is how can we incentivize government to support the
>>>>>>> building and protection of the commons?
>>>>>>> My suggestion is this -
>>>>>>> As an artist Ive been involved in and worked with several artist led
>>>>>>> organisations. Most of these organisations could not survive without
>>>>>>> government subsidy through bodies such as arts councils. Naturally
>>>>>>> there is pressure from government on arts councils and hence on
>>>>>>> artists and arts organisations to be accountable for this investment.
>>>>>>> In order to receive financial support artists and arts organisations
>>>>>>> are required to fulfill certain criteria to prove the social value of
>>>>>>> their work. So the better an organisation is at proving the social
>>>>>>> value of their work the more likely it is that they will receive
>>>>>>> support. This means that lots of artists end up working to
>>>>>>> agenda through Public Art and Community Arts projects. Maybe this
>>>>>>> sounds a bit harsh but sometimes I think of community arts as a kind
>>>>>>> of goverment funded social band aid for disadvantaged communities.
>>>>>>> criteria for funding are usually that such projects support , social
>>>>>>> inclusion, multiculturalism, intercultural relations. Often what is
>>>>>>> produced in the creative process if immaterial affect so its not
>>>>>>> always easy to show how these arts projects fulfill these criteria.
>>>>>>> What Im wondering is can free culture centers, hack\fab labs, maker
>>>>>>> clubs, do this better. I think so. The added advantage of such
>>>>>>> is eductaion in transferable skills. Goverment likes transferable
>>>>>>> skills that help peoples job prospects. Whether in electronics,
>>>>>>> programming, media. Some research into how the EU and UNESCO promote
>>>>>>> social inclusion through culture would be useful. Are these policies
>>>>>>> IP biased? Can we as advocates of free culture and the commons
>>>>>>> ammendments or new policies that incentivize governments to provide
>>>>>>> financial support for free culture spaces, hack labs and to recognize
>>>>>>> the intercultural importance of the shared commons oriented
>>>>>>> of these spaces? Any ideas who might already be working on this?
>>>>>>> Existing models perhaps that can be used as examples?
>>>>>>> How might dialogue about the commons interface with current thinking
>>>>>>> on multiculturalism? Does breaking down financial barriers to entry
>>>>>>> promote social inclusion locally, nationally, internationally? Of
>>>>>>> course but how do we measure this?
>>>>>>> I dont know how this sounds or even if its interesting but I thought
>>>>>>> Id just put it out there.
>>>>>>> Maybe the the current system of support for the arts is one to look
>>>>>>> expanding for supporting the commons based production? Maybe
>>>>>>> can be built with existing cultural organisations?
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