Note: I like to mix magic and politics, indeed exploring politics can prove part of a healing process in terms of changing our relationships to certain types of activity. In this article I am looking at the activity of conducting trade and business. Since I have in the past decried capitalism and corporations, many may have got the impression that I am anti-trade or opposed to business in general. Hell, I might have even developed a negative attitude towards conducting my own business affairs. This article may not seem much like magic on first reading, but its actually about healing my own relationship to to the activity of trade and business.
Work magic might be better called business magick in some respects, since Mercury is the god of trade. However, if we look at the cognates of Mercury and Hermes we can trace their roots to phallic, serpentine agricultural deities. Think of the Slavic Veles, a horned bearded serpent god worshipped by the farmers and traders in the villages whilst the ruling warrior cast in their hillforts worshipped the thunder god Perun.
So in this sense we can see trade and business as a kind of work. Whilst the ruling classes relied on plunder, theft and violence to get what they wanted, the oppressed developed trade and business as a means of exchanging value relatively safely. Gradually this bottom up approach to trade has spread and has become a powerful force in its own right. So much so that now plunder and warfare are often conducted in its name.
The Free Market Myth
The media controlled by the ruling classes, be they newspapers, television stations or their websites, often use the oxymoronic term ‘free market’. The term may have its origins in some valid ideas, but increasingly seems to be used in an ideological and divergent manner to justify policies that serve only a few and actually harm the majority. Government regulation, the idealists argue, is inherently bad. However, when it comes to certain kinds of government regulation, such as copyright law, these same idealists push for increasing regulation and government protection.
So clearly they have some kind of government regulated system in mind, and they aren’t open for debate on what that system should be. Anyone that opposes their ideological vision is automatically ‘a communist’.
In truth there is never a market free of government regulation. If we accept the definition of government as the monopoly on the use of force, then an absence of market law becomes mob rule. You can only hold onto what you can protect. Thus we enter a world not of trade, but of gang warfare. Mafia bosses, kings and warlords are a return to feudal economic values. Resources are distributed in a top down manner, and those lower down in the chain of command are denied agency.
A market economy therefore requires a system of laws that regulate trade to prevent theft, coercion, slave labour and exploitative contracts. Consensus politics is the only really fair way to create such a system of laws, but failing that democracy tends to serve better than dictatorship. Mainly because all dictatorship tends to fall into feudal economy.
Feudal Economy verses Market Economy
So what is the difference between feudal and market economy? Consumer power. If you give the poor agency to buy what they decide for themselves, rather than simply be given what some feudal top down authority decides to distribute to them, then you are distributing the decision making process in such a way that demand becomes driven from the bottom up. This tends to produce a more efficient economy, in which production becomes driven by actual demand rather than decree.
Feudal top down production and distribution then has to rely on clever marketing to influence consumer demand, or government corruption to create protected monopolies, unfair prohibitions or a regulatory nightmare that makes market entry difficult for new businesses.
The Cold War
The cold war is often cited as a victory for market economy over feudal economy. Why? Because the Soviet Union imposed a top down feudal style economy upon the member states of the Warsaw Pact Eastern block countries, whilst the democratic Western block gave its citizens a comparative amount of freedom to spend their money how they wished.
The two rivals represented different solutions to the issue of poverty. The East employed an ideological solution imposed in a traditional top-down feudal manner. The West experimented to varying degrees with a welfare state economy. The welfare state economy proved the most successful and the West won the cold war. Probably because it gave more agency to the masses.
Reagan-Thatcher and Neo-liberalism
However, things weren’t quite that simple. Towards the end of the cold war a new economic ideology emerged, more insideous and virulant than its communist, fascist and national socialist predecessors. Namely neo-liberalism. Neo-liberalism began to emerge as a political power during the 1970s and has its origins in the thinking of people like author Ayn Rand, that postulated the throwback feudal idea that the power of market economy was not driven by bottom up demand from the poor, but by the strong vision of rich individualist leaders.
As an individualist myself, the ideology has a seductive appeal, but its a deceptive and narcotic appeal. For in truth its a collectivist ideology that allows only the rich the freedom of individualism whilst everyone else must serve or starve.
None-the-less this ideology entrenched itself in Britain and America with the rise to power of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Since these two came to power, neo-liberalism has begun the work of dismantling the welfare state and promoting its toxic neo-liberal ideology in ever more extreme forms.
When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the successors of Thatcher and Reagan, Prime Minister John Major and President George H W Bush, claimed this as a success for neo-liberal economics. However, in truth both countries, and the rest of Western Europe, were still to varying degrees welfare state economies.
None-the-less the main opposition parties in Britain and America were cowed. Their long years in opposition, coupled with the ending of the cold war made neo-liberalism seem unassailable. Both refashioned themselves as parties of a softer version of the neo-liberal ideology. And thus since the election of Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, neither country has seen any real challenge to the new neo-liberal orthodoxy. It is possible that candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbin represent the first proper challenge to neo-liberalism either country has faced since Reagan and Thatcher came to power.
However neo-liberalism didn’t win the cold war. Both the USA and the UK retain some semblance of a welfare state even today after decades of neo-liberals slowly dismantling it. And when neo-liberals have tryed to impose their full ideology wholesale on countries using the so called ‘Shock Doctrine’, it has failed every time. This was tried in Russia at the end of the cold war, failed, and lead to the rise of feudal oligarchs and an entrenched single party democracy. It was tried again in the aftermath of the Iraq war, again with disastrous consequences.
Neo-liberalism, Capitalism and Feudal economy
Neo-liberalism, despite its claims, represents the closing down of the market economy and the return to top down feudalism.
Capitalism is the opposite of a free market, because it means the monopoly of the means of production. Feudal economy.
The Soviet Union was Capitalist. A kind of Capitalism known as State Capitalism. Capitalism of any kind and feudal economy goes hand in hand.
Corporations are feudal economies. They are internally structured on top-down feudal decision making principles. With a few notable but rare exceptions. They seek the monopolization of markets, and to aid this they seek the shutting down of free markets to protect their monopoly.
Reclaiming the market
The welfare state has its problems. But these problems are not solved by returning to pre-welfare state feudal economy. Replacing the agency granted by monetary handouts with the top down imposition of food vouchers or food banks is problematic, as it destroys agency. And as it excludes more and more people from the ability to participate in the market, it shrinks the market, making it more and more feudal. It is actually making modern society closer in resemblance to the Soviet Union! Worse, it does so in the name of ‘Free Market Economy’, whilst actually limiting and shrinking the market!
To grow the market we need to change the system for one that increases agency, increases sovereignty of the individual and eliminates coercion. The ultimate goal should be Global Basic Income. Stepping stones along the way to this goal may involve National Basic Income and Basic Income like charities. The latter case is already in operation in Kenya and Uganda, where the charity GiveDirectly make unconditional cash transfers via mobile phones. It has a strong track record, low overheads and highly efficient transfer of donated funds to recipients.
It is also fitting that if we are going to implement Basic Income, we start by introducing it to the most needy. It is also cheaper to run such an experiment in a place where the cost of living is already lower and observe the effect on the local economy. I have put my money where my mouth is on this one and committed to a small monthly donation to this charity each month. I would encourage those of you that can afford to do so also make a similar pledge.
It will be interesting to watch how this charity that empowers the individuals in need and creates agency out competes the old style feudal charities that distribute aid in a top down dictatorial manner, and how it eventually proves a useful test case for the introduction of other kinds of Basic Income schemes, transforming the world economy as it does so.