OK, so they’re calling themselves anarchists these days so possibly followers of Kropotkin or Bakunin rather than old Ice Pick Head himself but we’ve got pretty much the same inane response to the realities of our world. For those who missed the excitement a group calling themselves “The Counterforce” had a demo on Sunday afternoon outside the “expensive duplex atop Potrero Hill” of Kevin Rose, of Digg and now Google Ventures fame.
Apparently it’s the lashing around of venture capital money to produce products and services that people quite like using that is responsible for all that ails our modern world. You know, as opposed to the poverty, famine, disease and early deaths that abounded before people started to invest money in things that improve the human condition. We get the usual set of cliches trotted out:
” Unfortunate people like Kevin Rose have never known a world without capitalism and in their ignorance they only know how to fortify it. Everything they do helps to extend the suicidal reign of this world system that renders all life into a commodity and replaces real life with digital distractions that lead people into narcosis, gluttony, and sociopathic greed. Kevin Rose and his employers at Google represent one part of a larger structure that keeps people enslaved to this single economic system that is literally killing the planet and decreasing the chances of continued life.
Tech entrepreneurship is not a harmless or benevolent force. The industry is built directly on the exploitation of millions of faceless people in the global south who are driven off their land and forced to do the dangerous and thankless work of extracting (at great ecological cost) the precious metals and other raw materials that enable the tech world to exist. Once the technology has been shoved down our throats through merciless advertising campaigns, mandatory cell phone upgrades, and jobs requiring instant connectivity of smartphones, we find ourselves tied to their world.”
It’s a lovely image: we have capitalism because the ruthless capitalists giggle with glee as they force the system upon us unwary consumers. Another exemplar of the same sort of thinking is Bill McKibben when he starts ranting that Exxon’s going to carry on burning all that oil they drill up and kill the planet by doing so. All entirely nonsense of course, Exxon has no intention whatsoever of burning any more oil than they can possibly avoid burning. They want to sell that oil to people who are going to burn it. And the reason that people want to burn oil is that people like I and Bill McKibben like going places. That is, it’s not the oil companies despoiling the planet’s atmosphere it’s us consumers who use that oil to do things.
So it is with capitalism: it’s a general truth that most human beings most of the time are both greedy and lazy. We all prefer to get more of whatever for less effort in gaining it. Which is why we end up with this capitalist, market, based system because it’s the most efficient method of turning the resources of that natural world into the things we want. Even Karl Marx was clear on this point. And there are other socio-economic systems that can be used but they’re simply less efficient: meaning that they fail that test of giving us the most that we can gorge at the least possible effort.
But of course as the capitalist running dog lickspittle that I am I’m going to say these sorts of things, aren’t I? But one more dive into the perceptiveness of our protestors here:
To this end, we now make our first clear demand of Google. We demand that Google give three billion dollars to an anarchist organization of our choosing. This money will then be used to create autonomous, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist communities throughout the Bay Area and Northern California. In these communities, whether in San Francisco or in the woods, no one will ever have to pay rent and housing will be free. With this three billion from Google, we will solve the housing crisis in the Bay Area and prove to the world that an anarchist world is not only possible but in fact irrepressible. If given the chance, most humans will pursue a course towards increased freedom and greater liberty. As it stands, only people like Kevin Rose are given the opportunity to reshape their world, and look at what they do with those opportunities.
I’m rather wondering whether these people can actually count. $3 billion is certainly a lot of spondoolies, that’s for sure. But the argument that this is going to solve the Bay Area’s housing problems is hopelessly naive. At least in trying to build more housing it will be. Build cost of a nice little three bed house these days is perhaps $200,000 (it’s certainly not $20k nor is it $2 mil) and that’s before land acquisition costs. So, for our $3 (very) large they could put up some 15,000 houses, that’s all: and does anyone think that that is sufficient to solve even some small fraction of that housing problem? And that is assuming that they get the land for free and also gain building permission somehow. So I’m not sure that our protestors can actually count as yet.
Which is where we can get interesting: does anyone think that Google needs to offer $3 billion to build 15,000 houses if there’s free land and free planning permission already on offer? Quite, if that land were available then people would be building on it by tomorrow’s coffee break.
At which point allow me to offer the Worstall Alternative. Google can give me $3 billion and I’ll really solve the Bay Area housing problem. The biggest cost of housing in the area is the scarcity value of the permission necessary to build something on a specific plot of land. Zoning, planning permission, whatever we want to call it. The solution to expensive housing is therefore to increase the number of such permissions on offer thus reducing their scarcity value. So, with my new $3 billion, after I’ve inhaled the heady scent of all that cash, I’ll buy out the next City Council and terminate the California Coastal Commission with whatever prejudice is necessary. And abolish all zoning and planning laws. The price of housing across the area will plummet and we’ll have solved the entire problem simply. $3 billion will be enough here — whatever else politicians are, we know they’re cheap.
Hmm? What’s that? But you like zoning and the restrictions on who may build where? Then you’re going to have expensive housing, aren’t you? It’s one of those either or things. Restrict supply and prices will be high. Do not restrict supply and prices will fall. What do you want? Cute areas which are just great for those already there or housing that the average peasant in the service economy can afford to live in? Your choice but you do have to choose one or other of them.
Sorry, but you do, and no amount of anarchism of any other form of political protest is going to change that.
[Image: Kevin Rose, Instagram]