by: DaveJ

Wed Jul 15, 2009 at 12:37

I'm Dave Johnson.  Along with Ian Welsh, I will be sitting in for Chris Bowers through the end of the month.  Chris, Mike, Matt and company have built a great intellectual community here and I am proud to be able to be a part of it.

My home blog is Seeing the Forest and as a matter of fact tomorrow will be the seventh anniversary of my first-ever post, "Ralph Nader is a scab".  

I like to work with ideas and see where they go, and along with other blogging I'll be trying to do some of that while I am here.  I guess this is because I grew up during a time when people talked about "opening up your mind" and "thought experiments" and my high school even taught a class called "creative thinking."  (These days it's probably been changed to "corporate thinking.")  There were many evenings when we would entertain ourselves by throwing ever more outrageous ideas into the mix.

Sometimes by introducing an outrageous idea and working with it a workable idea can result.  (But sometimes everyone just gets angry at you.)  Sometimes just talking about ideas can help move or unfreeze people's thinking and open up new possibilities that would not otherwise have been considered.  And sometimes everyone makes a face and agrees that the idea just stinks and should be tossed away.  You're not playing the game right if you don't offer up a few of those.  When I introduce an idea it doesn't mean I am advocating it, it just means let's talk about it and see where it leads.  I am completely ready to accept or reject things based on the merits of the arguments and I hope you can be as well.  

For example, what happens if we look at all sides of the question, "should we nationalize the oil companies?"  Asking the question doesn't mean that I am advocating doing it.  But just asking the question opens up a number of areas of discussion that we haven't been having in this country for some time.  Discussing this makes us talk about what "nationalization" means which is certainly topical.  Perhaps it leads us to talk about who "owns" and benefits from the earth's resources (see Capitalism 3.0 for a discussion of this idea), and what the concept of "ownership" itself means.  These are examples of places that just introducing and discussing an idea can take us, and I think that especially today we need to be looking for new economic ideas, new directions, new possibilities for how we as a society are going to feed and house and provide health care and comfort and meaning to people i.e. each other.

DaveJ :: Ideas
At my own blog I often ask a very powerful question, "Who is our economy for, anyway?"  Just asking the question takes people's thinking in new directions they might not have considered.

Outrageous questions can be used to shake up conventional wisdoms that have set in.  Conservative think tanks understood this and developed concepts like the "Overton Window."  By blasting "unthinkable" ideas into mainstream conversations they would shake up people's understanding of what society deems acceptable.  Over time and with repetition they would lead people to think that ideas that had been considered extreme are OK to consider.  I say good for them for that, but unfortunately the ideas they pushed almost destroyed civilized discourse, our civil institutions, our health, the economy and the planet.  They may yet, if we don't start pushing back hard -- but that's a whole other post.

I believe that progressive blogs are like an open-source think tank.  One blogger posts an idea, people respond in the comments, other bloggers link in, and the original blogger responds. Ideas are generated, discussed, refined and widely disseminated at a very rapid pace.  I hope that we can do some of that while I am here.  The more we can shake up some of the conventional wisdom that the conservatives and corporatists have been able to set in stone that is clogging up people's thinking, the better things can be for all of us.

So, to get things started, should we nationalize the oil companies?  There is a lot of conventional wisdom clogging up people's thinking that might be shaken loose by just asking a question like this, at a time when the economy and the environment are in such distress.  What would be the benefits and the harms, short-term and long-term?  Do We, the People come out ahead or behind.  Who is this "we?"  What does "nationalize" even mean?   Who, in a representative democracy, would even make a decision like this?  And, finally, why are ideas like this so rarely discussed?  Leave a comment.

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Ideas | 11 comments
Welcome! (4.00 / 2)
I'm glad to see your posts have gotten better since that first one seven years ago. Nader a scab? Come on. The post looks especially awful at this moment in our history when the central argument for his candidacy--that corporate power owned both parties--has never been more patently correct.

Anyway, to answer your question. Yes! There was time not too long ago, given the threat posed by Big Oil's to democracy and American lives, that I would've argued that nationalization of Big Oil should be the central tenet of a progressive movement.

Now, though, the threat posed by Big Oil has been surpassed by the threat posed by Big "Banks."

Let me add (4.00 / 1)
that obvious steps prior to nationalization are breaking up oil companies (big banks need to be broken up as well) and public financing of campaigns, which, if done correctly, would severely curtail their influence.

[ Parent ]
Public financing (4.00 / 1)
I think that if we were able to get public financing or some other method of restoring democracy, a LOT of things would change for the better.  


Seeing The Forest -- Who is our economy FOR, anyway? Twitter: dcjohnson

[ Parent ]
Nationalization was probably why Huey Long (0.00 / 0)
was shot.  I am more in favor of breaking them up and taxing them better.  

I don't see how you can say Nader is the scab when the democrats don't fight big business at all and therefore are not partners in this fight.

My blog  

Too Big (0.00 / 0)
Yes, I think the idea that all companies that are "too big" should be broken into smaller components is something we should be discussing as well.

What is "too big?"


Seeing The Forest -- Who is our economy FOR, anyway? Twitter: dcjohnson

[ Parent ]
Pfizer and Wyeth (0.00 / 0)
would be a good example.  There was no reason for this merger other than to protect Pfizer from the financial effects of lipitor going off-patent.

[ Parent ]
If you're too big to be allowed to fail (4.00 / 1)
you're too big.  If you have pricing power, you're too big.

[ Parent ]
Welcome, Dave! (0.00 / 0)
Glad to have you onboard!

I really like your question, but a better--if more awkward--one  one might change "oil companies" to "fossil fuel companies",  given the recently-demonstrated role of big coal in mucking up climate stability legislation.

And, indeed, I think that saving the planet from global catastrophe is a good enough reason to answer that question with a resounding 'YES!"

An undelkying  problem here is that folks don't know the difference between capitalism and free markets.  They use the rhetoric and philosophical appeal of free markets on behalf of capitalism, which owes its very existence to making damn sure that markets are anything but free.

How else are you supposed to ACCUMULATE capital/  Damn sure can't do it competing with every Tom, Dick and Harriet in town.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Yeah (4.00 / 1)
as I often say "I hope, before I die, to see a free market".  Most conservatives wouldn't know a free market if it provided them with cheap high quality goods and innovation.

[ Parent ]
Nationalization (4.00 / 1)
Nader is a scab, for a much more direct reason than you originally gave: he's virulently anti-union when it comes to workers in his own NGOs trying to get a fair shake.

As for nationalizing oil/energy companies, I say let's socialize them instead. Rather than give one calcified bureaucracy (the gov't) the reins over another (ExxonMobil), let's institute worker democracy in the organization: get rid of CEOs and middle managers, have most decisions made at the lowest level possible, and at higher levels by elected and recallable delegates.

Countless examples over the past hundred years alone show that worker-run enterprises are more efficient, worker-friendly, and earth-friendly, than their traditional counterparts (what Chomsky calls "private tyrannies"). And in general, the idea of having a democratic say in your productive life is a profoundly progressive idea.

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Ideas | 11 comments

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