Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Why is the Party of Jefferson So Hamiltonian?


Robert Reich (“Syria and the Reality at Home in America,” Nation of Change, September 7), noting that the share of the population either working or seeking work was at a thirty-year low, writes “A decent society would put people to work — even if this required more government spending on roads, bridges, ports, pipelines, parks and schools.” The column is illustrated with the picture of a guy holding a sign that reads “Need Work.”

Reich advocates a Rube Goldberg apparatus, with the state first doing something criminal on behalf of the exploiting classes, then doing something stupid and inefficient to remedy — in a suboptimal manner — the worst side-effects of its previous actions.

Why would a decent society put people to fake make-work on industrial-age dinosaur infrastructure, when a decent standard of living simply requires less labor now? No, we don’t “Need Work” — or at any rate work beyond that actually required to produce what we consume. What we need is to eliminate the barriers — mostly imposed by the state — between our skills and effort and what we consume.

If we eliminated waste production (like the military-industrial complex, sprawl, planned obsolescence) and rents to privileged monopolists, we could probably produce our current standard of living on a 10-15 hour work week. Instead of resorting to expedients like paying people for the moral equivalent of digging holes and filling them back in, why not change the institutional structure so that we get the full fruits of our labor? Why not fully internalize the benefits of our increased productivity ourselves through a shorter work week, instead of letting a bunch of monopolists enclose them for rent?

Reich’s thinking is essentially Hamiltonian anti-deflationism: Reengineering society to maximize the amount of capital and labor used even if they aren’t necessary instead of  marking the prices of things down to their real cost. A society designed on Reich’s principles is a high-overhead dinosaur, like a human body bloated by constipation and edema.

The “jobs” that Reich and other New Deal liberals make so much of are just one historically bounded institutional mechanism for transforming human labor into consumption. It came about both because production technology shifted from individually affordable artisan tools to highly specialized industrial machinery that only the rich could afford (and hire others to work for them), and because ruling classes acting through the state stole land and denied the working classes direct access to the means of production and subsistence.

After two centuries and a little more, the job culture and the wage system are becoming obsolete from equally big technological changes. Thanks to desktop information technology, network communication and cheap garage-scale digitally controlled machine tools, we’re shifting back to an economic model where the main implements of production are cheap, general purpose — and high-tech — artisan tools.

As a result the job-based distinction between “employment” and “unemployment” is becoming increasingly meaningless. The lower the overhead and capital outlay required for production, the smaller the revenue stream needed to service them. Hence, the easier it is to ride out prolonged slow periods while shifting temporarily to other sideline sources of income or living off of informal production in the commons.

Ana Silva (“The future of work — on to a freelance model?” The Future of Life and Work, September 8)  anticipates a “future of work” in which a growing share of production is on a freelance model, and households spread risk with one spouse working on freelance projects while the other works at wage employment.

I agree with Silva that, in forms of production characterized by cheap tools and small production units, there will be a shift to project-based work like that practiced now in the construction trades or software.  This shift will be accompanied by a shift to meeting a greater share of our needs in the unmonetized sharing and informal economies. In fact I expect it to go a long way beyond Silva’s example of the nuclear family. As average work hours continue to drop, we’ll see more extensive income-, cost- and risk-pooling arrangements like multifamily or extended family cohousing projects, neighborhood associations, urban communes — not to mention a larger share of the population living in squats and favelas increasingly tolerated by hollowed-out and fiscally strapped local governments.

The first European towns in the eleventh century were basically favelas grown up around strategically situated village clusters, only grudgingly acknowledged by the neighboring feudal lord. As squatter settlements and informal communities around the world increasingly incorporate cheap micromanufacturing tech, modular energy and water infrastructure, permaculture, etc., they may well be the nucleus of the future society.

Contra Reich, we reached Peak Employment at least a decade ago. Rather than combating that state of affairs, the state needs to stop impeding our attempts at building a successor society.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society ( and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society ( and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?
David Swanson
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Less Than Two Weeks
Victor Grossman
Suicides and Hopes and Fears
October 19, 2016
Dan Schiller – Shinjoung Yeo
The Silicon Valley Candidate
Mike Whitney
Trump Unchained
Paul Buhle
Criminalizing the Struggle: Incarceration and the Rise of the Neoliberal State
Linn Washington Jr.
Abusing the Abused: Philly Police Abuse Case Typifies All-Too-Common Misconduct by US Prosecutors
Terry Tempest Williams - Brooke Williams
Rejected by the BLM
Binoy Kampmark
Neither War Nor Peace: Shimon Peres, Israel and History
Patrick Cockburn
This Battle for Mosul Will Not Be the Last
Joyce Nelson
Trudeau Bullying on Trade Deal
Thomas Mountain
Revolutionary Islam and Regime Change in Ethiopia
Serge Halimi – Benoît Bréville
The Limits of Eloquence: the Failures of Barack Obama
Mel Gurtov
America’s Dangerous Moment
Jerry Kroth
Questions for Obama Before Leaving Office
Michael Garrity
America is a Nation of Laws: Collaboration and Its Discontents
October 18, 2016
Srećko Horvat
The Cyber-War on Wikileaks
Zoltan Grossman
Stop the Next President From Waging the Next War
Jim Kavanagh
Hillary’s Hide-and-Seek
Robert Fisk
After Mosul Falls, ISIS will Flee to Syria. Then What?
Ted Rall
The 4 Things Hillary Could Do To Close the Deal Against Trump
Pepe Escobar
Why Hillary Clinton is a Bigger Concern for China than Donald Trump
Colin Todhunter
World Wide Fund for Nature: Stop Greenwashing Capitalism, Start Holding Corporations to Account
David Macaray
Whiskey Workers Go on Strike: I’ll Drink to That
James A Haught
After the Election, Back to Important Things
Arturo Desimone
How a Selective Boycott Can Boost External Support for Palestinians
Russell Mokhiber
If Chris Wallace Asks About Street Crime He Should Also Ask About Corporate Crime
Mark Kernan
Moloch in Paris: on the Anniversary of COP21
Carol Dansereau
The Hillary Push: Manipulation You Can Believe In
Andre Vltchek
Will They Really Try to Kill the President of the Philippines?
Sean Joseph Clancy
The Wreckage of Matthew: Cuba and Haiti
October 17, 2016
Paul Street
Pick Your Poison? Presidential Politics and Planetary Prospects
Patrick Cockburn
US Allies are Funding ISIS (and Hillary Knew All Along)
David Swanson
What Hillary Clinton Privately Told Goldman Sachs
Fran Shor
A Rigged System?