The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Being Held Hostage by the Cost of Insurrection

The US is in the middle of a low-grade civil insurrection; that’s what all these protests and riots are. (When you torch an entire police station, that counts as insurrection.)

When a civil insurrection happens, riots and protests, and bad stuff will also occur. People will be hurt and killed, property will be damaged. Some of it will be done by the police or military, but some of it will be done by those rising. People will be hurt or killed who don’t deserve it. Property will be torched whose owners didn’t deserve it.

That’s a given. An insurrection is like war: Bad shit will happen to innocents.

This is why the bar for insurrection is high. It’s higher than for war, because, in war, the population and elites think the damage will be done to the other country. (They may turn out wrong, but that’s what they believe.)

So, yeah, bad things have happened during this US insurrection. That was a given, and anyone who thought it would be otherwise is a fool.

This is, however, what elites count on: That the costs of insurrection will be high, and made higher by the elite reaction. Most violent protests were started by riot cops being violent with protesters who were peaceful.

Because the cost is so high, people put up with terrible situations for a long time. The damage drips and is spread out over time and the community, whereas the costs of insurrection are immediate and hit a lot of people more or less at the same time.

The death and casualty count from the US not having universal health care is far higher than any possible casualty count from these riots. Nor have as many people been killed during this insurrection as are killed by cops in the US every year (a number in excess of 1,000).

By the pure math, a very high cost should be acceptable to tear down the current order. If all that did was move police violence to a European number (1k), enact universal health care (26k), end wars (slightly under 1k), and allow the US to deal with a pandemic properly, the saved lives would be 28K yearly, plus a few hundred thousand from the pandemic.

This leaves out people committing suicide, the highest incarceration rate in the world, the epidemic of drug abuse, the death and suffering from inflated drug prices, and all the suffering caused by massive income inequality.

At the most conservative estimate, if you overthrew the current order at the cost of 100,000 lives, it would pay back in five to six years.

The argument for all out revolt, replacing the current system with Nordic style social democracy (Finland/Norway, not Sweden) is airtight if you think you can succeed. (I know many people, observing the US military lose almost every war since WWII, think it is undefeatable in a country far better suited to guerilla warfare even than Afghanistan, but of course, there is a very good chance it would not come to military vs. population.)

No one condones violence that hurts the innocent or destroys the property of innocents. But if you take violence entirely off the menu, and won’t do full social-solidarity general strikes, then a depraved elite (which the US has) will simply ignore you and outwait you.

Minneapolis City council just approved, with every councilor voting for it, a motion to end the Minneapolis police department.

Clutch pearls all you want, but insurrections are always going to be at least somewhat nasty.

But the question isn’t the hurt of the insurrection, the question is whether the status quo after it is better enough to swamp that harm.

Don’t target innocents. Also don’t allow yourself to be held hostage by those who are hurting even more innocents right now, “We can kill tens of thousands and impoverish millions while destroying entire countries, but if you add even one more innocent life to the total opposing us, you are the bad ones.”


(Also, ignore scaremongering about Stalin and Mao. Communism of that variety is long dead and NO ONE is trying to re-impose it.)

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Week-end Wrap – Political Economy – June 28, 2020


Time to Derail Nuclear Treaty Talks?


  1. bruce wilder

    elites always try to arrange things so that the cost of insurrection is greater than the cost of enduring wrong. cost-benefit analysis will always seem to favor submission over reaching for justice. And, realistically, justice may well remain beyond the grasp of the present generation. Even where justice can be obtained in some measure it comes as a byproduct of altruistic punishment — people fighting and building not from simple selfishness, but for the rights and welfare of others, for principle. If I bear the costs of seeing my neighbor’s rights vindicated, it cannot be on the basis of simple cost-benefit analysis; I bear the cost and the neighbor benefits. Solidarity is based such transcendent calculation, if indeed any calculation takes place at all.

  2. Tom

    The problem isn’t it being held hostage by the cost, it is that its aimless and not going for the Elites directly while alienating all its potential allies.

    This movement is heading towards a full out free-for-all Somalia style and less Storming of the Bastille. The critical mass isn’t there and BLM has alienated the Middle and Upper Class Blacks and Poor Whites.

    A full out fracturing of the US is in the works, not revolution.

  3. Zachary Smith

    (When you torch an entire police station, that counts as insurrection.)

    I disagree. From what I’ve heard the building was sacrificed, and in my opinion, properly so. The protesters being allowed to do a bit of gaudy venting worked a lot of rage out of their systems.

    When a civil insurrection happens: riots and protests, bad stuff will also occur. People will be hurt and killed, property will be damaged. Some of it will be done by the police or military, but some of it will be done by those rising.

    Unfortunately, you’ve left out at least one other class of people who will be killing and looting and destroying things. Thanks to the NRA and others, the US is armed to the teeth. As usual, there is a wiki for the topic titled “Estimated number of civilian guns per capita by country”, and we’re in a class by ourselves with 120 civilian firearms per 100 inhabitants. The 3,400 inhabitants of the Falkland Islands are in second place with 62 weapons per 100 inhabitants. US gun owners number among them an awful lot of fanatics. There may be “liberal” guys with dozens of firearms and truckloads of ammunition, but I’d wager they’d be a tiny minority. All too many of the gun nuts are … NUTS. They truly believe the most fantastic conspiracy theories. Lots of them would see the chaos as the chance to settle old scores, and to re-arrange local societies more to their liking. All the central government in DC would have to do is to sit back and let this happen! More likely, DC would send in highly trained special forces groups who have become immune to routine murder on account of their long practice overseas. “Others” could do the same thing with highly trained mercenaries. I can imagine things changing all right, and not for the better.

    DC would have many, many other options, and I’m reluctant to even speculate about them on the internet. Something obvious would be to cut the electrical power to a problem region. Besides the lights being out, soon there would be no water, and all refrigerated or frozen foods in homes and groceries would be rotting. Trucks wouldn’t be arriving with more, either.

    Even now the US is balanced on a knife edge. Trump’s horrific mismanagement of everything coupled with the ongoing extravagant looting by the Wealthy has gotten us to this point. Doing anything which would allow the blame to be dumped onto “protesters” would divert blame from The Leader and the rich bastards. This would virtually guarantee an evolution of the US into the most rigid of police states.

    I’ve read enough about the civil war during the US revolution and the guerrilla actions during the Civil War and the terrorism of the KKK era to be firmly against this sort of violence. I can read current news stories about the US-incited chaos existing in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and other places. Incremental change is going to be slower, but it is a LOT safer for all concerned.

    We’ve got planetary disintegration coming down the pike from our increasingly unstable climate. I’m in no mood at all to rush into this new age voluntarily.

  4. Ché Pasa

    Think Hong Kong. This is the model for at least some of the uprisings currently under way. A point should be made, though. The domestic protesters here are far less violent than their Hong Kong comrades, and the police here are far more violent than their Hong Kong colleagues. It makes for somewhat different dynamic and overall a good deal more sympathy with domestic protesters, insurrectionists and even some of the rioters.

    In the long run, the domestic uprisings will have a relatively modest effect on the otherwise smooth glide path toward kleptocratic chaos and ruin. Right now they’re adding spice to an already chaotic situation which no rebel alliance can solve. As I’ve said, many or most of those in the streets are not interested in ruling themselves. They’re looking for someone who can do it better than the current crop of jerk-offs and jackanapes under the umbrella of dignity, justice, community and peace.

    Somebody could package that and sell it to the rabble easily. I’m surprised that none of the squillionaire disruptors haven’t figured that out by now.

    As for guns, let’s remember the majority (by far) of domestic armaments are in the hands of a tiny percentage of the population who maintain huge private arsenals for… ? Most Americans are not armed, and those that are have few guns and little ammunition. In other words, the rabble as rabble is incapable of widespread armed insurrection or civil war. Not only do they not have the weapons, they have no desire.

    There is a risk, however, of depolicing. Unless the officers let go are somehow quarantined or detained, they are likely to join up with scattered “Boogaloo” and such-like idiots and outfits to engage in low-grade but very destructive guerrilla action against any and all efforts to create a better future for the masses. They want power and authority over the rabble and if they aren’t granted it outright, they’ll either seize it or make sure no one can exercise it.

    Think, too, that our ruling class, dumb as it is, has the ability to feint and dodge responsibility that’s almost surreal. There is no Bastille to storm, no Reichstag to burn. They’re willing to let the uprising run its course, confident that at some point people in the streets will get tired (winter will come after all) and enough symbolic accommodation will have been made with enough of them, and enough will have been bought off, to make the whole thing disappear as if it never was.

    They’ve managed to get away with this many times in the past. Why not now?

  5. Daniel Lynch

    I’m not seeing the connection between BLM marches / riots and reform?

    To begin with, protest marches have rarely been an effective tactic. We forget that the core of the 60’s civil rights movement was boycotts and strikes, not marches. Montgomery buses were desegregated after Rosa Parks & company organized a boycott. Yes, they marched, too, but their marches never had much impact. Marching is more of a religious ritual than a political action.

    Secondly, we have a pandemic going on and the marches may be killing thousands of people by spreading the virus, so don’t try to tell me the marches are saving lives.

    I’m sorry, but I’m not impressed by re-branding a pancake syrup. As for Minneapolis disbanding its police force, that may simply mean that the elites get private security while the rest of us rely on local warlords for protection. Or it may mean the police get a new, more politically correct name but otherwise nothing changes. IT’S BULLSHIT.

    The root problem of America’s violence is economic inequality, which keeps getting worse no matter which corporate party is in power.

  6. GlassHammer

    This revolution narrative just doesn’t make any sense to me. (And I think the narrative is just harmful at this point.) The fight already ended, the people lost, and that loss is massive.

    The GDP reduction is locked in, the unemployment spike is locked in, the state level austerity is locked in, the bankruptcies are locked in, the mortgage defaults are locked in, the credit contraction is locked in, the drop in life expectancy is locked in, and so on.

    Even if there is some kind of New Deal policy it won’t be enough, the damage is just that bad.

    I want to see a positive change too but first we need our communities to survive the fall.

  7. S Brennan


    This is an orchestrated “color revolution” intended to influence the election cycle. When you, through fraud, force a candidate like Joseph Biden onto the populace, you’ll need a lot of smoke and mirrors.

    The 3-letter agencies and their ilk have always run rather obvious “revolutions”, Juan Guaidó is getting the same treatment as Biden, it’s just that the “left” in the USA is populated with credulous cretins…

  8. Sluggo

    Funny how all the pure utilitarians or better known as centrists, aren\’t willing to make the pure utilitarian argument when it comes to lifting the poor and oppressed out of their hole.

  9. krake

    Nation-wide revolution is not supported by the economics. Desperation doesn’t make revolution. It makes for surrender and atomization. Status-dropping makes for revolution; formerly higher-status parties are forced into lower classes, and armed with more effective techniques, and animus, begin to organize to recapture what was lost.

    Further, revolutions historically follow some kind of broad Enclosure, which provides free bodies to the organizing elements. There is no Enclosure happening right now. The ruling class is continuously signaling that it wants widespread movement of bodies, re-employment (obviously, at lower wages) and a public sector that exists to absorb its costs.

    Revolutions are about power, not progress. Power, in the US and most of North America, is very stable. It is well-positioned, able to purchase the talents of any would-be opposition, and in control (however factionalized) of the institutions, cultural apparatuses and the means of production.

    The streets are fragile, passionate and captive to liberal moralisms. They are no threat to power. In fact, they have enabled financial interests and elite power centers to shed cultural baggage that has hindered efforts to penetrate deeper into historically resistant populations. Without denigrating good-faith efforts address structural racism and the perpetuation of women as the domestic-sex class, there’s a reason corporate Anerica has roundly embraced the empty sloganeering of this latest lost generation: it’s really good for brand awareness.

  10. Gunther Behn

    Human nature doesn’t change, among elites or revolutionaries. The hereditary rich act as they always have. So do arriviste technocrats. The kind of political despots we’ve seen in just the 20th century, right and left, are also in the wings, waiting to pluck thorns from the flower of justice.

    I understand the argument here is to act. Elites will use force to maintain control; sacrifice is necessary. Whatever happens next hopefully results in something better, even if imperfect, and will even out in humankind’s short memory and the perspective of history.

    You can read through Crane Brinton in a few evenings. Living through a French or Russian revolution is different.

  11. Mallam

    Imagine writing this:

    “The critical mass isn’t there and BLM has alienated the Middle and Upper Class Blacks and Poor Whites.”

    In the face of all evidence that it’s not true. Even Republicans support BLM at 30ish percent. Support among black Americans is 85-90%. It is evenly split (!!!!) among Non-college educated whites: 39-41 approve-disapprove.

    Indeed, BLM has broad societal support, which is distinct from every other moment in US history. And you want us to believe that the side of Reaction is correct on this? Suburban whites are embracing it. Let’s push it further and desegregate the schools and “property rights” bullshit. Kill private schooling. Build more housing. This all intersects with an economic view and is central to BLM.

  12. Mallam

    Dan, I’ve had the virus. It’s terrible. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. However, there is evidence that the protests have influenced the virus in the sense that it’s kept people outside rather than re-circulating it from indoor crowding. I wouldn’t say this is for sure true, and it’s possible that this isn’t true, but there is some preliminary evidence supporting it.

  13. S Brennan

    Mallam, if you wish, send me your email thru Ian, I sent out an email to blogs [Ian included] that I have commented on over the past 15 years, I’ll forward you a copy. Something interesting is about to happen on the Covid-19/SARS II front, I don’t know how it will turn-out but, it’s a full scale experiment, however accidentally constructed, we will learn something from it, I think you will find it of interest.

  14. Deng Xioapeeng

    No one is advocating for Leftist Authoritarianism?

    If you look back at history that is typically what all revolutionaries claim. NO ONE wants a police state, they claim. Uh-huh.

    They offer utopian claims about crime rate and poverty and equality, and, and… and I want a Pony!

    But then the sociopaths take over. Like they always do. And guess what? Then it is not your choice anymore. Welcome to the vast open air prison.

  15. Tom

    Mallam, I don’t know where you are getting your information, but it is false. Atlanta Police Department which is 60% black and the Fulton County Sherrif who is black, all oppose BLM and support Officer Brosnan and Rolfe who lawfully killed Rayshard Brooks.

    Business Owners in CHOP are suing the City and State for not enforcing order and the Black Police Chief of Seattle is opposed to BLM.

    BLM itself is devolving into Warlord Groups in CHOP, the only place they managed to seize. Their Iconoclasm against even Heroes who gave their lives to end slavery and corporate abuses is turning off middle class Americans.

    By sainting criminals who were lawfully killed, attacking the monuments of the people who freed their ancestors, and making this about race rather than class and systemic disenfranchisement of the many for the few, they are not gaining the critical mass needed to bring the system down. On the contrary they are convincing the Allies they need that they are a lawless mob that needs to be crushed.

    And they will be crushed the moment Trump signs the order for the National Guard to go in. Don’t expect the National Guard to hesitate where as if this had been a class movement designed to bring the elites down and targeted at them and not the police who are a symptom, you would see both the police and National Guard defect to them after they do an internal purge of the worst. Minority Race Riots go nowhere, Class based mass movements that march on Washington DC and present a united front with clear force behind it do. This is why the Yellow Vests got clear results on top of actually having a functional democracy.

  16. Willy

    We need somebody who’s had the intelligence, wisdom and time to have discerned how to help people overcome the inertia of “personal costs”.

    As it is, we’re no different from that Planet Earth bit where hundreds of beached walruses preferred to bumpity-bump in a mob panic away to the sea instead of just confronting the lone starving polar bear en masse with their bulk and tusks.

    As I recall that video, the polar bear did eventually die having been accidentally gored by a panicking walrus. So maybe we’re worse than walruses, most of the time.

    I’d think humans should be able to do better than this. Maybe it’s a matter of being better informed.

  17. “Most violent protests were started by riot cops being violent with protesters who were peaceful.”

    Where is the evidence for this claim? With ubiquitous cell phones, there should be ubiquitous evidence.

    Since at least some local Democratic politicians are going along with “Defund the Police”, I’d expect that they’d be in the forefront of presenting such evidence, to justify their support. Well, where is it? Did I just miss it?

  18. bruce wilder

    This all intersects with an economic view and is central to BLM.

    BLM is the new Reaction: ditching Aunt Jemima, toppling Hans Christian Heg, erasing “Plantation” from the name of the State of Rhode Island. It is all about empty symbolism and futile gestures. Of course, corporate America stands with BLM — it is cheap virtue-signalling. As someone wrote upthread, the protesters show no interest in governing either themselves or their country.

    An economic view will come, not because of anything these clueless wankers say or do, but because, as GlassHammer puts it, “it is locked in”. In the meantime, Biden is “the alternative” to Trump! The Day of the Jackal or the Day of the Locust.

  19. Cirze

    S Brennan,

    I would like to be added to your email list.

    Thanks for your input.

  20. Willy

    “Most violent protests were started by riot cops being violent with protesters who were peaceful.”
    might’ve been overstatement. Or not. It can be said that this was the case in Seattle.

    I’d think that tear gassing a peaceful protest crowd in DC so the POTUS could do a photo op with a Bible, with his own top military official saying his presence there was unamerican, would be far worse. His own Secretary of Defense, also present, stated that he didn’t know that this was going to happen.

  21. Ché Pasa

    Just to add, the insurrections have not been stopped, even by the most outrageous police suppression efforts.

    Hundreds, probably thousands of protesters have been injured, some seriously, by police actions. Dozens have lost an eye to “rubber bullets” and “pepper balls.” Mangled flesh, broken bones, gassing with CS and pepper spray, running into and over protesters with motorcycles and SUVs happens often enough to be no accident. The nightly “running of the swine” (h/t T. Greg Doucette) in various cities around the country is routine. Arbitrary brutality and arrests are common.

    However… unlike Occupy protests, the demonstrators are rarely passive in the face of police riots. They fight back. They resist. They outsmart the police. They are willing to take serious risks, confronting police, demanding they stop their lawlessness, and they confront officials who defend police misconduct. They are unrelenting (so far).

    Moreover, dozens if not hundreds of police have been taken off the streets, dozens charged with crimes from misdemeanor assault to felony murder, and it’s happening practically every day. Departments and DAs aren’t waiting years for “investigations” to be completed. Charges against police are almost immediate compared to any time in my memory.

    This is different. There are costs, yes. Both to the demonstrators and to the police. And change is coming, slowly compared to the need, cosmetically in too many cases, but change nonetheless.

    This won’t be over any time soon.

  22. Scott Stiefel

    If you think armed revolt in the contemporary USA would create Nordic-style social democracies, I have some bridges to sell you.

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