"A Producerist Manifesto"

Recently, at least a few people here have read “A Producerist Manifesto”:

It’s an interesting set of arguments for a sustainable future, and worth discussing. I’ve been trying to think through why I object to those parts of it I object to - 200 person companies, for one.

But their proposal:

Here’s what a producerist political economy could look like:

  1. In recognizing all wealth derives from its producers —not from bureaucrats, bean-counting bankers, nor CEOs or middle management—producerism bans all wage labor that does not include a substantial stake in the private enterprise’s profits, governance, and leadership. In Germany, by law, labor unions have a presence on all corporate leadership boards. This is a start, but not enough. Wealth should be controlled not by those who “manage” it, but who produce it. A nation of “hirelings,” as one of the original 19th-century producerists argued, can never truly be free.

  2. Embrace the principle that all politics are local and all governance should be as well. Good governance cannot be conducted at 10,000 feet. It must be done by local leaders speaking the local language embodying local values and accepting the results—whatever they may be. If a breakup of the United States—or other large nationalities—is needed to achieve this end, so be it.

  3. In embracing a localist economy and the empowerment that automatically flows from localist control, governance, and leadership, absentee ownership of businesses must be banned outright. Private enterprise, please. But no multinational corporations. No CEOs or middle management in distant states or nations. No “stockholders” who don’t work in the company. Along with this, end the legal lie of corporate personhood. Ban all business incorporations larger than 200 people. Yes, this will hamper the efficiency of mass production. But, as William Morris—the great English artisan, writer, and philosopher—argued, a truly humane society prioritizes craftsmanship and humane production not “efficiency” or economies of scale. Efficiency is the language of the machine, not the humanhumanity must prioritize art and craft.

  4. Replace consumption and wealth accumulation with craftsmanship and artistry as the center of the new producerist culture. Humanity must realize that healthy community and purposeful, craft-oriented and artisanal work—not consumption and fame-seeking—are the factors most likely to lead to contentment and human fulfillment.
    In this vein, initiate award programs for craftsmanship and artistic recognition in every sector of the economy. Social recognition motivates most people more than wealth accumulation, which often serves as an empty surrogate for the recognition most truly seek. Provide tangible aims of human greatness and mastery that every industry, craft, and artistic endeavor can strive for. These awards should also provide substantial—but not excessive—financial considerations to those who achieve mastery of their craft or art.

  5. Ban profits from “day trading” and financial speculation. One should not be able to extract value from the economy by buying stocks one day and trading them the next for a profit because their utility value changed in the interim. Restore all wealth to the productive members of the economy.

  6. End liberal utility-based pricing of goods and services. In its place, launch a currency and pricing structure based upon hours worked—whatever fraction thereof involved in producing said good—with accurate mathematical calculations included for the education and training involved in various trades, including on the individual level. For example, completely untrained (entirely no skill whatsoever) work would equal one hour. Whereas, a medical doctor, Ph.D., or master craftsman’s hour of work equals whatever training, apprenticeships, and education were involved in achieving the mastery of their specific craft. Along with this principle, pay people based upon their “hours” worked (tailored according to the rough formula described here).

  7. Thoroughly tax all trade transport based on mileage traveled from origin to final destination. No more making sneakers and garments in Taiwan or Saipan and shipping them back to the United States, Europe, or anywhere else to save money on labor. This restriction is intended to promote, encourage, and also protect local businesses from the “race to the bottom” of sweatshop and low-standard, overworked, overseas labor—the slave trade of our era. This restriction also protects our natural habitat from unnecessary carbon emissions and their inherently climate-altering effects. The tax from this fund will be used to provide health care, unemployment protection, and social security–like benefits to the disabled, elderly, and indigent.

  8. Ban all private (or state) profits from compounded interest. Loans, credit cards, and other forms of consumer usury should be maintained, but with simple interest only. Along with this, all donations from banking operations to political candidates or elected officials should also be banned.

  9. To limit the power the rentier class has over the poor and middle classes, greatly limit the number—and value—of residential real estate holdings any one person or corporate entity can legally own for purposes of residency. Anything more than say five homes should be banned to spread wealth around and limit the power and influence of unproductive work.

  10. In order to encourage both the race-fetishizing “identitarian” left and the racist and xenophobic right to return to notions of broad human commonality, end all 19th-century “racial pentagon”-style—i.e., “white,” “black,” “Asian,” “indigenous,” and “Hispanic”—tracking for means of employment, higher education admissions, and even census demographics. For the census, replace race categories with national-origin tracking only. Spread opportunity around to those truly under-advantaged, no matter their skin color or national origin.

  11. Encourage, sponsor, and rigorously develop the use of analog technologies to replace digital technologies whenever and wherever possible. There are inherent, natural reasons why a vinyl record sounds “warm,” “alive,” and “present.” Whereas, even a “lossless” digital audio file sounds distant, stale, and forced. There is something inherently displeasing and unhealthy—and also addictive—to the human brain about digital technologies. Our brains need to be permitted to pause and contemplate. Filling them with meaningless chatter and manipulation undermines a healthy democratic culture. Make quiet and calm a right, the way access to sunshine was a right in Rome.

I can’t argue with that much it, really, though it’s a bit close to the labor value of products for my taste.

I think 200 persons is a bit large for a company to be permitted to be, personally. IMO if we’re keeping things human-scale 150 would be about the optimal upper limit, with perhaps some specific exemptions. But don’t forget, much like in Greer’s Retrotopia, a company doesn’t have to be the way most work is organized, either. Employment by others is not really an ideal way to organize and distribute producer-oriented labour or the income from that labour, whereas I can see large cooperatives where each person is effectively an independent worker cooperating to produce larger or more complex works than one person can do themselves, either as a collective, a series of independent craftsmen, or as a union - think the day labourers on a pier for a good example of what would otherwise be a large corporation employing many hundreds but in fact could just as easily be broken down into individual freelancers, much as it was in the '40s if I understand that era correctly. The Union made sure the labour was fairly paid and kept standards for the workplace and also provided value by offering training, skill based ranking, and other criteria ensuring stability and lack of complexity for the hiring ships and dockside firms, etc.

For highly skilled labour, large companies rarely provide significant value - the majority of innovation and real results from research are done today by micro startups, for the most part.

For everybody in between, having small companies is a boon - preventing market rollup and monopolies almost by default, ensuring competition and lowering barriers to entry, forcing production to be more local and hire more locals, and keeping things from getting hidden or washed away in perspective due to scale shifts. All of this is good and essential.

Don’t forget that labour value is and will always be, to a degree at least, driven by the value of the result of that labour and equally by the efforts required to be able to labour to that skill level and consistency, and mitigated against the risks inherent in doing the labour - this goes equally for purely intellectual labour as well as purely physical. So there’s nothing really wrong with going back to the labour value as a basis, so long as that idea of labour value is recalibrated fairly for both the recipient of the labour and the one doing it, with respect to what we now recognize as other forms of labour and other forms of value and risk.

I’m certainly all for smaller companies and more local work. I’m just not sure how one could do something suitably complex - tractor manufacturing or such, on 150-200 people. Even if you skip modern computing technology, there are plenty of realms that require larger groups to get things done (basically all of transportation - even steam locomotive shops were fairly large in terms of employment).

Maybe partial agreement at best.

  1. so capital doesn’t count? Given we’re already in a capitalist society, does adding an employee automatically give them the right to the tools they need? The hypothetical cobbler might own their own tools as a tradesman, but when an automated tractor costs a quarter million dollars, your entry level farmworker isn’t going to bring one with them.

  2. sure, I like local governance.

  3. Too arbitrary. If your economy of scale comes from 10k employees, and you have an arbitrary 200 cap, whole industries will dissapear or be broken down into subcontractors, each with their own resources. Vertical integration, like what SpaceX is doing, won’t exist. Also see 1.

  4. WHO … initiates these types of programs? What if Polity B doesn’t want to in their localist scheme, and suddenly gain massive improvements in production? Embargoes?

  5. Ehhhhh liquidity. So no loans since people can’t assess risk in lending or fractional ownership… trading, or day trading, is just a resultant part of that.

  6. So garbage men, because it’s ‘untrained’, can’t be commensurately rewarded for a distasteful task. Their formula doesn’t work, and you can throw in more and more factors until you get a market economy.

  7. … why? Fertile country/State has a comparative advantage in farming, urban country/State has efficiencies in universities, they trade their advantages. Or, heck, a) has low education attainment, or whatever.

  8. Why? Terms are terms, and if you want a cheaper loan, find a loan officer that will give you one, given your risk profile.

  9. “You can only be so rich”. So much for something like SpaceX.

  10. Okay, that’s fine.

  11. meaningless.

It’s warmed over marxism, tbh. Capital doesn’t matter so you’re either limited to just what the trademan can bring to their task or … I guess the state for massive projects, centralizes power/money in cities/universities (training is the only thing that determines wage…) and basically ignores that capital is important.

That’s entirely the point.

The point is to prevent capital concentration, not eliminate it entirely. In fact, capital having an outsized influence in the current system (versus the use of it by individuals) is the problem that’s trying to be solved. If you don’t agree that’s a problem, perhaps very little in the way of discussing solutions will resonate for you.

I can certainly understand the desire to prevent over-centralized collections of power and wealth. The peak example of this centralized capital would be a monarchy, or at least a baron ruling over a fiefdom, who owns all the land, all the buildings, all the crops/livestock and just gives you a paltry cut for working his lands (i.e. sharecropping).

However I’m looking for some suggested ideas as to how exactly some of these rules would be upheld in a practical way. A government with enough resources and power to enforce these (frankly arbitrary) limits on capital, tariffs, employee numbers, etc. has enough centralization to become… well… the exact over-consolidated monopoly of power and money these rules were supposed to prevent.


Well yeah. I like modern agriculture. I mean CSAs and ground up agrarian society has it’s place, but ultimately you can’t have modernity and the trappings of without capital flow. Your farm worker isn’t going to come with a quarter million dollar automated tractor that does the work of a couple hundred hand plows.

I suppose we differ on that, then. Perhaps the variant of reduced-scale capitalism that is Producerism isn’t your cup of tea!

A lot of it is pretty easily handled through tax code. Start tacking on penalties for more than 200 employees, or whatever, with an exponential curve. Have 201, slap on the wrist. Have 500? Well, they’d better be insanely profitable for you.

I think this is where you and Vertiginous disagree - on the value of that modernity, and if it’s actually good for humans, or just good for the people who make a lot of money out of the arrangement.

I’m going to attempt to put some words in both of your mouths, which will probably end up badly, but @milfox seems to be coming at this from a “Look at the good Elon Musk can do with his bazillions,” and @Vertiginous would argue that he shouldn’t have those bazillions in the first place, and that he does means something is rather badly broken in our economics.

With regards to farming and high priced tractors, the question then needs to back up to a question of “What is the purpose of agriculture?” To feed people, or to make lots of money for John Deere? The modern tractors are every bit as repair hostile as a Tesla, and modern monoculture farming has plenty of documented issues.

So if the net benefit to humans, the environment, etc, would be higher with more people farming on smaller farms, that’s a perfectly valid way to go.

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This is the big question, I think. In my mind, we won’t be able to enforce it in today’s bizarrely energy-rich world without the use of force in some manner, whether that is through taxation as @Syonyk refers to, or through a reorganization of labour laws or some other incentive. However it might be a natural consequence in the long run of a reduced energy environment. But let’s face it: there’s zero incentive for those who are currently massively profiting off the current system to change it at all out of their favour.

You pretty much nailed it, yep.

Hypothetical examples above, of course, but it’s hard to imagine semiconductors being built in the owner-operator craftsman model. Or mining, or most of modern technology. Say anything beyond 1900s tech. How do you have a railway? Engineers are bringing their own locomotives? Bulldozers? And if you don’t have the heavy equipment, well… guess you’ll need a gang of labour. With their own pickaxes, of course. Pretty sure the single heavy equipment will do a better job.

I’m not ready to embrace the dream of the 1890s and go full vintage everything, yet.

It’s hard to envision anything outside our current economic system from inside the system. But at least part of my goal with this thread is to discuss those options.

I don’t think we’d have the modern tech industry, as it stands, with a size limit on companies - but I also don’t think we’d be limited to pre-1900s technology. An association of companies, all independent but working together, can easily accomplish a lot of things. Look at a modern airport. There are dozens or hundreds of various different companies involved in the operation of the not-quite-ghost-towns, and they’re working together to accomplish modern air travel.

Even if you set the limit higher than 200, I think the concept of “Many small companies” instead of “A few huge ones” would be better for society at this point, and certainly better for humans.

I’m not sure where you’re getting that this would prohibit the ownership of bulldozers - you’re asserting a “Workers bring all their own tools” argument that I’m not seeing in the article of discussion. If it’s part of some other material you’ve found, please, bring it into the conversation, but I’m not seeing that in the “A Producerist Manifesto” I linked at the top. I see suggested limits on residences, but I’m not seeing what would prohibit a company from owning a bulldozer, locomotives, etc. Although, certainly, if things were more local there would be less need for railroads.

But even with smaller companies, there’s still a lot that can be done. Consider the early age of the internet, with mostly local ISPs, smaller software vendors, etc. There was an awful lot more variety than we’ve got today in many metrics, and it’s hard to argue that “Comcast” is a net good for anyone but Comcast stock holders.

Our inability to deal with an awful lot of the challenges coming makes it pretty likely you’ll have to deal with something close to that, at some point, like it or not.

The difference is that dropping back deliberately means you can do it in a controlled fashion, as opposed to being forced when supply chains are drying up, parts aren’t available, etc.

I’ll point to my tractor - Ford 9N - as something that’s old, and quite repairable, and a halfway useful model. It’s capable of doing very much real work, but is also designed to be worked on, and it’s not repair-hostile. It was literally designed to be maintained by a farmer in the field, and it shows. Modern tractors are owner-hostile, and go out of their way to make it difficult for a farmer to repair their own equipment at harvest time, to the point where older tractors are going up in value on the used market because they can be maintained.

" In recognizing all wealth derives from its producers —not from bureaucrats, bean-counting bankers, nor CEOs or middle management—producerism bans all wage labor that does not include a substantial stake in the private enterprise’s profits, governance, and leadership. In Germany, by law, labor unions have a presence on all corporate leadership boards. This is a start, but not enough. Wealth should be controlled not by those who “manage” it, but who produce it. A nation of “hirelings,” as one of the original 19th-century producerists argued, can never truly be free."

This seems a like a defacto ban on capital to me. Along with the points from #4 about craftsmanship and artisan oriented… etc.

Agreed, though at some point you’ll start lacking economies of scale. Though, with political divisions and inabilities to travel, it doesn’t matter as much I suppose.

The modern version with be something like a Roxor with a PTO, no? ‘Big ag’ tractors are a different affair.

Equipment is not capital, in this sense, I think this is a key misunderstanding of a lot of low-capital thinking. Bulldozers and the like are tools, equipment, machines. While machinery and equipment are “capital assets” in an accounting sense, this is not what is meant by capital in an economic sense. Capital in this sense is land, access rights, permitting (if limited, such as taxis or wastewater processing capacity) etc. Heavy industry as an installed base crosses the line of capital if it is generally specialized, immovable, expensive, and requires significant effort to create, install, and commission - in short if it serves as a meaningful barrier to entry then it starts to be considerable as capital. A factory is not, necessarily, capital in this sense if it is just a warehouse structure, and a loom is not necessarily capital if it is easily moved or reconstructed. Automated equipment that replaces labour is, generally, regarded as capital, because it crosses the line of complexity, immovability (in most cases), and “significant effort” (cost, technological infrastructure dependencies, etc. that all come as externalities).

So a forge is not “capital”, necessarily (although if it uses a water wheel on a given river it might be), but a smelting plant the size of a small town hall could be, and the land it sits on definitely is.

The discussion of what is and isn’t capital becomes more difficult with modern high tech installations, but generally this is a good rough estimate. Hope this clears things up!

Edit: I want to be clear that this idea of capital is neither marxist nor capitalist — capitalists don’t include land as capital, and everything down to the tiniest tool is - marxists declare money to be a prime form of capital. My understanding of low-capital philosophies such as producerism is that they view money as the result of capital (and thus, in a sense, it’s distributable product), not to be hoarded and used itself as capital and thus the restrictions they tend to proscribe are intended to reduce the utility of money in this role. Land becomes capital in a meaningful sense (although perhaps I go too far to include it) because it is something that is essentially controlled, essential to the process of production, and thus necessary to distribute under intent. Since the sphere of influence of producerism and other low-capital philosophies is to ensure that producers themselves benefit from and have access to “capital” in this sense, these definitions necessarily adjust to the things that are necessary and useful for the production of work, and so the utility of various things as “capital” (the role) differs from “capital” (the proscribed asset) depending on philosophy. My definitions here are a gestalt from reading many of these theses, not a pure definition of any sort!

I think that externalities themselves have been belying the illusion of economies of scale for quite some time. My gut feeling is that there’s a bell curve of scale - there is an economy up to a point, and then it plateaus, and then the marginal utility decreases for every additional “unit of scale” after that, as externalities start to multiply faster than gains. I think when it’s all analyzed in a total energy (and total waste/resource destruction) sense, “scale” will have proved to be overrated at anything larger than “small network of towns” size.

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Yes, but “Working as intended” in this case. Are we really better off with one global widget producer in a far-flung nation that we’re frenemies with, or having locally distributed widget producers, even if the widgets cost more (but have more variety)?

I’ve seen over the years a common enough thought expressed that “The most goods, for the least cost, is the best for everyone.” Basically, Walmart is good, because it can leverage producers into making goods for the lowest cost, sell them cheaply, and… why, look, your money goes further! But that doesn’t consider the costs - destroying local economies (then leaving), building disposable, unrepairable trash that lasts to the end of warranty before falling apart, and making people purely consumers instead of producers as well.

It also tends very, very fragile in the face of disruptions. An “efficient” supply chain in monetary terms is a lean, JIT chain that comes to a halt if anything happens anywhere.

Absolutely - the law of diminishing returns applies to just about everything, and as you note, tends to start going down as things become too large.

Not to mention: or are better suited to the regional differences and desires of your area versus somewhere far far away?

If they’re built locally, they can probably also be repaired locally!