David Graeber: Should We Vote?
Interview by Ranjan Balakumaran.
DAVID GRAEBER: I’m an anarchist, so for me, that means not telling people what they have to do. I think it’s really your call. You have to make a judgment call, how much do you want to vote no, against the system as a whole, in any given instance? Or how much do you want to intervene in a system you know to be corrupt and dysfunctional, just to create some worse form of damage? I think most people who vote, vote to create against somebody more than they vote for.
I, myself, don’t vote. In this case, I can’t anyway because I’m not actually a citizen. But, I’ve rarely seen the point of doing so in America. Partly, because I’m from New York, which is like, in America half the people don’t make a difference for the presidential election anyway, these are either in red states or blue states, so it’s easy for me to rationalize not voting. I haven’t voted but I’m not going to tell people not to. In fact, I think that often it can be a perfectly legitimate call.
RANJAN BALAKUMARAN: What difference does it make if we get Labour or Tory?
DAVID GRAEBER: At this moment, it makes a lot of difference, I’m afraid to say because when people talked about Brexit, they talked about it in the abstract. Look, I hate the Eurocrats as much as anybody but the immediate effect of having a Brexit under current existing circumstance, is giving the Tory party, carte blanche to rewrite the economic and social structure of the country, that’s will be a disaster.
RANJAN BALAKUMARAN: How can our viewers help get rid of Theresa May?
DAVID GRAEBER: Well, I think that anything you can do to spread the word, is good. I mean, the thing about Theresa May, is she’s kind of a terrible candidate. She’s a very unlikeable person, she’s basically a robot. She can’t interact with anybody, this is why she’s terrified to actually debate anyone. She misdoes the cues. She can read a speech quite well. I would say, urge people, show up in a chicken suit every time she shows up anywhere and like, shame her into actually debating people about issues. As soon as people are exposed to who she is, I think her vote will collapse.
RANJAN BALAKUMARAN: Fantastic. You’ve written a book about bureaucracy, sometimes people talk about bureaucracy as being red tape, and there were arguments that Brexit was about deregulation.
DAVID GRAEBER: Yeah, we’ll see how that turns out, right?
RANJAN BALAKUMARAN: Explain.
DAVID GRAEBER: I’ve actually coined a phrase. I realize one reason my works haven’t been more popular than they are is they don’t make up catchy phrases, so, I’ve come up with one. The iron law of liberalism. The iron law of liberalism is in the old fashion sense of liberalism, is that any legislation, which is meant to deregulate, to get rid of red tape, to open up market forces so as to get rid of bureaucracy, will in fact, have the effect of creating more regulations, more paper work and more total number of bureaucrats then existed before.
I believe that there’s no historical case where that didn’t happen. My favorite example is Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 10 years between, I think it was 1991 or two, and 2002, the total number of bureaucrats went up by 25%. So, if after the Soviet Union they still end up with more bureaucrats during shock therapy. The economy was like 30% smaller, and the number of bureaucrats was 25% bigger.
RANJAN BALAKUMARAN: What do you think happened to unemployment? Do you think that went up when the bureaucrats went up too?
DAVID GRAEBER: Yeah, I think it did and I think a lot of those bureaucrats were people who otherwise been unemployed, they were being kept off the streets. The private bureaucracy grew, too. That’s the thing, the 25% is the number of civil servants. Since all this stuff was privatized, a lot of those bureaucrats were still there doing the same things, so they were theory not bureaucrats anymore. The total number in the public sector still went up. So, God knows how many more bureaucrats there really were under capitalism then there were under state socialism.