Import Substitution and the Pioneer Ethic Today

Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet, fascism has given them a ganner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.

Leon Trotsky - The Struggle Against Fascism In Germany

A constant target of ridicule in Utah among 'free thinkers' or 'ex Mormons' is the strange affinity of Mormons and other religious conservatives for alternative remedies like essential oils, and an antipathy towards certain parts of modern medicine, like vaccination. This comes along with the rest of the anti-intellectual baggage of Utah conservatism, including Mormon apologetics (the Limited Geography Thesis, criticism of the fossil record, etc.), opposition to sex ed or even public education in general, and relentless ignorance/apologism about the history of their country.

Obviously this makes great Facebook fodder if you've got nothing better to do but I was thinking the other day about what the source of this particular mindset could be. Before I explore that I'll lay out what I think are the key elements of the mindset so people know the specific profile I'm talking about. This profile might not be as prevalent in other parts of the country. Here it is:

The Profile

  • Opposition to and/or distrust of the federal government. Sometimes this is just taxation, sometimes it extends to libertarian goals such as auditing the Fed (a huge demand at Occupy Salt Lake, by the way) and in the weirder subtypes it can go in the direction of outright conspiracy theories or (very rarely) actual opposition to police violence and the American Empire.
  • Skepticism about modern medicine or science generally. Again this runs the gamut. A guy at work told me they cured his wife's autism via a special diet. The essential oils and homeopathic remedies industries are frequently headquartered in Utah and do tons of business here. A lot of people are against vaccines. This oftentimes crosses over with the first characteristic.
  • Faith in the particulars of the Book of Mormon and an attempt to justify it using pseudo-modern methods (e.g., "yeah they figured out that the Indians are actually related to the Israelites via DNA analysis").
  • Profound racism and sexism. Almost unspoken. You hear offhand genocidal remarks from complete strangers constantly. although there are exceptions.
  • A revolting self-pity. In Utah this takes the form of complaining about anti-Mormonism and 'attacks on people of faith.'
  • The 'tendency to truck and barter' and lose tons of money on stupid scams without learning anything. Everyone is constantly trying to sell something to someone else, or find a get-rich-quick scheme, or trade stocks like the big boys, or flip houses, or start a new business.

The Story

When the Mormons reached Utah they were seeking a way to set up their own community in a way they'd been unable to before. When they settled in a state with its own legal system and government they found that they couldn't control things as much as they wanted to, even when they could elect the entire town government themselves and pressure outsiders to leave or acquiesce. Salt Lake Valley, which had been seen by only a few white people before, seemed ideal. The fact that it was even outside of the United States (in Mexico technically but the only visit to Utah from either the Spanish empire or Mexico came in 1776 and only reached Utah lake) sweetened the deal. And the Salt Lake valley, providing the Saints could come together and create irrigation works, seemed like a great place to live.

The Saints were capitalist. They came either from English factory towns (the Saints recruited heavily in England, providing incentives for skilled workers to emigrate) or the farm hinterlands (like upstate New York, where Joseph Smith started his divining and Bible-cribbing business) of the eastern seaboard. They understood the economy in terms of private ownership, exchange in markets, financial instruments, corporations etc. Their task in Utah was to create a capitalist economy that would benefit the community, from scratch. The path they chose, outlined in Leonard Arrington's Great Basin Kingdom, has been called 'socialism' (Arrington, writing in the forties, attempts to position it as Keynesian, in line with what US policy was seen to be at the time) and been compared to utopian communes popular around the time of the Second Great Awakening, but it bears more similarities to the developmental states of East Asia: they started with farming and worked their way up the import-substitution ladder, producing more and more complex goods with the goal of self-sufficiency and later, economic dominance.

The Saints built irrigation works first. Property was parcelled out in precise lots based on family units. Speculation and squatting were banned and carefully policed. Salt Lake's gloriously wide and straight streets, and its grid system, were possible because of this centralization. Polygamy had its own economic role as well. Polygamous men worked several plots, each with its own wife, children, chickens, cattle and farm implements. Most polygamous marriages were consecrated in the early years of near-famine in the Saint's community, when men were encouraged to marry widows to provide for them and their children. The Bishop's Storehouse, where Mormons tithed ten percent of their increase either in currency, or most often, in kind, functioned as a state construction firm and charity all in one. Most of the public works in Salt Lake, including the temple, were built by labor paid in food from the Storehouse, not by private contractors paid using money. Outside observers said that the Saints were "building a temple with bread." The Church, using resources collected by the storehouse, also conducted trade for capital goods the Saints needed to make things they wanted.

A constant worry of the Mormon leadership was that they would become dependent on the "Gentiles," the non-Mormons, who had betrayed the Saints time and time again and must never be allowed dominance over the community. Gentile merchants were especially hated by Brigham Young, because the money they made by selling Saints sugar or coffee (neither of which were produced in Utah) or farm implements, flowed right out of the territory. Most of Brigham Young's "anti-capitalism" can be chalked up to this hatred of merchants. In other ways he acted exactly like a small business owner, for instance making volunteer labor build a huge wall around his compound and saying "if I can put someone to work I can make them do whatever I want." This isn't something you'd expect to hear from a leader who was expected to justify the expenditure of labor with reference to the public good.

Most of the time the Mormons had to buy what they needed from the outside at steep prices (and truck it to Utah themselves, for which purpose they set up a freight-hauling company along the same route they'd taken to Utah). But sometimes the Mormons caught a lucky break, as when the US Army sent to occupy them during the Mormon War was called back to fight the Civil War. The Army sold all its wagons and iron tools to the Saints at a steep loss during a time when the Saints had almost no way to make their own. It was the first of many crucial gifts, welfare, from the federal government that the Saints would gladly accept, their stoic facade and apparent commitment to self-reliance somehow remaining intact.

But sugar, iron and clothing weren't going to fall from heaven. The Mormon leadership sent several 'missions,' including one to the California gold fields, to secure things the Saints had to buy from other people. Southern Utah was first settled (ethnically cleansed) by 'iron missions' sent to mine and smelt metal so it wouldn't have to be imported. Coalville, over the Wasatch range from Salt Lake, was settled to provide coal to Mormon households. But the biggest challenge was sugar. It was one thing the Mormons couldn't make in Utah and it was a huge drain on the community's currency reserves. And, unlike coffee, which was banned around the time Brigham Young decided he didn't want Saints importing it anymore (later on Postum would come to the rescue), sugar couldn't be done away with. Brigham Young was determined to climb this rung. Machinery from France was imported, French sugar-beet specialists were sought out and converted, a water-powered building was set up in the present-day Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake (aha) and farmers in Jordan were ordered to plant beets. In the end they couldn't figure out how to make it work. Western-grown beets wouldn't be a source of sugar until the early 20th century, when the complexity of the soil was better understood and chemistry was able to break the beet pulp down better. With other things such as cloth, they were more successful. Brigham Young, like Sankara a hundred years later, even made a point of wearing only locally produced clothing, and requiring Saints to do so as well, as a point of pride and of practical economic necessity. The Provo Woolen Mills firm that was established during this time was one of the most successful Mormon church/state enterprises, and the last Church-owned enterprises to be wound down, in the early 20th century.

Another object of Brigham Young's ire was eastern-produced medicine, especially Ephedra, which the Saints used. Brigham Young identified a local variant of Asian plant, today called 'Brigham's Tea' and ordered the Saints to switch. It worked, despite the fact that the two variants of Ephedra are totally different: the Asian one actually has the active ingredient, and the Great Basin variant doesn't.

Eventually the Mormon economy with its unique features of constrained (but still private) property, controlled (but still capitalist) market relations, and the large role of state development, was dismantled. The Mormons couldn't have their utopia in the desert after all. They would have to settle for statehood, no more (open) polygamy, and with only controlling the entire state government of Utah, and not of a huge nation stretching (as Brigham Young originally intended) from Southern Idaho and Colorado to Baja California. But the unique features of Mormon settlerism, including the distrust of 'outside' forces, especially the federal government which had sent Mormon leaders into hiding for years (and even repossessed the Temple!!!), hasn't diminished too much. The virtues of self-reliance (if not the reality) persisted during the Depression period when the Mormon church campaigned against the New Deal and then presented the fruits of the federal money that eventually came to Utah as its own doing. The current state government, rejecting a fully funded Obamacare program purely out of spite, shows that the roots of the pioneer era are not totally ripped out yet. The tragedy-farce dynamic is visible in the Church itself as well. Today the Church, which once operated industrial firms and built rail lines and guaranteed all (white settler) inhabitants food and shelter, is a real estate firm and political lobbying organization that also happens to own the trademarks to the Joseph Smith brand. In the past the Mormons cravenly recruited French and English craftsmen who were specifically needed for industries the Saints were attempting to develop. Today the Church dangles its meager food bank and assistance programs in front of desperate refugees, this time to shore up its brand image as diverse and inclusive. And it goes almost without saying that the capitalist features of early Mormonism have been brought to the fore. The social base of Mormonism, then as now, is the settler, yesterday on a farm, today in a grotesque suburban parody of the homestead, conducting irrigation of roses and home-spinning cures to complex diseases, pulling money out of home equity thanks to the insane federal subsidy of home ownership, and LARPing the agonizing handcart journeys every Pioneer Day. Trotsky was right. Today, the nineteenth century lives next to the twenty-first.


Two Years of Corn

Download: Corn 1 Year Ago

Download: Corn Today

WARNING: You need something called love2d installed to run these files.

The 19th of February 2013 is the official day that I started working on Corn: The Game of Classical Political Economy. That was a while ago now. Enough has changed since then that 2013 seems like longer than two years ago somehow. Last year around late February I provided a short summary of what I'd worked on in the last year since the start of development. For a number of reasons, there's less to report this time around. Even by this time last year I'd slowed to a steady crawl but the pace these days is every-once-in-a-while. My most recent productive period was the 16th of April. I'm working on another free-time coding project now that should be wrapping up in the next couple months so after that I'll be able to bring my attention back to Corn

What's Changed?

I actually had to look back over my own changelog to be sure. I've added a lot of little things- factories work completely differently now and their GUI elements have been re-designed. Goods can take any number of seasons to be produced, and consume any amount of inputs. Production can require power (only river power so far) or not. Or it can take multiple workers to produce one good. Even this isn't fully finished yet, as the build above demonstrates (try brewing some beer and see what happens just before it completes its production cycle). Other stuff: forests can be clear-cut, goods are stored in the region where they were produced, there are theoretically several player roles possible (only one works at all), the graphics are totally redone (I didn't draw them, thanks to my pal prinny for that. especially those trees god damn...), the way maps are handled internally is new and hopefully more data-driven, etc. Actually looking back I spent the last year tearing apart and half-rebuilding basically one small part of the game. There's the executive summary of the last year plus.

I have made progress on the design front. A few things are a lot clearer than they were before, partially because of all the reading I've been doing on the side while the code languishes. In particular I've written a document that lays out a few of the key ideas and the things I'd like to do to implement those ideas. I'll end this rather meager progress update with that document. See you next year hopefully with something more exciting.

Corn Design Outline February 2015

1: what is corn supposed to be?

corn is a strategy game set during the transition from feudalism to capitalism, in a game world that is not strictly modeled on any particular time or place but is designed to simulate the overall dynamicss of the Atlantic world during the early modern period through the age of industrialization.

there are several key concepts in the game.

- the concept of modes of production: different areas of the game world are run differently. town-centered areas produce goods in factories or shops for sale at a market, for a price. individuals then take the price they recieve for whatever they produce and attempt to re-produce themselves: hiring labor and buying goods to keep themselves and their businesses alive. areas centered on feudal manors operate along lines of custom instead. peasants own the land they till and it cannot be sold, but they owe a portion of their produce to their lord. the lord in turn maintains an armed retinue to battle against other lords and defend/repress his peasants. other possible areas include those run by a church and those which are owned by a tribe.

- the concept of a real economy: key to the idea of modes of production is that people produce things in specific ways in specific places, trade them/tribute them, and ship them either to a market in their own area or to a market elsewhere. goods are not automatically stored anywhere and everything must be paid for and tracked until it is consumed. eventually, once the basics of production, sale/tribute and consumption are finished, the goal is to have an economy that includes things like credit, shareholding etc.

- the concept of role-playing: the game is strategic but the player has to pick a certain historical role. there is no 'guiding spirit' ala age of empires or 'eternal monarch-president-premier' like in victoria or eu. players pick from several classes and based on which class they pick they have access to certain responsibilities and rights according to their role. merchants can sell but can't run a fief. feudal lords can't kick their peasants off their land- easily. the idea is similar to mount & blade: a wide-open semi-historical world with multiple interlocking systems that players enter at different points. no one is forced to be a feudal lord the entire game. they can change their role (just as in mount & blade you can support a pretender or become a vassal) but this involves a lot of hard work and careful planning. also, the world is changing around the player as new areas are discovered and modes of production shift, rise and disappear over time.

there's a lot more but that is the basic goal.

2: what is the plan for corn?

the plan is to build each 'mode' along with its corresponding player-class, one at a time, until all of em are finished. right now the focus is on the merchant class and the town-centered area with a more or less capitalistic mode of production. that means that labor can be hired or fired, nobody owes anyone else anything because of customs, property is totally alienable and the product belongs entirely to the owner of the thing that produced it, and trade can be conducted freely between different towns. later on the feudal mode, the slave mode, the tribal mode and maybe a couple others will be fleshed out. longer term, things like map discovery, governments and flourishes like an age-system (advancing ages ala age of empires, but based on key events like 'discovering the new world' or 'founding a totally capitalist nation') will be added. none of these systems are supposed to be very complex. the idea is to keep things simple and uncomplicated but have rich interactions between different areas of the game.

3: what is done so far?

very little. part of this is because I work and of course suffer from near-crippling levels of ennui and anhedonia induced by our miserable condition as alienated beings under late capitalism. the other part is that a lot of this comes together from reading I do which is a fairly drawn out process. the idea of including slavery, which i now think will be fairly important to the game, just came up a month or so ago and i've been working on this in one form or another since 2013. my initial design for this game bears almost no relationship to the document i've just written. that's not really a problem since nobody's waiting for this game to be finished and i won't owe anyone money for either not completing it or taking ten years to do so. anyway heres a short list of what has been accomplished

- scrolling map and basic ui. - tiles that produce things. coal, wood, wool and corn are produced in tiles. - factories (currently being refactored) that are owned, pay wages, and produce goods with specific schedules and inputs. - basic outline of towns and manors. - military units and pathfinding. - graphics (shouts to prinny dude)

this has taken two goddamn years lol. I am closer today to having something to actually play (when the merchant class is finished). hopefully when that comes online there will be a more gradual and visible process of improvement. until now I've been struggling to establish the basics (which are fairly complicated and have to be in place all at once). when the game is playable it will probably be easier to work on.

4: can I help? can I 'play'?

yes. check out the code from github if you want and poke around. ask me any questions you have. email is pajari at gmail dot com. technically the game needs the latest version of a program called 'love2d' to run. install that, download the source, rar it, then rename the extension to .love and play. i haven't tested it on many resolutions or systems but it should work fine.

5: thanks for reading