Category: Political


Reflection: Different movements, same problem.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

The Right is unified.  Disparate issues, unified front–there are divisions (libertarians versus social conservatives, for example), but when the day is over, class issues unite them, and gender isn’t far behind.

The Left, however, is fragmented.

You have environmentalists, feminists, queer activists, union folks, civil rights and immigrants rights coalitions, anti-war protesters. . . many groups fighting for many causes, each prioritizing their own (in so many cases) and not drawing the connections between them strong enough to really convince the uncommitted why they should integrate new areas of concern.

This fragmentation has served the traditional Right strategy of ‘divide-and-conquer” well.

Towards a Stronger Left

How do we get beyond this for a strong coalition?  How does one become part of a unified movement?

Sexual practices and orientation, abortion rights, the ability to move safely from one country to another, and struggles for control over one’s workplace certainly don’t look like the same type of issue–but at their core, they are diverse threads of a singular political tapestry.

Each of the arenas of social concern and activism that characterize the New Left involve, in essence, one group with power fighting to control the life and activity of another group, that is, to use them instrumentally towards the acquisition of greater power.

Economic Power

Capitalists fight to gain political and intellectual leverage because they want ever-more-power to regulate the opportunities and possibilities for workers.  Control over workers’ labor, and over their ability to be independent from dependence on wage labor (preventing them from, say, going into business for themselves, surviving off their own plot of land, etc) are the primary ways that capitalists gain increased profits.

Their power, money, prestige, and influence are used to fight for a world in which:

(1) At least someone in your family needs to work for some boss for members of the family to survive (guaranteed through the erosion of welfare rights, Social Security, etc, so survival relies on wage labor), and

(2) That boss has increasing control over how they can progressively maximize your productivity and keep you working harder (eroding labor laws and collective bargaining, etc).  They want control over your activity for their benefit.

Gender and Sexuality

Traditional ‘separate sphere’ beliefs regarding ‘women’s place’ posit women’s ‘roles’ in society as (1) being a wife, and (2) mother of the husband’s children, while (3) taking care of the home, and (4) being perfectly sexually available.

Total deference.

These beliefs (which are enforced directly or indirectly) keep women subservient to men, giving men control over women’s activity.

Heteronormativity and homo/bi/queerphobia further leech into these considerations, inasmuch as free sexuality and reproductive autonomy are really harmful to patriarchal family structures.

Patriarchal family structures, grounded on men having control over women, rest on a monopoly of such control–no sexually free women, certainly no women having sex outside legally binding patriarchal marriages, no reproduction rights, and certainly no women in relationships with other women.

Period.

And men with men?  Men are supposed to exhibit and pursue control over women, and to deny all traces of activities or desires associated with women in a hetero-normative patriarchal society–so all non-heterosexual activity is prohibited.

These regulations stem far back, encoded into belief structures when families were the prime locus of production and holders of wealth, and so control over families (and the expansion of families through the prohibition of all sexual activity that didn’t result in babies) was important.

Thus, beliefs formed that chastised men and women for, and outlawed, non-reproductive sexual and relationship freedom, which became the dominant model of the ‘family’ (which, as it just so happens, gives collective power to heterosexual men over women and queer men).   Control over activity, yet again.

Intersectional Complexity

Civil rights issues are clear; racism is admittedly about the dominant racial group trying to control the subordinated racial group.  Anti-immigrant fervor is usually a thinly disguised racism, or a deep-seated fear (about terrorism or something), but either way the design is to control immigrant activity through either keeping them from one place to another or, alternately, to reduce their privileges while here.

Anti-environmental policies and behaviors, too, involve the unconditional domination of human beings (frequently capitalists nowadays) over the environment and all life within it.

In other words, all New Left movements can be unified into a movement of the Now-Left, built around freedom as self-determination, i.e. no group having control over another, but all individuals having control over the conditions of their own existence, living life with an egalitarian autonomy.

Only this is freedom.

Only this is democracy.

And other common factors connect to this notion (well being, sustainability, etc.), but freedom as self-determination could be a unifying guiding light for the movement we need right now, if we are to save what world we have left.

Reflection: The Founding Fathers, or Honesty in the U.S.

Lots of nations have mythologies built around their founders. Hell, Romans believed Rome was founded by two twin brothers, descended from the gods, who were sucked by a she-wolf as children. I think that story needs a fact-check or five, but if you think a nation is great, you’re inclined to think that every part of it is Good, Noble, and Decent, right down to its founding. Had the Nazi’s won WWII, five hundred years later history books would paint them as spreading civilization, freedom, and democracy across the globe.

Like Rome, we have our own foundation myths. Popular mythos is that America was founded on the purest, truest love of freedom and democracy anyone has seen since, well, God. Sure, there were little minor blips, like slavery, but the Founding Fathers meant well. But in real life, this country was, in fact, founded on the most massive (and successful) genocide the world has ever known, among the largest systems of slavery (and perhaps the most brutal) in human history, and originally this country was designed to disallow the vote to women and non-propertied men (and every non-white person, of course). By design. But instead of facing it critically, and seeing things for what they are, why can’t we acknowledge the weaknesses and atrocities of the past, so we can have a bright future?

The phrase “New World Order” conjures up a host of images–neoliberal globalization, the Illuminati, (I guess it also has some meaning in the professional wrestling world)–so at first, it may seem a strange phrase to invoke on ‘our’ behalf.  It speaks to outsiders, to external string-pullers, master manipulators of human affairs.

What it really means, though, is somewhat different than its connotations.  According to the oracle of democratic knowledge production, Wikipedia, “new world order” means “any period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power.”  It signifies nothing more than a new structure of global power, a new hegemony.  So what is “we need our new world order” really saying?

“We” references something more than Americans, more than Westerners, and something far more substantial than “global citizens.”  The latter term is more than consistent with the massive inequalities of wealth and power between people and nations–a ‘global citizen’ can mean a postnational, globe-trotting investor for a transnational corporation just as much (if not more) than it can mean a hummus-eating, kimono-wearing, African American artist with a love of German beer and Native American dreamcatchers.  No, ‘we’ references that group of people who usually don’t travel much, don’t each food from chefs with three Michelin stars, and don’t get the luxury of choosing not to work because they just want a day off.  The majority of the world is not composed of highly-educated, globe-trotting ubermenschen.  Most of the world is more likely to be like the ones who worked at or built the airport, shipped the food to or waited tables at the restaurant, who either work too much or can’t find enough.  Most of us take orders from people who take orders from people who, at the top of the economic food chain, wear ties to work and drink wine with their pinkies up.  That is to say, most of us are in the working class.  And most of us are suffering.

We’ve been told that contemporary economies are too complex to manage, and so they must be left to the market’s hoard of millions of little profit-hungry busy-bees, whose collective and disjointed acts of greed will somehow bring about a world full of wonders, roses, and sunshine.  But we let the ‘experts’ run the show through successive rounds of financial deregulation, and the result was a crisis that nearly equaled the Great Depression in gravity–letting those ‘experts’ run the show ended up being nothing more than letting the inmates run the asylum.

“We” need our New World Order.  We need to understand that we, the workers, the housewives, the queer folk, the immigrants–the downtrodden–are the ones who have built this world, raised these families, expanded these worldviews and inched the world towards freedom, well being, and justice.  We need to have faith in ourselves to democratically run EVERYTHING. . . from the ground up.  We need to work, play, sing, dance, run, jump, laugh, speak, high-five, fuck, and breathe liberation, and let it run down our fingertips and spark everyone we touch.  We need to work together to figure out a liberated, democratic world–OUR New World Order–and we need to run down the streets of Wall Street, Main Street, Easy Street, and Sesame Street chanting Viva la Revolution!–a revolution not of guns and bullets, not of stomping boots and broken dreams, but of millions and millions of the downtrodden, dusting themselves off, turning to help their neighbors rise, and seeing the sunshine together as if for the very first time.

After a solid month of visiting various friends and family members, I am now ready to start blogging more regularly again.  With all vacations, I emerged appreciating life more. . . which means I am going to take a break from reading classics of libertarianism for at least this week.  Today, I am going to do a brief review of Hannah Arendt’s Antisemitism, and proceed to draw out some of its implications for a Marxist theory of racism.

Arendt’s book is not about Marxism in any way;  it is an account of antisemitism, the ideology, itself.  The history of the phenomena, as Arendt explains it, begins with the slow development of the nation states in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Individual Jews became strongly associated with the state in these periods, as Jewish bankers became often the sole source of financing for state activities.  This gave European Jews both inroads into the inner circles of the state (without themselves gaining actual political power) and a corresponding dependence on the state for their protection in a society which is otherwise hostile towards them.

After the French Revolution, nation states emerged large enough to require more capital than any individual Jewish banker could supply.  Consequentially, the combined wealth of the wealthier Jews provided financing for state activities, which accorded special privileges to the Jews.  At this stage, wealthy Jews were fully integrated into the state as a sort of ‘financial arm.’  This period ended with the nineteenth century rise in imperialism, where capitalist expansion involved the direct aid of the state.  Early in this period, bourgeois businessmen saw the profitability of financing state activity and displaced Jewish bankers as the dominant source of state revenue.  This removed their long-standing state function, leaving them relatively unprotected yet with large remaining sums of useless wealth.  Additionally, despite the fact that Jews gradually lost their state function, and with it what social power they had (which, in reality, was shared only by rich individual Jews, not distributed to Jews as a group), their prior position as the prime source of financial revenue, and integration into political circles in every European country, connected them directly in the mind of most classes in society to the state independent of their actual position or power.  Thus, as discontent grew against the state, discontent grew against Jews as a race as representatives of the state.  Thus, the rise of Antisemitism, in short, is really a reaction against ‘the state’ which became a reaction against European Jewry.

This process shows its implications for Marxist theories of race after a few facts are introduced.  Jews became enmeshed in banking as a result of Christian prohibition of usury in the middle ages.  Jews were religiously persecuted, and commonly forbidden from traditional occupations, while in those same Christian regions usury (the reception of interest after the loaning of money) was prohibited to, essentially, everyone except the Jews.  The obvious consequence is that, in order to make a living, Jews had to engage in loaning money and receiving interest, a practice that was actually looked down upon rather than empowered (as is the case with modern financial capitalists).

The religious persecution of Jews (rather than racial persecution) resulted, thus, in the system of Jewish banking, that itself led to the process Arendt describes.  This gradually codified into persecution of Jews by race, and throughout this process the finance capitalist Jewry were essentially forced into this degraded class status until its power and profit potential was realized by the bourgeois;  at that point, the Jews could no longer serve this function, and they lost the only protected class status that any Jews had attained.  In short, the fact that Jews were Jews, first religiously then racially, forced them into subjugated economic positions, then forced them out when those positions were no longer subjugated.   Racism, here in the form of antisemitism, seemed to be a tool to force a group of people into a subjugated (yet functionally necessary) economic class.  This insight, though undeveloped, might be the foundation for a strong Marxist analysis of racism.

This is a continuation of my August 12th book review of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, which can be found below.  We last discovered that the foundation of his argument for a connection between capitalism and freedom depends upon whether or not individuals have a right to private ownership of the means of production.

Morality exists in general because people’s actions have physical effects in the world, and as such we need to consider our actions in light of these effects. The relevant standard is the impact of our actions on the things we affect, and how important this impact is on those thing, i.e. according to its impact on their well being. Rights cover those elements of well being that are so important that they must be protected. Minimally, we can be said to have, then, a first right to life; life is the background condition for any other rights or moral categories, and in the absence of basing an argument on a strong metaphysics, life is the essential element to well being. Life is not, however, its own purpose; it is just the precondition for the realization of other purposes. Our ability to act with relative freedom, i.e. our actions do not intrude first upon the right to life of others, and secondly upon their own freedom, is a necessary component of our well being as well. Consequentially, we further have a right to freedom. It has been argued by many that rights to private property are justified as, for example, a necessary precondition for the rights to life and freedom. These conceptions, however, justify only property use, not ownership, because so long as one has the necessary goods when they are needed, one’s rights to freedom and life are perfectly met. There are other attempts to justify private property ownership rights, but I will not cover them at this time. At any rate, ownership of the means of production (raw materials and tools) are direct limitations on the freedom of action and welfare of others, as they take away the means to achieve ends. They take away property use rights from others, and as such they limit the ability of others to meet their own needs, while overextending one’s own rights (in that property use is the only prerequisite of rights being met). We thus do not have a right to private property ownership in the means of production, but do have a right to free use of the means of production. Capitalism, in its absolute private ownership of the means of production, in fact violates the legitimate right to property. Consequentially, capitalism in fact violates rights rather than than guarantees them, this violation of rights is protected by coercive force. In short, Friedman’s entire argument that capitalism protects political freedom is false.

What about economic freedom? Economic freedom, the freedom of exchange, is essentially meaningless with Friedman’s conception of rights. The freedom to exchange goods it not necessarily contested under socialism (for example, socialists would not likely object to, say, a barter fair, and they most certainly would not object to an exchange of services). It is the specific sub-component of ‘economic freedom’ that involves production for exchange that is contested, and primarily because it involves the exploitation of labor, tendency for the accumulation of capital to override social values, and inability to meet human needs except by accident. Were no exploitation present and production geared towards meeting human needs it would be less objectionable. In fact, these conditions are impossible under capitalism, as capitalism presupposes and is founded upon exploitation and producing for profit, not needs. This aside, socialists object not to exchange per se, but capitalist production for exchange; thus, capitalism only differs necessarily from socialism in terms of economic freedom in that socialism rejects the components of economic freedom that violates rights, whereas capitalist apologists such as Friedman defend it.

His argument that freedom of exchange protects political freedom in that it restricts the means at the disposal of the state, thus preventing centralization and consolidation of power, has at least once central problem; it artificially separates the government from its citizens, which cannot be done in a democracy. Now, American democracy is not truly democracy but representative democracy, which is not democracy at all. In theory and practice, representative democracy replaces popular rule with quasi-popular choice of rule by an elite. In a real democracy, however, the government is the people, and thus removing the means from the ends of the populace through capitalism is an imposition on democracy. Friedman’s argument, then, is no more than an explicit argument showing how capitalism thwarts democratic self-determination through empowering a property-owning elite.

To summarize the preceding points, (1) Friedman’s case for capitalism being a necessary condition for democracy as well as economic and political freedom rests upon a notion of private property ownership rights—specifically private property ownership rights over the means of production, tools and raw materials. (2) Property rights are legitimate insofar as they contribute towards freedom and well being, but this supports private property use rights, not ownership rights, and specifically discounts ownership of the means of production, as it impedes freedom and well being. Since private property use rights mean no more than an individual has a right to use the property he or she needs (and here I will accept that private goods which aren’t the means of production have value attached to them that may be more for one particular individual than others, a picture of one’s own children for example, and so I will prima facie hold no qualms over ownership of private property that is not the means of production, at least insofar as my case against Friedman doesn’t require it, so I don’t need to go that far), private ownership of the means of production violates the use rights of others, as well as their freedom and well being. Consequentially, (3) capitalism in fact violates the legitimate range of economic freedom, and as it involves the coercive and illegitimate state defense of private property in the means of production, capitalism rests on coercion, and thus violates political freedom as well. It further (4) undermines democracy through its separation of political means from political ends, in essence holding democracy hostage. If government is to satisfy the purposes that Friedman sees in it, namely “”the maintenance of law and order to prevent coercion of one individual by another, the enforcement of contracts voluntarily entered into, the definition of the meaning of property rights, the interpretation and enforcement of such rights, and the provision of a monetary framework” (27), the government ought to be socialist, devoid of illegitimate coercion because of its recognition of the proper definition of property rights.

Now, Friedman’s support of the connections between capitalism/freedom and capitalism/democracy have been undermined. He makes arguments on more specific sociopolitical issues later, and while many if not all of his points are rendered illegitimate and the questions themselves meaningless after the collapse of his notion of rights, I will proceed to advance additional arguments against them, each on their own terms. I may refer to something pointed out before, such as problems with private ownership of the means of production, but not simply make statements such as “Friedman says x, but since his conception of property rights has been rejected, x is wrong/meaningless”. In other words, I won’t reject his additional arguments by fiat.

In his chapter on Monopoly and Social Responsibility, Friedman argues against what he calls a “monopoly in labor,” referring to workers increasing their class power through unionization. Friedman argues that “if unions raise wage rates in a particular occupation or industry, they necessarily make the amount of employment available in that occupation or industry less than it otherwise would be. . . [and] the effect is an increased number of persons seeking other jobs, which forces down wages in other occupations . . . [making] high-paid workers higher paid at the expense of lower-paid workers.” (124) He thus argues that “unions have therefore not only harmed the public at large and workers as a whole by distorting the use of labor; they have also made the incomes of the working class more unequal by reducing the opportunities available to the most disadvantaged workers” (ibid). While it’s nice hearing Milton Friedman be so concerned here with inequality and disadvantaged workers, his argument presupposes that it is legitimate for capitalists to fire workers in order to preserve profits. His argument is saying this: when unionized workers work to raise wages, their boss has to pay more to employ them, and consequentially the only way the boss can maintain his profit margin is to employ fewer of the workers. It is a sad but true fact that the average American union is relatively conservative, and limits its demands to higher wages, reaching out too little to non-union workers, and rarely if ever fights for the workers outside its own union. However, Friedman’s argument neglects that, while the negative effects of unionization he shows seem believable, they are so only because of the capitalist’s decision to fire workers to maintain the rate of profit. In short, it is the choices of capitalists that might produce greater inequality between workers and harm the public at large. True, without maintaining the profit margin capitalists will be pushed out of the market, but this only shows that capitalists, too, are alienated, and capitalism, not individual capitalists, is the problem. A bit more work remains to be done in the process of reviewing Capitalism and Freedom, and so I will return to this post in short order.

My last review:https://practicalutopian.wordpress.com/2009/08/12/book-review-milton-friedmans-capitalism-and-freedom-part-i/

Philosophy Post: Equality

A recent Huffington Post article alerted me to a paper by UC Berkeley professor Emmanuel Saez, showing that income inequality is greater as of 2007 than ever before in American history.  In fact, as of 2007, the top 0.01% of Americans took home 6% of total U.S. wages.  Why is inequality important?

In addition to the obvious fact that inequality between individuals affects their life chances and ability to satisfy their goals and meet their needs, it also represents something.  Inequality between people represents the valuation of their human worth.  If all individuals’ worth is absolute, i.e. independent of anything they do and wholly because they are, then there would be no inequality.  Look at it this way–if the worth of individuals were equal, and independent of what they’ve done, there would never be any reason for unequal distribution of wealth.  If you doubt this, try to think of a way it could be differential (except for accident, and in case of such an accident, equal valuation would likely result in immediate rectification of such momentary inequality).

But it is cannot be said that inequality represents society’s valuation of different individuals’ worth, because society does not choose the distribution of income or the distribution of property. In all societies but the very earliest communal ones, certain classes have had control over the means of production (i.e. tools and raw materials), and these property relationships have been protected by force and justified by the ideologies of their time.  In class societies, including our own, only the dominant class have the ability to determine who gets what job and what they get paid.  Ideological defenders of capitalism claim that supply and demand determine everything, from jobs (where social demand for a job creates it) to income (where the social valuation of the job determines how much it gets monetarily rewarded).  This picture hides a number of factors.  First, it hides that only ‘effective demand’ gets met.  Effective demand is demand backed by the money to compensate the supplier.  Thus, production under capitalism is not intended to meet needs.  Commodities are produced only when, and insofar as they might realize profits for their ‘owner’. If capitalism meets needs, then, it is purely a coincidence.  An accident.  Thus, jobs aren’t necessarily created because the jobs are socially valued or needed, but because their existence makes money for capitalists.  Same goes for income; capitalists pay employees as little as they can get away with while maximizing profit.  They will thus supply however much they think they can get a profit from, and the more money an individual is willing and able to pay to get a good or service, the more suppliers will fight to produce for that market, regardless of the good.  When an economist explains production and jobs according to supply and demand, they really mean to explain it in terms of money, but that directs the question towards one of inequality and needs, which is precisely what a capitalist economist wants to gloss over and assume away. 

Additionally, discussion of ‘supply and demand’ does not address the ‘rate of profit’.  Capitalists mark up the product from its cost of production, but that does not explain how the amount of this markup is determined.  In more competitive markets, profits tend to be lower, and in more monopolized markets profits tend to be higher, but in neither type of market does supply and demand strictly determine the rate of profit.  They tend to be unofficially standardized according to industry, but the process of their standardization has nothing whatsoever to do with supply or demand.  We cannot really explain anything but the most inconsequential facets of our economic system with the concepts of supply and demand.  It is only useful to tell us that the more suppliers per demands, the more relative power potential consumers have, and the fewer suppliers per demands, the more relative power suppliers have.  They don’t themselves explain the creation of jobs or the distribution of income, they only implicitly relate to the concept of power, and they certainly do not reflect need or the will of society as a whole.

Distribution of income, then, reflects the valuation of human worth according to the dominant class in a society, the capitalists in our own.  More specifically, it rewards them according to the function they serve for the dominant class, and how hard it is for capitalists to fill those necessary functions.  Inequality exists, then, because the capitalists (considered as a whole) devalue the worth of the people towards the bottom of the income ladder (relative to the perceived value of their social function), and value the worth of those towards to top more.  This generic formula rings true for labor; the very top tends to consist of capitalists themselves, and class conflict can generate income and benefits for labor with some independence from the valuation of their labor by the capitalists themselves.  This is so because class-conscious laborers can unify as laborers to restrict the supply of their labor, thus giving them greater power, or unify as citizens to enact legislation which will produce similar effects.  In the absence of strong class consciousness on the part of labor, any laborers wages and benefits are as low as capitalists can get away with.

Thus, this inequality is purely the product of class in American society.  It is a combination of the (1) class power of capitalists over society, (2) low valuation of the human worth of those towards the bottom of the economic latter (where laborers, as we have shown, have no inherent worth to capitalists, but only instrumental value), and (3) low class power, revealing their relative absence of class consciousness and unity. It does not reflect nature, or inequality of ability.  It is the result of class society, of capitalism, and the only way out is not a welfare capitalist state, but a postcapitalist (decentralized, democratic, participatory and planned) socialism.

Huffington Post: “Income Inequality is at an All-Time High” – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/14/income-inequality-is-at-a_n_259516.html

Creative Capitalism and Human Welfare

In the August 11th edition of Time Magazine, Bill Gates wrote an article on the concept of ‘creative capitalism,’ or finding ‘imaginative’ ways to use the capitalist system to ‘do good’.  He argues that “capitalism has improved the lives of billions of people” (40) and that, in terms of meeting human needs, “governments and nonprofit groups have an irreplacable role in helping them [e.g. those whose needs aren’t met by the market], but it will take to long if they try to do it alone.  It is mainly corporations that have the skills to make technological innovations work for the poor” (40).  Essentially, ‘creative capitalism’ involves a corporation finding a profitable way to distribute goods and services according to need, or, in Gates’ words, “the companies make a difference while adding to their bottom line” (42).  How are corporations going to accomplish this within the mandates of the system?  According to Gates:  “it’s not just about doing more corporate philanthropy or asking companies to be more virtuous.  It’s about giving them a real incentive to apply their expertise in new ways, making it possible to earn a return while serving thh people who have been left out.  This can happen in two ways:  companies can find these opportunities on their own, or governments and nonprofits can help create such opportunities where they presently don’t exist” (43).

Gates’ heart is in the right place, I’m sure.  But let us refocus.  The market distributes goods according to “effective demand,” i.e. according to those who can pay.  The ability to pay is obviously contingent upon your income, coming from either property income (interest, etc, which comes from the ownership of capital goods) or labor income (wages, salaries, etc., that come from the selling of labor power).  Some own capital, and others don’t, and are forced to choose between the sale of their labor power, or death by starvation.  This set of conditions is legally solidified through the codification of private property rights (considered here as legal rights, not necessarily moral rights), and the enforcement of said rights through the coercive apparatus of the state.
Consequently, if you are not lucky enough to be a capitalist, you have two choices.  First, you can choose one from among many corporate taskmasters to work for under the condition that you won’t receive all the value you produce, and once in their firm, they have all the power over you and your life activity and the laws of the U.S. Constitution no longer apply. Alternately, you can choose to starve and die.   You have the freedom to choose between wage-slavery and death. That is the precise definition of ‘economic freedom’ for those who aren’t capitalists.  Even ‘creative capitalism’ would run on this formula.  The theory is that either (1) corporations should find ways to profit off ‘socially beneficial’ behavior themselves, or (2) NGO’s and governments should make ‘socially beneficial’ behavior profitable.  It reveals the true natures of the firm and the economic system when you consider that the argument is not that a firm is a social institution that impacts daily the lives of potentially billions of people, and thus should choose to make that impact a positive one on human welfare regardless of profit.  Instead, the argument for which Bill Gates is getting many pats-on-the-back for is that firms should find a way to profit from activity that doesn’t necessarily kill people, destroy the environment, and subvert democracy.  It is still distributing wages and goods based on neither contribution nor need, and is consequently still illegitimate.  I think it is highly more logical to argue that, as corporations are enabled to accumulate capital through social conditions, and they impact human welfare, they ought to ensure a positive impact on their actions and inactions whether or not it is profitable.  It might be replied, then, that a profit-independent ‘firm’ would be pushed out of the market, for that is not a very ‘capitalist’ trait. . . but that only goes to show how conflicted are the values of capitalism with the value of human welfare.  ‘Creative capitalism’ is little more than the advocacy of getting paid to throw scraps from the table at a banquet to the starving masses below.

Et Tu, Barack?

Awhile ago I posted on Hillary Clinton’s connections to Wal-Mart. The link to that post, and all the articles I mention, will be posted at the end of this discussion.

I concluded with: “Quite frankly, Hillary’s appeals to labor and claims to want to increase the American “middle class” are hollow, empty appeals towards an audience, the American labor force (not to mention Wal-Mart’s notorious international sweatshop labor force, local communities affected by Wal-Mart’s practices, etc), that Hillary seems perpetually intent on betraying. A vote for Hillary is a vote against the poor and the working class.”

At the time, I defended Obama, after Kucinich was systematically and undemocratically prevented by the powers-that-be from getting his message out. But a few things have come out that are changing my mind, and to be intellectually honest, I must post on Obama as well.

Obama, too, seems to have been co-opted by global capitalist class, if he had not been already. He claimed a desire to help the U.S. working class, and opposition to NAFTA. Let’s examine some important moves he’s made since becoming the nominee.

About his earlier aim to ‘renegotiate NAFTA’ . . .

Joe Nichols of “The Nation” reports the following:

“In her interview with the candidate, Fortune‘s Nina Easton reminded Obama that earlier this year he had called NAFTA “devastating” and “a big mistake” and suggested that he would use an opt-out clause in the trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico to demand changes that would be more favorable to workers and farmers in all three countries.”

Obama’s taking a stand for the working class in Canada, Mexico, and the United States . . . committed to saving American jobs, ending foreign exploitation, gaining some democratic ground over the hegemonic dominance of international capital . . . oh, wait. Never mind. That would be the result if he had taken a stand. He actually said:

“Sometimes during campaigns the rhetoric gets overheated and amplified . . . politicians are always guilty of that, and I don’t exempt myself.” In short, he doesn’t mean it, New World Order. So rest peacefully.

In his Fortune Interview, he says:

“”There’s a reason why the business community in Chicago as a whole has been very supportive of me . . . they know I am a pro-growth guy, and I’m a pro-market guy. And I always have been. What I do get frustrated with is an economy that is out of balance, that rewards a very few – with rewards that are all out of proportion to their actual success – while ordinary, hardworking Americans continue to get squeezed. Over the last decade or so, this economy grew substantially, and more than half of the total growth was captured by the top 1%.”

Is the economy out of balance? Do the top 1% capture most of the results of growth? Absolutely; Obama is correct. Had Obama been sincere, he would realize that this is an inherent consequence of ‘free markets’ and the laws of the capitalist system itself, yet he remains a ‘pro-market guy’. I think that Obama is trying to appease business while simulaneously looking objective. For example:

He simultaneously says that part of the economic causes of this are that “with globalization and with global capital being able to move everywhere it wants . . . it has meant a winner-take-all environment.” This is true. Capital flight gives international capital a huge bargaining tool over governments unwilling to impose sanctions or invest in capital itself. But yet, he says: ”

“I still believe that the business of America is business . . . but what I also think is that with all that power and talent, and all those resources at their disposal, comes some responsibilities – to not game the system, to not oppose increased transparency in the marketplace, to not oppose fiscally prudent measures to balance our budget.”

How does Obama plan on imposing responsibility with so much of the game rigged as a consequence of Market operations alone? Exactly. Obama has turned face, given in. Strike one.

Perhaps he can be redeemed. Who are his economic advisors? They will both reflect his ideology, his aims, and color the options he sees for the future.

David Sirota of the Creators’ Syndicate reports:

“For every loud speech Obama has given about making sure trade pacts “are good not just for Wall Street, but also for Main Street,” he has made a quiet move reassuring Wall Street that Main Street will be ignored. Last week, for example, he named Jason Furman as his top economic adviser. Furman has spent the last few years defending Wal-Mart and working closely with Bob Rubin, the Citigroup chairman who championed NAFTA as Bill Clinton’s Treasury secretary.”

Furman, Wal-Mart defender and associate of a NAFTA champion?  Hmm . . .

Naomi Klein of “The Nation” further reports:

“Furman is one of Wal-Mart’s most prominent defenders, anointing the company a “progressive success story.” On the campaign trail, Obama blasted Clinton for sitting on the Wal-Mart board and pledged, “I won’t shop there.” For Furman, however, it’s Wal-Mart’s critics who are the real threat: the “efforts to get Wal-Mart to raise its wages and benefits” are creating “collateral damage” that is “way too enormous and damaging to working people and the economy more broadly for me to sit by idly and sing ‘Kum-Ba-Ya’ in the interests of progressive harmony.””  I won’t analyze that argument . . . it’s incoherent.  But besides Furman’s ridiculous, lie-filled, and callous attempt at defending Wal-Mart, it appears that Obama will, in fact, shop at Wal-Mart . . . but not for cheap-foreign-sweatshop-made goods, but for economic advisors.

In addition to Furman, “He chose as his chief economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago economist on the left side of a spectrum that stops at the center-right. Goolsbee, unlike his more Friedmanite colleagues, sees inequality as a problem. His primary solution, however, is more education — a line you can also get from Alan Greenspan. In their hometown, Goolsbee has been eager to link Obama to the Chicago School. “If you look at his platform, at his advisers, at his temperament, the guy’s got a healthy respect for markets,” he told Chicago magazine. “It’s in the ethos of the [University of Chicago], which is something different from saying he is laissez-faire.””

Perhaps I should go into why no one supportive of the Chicago School of Economics should ever touch anything that affects human beings due to their irrationality, poor economics, and more importantly, complete and utter heartlessness and shameless classism . . . but I won’t for now.  What is more important is that Obama seems to be in bed with these people.

It appears that, until he shows otherwise, Obama seems committed to handing American domestic policy to the forces that oppress people in this country and abroad, betraying the working class and the suffering.  I suppose that his message of ‘change’ still can hold, perhaps: he simply doesn’t seem to want the changes that would actually help America, or its poor and suffering.

In the paraphrased words of Julius Caesar: Et tu Barack?

Hillary Clinton and Wal-Mart: https://practicalutopian.wordpress.com/2008/05/07/wal-mart-hilary-clinton-and-unions/

Sirota’s Article: “Obama’s Clearest Path to the Presidency: Talk About Wages” : http://www.alternet.org/story/88791/

Nichols’ Article: “Obama Goes Soft on Free Trade”: http://www.alternet.org/election08/88754/

The Fortune Interview: http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/20/magazines/fortune/easton_obama.fortune/?postversion=2008062308

Naomi Klein’s article: “What Does Obama’s ‘Love of Markets’ Mean for Our Economic Future?”:

http://www.alternet.org/election08/88093/

Imagine a world where the means of production are owned by society. Profits are collected and go towards Public benefit, and decisions are made by those who will be affected. Would that world not be superior than our own? The system of private ownership allows individuals to profit off the labor of others, externalize social costs, and manipulate and erode popular control over the political, social, and economic spheres. What does the current system do that it has advocates?

The primary law of the system is profit. Jerry Mander examines 11 laws of corporate behavior, generalizable to individuals in the capitalist system by way of inference, and to the system as a whole by necessity (“The Rules of Corporate Behavior”, The Case Against the Global Economy (1996), edited by Jerry Mander and Edward Goldsmith, pp. 309-22). They are:

(1) “the profit imperative” (315), where individuals and corporations, by the laws of the capitalist system,
must take in more income than they expend. Mander says “the profit imperative and te hgrowth imperative are the most fundamental corporate drives; together they represent the corporation’s instinct to live” (315).

(2) “the growth imperative” (316), where growth of the company, and its profits (and its corollaries among individuals and political bodies) it transformed into an imperative. If profits are a necessary requirement for maintaining class status generally, and profits are consequently valued, then of course the push for ever greater profits increases in importance, at the expense of one’s competitors, competition in the market, and society at large.

(3)”competition and aggression,” where the individual and corporate pushes towards profits and growth lead to a dog-eat-dog, zero sum game. You must secure your position, for no one is looking out for you . . . you are consequently expected to cooperate and seek the benefit of the Team, but are constantly looking for an aggressive edge over your competition in the job market–above other corporations, capitalists, employees, etc.

(4) “amorality,” where “corporations do not have morals or altruistic goals . . . so decisions that may be antithetical to community goals or environmental health are made without misgivings” (317).

(5) “hierarchy,” where “corporate law requires that corporations be structured into classes of superiors and subordinates within a centralized pyramidical structure” (317).

(6) “quantification, linearity, and segmentation,” where “corporations require that subjective information be translated into objective form, that is, into numbers . . .[which] excludes from the decision-making process all values that cannot be quantified in such a way” (318).

(7) “dehumanization,” where “corporations make a conscious effort to depersonalize” (318), creating elaborate structures of rules for behavior on the job, and managerial discipline.

(8) “exploitation,” where “profit equals the difference between th amount paid to an employee and the economic value of the employee’s output . . . [and thus] is based on paying less than actual value for workers and resources” (319).

(9) “ephemerality [the quality of being transitory] and mobility,” where “corporations . . . have no commitment to locality, employees, or neighbors . . . [and so in] having no morality, no commitment to place, and no physical nature . . . a corporation ca nrelocate all of its operations to another place at the first sign of inconvenience” (319).

(10) “opposition to nature” where “corporations themselves and corporate societies are intrinsically committed to intervening in, altering, and transforming the natural world . . . [where] all manufacturing activity depends upon intervention in and reorganization of nature” (320).  This fact, combined with the imperative to grow, results in an ever-increasing consumption of natural resources, many of which either reproduce less quickly than they are extracted, or do not reproduce.  In other words, “the net effect is the corporate ravaging of nature” (320).  This results in a variety of phenomenon, from pollution to corporate contributions to global warming.

Finally, (11) “homogenization,” where “all corporations share an identical economic, cultural, and social vision and seek to acceperate the social and individual acceptance of that vision . . . [and so] life-styles and economic systems that emphasize sharing commodities and labor, that do not encourage commodity accumulation, or that celebrate nonmaterial values, are not good for business” (320-21).

Why is this relevant?  Corporations and corporate interests are the driving forced behind the global economic and political structures today.  They are the distributors of wages and goods, they control the media and the government, and they operate by these laws.  In this first examination of the laws of the corporation, we can already ask–do we want anything that operates by these laws determining the future of our world?

Hillary Clinton and the politics of race

Hillary’s landslide victory in West Virginia, along with some particularly interesting quotes on race from a USA Today interview, have made a connection between the former first lady and race perfectly clear.

Hillary won West Virginia by 41 points, where Obama had most difficulty attracting white, working class voters.  Exit polls showed that Obama had support in West Virginia from less than one quarter of the voters in that demographic.  Of the three fourths who voted for Clinton, 1 in 5 voters said that race was a factor in their decision.  In other words, 20% of 3/4 of the white working class in West Virginia voted for Hillary because she was white, and Obama is black.  That is, 15% voted Hillary because they were casting an anti-black vote.  How does she feel about being the official democrat for white, working class racists?

Last Wednesday, Clinton gave an interview to USA Today, arguing that she had a broader base of support than Obama.  Evidence?  She cited an Associated Press article published one day after the Indiana and North Carolina primaries that, in her own words, showed “”how Sen. Obama’s support among working, hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again, and how whites in both states who had not completed college were supporting me.”  (http://www.usatoday.com/news/politics/election2008/2008-05-07-clintoninterview_N.htm)

Yup.  Clinton not only knows that she’s the official Democrat of the white, working class racist, but she embraces it.  Brags about it, even.  Notice her further lumping together “hard working Americans” with “white Americans.”

But, as she recently said after her West Virginia win,””I am more determined than ever to carry on this campaign until everyone has had a chance to make their voices heard.”  That is, until every racist has had a chance to make their voices heard.  Go Hillary, the official candidate for the white, working-class, racist Democrat!