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by sandyt

The World After Democracy

4:36 pm in Uncategorized by sandyt

Okay, so let’s start out the new year with a little perspective.  The estimable Michael Hudson has a great article up on Counterpunch called “The Financial War Against the Economy at Large”.  Unfortunately, he left it too late to be included in a lot of people’s ‘Best of 2012’ lists.  But it belongs there.  This article is only part two of a series: Part one is here.  At post time, there are no further entries, but watch that space!

So anyway, Hudson gives a really concise and pointed outline of the plans our financial whiz kids have made for the rest of us.  Their plan, which is working brilliantly so far, is to rule the world.  Yeah, you read that right.  It’s bold! It’s impudent!  It’s audacious!

And it’s working.  Here’s how:

First, use tax policy to starve what they call ‘the beast’, that is, the parts of government that serve the public rather than the rich.  The ‘beast’ starvation program was kicked off by Reagan and more or less completed by George W. Bush.  We have now made sure that the wealthy, as individuals and as capitalists, pay almost no taxes (for more on corporate taxes, see the charts here and here.  For tax rates on the wealthy, go here.  A cool animation can be found here, an illustrated history here).  All levels of government, from nation to state to locality – are hurting for revenue.  Government must now go into debt to finance capital to keep running.  The victim is in the water.  The sharks move in.  Let’s let Hudson tell it:

The aim of financial warfare is not merely to acquire land, natural resources and key infrastructure rents as in military warfare; it is to centralize creditor control over society…Tax favoritism for the wealthy deepens the budget deficit, forcing governments to borrow more. Paying interest on this debt diverts revenue from being spent on goods and services. This fiscal austerity shrinks markets, reducing tax revenue to the brink of default. This enables bondholders to treat the government in the same way that banks treat a bankrupt family, forcing the debtor to sell off assets…In an Orwellian doublethink twist this privatization is done in the name of free markets, despite being imposed by global financial institutions whose administrators are not democratically elected…Greece, for example, has been told to start selling off prime tourist sites, ports, islands, offshore gas rights, water and sewer systems, roads and other property.

As Hudson says, this is happening now in Europe, with Greece, Spain, Portugal and others putting their societies on the auction block.  Before that, it happened in East Asia following the 1997-98 financial crisis.  Before that, it happened in Russia and around the Third World, as Simon Jenkins, former IMF chief economist, points out.

But the problem is getting a lot closer to home.  Michigan’s Republican-controlled government can now appoint ‘emergency managers’ for cities (like Detroit) which can’t balance their books.  The emergency managers can overrule elected officials, terminate contracts and sell public assets.  When Michigan’s voters rejected the law in November 2012, the Republicans enacted a new version within weeks.   In other states and cities, the same thing is happening.  We’re still in the early stages, but the trend is clear.

For this whole plan to work you need corrupt, incompetent politicians who will run up huge, irresponsible debts.   Politicians like – oh, I don’t know – maybe certain former US Presidents?

You also need a policy and culture of elite impunity.  Reagan and Bush, for example, tolerated high levels of sleaze, even if you don’t count the war crimes.  But when it comes to keeping hands off financial criminals, guess who takes the cake?

So as this strategy unfolds, there is no more public property, except that which finance capital allows us to keep.  There is no more public policy, except that which finance capital decides not to veto.  No city, county, state or national government may take a step that could potentially impinge on finance capital’s interests.  Ever.  No matter what the voters say.  The European Central Bank and the IMF can tell any Euro-zone country; ‘Go ahead.  Have your little election.  Choose whoever you like.  It won’t make any difference.’  It’s happened in former Communist countries and large parts of the Third World.  It’s on the march in the United States.  The age of democracy, as it has been practiced since the late 1800s, is coming to a close.  Capital – especially finance capital, in large concentrations – will inherit the world.   If we let them.  All we have to do is nothing.  They’ll take care of the rest.  Can they count on our inaction?  Stay tuned…

For a longer version of this post, see suchtimes.net

by sandyt

Labor Day questions: Who is ‘productive’? Who gets to decide?

3:48 pm in Uncategorized by sandyt

I am writing to follow up on Eli’s excellent post about democracy being ‘un-American’. He and the commenters bring out the connections between Matthew Vadum’s rant and the Republican efforts to shackle actual human voters and unleash corporate power in elections. But I thought there were a few other points worth drawing out.

Blowing the Script
To start with the author: Matthew Vadum reminds me of a third-stringer in the chorus line who rushes to center stage for their star turn, only to plant face big time. Blunderer that he is, he can’t stick to the script.

According to the script, vote suppression is necessary to protect our elections. It exists to safeguard the sanctity of our political process from the insidious menace of voter fraud. It is the ultimate in good government, wrapped in noble terms like ‘ballot integrity’ and appealing to us to save our democracy. For Vadum to blurt out the true class motives is unforgivably stupid. Alex Pareene at Salon’ War Room draws this out quite well.

Zombie Prejudices
Vadum drags the half-forgotten slur of ‘un-American’ from Joseph McCarthy’s crypt. But he reaches a lot further back for most of his ideas. His article resurrects a vast array of decayed bigotries from the age of pompous squires, flint-hearted masters, and dark satanic mills: The poor are “criminals”. They are credulous fools, open to demagoguery and bribery. They are “non-productive” and will “destroy the country” by “helping themselves to other people’s money.” Most fundamental of all is the idea that the ‘wrong’ people should not be allowed to vote.

This idea has a distinguished pedigree, unfortunately. Economist Ha-Joon Chiang recently wrote an excellent book called 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism. It is a brilliantly-organized and highly readable takedown of the deluded economics being practiced nowadays. In one of this chapters, entitled “Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer” Chiang reminds us of the beliefs of the founding thinkers of economics:

The nineteenth-century liberals believed that abstinence was the key to wealth accumulation and thus economic development. Having acquired the fruits of their labor, people needed to abstain from instant gratification and invest it, if they were to accumulate wealth. In this world view, the poor were poor because they did not have the character to exercise such abstinence. Therefore, if you gave the poor voting rights, they would want to maximize their current consumption, rather than investment, by imposing taxes on the rich and spending them. This might make the poor better off in the short run, but it would make them worse off in the long run by reducing investment and thus growth.

In principle, according to David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus and the other big thinkers of capitalist economics, the vote is not a right. It is a privilege. You get the vote if you can be trusted to use it ‘responsibly’, that is, in the interests of those who control society. David Ricardo argued against the universal franchise when it was proposed in the 1820s:

So essential does it appear to me, to the cause of good government, that the rights of property should be held sacred, that I would agree to deprive those of the elective franchise against whom it could justly be alleged that they considered it their interest to invade them…If the objection made against reform were an honest one, the objectors would say how low in the scale of society they thought the rights of property were held sacred, and there they would make their stand. That class, and all above it, they would say, may fairly and advantageously be entrusted with the power which is wished to be given them, but the presumption of mistaken views of interest in all below that class would render it hazardous to entrust a similar power with them—it could not at least be safely done until we had more reason to be satisfied that, in their opinion, the interest of the community and that of themselves were identified on this important subject.

Opposed to this principle, of course, is the principle we hold today, that voting is a right, a natural right that only tyrants and despots would seek to deny. This principle has won the day, thanks to decades – centuries, in fact – of determined and sometimes bloody struggle. Those sacrifices and victories have given our principle its strength, which is why our modern squires can’t afford to state their real aims as baldly as Vadum does. That’s why he’s a moron for giving their game away.

So Who is Productive?
I think it’s also worth remarking on Vadum’s slur that the poor are ‘unproductive’. This trope – that the rich and the corporations are the producers, the job creators, the veritable gods of prosperity on whom the rest of us must dance attendance – is a favorite teabagger applause line and Randroid rant. But if we look at the record, it’s the exact opposite of the truth. The rich are the ones who have spent many years sending jobs overseas by the millions, undermining our economy, destroying our industrial base and the skill set of our working population. They and their anti-tax sock puppets in Congress and state legislatures are the ones who have undermined and destroyed our educational systems, our communities, our jobs and our physical infrastructure. This class, Vadum’s alleged ‘producers’, the ones who paid themselves more than they paid the nation, who spend more on lobbying than on taxes, are the biggest destroyers of wealth on the planet. ‘Productive’, indeed!

Take Back the Power
I have been a little tough on Mr. Vadum, but I’ll give him credit for one sentiment:

It is profoundly antisocial … to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country…

Does that mean I think the rich shouldn’t vote? Of course not (I don’t think their money should vote, of course).
It does mean I don’t think they should “be empowered” to wreck the economy, let alone to take the vote away from the rest of us. Let’s not forget that Vadum’s rant is not just his own opinion, and perhaps not even his own idea. The right’s agenda has been obvious for months, and the fight against it is still just shaping up. It’s going to be tough. For more information about vote suppression, or to help defend the people’s right to vote, see the following:

Vote suppression and voter ID requirements: data, journalism and activism
ACLU Voting Rights
Bradblog
Election Defense Alliance
Election Law Blog
Greg Palast
League of Women Voters: Registration and Election Administration
NCSL Voter ID Map
TPM’s Voter ID page
Uncounted: The Movie
Verified Voting (blog located here)

Electronic voting and its hazards:
Black Box Voting
Election Science news
Election Updates
National Committee for Voting Integrity
Voters Unite