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Democracy in an age of “unhappy capitalism”: signal and noise

10:13 am in Uncategorized by David Seaton

They say that only the good die young. In the short time he lived, it was given to Aaron Swartz to define the principal problem facing public life in the United States of America:

If it was conventional wisdom that a bunch of unelected bankers looking out for rich people were the reason everyone was out of work, politicians would be forced to explain to angry voters why we had this crazy system and might actually consider doing something about it. The late Aaron Swartz

This post is entitled, “democracy in an age of ‘unhappy capitalism’”. What do I mean by that, and what, if anything, does “happy capitalism” mean?

To explain how it works, here is a graph straight from the great vampire squid itself:

 

Corporate Profits versus Wages

 

As you can see in the squid’s graph between 1960 and 1990, wages were up, while at the same time America’s corporations were making good money: I call that “happy capitalism”, because most of the working citizenry were reasonably content and investors were too.

After 1990 (neatly coinciding with the collapse of the USSR?) the relationship wages/profit becomes erratic and in the last two years corporate profits have shot up and wages have fallen dramatically.

What does this mean?

It means that you can make a lot of money without paying even skilled people very much. People are no longer used to make you rich, only to serve you in low paying jobs once you are rich. Most of the jobs being created now are low-paying service jobs.

That could be a problem because in a democracy “unused” and underpaid people can still vote and if they understood the mechanisms impoverishing them, this could cause problems for the “users” because as Aaron Swartz said, “politicians would be forced to explain to angry voters why we had this crazy system and might actually consider doing something about it“.

“Unhappy capitalism” then, is when articulate, educated, middle class people like Aaron Swartz, begin to question the system. In this way the “conventional wisdom” that Swartz talks about is created: in a national “conversation” of a great number of articulate, educated voters. Topic of the day: something has gone wrong, let’s all get together and fix it.

Making that conversation difficult, hopefully impossible, is a major objective of the users facing the formerly used.

Signal and noise

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Whither Obama

1:13 pm in Uncategorized by David Seaton

The demographic shift evident in the last election and the growing estrangement of the aspirational middle class from the super rich and a general disenchantment with the “conservative revolution” is offering the president-elect some interesting opportunities. However it is still going to be a hard slog, lowdown and dirty. The question now is, can Obama fight?

The slow implosion of the Republican Party — along with the growing strength of a Democratic coalition dominated by low-to-middle-income voters — threatens the power of the corporate establishment and will force big business to find new ways to reassert control of the policy-making process.(…) Although the stars are lined up in favor of the anti-corporate left, American business, when its back is to the wall, has historically proved to be extraordinarily resourceful. Thomas B. Edsall – New York Times

There is a new playing field… Will the real Obama (if there is one) please stand up? In the next few months we are going to discover whether Obama is one the longest headed, devious, cold blooded politicians to ever sit in the White House or just an empty suit. Everything he has done in politics appears to have been programed to peak at this very moment.

It seems to me that since getting elected in 2008 Obama simply tried to do everything he could to get reelected and do nothing that might prevent him from getting reelected. That defines his first four years.

He followed the plan he describes in his biography, one he developed as a lone young black man surrounded by white people, which was to “be courteous, smile a lot and don’t make any sudden moves”… It worked.

Whatever Obama may really be we will see from now on.

Taking on the gun lobby will be the real test of his mettle, if he dares to go to the mat with that monster and wins, we will be looking at a serious president, and that could be extrapolated to other areas. All other adversaries will be intimidated if he humbles the NRA. If he fudges on that he will begin to look vulnerable, even a bit lame duckish. This is to be or not to be.

What does he want to do?

It seems to me that by nominating Kerry and especially Hagel, that he wants to downsize America’s military micromanagement of the world’s affairs, which should have been done when the USSR collapsed (perhaps sooner) and use the resources thus saved on strengthening America’s infrastructure and welfare state.

I think he will continue to be a huge disappointment on human rights. It seems impossible to close Guantanamo Bay prison since there is no place to send its inmates. Obama’s solution seems to have been to simply take no more prisoners and kill all of them directly where they live.  So I imagine he will continue with the drones because they are a very cost effective way of intimidating far away poor people without putting boots on the ground and dispatching carrier battle groups. That simple, that cold.

If he wants to be remembered for anything besides having been the first African-American president though, he is going to have to hit the ground running.

Cross posted from: http://seaton-newslinks.blogspot.com