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Recommended: Michael Hudson: America’s Deceptive 2012 Fiscal Cliff, Part II

7:00 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

Wage Slavery plus debt peonage — these are the fates awaiting the ‘better off’ members of the 99%, Alan Simpson’s “lesser people.” The ‘worst off’ shall continue to find themselves existing on city streets, squatting in vacant land and buildings, suffering one of the many prisons which pockmark the body politic or dying from untreated illnesses. These fates — wage slavery, debt peonage and social outcast — should not be considered accidents of history. They have obvious systemic causes. The economist Michael Hudson explains in the second of a four-part series:

Today’s economic warfare is not the kind waged a century ago between labor and its industrial employers. Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, U.S. student loan debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012.) The weapon in this financial warfare is no larger military force. The tactic is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enables creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers.

Workers have become so deeply indebted on their home mortgages, credit cards and other bank debt that they fear to strike or even to complain about working conditions. Losing work means missing payments on their monthly bills, enabling banks to jack up interest rates to levels that used to be deemed usurious. So debt peonage and unemployment loom on top of the wage slavery that was the main focus of class warfare a century ago. And to cap matters, credit-card bank lobbyists have rewritten the bankruptcy laws to curtail debtor rights, and the referees appointed to adjudicate disputes brought by debtors and consumers are subject to veto from the banks and businesses that are mainly responsible for inflicting injury.

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. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency.

What is truly astonishing about this situation is the nature of contemporary finance capital. In essence, it is functionless. It does not exist to generate capital for investment in the real economy. It does not provide safe storage for pension funds, insurance monies, personal savings, etc. It does not even provide the common investor with rational investment programs. Rather, finance capital today is just a system specific mechanism (or, better, set of mechanisms) which extracts massive quantities of wealth from the world. Profit taking — that is its sole purpose. Moreover, it is omnivorous and perpetually famished. It cannot be satiated. Its appetites thus put everyone at risk. It lacks a home, a national identity. It cares not for people, their cultures, societies and well-being. It is everywhere and nowhere.

It is, in a word, the vampire about which so many Americans fantasize.

First they came for welfare….

10:33 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

In Obama’s America, each day is Halloween. The “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) should be afraid, very afraid! Why? Uncle Sam is bankrupt. He lives merely on the kindness of strangers. Only painful actions can remedy this situation.

Uncle Sam, you see, has long suffered from Affluenza. While the condition is often mistaken for a state of healthy well-being, the illness can be terminal. There are limits. They need to be respected. Austerity looms. The open question before Americans today: What kind of austerity will we have? The common answer amounts to this: Uncle Sam’s Affluenza would be fatal but for the remedies which a public commitment to fiscal austerity can provide.

The medicine is harsh and drastic, but necessary.

Or, so it is often claimed by a large fraction of America’s political and economic elite. Bob Urie, on the other hand, points out that:

The scare tactics being used to cut social insurance depend on the public’s misunderstanding of several related issues. In the first, the U.S. isn’t ‘broke’ because it can create money as needed — ask yourself: how were the bank bailouts funded? Next: what is an ‘entitlement’ when existing government policy overwhelmingly benefits the rich through favorable tax treatment, cost-plus government contracts, Federal Reserve bailouts and government guarantees of the banks. ‘Free markets’ have nothing to do with how the wealthy became so. The fight over ‘entitlements’ is over how government expenditures are allocated, not over their ‘scarcity.’

Urie suggests that the rich have prevailed in the democratic class struggle and now wish to deepen and intensify their exploitation of the “lesser people,” using the federal state and its fiscal situation as their hammer:

Social Security has an income ‘cap’ of $110,000 above which no deduction is made. A billionaire who became rich by sending jobs overseas — by firing and lowering the wages of labor, pays a smaller proportion of his or her income into Social Security than does the worker whose wages have been reduced. And by reducing the wages of labor, workers are left with less to pay in to these social insurance programs through payroll taxes. The problem with Social Security and Medicare is that a small group of connected plutocrats have ‘entitled’ themselves to far more of what labor produces. How often has the deficit ‘crisis’ been raised when there is a war to be fought for multi-national oil companies or a corporate welfare scheme like the bank bailouts to be paid for?

And this all ties back to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act — if he and his corporate supporters were truly interested in fiscal discipline they would have pushed for far less costly ‘Medicare for all.’ Instead Mr. Obama pursued a deal with private health insurers that includes (sic) a ‘profit’ above the cost of a government program. Those wanting to argue the political infeasibility of Medicare for all are now confronted with a ‘liberal’ Democratic President who believes he can cut the programs that most of us have paid into under known terms for decades. If doing this is politically feasible while building a rational public health care system isn’t, we are truly doomed.

Doomed? Yes….

Ultimately Mr. Obama, like his ‘opponent’ Mitt Romney, is but an apparatchik in a class war launched by the rich against the rest of us. Left out of the contrived nonsense about an ‘entitlement’ society is who exactly is entitled. Were the government spending the rich live off of under the knife there would be no argument of scarcity — we have the wars, the bailouts and corporate welfare to prove it. But social insurance programs stand between over one hundred million of our citizens and destitution. And these are programs we have collectively paid for — they aren’t a ‘gift’ as the rich and their servants in government would have us believe

Even the ‘gifts’ of income transfers, support for education and public transportation, Medicaid, subsidized housing, occupational training, works programs, etc. are not lacking in social benefits which directly and indirectly improve the quality of life enjoyed by every American. Every American would benefit from a fair and humane society, from a better standard of living. Such a society serves a common and public good. Who, after all, wants to watch the homeless die on the street for want of food and medical care? How might the United States compete with the emerging Asian economic powers when its education system, long the envy of the world at large, falters because of a lack of fiscal and political support? Who wants to bring children into the world when they will intimately know insecurity and want?

But the Nobel Laureate Americans just reelected wishes to create neither a fair nor humane society. He is a system politician who serves his various masters. The latter are cruel and greedy. Americans of the lesser kind along with the world at large deserve much better than Barack Obama. They truly need a man much better than him..

With friends like these

9:09 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

The Cato Institute

All for the love of liberty

Pam and Russ Martens have made exposing the dubious methods of the Koch brothers and libertarian icon Ayn Rand their personal project (see this and this). During one of their reports, which detailed the dispute between the Kochs and the other owners (!) of the non-profit Cato Institute, they made the following observation:

The original Cato Five, who signed a “Shareholders Agreement” on January 26, 1977 were: Charles Koch, George Pearson, Roger MacBride, Murray Rothbard, and Edward Crane.

Pearson became an employee of Koch Industries; MacBride was the Presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party in 1976; Rothbard became a libertarian icon. A 1981 issue of The Libertarian Forum, a newsletter  edited by Rothbard, charged Crane and Charles Koch with illegally grabbing his shares of Cato and barring him from attending future Board meetings in order to consolidate their control. The details of Cato having owners and the extent of their control over the nonprofit has not found its way into mainstream media until now.

Rothbard, who died in 1995, summed up the episode as follows: “Let each and every one of you, dear readers, consider this crucial question: How many fellow libertarians would you trust to guard your back in an ambush?… As a friend and long-time libertarian observed in reply: ‘Ambush, hell. How many libertarians would you allow in the same room with you and trust not to poison your food?’”

Re: The State of the Union

6:21 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

There are so many nits to pick, foolish claims to debunk, neoliberal hooey to ridicule…. I shall limit myself to three points the President failed to address last night:

  • Weakening the dollar
  • Dismantling America’s empire
  • Planned reindustrialization

    A strong dollar cheapens the price of America’s imports. It also feeds Wall Street with foreign capital. It is, in other words, the chief reason the United States has a service economy dominated by the FIRE sector.

    America’s empire absorbs capital and labor power, it wastes both on non-consumable goods, it drives the growth of the security-surveillance apparatus, it directly and indirectly undermines the Constitution and it creates political and military debacles which produce blowback. It must go as quickly as it can be safely dismantled.

    Education and training will do Americans little good if they fail to find jobs which make use of their cultural capital. In fact, an educated and trained work force that fails to make good on its talents is one that wastes resources. To avoid wasting these resources, the United States ought to institute an industrial planning agency with the capital resources and legal means to develop an ecologically sound industrial sector. It makes no sense to demand a low rate of employment for a well-educated workforce when those workers will work at service sector jobs that pay little.

    These reforms are radical with respect to the social system now in place. If achieved,they would decisively change the identity of that system. But they are not comprehensive and do not touch on so many related problems that would also need to be addressed. These include reforming the tax code, making it strongly progressive; developing public transportation; reforming the campaign-finance laws; etc. But the three points listed above would be one place to start.

    Greece and Italy…and what then?

    2:29 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

    “There is no alternative….”

    Margaret Thatcher

    According to the New York Times, Italy’s battered and irrelevant Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi:

    …offered a conditional resignation on Tuesday, agreeing to step down but only after Parliament passes an austerity package — before the country will go to early elections, government sources said on Tuesday evening.

    The move comes in the face of an escalating debt crisis that has hobbled Greece, threatens Italy and could infect the rest of Europe.

    Infect? Italy’s national crisis is also and already a significant component of the Eurozone’s system crisis. It is not an agent external to the Eurozone. Italy is Europe’s third largest economy. Because of Italy’s size and importance, it should come as no surprise that:

    Speaking after a meeting of European Union finance ministers in Brussels on Tuesday, Olli Rehn, European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, said Italy’s economic and financial position was “very worrying.” He added that the European Commission was “concerned about the situation and we following the situation very closely.”


    “’The problem in Italy is not primarily the real data,” Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaüble, said in Brussels on Tuesday. “The debt is high, the deficit is not — economic data are not that bad. The problem is a lack of trust from the financial markets and that of course is a realistic situation. And this trust has to be strengthened.”

    It is a matter of “trust,” and thus, in the first instance, “a political crisis as much as an economic crisis,” as David Dayen points out. Finance capitalists across the world just do not trust Italy to resolve its problems, to solve them, in other words, to their satisfaction. This mistrust is contagious. The economic crisis is a political crisis because Italy’s sovereign debt crisis, like those found in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, etc., ineluctably threatens the core institutions of the Eurozone system. Whence the Euro, we might wonder, when so many national economies collapse?

    To be sure, Italy’s sovereign debt crisis will not spare Italy’s political institutions and political culture. The imposition of an austerity regime on Italy will necessarily modify its political institutions, and thus kinds of politics Italians can feasibly give themselves in the future. Alterations of this sort are features of the austerity project. They amount to an economic and political constraint placed on Italy’s democratic institutions.

    From the part to the whole: The Eurozone’s political crisis — Will it exist tomorrow, the day after? — also helps to determine its financial crisis. After all, imposing austerity regimes on Italy and Greece will fail to resolve the Eurozone’s economic problems. It will, at best, transform them into a diminished quality of life for many living in those countries now suffering sovereign debt crises. This ‘best case’ outcome will, in turn, merely create another political problem for the Eurozone and, naturally, for those countries forced to endure an austerity regime. Europe’s transnational institutions and some of its national institutions will appear less than sufficiently rational and thus able to provide in the future an acceptable standard of living for many living in the Eurozone. In fact, this rationality deficit has already appeared as such: The Europeans and the G-20 have no answers, according to Barry Eichengreen. Consequently, “[t]he republic of the centre [in Europe] has institutions and media behind it, but it is tottering,” according to Serge Halimi. Armies await their orders, for civil order — Which civil order? Whose civil order? — must be kept intact even if the new transnational order demolishes the lives of millions.

    A once-captive audience begins to listen and learn

    10:33 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

    The left died, and remains dead. That’s been a mantra among some leftwingers, all system politicians and respectable pundits for the last 30-years. Americans chant this whenever the left appears in public.

    It was the Reagan Revolution which annihilated the American left. He defeated PATCO and buried the New Deal Coalition. He stood tall for America. He was America. More importantly, Reagan and Thatcher proved to anyone willing to see clearly and with their own eyes that there is no alternative to capitalism as we know it. The subsequent disintegration of the Soviet Union, along with François Mitterrand’s tournant de la rigueur and the eventual political ‘failure’ of the Sandinista Revolution, only affirmed the obvious: Collectivism is always a mistake. “Society does not exist.” Markets are rational. Consequently, resistance was/is futile, and resistance only made/makes the resister look irrational, inane, laughable — a “loser,” to use common talk.

    To be sure, the death of the left did not imply that leftwingers in the United States had ceased to exist. They lived, wrote, criticized, marched, organized, etc. Anyone could find them if they cared to, especially if they looked for the left in America’s major cities and college towns. Nevertheless, Americans in general ignored the left even when they knew leftists existed: Leftists, it was commonly believed, wasted their time, whereas their ideology was dangerous and akin to the ranting of a Harold Camping, Louis Farrakhan, L. Ron Hubbard or a flat earther. Leftists could be found only on the margins of America’s civilization. They belonged there. They were different. And why not keep them at arm’s length? After all, America had triumphed over its adversaries. Individualism triumphed with it. Events in the late 20th century confirmed F.A. Hayek’s famous diagnosis (1994). Americans knew they lived in the best of all possible worlds. They lacked any reason to protest this world, this America.

    When one first considers the Occupy Wall Street or 99% movement, it seems that the movement changed all of that. After all, longstanding leftwing concerns about class conflict, political power and economic justice have recently impinged upon America’s public space, its political culture, its consciousness. The OWS/99% movement promoted these causes. It made them public issues. Before late September, which the movement first appeared, American domestic politics focused on budget deficits, tax cuts and entitlement ‘reform’. Americans had to live a more rigorous life because economic conditions demanded this of them. Austerity talk remains in play, of course. But movement talk of justice now threatens to push it aside. The establishment media increasingly attends to a fraction of the left, namely, to that part of the left willing to encamp outdoors and directly contend with the security-surveillance apparatus. The marginal have come to occupy center stage, at least some of the time. The movement has thus captured the attention of the nation in just one month. This is plain as day. And it is good news.

    Yet, to my mind, a question remains: Did the OWS/99% movement actually accomplish this?

    The answer to the question is ambiguous because it refers to an ambiguous political situation. The OWS/99% movement is undeniably significant. Yet, something besides the motives, thinking or tactics of capitalism’s left critics recently changed. The left, such as it may be, remains much as it had been. The Occupy Wall Street movement did not overcome obstacles others failed to surpass. OWS walks a known path. Rather, what did change — and decisively so — is the audience the left always tries to address, namely, the 99% to which the Occupy Wall Street slogan refers. The 99% slogan points to common Americans, to everyone who is not an owner or elite manager of capital, especially finance capital. It is the many — the demos — that has changed. To grasp one effect of this, consider the following passage taken from a Tom Engelhardt piece:

    Here are a few observations from recent trips to Zuccotti Park and various marches I’ve been on, including last Saturday when the Occupy movement went global with, the Washington Post reports, rallies in “more than 900” cities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States. Having been at many demonstrations in my life, here’s the strangest and perhaps the most striking thing I’ve noticed: I have yet to see a single counterdemonstration, or even a single counterdemonstrator. Not one. Nor a single sign expressing disapproval, outrage, or upset with the Occupy Wall Street movement. This, believe me, is not normal for protests. Talk about expressing the will of the 99%!

    And the earliest public opinion polls reflect this. According to an Ipsos poll, a startling 82% of Americans have heard of the movement, striking percentages are following it with some attention, and — according to TIME magazine — 54% of Americans have a favorable view of it, only 23% an unfavorable one. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising in a country in which 86% of those polled believe “Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” or in which median household income fell by 6.7% after the Great Recession of 2008 was officially declared over (9.8% since it began).

    America once had a political culture captivated by hype promoting the belief that America was the exception among nations. “[W]e are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us,” as Madeleine Albright once stated. Americans ‘knew’ that America is the richest, greatest most powerful country in the world. They knew these beliefs to be true because they were part of America’s common sense, its civic religion, its collective identity. Affirming America’s self-conceit was a conspicuous feature of the Reagan Revolution. Indeed, the Reagan Revolution might have been labeled the “Reagan Renewal.” Reagan, it was thought, restored America’s belief in itself, in its destiny. America became America once again (yet, see this!) during the Reagan administration. Achieving this affirmation of an atavistic American nationalism was Reagan’s greatest political victory. And he had the scalps that seemingly paid for his claims about his America.

    Today, however, a belief in American exceptionalism is faltering, slowly but surely. The audience receptive to a crude but seductive Americanism shrinks accordingly. In other words, Americans are learning the truth about the Reagan Revolution. They are learning that it was anything but “Morning in America” in 1984. They are learning that they were conned, that decades of Reaganism in practice has undermined their security and the future their children must face. They are grasping these truths because the American economy now threatens their way of life.

    I do not believe this demystification to be a collective harm. In fact, I believe it is the demise of this political myth that is now creating the political space in which the OWS/99% movement can publicly make its case. It is due to this case-making movement work that a new political situation in the United States is coming into being. The Occupy Wall Street/99% movement has merely called attention to some of the destructive effects caused by Reaganism in practice. Its very presence in the streets of America’s cities calls for government actions meant to make things right now and in the future for most Americans. Nevertheless, everything today greatly depends on the willingness of the 99% — Alan Simpson’s “lesser people” — to listen to and even to join the protesters. It is their receptive ears and eyes which make the OWS/99% movement powerful. The attention and beliefs of the many, of the demos, pulls the movement into America’s public sphere, a system managed by the elite in order to keep just this kind of critique off-air, so to speak. The demos provides the horizon from which the movement may form a new public space, new political entities and from which it may even force needed reforms onto the elite. It is the demos that can lay just claim to speaking in the name of “We the People.”

    We the People. It was and remains an essential and productive idea. From it we may derive a defense of a radical democracy. It is just this possibility — radical democratic action — which frightens Wall Street and the political elite.

    So, is it reasonable to expect common Americans will listen to and even join the protesters? I believe it is. One can reasonably expect the 99% to listen, learn and even act as long as the 1% runs roughshod over them. The Economic Crisis of 2008 and the elite response to that crisis got the attention of most Americans. We can expect common Americans to rise to the occasion when they are forced to endure defeat after defeat in American’s class struggle. The future that awaits them is clear enough. When put into different terms, the point I want to make is that an inescapable but unnecessary poverty is an effective teacher of rude truths and a compelling motivator of political action!

    Simpson’s “lesser people” are now pushing back, and they are learning why they need to do so and how to actually do it. They are acquiring the democratic spirit, one that has been nurtured by the class aggression conducted under the auspices of the Reagan Revolution.

    My — our — long wait: Enduring the Reagan Revolution

    11:42 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

    Reagan lays down the law to PATCO

    Reagan lays down the law to PATCO

    I’ve pined thirty-years for something like the Occupy Wall Street movement. Thank God — I’m an atheist! — it’s here. I’ve waited that long because it’s been a little more than thirty years since the 1981 Washington, DC Solidarity Day March. The AFL-CIO organized and paid for it. (I was collecting unemployment but took a union sponsored bus to DC.) Estimates of the march’s size range from 100,000 to 500,000 (I’m drawing upon my memory here). Whatever the precise numerical count might have been, the March was large. I’d say its purpose was clear to the participants and to its adversaries. It expressed a popular disgust with the Reagan Administration, which had recently concluded the PATCO strike by firing the striking air traffic controllers. The PATCO strike was a seminal event in American history. It clearly revealed the weakness of organized labor in America and the willingness of the Reagan administration to demolish a politically conservative union filled with labor aristocrats who had supported Reagan in the 1980 election. I thought then that the March would be the initial event of an on-going popular response to the Reagan Presidency. Surely many if not most Americans would see Reagan and his policies for what they were and what they promised. Surely they would push back. Read the rest of this entry →

    Steve Fraser on Occupy Wall Street, its historical precedents and its current significance (updated)

    10:47 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

    Writing for TomDispatch, Steve Fraser, a historian of labor and Wall Street as well as a publisher of important books, recently provided his readers with a capsule history of America’s resistance to American finance capital. His article is worth reading.

    Fraser begins by asserting that:

    Occupy Wall Street…may be a game-changer. If so, it couldn’t be more appropriate or more in the American grain that, when the game changed, Wall Street was directly in the sights of the protesters.

    The fact is that the end of the world as we’ve known it has been taking place all around us for some time. Until recently, however, thickets of political verbiage about cutting this and taxing that, about the glories of “job creators” and the need to preserve “the American dream,” have obscured what was hiding in plain sight — that street of streets, known to generations of our ancestors as “the street of torments.”

    After an absence of well over half a century, Wall Street is back, center stage, as the preferred American icon of revulsion, a status it held for a fair share of our history. And we can thank a small bunch of campers in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park for hooking us up to a venerable tradition of resistance and rebellion.

    Which game might be changing? I would call it the Masters of the Universe or MOTU Game. The MOTU Game (which refers, of course, to an American political-economic regime) belonged to the rise of finance capital in the United States during the post-Vietnam era; to American deindustrialization and privatization; to America’s tax cut mania, its rejection of 1960s leftism and its race relations backlash; to the decline of its common and very high standard of living; to the development of an exceptionally large and historically unprecedented prison system; to the unhealthy growth of its overseas empire and its security-surveillance system; etc. These mostly were elite projects. Yet, politics is never an activity confined to the elite. The MOTU Game strongly and necessarily depended on the mostly apathetic response of America’s “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) to this political regime. After all, Americans elected Nixon and Reagan, Clinton and Obama. They accepted with little complaint the rise, consolidation and workings of the MOTU Game. Even apathy is politically significant! Their acceptance conferred democratic legitimacy on the MOTU Game. Their — our! — “going along to get along” meant then and means today being complicit in some way and degree with it.

    Lest my MOTU Game talk create confusion, we could also call it the Neoliberal Game.

    What, then, is the new game? I would call it: Push Back. To play the Push Back Game, a fraction of the lesser people must choose to no longer passively and silently endure the workings of a social system which often fails to meet their basic needs (needs which includes the need for a personally secure form of life and for a future worth having) and which lacks a political mechanism by which the lessers can effectively hold accountable some of their “greaters” (that is, their political representatives). The Push Back Game, assuming it endures, is a feature of our time, our world. It reflects the autonomy and foolishness of a political caste which acts as though they were not citizens of a democracy. It also reflects the realistic fear of a people who sense that their way of life is dying and that the vultures are ready to pounce on some of them. Those who play the popular side of the Push Back Game are, to my mind, defending some parts of that dying way of life and, along with it, America’s civil society. They want to survive, and secure a way of life worth having. They are pushing back against those groups, organizations and institutions which now threaten them.

    Normal politics in the United States appears to be changing, as Fraser suggests, and we ought to thank the Occupy Wall Street movement for being an early adopter of this embryonic political reality. (The Wisconsin Protests would be another.)

    If the Push Back Game endures, that is, if American politics will henceforth include the popular element it lacked since the protests of the 1960s, then normal politics in America will no longer refer to the machinations of professional (system) politicians, to political parties deeply embedded in America’s federal state system, to deep-pocketed lobbyists buying influence, to news media led and staffed by individuals who are nearly government and party propagandists and, most importantly, to a passive citizenry willing to accept nearly anything from their greaters. An altered normal politics would now include popular actors giving voice to their concerns, doing so in and to the public.

    Since Push Back Game rejects passivity and since this rejection contrasts sharply to the politics of the MOTU era, we may wonder why Americans failed to resist the assaults on their personal and collective interests. Why would Americans willingly kneel before their betters? They had not always done so, as Fraser reminds us. They would act when threatened. Why would they obey corrupt laws, suffer elite criminality, watch their standard of living falter, their jobs disappear, etc.? I would say that, in general and abstractly, many conformed in order to conserve their place in the American way of life, a social condition they have known since they were children. They feared a near complete loss of what they considered a livable world, a world they wanted to live in. If America happens to change because of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the appearance of a Push Back politics, this change will reflect the fact that much of the once silent majority will directly participate in the new normal politics they will help create. They will participate because they must if they want to live with dignity in the America coming into view.

    Sadly, perhaps, America’s consumer republic (a social system which binds the citizen to the consumer) dying. It began to die in the 1970s. The disease cluster killing it includes the ‘maturity’ of America’s capital base, the rise of a predatory finance capital, the emergence of the Reagan coalition, etc. It was then that both the consumer and citizen components of that Republican figure began to fade. Americans generally traded a fulsome use of their citizenship rights for an increasingly insecure bundle of consumer goods. As a consequence, life in America has become harder, meaner and more precarious as the years passed. Americans increasingly found themselves yoked to an economy and a polity which failed them. I believe these burdens and the personal responses they elicited comprise a kind death work. Americans were forced to work through — that is, to recognize, mourn and recover from — the death of their way of life. But what is truly sad — if “sad” is even the right word to use — is the diligent work performed by the legacy parties and their loyal supporters. As we know, American’s professional politicians want to replace America’s consumer republic with an austerity regime. Naturally, their austerity regime also affirms elite power and, of course, America’s predatory political economy. Their efforts amount to class conflict in action, to political power mustered to serve the interests of America’s profit-taking class. They too are a kind of death work, albeit work that aims to kill off the hopes many Americans would want to place in their future and the future of their children. Stated in different terms, I believe the elite today wish to euthanize the American way of life, to kill off that which is dying because it has become an expensive and unnecessary burden to America’s political and economic elite.

    I believe the achievement of the Occupy Wall Street movement can be located in its effort to contest America’s greaters as they seek to secure their austerity regime. This is no small achievement given the political apathy seen over the last three decades and the power in the hands of America’s political elite. Nevertheless, it is a needed task given passivity and losses of the past. They are speaking to a growing fraction of Americans willing to listen to their criticism. We will know when the trigger setting free a more rambunctious politics has been tripped when common Americans are willing to do more than just listen.

    In other words, the initial phase of the Push Back Game remains incomplete. Much is to be done. The Occupy Wall Street movement needs to survive. In the near-term it will need to overcome the legal and political obstacles placed in its path. It certainly will need to grow in size. To conclude, I believe we will know when America has achieved a new and better society if the Occupy Wall Street movement (or a movement like it) finds an enduring place in American politics. We will know America has achieved a significantly better society when it no longer needs an Occupy Wall Street movement. America’s consumer republic may not survive much longer, but the austerity regime the elite want to put in its place is hardly inevitable.


    Writing for the New York Times, Bernard C. Harcourt, a University of Chicago political scientist, provided a different name for the phenomenon I called the Push Back game. Harcourt explains:

    Our language has not yet caught up with the political phenomenon that is emerging in Zuccotti Park and spreading across the nation, though it is clear that a political paradigm shift is taking place before our very eyes. It’s time to begin to name and in naming, to better understand this moment. So let me propose some words: “political disobedience.”

    Occupy Wall Street is best understood, I would suggest, as a new form of what could be called “political disobedience,” as opposed to civil disobedience, that fundamentally rejects the political and ideological landscape that we inherited from the Cold War.

    Civil disobedience accepted the legitimacy of political institutions, but resisted the moral authority of resulting laws. Political disobedience, by contrast, resists the very way in which we are governed: it resists the structure of partisan politics, the demand for policy reforms, the call for party identification, and the very ideologies that dominated the post-War period.

    Besides Harcourt’s “political disobedience,” I have also seen the Occupy Wall Street labeled as a kind of antipolitics. An antipolitics refers to politically significant action that is not a part of the predominant political institutions in a society. Antipolitics involves a principled refusal to use political power and force as these are normally understood.

    When first considered, antipolitics and Harcourt’s political disobedience appear to me to be cognate terms. That said, Harcourt wishes his term will include a popular effort to avoid drawing upon Cold War political ideologies. This might be wishful thinking. I believe any social movement we are likely to encounter will flounder badly if it refuses to talk about rights, justice, need fulfillment, collective identities, regulation, etc. Moreover, the personal choice many made to participate in the Occupy Wall Street movement also entails facing additional and related decisions. These follow from the initial decision to participate in the movement. We are creating a future whether or not we are aware of this fact. Even Herbert Marcuse’s “great refusal” (1964, 257) was meant to guide a hopeless humanity to a place wherein hope can be realized.

    A conservative addresses the mess we’re in

    9:19 am in Uncategorized by szielinski

    Paul Craig Roberts, long a conservative, wrote:

    Economic policy in the United States and Europe has failed, and people are suffering.

    Economic policy failed for three reasons: (1) policymakers focused on enabling offshoring corporations to move middle class jobs, and the consumer demand, tax base, GDP, and careers associated with the jobs, to foreign countries, such as China and India, where labor is inexpensive; (2) policymakers permitted financial deregulation that unleashed fraud and debt leverage on a scale previously unimaginable; (3) policymakers responded to the resulting financial crisis by imposing austerity on the population and running the printing press in order to bail out banks and prevent any losses to the banks regardless of the cost to national economies and innocent parties.

    Later on, Roberts observed: “This is what economic policy in the West has become — a tool of the wealthy used to enrich themselves by spreading poverty among the rest of the population.” Roberts refers here to what James Galbraith called the Predator State. Roberts eventually concluded his article with:

    For four years interest rates, when properly measured, have been negative. Americans are getting by, maintaining living standards, by consuming their capital. Even those with a cushion are eating their seed corn. The path that the US economy is on means that the number of Americans without resources to sustain them will be rising. Considering the extraordinary political incompetence of the Democratic Party, the right wing of the Republican Party, which is committed to eliminating income support programs, could find itself in power. If the right-wing Republicans implement their program, the US will be beset with political and social instability. As Gerald Celente says, “when people have have nothing left to lose, they lose it.”

    One point I wish to make: I do not believe the Democratic Party is as incompetent as Roberts suggests; I do believe instead that the Democratic Party is as morally, culturally and politically bankrupt as the Republican Party, including that party’s most reactionary component. Competence is not the problem for the Democrats. The problem broadly considered can be found in the political commitments of the two parties and the structural constraints which make creating an opposition party and opposition movements so difficult. To my mind, this broadly construed problem reflects the essence of the duopoly party system: There exists no viable alternative to the status quo — it’s the duopoly parties and non plus ultra.

    What’s wrong with this thought?

    12:10 pm in Uncategorized by szielinski

    In a widely read and much discussed article, Elizabeth Drew wrote:

    Cesare Bogia

    Someday people will look back and wonder, What were they thinking? Why, in the midst of a stalled recovery, with the economy fragile and job creation slowing to a trickle, did the nation’s leaders decide that the thing to do —in order to raise the debt limit, normally a routine matter — was to spend less money, making job creation all the more difficult? Many experts on the economy believe that the President has it backward: that focusing on growth and jobs is more urgent in the near term than cutting the deficit, even if such expenditures require borrowing. But that would go against Obama’s new self-portrait as a fiscally responsible centrist.

    First, let us consider the point which Drew got right: America’s political situation is now in such a low state and likely produce a bizarre outcome with respect to the “debt limit” and “budget priorities” conflicts that future Americans — along with others around the world — will find it difficult if not impossible to understand and explain what happened in the summer of 2011. It is telling that a routine matter like increasing the debt limit triggered a budget conflict. This fact strongly suggests that Washington was waiting for the occasion to run wildly into this risky future.

    Let us turn to what is wrong with her thinking. Obama is not a fiscally responsible centrist. The broadly construed reasons for making this judgment: He’s not fiscally responsible and he’s not a centrist. How might one reasonably call Obama a fiscally responsible politician when he has already refused to use the 14th Amendment and Coin Seigniorage options to manage the debt limit political problem? With this double refusal Obama has publicly embraced Federal debt default as an acceptable political risk for him and the country he governs. Now, to my mind, befuddled as it is by leftwing thinking, defaulting on the nation’s debts is as obvious a case of fiscal irresponsibility as one could imagine. Promising to do so if pushed is no improvement at all. So, Obama is not a fiscally responsible president.

    Furthermore, how might anyone consider Obama a centrist when he has embraced a reactionary political economics? Choosing to throw millions into poverty is always a politically reaction path. And this is the path Obama has put his name on. Perhaps this Democratic President does sit between the far rightists and the moderates and leftists in his own party. But that fact, assuming its veracity for the sake of the argument, only reveals the vacuity of the term, “centrist.” Even though he might be a centrist in this sense of the word, Obama would remain a reactionary in the substantive sense of that word, albeit a reactionary who sits between the farther rightists and the undifferentiated mass sitting to his left. There is little that is tempered, rational, pragmatic and thus moderate about this President’s politics. He fights for the programs he believes to be best.

    Drew’s dubious Obama interpretation may originate in her belief about Obama’s ‘right turn’:

    The question arises, aside from Obama’s chronically allowing the Republicans to define the agenda and even the terminology (the pejorative word “Obamacare” is now even used by news broadcasters), why did he so definitively place himself on the side of the deficit reducers at a time when growth and job creation were by far the country’s most urgent needs?

    It all goes back to the “shellacking” Obama took in the 2010 elections. The President’s political advisers studied the numbers and concluded that the voters wanted the government to spend less. This was an arguable interpretation. Nevertheless, the political advisers believed that elections are decided by middle-of-the-road independent voters, and this group became the target for determining the policies of the next two years.

    That explains a lot about the course the President has been taking this year. The political team’s reading of these voters was that to them, a dollar spent by government to create a job is a dollar wasted. The only thing that carries weight with such swing voters, they decided — in another arguable proposition — is cutting spending. Moreover, like Democrats — and very unlike Republicans — these voters do not consider “compromise” a dirty word.

    Pace, Drew, it is a matter of public fact that Obama wanted to cut Social Security and other entitlements since the early days of his administration, and his desires were reported to be such at the time. Knowing this about Obama’s intentions, I would argue that the President is not a weakling or a deal-maker willing to bridge two extremes; rather, he is a Machiavellian virtuoso who has used the Congressional Republicans as his stalking horse. As Michael Hudson observes, “Obama has come to bury Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, not to save but kill them.” The reality of the moment shows that, “The President and his men simply support terrible policies.” And it is because of his masterful statecraft that the President now sits in just the place he wants to be — holding an axe over the neck of America’s New Deal liberalism. The fall of this axe will be Obama’s radical change we can believe in.