There is much discussion on the left about the connections and relative importance of class, race, gender, and the environment. Some, like political scientist Adolph Reed, take a class-first approach and criticize those who place an emphasis on race and gender as engaging in an identity politics that often shades into support for the neoliberalism that has wreaked havoc on working people for the past several decades. Others, like Robin D.G. Kelley and Gerald Horne, maintain that capitalism has, from its inception, been racialized, so that we cannot speak of capitalism alone but must add that it has always been a racial capitalism. Scholars such as Nancy Fraser make similar arguments about gender, pointing out that capitalism has been patriarchal from the beginning. While Reed has been inclined to criticize the positions of those who support the position of Kelley, Horne, and Fraser as emphasizing identity over class, the Northern Irish writer, broadcaster, and activist, Richard Seymour points out that “To me, it’s straightforward. Class is a social relationship that is structured by race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and a whole range of other determinations. Race is the modality in which millions of people inhabit their class experience. Their “identity politics” will often be the precise way in which they fight a class struggle.”
I think that Seymour is correct. Whether or not we are aware of it or not, in a world that has been structured in a racist and patriarchal manner, we live our lives as white or black, men or women, gay or not. But in addition, what the “class first” proponents miss is that, at least to some extent, race and gender are independent of class. For example, numerous studies have been conducted that attempt to isolate race as a factor affecting any number of social outcomes, from wages and income to health and prison admissions. Consider this: “The average of the annual wages of occupations in which black men are overrepresented is $37,005, compared with $50,333 in occupations in which they are underrepresented.” Further, “A $10,000 increase in the average annual wage of an occupation is associated with a seven percentage point decrease in the proportion of black men in that occupation.” Many more similar examples could be given.
If we add the environment to the mix, we get another set of disagreements. Some who consider themselves on the left believe that the ecological crises we now face are best attacked with modern technology. Others see the necessity of a Green New Deal, with massive public investments in clean energy. Both positions assume that their solution can be achieved within the confines of capitalism, with technological miracles deriving from the genius of private capital and through a state still dominated by this same capital. In neither viewpoint is agriculture or the military, both top polluters and contributors to global warming, much considered. The technophiles argue that modern large-scale farming has greatly benefited humanity and without it there would be mass starvation. The Green New Dealers simply don’t see agriculture as a priority. The military simply isn’t on either group’s radar, perhaps reflecting the national focus and lack of a global perspective of both.
The connections among environmental catastrophes, class, race, and gender are often admitted and sometimes stressed. Global warming impacts poor people most, which means that minorities and women will suffer disproportionately. However, the idea that all four aspects of modern life might have the same root cause is rarely held. In a discussion on social media, a person associated with the technological answer to the question of how best to ameliorate or end global warming was said to have otherwise good views on race and gender. Implying that it is possible to have an acceptably radical take on class, race, and/or gender while embracing a decidedly non-radical analysis of the rampant destruction of the natural world.
There is a way to explore class, race, gender, and the environment in a unified, holistic manner. By doing so, we can not only show the interrelationships among them, connections that are integral to the nature of capitalist society, but we can also delineate a political strategy that can destroy capital’s yoke. What follows is an argument more fully developed in my book, Can the Working Class Change the World? It draws on the thinking of many persons, and although I hope my presentation is lucid and compelling, the underlying concepts are not original with me.
Capitalism is a system that rests upon two primary foundations: exploitation and expropriation. The first arises in the workplace, whether in a factory, mine, bank, office building, in the home, or online. All capitalist societies are marked by a sharp separation between the few who own and the many who must gain access to what the former have, namely society’s productive property: land, resources, tools, equipment, machinery. Failure to do so means misery and even death. To get such access, people must sell the one thing they do own, their capacity to work. The advantage here obviously lies with the owners, that is, with the capitalists. This fundamental inequality gives capital the power to compel (exploit) workers to labor for an amount of time that is greater than that which would be required to produce the necessities of life. Employees are therefore paid a wage that will buy enough for them to live and to reproduce, to purchase their subsistence. However, their day’s work produces far more output than what workers need, and this surplus, when sold, is the enterprise’s profits. These are used to buy more means of production, and the process repeats itself indefinitely, allowing for ever greater accumulations of capital. Businesses become larger and more concentrated, and they expand geographically until they encompass the world. Power grows from the points of production to every element within the larger society, from media, schools, and cultural institutions to each level of government. And as capital augments itself, it comes to infiltrate all the nooks and crannies of our lives, including our minds.
The historical trend has been for the working class, those who are exploited, to comprise an increasing fraction of all those who directly produce goods and services. However, there are still very large numbers of peasants, small farmers living mostly at a subsistence level. They face grave hardships, but they are not exploited in the sense described above. Though they are if, to makes ends meet, they engage in wage labor.
Capitalism’s second foundation is expropriation, which means the taking of something without payment. This occurs prior to and coincident with exploitation. For example, the private ownership of property in the means of production that distinguishes capitalism from earlier economic systems, came into being largely through theft of peasant lands, either by capitalists themselves or in league with governments (the state). Rural farmers, who typically engaged in cooperative labor on lands that were considered common and available to all for grazing animals, gathering firewood and plants, hunting, and fishing, even for cultivation, now found that the common parcels had become private property and what had once been a right to use them was now a crime. The early history of the European incursion in the Americas is one of rampant, relentless, and brutal land robbery.
Peasants and native peoples deprived of their means of sustenance often had no choice but to become wage workers, providing a pool of desperate “hands” to be exploited. Profits made from them could then be used to finance the expropriation of more territory in a reciprocal process that enriched capital and impoverished labor. When, as in the Americas, the denial of access to what had been their forests and water, along with the introduction of disease, led to mass death, the new “owners” financed the ravaging of Africa and the expropriation of black bodies, in a slave trade both ruthless and inhuman.
… slaves, dark-skinned and largely from Africa, were kidnapped and shipped under deplorable conditions across the Atlantic Ocean to spend their lives tormented and tortured on plantations growing tobacco, sugar, and cotton. This was an expropriation of the human body itself, with the labor power of the slaves paid nothing but exploited nonetheless, generating enormous profits for their masters. Slave labor producing cotton made possible the burgeoning growth of capitalism’s quintessential infant industry, textiles, the development of which solidified the preeminence of the new mode of production, not only in England and the United States but in the world. The wombs of women slaves were likewise expropriated to satisfy the lusts of slaveowners and to help maintain, through giving birth, a further supply of slaves. There were slaves who were not black, but skin color was an obvious physical marker, and the slave trade brought some eight million black slaves to the “New World.” Given that the slave owners and colonizers were overwhelmingly white, and given that they had already expropriated and partially exterminated indigenous peoples, an ideology of the superiority of whites and the inferiority of blacks, as well as Indians and later Chinese, was inevitable.
We see with slavery another example of the interplay between exploitation and expropriation. Black bodies are taken and exploited, generating enormous profits, some of which are used to buy more slaves, and the process begins anew. In the United States, expropriation of former slaves continued, through Jim Crow laws that put tens of thousands of men in prison, only to be contracted out to white employers. We see as well that the expropriation of black human beings was central to the development of capitalism, which means that the racism that accompanied and justified slavery was also an inherent aspect of the new economic system. Capitalism, slavery, and racism cannot be separated, just as exploitation and expropriation cannot. They form crucial parts of a whole.
Women too have suffered expropriation from capitalism’s beginning. Any mode of production must find ways to reproduce itself. Capital must be assured of a workforce capable of adequately performing the wide variety of manual and mental tasks necessary for the generation of surplus labor time. Women have been, of course, solely responsible for bearing children, but they have also been required to prepare their young for future wage work. Social scientist, Nancy Fraser, tells us, in describing the changes brought about by capitalism with respect to reproductive labor:
One is the epistemic shift from production to social reproduction—the forms of provisioning, caregiving and interaction that produce and maintain social bonds. Variously called “care,” “affective labour,” or “subjectivation,” this activity forms capitalism’s human subjects, sustaining them as embodied natural beings, while also constituting them as social beings, forming their habitus and the socio-ethical substance, or Sittlichkeit, in which they move. Central here is the work of socializing the young, building communities, producing and reproducing the shared meanings, affective dispositions and horizons of value that underpin social cooperation. In capitalist societies much, though not all, of this activity goes on outside the market, in households, neighbourhoods and a host of public institutions, including schools and childcare centres; and much of it, though not all, does not take the form of wage labour.
In pre-capitalist societies, which were predominantly rural, women were usually full participants in direct production of food, clothing, and shelter. Even in early capitalism, cloth and other goods were manufactured in the homes, as a family enterprise. When the factory system was introduced, employers used children, often orphans, and women to work with the new machinery that centralized production made possible. The labor was so onerous that it threatened the biological reproduction of the labor force. When men began to agitate for limits on the use of women in factory production, capital eventually agreed to legislative restrictions on women’s work. However, it also then encouraged a patriarchal confinement of women to the home, where they would have complete responsibility for the kinds of activities Fraser describes in the above quote.
The consequence was
[a] sharp separation took shape between production and social reproduction, with men the family’s main breadwinners and women relegated to overseers of the household. What the women did was essential to the production of wage laborers; without it, capital accumulation was impossible. Yet they became increasingly invisible. In effect, capital had expropriated their labor, obtaining it free of charge, lowering costs of production. Along with this split came an ethos that professed the naturalness of women’s subordination to men. Religious ideologues pronounced this the will of God, and laws sanctioned it. Women typically could not own property or vote.
Women did continue to work for wages but often faced discrimination and sexual violence. Women in the home could be recruited in desperate times, such as war, to return to waged work, only to be discarded when no longer needed. In effect, the expropriation of their reproductive labor made them more exploitable in the labor market and the workplace. And even when they labored for pay, they were still expected to keep the home fires burning and provide free of charge the activities that created the future mass of workers, who themselves would soon enough be exploited. Thus, like racism, patriarchy is an essential feature of capitalism.
The third form of expropriation is that of nature. Capital considers the air, water, and soil to be “free” resources to be used and abused, so long as money can be made. The disharmonies created between society and nature, while existent in previous systems of production, rise to entire new levels with capitalism. The profits accumulated by polluting air, soil, and water allow for great accumulations of capital, always built upon the exploitation of labor, which gives rise to more expropriation of the earth. Nature eventually loses its elasticity, its capacity for regeneration, and this requires an intensification, by chemical and mechanical means, of the expropriation.
We have, then, a final example of the interplay between expropriation and exploitation. Nature is stolen by capital, so that labor can be further exploited. In addition, land, water, even air, are made into commodities that can be bought and sold, again creating new arenas for accumulation. The social costs of capital’s abuse of nature is typically borne by workers and peasants. They live where air pollution is worst, where the soil has been most degraded. They drink contaminated water. Their workplaces and their hunting and fishing grounds are fouled in multiple ways. When floods, hurricanes, and droughts, caused and exacerbated by capitalist-induced global warming, descend upon humanity, the least of us suffer most.
Before we look at how best to resist exploitation and expropriation, it is important to understand that every aspect of production is determined by them. The way work is organized, the lifespan and safety of the product, the engineering and technological profile, all are determined by the metric of profitability. Given that the only active element that can impede capital’s monomaniacal commitment to the bottom line is the workforce, control of labor is of paramount importance. Technology that might encourage employee ingenuity, for example, through using and adjusting machinery or software, will be rejected if there is another technology that give management more control. Production methods that could significantly lower global warming will always be rejected if there are more profitable alternatives.
If we look at the world’s dominant economic system in this integrated manner, there are implications for efforts to end its supremacy and replace it with something radically different, one that is its antithesis. The class struggle, combining the organizing of workers and peasants globally, cannot be effectively waged unless racism, patriarchy, and ecological ruin are central to it. This means four things. First, the exploitation and expropriation that are the foundation of capital’s rule must be directly confronted, in equal measure by whatever means necessary, from traditional labor union and political agitations to street protests, occupations, and collective self-help measures as with Cooperation Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi. Peasant uprisings in rural India, inspired by Mao Zedong’s revolution in China are just as important as mass strikes. Both are assaults on capital. The same is true for the Black Lives Matter demonstrations against racist police brutality, the efforts to end the criminal injustice system, and agitations to win national health insurance. Each must be supported at the same time, again in equal proportion and with reference to one another. And doesn’t the full equality of women in all aspects of life demand to be a central and not a peripheral goal of any good society, which, in and of itself, represents an attack on both exploitation and expropriation?
Second, we must admit, from any conscientious examination of history, that working class and peasant organizations are themselves riven with racial, gender, and environmental divides. Too often, labor unions, social democratic, and communist political parties have downplayed racism and patriarchy, and they have been even worse with respect to the need for radical environmental transformation. Compounding this neglect has been the tendency for both unions and parties to collaborate with employers, ostensibly to obtain labor peace but in fact to stave off internal rank-and-file revolts.
We could use many countries as examples, but the richest nation in the world, the United States, is an excellent case in point. Labor unions, even those that supported civil rights laws, have been hotbeds of racism. A radical black labor group, the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement, picketed both the auto companies and the United Auto Workers in the late 1960s, chanting at union headquarters, “UAW means UAin’t White.” In the 1970s, black steelworkers had to file charges under the civil rights laws against their union, the United Steelworkers, to force the abandonment of an overtly racist seniority provisions in the national collective bargaining agreement. Even today, race is a contentious issue in many unions, and few of labor’s top leaders are black (or Hispanic, Native American, and Asian). The situation is worse with respect to patriarchy. Few unions are led by women, and these are almost always those in which women comprise the majority of members. Women’s issues are seldom given priority either within the unions or in bargaining with employers. Construction unions, which hold a great deal of power within the major labor federation, the AFL-CIO, are bastions of Caucasian culture and crude sexism. In politics, labor doesn’t even have a party aligned with the labor movement. Yet union brass are dedicated to serving the wishes of the Democratic Party, which has long abandoned whatever commitment to the needs of workers it once had. If we look at the environment, some unions are in league with the fossil fuel industry to promote gas and oil production. Global warming doesn’t seem to be on the radar of most labor organizations.
What can be said about the United States is true for unions and labor political parties in all of the countries of the Global North, although often to a lesser degree. In the world’s poorer nations—the Global South—we see the same. India is a case in point, though on the far left, the Maoists have made progress among peasants in condemning patriarchy and the insidious caste system, as well as in promoting agroecology (environmentally sustaining agriculture, which peasants have utilized for centuries). In the Global North, I might add, it is as if peasants don’t exist, even though there at least two billion small farmers in the world.
If we are to successfully combat exploitation and expropriation, we must counter all forms of inequality within every working class and peasant organization and activity. It is important that labor unions, working-class and peasant political parties or formations, each direct action group from Occupy Wall Street and the anti-fascists to the Landless Workers Movement in Brazil and the Naxalites in India, have: a statement of principles stressing race, gender, and the environment; a radical education program that, using a critical pedagogy, teaches the principles of Marx’s political economy, and that combines study of exploitation and expropriation, with special attention paid to race, gender, and environment; where needed, caucuses of women, discriminated against racial ethnic groups, as well as LGBTQ members; a formal commitment to diverse leaderships, such that the aforementioned categories are, in fact, leaders.
Third, imperial depredation of the poor nations by those in the Global North is implicated in exploitation, expropriation, and the racism, patriarchy, and ecological ruin intimately connected to these two defining features of capitalism. Workers and peasants in the South suffer the greatest exploitation and expropriation. This means that the working classes in the North have a special obligation to bring imperialism to an end through actions in their home countries. And it must be recognized by these classes that it is no doubt going to be the case that workers and peasants in the South will be at the forefront of struggles to end capitalism and build a world without the multiple evils that this rotten system has heaped upon us.
Fourth, if we take the integrated, holistic theoretical approach suggested here, then we see that the class-first approach of Adolph Reed and many others on the left is wrongheaded and bound to fail. Racism, patriarchy, and ecological decay are fundamental to capitalism, and successful class struggle must never marginalize them. Furthermore, it is not possible to have a “good” position on one but not another. If we say that, in the United States, universal health care is our primary objective, then we must also be mindful of the fact that particular consideration will have to be paid to the racial and ethnic groups whose health has been wrecked by discrimination. If we believe that class oppression, racism, and patriarchy are intertwined, then we cannot, at the same time, state that economic growth is a necessary condition for ending these. Growth under current conditions will have a deleterious impact on the environment, which, in turn, will do great harm to workers, especially those who are poor, racially and ethnically oppressed, and women. Trying to end global warming with capitalist technology is likewise doomed to failure and will only increase exploitation and expropriation.
If we want a social system that is not alienating—one in which production is more decentralized, controlled by workers and communities, with meaningful labor, with smaller-scale agriculture, with human-centered technology, with equality in all spheres of life, with true, substantive democracy, with poisons removed for our soil, air, and water, with as much protection as possible from life’ slings and arrows—then we must look at what we have now as a whole, as an interconnected set or processes and institutions that are utterly alienating. They must be rejected root and branch, attacked all at once and all the time.
Capitalism Is Broken
The announcement came rolling from the Eccles Building at 2 p.m. Eastern…
No rate hike today.
Jerome Powell has decided to sit on his hands — for now.
In his very words:
It’s important that monetary policy not overreact to any one data point… The FOMC will closely monitor the implications of incoming information for the economic outlook and will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.
That is precisely why the next move will be a rate cut.
We have reckoned lots lately about the inverted yield curve… and the recessionary menace it represents.
The 10-year versus 3-month yield curve recently inverted to its lowest level since April 2007.
Meantime, 10-year Treasury yields hover at two-year lows — 2.04%. One Bloomberg opinion piece instructs us to prepare for 1% yields.
As the old-timers know… the bond market gives a truer economic forecast than the chronically dizzied stock market.
Meantime, the New York Fed’s recession model reveals a 30% probability of recession within the next year.
It last gave those same odds in July 2007 — merely five months before the Great Recession was underway.
JP Morgan places the odds of recession in the second half of this year at 40%.
And Morgan Stanley gives a 60% likelihood of recession within the next year — the highest since the financial crisis.
Yes, the Federal Reserve will soon be cutting rates.
Conspicuously absent from today’s statement was the word “patient.” Thus Mr. Powell telegraphs that he is ready to move.
Federal funds futures presently give nearly 90% odds of a July rate cut.
The market further expects as many as three rate cuts by this time next year — perhaps four.
We are compelled to restate the blindingly obvious:
The Federal Reserve has lost its race with Old Man Time.
The opening whistle blew in December 2015… when Janet Yellen came off the blocks with a 0.25% rate hike.
If the Federal Reserve could cross the 4% finishing line in time, it could tackle the next recession with a full barrel of steam.
Alas… it never made it past 2.50%.
The Federal Reserve cannot return to “normal.”
The stock market will yell blue murder and take to violent rebellion if it tried — as happened last December.
No, Wall Street has Mr. Powell in its hip pocket — as it had Janet Yellen, as it had Ben Bernanke, as it had Alan Greenspan before him.
But it is not only the Federal Reserve…
Last year the world’s major central banks were pledging to “normalize.”
But now they are in panicked retreat…
All have taken to their heels, hoofing 180 degrees the other way.
Both the Bank of Japan and European Central Bank are now gabbling openly about rate cuts and/or additional quantitative easing.
“It’s all in the open now. Front and center. The new global easing cycle has begun before the last one ended.”
This is the considered judgment of Sven Henrich, he of NorthmanTrader.
We must agree.
Yet the central banks have only themselves to blame…
They grabbed hold of the poisoned apple during the financial crisis.
They gulped… and took the first fateful nibble. It proved nectar to the stock market.
Encouraged by the results, they soon munched the full dose… and later went plowing through the entire tainted orchard:
Zero interest rates, QE 1, 2 and 3 — Operation Twist — the lot of it.
Even with trade war raging and recession hovering, stocks are within 1% of record heights.
And so the banks are too far gone in sin to turn back now.
Their greatest casualty?
Henrich on the wages of central bank sin:
Let’s call a spade a spade: Equity markets and capitalism are broken. Neither can function on any sort of growth trajectory without the helping hand of monetary stimulus. Global growth figures, expectations and projections are collapsing all around us and markets are held up with promises of more easy money, in fact are jumping from central bank speech to central bank speech while bond markets scream slowdown.
We fear Mr. Henrich is correct.
We further fear capitalism will get another good round pummeling in the years to come…
The Federal Reserve’s false fireworks will land as duds against the next recession.
Cries will then go out for the artificial savior of government spending — Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).
Free college tuition… universal Medicare… jobs for all… a $15 minimum wage…a possible Green New Deal…
These and more will be in prospect.
Politicians will go running through the Treasury as a bull runs through a china shop… and leave the nation’s finances a shambles.
Only then — too late — will they discover that debt and deficits matter after all…
Managing editor, The Daily Reckoning
The Secrets of Surveillance Capitalism
Google surpassed Apple as the world’s most highly valued company in January for the first time since 2010. (Back then each company was worth less than 200 billion. Now each is valued at well over 500 billion.) While Google’s new lead lasted only a few days, the company’s success has implications for everyone who lives within the reach of the Internet. Why? Because Google is ground zero for a wholly new subspecies of capitalism in which profits derive from the unilateral surveillance and modification of human behavior. This is a new surveillance capitalism that is unimaginable outside the inscrutable high velocity circuits of Google’s digital universe, whose signature feature is the Internet and its successors. While the world is riveted by the showdown between Apple and the FBI, the real truth is that the surveillance capabilities being developed by surveillance capitalists are the envy of every state security agency. What are the secrets of this new capitalism, how do they produce such staggering wealth, and how can we protect ourselves from its invasive power?
“Most Americans realize that there are two groups of people who are monitored regularly as they move about the country. The first group is monitored involuntarily by a court order requiring that a tracking device be attached to their ankle. The second group includes everyone else…”
Some will think that this statement is certainly true. Others will worry that it could become true. Perhaps some think it’s ridiculous. It’s not a quote from a dystopian novel, a Silicon Valley executive, or even an NSA official. These are the words of an auto insurance industry consultant intended as a defense of “automotive telematics” and the astonishingly intrusive surveillance capabilities of the allegedly benign systems that are already in use or under development. It’s an industry that has been notoriously exploitative toward customers and has had obvious cause to be anxious about the implications of self-driving cars for its business model. Now, data about where we are, where we’re going, how we’re feeling, what we’re saying, the details of our driving, and the conditions of our vehicle are turning into beacons of revenue that illuminate a new commercial prospect. According to the industry literature, these data can be used for dynamic real-time driver behavior modification triggering punishments (real-time rate hikes, financial penalties, curfews, engine lock-downs) or rewards (rate discounts, coupons, gold stars to redeem for future benefits).
Bloomberg Business Week notes that these automotive systems will give insurers a chance to boost revenue by selling customer driving data in the same way that Google profits by collecting information on those who use its search engine. The CEO of Allstate Insurance wants to be like Google. He says, “There are lots of people who are monetizing data today. You get on Google, and it seems like it’s free. It’s not free. You’re giving them information; they sell your information. Could we, should we, sell this information we get from people driving around to various people and capture some additional profit source…? It’s a long-term game.”
Capitalism Versus Democracy
It was always just a matter of time before the reemergence of establishment Democrats reminded people why they were booted from power in 2016. As ugly as Donald Trump is and as not constructive as his tenure in the White House has been, the Democratic establishment would rather lose with establishment candidates and retrograde policies than loosen its grip on its service to the oligarchs.
Phrased differently, if Democrats cared about ‘defeating Trump,’ they would offer programs that people want. But they are so firmly in the grip of corporate interests and the oligarchs that they won’t do so. The Republicans are just as beholden, but they offer fewer (manufactured) illusions. They represent the interests of capital. This transparency provides political clarity for those who oppose their policies.
Graph: American politicians act as if the rich minority should control our politics. Policies in the public interest are invariably corrupted through the legislative process to serve them. This is a near perfect inversion of democratic control where the richest 1% + 9% would only exist at the behest of the polity. Because it concentrates wealth, capitalism is antithetical to democracy. American elections will remain a farce until democratic control is put in place.
When announcing a congressional Medicare for All hearing recently, senior Democrats sought to control the admissible language to exclude the phrase ‘Medicare for All.’ They intend to focus instead on ‘access’ to healthcare which keeps health insurers as the extractive layer that has given the U.S. the most expensive healthcare system in the world with the worst outcomes.
What this signals, for those to whom it isn’t yet obvious, is that there are no circumstances short of revolution that will move the Democrats from service to their rich patrons. Given the stakes of environmental crisis, deaths of despair overtaking the hinterlands and military inclinations pushing the U.S. toward wars it can’t win, Democrats are signaling that they would rather go down with the U.S.A. Titanic than offer up the solutions being put forward by young socialists.
Lest the larger picture be missed here, American capitalism, for which claims of ‘efficiency’ have been used to shape and rebuild the world, has produced the least efficient healthcare system in the world in order to fill the pockets of a class that feeds on human misery. Thanks to Obamacare, health insurance executives are now the most overpaid in the entire insurance industry. This, as medical bankruptcies are undiminished since passage of the law.
The illusion of political competition facilitates the lie of democratic control. Republicans deny climate science while the Democrats place the interests of the businesses that are degrading the environment ahead of the popular will when they craft nominally public policies. Look again at the graph above: given the numbers in terms of citizens represented (executives + oligarchs), why would they have any say in the determination of public policies in a democracy?
As was the case in 2016 and for decades prior, the so-called political center is a radical outlier in terms of formulating policies in the public interest. Fifteen times as many people in the U.S. die every year from not being able to afford healthcare than have died in all of the terrorist attacks of the last century. The political ‘center’ is code for the interests of capital. It is killing the planet and bleeding the polity dry. It functioned as misdirection when the vestiges of the New Deal were intact— before ‘precariat’ described everyone who isn’t in the 1%.
The West is now four decades into a neoliberal ‘experiment’ that has failed on its own terms, but that shows no signs of either waning from its own contradictions or being dislodged politically. The political ossification that it has created comes through class control of the public sphere, domination of the political process via campaign contributions and the economic role that corporations have assumed at the heart of Western political economy.
Graph: CO2 emissions are both fact and metaphor for the seemingly unstoppable march toward environmental Armageddon. The capitalist version of a Green New Deal is premised on greatly increasing destructive environmental production in order to reduce it at some as-yet unspecified future date. As basic arithmetic has it, 5 + 1 = 6, not 4. An eco-socialist GND requires getting capitalists out of the way while the American political establishment exists to keep them in control. Source: c2es.org
While confusion has been sown around the meaning of ‘corporatism’ that stood at the center of (Benito) Mussolini’s vision of the good life, a defining characteristic of both Italian and German fascism was capitalist-state alliances where state power was used for the benefit of select capitalists and select state actors. Labor unions were systematically disempowered, and the interests of powerful economic and state actors were put forward as those of the polity.
An irony of the present is that with all the mechanisms of capitalist-state control— a capitalist media that places business interests ahead of civic accountability; corporate control that regulates the lives of citizens as surely as totalitarian regimes throughout history; and the systematic immiseration and debasement of the democratic core of the polity; a plurality is still able to look past its own interests to the public good.
A secondary irony is that as true as denunciations of Donald Trump and the Republican Party may be, the Democratic establishment has no history of challenging the substance of their programs in recent decades. Establishment Democrats want to preclude a Green New Deal and Medicare for All as surely as Republicans do. Differences between the Parties are over how to best do so— outright opposition versus killing them legislatively.
And in fact, this difference in strategy suggests the basis of bourgeois loathing of the ‘lesser’ classes. Republicans deny climate science (the ignorant heathens) while Democrats accept its conclusions while continuing to let their donor class dictate policy that perpetuates environmental degradation. Given the stakes, the Paris Accord was a fig leaf placed over a missing environmental policy when Barack Obama gave it rhetorical support.
Here is the IPCC (UN) report, released a mere two years after Mr. Obama left office, stating that far more radical action is needed to address climate change. Here is IPBES (UN) report, released a mere two years after Mr. Obama left office, stating that far more radical action is needed to address mass extinction. Environmentalists have been providing evidence that radical action is needed for five decades.
The method of the Democrat’s grift is to hand public policy to business interests just as Republicans do, but through abstract devices like trade agreements. ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) writes local, state and Federal policies that Republicans put forward as legislative proposals. Democrats push trade agreements that have Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses to prevent governments from passing laws in the public interest.
As the graph of total CO2 emissions (above) suggests, the effect is a continuity in public policies hidden behind a veil of faux political competition. The American bourgeois congratulates itself on its clear understanding of climate change while earning its living in the service of the oligarchs and corporate chiefs who benefit from environmental degradation. Democratic politicians sooth psyches through language of ‘working toward’ and ‘access’ that gets its professional class constituents from one PowerPoint presentation to the next. The point: the bourgeois are an impediment to effective public policies, not its guardians.
With their growing use of loyalty oaths and exclusionary tactics, Democrats have adopted the logic of the radical right for the reasons of the radical right— to protect the business interests of their donor class from rising bolshevism (socialism) and market mishaps. But commies didn’t crap the environment. And market mishaps are an aspect of capitalism, not socialism. So, Democrats are joining Republicans to protect capitalists from the consequences of their own practices.
Those not directly benefitting from it want to be protected from capitalist predation. Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, raising taxes on the rich and having a political voice are popular with the little people. The political establishment also exists to protect the oligarchs and corporate executives from democratic accountability.
The self-aggrandizing ‘Art of War’ drivel of 1980s capitalist mythology posed capitalist warriors competing against one another in the rough and tumble marketplace. By 2000 or so this had given way to K Street lobbyists, congress and the Federal Reserve doing back alley deals to protect them from market failure. Payday loans, government granted monopolies and instigating wars to sell munitions all combine state with private power to extract economic rents— market competition has nothing to do with it.
Any honest assessment of American business— war, financial gamesmanship, environmental degradation and pillaging the polity, would make evident that some fair portion of the oligarch class 1) belongs in prison and 2) should be made to give up its ill-gotten gains. Some politely worded version of this political program would likely win any election hands down, suggesting that the actual political center is a few miles left of the political establishment.
Graph: Any environmental accounting based in history would place the U.S., and more precisely capitalism, front and center as both cause and beneficiary of environmental degradation. The U.S. + the E.U., really Germany and Britain, caused climate change through greenhouse gas emissions from the dawn of the industrial revolution to the present. China has become to major emitter only recently. But Chinese emissions built the export economy that flooded the West with cheap imports. In other words, Western emissions were outsourced. Source: c2es.org
A question to be answered sooner rather than later is: what configuration of political economy is needed to resolve the multiple crises that are underway? With political hopefuls offering policy proposals going into the 2020 elections, those that aren’t tied to workable political economy are likely to be little more than empty posturing.
A Green New Deal and Medicare for All would alter economic relationships. The establishment posture is: we need for ‘our’ political proposals to serve multiple economic interests. Not addressed is that it is these very interests who turned a livable environment and health care into political problems in need of resolution. So why would they be 1) left intact and 2) considered ‘partners’ in resolving the problems they have created?
The path of least resistance within the establishment frame is market-friendly proposals like carbon taxes and public-private partnerships to build renewable energy technologies. The logic is to increase the use of environmentally destructive technologies to reduce them at some future point. Again, 5 + 1 = 6, not 4. The only path to meeting IPCC and IPBES (above) goals will be to reduce cumulative environmental degradation, meaning 5 – 1 = 4.
All of the establishment plans, including those from socialists, are variations on 5 + 1 = 6, again meaning that environmental degradation must increase to reduce it at some future point. This is the same capitalist ‘growth’ logic that isn’t working. Any plan that isn’t at least cognizant of this paradox should be rejected out of hand. Moving from industrial to human-scale agriculture will require land redistribution. If people can reconnect with ‘the world,’ they might even be happier for it.
Through the concentration of economic power, capitalism is antithetical to democracy. Capitalist ‘freedom’ is the freedom of the oligarchs to exert political control through this power. This contradiction explains why the polity has little to no influence over government policies, causing growing antipathy toward the political establishment. Democrats aren’t going to voluntarily abandon their donors and Republicans wouldn’t even pretend to, suggesting that the preferred direction of the political establishment will continue to be hard right.
As Democrats are in the process of demonstrating, existing political economy must be gotten out of the way before there is any chance that solutions to current crises will be workable.
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