Zombie economics

From the New York Times:

When historians look back at 2008-10, what will puzzle them most, I believe, is the strange triumph of failed ideas. Free-market fundamentalists have been wrong about everything — yet they now dominate the political scene more thoroughly than ever.

How did that happen? How, after runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, did we end up with Ron Paul, who says “I don’t think we need regulators,” about to take over a key House panel overseeing the Fed? How, after the experiences of the Clinton and Bush administrations — the first raised taxes and presided over spectacular job growth; the second cut taxes and presided over anemic growth even before the crisis — did we end up with bipartisan agreement on even more tax cuts?

Class War in Congress

“This apparent contradiction makes sense only if you understand what has become so manifestly obvious that writing it out makes me bored and angry: conservatives do not care about deficits or the national debt. Nothing they have done over the past several decades—from the record deficits of the Reagan and Bush/DeLay years to their party-line opposition to nearly every legislative measure (public option healthcare reform, cap and trade) that would reduce the deficit—suggests otherwise. The great spokesman for the so-called fiscal hawks in the GOP caucus, Wisconsin’s Paul Ryan, not only voted against the largely conservative recommendations of the president’s deficit commission but in 2003 cast the deciding vote for Medicare Part D, a corporate giveaway and entitlement expansion that was unfunded and will, according to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, add “$400 billion to the deficit in the first 10 years, and trillions more in the decades after that.”

What Republicans do care about is defending the incomes of the country’s wealthiest, distributing income upward and cutting taxes in order to make progressive governance impossible. Obama was right to say in his press conference that tax cuts for the rich are the Republicans’ Holy Grail.”

So this was Chris Hayes’s post on the tax cut “Compromise” that essentially puts the lie to any and all wankery about “deficits.” And he’s spot on, and the only thing I wish he’d added to it was to call it what it is: class warfare. As Sherrod Brown said the other day on John King: “I work in a place that too often sings with an upper-class accent…I’m not engaging in class warfare, I’m just pointing out what happened.”

See, when people cry “class warfare” in this country, it inevitably means “they’re coming for my money!”  It’s the rich whining about it, and the idea is that people don’t want class warfare because they might someday be part of the class with the cash. But let’s be real, here: if I ever get to a point where I make $250,000 a year, I will gladly pay more in taxes, especially if I’m making that kind of money in an economy where 10% unemployment is becoming normal.

Let’s put some other key votes that happened today into context as well, shall we?  Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was the focus for a lot of people, but Claire McCaskill tweeted about the bill and brought up what else it contained: “Rs just blocked modest pay raises 4 military cuz we haven’t yet given them tax cuts for multi millionaires.”

And if that isn’t disgusting enough, how about this, from the New York Times? “Republican senators blocked Democratic legislation on Thursday that sought to provide medical care to rescue workers and residents of New York City who became ill as a result of breathing in toxic fumes, dust and smoke from ground zero.”

This is the same party that has used 9/11 as a political football for the last nine years, insisting that we get felt up at airports and invade two countries, that we couldn’t have a community center near the site of the attacks that might have a place for Muslims to pray inside it, but they just voted AGAINST pay raises for the troops they claim to support, AGAINST health care for the rescue workers who rushed in to help the victims that day.

Let’s stop pretending this is anything other than a blatant attack on the working class in the name of further enriching those who are already rich. Let’s call it what it is, already: it’s class warfare.

A Business Plan For Every Human Activity

Great piece by John Pilger in the New Statesman over the weekend.  He argues the utter moral bankruptcy of the recent UK “austerity” cuts and its devastation of the welfare state.

Born of the “never again” spirit of 1945, social democracy has surrendered to an extreme political cult of money worship. This reached its apogee when £1trn of public money was handed unconditionally to corrupt banks by a Labour government whose leader, Gordon Brown, had previously described “financiers” as the nation’s “great example” and his personal “inspiration”.

This is not to say parliamentary politics is meaningless. It has one meaning now: the replacement of democracy with a business plan for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope, every child born. [italics added]

This is the sheer mundanity of neo-liberalism in its quotidian form, the becoming-business of everything from the social sphere to the psyche itself–and the reason why bohemia, the sheer dream of an outside not determined by the capitalistic–is itself vitally necessary.  As Nina Power has pointed out recently, the very idea of higher education has been itself sidelined as a useless pursuit , “predicated on the idea that three years is a very long time, especially doing subjects that are a ‘waste’” [that is, the humanities and social sciences which have been decimated by the Osborne review].  But as Powers rightly notes, the raising of the pension age means 45 years of wage earning, compared to the mere three spent at college or university.  What a waste of time, eh?  But there is no outside to the business rationale in public discourse from which to argue that knowledge (not to mention art and culture) is valuable in and of itself. Yes, even for the plebs not attending the country’s upper echelon of universities.

Yet as the UK struggles to come to terms with this dour new regime of misery, Pilger points out how blatantly untruthful the idea of false scarcity really is:

The theft of £83bn in jobs and services matches almost exactly the amount of tax legally avoided by piratical corporations. Without fanfare, the super-rich have been assured they can dodge up to £40bn in tax payments in the secrecy of Swiss banks. The day this was sewn up, Osborne attacked those who “cheat” the welfare system. He omitted the real amount lost, a minuscule £0.5bn, and that £10.5bn in benefit payments was not claimed at all. Labour is his silent partner.

Welfare cheats are the phantoms of contemporary discourse, the imaginary figure that allow us to focus all of our rage on this rort and not the larger, more damning picture in which it is the rich who caused the crisis who are committing welfare scams on an unheard-of scale – being forgiven their sins, while the rest suffer.  The super-rich have been the stealing of the very possibility of social welfare from the population itself.

And of course, to build on what I was talking about recently here, the language around the attacks on disability benefits suggest that disability is being figured as a form of welfare cheating itself, a burden which the public simply cannot shoulder (unlike the tax dodges of the super-rich).

It is here that the foundations for a collective struggle against the cuts must be found- those who are feeling the pain must band together, because they must.  Because the government has betrayed almost everyone, in the name of supporting a few wealthy and the appalling ideological agenda of the ruling class.

The BA workers, the firefighters, the council workers, the post office workers, the NHS workers, the London Underground staff, the teachers, the lecturers, the students can more than match the French if they are resolute and imaginative, forging, with the wider social justice movement, potentially the greatest popular resistance ever. Look at the web; listen to the public’s support at fire stations. There is no other way now. Direct action. Civil disobedience. Unerring. Read Shelley and do it.

Impermanence and Capitalism

And all this leads me to the bigger question–the question that sorta disturbs me. Can we control “impermanence”? Because I think that Westerners have a firmer understanding of impermanence that we think we do–what is capitalism but an attempt to control and dictate the truth of impermanence? The world is forever changing, as the bodies within it are–and capitalism knows this. Activists inherently understand what capitalism is trying to do (make us think we always need new things)–and so we try to go the opposite direction and insist we *never* need new things…we can recycle and buy second hand and “be creative….”

But I think activists are missing the point–Capitalism may not *consciously* know it’s trying to control impermanence, but it’s doing an excellent job of making us feel safe–making us feel and pretend together that there is nothing to fear in change.

Activists are existing solely on a *practical* plane, where they don’t seem to quite understand the *fear* that is inherent in people who must deal with and confront change and how comforting the lie is that is hidden beneath capitalism.

You never have to change if you buy this….

You never have to change….
Never change…

And if we all understand “change” to be something that ends with *death* rather than existing as “transformation” or “rotation”–

Never changing=never dying.

Is the answer, then, to make so that activists control impermanence instead of capitalism? That we decide what steps everybody must take to reach the mountain top of liberation? Is it our job to decide that we all must reach the mountain top to be liberated?

-BFP, who is awesome, meditating on impermanence, change, MLK’s “Mountaintop” speech (which is the one that makes me cry far more reliably than “I have a dream”) and capitalism. Read her whole post.

Capitalist Realism and Opportunity in the UK

Nevertheless, it’s crucial that we recognise that this is a time of opportunity for the left. Laurie Penny is right that the Labour Party does not have the answers at the moment. Yet the Labour Party’s current lack of an agenda can be seen as a good thing, for two reasons. Firstly, at least this means that Labour has lost the managerialist neoliberal agenda that defined it for the last fifteen years. The de-New Labourization process will take a while, but it will be expedited much quicker with Ed Miliband as leader than it ever would have been with David at the helm. (Notice how David – whom the media were presenting as a great lost leader, a kind of world-historic statesman, on the grounds, presumably, that Hilary Clinton took a fancy to him – is already a forgotten man. In the media’s soap narrative, David’s leaving front bench politics was an open wound which the Labour Party would take years to recover – that doesn’t quite seem to be the case.) Secondly, the fact that the post-Blair and Brown Labour Party is now a cored-out shell means that it is a space, which it is at least plausible that could be filled by new ideas and strategies. For the first time in fifteen years, the future of the Labour Party is not fixed. It’s worth remembering at this point that the failures of the Labour Party, its succumbing to capitalist realism, is not just the consequences of the internal logic of the part. It was extra-Parliamentary forces that gave rise to the Labour Party in the first place; it was the defeat of those forces that drove the Labour Party into its craven placting of business in the New Labour era. If Labour is to be anything more than a zombie party once again, it will be new forms of extra-parliamentary organisation that revivify it.

For that reason, this is definitely not the time to recline into the leftist version of capitalist realism, the defeatist counterpart to the Bullingdon club’s bullishness. Now is the time to organise and agitate. The cuts can provide a galvanising focus for an anti-capitalist campaign that can succeed. Protests in these conditions won’t have the hubristic impotence of anti-capitalist ‘feelgood feelbad’ carnivals and kettles. This is shaping up to be a bitter struggle, but there are specific, determinate and winnable goals that can be achieved here: it isn’t a question of taking a peashooter to the juggernaut of capital.

The UK, the first capitalist country, is the world capital of apathy, diffidence and reflexive impotence. But it is also a country that periodically explodes into rage. Beneath todays’s ideological trance, beneath the capitalist realist hopelessness, an anger simmers here that it is our task to focus and co-ordinate. Public displays of rage can play an enormously significant role in shifting the symbolic terrain that is currently governed by capitalist realism.

[snip]

Whenever the ruling class tells us that “we’re all on the same side”, it is a sure sign that we can hurt them. Similarly, the current media phobia about unions is an indication of the power that they have at this time. History is starting again, which means that nothing is fixed and there are no guarantees. Right wing victory is only inevitable if we think that it is.

Mark Fisher, on “austerity” and opportunity.