“The invisible hand belongs to a thief”

Melissa at Shakesville in reference to this New York Times story:

The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever.

American businesses earned profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter, according to a Commerce Department report released Tuesday. That is the highest figure recorded since the government began keeping track over 60 years ago, at least in nominal or non-inflation-adjusted terms.

Corporate profits have been going gangbusters for a while. Since their cyclical low in the fourth quarter of 2008, profits have grown for seven consecutive quarters, at some of the fastest rates in history.

Trickle down works!  Even though it doesn’t!  At all!  Work!  So yes, whatever the ruling economic/politico/media class have to say, this has nothing to do with there not being profits – no, it’s about screwing workers further, exacting more productivity from an ever-decreasing amount of workers.

Consider that in relation to the ever-increasing number of people in prison or the military, mostly from the US’s poorest communities of colour, and it becomes clear: multinational state-supported capitalism doesn’t need us as workers, at least not workers paid enough for a living wage.  The contradiction signaled by the NYT’s first line – “The nation’s workers may be struggling, but American companies just had their best quarter ever” – shows that “austerity” is a fundamentally false, constructed problem.

Tax those who are making such outrageous profits, propped up the rest of us, and the public coffers would be just fine.  And then put the money back into public works (and hence public employment), because it is clear the private sector has no need for workers.


Voting to make things worse

Thomas Frank, author of What’s the Matter With Kansas on point on Grit TV


If you look at what’s brought on the disaster we’re in, the economic disaster, we know what happened.  It was deregulation [on] Wall Street.  I mean, basically the unleashing of entrepreneurship on Wall Street.  We all know that that’s what did all this to us, and yet these people who are now in charge of the House of Representatives have basically run on deregulate more.  You know, they’re calling Washington DC a “red tape factory,” [that] we gotta do away with all this regulation…  they think the economy is overregulated, they think that’s the problem and by God “freedom!”   *laughs*

They’re going to do away with this stuff.  If there was ever  a case of voting for something that is going to make the problem worse, wow, this is it.

Why France Matters

Excellent post by Rick Wolff at Truthout about what the recent round of general strikes in France mean for that country, and why they should matter for those in the US too.

The French strikes and demonstrations are coalescing around some basic demands that go far beyond the rejection of Sarkozy’s demand for a two-year postponement of retirements for French workers. Contrary to so many US media reports, that particular issue was never what brought out millions of demonstrators and strikers; that was the bare tip of an iceberg. The issue that mobilizes the French is the basic question of who is to pay for (1) the collapse of global capitalism in 2008 and 2009, (2) the ongoing social and personal costs of high unemployment, loss of homes, reduction of job benefits, and the general assault on most citizens’ standards of living, and (3) the costs of ending the crisis. The French masses have already absorbed and suffered the costs of (1) and (2). They have drawn the line at (3). That they now refuse.

Instead, they demand that the costs of fixing capitalism’s crisis be borne chiefly by taxes on the banks, large corporations, and the wealthy. Those groups are declared to be (1) those most able to pay, (2) those who benefited most from speculations and stock market booms before the crisis began in 2007, (3) those whose investment and business activities were key causes of the crisis, and (4) those who got the biggest, earliest bailouts from governments subservient to them. As the Sarkozy government becomes increasingly isolated and reviled, the French capitalist elite — known there as the “patronat” — must begin to worry. That elite wants Sarkozy to preside effectively over a peaceful, docile, and profitable France, not one convulsed by such powerful oppositions.

Read the rest!

Creating Value, Being Programmed

“What the industrial age was for was to reduce the skill level required for workers to participate in company activities. Instead of having people who actually know how to make shoes work in my shoe shop and then if they’re skilled I have to pay them real money, and they’re not replaceable, why don’t I create an industrial age, a process with some machines so any dope I can get in the Home Depot parking lot can come in and with 15 minutes of training, make shoes. Why do I prefer that unskilled labor over skilled labor? Because I can fire him. Because I can pay him less. Mass production was about alienating the worker from the value he created. Because he wasn’t so much creating value anymore, he was just working.”

Branding is dead. Long live Rushkoff. Whole talk is about social networking, media, reclaiming our power over new media/technology, and of course Branding. One of my least favorite words.

“The Keebler elves were invented to stop people from thinking about where Keebler cookies are actually made and how. The Keebler elves were the myth that was put there to protect the company, or the consumer even, from the reality of what it is. On a social network, people are not going to talk about the Keebler elves unless one has been exposed as having an affair with the Doughboy or something. On a social network, people want to share information that someone else is going to value so their social currency, their reputation, will increase. Where are the cookies made? Do they have organic ingredients? Are they real organic ingredients or the fake USDA certified organic ingredients?…

It’s what is real. People are looking to find out what is real. And yes, people want credit, people want social currency, they want more followers. They want all that. But I think what you guys have to do is recontextualize what you’re doing. Social networks are not now and have never been in the service of companies. But your products could be given unto the service of social networks. Your products are media. You can supply people with the information they need to actually connect to one another.”

Neoliberalism and the aggressive-passive Tea Party

originally posted at Global Comment

The Tea Party movement on the Right in the United States has gathered a lot of press over the past year or so, a populist protest against the Obama administration. Yet, at its core, it conceals its utter pointlessness, for it is a violent protest in favor of the economic status quo. To steal a phrase from web comic Mammoth and Mastodon & Friends, the Tea Party is aggressive-passive (as opposed to passive-aggressive): “the aggressive-passive person acts really angry and agitated to cover the fact that they don’t want anything to change.”

Numerous commentators have pointed out the historic parallels with other white American movements in response to black civil rights gains—from the Know Nothings to the Dixiecrats. Yet it is arguable that the movement is also a response to the traumatic stock market crash of October 2008 and the global financial crisis.

It is for this reason that the galvanizing issue, indeed the very name of the movement, is the apparent raising of taxes under the Obama administration. On one level this is counter-intuitive. CNN reported this year that American tax levels are comparatively low worldwide, and are at all time lows for middle and lower class people. Obama’s modest proposals effected only the wealthiest elite of this country. Why therefore would there be any kind of a popular working-class movement aimed at lowering taxes for this country’s obscenely wealthy?

My suggestion is: because neoliberalism itself is under threat. The Tea Party was necessary partly because institutionalized neoliberalism has so utterly failed, at a historical juncture when even dyed-in-the-wool neoliberals from Barack Obama to former Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan have come to recognize that some form of state regulation of the financial markets is necessary. Among many economists, there has been a surprising turn towards long-disdained Keynesian economics, where the social democratic state creates the stability necessary to absorb the volatility and unpredictability of the financial markets.

The near-theological faith in the self-corrective power of the market from economists like Greenspan through the 90s and the early part of this decade has been irrevocably shown to be a sham. In response to epoch-shaking decline of economic orthodoxy, the Tea Party is a hysterical denial of concrete reality, suggesting instead that the solution to crisis is its cause and that only scorched-earth post-government libertarianism will fix the very problems it created.

read the rest

The not-so-ill Thatcher legacy

As we think about the destruction of Britian’s social services, Laurie Penny wrote a good piece in the New Statesman about the ailing Margaret Thatcher and her legacy yesterday.  I especially like this bit:

Let’s not get mawkish about Maggie. She may be a sick woman, but unlike hundreds of thousands of other sick women in the country, she’s not about to be threatened with eviction and destitution as her disability benefits and housing allowance are wrenched away. She’s not going to be affected by the decimation of the welfare state thirty years after she laid out her project to destroy the Attlee Settlement. Even in hospital, she enjoys wealth, power and the prayers of a grateful neoliberal caucus, but the prayers for clemency of the young, the poor, the sick and the disenfranchised are currently falling on deaf ears in Whitehall.

Read the rest here.

Resentment and its alternatives

cross-posted from Questioning Transphobia

Jam, “School Competition” skit, Channel 4, UK, 2000.

[Warning]: This skit is not safe and is extremely disturbing.

What I’m also keenly aware of as we discuss the austerity measures is the keen sense of resentment that is allowed to drive public discussion and policy. But it’s resentment only of a certain licensed kind.

What I mean is, whether you’re talking about “dole bludgers” in Australia or “welfare cheats” or immigrants in the US or “lazy postal workers” or whatever in the UK, the resentment is levied at public programs. What are universal forms of human rights are instead refigured as selective drains on the public good in ways that the subsidised finanical sector is not.

The grotesque Jam segment I’ve posted above (recently posted on Nina Power’s blog) shows the ways in which Baby Boomers who benefited from free education programs have a false sense of scarcity and an overwhelming sense of resentment that fuels their behaviour and their politics. Only I deserve what I have earned, and in order to safeguard it I will do whatever I can to destroy the lives of those others I resent. In contrast to me, they have not earned it and thus I must exert my efforts not in making more opportunities for everyone but in preventing the illegitimate from accessing the ever-diminishing options.

The quite obvious example of this is the response of the Tea Party in the US, who as this recent Rolling Stone article showed, ignore those forms of government support they receive whilst whole-heartedly resenting those they do not. Needless to say, this is hypocritical, base politics at its worst.

But there’s other forms of resentment that we should make politically viable. I resent that the people who had free educations now expect me to have a debt, and that this is ever-increasing, I resent that financial markets fail and receive golden parachutes while poor people get squeezed even harder, I resent that corporations are not held accountable for wrecking the earth and that governments are more afraid of regulating them than hurting the people they are supposed to serve. I resent how trans people are almost always not protected by law, society or business. The invisible hand of the market will not protect us, it allows more discrimination and legitimates our oppression. I resent the politics of resentment, the people who will leave systemic institutional inequity aside in order to get their own small slice of the pie, no matter the cost to others.

Those are legitimate resentments in my opinion, and they can and should fuel political solidarity and social change. As the amazing Sarah Jaffe said recently at Global Comment:

The U.S. right now, of course, talks about socialism a lot. But most of the people talking about it know very little of what it really means. Socialism is a catch-all term for “big government,” which lately seems to mean any government program that helps people of color–even if that program also helps white people. Tim Wise notes that when social services began to be seen as programs that helped nonwhite people, rather than, as the New Deal had, explicitly privileging white folks, they began to be much less popular.

Socialism now, then, is used as an epithet by people who hate one another–or perhaps fear one another would be more accurate. The Tea Parties are full of hateful language, from Sarah Palin’s “reload” to the chants of “Take our country back.”

Sarah articulates a hopeful alternative to the politics of resentment. Resentment can be useful in channeling political anger, but it must be supplemented with more, with alternatives to the world-as-it-is – a world that can and should be better. Defeating pessimism is its own self-fulfilling prophecy, and leads us into the ever-diminishing returns of the neo-liberal state. Sarah says that:

I want a world in which people are doing things they love because they love them. Imagine what people could accomplish if instead of bosses who make us feel like shit in order to get away with paying us less, we could spend that time truly doing what we love and getting good at it. Rather than wondering what happens if we don’t have money as an incentive, why don’t we think about the things we could do if we didn’t have to worry about money?

I don’t want Stalinism or Castroism. But I do take inspiration from the democratic shifts in Latin America, from countries moving without violence toward a better society for all. Despite the anger and the attempts to reinstitute a hierarchy–through violence, of course–Latin America perseveres with its experiment.

Global capitalism is crumbling and people are angry. They’re taking to the streets around the world, and they’re looking for a solution. Isn’t it the time now to think about real, long-term changes? About not “taking the country back,” but taking the country–the world–forward?

I know humanism was discarded for some good reasons and some extremely bad, but perhaps it is time to more strongly use a language of human rights, which are universal. Because it seems to me that the problem is articulating things as compelling outside of a capitalist framework wholly determined by current or future moneymaking capability (something I slipped into even in the post). We must have spaces that are not wholly commodified, that are not wholly determined by exchange, power and violence.

We have an inherent, universal right to not only survive but flourish, a universal right to learning (education), to be in as little pain as possible (health), to safe roads and jobs and fulfilling vocations, a universal right to imagination and creativity, to literature and thought and art and life and love.

These things are not always measurable by money, but sometimes that means they are more valuable for that very reason.