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Archive for April, 2016

“I feel sorry for these kids”

April 4th, 2016 No comments

There you go kiddos. Hillary feels sorry for you. She didn’t deny taking the money though. And of course we all know how “independent” the Washington Post and the New York Times are. #DontCryForMeHillary #FeelTheBern

Is there an echo in here?

April 3rd, 2016 No comments

Bernie Sanders on race and class after the L.A. riots 1992

67% Unfavorable Rating

April 3rd, 2016 No comments

 Donald Trump is now the least popular American politician in three decades

For months, as Donald Trump lurched from controversy to controversy, commentators marveled that his voters remained loyal: Trump is impervious to political attack, some said. Not so. Trump wasn’t immune; analysts were just failing to look at the whole board.

Hillary says, “No we can’t”

April 3rd, 2016 No comments

If you want to see more content like this please like my Facebook page “Dispatches From Exile”

I lead a community college with free tuition. The impact on students has been incredible.

Raymond Nadolny is president of Williston State College in North Dakota. Is free college tuition too far-fetched? As president of a community college, I certainly had my doubts up until a few years ago. Grant programs in Minnesota, Tennessee, South Dakota and my own state, North Dakota, have turned doubts into belief.

Happily Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

April 1st, 2016 No comments

Why the false narrative of choice put forward by the media is against your interests, and how you can act in your own interests and make America a better place. If you want to see more content like this please like my Facebook page “Dispatches From Exile.”

fat cat

1. Laissez-faire

I have for quite a while believed that capitalism as an economic system is not the vehicle for self-fulfillment capitalists would like us to believe. Adam Smith, the original capitalist theorist, argued against the mercantile system of the Middle Ages, by which he meant in general government regulation and control of the marketplace, and in favor of free enterprise, by which he meant the ability of each to pursue their own enlightened self-interest.[1]

But arriving in the marketplace of ideas just as the industrial revolution was getting underway (1776), Smith’s work provided a rationale for men who had become wealthy from American commerce to seek unlimited wealth unhindered by government interference. Although one may argue that the metaphor of the “invisible hand” is stretched beyond anything Smith imagined, it came to represent capitalists’ notion of how the economy works. Without government interference, each man is free to pursue his own enlightened self-interest, with the result being that each man can achieve the maximum his level of ambition will allow. With non-intrusive government taxation of the resulting “opulence,” as Smith calls it, the nation too benefits. Hence the title: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.

The free market principles of Smith’s work fit nicely with the budding individualism of the brash new American republic. Enlightenment thinking raised the value of the individual over the corporatism of the Middle Ages, and Americans applied this newfound individuality with a vengeance. It is widely known that the term “rugged individualism” originates with French observer Alexis de Tocqueville, what is less widely known is that he didn’t see the characteristic as an unmitigated good. The combination of the characteristic of rugged individualism and free market capitalism added to the national credo that anyone could succeed, that anyone could become wealthy.

Smith did observe that the relations between labor and masters were subject to the workings of the invisible hand, particularly in terms of wages. The value of labor would decrease in proportion to the amount of labor available. If workers had to compete for work, wages could be kept at a minimum. He noted the effect of “combinations of labor” (unions) had on increasing wages, and seems to have been sympathetic to the idea of collective action, even though the world he lived in was not.[2]

In fact it was the capitalists who combined their efforts to keep wages low. The ideal of industrial capitalism: that free enterprise unhindered and unregulated by government creates wealth for everyone, was tempered by the reality: which was that laissez-faire capitalism creates a viciously unequal relationship between capital and labor. A very few become incredibly wealthy at the expense of the working poor, who are kept in their poverty by subsistence wages and the creation of false divisions (i.e., based on race, ethnicity, religion, and origin).

2. The Marxist Critique

The brutality of unregulated free market capitalism is indisputable. Masses of people migrated to the growing industrial cities of Europe and the United States seeking a livelihood in the factories that life on the land could no longer offer. As Smith predicted, the ready availability of workers made it possible for business owners to keep wages at barely subsistence level. The areas occupied by the working poor became miserable urban hellholes. Whole families, including children as young as four and five years of age, were forced to work long hours for barely enough wages to keep them alive. Putting away money to somehow improve one’s condition was impossible. In many places the workers went into debt to their employers and were thus bound to them by more than economic necessity. Debt peonage, represented in the company store, created what Marx called wage slavery. Once you were in you couldn’t get out.

There was little to no worker protection. Factories, mines, and the cities themselves presented physical dangers and were breeding grounds for disease. There was no health care. There was no safety net. If you were too sick to work, you didn’t eat. Alcoholism was rampant. These conditions arose wherever the industrial revolution spread, from Britain to the Continent to the United States and eventually to Japan. The cruelty was undeniable. And in contrast to this massive suffering, a tiny handful of people became unbelievably wealthy, amassing fortunes surpassing the Emperors of Rome or China.

Wealth inequality created social instability. Millions of unhappy people inhabiting dirty, crowded cities posed a threat to the status quo and gave rise to calls for reform. Much of Dickens’ work in the early to mid-nineteenth century reflected on the inequity created by the move to an industrial economy and its consequences. In 1848, in the midst of what seemed to be a revolutionary moment driven at least in part by the instability created by industrialization, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels published their famous Communist Manifesto.

The revolutions in Europe in 1848 were motivated by more than just worker discontent, but Marx, whose grasp of the bigger picture was always suspect, saw it as the beginning of a rising of the working classes against the owners of capital. In Marx’s formulation, capitalism necessitates the creation and growth of the wage laboring class. At the same time the need to manufacture more and more goods creates the increasing growth of the wage laboring class accompanied by the reality of worker exploitation, a condition that Marx predicted would lead to a spontaneous worker uprising, the overthrow of the capitalist class, the abolition of class distinctions, the end of private ownership of property, and nationalism. The end would be the creation of an economically determined realization of mankind’s ideal condition, where everyone would live in harmony without the need for government, recipients of the fruits of their own labor.

In Marx’s formulation all of this is scientific and inevitable. When Marx published the Manifesto in 1848 he believed that the inevitable revolution of the exploited classes had already begun and would spread throughout the world. The reality was that the Revolutions of 1848 were all put down by reactionary forces and the anticipated spontaneous revolution never happened. Instead of revolution now and everywhere, Marx’s revolution occurred never and nowhere, at least not the way he predicted.

Marxism bore all of the hallmarks of the modern (Enlightenment) age. It generalized all of the problems of mankind into an aggregate, then proposed a monolithic answer that would apply everywhere. As such, it was doomed to fail, as indeed almost all of the elements of modernity along with its confidence in universal liberation and enlightenment through technology and education collapsed in the wake of the Second World War.

But Marx’s critique of the effects of laissez-faire industrial capitalism, applied to the areas of the world where industrialization occurred, was spot on. Others, even some capitalists themselves, saw that reforms were necessary to alleviate exploitation and prevent further destabilization of society. This is in fact one of the reasons Marx’s revolution never occurred; capitalist societies reformed themselves to alleviate some of the suffering of the masses. This was accomplished both through the efforts of the workers themselves, through trade unions, and through restrictions and regulations placed upon industry by governments.

3. False Consciousness and False Choices

For all that Americans like to think of themselves as exceptional, perhaps the most exceptional thing about Americans is the extremes to which they take what the rest of the world is already doing. It was so with False Consciousness.

Marxism has never been very highly regarded in the United States. The biggest reason for this has to do with America’s belief in itself as the land of individual opportunity. Marxism, and indeed even trade unionism calls for collective action. The outcome is intended to benefit the entire community. But Americans are more interested in striving for individual benefit. To them, Marxism (theoretical communism, socialism) limits individual opportunity. Even if the individual is poor with few opportunities, they still believe they might succeed, and they don’t want to give up that chance by uniting with others in collective action. Canadian author Ronald Wright famously (and apparently rightly) remarked, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

In the end, the reason Americans have such antipathy toward Marxism is that they are convinced, by and large, that their best interests are served by maintaining the status quo. But all of the evidence suggests otherwise. One of the reason Marxists dislike trade unions is because they believe the benefits gained from collective bargaining actually prevent workers from grasping for the best they can achieve. The good is the enemy of the best, so the aphorism goes, and if progressive reforms and collective bargaining can raise the worker out of misery without destroying the status quo, the realization of the socialist utopia is imperiled.

In the United States the reforms of the Progressive era alleviated the most egregious exploitations of laissez-faire by enacting government restrictions, and a generation later the friendliness of FDR’s New Deal government toward labor and its willingness to act in favor of unions created an era of middle-class prosperity. After World War II. Americans were optimistic. Their material well-being was much improved over that of their parents, and they expected their kids to do even better. But Republican ascendency in the 1980s led to the suppression of unions and the deregulation of capital. This created an atmosphere where entrepreneurs could ride high for awhile, but the whole thing came crashing down in the first decade of the twenty-first century, with the so-called “Great Recession.”[3]

The resulting economic impact included the concentration of wealth in the upper two percent of the population, the diminishing and near-disappearance of the middle class, massive loss of income and opportunity for the other ninety-eight percent, loss of optimism, and despair. Ronald Reagan famously asked in the seventies and eighties “are you better off than you were four years ago?” Many Americans, perhaps most, would answer that question negatively today. Even if they are not materially worse off, the national mood is foul, and pessimism abounds.

As Marx predicted, the alienation and exploitation of the working classes leads to social instability, which is what we are witnessing today. We’re probably not in danger of a communist revolution, but there are a lot of people in the United States now proposing measures that would have been unthinkable in the post-War era, including secession and even revolution.

The current presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders proposes what he calls “Democratic Socialism” as a means of restoring middle class prosperity while essentially keeping the capitalist system intact. In fact, what Sanders is proposing isn’t really socialism at all, if socialism is used as a term to describe theoretical Marxism or any of the twentieth century movements affiliating themselves with it and labelling themselves socialist or communist, such as those that appeared in the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba.

The dominant economic class in the United States is radically opposed to Sanders’ ideas because his basic premise is to put the power of government to work for the benefit of the people rather than the dominant class. Part of the reason the dominant class is so secure in their domination is that their wealth gives them enormous influence over government. Without that influence, they would be faced with the possibility of another era of reform such as the Progressive era of the 1890s and 1900s. But with Washington politicians in their pockets and control over the mainstream media (90% of the media in the United States is controlled by 6 corporations[4]) the ultra-rich are able to maintain the status quo by the use of various time-tested schemes.

One of these schemes falls within the domain of a strategy described by Marxists as False Consciousness. One scholar offers the following dense but succinct description:

[Marx theorized] A person’s social class is determined by his or her position within the system of property relations that constitutes a given economic society. People also have subjective characteristics: thoughts, mental frameworks, and identities. These mental constructs give the person a cognitive framework in terms of which the person understands his or her role in the world and the forces that govern his or her life.  One’s mental constructs may correspond more or less well to the social reality they seek to represent. In a class society, there is an inherent conflict of material interests between privileged and subordinate groups.  Marx asserts that social mechanisms emerge in class society that systematically create distortions, errors, and blind spots in the consciousness of the underclass.  If these consciousness-shaping mechanisms did not exist, then the underclass, always a majority, would quickly overthrow the system of their domination.  So the institutions that shape the person’s thoughts, ideas, and frameworks develop in such a way as to generate false consciousness and ideology.[5]

By the use of “consciousness-shaping mechanisms” (media) the privileged class is able to convince members of the subordinate group that their best interests lie in maintaining the current system. Essentially, subordinates act against their own interests, supporting the interests of the dominant class, while fully believing they are actually supporting their own interests.

Capitalists have often been able to raise the specter of theoretical socialism to muster opposition to reformers who threaten their interests. It was a major ploy of the capitalists who were so threatened by the New Deal they at one point plotted to overthrow the government.[6] The labelling of FDRs New Deal as “socialist” persists to this day, despite the historical fact that FDR’s stated goal and actual accomplishment was to save capitalism, and despite the fact that so many who dismiss the New Deal’s legacy as “socialist” rely on New Deal programs for their own and their loved ones’ livelihood (i.e., Social Security).

In today’s media and on social media we see the linking of Sanders’ ideas about government, which he doesn’t hesitate to call “Democratic Socialism” because that is what similar successful programs are called in other countries, with doctrinaire communism. People who feel their interests threatened do not hesitate to label him a communist, with a public generally ignorant of what communism is either in theory or practice eagerly willing to accept it as true. “I don’t know what communism is, but I know it’s bad. And communism (socialism) will limit my opportunity and take away my stuff and give it to some bum who refuses to work.” It would be laughable were it not that the political literacy of the average voter is negligible, while their willingness to readily accept and parrot political nonsense approaches infinity, and the stakes are high.

So today Americans are presented by an owned corporate media and their owned political lackeys with the false choice of supporting an economic and political system that has failed them, and fully intends to deliberately continue failing them, or falling under the yoke of a communist dictatorship. If those were the only two choices, the decision would be easy, as it appears to be to many who allow themselves to be limited by this false dilemma.

America thrives because of its dreamers. One of its dreamers once remarked, in the midst of another period of social unrest (paraphrasing George Bernard Shaw), “There are those who look at things as they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” Our founders did not just lament what they perceived to be tyranny by the Parliament, they dreamed of a democratic government that had never been and asked, why not? The early American republic didn’t cower behind their political, economic, or military weakness, they didn’t later prop up the inherited injustice of race slavery and bigotry, or bemoan their lack of individual agency in government, accept threats to the nation from within and without, asking why? Americans imagined a better future. Americans have historically embraced the future. And because of this Americans have created the future.

The real choice facing Americans today is between an unsustainable present on the one hand and either a bleak or bright future on the other. We can’t go back, and there’s nothing to go back to anyway. The so-called greatness certain politicians point to do not withstand careful scrutiny. Let’s wake up. Let’s stop sabotaging ourselves. Let’s become the concerned citizens and proper owners of our government our founders counted on us to be to carry forward the American Dream.

 

 

[1] John Rae, Life of Adam Smith (London: Macmillan & Co., 1895), p. 294.

[2] Ibid., 285.

[3] It is only fair to point out that this trend was substantially unhindered by the Clinton administration, which serves to illustrate that the Clintons are what they call “centrists” and not true progressives.

[4] Ashley Lutz, “These 6 Corporations Control 90% of the Media in America,” Business Insider, Jun. 14, 2012, 1, accessed April 1, 2016, http://www.businessinsider.com/these-6-corporations-control-90-of-the-media-in-america-2012-6.

[5] Daniel Little, “False Consciousness” (a brief explanation of Marx’s conception of false consciousness, Dearborn, Michigan, Date Unknown), accessed April 1, 2016, http://www-personal.umd.umich.edu/~delittle/iess%20false%20consciousness%20V2.htm.

[6] Sally Denton, phone conversation with NPR Staff, February 12, 2012, All Things Considered, National Public Radio, Washington, DC. accessed April 1, 2016, http://www.npr.org/2012/02/12/145472726/when-the-bankers-plotted-to-overthrow-fdr.html.

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