economy, Europe

Some Thoughts On The Greek Crisis

150105_Open_Europe_Blog_Greece

This Greek economic crisis is so big, so complex, and so important that I am working on a much longer and more thorough post to explore my feelings about it…That being said I have a few things to say about it all. First though, watch this video

https://www.facebook.com/ezraklein/videos/10153482082448410/

It is the best explanation I have yet found about what the Greek/Euro crisis is all about and what is at stake and I suggest that everyone with any interest in economics, European politics, and social justice watch it and absorb its message.

Back to my points…I am not Greek and I do not pretend to know what it is like to live in a society whose economy is under siege by austerity politics and economics, but I do know that neoliberal policies are not in the best interest of working people and their families. Germany controls the Eurozone with an iron fist, and it essentially dictates policy on a macro level. The Referendum called for by the ruling Leftist Syriza party has just finished and the votes are being counted. At the moment, the NO campaign (i.e. NO to the Eurozone Austerity conditions on debt repayment) is winning and this may lead to a return to the Drachma and a Greek exit from the Eurozone itself. This would be an enormous blow to practical neoliberal economic policies and could signal the beginning of the end of the grand European Union experiment in economic and political Federalism. While I work on a longer response to this crisis I will leave you with some thoughts I posted on twitter regarding the situation. Take them for what they are, realizing that I have strong Anarchist leanings

Only alternative for Greece, any nation, is to continue to be beholding to bankers & bureaucrats who cater to them i.e. perpetual austerity

A reverse “shock doctrine”: withdraw from the global “free market” & dare Eurozone, the IMF, the World Bank & the corporations to stop them

seize all assets & property of all international corporations within the nation, nationalize the banks, & then start from there

Members of parties & their voters could refuse to participate in the election, seize the parliament, proclaim a people’s committee

Greek economic question being posed as “No To Euro = Anti-Business anarchy” & “Yes to Euro” opposite. how about no to everything & revolution?

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economy, Socialism

The American “Dream”: The Meaninglessness of American Labor

Malcolm-Powder

Every child born into the American state can expect a life of frustrating and stultifyingly meaningless labor, the rewards for which will be ever diminishing returns and ever less security and comfort. That is of course if they are unbelievably lucky. More than likely that American child will become an American adult who will languish at different levels of the welfare state and struggle with debt that has no end because it is structured to be unending and to reinforce the economic status quo. This can almost be assured if that child is female, black, an undocumented immigrant or child of the same or disabled in some way. There is no future for an American child but inertia punctuated by dehumanizing toil rewarded with regressively structured compensation. The American system is collapsing into a Thatcher-esque privatized lassiez faire wonderland for he who find excitement and profit in exploiting and stealing the products labor of his fellow man. Such is the American system after the New Deal era.

I sincerely believe the last real chance we had for top down institutional change came and went with the first and second Franklin Roosevelt administrations. The the alphabet soup of socialist workers programs like the NRA, WPA, TVA, the Fair Labor Standards Act, CWA and the CCC. Under Roosevelt and the auspices of the Great Depression of 1929 a true top down statist socialist society was attempted. We will never know if that project would have succeeded; the Supreme Court and The Second World War saw to that.

Since that time there has be an creeping marketization of the entire apparatus of American welfare, labor, economics, and culture. The default position for the American political theology has become self-aggrandizement and profit for profit’s sake. If a problem cannot be solved by the free market then it is not a problem it is a consequence of the craven laziness of the workers of America. There is no love of labor in America. There is only the dollar. The time has come for each American, each human being, to define success and prosperity by his or her own standards and to fight any system that abuses or ignores these standards. We cannot depend upon a democratic system that now caters exclusively to corporate and capitalist interests. If a representative system no longer represents the interests of the working and bleeding and striving classes then it is no longer a representative system and must be rejected. The liberals are not going to save you, the Democrats will not, and surely the Republicans will not. If you are waiting for a change to this system from the political classes and their  institutions, well, to paraphrase Lennon and McCartney you better start changing your mind instead.

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Activism, Capitalism, economy, essay, Socialism

A Short Marxist Discourse on Land and Property Rent

John_Constable_-_The_Hay-Wain_-_WGA5191

            The system of tenant renter based housing has been at the center of socialist and housing rights movements throughout the world. The exploitative practice of collecting rent from a group of renters living on property owned and operated by a largely unaccountable landlord (the term itself a left over from the pre-capitalist feudal economies) has long been a plague upon the working classes. The structure of a rental property agreement is largely a pyramid scheme that can be manipulated and shaped to fit the needs of the landlord and his interest in making a profit off of the workers and families who rent his property. This of course is not all the fault of the landlord; the system of regressive and restrictive property taxation and the dearth of government participation in creating affordable safe housing. Though referring in particular to arable land rents, Marx  in his essay Rent of Land makes a general point about the landlord/renter system that is equally valid when applied to modern day rental housing: “the rent of land [or the property thereon] is established as the result of the struggle between tenant and landlord” (The emphasis is Marx’s). Marx goes on to quote Adam Smith:

               “The rent of land, therefore, considered as the price paid for the use of the land, is naturally a monopoly price. It is not at all proportioned to what the landlord may have laid out upon the improvement of the land, or to what he can afford to take; but to what the farmer can afford to give.”  

            This goes to the inherent corruption in the rental system; there is no accountability or reckoning when it comes to how rental rates are established or how the income made therefrom is used to improve the properties or reduce rental rates. There is indeed an incentive built in to the arraignment that rewards the landlord for maintaining substandard conditions and a high or even punitive rent. The drive towards profitability, the capitalistic ethos that underpins the belligerent relationship between renter and landlord, and the bias in favor of the landlord and landowner inherent in most forms of local and state governments, makes certain that renters are always, or at least nearly always, the loser in the equation.

            It is a fact that much in the way of making a rental property habitable is taken up by the renter himself. In my personal experience as a renter, I have found that the landlord often will not take the initiative in improving the property or repairing appliances or utilities. Indeed, some landlords structure the rental agreement so as to put as much responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the property and appliances/utilities into the hands of the renter, without a commensurate reduction in rent. There is therefore no incentive for the landlord to repair property, as he controls the rate of rent totally, and a punitive mandate for the renter to maintain the property at a potential loss to his personal income. This situation is alluded to by Marx, once more quoting Smith:

“…Improvements, besides, are not always made by the stock of the landlord, but sometimes by that of the tenant. When the lease comes to be renewed, however, the landlord commonly demands the same augmentation of rent as if they had been all made by his own.” (From Rent of Land)

            In fact, the agricultural renter/tenant has the potential advantage of deriving some sustenance or income form the property rented. The housing renter simply does not have that option. What, then, is the renter/tenant to do to bring equity and justice to the situation? The answer is nothing, nothing, at least, within the confines of the current capitalist land renting/taxation/purchasing system. There must be a radical departure from the current way renters are treated and indeed how they rent. We cannot expect such change to come from above, indeed capitalist control over the governmental apparatus and political system precludes this. So the change must come from us, the renters and the workers. Since we do not have a viable democratic socialist system and structure with which to work in we must make do with the system we have, and to come at it from a revolutionary and counter-capitalist perspective.

            The cultural disdain extant today against the renting of property, usually purely for housing purposes in this day and age, is in America largely a result of the bias against the working classes and the poor in general. The renting of property is an implicit acknowledgement of defeat in the pursuit of the American dream of owning property and transcending the bounds of welfare state which as implemented is as much use for the humiliation as for the benefit of the working classes. This is of course a somewhat hilarious prejudice given the pitiful and criminal system of mortgage and finance available to the middle class. As the recent housing market collapse has shown us, renting is not the financially unsounds option claimed by so many gurus of personal economics. The renting system merely puts the renter in a more dramatic and visceral situation vis a vis the exploitative market forces at play; the landlord can find resource in archaic and punitive renters laws and has direct control over the circumstances and obligations that must be maintained in order to secure housing. The home owner, or rather mortgage owner given the realities of the system put in place for the purchase and financing of housing, has a few levels of corporate and banking bureaucracy between him and the visage of his exploiter, but he does exist to exploit him nonetheless.

            The state of affairs is of course violently opposed to the interests of the proletariat because there is no recourse available to the renter against the whims of the landlord. The landlord holds the deed and directly pays the taxes on the property, and as the renter has no legal right to negotiate a more equitable arrangement (nor is there even an expectation of such parity between the two parties) there can be no law but whim and personal greed. This is a remnant of a feudal system that never hid its intent to exploit and constrain the proletariat. Marx said

               “It is absurd to conclude, as Smith does, that since the landlord exploits [through the collection of rent] every benefit which comes to society, the interest of the landlord is always identical with that of society.” [Rent of Land]

            This of course begs the question, how can land be seen as property? Upon what basis does one man transfer ownership of fixed area of earth to another? And why should the basic human need of shelter be subject to the whims of those seeking to derive profit? These are question I do not presently have an answer for but it should be the pursuit of a contemporary socialism to puzzle it out and elucidate a theory upon whose foundation a new system can be created.

 

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economy, Politics, Socialism

May Day in Bangladesh

bangladesh

Almost 400 people, three of whom were pregnant women, were killed and 2500 hundred horrible injured and maimed when a sweatshop used to produce the material effluvia required to keep the  “1st World” from falling behind in the great and frenzied arms race known as capitalism. 1000 people are still missing in the rubble of an illegally built and badly maintained structure that existed, along with thousands of others just like it across the “3rd World”, to cater to the criminally the low prices expected by wealthy Western consumers for their useless plastic possessions and digital time-wasters. Thousands of children, at least those not working in the factory themselves and therefore buried in the rubble or dead, will now have to live, or more likely starve, without mothers, fathers, sisters, aunts, brothers and grandmothers. And why is this? So that you, and I, can be overcharged for an iPhone. In this aspect we as guilty, morally if not legally, as the those responsible for the tragedy. Maybe we can all ask Siri how many Bangladeshi lives a phone is worth? Maybe there is an app for that as well. The “miracle” of Steve Jobs lives on.

According to most sources the owners of the building willfully and deliberately cut corners and ignored even the bare-bones laws and regulations governing the operation of factories and workplaces. They were presumably richly rewarded for his perverse business practices with high profits and praise from the multinational corporations who they serve so faithfully. The workers are locked into their factories, forced to work two or three shifts, denied healthcare and water and food and even beaten. For this they are paid as little as 20 cents (US) a day, a dollar if they are lucky. This is often docked and withheld from them for no reason and workers are often forced to sleep in the factory. This is slavery. There is no other word for it. To impose a mode of making a “living” that in fact degrades and consumes human life as though it were fossil fuel is slavery, made even more insidious for the fact that those involved are paid a pittance and told they are improving their station. The largesse of the first world, the very reason you, I and almost everyone we know is as comfortable as we are is because 3 billion people are used as fuel. A quote from socialist activist Rose Schneiderman, said in response to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in the New York Garment district, comes to mind

The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred! There are so many of us for one job, it matters little if 140-odd are burned to death.

The events in Bangladesh (I refuse to call them a tragedy because a tragedy is an isolated devastating event…what happened in Bangladesh is business as usual for most of the world’s companies) have pushed the beleaguered and often ignored poor and working classes of Bangladesh into open revolt against the abuse of their comrades and family members. Hundreds of thousands if not millions have taken to the street to demand the arrest and imprisonment of the factory owners and managers. Many are calling for the death penalty. It is rare that this sort of mass civic reaction against capitalist factory abuses in a “3rd World” nation have garnered this much international and even media attention. Perhaps this is why the government has taken steps to imprison the owners and bring them up on charges. They may even allow for the confiscation of the assets of those involved in the incident. Presumably the powers that be hope that this pittance will satisfy the people’s need for justice and radical reform to the economic foundations of most of the “3rd World”.

We live in a world where a corporate enterprise is considered a failure if it it makes $3 billion a fiscal year instead of the expected $3.3 billion. To shave off just enough cost to calm the unyielding greed of the shareholders the lives and fortunes of millions of people in dozens of nations. This May Day there is a real fight brewing in Bangladesh that is spreading throughout the world; fast food workers in Chicago walked out of work and tens of thousands are striking against government austerity in Europe. This mood of frustration is germinating into  revolutionary action, it can be felt, smelled, in the spring air. Bangladesh is not a beginning or an end it a point on a cycle that continues on and on without abatement and without any regard for the lives and desires of the human beings turned into chattel. It is not a force of nature so much as the disgusting potential of human imperfection made real. Capitalism is the universal id of the collective human experience; it justifies exploitation, imperialism, murder and ravenous greed by making these sins into virtues and these virtues into the basis of contemporary human societies, governments and laws. The world is enslaved and told that by working harder and harder they will be made free, but this freedom is only the ability to exploit and consume. The dead of Bangladesh wanted only one form of freedom: the freedom to live as human beings. Even this was denied them in the name of profit.

The first May Day heralded the anniversary of the slaughter and judicial murder of workers and activists in Chicago during and after the Haymarket protests. This proved to be the birth of the modern labor movement and led to many of the reforms and right the “1st World” now takes for granted and denies their comrades in the “3rd World”. Anarchist and labor activist Voltairine de Cleyre refused to stand by and watch the exploitation of her fellow human beings. Her words on the anniversary of the Haymarket episode haunt me and should haunt the rest of the world

The paramount question of the day is not political, is not religious, but is economic. The crying-out demand of today is for a circle of principles that shall forever make it impossible for one man to control another by controlling the means of his existence.

I salute the people and the workers of Bangladesh and their fight for dignity and freedom. Workers of the world must unite behind their cause. They are us. We are them. There is no difference. Their dead are our dead. Their pain is our pain. Their rights are our rights. We are one. I hold this truth to be self-evident and so should you.

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Capitalism, Communism, economy, essay, Existentialism, Philosophy, Politics

Cyclops

Kulturgeschichte / Industrie / H¸ttenwerke / Walzwerke

Imagine if you will a foolish paradigm; a notion you may soon enough choose to forget. But imagine just the same. See the world as it is; riven, tempestuous, “everywhere man in chains”. There are mechanisms in the world, institutions and cabals. Not in a sense that an idiot would have you understand; no Bilderberg or Soros boardrooms or Masons. No something much more banal then all that. Governments and representative bodies, capitals and palaces and parliaments and cathedrals. All beautiful outward expressions of civil vitality and republican freedom. But of course the republic is shadow box, playing off the dreams and yearnings of catered nationalist sentiment. No real passion, no real potency, no real ambition. Just threadbare panache disguised as a national dialogue.

The world as it is, as it truly is, the people as they are, do not crave influence or ambition without limit. We do not look into the eyes of a golden god and hope for a lifetime gifted with the Midas touch.

We look deeply, longingly into the eye of a Cyclops. It is the eye that looks back whenever a man contemplates his life and work. Adolph von Menzel painted a masterwork called Steel Rolling Mill, but it is often called the Cyclops for the glowing furnace that stands gaping and glaring at the center of the composition. All working human beings know something of this eye, this point of contemplation and desperation. It is a life that stares back, a lifetime of work or worry or stress or fear condensed and floating like a collapsing star in the midst of an existence of existence, of the reality of pain and work and love and pleasure. The working human being is always watched by the Cyclops, by this beast of spiritual burden bourn by everyone not born sucking on silverware. No one but a true human being, a true member of the proletariat, can contend with this boogey of subtle, satisfying angst. No millionaire or potentate can understand the withering gaze of expectation, want, shame and lust that every human being who wants for anything must contend with at every moment from birth until death. Only the poor know this Cyclops. The rich can only comprehend a blind fate.

The perversion of government, the true friend of this Cyclops, this beast, makes us reluctant anarchists; not wanting misrule or the collapse of the social contract, but a mode of ruling ourselves without any sort of system built upon the inherent mistrust of the people, the proletariat. The problem with the current manifestation of the left wing is that it expects revolutionary results from a system inherently antithetical to the notion. We celebrate a democracy that never existed, a promise that was never fulfilled and we espouse in the name of institutions, values we never really practiced. There can be no democracy in a republican system, in a capitalist system, indeed in a system that does not recognize the inherent drive for comfort, happiness, love and improvement that define the human animal. There is no innate drive to wealth and there is no natural craving for the exploitation of others. This is taught, inculcated and is indeed mimicked without thought by generations who saw nothing but a celebration of greed and largesse in their societies and culture. There is no natural monopolist or millionaire. Humans want a more rich reward and have a simpler creed: respect, mutual and unforced, and love unyielding and understanding.

Why not try things anew? Why not risk death or pain in the pursuit of peace and happiness? You do already now, and within the current system any such satisfaction will be perpetually deferred. If you are being pushed over the edge why not then just jump? Perhaps you will land on your feet. Perhaps you can live to see the day when the working part of humanity looks back into the eye of the Cyclops and force him to blink. It was a foolish paradigm, I know that now, and you should not feel guilty for forgetting about it all.

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Activism, Capitalism, Communism, economy, Free Market, Socialism

Socialism, Capitalism, and Bill Moyers

Economist-Richard-Wolff-via-screencap-615x345

[Analysis of the Moyers and Company interview of Dr. Richard Wolff airing 22/2/13

All quotes from the show are in italics]

                Things just get more and more interesting. Today I had the pleasure of watching the show Moyers and Company on PBS during one of my many late night working sprees. I was surprised to find the doyen of left-wing media interviewing an economist from the ideological wilderness, at least when compared to most economists who are blessed with the status if media talking head. Richard Wolff is a graduate of Harvard, Stanford and Yale and currently teaches at the New School University in New York and at the Sorbonne in Paris. This is the sort of pedigree that produces your Larry Summers or your Alan Greenspan’s; loyal officers in the command of capitalist industry and the powers that be in their thrall. Not so Dr. Wolff. He is a proud critic of the capitalist institutions that the people of the US, or rather the proletariat, have come to depend on and all but worship. He made it known to Mr. Moyers that he makes special effort to go beyond his classical economics education, the realm of Smith and Keynes et al, and into the much maligned and feared realm of Marxist critiques of the traditional economic theories of capitalist orthodoxy.

He describes himself as a Marxian economist in the tradition of Etienne Balibar and other continental Marxist philosopher/theorists. He is a proponent of what he refers to as “worker self-directed enterprises”, a form of democratic economic worker organization that aims to defuse the authority from within a business or place of work back to the workers so that they may have a real and empowering stake in the mode of production and the allocation of excess capital. Dr. Wolff sees such a pursuit as a step in the direction of larger scale socio-economic reform that can in time facilitate “democratiz[ing] education”.1

Moyers knew he was dealing with a figure of immense energy and expressiveness and he kept his questions simple but to the point. The focus was mainly on the assumptions made about the American capitalist system and the benefits and drawbacks inherent to the system. Dr. Wolff discussed the impact of the Roosevelt New Deal policies on the modern perception of government action in the market system. Roosevelt struck what was then a grand bargain with a segment of the corporate class and capitalist barons of industry that allowed for the creation of the modern welfare state that preserved a semblance of order and comfort in a market that had gone haywire mostly on account of capitalist abuse (or I suppose proper use) of market mechanisms. Dr. Wolff made clear his belief that the robust minority of socialist, anarchist and communist parties and movements in the early 20th century pushed the greater civil society towards demanding just such a bargain that Roosevelt ended up making. This collaboration ended with the end of the boom caused by war spending during the global conflict of 1939-1945 as the newly coalescing middle classes separated from the proletariat roots of reform and gained a foothold in the rising market state bolstered by the funding of the welfare state. Dr. Wolff said “After the war the history of the US was the history of the dismantling of the communist and socialist parties and the unions.” This process, according to the good Doctor, continues to this day and has reached full expression in the populist hatred of organized labor and the welfare state itself. Such antagonism appears as a reactionary fear of losing the promise of “The American Dream”.

Moyers pressed the issue and asked some pointed questions probing this thesis. Would the American proletariat be perpetually stuck in this mode of reinforcing through belief and coerced participation their own exploitation by the forces behind market mechanisms? The story so far was verging close to fatalism. But Dr. Wolff was far from fatalistic. He confirmed that indeed “[Americans] thought that the American dream got better and better and got more available[and] They can’t quite believe it’s not there anymore”, but this was not to be taken as an excuse for perpetual pessimism. Just because the American proletariat had a longer way to fall did not mean that they would never reach rock bottom, a point where even the placated American worker would find his situation unbearable. Dr. Wolff says that what is needed to achieve the American Dream i.e. credit, debt, grueling work and an education that most people will not be able to pay-off until they have their first grandchild, is becoming ever more and more impossible. Dr. Wolff explains that this realization that the American dream that the proletariat was promised in exchange for their fealty to the capitalist system no longer really exists anymore and this realization

“[…] produces a kind of stasis, a kind of shock […] and then a boiling over.”

It is this “boiling over” that Dr. Wolff sees as the true reason for optimism in the face of a nihilistic capitalist system. Perhaps then the American proletariat can begin to see their future beyond this dream that has become a nightmare for so many and forge a new promise that can be sustained and passed from one generation to the next.

Moyers ended the interview on this positive note and I could not help but feeling a bit disappointed. The interview had lasted the better part of an hour but I really did want to hear more from a classically trained economist who nonetheless subscribed to Marxist theory and social democratic principles. It is rare enough to find such a point of view expressed in public media discourse. Marxism is still taboo in the capitalist wonderland (or rather dystopia) that is the United States and to see it talked about in an unbiased manner by a man who is both a critic and a proponent of the theories involved was refreshing indeed. Dr. Wolff explained that within the realm of business (a discipline he insists is entirely separate than the pursuit of pure economics)

“if you criticize capitalism then you do not understand it.” 2

Wolff puts the lie to this notion with this interview and I do hope that he will have chance to make this clear to a wider audience in the future.

 

 

  1. Democracy Realized, Wolff, Richard, retrieved from http://rdwolff.com/content/democracy-realized
  2. All quotes in italics from Interview with Dr. Richard Wolff,

http://www.rdwolff.com/content/moyers-company

 

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2012 Election, Congress, economy, Fiscal Cliff, Politics, Taxes

Fiscal Cliff Vote Happening Any Minute

us-congress-j001

The House GOP leadership will soon allow a vote on the Senate Fiscal Cliff/Tax cut bill that the Vice President and the Minority Leader worked on earlier today. The last debates on the House bill are on CSPAN right now. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor are now in open warfare over the votes needed to pass the bill. Cantor wants to torpedo the economy and give the shaft to the middle class to uphold radical libertarian economic dogma. Boehner I think just want a drink.

The first procedural vote is happening right now with the big vote to follow soon.

While there are many problems with this compromise I am heartened that a compromise has happened. Taxes go up on 450k+ income (a slight compromise that many liberals are going nuts about but pragmatist left wingers like my self see as fine), unemployment insurance, vital to a recovery, is extended, and taxes remain low on the middle class and the working poor. President Obama did his best with this horrible situation. He has had to fight like mad on issues that used to be routine or at least relatively simple. The GOP seems to think that if they can shut down government they can blame the chaos on Obama…this has not been working so well for them. Like it or not, the first African American President reelected to a second term in offices is NOT going away.

Now on to the debt ceiling…yippie.

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