The Real Movement

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Open Letter to David Harvey: “Um, about that alternative you said you had …”

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“Revolutionary transformations cannot be accomplished without at the very minimum changing our ideas, abandoning cherished beliefs and prejudices, giving up various daily comforts and rights, submitting to some new daily life regimen, changing our social and political roles, reassigning our rights, duties and responsibilities and altering our behaviors to better conform to collective needs and a common will. The world around us – our geographies – must be radically re-shaped as must our social relations, the relation to nature and all of the other moments in the co-revolutionary process. It is understandable, to some degree, that many prefer a politics of denial to a politics of active confrontation with all of this.”

 , Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition

As I was re-reading this essay by Harvey it occurred to me how full of shit the radical Keynesians are. I thought I would direct my reservations to one of the preeminent Marxists in the United States, David Harvey, who wrote of the need for an alternative to the present system almost a decade ago..

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Getting to Zero Employment: Why “full employment” policies actually limit employment and output

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In the first two parts of my post (here and here), Getting to zero employment, I tried to establish three important points:

First, mainstream economic policy-makers admit the tools they use to ensure so-called full employment are of limited effectiveness. These tools are effective only insofar as they add to output, defined as an increase in aggregate prices of production of all the commodities produced during a given period, aka GDP. Efforts to expand employment beyond this limit by conventional policy measures add to prices, but add nothing to real output. A simpler way to say this is that conventional policy measures produce inflation, but do not increase the production of real goods — cars, houses or shoes. The point where conventional policy fails has been called NAIRU: non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment: However, NAIRU is not an actual number, corresponding to some definite level of unemployment — like 10% or 5% or even 1% unemployment. Rather, it is a theoretical construct, a crutch, employed by simpleton economists to explain why, at some point, conventional policy fails.

Second, mainstream economic policy-makers admit the tools they use to ensure so-called full employment leaves a huge population of unemployed wage workers — perhaps 100 million or more — unable to sell their labor power. At the same time they insist (to one degree or another) that in our society the normal expectation is that each person must earn wages to access the means of life. The state can step in to offer limited support to “the deserving poor”, like those who, through no fault of their own, are laid off from a job, but the state should not be in the business of providing long-term, permanent income in lieu of a job.

Third, it is characteristic of the American system that the social safety net is meager and leaves the huge population of unemployed in dire economic straits. The American state will literally watch its citizens die on the streets without intervening. Some might find this indifference disturbing, yet they are only moved by the extremity. They never question the fact that the mode of production itself is premised on this extremity, wage labor means labor motivated by threat of hunger and homelessness. If, occasionally, a wage workers should actually freeze to death, this only tells the rest of the proles to get back to work or they may be next.

In addition to leaving a massive population of almost 100 million workers unemployed, I want to show why current full employment policies actually reduce employment and output, and make society poorer.

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Getting to Zero Employment: The problem of unemployment is far worse than you imagine (or they admit)

Shown above is the labor force participation rate since World War II. The signs are not good. All the gains in labor force participation since the mid-1970 have been erased. Labor is going away. (St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank)

This is the second part of my post, “Getting to zero employment”, a critique of a 2013 book by Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein, Getting Back to Full Employment.

In the first part, I showed that neoclassical economic theory admits there is a very large mass of unemployed that fascist state economic policy tools cannot help using conventional Keynesian (broadly defined) state deficit spending. Baker and Bernstein dispute the size of this problem and the extent to which present unemployment is structural, but they do not dispute the neoclassical assumption that some measure of unemployment is immune to conventional policy. This means even under the most optimistic assumption a fairly large population of unemployment would remain.

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Getting to Zero Employment: The only real bargain working people will get from capitalism

A week ago I spent some time on Mike Beggs worthless article for Jacobin Magazine, Jobs For All. In that article, Beggs referenced a 2013 book by Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein, “Getting Back to Full Employment: A Better Bargain for Working People“. Since Beggs tract was so horrid, I decided to look at this book to see if it offered any improvement over Beggs.

If anything, the book is worse than Beggs article. Nevertheless I soldiered on because Baker and Bernstein seem to have a far better grasp of the limits of fascist state employment policy that one should expect from actual participants in the formulation of that policy. (Bernstein was an economic adviser to Vice-President Joe Biden in the darkest days of the 2008 financial crisis.)

I am going to devote several posts to Baker and Bernstein’s book because it contains rather significant admissions of the limits of bourgeois economic policy — limits with which many may not be familiar, but which demonstrate how little it can affect the massive social ills of 21st century capitalism that many on the Left think can be influenced by political action. Read the rest of this entry »

Deepening the Bolivarian Revolution: What options are available to Venezuela?

If you have been keeping up with the news from Venezuela, you probably know the Bolivarian revolution has entered a stage of deep and prolonged crisis. This crisis is not unexpected, since Venezuela has been the target of unceasing opposition and attempted subversion by the United States and the domestic allies among the bourgeoisie.

As The Nation put it:

“The economic crisis in Venezuela, though, is real, and the reporting on it has been stultifying. Shortages are being reported on with glee in the United States, with the takeaway being that the failure of the Bolivarian Revolution is inherent in the idea of the Bolivarian Revolution, in the fundamental premise related to socialism. Latin America has long served as a sharpening stone, on which ideas about what a proper, temperate, and responsible politics and market-based economics could be honed. Want to see where Sanders-style social democracy will lead? Cast your eyes south! Spectacle is always more fun to look at than structure, and despite the current shortage of toilet paper in Venezuela, the fact remains that poverty, inequality, malnutrition, lack of healthcare, and chronic violence in Latin America owe more to the neoliberal structural adjustment policies Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton put into place than political movements seeking to roll back those policies.”

According to The Nation’s correspondent, Alejandro Velasco:

“I spent five weeks in Caracas. It was worse than I imagined, but not in the way I expected. Most of the coverage has offered up scenes that rival anything coming out of Aleppo or Sudan or the Mediterranean: starving Venezuelans rummaging through trash or getting by on mangos, fleeing to the tune of tens of thousands a day—by raft to Curacao, overland to Colombia, on planes to anywhere they can—fending off outbreaks of malaria and diphtheria, locked in their homes at all times but especially after nightfall. One analyst recently stated that Venezuela’s current crisis is the worst in all of Latin America in the last 35 years. That’s in all of Latin America. Since 1981. No worse crisis. Period.”

Velasco continues:

As the government holds on to a thoroughly discredited currency control, for little more reason than to feed the corruption that keeps its inner core afloat, it has basically moved increasingly to dollarize more and more parts of the economy, both formally and informally. Last year it was real estate and auto sales. Now it’s extended to most food items, which are imported as Venezuela’s historic dependence on foreign products has deepened over the last decade plus.”

Dollarization is, by far, the most acute symptom of the crisis the Bolivarian revolution is going through right now not simply because it expresses the loss of confidence in the bolivar, but because it expresses the loss of confidence in the state itself. The shortages of commodities and high prices, as well as the domestic expansion of those commodities that no amount of bolivars can purchase, has nothing to do with the bolivar itself — which has always been a valueless token — but reflects a profound loss of confidence the state can maintain control of economic events.

As of this writing, it is unclear whether the revolution will weather this storm.

As I like to do from time to time, I will spend some time doing a thought experiment on how Venezuela can exit the impasse it now faces. The attempt is not intended to hand out free advice to folks who likely will ignore it anyways, but to clarify in my mind the options available for any movement facing this same situation in the future.

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The genius of Jacobin’s Mike Beggs

I made the mistake of reading this horrible tripe published on the website of Jacobin magazine, Jobs For All, by Mike Beggs, economics genius and defender of the concept of public deficit funded full employment. Don’t bother reading it. Really. It will only depress you. So far as I can tell, after an interminable election year the morons at Jacobin have concluded we need to capitalism harder if we ever want to empower the working class to end capitalism.

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According to Beggs, “In an age of precarity, a left-wing demand for full employment could be massively popular. But liberalism can’t deliver it” and hasn’t been able to deliver for four decades:

“Two generations have … come of age in a world where getting a job and building a career is a fierce competition against your peers. Even the winners are anxious. Comfortable spots are precarious; the losers have nothing to blame but their CV. In a buyer’s market it seems like the employers are bringing the goods; they create the jobs, we just work in them.”

This all is changing now as millions have now discovered they need a job to eat and that full employment is critical to changing the relations between the two big classes:

“It is in this climate that the demand for full employment is resurfacing with a vengeance. The importance of full employment is not just that, when people’s subsistence depends on selling their labor power, being unemployed sucks. If that were all, cutting a few percentage points off the unemployment rate would be a worthwhile reform but nothing to build a platform around. The bigger point is that the tightness of the labor market affects the whole working class.”

Although it is far from obvious that liberals, who have been dominating society for 250 years suddenly are dumber than Mike Beggs, it appears that, unlike Mike Beggs, they don’t know just how popular having a job would be in a society founded on wage slavery.

Mike’s one fucking genius to figure that shit out on his own with only a college education.

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Andrew Puzder: An opponent of the minimum wage and a guy the radical Left can do business with

Like you, I couldn’t help but gasp when I read this article from the New York Time this week, Trump’s Labor Pick, Andrew Puzder, Is Critic of Minimum Wage Increases:

“President-elect Donald J. Trump on Thursday chose Andrew F. Puzder, chief executive of the company that franchises the fast-food outlets Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. and an outspoken critic of the worker protections enacted by the Obama administration, to be secretary of labor … Mr. Puzder, 66, fits the profile of some of Mr. Trump’s other domestic cabinet appointments. He is a wealthy businessman and political donor and has a long record of promoting a conservative agenda…

If the radical Left had any sense, they would meet with Puzder to figure out how to eliminate all wage labor in the fast food industry in the next four years. Puzder is banking on the expectation the Left will be so worried about jobs going away they will accept anything he proposes short of that.

Mind you, I’m not being the least bit facetious here. Poverty mainly affects the low wage, low skilled labor force, the industries that are reliant on this sort of labor is constantly creating poverty in the society and Puzder is the face of capital in these sectors, as the New York Time article shows:

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GOP Senator previews our dystopian capitalist future: 100% unemployment

This morning, Senator Ben Sasse broached the subject no one wants to talk about: Wage slavery is going away and there is nothing that can be done to prevent this. I aggregated his tweets to summarize his major points:

“Morning news pretends there’s a simple political solution to the declining # of manufacturing jobs. It’s not true. We should tell the truth. Automation–even more than trade–will continue to shrink the number of manufacturing jobs. This trend is irreversible. Politicians are not good at telling the truth. We should tell the truth, even when it is unpopular – for example, about coming job changes. We should be honest that there will be more, not less, job change in the future. We should be encouraging prep for disruption & retraining. US economy is adding approximately 2 million jobs per year. It’s not nearly enough.

In thinking about manufacturing job change, consider history of agriculture:

1790: 90% of workers were farmers
1840: 69%
1900: 38%
1960 8%
1980s: 3%

Important reality

US manufacturing output continues to be strong. But it’s with fewer people (as in agriculture). [This is because we’re] more productive.

Imagine being a powerful bourgeois politician in the most powerful nation on the planet, but you have to openly admit there is nothing you can do to keep wage slavery from going away.

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Trump’s victory: Why it may be much worse than you think

Why did Trump win?

This is the question a number of writers from all points on the political spectrum have been trying to answer since the presidential election. Some have sought the answer in demographics. Others in issues peculiar to the rust belt regions of the United States. Still others in the language of identity politics; a triumph of racism, misogyny homophobia, etc. There are those who have even broached the long ignored problem of the criminal behavior of the Clinton Cartel and the tin-ear of corporate Democrats to the party’s base.

Each of these explanations has a certain ring of truth. All who hold to one or another of these explanations can point to valid empirical evidence (especially polling) to support their claims.

However, to really answer the question in any meaningful fashion requires something more than a list of real or imagined defects of the usual suspects involved. It requires a comprehensive hypothesis of the present moment: a task that is no easy undertaking.

A hypothesis is useful because it attempts to account for what we are observing and link our observations to forces we cannot observe. The best hypotheses reveal hidden connections between things we previously believed to be unrelated or demonstrate that things we previously believed were related are not related after all — although on the surface they appear to be the same.

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A critical review of David Graeber’s “Debt” (3)

NOTE THREE: “A vast machine for the provisioning of soldiers”

If you follow my blog you know I have been reading David Graeber’s “DEBT: The first 5000 years”. As I tried to show in the two previous posts, Graeber provides evidence, drawn on the findings of anthropologists, for several conclusions. The written record indicate that by the time of the emergence of Mesopotamian civilization a commodity, silver, had already emerged as money. For the most part, this money did not circulate as the currency but was held in hoards by the temple and palace complexes of it time.

What made it money is not that it functioned as currency, but that, even at that time, it functioned as the material in which the value of other commodities were denominated by the population of Mesopotamia.

In actual transactions, Graeber argues, the population employed what he calls a ‘running tab’; a form of virtual or symbolic currency. In actual day to day transaction, it appears the problem of coincidence of wants was resolved by an early form of pre-capitalist credit money. To use Graeber parable, if Henry wanted shoes from Joshua, Joshua extended his shoes ‘on credit’. The transaction was recorded with Henry’s IOU, which he later had to make good by providing another commodity of his own at a later time. Payment did not commonly take place in a money commodity, but was in-kind. Henry might later satisfy his debt to Joshua by ‘paying’ in barley, goats, or another use value.

This sort of in-kind payment is today commonly referred to as “barter”, more accurately, in Marx’s labor theory of value, commodity production and exchange.

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