Thursday, April 28, 2011

Excellent James Baldwin Videos

(via Marxist Marginalia) See here.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

The discourse of inevitability

It's an old trick. Instead of giving an argument for some policy, set of ideas, etc. you simply claim that it is inevitable. If something is necessary, and we therefore have no choice in the matter, why bother to criticize it?

This is the meaning of the following often-invoked phrases: "necessary cuts", "needed cuts", "difficult decisions (about what to cut)", etc. The same goes for the notions of a "bloated budget", or a "bloated public sector", "excessive spending", etc. These are all meant to prime the pump of austerity. By convincing us, before the "debate" even ensues, that certain facts about our social/economic situation are necessary, inevitable, incapable of changing, etc. the cards are stacked ex ante in favor of austerity.

Thus, the "debate" among Democrats and Republicans as to how deep to cut can appear credible to the vast majority of Americans, who, in truth, have no interests in any cuts whatsoever.

Both Republican and Democrat accept the false premise that cuts are necessary. But, as I've argued many times on this blog, that premise is bullshit on stilts. There is simply no evidence for it. There is no reason in principle why we couldn't end the wars, tax the rich and actually expand (rather than slash and burn) important public goods such as health care and education. Corporate profits reached record levels last quarter. There is no reason why this massive surplus couldn't be allocated to meet human needs rather than to line the pockets of those who already lead lives of luxury.

But compare this course of action with what's actually happened under Democrat rule. Wars and occupations abroad have expanded. "Too big to fail" financial institutions received massive amounts of resources in the form of a bailout with little or no strings attached. The Bush tax cuts for the rich became the Obama tax breaks for the rich, when our President and his Democrat allies in Congress took ownership of that regressive policy by re-instating it. Moreover, in addition to Obama's spending freeze (exempting, of course, "defense" spending), Obama has just eagerly signed off on the single biggest budget cut in U.S. history. That cut will severely impact the living standards of millions of working class and poor Americans.

The contrast between the ideals orienting any sensible progressive politics, on the one hand, and the reality of what Democrat and Republican do on the other, is staggering. But, to take on yet another invocation of "inevitability", I don't think we should resign ourselves to such a narrow array of options. Progressives in the U.S. need to break free of the chains of Democrat electoralism. They need to stop self-censoring and withholding criticism. And most importantly, they need to stop apologizing and explaining away the conservatism that runs deep in the Democrat edifice. They need to stop with the wishful thinking and projection, and actually face the facts. Any sober confrontation with the reality of the two-party Duopoly should show us that we need to build independent organizations capable of exerting pressure outside of the ephemeral swells of the election-spectacle. We need to rebuild the Left. And that means educating, training, and organizing the next layer of movers and shakers capable of building existing social movements and starting new ones. There is no shortcut here- and electoral "victories" for Democrats are absolutely not a sufficient condition of success (I would argue, further, that they aren't even a necessary condition). We need to learn from the examples of the 1930s labor movement and the 1950s-60s black freedom struggle. Neither of these ground-up, militant movements began within the narrow confines of electoralism and two-partyism. They were far more ambitious and grassroots, and that's precisely the kind of movements we need right now.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Tragedy of Wisconsin

To the extent that anyone even mentions Wisconsin at all anymore, it is mostly just to note how successful Scott Walker has been in his bid to crush public sector unions and impose a punishing regime of austerity on the state. Was this inevitable? Hardly. Wisconsin is a tragedy. And in order to be tragic, it has to be the case that things weren't destined to turn out the way that they did. Tragedy, at least as I understand the word, carries with it the idea there was great promise and possibility that was somehow squandered and lost through some contingent failure.

There was a moment when the struggle in Wisconsin was inspiring to almost everyone who paid attention. Hundreds of thousands of people, united in their opposition to austerity and union-busting, banded together to participate in the largest demonstrations and protests that the US has seen for a long time. Coupled with the euphoria still in the air as the result of the (still new) Egyptian revolution, Wisconsin seemed to be tracking an international spirit of revolt. I still think that it was. But, as we now know, this energy was eventually snuffed out and extinguished. How was that accomplished? And who extinguished it?

Well, if you'll recall, the message from the Democrats and union leaders was that demonstrations were basically a waste of time. What really changes things, they told crowds numbering in the hundreds of thousands, is participating in phone-banks and recall efforts. Of course, it was well-known that even a successful recall effort would take more than a year to win. And, if you know anything about social movements or mass revolt, you know that uprisings like Wisconsin don't happen every day. Such political energy is never likely to survive a year-long process of electioneering and demobilization. So, the best way to read the recommendations of the Democrats and their ilk is as follows: "Stop protesting, stop marching, stop doing all of the things that have garnered the attention of the world. Just try to help a few more Dems get elected to office through a slow and cumbersome process of recall. In the meantime, let Walker do what he likes."

I think it is fair enough to say that they more or less got there way. The protests have more or less stopped, the movement has dissipated, and the hundred-thousand strong marches are a thing of the recent past. Walker more or less got his way. Where does this leave us? What are the lessons of Wisconsin?

The temptation to see the Democrats and labor leaders as saviors has clearly been exposed as being what it always was: bullshit. The recall effort, conceived as a panacea, has backfired and hollowed out the movement. Walker now has the upper hand and has benefited greatly from the de-escalation of the movement opposing his program.

So what is the alternative? We have only to look at what sparked this movement to see what the alternative is. This movement got started when teachers went out on what was, in effect, an illegal wildcat strike. The so-called "sick-ins" jump-started the resistance. And what was the resistance? It was thousands of people all out on the street chanting "how to fix the deficit? tax, tax, tax the rich?" and singing "solidarity forever" in the capitol. So many of the pieces were in place: a wide sense of shared fate, strong feeling of community and solidarity, and a militant determination to oppose this onslaught from the Right. Mass mobilization was what made the movement visible to the world, and mass mobilization is what would have made it possible to win. But, as I suggested above, mass mobilization can't simply mean marches and protests. It has to also, at some point, mean job action. It has to mean strike action. There was no reason, in principle, why this couldn't have happened at the peak of the struggle in Wisconsin. There are, of course, concrete organizational things to say about why it didn't happen (lack of rank-and-file militancy, lack of left-wing organization, etc.). But we're talking about what the lessons are. And the most important one certainly has to be that "leaving it to the Democrats" means defeat, whereas an escalating, militant social movement means that victory is possible.


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Obama's New Adviser

This isn't, strictly speaking, new (I and many others noted the revelation that GE paid nothing in taxes last year). But it's still worth asking (if only rhetorically): Why has Barack Obama picked a tax-dodging, union-busting, job-killing CEO as one of his top economic advisers? Read about it here.

This, among myriad other facts about his tenure in the White House, should certainly give the "we must vote Obama in 2012" folks pause. As I say, if you're going in for the lesser evil, fine. Whatever. Just don't try to convince yourself or others that you're not still voting for an evil. Don't shower us with wishful thinking, projection, and other failures of rationality. And, most importantly, don't utter things like "social justice", "universal health care" and "equality" in the same breath as Democrat politicians. When they appoint people like Jeff Immelt to high posts of their own accord, they don't do so in the name of such causes. They do so because their basic goals radically diverge from the goals of ordinary people.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Do Democrats and Republicans Have Utterly Different Goals?

Paul Krugman is off his rocker:

But the main point is, what are we supposed to have a civil discussion about? The truth is that the two parties have both utterly different goals and utterly different views about how the world works.
He ought to know that this claim about the two parties is obviously implausible. He's the one who's been claiming that we should chop from the top and move toward a single-payer health care system.

This love-affair with the Dems is just wishful thinking, not hard headed political analysis. Sure, it would be nice if the two parties had utterly different goals... but it just ain't so. And wishing really hard that it were so is not political analysis but ideological blindness. Just because there are only two major parties, it doesn't follow that they must be different or polar opposites. That assumption rests on nothing. It leads left-liberals to say a lot of true things about what the problems are, only to draw all of the wrong conclusions about what to do.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Obama's Speech

I saw on Twitter that Michael Moore thought Obama's speech was "awesome". Among left-liberals, he can't be alone in thinking that. I read the speech. My primary attitude was one of frustration. Even internal to the left-liberal position (i.e. setting aside his flowery rhetoric about the importance of "free enterprise" and so on), his speech should have been infuriating. The gap between the rhetoric and the reality of what he and the Democrats have done is enormous. Much of the speech's "awesome" parts, I take it, were those moments that (for once!) took aim at the reactionary policies of the Republican leadership. But that struck me as facile externalization. To be sure, the GOP are indeed more reactionary than Obama. But Obama cannot legitimately blame them for the tax breaks for the rich. He cannot legitimately blame them for the sorry state of the Federal budget. He cannot blame the Republicans for two as yet unpaid for wars (and new ones on the way). These are all policies that he and the Democrats in Congress voted to support. These are policies that form the bread and butter of their politics. While it is obviously true that the majority of Americans, and especially progressives, want to hear rhetoric about ending the expensive wars, taxing the rich, and protecting the meager social safety net that we have... it is not the case that Obama's giving rhetorical support to these causes makes them materialize in reality. It is not the case that his mere rhetorical support for them (as election season grows near) is good enough, particularly when he proves unwilling and impatient with fighting for such causes when it comes to policy. But he's smart. He and the Dems know full well that they won't turn out people to vote for them on a platform such as "Capitulation and Austerity you can Believe In".

The key is to focus our attention on the enormous distance between the ideals used to legitimate our society, and the actual way that our society is configured on the other. You notice very quickly that the ideals stand at some distance from their supposed embodiment in basic structure of our society.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Kevin Drum misses the mark

I just saw this via Twitter. Mother Jones's Kevin Drum correctly draws our attention to the fact that a large majority of American adults don't want Medicare to be gutted. I find that unsurprising, but it's indeed worth pointing out. But he misses the mark when he suggests that it would be "interesting" to know how "people" (which people? which class? etc.) would respond to the same question were it paired with options such as "higher taxes, lower taxes, etc.". I quote:

I'd like to see a followup that paired each option with the taxes it would require. In other words, your options would be:
  • Major changes & taxes about the same as today
  • Minor changes & higher taxes
  • No cost control & and significantly higher taxes

I'm willing to bet that the results would be roughly the same, with perhaps a chunk of the "no cost control" folks moving into the minor changes column.

But I might be wrong, so it would be worth finding out. These kinds of questions, after all, are pretty useless if they're not tied to anything else. I mean, who wouldn't be in favor of leaving everything the way it is if they don't understand that it might cost them more?

I have two things to say here. First of all, it's ideological and tendentious to put things in such general terms as "higher taxes" or "lower taxes". That's not how things work. The Republicans and Democrats, who've invested a lot of time and energy giving tax breaks to the rich in particular, know this. We need to know who is going to face higher taxes and who isn't. To remove class from the framing of the question is not to make the question more neutral. It is to skew it in a reprehensible way. It is to paper over very real (and, indeed, uncontroversial) facts about the way that wealth and income is distributed in our society. So we need to which taxes are to be raised, and who's going to pay them. Surely Drum doesn't think a flat-tax is better than a progressive tax. But if he thinks that, he should revise his suggestions since they have the same logic as a flat tax (i.e. make it impossible to only increase taxes on the rich).

Working class people justifiably worry about their taxes going up. Socialists don't dispute this. They don't like taxes as such. Now, to ask workers to sacrifice more in taxes isn't always a bad thing, depending on what they get in return (e.g. they pay more in taxes and get guaranteed health care, but cease to pay health insurance premiums that are much higher). But in general, it is a burden on working class and poor people to ask them to sacrifice more of their already small paychecks. Moreover they do all the work in this society and already pay their fair share... it's unjust and absurd to ask them to pay more. But for the well-to-do there is no comparable burden. We can use fancy economics language here: the law of diminishing marginal utility clearly entails that receiving $100 dollars when you're broke is of much greater significance than receiving $100 when you're Bill Gates. By the same token, losing $100 dollars is a tremendous burden to a poor person, but virtually negligible for Bill Gates. It is absurd to ignore all of this and talk abstractly about "higher taxes" as such, as though we were all already equal and on some level playing field wherein the question had the same significance for all of us.

Second, the original Medicare question was ideological as well. It frames things along a one-dimensional axis, where do nothing and do something are the options. I'm a socialist, and I probably endorse a "do quite a lot!" sort of position, but it's unclear that I share any common ground with Neanderthals like Paul Ryan who interpret "do quite a lot" to mean "gut Medicare like a trout". So the "major changes"/"minor changes"/"no changes" axis is already problematic. To be sure, we get some information from the question, since it is surely a more progressive position (in today's context, problematic though it is) to defend the Medicare status quo than to open it up to attack by reactionaries in both parties. But my point still stands: it is tendentious to frame things in this way, and it's not possible to express a preference for vastly increasing Medicare service in such a poll. That it is not on the political agenda right now is a separate problem. What the poll should try to do is find out what people really want- that way we can, in a non-question-begging way, determine the gap (which is sure to be quite large!) between people's aspirations and the reality of our political system.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Making a Fetish of the Deficit

It is widely assumed in political rhetoric and newspaper articles that there is some intrinsic value that attaches to "balancing the budget" or "reducing the deficit". Some even go so far as to argue that this should be the fundamental goal of policy right now. That is flatly incoherent and irrational. Let me show why even the most hardened right-winger cannot coherently claim that deficit-reduction is an intrinsic good.

If the need to reduce the deficit is, as some say it should be, the most pressing and important task of policy makers, then it should trump all other concerns. Such deficit-hawks should have no qualms whatever about cutting services, closing public schools, letting bridges crumble, and so forth. But, even as hard-line as many of these right-wingers are about austerity, the question still remains: if deficit reduction is a goal that trumps all else, why not immediately end all spending on law enforcement, prisons, airport security, not to speak of the enormous amount of money spent on "national defense"? Why not shut off all public water utilities, turn off all traffic lights, and cut off all electricity in every publicly owned building in the country? Why not, in effect, plunge the country into complete chaos for the allegedly fundamental goal of generating a budget surplus?

Because nobody, not even the most hardened right-wingers, actually thinks that the mere existence of a budget surplus is necessarily a good thing. Nobody thinks that utter social collapse is an acceptable trade-off for a balanced budget. Because what good is a "balanced budget" if the government can't even fulfill its basic functions? What good is a budget surplus if society is in in complete disarray and the vast majority of people are made very badly off by it?

Thus, if pressed, nobody actually believes that deficit reduction is good-in-itself. At best, it is merely a means to some other goal (whatever that is). Even the ruling class has goals apart from balanced budgets; they could basically care less about balanced budgets themselves. So to fetishize deficit-reduction as an allegedly intrinsic good makes no sense, no matter what your politics are. Such fetishism is irrational because it puts the cart before the horse, it imputes value to something that simply couldn't have the kind of value imputed to it. It confuses means and ends. It is incoherent, because the fetishism of deficits clashes with other commitments that any rational person (yes, even right-wingers) has (e.g. the belief that the function of the state is to create the conditions for ruling class profitability, or that the function of foreign policy is to expand U.S. influence and hegemony abroad, etc.).

Thus deficit-hawking is seen for what it is: window dressing for other goals which are neither defended with argument nor made explicit. It is a red herring that distracts us from issues worth discussing (e.g. should taxes on the rich be increased? what is the basic goal of government in a just society? should the economy meet human needs or should it focus on profit?). In the Marxist tradition, we call such bundles of ideas "ideologies", since they have the function of making unequal power appear legitimate by some unsavory combination non-rational and rational means.

What deficit-hawks would really like to say is the following: we should cut social spending because it does nothing toward restoring profitability to the system and does nothing toward furthering dominance abroad. Whereas bank bailouts and foreign wars are good things, jobs and education spending is not. Thus, since corporate welfare, big ruling class tax breaks, and imperialist foreign policy do fulfill these aims, at very high costs to taxpayers, they are not criticized. But, of course, making an explicit case for imperialist war and corporate handouts is not an easy sell, since these goals plainly brush against the grain of the interests of the majority. Hence it is better to focus our attention narrowly on marginal questions of little significance (e.g. whether the government is "in the red" or not... because who is it that thinks, other things being equal, that going into the red is good?). Better to ask us to fetishize whether the "government is paying its bills like American families are asked to do" than to actually reflect on where revenues come from and where they are best spent.

This ideology is no less dominant in the Republican Party than it is in the Democrat Party. Obama is the most visible proponent of it in the US right now. His debate with Republicans is, basically, over who has the "best" plan for reducing the deficit. It is assumed on both sides that this irrational, incoherent fetishism is a good thing. Any rational progressive movement would challenge these basic assumptions, rather than falling in line, self-censoring and perpetually sending checks to candidates who reproduce these abysmal conditions.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Deal" Reached, Obama Elated

Obama, the Democrats and the Republicans have all reached a deal. They've resolved to make deep, punishing cuts to the living standards of the majority of Americans. $39 Billion in cuts will be made (though, of course, the cuts won't be made to the budget of the two (three?) ultra-expensive, as yet unpaid for, wars and occupations).

This is just such a great day for America. "Partisan squabbling" was set aside for more basic goals that both parties share. I just love the way Democrats and Republicans came together to pursue a cause they're both passionate about, namely austerity. I'm so pleased that the parties were able to "transcend politics", reach across the aisle, and do what's best for the ruling class. This warms my heart, you know? This is just like that magical moment when Obama and the Democrats came together with the GOP to extend Bush's tax breaks for the rich. At the end of the day, there's nobody quite as talented as Obama at bringing Democrat and Republican together around a common message of "prosperity for the few, austerity for the many". What an achievement. God Bless America.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Of the 1%, by the 1%...

Stiglitz has a piece in Vanity Fair (here) blasting neoliberalism. It's worth reading. Here's an excerpt, blasting the bullshit marginal-productivity theory of distribution:

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses.


Turning the Clock Back

Via the Guardian:

Planned Parenthood has become a symbol of the kind of government spending that fiscal conservatives reject. The clientele of Planned Parenthood is the intersection of many groups that are considered unworthy by fiscal conservatives: lower-income, female, assumed to be unmarried and/or queer. Conservatives have argued, roughly forever, that such women should be cut off from any federal spending, with the hope that deprivation will force them to marry for sustenance. If women can avoid childbirth, they're less needy, and in the conservative imagination, that much more likely to avoid getting married for support. The fact that Planned Parenthood touches on the anti-sex faction of the Republican party is an added bonus, ensuring that they'll have rabid support from anti-choicers.
This is horrifying, to say the least. Republicans want to turn the clock back and re-institutionalize forms of gender domination that have been undermined by organizations like Planned Parenthood.

But I reject the framing of this as a "cultural issue" (and, in general, I reject the claim that gender oppression is a mere "cultural issue", though there are, of course, cultural dimensions to all forms of oppression). This is part of a broad onslaught against the majority of Americans: austerity. This is coming first and foremost from the ruling class, not from poor backward conservatives. And this particular destructive austerity measure will hurt working class and poor women more than anyone else. That is not to say that there aren't poor and working class people, especially men, who will get behind the assault on women's freedoms. They will, and they should be vehemently opposed and challenged for doing so, hopefully by a renewed and reinvigorated abortion rights movement in the US. But let's be clear: this isn't some isolated policy issuing in the first instance from grassroots reactionaries. This is part of a broad onslaught against working class living standards. But ruling class politicians in the GOP are smart: they break the onslaught up into different parts and try to sell the various parts as best as possible by pandering to racism, sexism, and other toxic ideologies.

Again, as always, it is a huge mistake to paint this as a battle between progressive Democrat politicians (who are supposed to stand up for women's rights) and conservative Republicans (who on the whole want to maximize the oppression of women wherever possible). This gets the Republicans right, but gets the Democrats wrong. This is not a "cultural" disagreement between "social liberalism" and "social conservatism", for two reasons. First, this is occurring in the context of the broad framework of austerity, accepted by both parties. The Democrats accept the need to make punishing cuts to public goods, and many of them even accept the need to cut funding for PP in particular. Second, the Democrats aren't crusaders for women's liberation. They mostly do nothing on that front, and, worse yet, the Democrats have been happy to throw women under the bus and allow assaults on abortion rights and other gains. Bart Stupak was a Democrat.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

How to Fix the Deficit

Here. Of course, there are problems with the NYTimes options. The sorts of taxes they allow you to meddle with are excessively narrow and confined to those already in existence (what about an intangible property tax, for instance?) Moreover, they only let you raise taxes on the rich to "Clinton-era Levels" which were already indexed to the neoliberal era begun under Reagan. For instance, we must note that the top marginal rate of income taxation was low during the Clinton-era. It would do this country some good to let everyone use this gadget with the added option of raising the top marginal rate on income as high as they like.

Below is the history of the top marginal tax rate on income (i.e. the rate paid by the richest earners who constitute less than 1% of the population.... right now it means that the rich pays 35% on every dollar earned over $373,000):
What you should notice first is that it was raised significantly in the 1930s (from 26% to 60%, later from 60% to 80%). It remained above 60% from the 1930s until the 1980s when Reagan cut it back down to pre-Depression levels. That is, it remained significantly above 60% during the longest, most sustained period of economic growth in the history of the United States (the so-called "long boom" from WWII through the early 70s). When the NYTimes says "Clinton-era rates", they mean a meager 40% top rate, but there's no reason in principle why we shouldn't raise the top rate significantly higher than that right now. After all, in the 1950s it was even as high as 90% under Republican presidencies! So it's just false and disingenuous to claim, as Republicans (and many Democrats) do, that high top marginal rates mean anemic growth. In reality, the fight over taxing the rich has nothing to do with growth or efficiency, and everything to do with class power. That is, the profit-hungry ruling class doesn't want to pay for this crisis themselves: they want to force the working majority to clean up their mess. Their credo is: socialize the losses and risks, privatize the profits and earnings. And their sway in Congress is such that the lowly Democrats hardly even hesitated in pushing through an extension of the Bush Tax give-aways for earners over $250,000. Obama didn't even fight for his campaign promise to return taxes on the rich to pre-Bush levels, and I think that speaks volumes about what the Dems stand for. By further eroding the funding for the public goods that are now on the chopping block, they paved the way for the brutal cuts that are being proposed now. There is no reasonable way to interpret the "budget war" as a struggle between Right and Left. It is a struggle between hard-Right and soft-Right. It is a debate between two bullies about how many times to punch us in the stomach; it's not a debate about whether we deserve to be beat up at all.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Don't let it fool you

This is justly derided as reactionary filth.

But the inference that we're asked to draw is that Obama and the Democrats have a "sharply contrasting vision" that must, insofar as the GOP's plan is so bad, be much better. This is irrational.

I've got an idea: Let's not draw any inferences about the Democrats stand for merely by looking at the Republicans. If you want to understand what the Democrats are about, look closely at their policies and compare them to any plausible conception of social justice. What becomes obvious upon doing this is that the Democrats are only disagreeing with the Republicans about how deep to cut, how far to push the regime of austerity. The parties aren't disagreeing about whether to cut. That question is proscribed at the onset. The "debate" among the two parties is entirely internal to the ruling class policy of austerity.

As I've argued elsewhere, the entire discourse surrounding budgets makes it appear impossible that we could do anything but cut. I call this budget-cut fatalism. This is an ideological blinder that shifts our attention away from what matters and instead focuses us on marginal questions friendly to austerity.

In order to see that this is so, we have only to ask two questions. First, why is there a budget crisis? Second, what is the full range of options available to deal with it?

The first question is easily answered: deficits and budget shortfalls are cropping up in states, municipalities, and counties all over the country because of the global economic recession (brought on by the reckless gambling of investors in the financial sector). Accordingly, as in any recession, tax revenues have fallen off a cliff, while unemployment and demand for social services has soared. Moreover, regressive tax policies have (for decades now) have slowly starved public coffers of much needed funds by in large measure exempting the rich and powerful from paying their fair share. . At the Federal level, the deficit is a combination of these factors, such as economic meltdown and big tax breaks for the rich (I note that the Bush tax breaks, which Obama extended, has cost $2.74 Trillion over 8 years) but others as well, namely, the ultra-expensive wars our government has been bankrolling since 2001.

Though this is obvious and basically uncontroversial, it is shirked by the defenders of austerity. They act as though the budget shortfalls were caused by "reckless government spending". Thus they are able to appear credible in claiming that the government must learn to "live within its means". But for that to be true, we'd have to ignore all of the above evidence while also believing that governments (at the municipal, state, Federal level, in various different countries from Greece to the UK to the USA) suddenly decided to dramatically increase spending between 2008 and 2009. Of course, that's not what happened. As everyone knows, budgets weren't in the awful shape that they're in now only 2-3 years ago, so we have to explain the sudden change from then to now. But anyone who's been conscious the last 2-3 years also knows that this thing, the global economic recession, has kinda been a notable economic event. To say that "reckless spending" is the culprit is ad hoc and unjustifiable. Budgets are in the dumps because the floor dropped out when the recession hit, causing tax revenues to drop dramatically.

Having answered the first question, the answer to the second is rather obvious. Our options are as follows. One is to severely cut the living standards of the majority of Americans through austerity, thus forcing them to pay the price of the crisis they didn't cause, the wars which they oppose, and the tax give-aways to the rich which don't benefit them. That's the option pursued enthusiastically by Democrat and Republican alike.

But there are clearly other feasible options. For example, we could end the wars and occupations right now, thus saving trillions of dollars over the next 10 years (we could also drastically reduce the Pentagon budget). Moreover, we could easily raise taxes on the rich to cover the budget shortfalls: chop from the top, as they say. We wouldn't even have to raise them very much (though, I'm for raising them much more). For starters, we could ask G.E. to pay some taxes at all. We could easily institute a windfall tax of 2% on profits, which makes sense given that the ruling class made record profits (amidst a recession!) last quarter. Similarly, we could institute luxury taxes of various kinds, we could reinstate the estate tax, and we could raise the top marginal rate for income taxation. We could increase corporate taxes and sharply increase funding for enforcing the existing tax laws by cracking down on rich tax evaders. There are lots of options here.

All of these options would have no impact whatsoever on 99% of the population's tax rates. Moreover it would hardly "cripple the economy" or anything like that at all; it would simply tap into the vast, unproductive surpluses of the rich (who have become so at the expense of the vast majority of us). The unjustified dogma that high marginal rates of taxation are incompatible with economic growth is just that: unjustified dogma. From 1945-1973, the longest most sustained economic boom in US history, marginal rates of taxation were twice as high as they are now. They were even as high as 90% at times. So it's just false to say that high marginal rates slow economic growth and its groundless to complain that such rates would "hinder the recovery". What recovery? There has been no recovery yet for working people. Taxing the rich would be a way of stopping the lot of the rest of us from getting worse.

This is all a way of saying: if you want to support the Dems merely because they are the lesser evil, then fine. But don't pretend that they're not an evil. Don't talk as though they actually represent a progressive force in the US. Don't pretend that they are looking out for the interests of the vast majority of us. They are a party dominated by ruling class interests and their policies and actions in government make this painfully obvious. If the best you can muster is the lesser-evilist argument, then fine. But you've got to admit that that's thin gruel. So refrain from buttering the Dems up and pretending that lesser evils are something more than what they are. If you, like me, aren't satisfied with the lesser-evil... the answer isn't to project your political ideals onto them. This is wishful thinking, a paradigmatic failure of rationality. The answer is to get up and organize, mobilize, and be part of rebuilding the Left in this country.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

What Vulgar Economists Do

"The vulgar economist does practically no more than translate the singular concepts of the capitalists, who are in the thrall of competition, into a seemingly more theoretical and generalized language". -Karl Marx, Capital (Vol. III), p.817


Friday, April 1, 2011

R.I.P. Manning Marable

(via NYTimes). This is a serious loss. I was looking forward to seeing him give a talk in Chicago in May on his new biography of Malcolm X.