› ‘Markets’ Obscure Questions of Justice
There is no ‘neutral’ or ‘free’ position: the market is regulated one way or the other. And in either case, there will be economic consequences, concrete distributions of wealth….The question, at the end of the day, is not whether to favor ‘freedom’ or ‘constraint’—in both cases, we are both freely and coercively imposing a legal regime with or without options. The question instead is to determine exactly who benefits and by how much, and more importantly, to assess politically and normatively the justice of those outcomes.
It is precisely that normative assessment that is prevented by faith in natural order and market efficiency. So long as the distributional consequences are viewed as the natural outcome of a natural order, they become far more normal and necessary. Their assessment becomes practically futile, or at least beside the point, for it makes little sense to challenge the justice or appropriateness of such natural outcomes. It is only when we let go of the illusion of natural order that we truly open the door to a full and robust political assessment of those distributional consequences—as well as of the politically and socially produced norms and rules that regulate markets and shape those outcomes.
— Bernard Harcourt, The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order
“American Capitalism is preserved by two essential and integral factors: fraud and force. Fraud is the ideological and cultural hegemony of the capitalist creed: that enterprise is free and competition exists for all in the marketplace; that success is available for all who work hard, accumulate capital, and participate as voters in the electoral process; that democratic government is dependent upon the freedom to own private property. Blacks, Latinos, and white workers are barraged daily with illusions about the inherent justice and equal opportunity within the American System. The educational institutions, churches, media and popular culture all in their own way participate in creating the logical framework for a system that remains irrational and inhumane. Beneath the velvet glove of fraud exists the iron fist of force. For reasons of history, Black people are more aware than whites of this delicate dichotomy between consensus vs. coercion. The essence of slavery was coercion of the most primitive kind - the relationships between master and slave were characterized by mutual distrust, fear, hatred and undisguised force. All slaves, whether the proverbial Uncle Toms or Nat Turners, recognized that production could not take place without the daily use of physical or psychological violence. Even the most paternalistic master had to divide Black families occasionally or employ the whip to get the crop to market on schedule. Under industrial capitalism, however, the essence of production involves force of a different kind: the extraction of surplus value from the labor power of the worker. Force is generally disguised within capitalist societies with democratic forms of government. The worker never receives the actual or real value of his/her own labor, but is technically “free” to sell his/her skills or services to the highest bidder, or employer. Blue collar and service workers are “less free” than professional workers, but all are forced to accept the conditions of employment that the owners of capital are willing to grant.”
— Manning Marable, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (via howtotalktogirlsdialectically)
› Capitalism and Economic Imperialism | Rob Urie
… The economic-social nexus at work in for-profit prisons is a microcosm of the imperial tendencies of the capitalist West. Its parts are the integration of state and private functions where presumed social legitimacy derives from the state function (right to imprison) and the structure (private prisons) derives its economic legitimacy from capitalist ‘efficiency.’ The broader context is political-economic relations as they have developed historically with the result of a social taxonomy (race, class) with embedded place in the existing social hierarchy. The explicit relation of domination and control affected by prisons to the systemic theft of labor of slavery finds its contemporary expression in for-profit prison labor with the ‘innovation’ of technocratic cost containment through deprivation that provides the ‘added’ profit motive. Quite explicitly here one person’s table is full because another’s has been emptied.
The strategies used to legitimate this system are fundamentally political—social taxonomy is history embedded in current relations. Statisticians call ‘crime’ statistics resulting from racist laws and policing ‘selection bias’ because the premise—the social artifact of ‘crime,’ is predetermined to derive from subsets of the population and the strategies of crime suppression ‘prove’ the predetermination by overwhelmingly targeting these subsets. The result that few ‘white collar’ criminals are in prison is a function of rich whites writing the laws and the police practice of partitioning the types of ‘crime’ they target and enforce to exclude rich whites. This tendency has multiplied with the ascension of finance capitalism with the predictable consequence economic ‘freedom’ is the freedom of the financier class to imprison historic and new under-classes under the veil of ‘efficiently’ providing a state function at a profit. The innovation is the mode of exploitation, not its purpose.
Of relevance here is the history embedded in social classes, the fact of these classes, and the social divisions produced by economic exploitation. The history of race in America, with its extended accoutrement of theoretical apologetics, provides the illusion of binary taxonomy, a convenient ‘other’ to be conquered with ‘divide and conquer’ imperial strategies. Blacks, and increasingly browns, have historically been excluded from political and economic participation to the extent their economic production has been stolen from them and put forward as the product of those who did the stealing. To the extent economic power buys political power, stolen slave labor is reified across history as a tool of economic domination.
The suggestion slavery is an existing mode of economic production in the U.S. in 2013 is twenty steps beyond outrageous to most Americans because the formal institution was ‘abolished’ one hundred and fifty years ago. I leave it to readers to decide the semantic matter yourselves with reference to the work of scholars Michelle Alexander and Kahlil Gibran Muhammad. The points of current relevance are slavery was a (radically egregious) mode of political economy premised on domination and control to expropriate labor from its producers; this stolen labor was put forward as the product of the people and institutions that stole it; and it bought exponentially greater social power for them as it aggregated and time abstracted it from its source.
The ‘innovation’ learnt from the ‘end’ of slavery was [that] degrees of the same political-economic outcomes can be produced without it. The remnants of social catastrophe left behind by incarnations of European and American imperialism and related ‘world’ wars provided the ‘natural’ states of existence conducive to labor ‘freely’ choosing to work for multi-national corporations for subsistence wages. The unstated fact of history is people by degree ‘got by’ for millennia with no help from, or need for, the institutions Western capitalists today put forward as indispensable. Where history didn’t suffice ‘free-trade’ agreements supported by conspicuously imperialist economic theory produced the local misery necessary for Western capitalism to ‘come to the rescue.’ [continue]
The worker always has the right to leave his employer, but has he the means to do so? And if he does quit him, is it in order to lead a free existence, in which he will have no master but himself? No, he does it in order to sell himself to another employer. He is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer. Thus the worker’s liberty, so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans, is only a theoretical freedom, lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood.
Mikhail Bakunin, The Capitalist System
(Source: thesubversivesound, via sigma-x)
› Lies, Betrayals, Obfuscation | Norman Pollack
The People (imprisoned in their own fantasies, delusions, false consciousness) vs. Obama (skillful practitioner of deceit, war criminal) is no contest, given the political culture of acquiescence he has intensified and accelerated, through the pervasive atmosphere of counterterrorism on one hand, and worshipful gratitude to wealth-concentration and the structural hierarchy of power—founded on that wealth– on the other, on the shoulders of his predecessors, themselves adept at pushing the fortunes of advanced capitalism. A vicious circle, or perhaps dark hole out of which the public cannot climb, defines the present, with Obama the personification, the ideal leader, from the standpoint of ruling groups, in achieving the smooth integration of capitalism and militarism—the latter critical to the prevention of stagnation in the former. In today’s New York Times editorial (May 19), practically beseeching POTUS to take action on the climate issue, rather than slamming down hard on his dismal, indeed, treacherous, record, one sees the problem: abject dependence on a policy-structure rooted in the performance and systemic requirements of capitalism, whatever the quality, character, or decisions of leadership, and the consequences to the United States and the world at large.
[…] “…and no one doubts that he cares about it [the climate issue].” Is there any salutary position affecting a vital issue that Obama does care about? None. NYT misreads his record and intentions at every turn, climate change being an obvious case in point. Why persist with this delusion? Why grant heart and intelligence which, if only Republican obstruction did not exist, presumably would be resoundingly clear?
Face the reality, a deceitful president who would say anything to get elected and reelected, while supporting, by inaction as well as action, every vested interest working against the American people. [++]
› Deadly Manufacturing Mirage, Green-Red Alternative | Paul Street
[T]he fact that American and other global capitalists and their corporations increasingly find the U.S. to be a hospitable environment for manufacturing reflects the declining fortunes of the U.S. workers across the long neoliberal era (1970s to the present). The mass “off-shoring” (export) of formerly U.S.-based manufacturing jobs during that era did not occur because big “American” capital was interested in de-industrialization per se. It occurred because capital was interested in maximum profits and reduced costs – reduced labor costs above all. Capitalists who dismantled industry in the “high wage” and once heavily unionized United States were happy to promote a type of industrialization in “developing nations” – ultimately and above all “communist” China (endowed with spectacular supplies of newly available and super-exploitable labor power) – where low wages and weak worker protections promised higher rates of surplus value and profit. It was always implicit that some manufacturing might return to the U.S. if and when American unions were smashed and wages cut.
“U.S. Steel,” that company’s former Chairman David Roderick once commented in explaining why his firm was laying off workers and closing plants, “is in business to make profits, not to make steel.” That was a very candid statement of the cold reality of the profits system. “Rarely is the reality put with greater clarity,” notes the prolific Marxist analyst David McNally: “under capitalism, use is irrelevant; profit is king. Capitalist enterprises have no particular attachment to what they turn out, be it flat-rolled steel, loaves of bread, or pairs of jeans.”. An obvious fact should be added: capitalism has no particular attachment to turning out anything material or tangible in any particular country.
If manufacturing is reviving in the U.S. to any significant degree, it is not because of any particular commitment to the United States on the part of investors. It is happening because U.S. labor, materials, energy, transportation and/or other production costs have fallen so low that capitalists finally find it competitively advantageous to make more things in the so-called homeland.
› Supreme Court won’t let farmer dodge Monsanto’s seed patents | Ars Technica
A long-lasting court fight over patented soybeans is over, and agribusiness giant Monsanto has won.
In a decision issued today, the US Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that Monsanto must be allowed to patent its seeds—and it must be able to punish farmers who try to dodge the patents.
Farmers are compelled to sign a patent agreement when they buy Monsanto’s Roundup Ready herbicide-resistant soybeans, promising that they won’t use the seeds to produce additional crops. A small-time Indiana farmer, Vernon Bowman, tried to avoid signing that agreement by simply buying a batch of undifferentiated “bin grain” from a grain elevator. Bowman went ahead and sprayed his crops with glyphosate, knowing that because Monsanto’s genetically altered seed has become ubiquitous in the food supply, around 90 percent of soybeans would have the Roundup Ready trait that provides resistance to that herbicide.
Brian Merchant: Today, federal scientists confirmed that for the first time in millions of years, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million. The pre-industrial level was 280 ppm, and the amount that top climatologists say is advisable for maintaining a stable environment is 350 ppm. The new carbon concentration signals that planetary warming will continue to accelerate—and that the rapidly melting Arctic will continue to thaw.
“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” Pieter P. Tans, who runs the chief carbon-monitoring program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The New York Times, in a front-page story headlined “Carbon Dioxide Level Is at Highest in Human History.”
At about the same time that NOAA released its numbers, the White House—which has thus far not commented on the carbon milestone—published a press release called “Protecting Our Interests in the Arctic.” The release heralds the administration’s newly forged National Strategy for the Arctic Region, a document that contains the recommendations of military advisers, scientists, and policy analysts on how to cope with and exploit a slushier Arctic.
The strategy document notes that “dense, multi-year ice is giving way to thin layers of seasonal ice, making more of the region navigable year-round. Scientific estimates of technically recoverable conventional oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle total approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas deposits, as well as vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore, and nickel. These estimates have inspired fresh ideas for commercial initiatives and infrastructure development in the region.”
Sometimes I worry we’re too stupid not to go extinct.
› The Last Empire? | Tom Engelhardt
Militarily, culturally, and even to some extent economically, the U.S. remains surprisingly alone on planet Earth in imperial terms, even if little has worked out as planned in Washington. The story of the years since the Soviet Union fell may prove to be a tale of how American domination and decline went hand-in-hand, with the decline part of the equation being strikingly self-generated.
And yet here’s a genuine, even confounding, possibility: that moment of “unipolarity” in the 1990s may really have been the end point of history as human beings had known it for millennia — the history, that is, of the rise and fall of empires. Could the United States actually be the last empire? Is it possible that there will be no successor because something has profoundly changed in the realm of empire building? One thing is increasingly clear: whatever the state of imperial America, something significantly more crucial to the fate of humanity (and of empires) is in decline. I’m talking, of course, about the planet itself.
The present capitalist model (the only one available) for a rising power, whether China, India, or Brazil, is also a model for planetary decline, possibly of a precipitous nature. The very definition of success — more middle-class consumers, more car owners, more shoppers, which means more energy used, more fossil fuels burned, more greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere — is also, as it never would have been before, the definition of failure. The greater the “success,” the more intense the droughts, the stronger the storms, the more extreme the weather, the higher the rise in sea levels, the hotter the temperatures, the greater the chaos in low-lying or tropical lands, the more profound the failure. The question is: Will this put an end to the previous patterns of history, including the until-now-predictable rise of the next great power, the next empire? On a devolving planet, is it even possible to imagine the next stage in imperial gigantism? [++]
› Bangladesh building collapse toll touches 931 | The Hindu
› Financial Empire And The Global Debtors’ Prison | Jérôme E. Roos
Let there be no doubt about it: we live in the era of Financial Empire. Unlike the military conquests that drove the territorial expansions of the empires of old, contemporary Financial Empire consists not in the highly visible exercise of a Big Stick ideology (although military imperialism undoubtedly continues today), but rather takes the shape of an Invisible Hand. Where in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the logic of domination was driven by the instrumental power of imperial states, the Empire of the 21st century no longer needs any sticks to enforce the submission of sovereign states: through the global enforcement mechanisms of market discipline and IMF conditionality, the structural power of finance capital now ensures that all shall bow before the money markets.
In The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Rosa Luxemburg noted that, “though foreign loans are indispensable for the emancipation of rising capitalist states, they are yet the surest ties by which the old capitalist states maintain their influence, exercise financial control and exert pressure on the customs, foreign and commercial policy of the young capitalist states.” So great was this financial control that in the First Wave of Globalization, which ran from 1870 until the onset of WWI in 1914, defaulting countries faced a 40 percent chance of being invaded, subjected to gunboat diplomacy, or having foreign control imposed on their domestic finances under threat of a naval blockade. In a telling and ironic sign of the times, even the Hague Peace Conference of 1906 recognized the legitimacy of the use of force in settling sovereign debt disputes.
[…] Today, the imperial era of gunboat diplomacy may have come to an ignominious end, but the era of Financial Empire is still in full swing. What the ongoing European debt crisis confirms once more is that financial capitalism, once fully developed and globalized, has no need for debtors’ prisons, gunboat diplomacy or US marines to enforce debtor discipline. The iron bars of the debtors’ prison are replaced with the global flows of finance capital; the gunboats have long since made way for what Warren Buffet called the financial weapons of mass destruction; and the foreign administrators of tax and customs offices no longer wear military suits but carry IMF suitcases. Through its control over capital flows and its ability to withhold much-needed credit, the global bankers’ alliance (made up of the big banks and institutional investors, along with international financial institutions and the financial and monetary authorities of the dominant capitalist states) has obtained a form of structural power that allows it to discipline the behavior of indebted countries without having to resort to military coercion. It is this discipline enforced by global capital markets and financial institutions that forms the backbone of Financial Empire. [++]
Bangladesh garment disaster death toll reaches 761
The death toll from a collapsed building housing five garment factories rose to 761 on Wednesday as authorities started disbursing salary and other benefits to the survivors in the country’s deadliest industrial disaster.
According to a control room at the scene, rescue workers recovered more bodies out of the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza that was packed with morning-shift workers when it collapsed on April 24 outside the nation’s capital.
If, on the other hand, we stop taking world leaders at their word and instead think of neoliberalism as a political project, it suddenly looks spectacularly effective. The politicians, CEOs, trade bureaucrats, and so forth who regularly meet at summits like Davos or the G20 may have done a miserable job in creating a world capitalist economy that meets the needs of a majority of the world’s inhabitants (let alone produces hope, happiness, security, or meaning), but they have succeeded magnificently in convincing the world that capitalism—and not just capitalism, but exactly the financialized, semifeudal capitalism we happen to have right now—is the only viable economic system. If you think about it, this is a remarkable accomplishment.
David Graeber, “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse” in the latest issue of The Baffler (via youthisastateofmind)
On the same topic (the political triumph of neoliberalism), read Philip Mader’s Buying Time and Running Out
› Death toll in Bangladesh building collapse rises above 650 | CNN.com
Actually, unregulated globalization—shorn of human sympathy and oblivious to persistent cruelties—is the road backwards. The creative tumult of our era, with its fantastic inventions and globalizing production, has reverted to ancient injustices—forms of exploitation that originated three centuries ago with the English industrial revolution. When new machines like textile looms displaced human labor, the seasoned workers were dismissed, their skills no longer valued. They were replaced in the factory by children and women—cheaper laborers without power or influence who toiled in ‘the dark satanic mills’ first described by the English poet William Blake. In our time, industrial capitalism has profitably employed the same exploitative routine but with an essential difference. Thanks to global supply chains, contemporary sweatshops with dismal wages and sordid working conditions are located on the other side of the world. The people are exploited in various ways but their cruel conditions cannot easily be seen by the American consumers who benefit from afar.
William Greider (via azspot)