AuthorTopic: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise  (Read 1262 times)

Offline Agent Graves

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of the Saker's POV
« Reply #15 on: September 11, 2018, 03:46:31 AM »
To be fair, Saker didn't keyboard this one, one of his contributors did.  However, he probably does agree with most of it.

One thing which IMHO is glaringly ridiculous is that Renminby will supercede the Dollar as a currency.  That shit just is not gonna happen.

RE




If it's backed by and convertible into Gold it could well replace the Dollar in the near future.

It is however, my contention, that the US will beat them to it as I see the situation currently.

My opinion could change as early as tomorrow due to the maniacal crazed fiat unstable financial world we find ourselves in. Merely a current opinion of a situation that has all my attention.

I didnt read it, too long. It does not need to be REDEEMABLE gold backed currency. They just need to HAVE the gold to be credible after the race to the bottom.

If it is not redeemable, it's not "gold backed".

RE

People hardly carry cash now, let alone gold to try and trade with. The reserve currency gets its value from the reserve of gold, after the fiat printing party runs out of booze. Rising powers fight wars with waning powers and transfer the reserve status when they win. In the 21st C a navy will prove to be what the cavalry proved to be in the 20th C, obsolete.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2018, 04:09:16 AM by Agent Graves »
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Offline Eddie

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise
« Reply #16 on: September 11, 2018, 06:49:44 AM »
I think you can make a better case for the reserve currency status of the USD being based on the petrodollar status rather than gold.

Not that the continuation of the petrodollar is assured either. It's being chipped away, just like the gold dominance.

But America will nuke Iran to get their oil eventually. Or rather Israel will, on the flimsy excuse of defending its stolen territory.

The cheap oil thats left is mostly in three places. Venezuela, Iran, and Iraq. It is no coincidence that all are in political turmoil, or under threat from the USMIC. The US will not relinquish control of the oil to China. That is much more of a line in the sand than some minor fracas about atolls int the South China Sea.
« Last Edit: September 11, 2018, 09:01:17 AM by Eddie »
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline RE

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise
« Reply #17 on: September 11, 2018, 07:29:35 AM »
I think you can make a better case for the reserve currency status of the USD being based on the petrodollar status rather than gold.

Absolutely, the reason the Dollar has been successful as the Global Reserve Currency is because of its ability to purchase oil, which was and still is to an extent enforced by the USMIC.  The problem now of course is that the last few remaining locations with cheap oil to pump up are becoming increasingly difficult to controll, and there is increasing competition for those locations.  When the FSoA cannot obtain oil from these sources either using Dollars or by outright theft from the USMIC, the Empire such as it is crumbles.  That doesn't mean the Chinese replace it though, they also will not be able to access that remaining oil.  The Ruskies are best positioned in this regard since they have their own oil on their own land, but it ain't cheap and there are vast distances to transport it over requiring pipelines and infrastructure that just ain't there and probably never will be.

Hard to predict when it will come to a screaching halt, but it will.  When it does, I hope you have some candles at the ready,

RE
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Offline Eddie

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise
« Reply #18 on: September 11, 2018, 09:48:27 AM »
At that point we're all just candles in the wind.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/NoOhnrjdYOc&fs=1" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/NoOhnrjdYOc&fs=1</a>

Or maybe we're just fucked in the ass.

(Sorry, blame Elton John for making me say that.)
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline Agent Graves

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise
« Reply #19 on: September 12, 2018, 01:14:26 AM »
I think you can make a better case for the reserve currency status of the USD being based on the petrodollar status rather than gold.

Not that the continuation of the petrodollar is assured either. It's being chipped away, just like the gold dominance.

But America will nuke Iran to get their oil eventually. Or rather Israel will, on the flimsy excuse of defending its stolen territory.

The cheap oil thats left is mostly in three places. Venezuela, Iran, and Iraq. It is no coincidence that all are in political turmoil, or under threat from the USMIC. The US will not relinquish control of the oil to China. That is much more of a line in the sand than some minor fracas about atolls int the South China Sea.

Its no coincidence either that all the gold hoarders to the east of Iran are already ignoring the sanctions and buying their oil.
 
I certainly do not mean the current situation with the USD as reserve currency, their gold is gone.
« Last Edit: September 12, 2018, 01:45:32 AM by Agent Graves »
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Offline RE

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise
« Reply #20 on: September 12, 2018, 02:44:14 AM »
At that point we're all just candles in the wind.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/v/NoOhnrjdYOc&fs=1" target="_blank" class="new_win">http://www.youtube.com/v/NoOhnrjdYOc&fs=1</a>

Or maybe we're just fucked in the ass.

(Sorry, blame Elton John for making me say that.)

What?  You want to add Homophobia to your list of sins, it's not good enough to be the Diner token Racist?  lol.

How about fucked in the ass with a Candle?  It's EZier to get out than a Lightbulb.

RE
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🤑 Understanding American Capitalism (Revised)
« Reply #21 on: September 17, 2018, 12:26:40 AM »
https://www.greanvillepost.com/2018/09/16/understanding-american-capitalism-revised/

Understanding American Capitalism (Revised)

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Understanding American Capitalism (Revised)


Modern Capitalism is rooted in lies. It rules, legitimates itself and thrives on lies. Truth kills it. 

MINDFUL ECONOMICS
  By Joel C. Magnuson /366 pp, Pilot Light, 2007
 
Review & analysis by Patrice Greanville
 (O
riginally published Jul. 8, 2011)/ Revised Nov. 15, 2014

“The richest one percent of this country owns half our country’s wealth, five trillion dollars. One third of that comes from hard work, two thirds comes from inheritance, interest on interest accumulating to widows and idiot sons and what I do, stock and real estate speculation. It’s bullshit. You got ninety percent of the American public out there with little or no net worth. I create nothing. I own.”—Gordon Gekko to Bud Fox (Wall Street, 1987, directed by Oliver Stone)

Given the confusion that underscores so much of the discussion about “economics” in the United States, especially these days when both parties loudly debate with a straight face the “necessity” of curbing “entitlements” (social security, Medicaid, Medicare, public pensions, etc.) to balance the budget, we thought republishing this article might be of some utility to those engaged in exposing these lies for what they are. I have taken the opportunity of this book review on alternative economics to explore some of the systemic distortions supporting the almost universal acceptance of neoclassical economics as a faithful and unbiased descriptor of reality, which it certainly is not. —PG

THIS IS AN IMPORTANT BOOK about a subject—economics—often totally misreported by an economically illiterate and biased media. Yet, understanding the reality of economics—or rather, a nation’s political economy— is critical to any person wishing to make sense of the world, and essential to choosing rationally on the political map.
 

It’s obvious that if people really understood what’s going on in society, and their place in it, especially the larger issues that define what a healthy and truly democratic society is all about, they would be far less likely to vote against their own interest, swear allegiance to myths, criminals and scoundrels in the political class, or act in a selfish manner injurious to the majority of their fellows. Yet that is exactly what we observe among broad segments of the population of many nations, the most notable case being the US, where “irrational” voting patterns have become so scandalously common and fiercely defended as to make the American electorate something of an enigma if not a laughingstock to many observers around the globe. So how do we explain this? The short answer is conditioned behavior injected from above, or “false consciousness.” America is a nation overwhelmingly ruled by carefully abetted ignorance and massive propaganda, both of which bolster the plutocratic status quo.

Manipulation an old story

gekkoThe rise of lies and eventually modern propaganda as a tool of governance was largely inevitable, hardwired almost in the evolution of our species through the highly imperfect stages of its grand journey (which still continues), from primitive communism to scientific, deliberate communitarianism.

Since the rise of class-divided society thousands of years ago, chiefly as a result of agriculture, animal domestication, sedentarism, etc., all of which permitted a food surplus, the puny privileged minorities at the top have relied on some type of false consciousness (backed up by liberal applications of violence when circumstances dictated it) to keep the disorganized majorities pliant, divided, and in check.

Religion and the monopoly of violence by the upper classes and their henchmen—and later the modern nation state—have served this purpose admirably for many centuries, but with the emergence of the newfangled democratic ideas in the wake of the French revolution (and associated notions of egalitarianism, secularism, and broad enfranchisement introduced by the ascendant European middle class —the bourgeois—in their effort to attract as many supporters as they could against the decrepit feudal order), more refined and updated methods of social control became necessary.

The rapid strides made by science and technology over the last 200 years have helped immensely in this regard, by facilitating the creation of mass communications media. It’s noteworthy that modern propaganda, currently embedded in myriad platforms, from radio and television to mass circulation newspapers, the Internet, etc., did not retire its ancient counterparts such as the religious pulpit, or the royal pomp and circumstance designed to impress the masses; nor has it completely done away with the necessity of state violence against resolute dissidents. It has simply added another monumental weapon to the arsenal of the ruling classes—in today’s world, mostly the corporate bourgeoisie—to shape the fate of nations according to their whim.

Prevailing ideology mirrors the ruling class interests

In Marx’s view—with which I concur—social consciousness was always primarily political, for it was always the outcome of politic-economic circumstances. What one thinks of life, power, and self, for Marx, is always a product of ideological forces issuing from concrete realities over which the individual exerts only limited control and has only limited or no awareness. He famously wrote, “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Thus, our personal experience in the power pyramid–whether we’re rich or poor; black, white, brown, man or woman, whether we have an easy life or not, and where we came from– goes a long way to explain our ideas and feelings about innumerable issues which appear to originate in our own free will as independently formulated opinions. The Wiki entry has a nice summary on the topic:

For Marx, ideologies appear to explain and justify the current distribution of wealth and power in a society. In societies with unequal allocations of wealth and power, ideologies present these inequalities as acceptable, virtuous, inevitable, and so forth. Ideologies thus tend to lead people to accept the status quo. The subordinate people come to believe in their subordination: the peasants to accept the rule of the aristocracy, the factory workers to accept the rule of the owners, consumers the rule of corporations. This belief in one’s own subordination, which comes about through ideology, is, for Marx, false consciousness.

That is, conditions of inequality create ideologies which confuse people about their true aspirations, loyalties, and purposes.[2] Thus, for example, the working class [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_consciousness] has often been, for Marx, beguiled by nationalism, organized religion, and other distractions. These ideological devices help to keep people from realizing that it is they who produce wealth, they who deserve the fruits of the land, all who can prosper: instead of literally thinking for themselves, they think the thoughts given to them by the ruling class. [See Political Consciousness]

To Marx’s critics this sounds like a totalitarian explanation, a product of vulgar theorizing. Obviously false political consciousness does NOT explain every single contemptible, cruel, or stupid act carried out by human beings, individually or collectively; such behavior long preceded and probably will long persist after the elimination of “class society”, but it goes a long way to explain the curious and persistent disarray found across the board in most class- divided nations today (Disraeli himself called Britain a kingdom split into two irreconcilable nations, “the nation of the rich and the nation of the poor…”). What’s more, via the expansion and corruption of mass media, the level of social confusion has tangibly grown. For since at least the late 19th century, shadowing the emergence of “the masses” as an important player in history, and their claim to ultimate sovereignty,  there’s been an enormous expansion of the tools and wiles of propaganda for the purpose of political manipulation, a fact facilitated by the concurrent growth of corporate-dominated media.  As Chomsky, among others, reminds us, 

Controlling the general population has always been a dominant concern of power and privilege, particularly since the first modern democratic revolution in 17th century England. The self-described “men of best quality” were appalled as a “giddy multitude of beasts in men’s shapes” rejected the basic framework of the civil conflict raging in England between king and parliament. They rejected rule by king or parliament and called for government “by countrymen like ourselves, that know our wants,” not by “knights and gentlemen that make us laws, that are chosen for fear and do but oppress us, and do not know the people’s sores.” The men of best quality recognized that if the people are so “depraved and corrupt” as to “confer places of power and trust upon wicked and undeserving men, they forfeit their power in this behalf unto those that are good, though but a few.” Almost three centuries later, Wilsonian idealism — as it is standardly termed — adopted a rather similar stance. Abroad, it is Washington ‘s responsibility to ensure that government is in the hands of “the good, though but a few.” At home, it is necessary to safeguard a system of elite decision-making and public ratification (“polyarchy” in the terminology of political science).

Concluding that,

Wilson ‘s own view was that an elite of gentlemen with “elevated ideals” must be empowered to preserve “stability and righteousness”; “stability” is a code word for subordination to existing power systems, and righteousness will be determined by the rulers. Leading public intellectuals agreed. “The public must be put in its place,” Walter Lippmann declared in his progressive essays on democracy. That goal could be achieved in part through “the manufacture of consent,” “a self-conscious art and regular organ of popular government.” This “revolution [in the] practice of democracy” should enable a “specialized class [of] responsible men” to manage the “common interests [that] very largely elude public opinion entirely.” (See, N. Chomsky, Priorities & Prospects)

Thus, the object of most propaganda since its inception in the papal chambers of the 17th century—whether commercial or political—has remained the same, to generate and buttress false consciousness for the almost exclusive benefit of the propagandizing agents—in the vast majority of cases— members of the upper classes. Today, the arsenal of modern ideological propaganda comprises many weapons, and practically no field of social communication is exempt from its reach. Thus, not only are the news media and politics, per se, terminally infected with propaganda in favor of the status quo, as we might expect, but so are all forms of ostensibly non-ideological activity, such as mainstream television entertainment, and even other precincts such as academia whose very mandate is to explore reality without ideological blinders. Indeed, it’s precisely the fact that in our modern world the social sciences—economics, sociology, political science, and even the humanities—have been utterly corrupted, turned into shameless vectors for capitalist propaganda, that justifies the discussion of false consciousness in a review of a book like Joel Magnuson’s Mindful Economics, which challenges prevailing economic orthodoxy. For mainstream economics in its present (bourgeois) form is a huge fount of pseudo information about the real world, and its cascading, rarely questioned toxic effects can be found in practically all corners of society where the public goes for answers.

As argued earlier, false political consciousness has always worked to prop up the status quo. In the 14th century, for example, embedded in fanatical religiosity and ignorance, it justified feudal absolutism. In our time, it props up capitalism and its ultra violent offshoot on the global stage, imperialism. As such, it presents true democrats (small “d”) with a tough challenge: Systemic propaganda, the constant dissemination of false consciousness is not just an irritant. Because it delays the development of forces capable of dealing effectively with the reform, delegitimization, and finally elimination of capitalism, it’s showing itself to be lethal now not only to the survival of democracy but to all planetary life as we know it.  All capitalist regimes—when not vigorously opposed—eventually degenerate into profoundly undemocratic arrangements.


Adam Smith: Often invoked, rarely read.

From the ruling orders’ perspective the wages of propaganda have been substantial. In the countries that pretend to operate as democracies, false consciousness among the masses allows the upper classes to run society in their own narrow self-interest while pretending to do so in the interest of all, as true democracy would require. Enormous, mind-boggling wealth and power are thus rapidly accumulated by the tip of the social pyramid in all societies riddled with inequality. In America, an empire on the move for at least a century now, and one of the most income-polarized nations in the developed world, the ideological stranglehold has allowed the US ruling class not only to make a mess of domestic policy, but the freedom to engage with relative impunity in constant and murderous meddling in the affairs of scores of other nations, as the case of Iran, Korea and Vietnam a generation ago, and Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria today, so eloquently confirm. And while at the “micro level” commercial propaganda (i.e., advertising) may induce us only to switch from one brand of detergent to another, a fairly innocuous act, at the “macro level” of class propaganda the effects are far more ominous, since the latter seeks to influence not only the direction but the very nature of the society we inhabit.

“We make the rules, pal. The news, war, peace, famine, upheaval, the price of a paper clip. We pick that rabbit out of a hat while everybody sits around wondering how the hell we did it. Now you’re not naïve enough to think that we’re living in a democracy, are you, Buddy? It’s the free market, and you’re part of it.”—Gordon Gekko, Wall Street (directed by Oliver Stone)

As might be expected the instruments to mould opinion in a significant manner are jealously guarded by the ruling classes everywhere. In capitalist America, these tools are literally priced out of the reach of most common mortals. This is logical and consistent with the wealth and power distribution of such societies, where the savvier sectors of the plutocracy understand that the monopoly of opinion manipulation is vital to the survival of their system. Outright repression can certainly ensure a level of compliance, sometimes for a generation or two, but in the long run intimidation cannot guarantee political stability or legitimacy. Only covert mind control can deliver that. Thus by far the most efficient solution is when we are made to carry the chains and prisons right inside our heads. Policing our own actions while still believing in our total freedom is simply a diabolically effective formula to ensure perpetual bondage, but to make it fly the system requires the confluence of many critical factors, including the complicity of academia.


The role of academia

Academia is both a fountainhead and a battlefield for ideology, sometimes as a radical questioner and denouncer of the status quo, as befits its mission to look for truth without “fear or favor”, and other times as an obsequious servant of the establishment, a powerful validator of accepted class-buttresing orthodoxy. Besides having some natural audiences in their own students, and given the unquestionable authoritativeness of their voices, academics and leading public intellectuals are in an exquisite position to hold forth on any subject they care to illuminate (or obscure) —pushing for conformity or rebellion according to personal character. Therein lies their power and the problem they present to the status quo—when they choose to oppose it. That their opinions count a great deal can be gleaned from the annals of history, from Galileo to our day, and reminders occur with notable frequency. (For a variety of reasons, including the inroads of career-induced conformity and the suffocating power of hypermedia, the influence of dissenting academia has diminished considerably in the last 30 years.)

Back in 1973, one of the first things that CIA-sponsored Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet did was to “intervene” the nation’s universities (at least those deemed by the regime to be festering grounds for subversivos and democratic action), and appoint army generals to serve as rectors and deans of a number of distinguished colleges. In the wake of such move, which lasted well into 1976, all the social science faculties and humanities—sociology, economics, history, philosophy, and the main school of journalism—were simply shut down, their staff jailed, exiled, or persecuted, in some cases simply “disappeared”. With the unceremonious disbanding of the schools, the students were sent home, or, more precisely into limbo.

Our man in Chile: Augusto Pinochet, Milton Friedman’s most notorious disciple.

Concurrent with these “politically hygienic” measures (as one of the regime’s spokespeople so crisply called it), Pinochet brought in and soon imposed at bayonet point a “shock treatment model” for the Chilean economy, the free-market fundamentalist prescription preached by University of Chicago professor Milton Friedman and his acolytes, the infamous “Chicago Boys” directly tutored by one of Friedman’s colleagues, Arnold Harberger. As many radical and even centrist economists around the world had repeatedly warned, the pain of the “shock” was mainly absorbed by the poorest sectors, who lost a significant portion of their hard-won income, practically all government subsidies (however meager, still significant in their case), and all rights and instruments of self-defense against the depredations of management, as labor unions were banned and their leaders simply jailed or murdered. While the bourgeois media—led by the American press—wasted no time in writing and singing panegyrics to the new “Chilean miracle,” thereby helping to whitewash the dictator’s numerous crimes, the reality on the ground was far different, and Chile’s economic wounds have never healed.

Friedrich Von Hayek: Friedman’s intellectual mentor.

Pinochet’s move against the social sciences may have been characteristically brutal but it had logic behind it. As suggested earlier, the mainstream social sciences—especially sociology and economics—are critical for the ongoing legitimation of “bourgeois democracy”—itself something of an oxymoron (it’s always far more bourgeois than democratic). With their main theorems presented as truths comparable in impartiality (and most importantly, inevitability) to the laws of nature, their postulates sell the public a vision of society calculated to bolster acceptance of a deeply undemocratic status quo favoring capitalist values and policies. In this way, they act as legitimators and apologists for the system, and not as free and independent inquirers of truth. So much for the basic approach they propound (about which more later), but this abdication of their duty to society is often magnified by the fact that, when they do engage in research, their tools and priorities are reserved for the advancement and discovery of notions of benefit to their masters—the business class in power—and perforce inimical or of only tangential benefit to the masses. Similar deformations of focus and priority are seen in all social institutions dominated by the capitalist class, especially the media, the ubiquitous harlot, whose programming choices and content reflect identical biases. [Has anyone noticed the proliferation of business and “financial” news programs on the commercial and even PBS side of television, all fixated on breathless, often boosterish, analyses of the perennial, largely incomprehensible Wall Street roller-coaster, a casino by any standard, and endless discussions of markets, bonds, stocks, and what not, in a nation where no more than 5% of the people actually have a net worth above $100,000 or real portfolios of any kind? If that is not rank capitalist cheerleading, what the heck is that all about?]


What’s wrong with “neoclassical” economics?

The average person, including well educated people, can’t begin to answer that question properly. For one thing, they simply don’t have a clue. Mainstream departments of economics do not teach anything but orthodox views of the “dismal science” (so nicknamed in 1849 by conservative economist Thomas Carlyle on account of Malthus’ grim predictions, and because the discipline dealt with scarcity, subsistence and “other dreary subjects”). Now, orthodox doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. “Orthodox” astrophysics, biology, math, or chemistry, even medicine (which is partly an art), for example, are pretty much on the mark. Their theories align as much as human beings can ascertain with observable phenomena, which, incidentally, are far easier to study in these branches of science than in society, since the latter, being immensely complex and in perennial flux, can’t be turned into a satisfactory lab model. But the chief obstacle is political. Natural and pure scientists have the luxury of pursuing facts with a far more independent mind than their cousins in economics, anthropology or sociology, for example, chiefly because their findings and positions do not affect the fortunes of powerful sectors of society with a vested interest in a certain version of reality.  (The recent arguments about climate change have shown that even natural scientists can get embroiled in class war questions.)

Consider the question of capitalism’s “true makeup” for a moment, and how immensely rich and powerful individuals and groups, people who influence or control the destiny and careers of countless academics, journalists, politicians, and similar voices, and who have prospered or lived pretty well under capitalism, would react to the following propositions. How do you think they would choose?

If capitalism flows from human nature, then replacement is futile, dangerous and foolhardy.

• If capitalism and market freedom are guarantors of democracy, then replacing it is tempting tyranny.

• We have reached the end of history —of ideology (read = the end of the class struggle) because after capitalism we can only look forward to more and better capitalism.

I’m sure you can begin to see what’s at stake here. If I publish a book on economics embracing all these propositions as true—which, incidentally, happen to be false—what do you think will happen to my career? Will I land juicy contracts with powerful publishers? Swift promotions to the top of my career? Sell a ton of books and maybe have my volume adopted as the pre-eminent text in all pertinent courses? Will “my books” reflecting “my research”, which so conveniently happens to agree so snugly with the entrenched status quo, lead even to high government appointments and perhaps even a Nobel? If you think all of this is quite possible, you’re quite right, you’re catching on; in fact, it has happened more than a few times to people like Paul Samuelson, the main theologian of the profession (and onetime advisor to JFK), and Milton Friedman, another Nobel winner, and the closest equivalent to a latter-day Jesuit for free-market fundamentalism. They have been honored and regaled beyond measure. But now let’s look at the other side of the coin. Would a person refuting such positions receive the same reception? Not very likely. In fact, in many nations these days, a stubbornly dissident academic will be lucky just to keep her job or escape in one piece across the border before the police or the local death squads come to pay a visit. Hyperbole? Hardly. In 1976, Orlando Letelier, a distinguished economist and former minister in Dr. Salvador Allende’s cabinet, overthrown by Pinochet, and an exile in the US, was assassinated in broad daylight, right on Washington’s “embassy row”—blown apart by a car bomb placed under his vehicle by rightwing Cuban exiles working closely with a Chilean assassination squad sent by Pinochet to rub out one of his most annoying critics. The deed was performed with probable foreknowledge and complicity of the CIA and other US intelligence services. This was all amply documented in several books, and even corroborated by the Church Committee hearings. It’s, as they used say in the old journalism school, “incontrovertible fact.” Just a few days before his murder, Letelier had published a scathing article in The Nation (“Economic Freedom’s Awful Toll”), denouncing in eloquent terms the horrific social costs of the Friedmanian model.

Now, this is not to imply that Samuelson, Friedman, and their numerous progeny, were or are all sellouts and worthless cranks promoted only on the basis of their usefulness to the system, lacking entirely in moral integrity. It would be unfair and inaccurate to deny that there are some brains in that crowd. But even genius is fallible. It’s possible to be a true believer in your own theories, be fanatically wrong, so to speak, and still receive accolades from the system boosters because, well, you are useful to them. If nothing else, the system does take care of its own. Under most circumstances orthodoxy pays, and those who do the system’s bidding—wittingly or unwittingly—usually gain handsomely.

The need for rectification

All the more reason, therefore, to celebrate the appearance of brave books disputing and exposing this thick tegument of lies, omissions and willful distortions we have come to call “neoclassical economics.” Mindful Economics [ME], by a young academic, Joel Magnuson, does that, and it does the job brilliantly and comprehensively. Not since the 1970s, when we saw the last crop of “Goliath slayers” in Hunt and Sherman’s Economics—an introduction to traditional and radical views, and, of course, Marc Linder’s Anti-Samuelson, had we seen an introductory text to economics so well organized, comprehensive, accessible, and conscientious in its unorthodox analysis of the subject as to merit an unqualified hurrah. For my money, Magnuson’s volume easily outweighs the [still] more popular The Divine Right of Capital, by the estimable Marjorie Kelly, if for no other reason that Kelly, like many liberals, seeks to both condemn and exonerate capitalism at once, in her case by producing this fictive criminal beast she calls “corporate capitalism,” which apparently (in the tradition of libertarians who continue to be enamoured of the idyllic days of small business) has no historical or evolutionary linkages with standard capitalism! Where does Kelly and her like-minded tribe think “corporate capitalism” sprang from? A new type of phlogiston? Kelly also prefers to talk coyly about ‘wealth discrimination”—which I regard as superfluous— instead of class-induced differentials, since class, in the Marxian sense, remains unsurpassed as an instrument to interpret history and society. In that manner, Kelly supposedly seeks to have her cake and eat it too, forgetting that the masses—should they adopt her analysis— would suffer from her deficient diagnosis and inability to sever all ties with a system that has proved its incurable toxicity many times over. Magnuson, I’m happy to report, does not fall for that kind of temporizing.
 

Friedrich Engels: A superb scholar in his own right, he directed Marx toward the study of economics, and produced some of the earliest classics in the literature of political sociology, basing his writing on firsthand experience of the conditions of life of the English working class which he witnessed in Manchester.

It is said that Engels was once asked by an American reporter how he’d go about fixing or “transcending” capitalism, should he ever have the opportunity to attempt such a feat. The story may be apocryphal, but I can’t resist telling it because it is so apt. The journalist was expecting a detailed roadmap to socialist eden, from indubitably one of the great social visionaries of all time. He was surprised to hear Engels merely say, after a brief moment of reflection, “Upend it.” In general, the “distilled wisdom” of the system is poison to the masses, so start by reversing it. If it says “do this”, do the opposite. You’ll be on safe grounds. Joel Magnuson’s book seems to follow the same advice. While presenting all the essential topics that students and the public at large might expect from an overview of standard economics, he “upends” the mainstream approach, while adding to it, and thereby turns a misleading, unnecessarily abstruse, and largely sterile brew into an enlightening journey of new appreciation for the untapped potential of humankind. In that sense, ME is a demystifying tool, a mind detoxifier that also makes economics fun to read. And Mindful Economics helps the reader vaccinate the mind against the blandishments of false consciousness, showing that, in economics, at least, the unorthodox view is far closer to the truth.


Disentangling our minds from the official maze

The history of ideas shows that many notions, when young, carry the spirit of robust free inquiry and a fair dose of altruism, and that as they age, and become accepted and vested in institutions and a tangle of power relations, lose both the freshness and independence of their original approach and often their very reason for being.

The case of economics is perhaps an excellent, some would say, “textbook,” example of that trajectory. Economics began as an imperfect science, “political economy,” albeit an honest science which recognized in its youth that “economics” doesn’t operate in a vacuum (as in today’s conceited “science” that long ago dropped the inconvenient “political” from its name) but is always ensconced in a web of uneven power relations that determine the outcome of most transactions.

Marx: The formidable curmudgeon. Often attacked, rarely read, seldom understood.

The “terms of trade” are always uneven, frequently terribly lopsided. A man without a bank account and a family to feed will take just about any job; not so the wealthier party offering the job, who operates under no such compulsion. The latter has a clear upper hand to negotiate a deal and s/he does. This disparity in power also vitiates relations between nations. The developed world has much more clout at the negotiating table—economic, political, and military— than poorer nations, and it shows in a web of dependency that has rendered many of these nations over time less sovereign in the making of internal policy than their status as formally free nations would suggest.
 

In its infancy—when economics was seen as “political economy”— it recognized such realities. It was, after all, the brainchild of moral philosophers and thinkers such as Adam Smith (far more often spuriously quoted than read), David Ricardo, T. Malthus, J.B. Say, Karl Marx, and others, who sought to discover laws of social organization that might grant humanity—at last—relief from misery, wars, endemic poverty and constant social friction. This period lasted about a full century, and then economics began to take a different coloration. As it matured it took the raiments of a self-conscious ideology for the young capitalist system, which was also receiving a fair boost from Calvinism. Eventually, it went from relevant ideology to apologetics, and from there, in accelerating degeneracy over the last fifty years, to something akin to theology.

Orthodox economics is today so tautological as to be much closer to dogma than science. Lost in next to incomprehensible mathematical models, it seeks to deny its irrelevancy to the average citizen and scandalous subservience to the ruling orders by hiding behind ever more arcane and microscopic applications of its art in friendly venues: corporate corridors, academic towers, or other rarified precincts of the financial-capital sector that dominates the system. It is here that the misplaced focus of contemporary economics is revealed in all its squalid nakedness. For the individuals directly benefiting from such “knowledge” are relatively few, and their objectives and priorities often at loggerheads with the commonwealth’s. Such facts don’t seem to trouble most bourgeois economists, who continue to research and write about economics from the favored perspective of their corporate patrons. Magnuson’s text seeks to correct that focus, and return it to its proper place:

“It is rather shocking,” says Magnuson, “that so little is written from the perspective of the billions whom this system damages every single day, or from the perspective of the planet it is destroying at an accelerating pace.”

Magnuson is talking here about the central question of all economic, nay, all human activity: cui bono? Is the “economy”—this abstract entity we have been taught to respect as determined by inviolable natural laws—the servant of society (i.e., the vast majority), or the other way around? Do we work to make it happy, propitiate it as a whimsical god, or does it work to make us happy? The record is peculiar to say the least. To even have to pose the question is perhaps a reflection of how far we have strayed from common sense. The signs of the disorder are everywhere.

Man-made cultural fog

Even allowing for the widespread (and shameful) economic illiteracy among media people, and the fact that even those who should know better are more interested in advancing their careers by dispensing lies and “getting along” with their bosses than telling it like it is, it’s still amazing to observe the near unanimity with which in contemporary capitalist culture all manner of measures negatively afflicting the interests of the average citizen are routinely described as “necessary” and for “the good of the economy.” No one ever poses the obvious question of why the vast majority of human beings must submit to the tyranny of this abstract Molloch, whose triumphs over the masses invariably bring Wall Street to paroxysms of delight.

David Ricardo, one of the great classical political economists. He might have been surprised—maybe shocked–by the irrelevancy of so much modern economics to the public interest.

Many readers of this essay may have probably noticed that under this curiously perverse economy, human happiness and the happiness of the markets seem to be perennially at loggerheads…apparently entangled in a cosmic zero sum of Olympian proportions. When unemployment grows, Wall Street cheers. When factories are closed, or relocated to cheap-wage regions, when pensions are slashed, or stolen, when laws to protect the workers or the environment are defeated, when whole industries are taken over by opportunistic raiders…in sum, when human and planetary misery increase, or promise to increase…corporate valuations jump off the charts and a merry choir of mavens come out of the woodwork to celebrate the good news and help break out the champagne. If you think this spectacle is a bit insane, you’re right. It is insane. Why do so many people, otherwise intelligent people, put up with such things? That, again, is where false consciousness and misleading instruction come in—reinforced by the cumulative sense of powerlessness that an “atomized” existence usually engenders. They present as logical and inevitable even what is none of those things. So perhaps the urgent but still unasked question is this: just what is this mysterious “economy”? The truth emerges when we look behind the veil.


Omissions, falsehoods, shortcomings, and mystifications
 found in mainstream economics

Although the subject is vast—and fairly technical at times—in chapter after chapter, Magnuson’s book helps the reader understand and question a large number of issues, and in so doing better comprehend the magnitude of the imposture represented by economics as taught to this day in most colleges across the Unites States and much of the world. For starters, Magnuson does not pretend to be analyzing some “universal and immutable laws of economics,” forever true for all nations and epochs, but merely the anatomy of contemporary American capitalism, warts and all. Let’s review a few topics that cry for (but never receive) proper attention.

Four major themes underscore Mindful Economics‘ panoramic view of capitalist activity:

First, capitalism is a system; this means that it’s useless to try to patch this or that area, for, like a true living organism, all pieces function in unison, and its DNA can quickly reassert its antisocial tendencies, no matter how hard civil society tries to contain them. Living with capitalism in our midst is like living with a sociopath that needs constant and careful watching—forever.

Capitalism is addicted to eternal and aggressive growth; this is a non-negotiable feature that defines it. You can make a man agree to many things, but you can’t negotiate with him to stop breathing. That’s a non-negotiable demand. Same with capitalism and growth. Constant growth is buried deep in the dynamic of capitalism and now in its mature executive sociology. It’s not subject to negotiation. Yet —as anyone, except capitalist diehards and those influenced by them can see—eternal growth is impossible in a finite planet that is growing smaller all the time, especially against the backdrop of continually expanding human populations. Thus, a system like capitalism, that posits endless economic expansion in a finite planet, is insane, by definition.

Capitalism, a highly hierarchical, inegalitarian system did not clash with the exploitative values of feudalism. It merely forced it to amplify its privilege sphere to embrace the rising class of rich merchants and bankers—the bourgeoisie. Given this value orientation—and when we put self-serving propaganda aside—capitalism can be clearly perceived as inherently indifferent and even hostile to democracy. Capitalism simply thrives in right-wing dictatorships. Chomsky calls capitalist structures “tyrannies” and he’s not exaggerating.

As time goes by, the capitalist crisis can only worsen—the disappearance of jobs, environmental degradation, deeper recessions and inequality, antisocial production, etc.—grows in intensity and there is no possible cure within boundaries acceptable to the capitalist class. This crisis is a direct result of capitalism’s core dynamic, and its social relations. 

That may be desirable for this tiny minority, but for the rest of us the only cure for capitalism is to transcend it. Space constraints do not allow an in-depth discussion of these issues and their numerous ramifications, many of which are treated in an extremely lucid format by Magnuson, but a short examination may suffice here for the reader to get a sense of what is involved.

The scandal of the GDP Fetish

From Lou Dobbs to Alan Greenpan, to the regular business class teacher, the media “expert” trotted out to “explain the economy,” the corporate executive, or politico on the stump, the mantra is always the same: the GDP is a good barometer of the nation’s economy, and it better be growing. But this worship of the GDP [Gross Domestic Product] as a reliable yardstick for general social well-being, intimately connected to the growth obsession, is just one of the multiple ways in which bourgeois economics contributes to the miasma of false consciousness. The operating assumption is that there’s a close correlation between constant economic growth and increases in the quality of life for all, although there are several enormous flies in this lovely ointment.

To begin with, a bigger GDP does not automatically mean a better life for the vast majority. The truth depends on how the national income is being distributed. Forget the fabled “trickle down” effect and “the lifting of all boats” economic rapture expected to take place when the superrich are allowed to get away with practically anything. Unadulterated poppycock. A smaller pie in which everyone gets a fair share is probably much better than a much larger pie in which 5% of the top take 90% of the pie. What’s more, averages, so widely used in official statistics, lie.

Consider a society comprised of two people. One has an income of $1 million dollars. The other, only $1,000. The average income indicator would tell us that both are doing terrific, at $500,500 each. This is an extremely simplified snapshot, a fantasy if you will—who ever heard of a nation comprised of only two people—but the lesson is true insofar as the application of the sacred tools of mainstream economics are concerned. Worse still, the GDP takes no account of infamous externalities: mounting social inequality, widespread environmental pollution, damage to people’s health as a result of industrial practices, or lethal threats to the planet itself. It’s also stubbornly blind to the many realities that underscore the best things in life not only for us, but for every sentient creature on earth—like the pure oxygen that a beautiful tree quietly affords us, or the advantages, let alone wonderfulness, of clean rivers and oceans—while it computes as “gains” things that in actuality represent tragedy and loss. Thus a crackup on the highway resulting in a demolished car and someone’s death or somebody’s prolonged hospital stay, turns up on the capitalist ledgers as income generated for hospitals, doctors, nurses, drug companies, garages, funeral parlors, and car dealerships. Similarly, the GDP robotically celebrates any construction, whether it be of prisons or family homes. And following the same blind logic, it treats crime, divorce and other elements of social breakdown as economic gains. It’s a measurement model in urgent need of revamping.

As previously said, measuring all economic and societal “success” by a corporate yardstick of constant growth, capitalism suffers from a compulsion to expand infinitely in what is clearly a very finite and ailing world, thereby betraying in its dynamic something akin to systemic madness. Expansion at all costs is fueled by a well-developed culture of ‘short-termers”—the notion of a true capitalist statesman is an oxymoron—and a self-perpetuating, self-selecting, macho executive sociology according to which career advancement is only possible on the basis of–again–constant growth, plus aggressive competition in the boardroom jungle.

Unfortunately for society, these so-called “captains of industry”— like the political class they resemble and own—are characterized by having as much power as obtuseness. The world will not be led out of the crisis by them because, to recall Herzen’s famous dictum, “they are not the cure, they’re the disease.” For them and for us, the tragedy is that they will never admit the enormous flaws in their favorite system, because in their hubris they can’t see the actual consequences of their actions, never will, and probably don’t care. Such acquired selective blindness, of course, the product of multiple layers of insulation from reality on the back of obscene wealth (one more demonstration of existence and character determining consciousness), doesn’t mitigate the fact that the earth is being destroyed at a rapid clip, human-caused species extinction is at an all-time historical high and accelerating, many cataclysmic wars are in the offing (over deeper and vaster exploitation of human and natural resources), while and immoral industrialism continues to extend itself over the planet like an unstoppable raging cancer. Quite an accomplishment, for an species that only “yesterday”, in geologic time, climbed out of the primordial soup.

Correctly sensing the importance of this topic, Magnuson devotes two of Mindful Economics’ core chapters—Chapter Eight (“The U.S. Capitalist Machine”) and Chapter Nine (“The Growth Imperative”) to its examination. He is resolute in his rejection of the GDP growth theology:

GDP is the premier measure of the economic machine’s performance and growth of GDP is heralded as a supreme virtue… It is rare to find an economist who would question this virtue of economic growth as a positive contribution to human well-being. Yet, GDP growth masks other indicators that would suggest that its ongoing growth is not necessarily good for human well-being…GDP is the dollar value of all finished goods and services produced in an economy in a year’s time. As a single number, roughly $10 trillion [in the U.S.], it is a numerical measurement expressed as an undifferentiated mass of products and services. GDP does not take into account under what conditions the products and services are produced, whether they actually improve people’s lives, the damage done to people and our environment resulting from growth, or how the output is distributed among the population. [W]]hen we attempt to reduce something as complex as a measurement of well-being of an entire population to a single number, much important information falls through the cracks. (ME, p. 193)

Naturally, the GDP error is far more serious in a deeply class-divided society such as the United States, where huge canyons of inequality separate different layers of the population. But even if we treated a fairly egalitarian capitalist society (something of a contradiction in terms) the blindspots would continue, for, as Magnuson indicates, the problem is that the GDP is calculated in a way “that is heavily biased toward capitalist production.” The meaning of that can be gleaned from the following:

Although GDP imputes some value that is created in the public sector, it primarily measures the dollar value of transactions that only occur in the capitalist marketplace. The capitalist machine will appear to be slowing down when people prepare their own meals, clean their own homes or do their own yard maintenance rather than pay businesses in the private sector to perform the same work. If people grow food in their own vegetable gardens, there is no change in GDP, but if they buy those same vegetables in a grocery store GDP rises. (ME, p. 193)

Same with home repairs and other activities. If we do it ourselves, the GDP does not move; if we hire a contractor, it rises. It’s clear, as Magnuson points out, that the net amount of work does not change but given the way the U.S. economy is measured, the “machine” will accelerate when people pay businesses and will slow down when people work for themselves. According to this logic, the more self-sufficient we become, the more we court economic failure!

Milton Friedman: Unswerving priest of free-market fundamentalism. “Both the rich and the poor can sleep under the bridges if they want.”
Unsolvable issues: ecological sanity, instability, social justice

As the preceding discussion suggests, the capitalist system suffers from enormous contradictions and compulsions not liable to be resolved within the framework of policy permitted by the system’s chief beneficiaries. Most importantly, capitalism, as indicated previously, is a system that by design is on a lethal collision with nature. Endless expansionism is buried deep in its genes. (Joel Kovel, a “green economist”, justly called his own 2002 volume, The Enemy of Nature). Can anything be done?

The growth mania is not likely to be abandoned any time soon, nor moderated in a manner satisfactory for ecological health. Besides the established requirements of constant competition, the by now well-entrenched “executive mentality” mentioned above (a sociological superstructure in its own right) is turbocharged and replicated at every turn by the catechism taught in business schools, Western madrassas of business fundamentalism where far too many eager youths, not particularly burdened with too many moral scruples, converge to learn how to become Gordon Gekkos in the shortest possible time. Furthermore, the ever-expanding pie has s

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise
« Reply #22 on: September 17, 2018, 02:09:01 AM »
Really fine article. Especially about Friedman.
"Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it."

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Re: 🤑 The Fallacy of Western Economics; Slavery in Disguise
« Reply #23 on: September 17, 2018, 02:21:32 AM »
Really fine article. Especially about Friedman.

Patrice Greanville is a fine writer.  Gets off track ocassionally, but overall produces good material.

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🤑 The Occult Injustice of Laws Supporting Capitalism
« Reply #24 on: October 25, 2018, 12:19:33 AM »
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/10/24/the-occult-injustice-of-laws-supporting-capitalism/

October 24, 2018
The Occult Injustice of Laws Supporting Capitalism
by Ryan LaMothe


Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Augustine stated that an unjust law is no law at all (Lex iniusta non est lex), which Martin Luther King Jr. repeated in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The obvious implication is that a law must be just for it to stand qualaw. Another implication is that one is not bound to enforce or obey an unjust law, for to do so would mean participating in an injustice. Naturally, unjust laws are accompanied by institutions charged with enforcing them, making disobedience precarious. If we shift here to those who make the laws, three observations can be made. First, it is usually the case that legislators do not believe that the laws they make are unjust. They typically offer “good” reasons for a law and these reasons may go unquestioned by most of the populace, especially those who may benefit from the law. Second, it is rare that persons who possess the power to make and enforce laws do so at the expense of themselves, which leads to a question regarding the making of any law, cui bono, “who benefits.” Third, an unjust law either enacts or simply codifies existing unjust practices. Laws enacted regarding slavery, for instance, reinforced the already existing injustices associated with trafficking and exploiting human beings.

An unjust law by its nature cannot result in just effects; it cannot be accidently just, regardless of how it is rationalized and justified. While a tautology, a law is unjust because what it enacts and enables are forms of injustice. Someone might point out that some laws are unjust, yet their effects appear to be “just” for those who benefit from them. Is the unjust law accidently just? Those who benefit from unjust laws obtain their benefits at the expense of others, which means the unjust law remains unjust in its effects. To return to laws associated with slavery, there was never any justice that resulted from these laws, even though white people benefited from these laws. Slave laws codified and enacted horrific forms of oppression and marginalization for the sake of profit (and a sense of white superiority). No amount of rationalization can alter this reality and anyone who accepted or actively supported these kinds of laws acted unjustly. Of course, there are also laws that are just, but unjust in their application. For instance, there are just laws that prohibit citizens from physically harming other human beings. Yet, in some circumstances the application of these laws is unjust. Harsher sentences for persons of color versus white persons who commit the same crime is an example.

Let me add a further thought. Laws that are considered to be just by most people may later be deemed unjust. Consider, for example, laws that stated men of property have the right to vote. These laws, constructed by white men of property, benefited the lawmakers and other white men of the propertied class, yet were generally accepted. Only in time did people raise their voices arguing that these laws were unjust because they excluded women and people of color. It took over 7 decades after Seneca Falls (1848) for women to obtain the right to vote (1920). Can anyone imagine going back to the disenfranchisement of women not voting and arguing that it is just?

This raises a question: can a law be accepted as just in one era and be considered fundamentally unjust at a later time? Are there, in other words, laws that are simply unjust at their core? Or is it possible for a law to be just at the time and later experienced as unjust because of changes in historical circumstances? There is no easy answer to this question, but I would suggest a general rule: laws that privilege one group’s survival and flourishing, while depriving another group can never be deemed to be just. A law that is deemed to be just at the time it is enacted, but then later found to be unjust, means that it was unjust at the start. At the dawn of the U.S., laws privileging white men of property, despite being considered just at the time, were fundamentally unjust because they impeded women, unpropertied white men, people of color, and slaves from flourishing. It took time for enough people to experience and lament the injustices before these laws were changed or eradicated.

The worse kind of unjust laws are those that are hidden from view, ensconced in language of Nature, God, or simply the way it is and always has been. The meta-message in these language games is that the law is just and unquestionable. There is no alternative. We have no choice, but to accept and submit to the law and accept our lot in life. At the same time, occult unjust laws may have been enforced for so long that they have become part of the ethos and common practice of the people; this feels as if it is natural despite obvious injustices. An occult unjust law operates such that those who suffer the effects of the law do not or are unable to question it or accurately attribute the real source of their suffering. In fact, they may find some other source to blame for their suffering.

Despite some awareness among people of the injustices rising from capitalism, I would argue that some of the foundational laws of capitalism are unjust. While the effects of these laws can be seen to result in various forms of injustice, the laws themselves are rarely questioned. It is as if most of us concede that Margaret Thatcher was right when she said there is no alternative to capitalism. Many people have acknowledged the shortcomings of capitalism and work to ameliorate its injustices, yet leave intact the very laws that created the injustice. For instance, Roosevelt’s New Deal and his use of Keynesian economic theory to establish regulations were meant to limit the negative effects of capitalism that socialists and communists had been lamenting since the 19thcentury. Despite the good these programs and laws led to, they never questioned the core tenants of capitalism and the laws that supported it. Indeed, Keynesian capitalism is still capitalism even though it tries to stem some of the excesses endemic to capitalism. Another example is advocating for a living wage. This has been going on since the 19thcentury and continues today. When people in Seattle, for instance, obtain enough votes to enact a hike in the minimum wage, most of us see this as a victory. On the one hand, it is a victory, because it forces producers and owners to provide sufficient wages for workers to live fairly well. On the other hand, this is a pyrrhic victory because laws that support capitalism remain unquestioned. One can raise criticisms about the effects of capitalism, but ignore the very laws that give it life.

The hidden aspect of the unjust laws vis-à-vis capitalism is furthered by the media, more often than not, unwittingly. Recently I listened to an interview with several economists who observed that the economy is doing well, although workers’ wages have remained flat when inflation is taken into account. One economist speculated that a tightening labor market will result in higher wages, because companies are competing for workers. Another wondered if the increasing use of technology (replacing workers with robots) accounts for stagnant growth despite worker productivity. The laws of the market, it is believed, determine whether wages increase (unless you are a CEO). So, workers, since the 1980s, have had to wait for a time when the labor market is very tight before corporate coffers will provide a bit more compensation. The interviewer and the economists are familiar with the rules of the game and not one of them argued that the rules are unjust. They seemed to accept the reality as a given—just the way the market operates.

To understand the occult injustice of laws undergirding capitalism, I take a brief detour to Ellen Meiksins Wood’s (2017) research on the origins of capitalism. Wood argues that capitalism began in the 16thcentury in England where ruling landowners, who already benefited from property laws, were able to enact laws and practices that enabled them to secure greater profits by enhancing competition and, later, increased agrarian efficiencies (resulting in displacement of large numbers of citizens). Laws associated with capitalism grew to other sectors of the economy, as well as to other countries, becoming an integral part of Western imperialism and its insatiable pursuit of markets (read—exploitation of foreign peoples and their lands). A simple reading of these laws is that owners of businesses and farms are legally entitled to the profits, because they own the property, machinery, etc. (today immaterial factors such as ideas are deemed to be property). Laborers are entitled to whatever wage the owner is willing to give. Since these wages are operating expenses that deplete profit, one would expect, as Marx indicated, there would be a tendency to keep wages (and benefits) as a low as possible. The laws that undergird capitalism sanction what David Harvey (2005) calls “accumulation by dispossession.” Consider Charles Dickens famous Christmas story. Scrooge may have been a detestable figure before his conversion, but he was completely legitimate in securing greater profits by keeping Bob Cratchit’s wages low. Indeed, in the story Bob Crachit is calmly resigned to obtaining low wages and a bare existence for himself and his family. Scrooge’s conversion meant that he was more generous with the profits he legally obtained.  Dickens, in other words, may have written this story as a cautionary tale for greedy businessmen, but what remained unquestioned was the fundamental injustice of the laws that legitimated the exploitation of Bob Cratchit and his family. If conversion means change, then the real conversion would have been ridding the country of laws that justified profit at the expense of workers and their families. Willy Loman in Death of a Salesmanis an analogous figure who accepts the “game” even if it means struggling for decades to provide for himself and his family, while the owner of the business lived well. I think, though, that Arthur Miller, unlike Dickens, was leaning into the idea that capitalism and its laws are fundamentally unjust.

I say unjust because a company’s profits is made possible by the work of everyone in the company. Even if it is recognized that everyone contributes to the profits, the law bestows sole discretion of the disposition of the profits to those who own the company. Regular workers are to be content with their wages and have no say about how company profits are to be used or distributed. Of course, labor is valued differently in capitalism and while there are laws about minimum wage, there are no laws against how much a CEO can make. The maintenance worker’s labor, for example, is deemed of significantly less value than that of the CEO, because, as the story goes, the CEO has more responsibility and is thus due more of the share of the profits. Whether that is 340 or 400 times that of the lowest paid worker, is immaterial. It could be 10,000 times the lowest paid worker and the law would say this is legitimate. Laborers have no say not only with regard to their meager wages, but also the exorbitant salaries and benefits of corporate elites. Even with more equitable pay and benefits, the unjust nature of the laws supporting capitalism remain—laws that restrict profits and decision making about the use of those profits to the owners.

Naturally, someone might say that if workers had a living wage, then the laws associated with capitalism would not be unjust either in terms of its foundation or in its application. But I contend that these laws are by their nature unjust. This is most notable in that these laws not only inevitably lead to exploitation, they also objectify workers. Workers in the capitalist system obtain their conditional value by virtue of their participation in creating profits. Fail in this and a worker is easily discarded, while the company owners secure their profits. Willie Loman and Bob Crachit were mere cogs, easily replaced.

Another person might point out that differences in education, experience, skills, etc. impact a worker’s productivity. Shouldn’t they receive more remuneration than the lowly line worker or janitor?  And if individuals were paid the same, what would be the incentive to work harder? One basic problem with this last question is that it presumes that persons’ creativity or productivity is motivated simply and solely by money. If that were true, we would not have any teachers. Second and more problematic is that even if there is smaller disparities in wages, workers are excluded from a decision-making process that impacts them directly and significantly. Workers have no voice or seat at the table because they do not own the company, which makes them more vulnerable to exploitation, as history has repeatedly shown. Any group whose voice is denied and who are excluded from sitting at the table will likely be marginalized and oppressed by those who have voices and seats. They remain, like Bob Crachit, forever dependent on the whims of the bosses. A critic may counter, saying they have a voice in that they could find another job or they could speak out or they could get more education. These responses are usually made by people of privilege who aren’t trapped in a job, fearing that the loss of the job will result in losing one’s apartment, car, etc. Moreover, these responses overlook the fact that the only option a worker may have is to work low wage jobs—jobs where she or he has no voice about the company’s use of profits. Worse, these neoliberal responses deflect attention from the exploitative nature of business.

Let me shift to unions and what remains of them. No can deny that despite corruption, unions were responsible for workers obtaining better wages and benefits, as well as protections. But unions by and large rarely questioned the rules of the game. They simply agitated for company boards to make decisions so that workers received fairer, living wages and benefits. While unions were never at the seat of the board room, they did represent a collective voice even as they contributed to the occult aspect of ownership laws. Even today, when we hear unions advocating for a living wage, one hears little from their leaders about the fact that the very laws that insure a perennial struggle for just wages are unjust themselves.

Any cursory glance at history during the last three centuries reveals not simply booms and busts in the economy, but a consistent thread of workers struggling to obtain a living wage and some protections from the vagaries of the capitalist system and its laws. Conversations about living wages were occurring in the 19thcentury. Even if we establish laws regarding a living wage—adjusted for inflation—I am confident that the capitalist class will work diligently to secure greater profits at the expense of workers, because the occult unjust laws of capitalism will remain alive and well. As long as workers are not “owners,” as long as they have no voice and no seat at the table when decisions are made about how profits are used and shared, one can confidently predict they will be exploited. I suspect, or more accurately hope, that in time more people, perhaps even a majority, will become increasingly aware that laws—no longer occult— that place profits in the hands of the owners are fundamentally unjust. And these very same people will overturn them.

References

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Woods, E. (2017). The origins of capitalism. New York: Verso.
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🤑 Catabolism: Capitalism’s Frightening Future
« Reply #25 on: November 02, 2018, 01:58:01 AM »
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/11/01/catabolism-capitalisms-frightening-future/

November 1, 2018
Catabolism: Capitalism’s Frightening Future
by Craig Collins


Photo Source SPACES Gallery | CC BY 2.0

“Out of the frying pan, into the fire” is an apt description of our current place in history. No matter what you think of globalization, I believe we’ll soon discover that capitalism without it is much, much worse.

No one needs to convince establishment economists, politicians and pundits that the absence of globalization and growth spells trouble. They’ve pushed globalization as the Viagra of economic growth for years. But globalization has never been popular with everyone. Capitalism’s critics recognize that it generates tremendous wealth and power for a tiny fraction of the Earth’s seven billion people, makes room for some in the middle class, but keeps most of humanity destitute and desperate, while trashing the planet and jeopardizing human survival for generations to come.

Around the world, social movements believe “Another World Is Possible!” when neoliberal globalization is replaced by a more democratic, equitable, Earth-friendly society.  They assume that any future without globalization is bound to be an improvement. But now it appears that this assumption may be wrong. In fact, future generations may someday look back on capitalism’s growth phase as the dynamic days of industrial civilization, a naïve time before anyone realized that the worst was yet to come.

The Return of Scarce Oil and Peak Debt

Today, rising energy prices and ballooning debt are poised to strangle the global economy once again. These suffocating conditions brought the economy to its knees in 2008. Afterward, fracking helped increase the supply and lower the price of oil and gas temporarily. Meanwhile, debt-dependent cash infusions in the form of bailouts, low interest rates, corporate tax cuts and leveraged stock buy-backs were injected into the economy to prop up stock prices and profit margins. [1]

But now, despite emergency infusions of hydrocarbons and cash, debilitating debt and rising energy prices are returning with a vengeance. Governments have used every trick at their disposal to keep growth alive and profits high. But debt-driven trickery cannot overcome the underlying reality: growth cannot survive without cheap, abundant energy. Fueling growth with debt instead of real energy is a disaster in the making.

Economists and politicians refuse to admit it, but Age of Fossil Fuels has reached its apex. The rapacious flight to the top was powered by the Earth’s dwindling hydrocarbon reserves. From these lofty heights, the drastic drop-off ahead appears perilous. As fossil fuel extraction fails to meet global demand, economic contraction and downward mobility will become the new normal and growth will fade into memory. But this new growth-less future may bear no resemblance to the equitable Green economy activists have been calling for.

Can Capitalism Survive Without Growth?

Optimistic Green reformers like Al Gore, Jeremy Rifkin and Lester Brown see a window of opportunity at this historic juncture. For years, they’ve jetted from one conference to another, tirelessly trying to convince world leaders to embrace their planet-saving plans for a sustainable, carbon-free society before it’s too late. They hope energy scarcity and economic contraction can act as wake-up calls, spurring world leaders to embrace their Green New Deals that promise to save capitalism and the planet.

Their message is clear: rapid, fossil-fueled growth is burning through the Earth’s remaining reserves of precious hydrocarbons and doing untold damage to the biosphere in the process. Businesses must lead the way out of this dangerous dead end by adopting renewable energy and other planet-healing practices, even if it means substantial reductions in growth and profits. But, despite their dire warnings, hard work, innovative proposals and good intentions, most heads of state and captains of industry continue to politely ignore them.

Meanwhile, more radical activists also hope climate chaos, peak oil and economic contraction will become game changers. Many assume that globalization and growth are so essential that capitalism must fail without them. And, as it does, social movements will seize the opportunity to transform this collapsing system into a more equitable, sustainable one, free of capitalism’s insatiable need to expand at all costs.

Both the green growth reformers and anti-growth radicals misunderstand the true nature of capitalism and underestimate its ability to withstand—and profit handsomely from—the great contraction ahead. Growth is not the primary driving force behind capitalism—profit is. When the overall economic pie is expanding, many firms find it easier to realize profits big enough to continually increase their share price. But periods of crisis and collapse can generate huge profits as well. In fact, during systemic contractions, the dog-eat-dog nature of capitalism creates lucrative opportunities for hostile takeovers, mergers and leveraged buyouts, allowing the most predatory firms to devour their competition.

Capitalism is a profit-maximizing economic machine. It is not loyal to any person, nation, corporation or ideology. It doesn’t care about the planet or believe in justice, equality, fairness, liberty, human rights, democracy, world peace or even economic growth and the “free market.” Its overriding obsession is maximizing the return on invested capital. Capitalism will pose as a loyal friend of other beliefs and values, or betray them in an instant, if it advances the drive for profit … that’s why it’s called the bottom line!

Growth is important because it tends to improve the bottom line. And ultimately, capitalism may not last without it. But those who profit from this economic system are not about to throw up their hands and walk off the stage of history just because boom has turned to bust. Crisis, conflict and collapse can be extremely profitable for the opportunists who know where and when to invest.

But how long can this go on? Can capitalism’s profit motive remain the driving force behind a contracting economy lacking the vital energy surplus needed to fuel growth? Definitely, but the consequences for society will be grim indeed. Without access to the cheap, abundant energy needed to extract resources, power factories, maintain infrastructure and transport goods around the world, capitalism’s productive sector will lose its position as the most lucrative source of profit and investment. Transnational corporations will find that their giant economies of scale and global chains of production have become liabilities rather than assets. As profits dwindle, factories close, workers are laid off, benefits and wages are slashed, unions are broken and pension funds are raided – whatever it takes to remain solvent.

Declining incomes and living standards mean poorer consumers, contracting markets and shrinking tax revenues. Of course, collapse can be postponed by using debt to artificially extend the solvency of businesses, consumers and governments. But eventually, paying off debts with interest becomes futile without growth. And, when the credit bubbles burst, the defaults, foreclosures, bankruptcies and financial fiascos that follow can paralyze the economy.

Without the capacity for re-energizing growth, the recessions and depressions of times past, that temporarily disrupted production between long periods of expansion, now become chronic features of a contracting system. On the downside of peak oil, neither liberal programs to increase employment and stimulate growth nor conservative tax and regulatory cuts have any substantial impact on the economy’s descending spiral. Both production and demand remain so constricted by energy austerity that any brief growth spurts are quickly stifled by resurgent energy prices. Instead, periods of severe contraction and collapse may be buffered between brief plateaus of relative stability.

Catabolism: The Final Phase of Capitalism

In a growth-less, contracting economy, the profit motive can have a powerful catabolic impact on capitalist society. The word “catabolism” comes from the Greek and is used in biology to refer to the condition whereby a living thing feeds on itself. Thus, catabolic capitalism is a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by devouring the society that sustains it.[2]As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another.

The riotous train scene in the film The Marx Brothers Go West captures the essence of catabolic capitalism. The wacky brothers commandeer a locomotive that runs out of fuel. In desperation, they ransack the train, breaking up the passenger cars, ripping up seats and tearing down roofs and walls to feed the steam engine. By the end of the scene, terrified passengers desperately cling to a skeletal train, reduced to little more than a fast moving furnace on wheels.

In the previous era of industrial expansion, catabolic capitalists lurked in the shadows of the growth economy. They were the illicit arms, drugs and sex traffickers; the loan sharks, debt collectors and repo-men; the smugglers, pirates, poachers, black market merchants and pawnbrokers; the illegal waste dumpers, shady sweatshop operators and unregulated mining, fishing and timber operations.

However, as the productive sector contracts, this corrupt cannibalistic sector emerges from the shadows and metastasizes rapidly, thriving off conflict, crime and crisis; hoarding and speculation; insecurity and desperation. Catabolic capitalism flourishes because it can still generate substantial profits by dodging legalities and regulations; stockpiling scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; scavenging, breaking down and selling off the assets of the decaying productive and public sectors; and preying upon the sheer desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.

Without enough energy to generate growth, catabolic capitalists stoke the profit engine by taking over troubled businesses, selling them off for parts, firing the workforce and pilfering their pensions. Scavengers, speculators and slumlords buy up distressed and abandoned properties – houses, schools, factories, office buildings and malls – strip them of valuable resources, sell them for scrap or rent them to people desperate for shelter. Illicit lending operations charge outrageous interest rates and hire thugs or private security firms to shake down desperate borrowers or force people into indentured servitude to repay loans. Instead of investing in struggling productive enterprises, catabolic financiers make windfall profits by betting against growth through hoarding and speculative short selling of securities, currencies and commodities.

Social benefits, legal and regulatory protections and modern society itself will also be sacrificed to feed the profit engine. During a period of contraction, venal catabolic capitalists put their lawyers and lobbyists to work tearing down any legal barriers to their insatiable appetite for profit. Regulatory agencies that once provided some protection from polluters, dangerous products, unsafe workplaces, labor exploitation, financial fraud and corporate crime are dismantled to feed the voracious fires of avarice.

Society’s governing institutions of justice, law and order become early victims of this catabolic crime spree. Public safety is stripped down, privatized and sold to those who can still afford it. As budgets for courts, prisons and law enforcement shrivel, private security firms hire unemployed cops to break strikes, provide corporate security and guard the wealthy in their gated communities. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be forced to rely on alarm systems, dogs, guns and – if we’re lucky – watchful neighbors to deal with rising crime. Privatized prisons will profit by contracting convict labor to the highest bidders.

As tax-starved public services and social welfare programs bleed out from deep budget cuts, profit-hungry capitalists pick over the carcasses of bankrupt governments. Revenues for social security, food stamps and health care programs are chopped to the bone. Public transportation and decaying highways are transformed into private thoroughfares, maintained by convict labor or indentured workers. Corporations scarf up failing public utilities, water treatment, waste management and sewage disposal systems to provide businesses and wealthy communities with reliable power, water and waste removal. Schools and libraries go broke, while exclusive private academies employ a fraction of the jobless teachers and university professors to educate a shrinking class of affluent students.

A Dark Alliance

Cannibalistic profiteers can thrive in a growth-less environment for quite some time, but ultimately, an economy bent on devouring itself has a dismal, dead-end future. Nevertheless, changing course will be difficult because, as the catabolic sector expands at the expense of society, powerful cannibalistic capitalists are bound to forge influential alliances, poison and paralyze the political system and block all efforts to pull society out of its death spiral.

Catabolic enterprises are not the only profit-makers in a growth-less economy. Even a contracting economy must extract energy and other resources from the Earth. Unless the profit motive is removed by bringing these assets under public control, corporate real estate, timber, water, energy and mining corporations will deploy their lobbying muscle to completely privatize these vital resources and enhance their bottom line with government subsidies, tax breaks and “regulatory relief.” The growing capital, energy and technology commitments needed to commodify scarce resources may cut deeply into profit margins. As less solvent outfits fail, the remaining politically connected resource conglomerates may maximize their profits by forming cartels to corner markets, hoard vital resources and send prices soaring while blocking all attempts at public regulation and rationing.

The extractive and the catabolic sectors of capitalism have a lot in common. An alliance between them could put irresistible pressure on failing federal and state governments to open public lands and coastlines to unregulated offshore drilling, fracking, coal mining and tar sands extraction. Scofflaw resource extractors and criminal poaching operations proliferate in corrupt, catabolic conditions where legal protections are ignored and shady deals can be struck with local power brokers to maximize the exploitation of labor and resources. To pay off government debt, national and state parks may be sold and transformed into expensive private resorts while public lands and national forests are auctioned off to energy, timber and mining corporations.

As globalization runs down, this grim catabolic future is eager to replace it. Already, an ugly gang of demagogic politicians around the world hopes to ride this catabolic crisis into power. Their goal is to replace globalization with bombastic nationalist authoritarianism. These xenophobic demagogues are becoming the political face of catabolic capitalism. They promise to restore their country to prosperity and greatness by expelling immigrants while carelessly ignoring the disastrous costs of fossil fuel addiction and military spending. Anger, insecurity and need to believe that a strong leader can restore “the good old days” will guarantee them a fervent following even though their false promises and fake solutions can only make matters worse.

Is Catabolic Capitalism Inevitable?

So, what about Green capitalism? Isn’t there money to be made in renewable energy? What about redesigning transportation systems, buildings and communities? Couldn’t capitalists profit by producing alternative energy technologies if government helped finance the unprofitable, but necessary, infrastructure projects needed to bring them online? Wouldn’t a Green New Deal be far more beneficial than catabolic catastrophe?

Catabolic capitalism is not inevitable. However, in a growth-less economy, catabolic capitalism is the most profitable, short-term alternative for those in power. This makes it the path of least resistance from Wall Street to Washington. But Green capitalism is another story.

As both radical Greens and the corporate establishment realize, Green capitalism is essentially an oxymoron. Truly Green policies, programs and projects contradict capitalism’s primary directive – profit before all else! This doesn’t mean there aren’t profitable niche markets for some products and services that are both ecologically benign and economically beneficial. It means that capitalism’s overriding profit motive is fundamentally at odds with ecological balance and the general welfare of humanity.

While people and the planet can thrive in an ecologically balanced society, the self-centered drive for profit and power cannot. A healthy economy that encourages people to take care of each other and the planet is incompatible with exploiting labor and ransacking naturefor profit.Thus, capitalists will resist, to the bitter end, any effort to replace their malignant economy with a healthy one.

Would the transition to a sustainable society be expensive? Of course. Our petroleum-addicted infrastructure of tankers, refineries, pipelines and power plants; cities, suburbs, gas stations and freeways; shopping centers, mega-farms, fast food franchises and supermarkets would have to be replaced with smaller towns fed by local farms and powered by decentralized, renewable energy. But the cost of making this Green transition is a priceless bargain compared to the suicidal consequences of catabolic collapse.

Is Resistance Futile?

Before we decide that resistance is futile, it’s important to realize that the converging energy, economic and ecological disasters bearing down on us all have the potential to turn people against catabolic capitalism and toward a more just, planet-friendly future. The approaching period of catabolic collapse presents some strategic opportunities to those who would like to rid the world of this system as soon as possible

For example, in the near future, energy scarcity and economic contraction may manifest themselves as a paralyzing financial meltdown. Interest-based banking cannot handle economic contraction. Without perpetual growth, businesses, consumers, students, homeowners, governments and banks (who constantly borrow from each other) cannot pay-off their debts with interest. If default goes viral, the banking system goes down.[3]

When the banking system finally implodes, credit freezes, financial assets vaporize, currency values fluctuate wildly, trade shuts down and governments impose draconian measures to maintain their authority. Few Americans have any experience with this kind of systemic seizure. They assume there will always be food in the supermarkets, gas in the pumps, money in the ATMs, electricity in the power lines and medicine in the pharmacies and hospitals.

During a financial meltdown, government officials find it difficult to retain public confidence; people blame them for running the economy into the ditch and suspect that their pseudo-solutions are actually self-serving schemes designed to keep themselves on top. Consequently, this crippling crisis could serve as a powerful wake-up call and a potential turning point if those who want to abolish catabolic capitalism are prepared to make the most of it.

But crises don’t necessarily incite positive responses. Power will be decisive in the unfolding struggle over the future of our species and the planet; and those that benefit from the status quo are bent on holding on to it. Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine warns us that those in power will exploit the traumas caused by major catastrophes to rally support for their own disastrous agenda (like invading Iraq after 9-11 or expelling the Black community from New Orleans after Katrina).

In the midst of shocking disasters those in power play upon our fears and prejudices to keep us passive, turn us against each other and under their control. If we resist all attempts to keep us apathetic, distracted and divided, they seldom hesitate to use every method at their disposal to keep themselves on top, including intimidation, coercion and brute force. Each time they succeed, life becomes more miserable for everyone but them.

Crisis only becomes our ally when popular anger is channeled into transformative insurrection against the system that causes it. How people respond to systemic disintegration will be pivotal. Who will be blamed? What “solutions” will gain support? Who will people listen to, trust and follow in times of extreme hardship, insecurity and unrest? To turn the tide against catabolic capitalism, activists must prepare people for the cascading crises that lie ahead. They must become trusted responders: defining the problem; organizing grassroots resilience and relief; and building a powerful insurrection against those who profit from disaster. But even this is not enough. To nurture the transition toward a thriving, just, ecologically stable society, all of these struggles must be interwoven and infused with an inspirational vision of how much better life could be if we freed ourselves from this dysfunctional, profit-obsessed system once and for all.

Climate chaos alone will impose many hardships, from extreme droughts, water scarcity, farm failures and food shortages to forest fires and floods, rising sea levels, mega-storms and acidified oceans. Movement organizers must help people anticipate, adapt to, and survive these hardships—but social movements cannot stop there.  They must help people mount the kind of political resistance that can strip the fossil fuel industry of its power and leverage their own growing influence to demand that society’s remaining resources be re-directed toward a Green transition.

Craig Collins Ph.D. is the author of Toxic Loopholes (Cambridge University Press), which examines America’s dysfunctional system of environmental protection.  He teaches political science and environmental law at California State University East Bay and was a founding member of the Green Party of California.  His forthcoming books: Marx & Mother Nature and Rising From the Ruins: Catabolic Capitalism & Green Resistance reformulate Marx’s theory of history & social change and examine the emerging struggle to replace catabolic capitalism with a thriving, just, ecologically resilient society.

Notes.

[1] Despite record corporate profits and cash flow, at least a third of the buyback shares are being purchased with borrowed money, bringing the corporate debt to an all-time high, not only in an absolute sense but also in relation to profits, assets and the overall size of the economy.

[2] The term “catabolic capitalism” used here is somewhat different from the theory of catabolic collapse developed by John Michael Greer.  Greer looks at the demise of all civilizations (capitalist and non-capitalist) as a catabolic process.  How Civilizations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse .

[3] Banks’ retained earnings and shareholder capital only amount to 2-9% of their loan portfolio, so it doesn’t take much of a loss to put them under.
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