The problem is too much power for the rich

23 Aug

For forty years people have been bombarded with claims that economic well being depends on private capital not on governments. Public utilities and services have been privatized. Regulations on corporations have been weakened. Taxes paid by corporations and the top income brackets have been slashed. Capital has been freed to move jobs from higher wage to lower wage countries.

Capitalist minorities — major shareholders and top corporate executives, two percent and less of populations — have increased their share of total income from ten percent to twenty percent. Capitalists have increased funds for private investment, but roads, bridges, rail lines, sewage and water systems have been allowed to deteriorate.  Capitalists also have more money to finance election campaigns, to lobby and manipulate political agendas. Public spending on schools, hospitals, medical care and other social services has fallen behind needs. Chronic unemployment has risen. More people must get by on part-time work. Unemployment levels for young people are 25 percent, 50 percent and higher.

For immense majorities who depend on income from labor and social services, the problem is not too much government; it is too much money and power in the hands of corporations and the super-rich.

Governments should be criticized for disregarding the well being of majorities. Corruption, secrecy and duplicity should be condemned. But what in government is corruption in corporations is proprietary right. Corporations legally direct resources and social labor behind closed doors for the profits of shareholders. To make it seem that this is a matter of private rights, capitalist law deems corporations to be individuals. Corporations are actually the system’s dominant institutions. The largest transnational corporations have more revenues than most governments.

Corporations are not the competitive individuals of free market theory. They dominate markets. They patent products, technologies, and processes. They buy up the most profitable sources of supply, control marketing networks, and spend millions on advertising to tie consumers to existing brands. Whenever possible, they introduce technologies that reduce employment. They outsource wage and salary work. The fewer people employed, the less paid for labor, the more profits for shareholders, the more money for executive bonuses.

As capital’s share of total income rises, the share going to labor and the needy falls. As most markets decline, capitalists turn to speculation, betting on price changes in real estate, futures or derivatives. Casino capitalism adds nothing to real means of livelihood; winners merely gain at the expense of losers. Financial bubbles are followed by crashes. As more businesses fail, capitalists hold on to what they can by demanding that debtors be punished for the sins of creditors. Austerity leads to further declines in working-class income and markets.

Governments should be opposed for supporting policies that favor capitalist minorities and acting as the agencies of militarism, wars and repression. Minority privilege rests on the force of arms. Some capitalists promote war because they believe that military action can give them access to new resources and markets. Others profit from the purchase of drones, missiles, airplanes, fuel, and the provisioning of armed forces.

Edward Snowden exposed government secrets. He also exposed the central role private corporations have in surveillance and repression. His employer, Booz Allen Hamilton is a defense, security and surveillance contractor that has 26,000 employees and revenues of $5 billion, 99 percent from the U.S. government. Just as the privatization of prisons has led to growth in numbers jailed and to the use of penal labor for private profit, the privatization of surveillance can be expected to lead to more intrusive surveillance. The internet, once hailed for democratizing information, is already a tool of surveillance for private profit.

The most ominous consequence of capitalism is global warming. Because existing profits depend on cheap energy, capitalists refuse to believe that the burning of fossil fuels leads to climate change. Their remarkable wealth has made them so smugly self-assured that they have convinced themselves that if they deny the obvious global temperatures will not rise; ice caps will not melt; oceans will not become more acidic; extreme weather events will not become more frequent.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, corporate capitalism increases investments in tar sands and fracking, while cutting investments in solar, wind, tidal, and biothermal energy. They invest little in alternative nuclear power technologies that could eliminate nuclear waste and the threat of meltdowns. Corporate interests that concede the threat of global warming, promote new profitable uses for industrial waste. They propose reducing heat from the sun by blasting reflective chemicals into the atmosphere, and absorbing more carbon by dumping iron filings into the ocean and plowing “biochar” — the ashes of incinerated garbage — into soils.

If governments are to act in the immediate and long-term interests of humankind, the power of capitalist minorities must be reduced; democratic rights must expand. Taxes paid by corporations and the super rich must be raised at least to 1950s levels. Privatizations should be reversed, public ownership expanded. Wherever practical, utilities and public services should be directed by local communities.  Allowing those with the most shares to have the most votes must be replaced with one person one vote. People everywhere must have a right to a voice and equal vote in directing their communities’ economic activity. Workers in all occupations must have the right to democratically direct their social labor time.

Al Engler

The power to build economic democracy

19 Aug

It makes perfect sense that capitalists would promote the idea that workers are not capable of running the world. For the same reason capitalists and their supporters claim a few rich people “own” the collective means of production: These are ways to justify minority rule. In effect, the one per cent minority is telling the 99% majority: “Our money gives us the power to run the world and you’re too stupid to do anything about it.”

Bullshit of course, but there’s a question to answer before rebutting these two piles of propaganda poop: Why would workers want to run the world?

And this is not just some rhetorical question. It is a summing up of dozens of questions and statements that I hear everyday from people around me, all workers who should know better. Here are a few:

“Let the managers manage — it’s their right.”

“The world is so messed up, it’s too late to do anything about it, anyway.”

“We’d fuck it up.”

“There’s no collective solution, the best we can do is look after ourselves.”

“My friends and family, that’s all I care about.”

“I’m not here for a long time, just a good time.”

“Go back to the land.”

“I can barely look after myself, let alone run the world.”

“It sounds good, but it will turn out bad. It always does.”

In other words, why even consider the project of the vast majority of people, who are workers, getting together and trying to make a better world?

The easiest answer is: We’re screwed if we don’t. The one percent who currently rules the world is doing what small ruling classes have done throughout history — run the economic and political system in their self-interest. If they get rich from war, there will be war. If they get to choose between health care for all or more profits for themselves, they’ll choose profit. If lots of money is to be made by pouring ever more carbon into the atmosphere, global warming will get worse and worse.

Workers must take power away from the greedy one percent and run the world in the interests of all because if we don’t things will keep getting worse.

And workers, organized together, are the only people with the potential power to create a democratic economy. If we don’t do it no one will, because only workers have the possibility of taking over the factories, offices, warehouses, railways, ships, stores and other places of work that make up our economy. Only workers acting together can create an economic democracy.

“Is that the best you can come up, a negative reason?” some might ask.

But in fact there’s lot of positive reasons. I can think of a few right off the top of my head:

Changing the world to make it a better place will be fun. All those who participate will have the time of their lives.

Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will love you for doing it.

It is the right thing to do.

Imagine a world where everyone was actually given an opportunity to develop all their potential and be the best person they could be. Trying to achieve a world like that is a very good thing.

I’m sure others can come up with a lot more positive reasons why workers should want to change the world.

Think of these reasons as the tools we need to build the foundation of a movement.

You’ve got to start someplace. A trip to a new world begins with a single step.

Ernie Peshkov-Chow 

Cars create inequality

10 Aug

A recent study looking at how social mobility varies across US cities found that the poor are less likely to rise the socioeconomic ladder the more residents are geographically segregated. In other words, the further apart different social classes live the more entrenched inequality becomes.

The Equality of Opportunity Project study shows that relatively compact cities such as San Francisco, New York and Boston have greater social mobility than their more sprawling counterparts Memphis, Detroit and Atlanta. In relatively transit and pedestrian oriented San Francisco, for instance, someone born into the poorest fifth of income distribution has an 11 per cent chance of reaching the top fifth while in car oriented Atlanta this number is only 4 per cent.

In an article on the study New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blamed the inverse relationship between sprawl and social mobility on the poor (and carless) being unable to reach available jobs. “The city may just be too spread out,” he wrote about Detroit, “so that job opportunities are literally out of reach for people stranded in the wrong neighborhoods.”

This is no doubt part of the explanation, but it ignores the broader political impact of automobile generated sprawl. In Stop Signs: Cars and Capitalism on the Road to Economic, Social and Ecological Decay, Bianca Mugyenyi and I argue that the private car spurs right-wing (anti-egalitarian) politics by chaining would-be political actors to their jobs with debt, reducing intermixing between different social groups while in transit and atomizing communities into suburbs.

But it’s even more fundamental than that as the private car perpetuates class domination in a number of other ways. Since the dawn of the auto age, the car has been an important means for the wealthy to assert themselves socially. Prior to our modern day acquiescence to the automobile, a private car was viewed as an obtrusive and ostentatious display of wealth. A 1904 edition of the US farm magazine, Breeders Gazette, called automobile drivers, “a reckless, bloodthirsty, villainous lot of purse-proud crazy trespassers” while in 1906 Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, declared, “Possession of an auto car is such an ostentatious display of wealth that it will stimulate socialism.”

Among the wealthy, the automobile was popular partly because it reaffirmed their dominance over mobility, which had been undermined by rail. Prior to the train’s ascendance in the mid 1800s the elite traveled by horse and buggy, but the train’s technological superiority compromised the usefulness of the horse drawn carriage. Even for shorter commutes, streetcars became the preferred mode of transport by the early 1900s. More available to various classes of society, the train and streetcar blurred class lines. The automobile, on the other hand, provided an exclusive form of travel.

The automobile’s capacity to create social distance appealed to early car buyers. Prominent auto historian, James J. Flink remarked that, “the automobile seemed to proponents of the innovation, to afford a simple solution to some of the more formidable problems of American life associated with the emergence of an urban industrial society.”

In a car, one could remain separate from perceived social inferiors while in transit. Down the Asphalt Path’s Clay McShane writes about the elite’s disdain for public transit riders: “Trolleys were dirty, noisy, and overcrowded. It was impossible for middle-class riders to isolate themselves from fellow riders whom they perceived as social inferiors. Distancing themselves from blacks, immigrants, blue collar workers, and, in general those stereotyped as the ‘great unwashed,’ was often precisely why the middle classes had moved to the [streetcar] suburbs.”

The car has made it possible to live far from the poor (or anyone else without an automobile). In one of the most extreme examples of modern day segregation, people barricade themselves into gated communities. Across the U.S., especially in the car-dominated Southwest, millions of affluent families have retreated into these exclusive and exclusionary residences.

If we want a more egalitarian society we must reverse geographical segregation and build communities and cities where people can get around without the private automobile.

Yves Engler

Why would workers want to change the world?

9 Aug

It makes perfect sense that capitalists would push the idea that workers are not capable of running the world. For the same reason capitalists and their supporters claim a few rich people “own” the collective means of production: These are ways to justify minority rule. In effect, the one per cent minority is telling the 99% majority: “Our money gives us the power to run the world and you’re too stupid to do anything about it.”

Bullshit of course, but there’s a question to answer before rebutting these two piles of propaganda poop: Why would workers want to run the world?

And this is not just some rhetorical question. It is a summing up of dozens of questions and statements that I hear everyday from people around me, all workers who should know better. Here are a few:

“Let the managers manage — it’s too much of a headache.”

“The world is so messed up, it’s too late to do anything about it, anyway.”

“We’d fuck it up.”

“There’s no collective solution, the best we can do is look after ourselves.”

“My friends and family, that’s all I care about.”

“I’m not here for a long time, just a good time.”

“Go back to the land.”

“I can barely look after myself, let alone run the world.”

“It sounds good, but it will turn out bad. It always does.”

In other words, why even consider the project of the vast majority of people, who are workers, getting together and trying to make a better world?

The easiest answer is: We’re screwed if we don’t. The one percent that currently rules the world is doing what small ruling classes have done throughout history — run their world in their self-interest. If they get rich from war, there will be war. If they get to choose between health care for all or more profits for themselves, they’ll choose profit. If lots of money is to be made by pouring ever more carbon into the atmosphere and capitalists are running the world, global warming will get worse and worse.

Workers must take power away from the greedy one percent and run the world in the interests of all because if we don’t things will keep getting worse.

And workers, organized together, are the only people with the potential power to create a democratic economy, which is the only way of taking power away from the ruling minority. If we don’t do it no one will.

“Is that the best you can come up, a negative reason?” some might ask.

But in fact there’s lot of positive reasons. I can think of a few right off the top of my head:

Changing the world to make it a better place will be fun. All those who participate will have the time of their lives.

Your grandchildren and their grandchildren will love you for doing it.

It is the right thing to do.

Imagine a world where everyone was actually given an opportunity to develop all their potential and be the best person they could be. That would be good, wouldn’t it? Trying to achieve a world like that is a very good thing.

I’m sure others can come up with a lot more positive reasons why workers should want to change the world.

Think of these reasons as the tools we need to build a movement.

You’ve got to start someplace.

Ernie Peshkov-Chow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rant: Idiot capitalism

8 Aug

You know one of the things I hate most about capitalism? How it turns people into idiots.

You want proof? Advertising.

What’s the fundamental underlying principle of advertising? That people are idiots.

Drink lots of beer and you’ll get the girl. What do people watching learn from this? That young men are idiots.

You need to zoom zoom around in a fast car that costs the average yearly wage to buy and third of your monthly income to maintain to really enjoy the good life. Men of all ages are idiots.

You’ll never get the guy unless you buy that perfume and this skin cream…  Women are idiots.

But advertising is just the tip of the idiot iceberg sticking out of the capitalist ocean.

Cut taxes on the rich, slash social services and we’ll all be better off. Who’d buy that nonsense? Rich people and idiots.

Let’s go to war against those bad guys. And these bad guys too who just happen to have a lot of oil. And those very bad guys who also just happen to have a lot of oil. And these very, very, very bad guys who are mean to women. They don’t have any oil. Oh, but they do have a lot of other resources and just happen to control the route where we want to build our oil pipeline. Who’d buy this transparent bullshit? People who profit from war and idiots.

Be proud you live in a democracy. Except at work, where you must accept the dictatorship of the boss, or in the economy where capitalists run the show. And don’t complain that money buys the few elections we do have. Who’d accept this state of affairs? Capitalists, their sycophants, and idiots.

I know what you’re thinking. Capitalism treats most people like idiots because it works. That’s what most people are.

Not you or me of course, but most people. Right? That’s what you believe: Most people are idiots.

The truth is capitalism requires us to think that way. A system in which less than one percent of the population makes all the important economic and political decision functions best when most people think most people are idiots. If the 90 per cent of us who do all the work actually believed we were smart and capable of running the world ourselves, it would not be good news for the ruling class. We might take over and say: Hey capitalists, it was swell, but we don’t need you anymore. Or, at the very least, a lot of us might ask why, instead of how high, when the boss tells us to jump.

Throughout history ruling classes have justified their rule by claiming superiority over the rest of us. Five hundred years ago they were mostly concerned with convincing each other this was true. They didn’t care what the peasants thought. Sure, they had the church to keep us in our place, but mostly they relied on military might. Now, with the limited democracy we have won, it’s become more complicated.

The best situation for capitalists today is when workers are smart enough to do all the work, but stupid enough to think other workers are idiots.

This explains the right wing attacks on public education, the mindless trash on TV and all the other brainwashing, which the system calls popular culture.

You know what I hate even worse than capitalism trying to turn us into idiots?

That we let them.

Ernie Peshkov-Chow

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