Mark Fisher’s Suicide

Mark Fisher died earlier this year. I didn’t even know about it. He wasn’t much older than me. But similarly he suffered from severe depression, having struggled with it for a long time. That is what finally got him, by way of suicide. He was an interesting writer and no doubt his depression gave an edge to his way of thinking and communicating.

His book on capitalist realism was insightful and brought difficult ideas down to ground level. He had a talent for explanation, connecting the unfamiliar to the familiar. His descriptions of capitalism in some ways fits in with Corey Robin’s theory of the reactionary mind, but with his own twist. Here is Fisher from Capitalist Realism:

“When it actually arrives, capitalism brings with it a massive desacralization of culture. It is a system which is no longer governed by any transcendent Law; on the contrary, it dismantles all such codes, only to re-install them on an ad hoc basis. The limits of capitalism are not fixed by fiat, but defined (and re-defined) pragmatically and improvisationally. This makes capitalism very much like the Thing in John Carpenter’s film of the same name: a monstrous, infinitely plastic entity, capable of metabolizing and absorbing anything with which it comes into contact.”

I always appreciate writers who can connect intellectual ideas to pop culture examples. It’s one thing to call something reactionary but it’s a whole other thing to offer a clear image of what that means. That which is reactionary is also dynamically creative in that it can take in anything — not just co-opt but absorb, assimilate, and transform anything and everything it touches (or that touches it). Portraying capitalism as the Thing makes it more real within the imagination.

I just bought his latest book that also just came out this year in the US. I’ll have to prioritize reading it before all else.

In Memoriam: Mark Fisher
by Dan Hassler-Forest, Ellie Mae O’Hagan, Mark Bould, Roger Luckhurst, Carl Freedman, Jeremy Gilbert

Mark Fisher’s K-punk blogs were required reading for a generation
by Simon Reynolds

Remembering Mark Fisher
by David Stubbs

Capitalists for Corporatism

There is an odd argument from the political right. That is it seems odd to my political left perspective. The argument is intended to rationalize away regulatory capture by big biz. The basic claim is that only those who come from the corporate sector would have the knowledge and experience to effectively regulate corporations.

This is like arguing that only criminals should be hired as police and judges because they need to have firsthand experience of crime. Or like arguing only enemy combatants should be made into generals of the military they were fighting against because generals need to to have direct familiarity with the enemy. Or like arguing that only the working class should be hired as CEOs because they need to know how a business operates from the ground up (actually, that is a decent argument).

It’s hard to know how seriously to take the argument for big biz regulating itself. Political rhetoric rarely is ideologically principled and consistent, more often being conveniently self-serving. Still, for the sake of argument, I like to take such things at face value. Those making this argument don’t seem to take seriously the implications… or else they don’t notice… or don’t care.

What follows from this line of thought is that corporatism is the inevitable result of capitalism. It also indicates that cronyism is inherent to organizing society around capitalism. As Marxists predicted, capitalism if given free reign will always lead to oligopolies and monopolies through concentration of wealth and power. Regulatory capture, of course, will lead to corruption. There is no way of getting around this. So, if the argument is that regulatory capture is the only way regulation can happen, that puts corruption of government squarely within capitalism itself.

As many have argued, capitalism is far from being the same as free markets. Many anti-capitalists, Marx included, have supported free markets. In fact, the anti-capitalist argument for free markets is far stronger and more compelling. But if the reality of capitalism isn’t identical (or even much resembling) the rhetoric of capitalism, where does that leave us? Even the advocates of capitalism sometimes admit this, even if unintentionally.

So, what would an actual free market look like? How could a market be free without embodying, expressing, and defending the freedom of all people involved in and effected by the economic system? How could an economy and government controlled by big biz be free for anyone other than plutocrats? As always, whose freedom are we talking about?

Thoughts on Inequality and the Elite

I was talking to someone who is having troubles in their church.

The main problem seems to be that the church leadership is disconnected from the congregation. Issues are being promoted when no one has bothered to ask the average person what they want. The one place in our society where dialogue should be possible is in a church, but surely that is less often the case than would be optimal.

This is seen in every aspect of our society. It’s an inequality of power and opinion.

The leadership of my union, like many other unions, backed Clinton. Yet most union members backed Sanders. The leadership of the NRA fights gun regulation. Yet most NRA members support stronger gun regulation.

This phenomenon is even worse in the corporate media and corporatist politics. It’s not unusual two see two views being debated where neither view matches the public opinion of the majority of the population. In this case, the entire frame of discussion is disconnected from reality on the ground.

But it is most troubling to hear about this in a church. That demonstrates that this dysfunction is pervasive and built into how our society is organized and operates. It’s a profound inequality where most people are silenced and disenfranchised. As I’ve often repeated, the majority doesn’t even realize it is a majority.

All of this is carefully orchestrated by those in power, even those who wield power at the local level in a church. In many cases, those wielding that power don’t understand what they are doing, as they are oblivious to others. It’s too easy for people to take silence as agreement and support. This is how minority views can get portrayed as ‘mainstream’ and how, in the process, majority views are silenced.

I keep repeating this message. And many others have as well. But I don’t know that it can have an impact on our society. This inequality has become so entrenched that it would take mass conflict to dislodge it. A public awakening doesn’t come easily.

* * *

All politicians and political candidates should be required to answer poll questions that are identical to the public. Then the results should be widely disseminated and reported. There even could be an official report sent to every household.

Only politicians who hold a majority of their views and values to the left of the majority of Americans would be allowed to be called liberal or left-wing. But many politicians would fear this. The public would suddenly realize how far left they are or else how far right is the political elite. They’d be able to see that Sanders is a moderate, his views in line with most Americans on most issues. This would leave a large number of Democratic politicians to the right of the American public and all Republicans to the extreme far right fringe.

Why shouldn’t the American public be the standard of what is left and right? I don’t care who is ‘moderate’ by the standards of corporatist politics. I want to know who is a moderate according to normal Americans. If the views of the average American is considered extremist by corporatist politicians, then maybe the problem is those corporatist politicians and not the average American.

I have an odd idea. Maybe our representatives should represent us, considering that it supposedly is a representative democracy. At the very least, it would make for an interesting experiment. Maybe we could try it sometime just to see how it works out. If we didn’t like it, we could always go back to authoritarian plutocracy.

* * *

Positions on issues where Bernie Sanders agrees with and is representative of the majority of Americans, i.e., We the People:

– improving economy for lower-to-middle class
– decrease unemployment, poverty, & inequality
– progressive taxation
– higher corporate taxation
– stronger regulation of corporations
– opposition to neoliberal trade agreements
– universal healthcare
– decriminalizing drug use
– no more wars of aggression
– more effective environmental regulation
– taking action on climate change
– promoting alternative energy
– both gun rights and gun controls
– et cetera

Explain to me in what way Bernie Sanders is a left-wing socialist, in comparison to the American public. If he is a left-wing socialist, then so are most Americans.

* * *

Do you think Sanders was too left-wing to beat Trump? If so, then consider this. What motivated people to vote for him?

Well, Trump promised to stop big money political corruption, end neoliberal trade deals, force American corporations to manufacture in the US, bring jobs back for the working class, rebuild infrastructure, and make healthcare affordable for more people. It’s the exact kind of promises Sanders made.

Do you honestly think that voters looking for someone to make good on these promises would have chose Trump over Sanders? Of course not. The only reason they voted for Trump is because they had little if any trust that Clinton would do anything other than defend the status quo that was harming so many.

You can argue that Trump voters were naive. Then again, you could argue that Clinton voters were naive. Both candidates have spent their lives lying in order to get ahead.

If voters were looking for the lesser evil as they were told they should do, it shouldn’t be surprising that they chose the candidate who promised change, as they voted for Obama who promised change. Guess what? They actually do want change, even if voting for Trump was an act of desperation in response to a failed political system.

The moment was perfect for the Democratic establishment to have nominated someone like Sanders. That is assuming they would rather win with a progressive than lose with a corporatist, surely a false assumption to make. The Democratic establishment knew that Sanders would have had an overwhelming victory and that scared them, because it would have challenged their dominance of the party.

It turns out Sanders was a moderate by the standards of the American public. But in a radical corporatist system, we’ve lost the ability to recognize a moderate. It’s sad that a moderate like Sanders is treated as such a threat, more of a threat than Trump.

* * *

Daniel Drezner, in The Ideas Industry, criticizes the marketplace of ideas. But I’m not sure to what extent he understands the actual problem, in terms of leftist critique of capitalist realism and the destruction of the commons.

I did some searches in his book. It looks like it could be a decent analysis. Still, I wonder if he falls into the standard trap of focusing on the symptoms more than the disease. In the passage below, he dismisses the cause as being irrelevant, which seems like a self-defeating attitude if we are seeking fundamental changes at the causal level. To emphasize this potential weakness, I noticed throughout his book that numerous times he mentions capitalism and the marketplace of ideas while never bringing up the the view of a commons (a topic discussed by Howard Schwartz).

Problematic as that might be, Drezner does bring up important points. He discusses inequality, in how it relates to wealth, power, and influence. It’s not just those at the top have more but that using what they have they can control which ideas get a loudspeaker and which ideas get silenced. It’s unsurprising, as he points out, that surveys show the elite have entirely different values and agendas than the rest of the population.

This is a dangerous situation for an aspiring democracy. The elite control of the Ideas Industry could be called propaganda, since not only the ideas are controlled but the framing, narrative, reporting, and debate of ideas is controlled. It’s controlled by plutocratic funding and organizations along with corporatist political parties and corporate media. It’s because of this concentrated control of ideas that causes so many Americans do not realize they are a silenced majority.

Here is the passage from Daniel Drezner’s The Ideas Industry (pp. 62-5):

“While the rise in inequality has been concentrated in the United States, it also reflects a more widespread, global phenomena. Whether the cause has been globalization, the rise of finance, the economics of superstars, or the ineluctable laws of capitalism is irrelevant for our concerns. What does matter is that both wealth and income inequality are on the rise, and there are excellent reasons to believe that the concentration of wealth at the top could increase further over time.

“As the inequality of wealth has increased in the United States, so has the inequality of contributions to political life. Survey data show that the wealthy are far more politically informed and active than the rest of the public. […] The effect of economic and political inequality on the Ideas Industry is profound. On the one hand, rising income inequality and declining income mobility have bred dissatisfaction with the state of the American Dream. Since the start of the twenty-first century, poll after poll has shown that Americans believe their country is headed in the wrong direction.

“The most profound impact of rising economic inequality is on the supply side of the Ideas Industry. The massive accumulation of wealth at the top has created a new class of benefactors to fund the generation and promotion of new ideas. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to find a profile of a billionaire that does not also reference an interest in ideas.

“Twenty-first-century benefactors are proudly distinct from their twentieth-century predecessors. The big benefactors of the previous century set up foundations that would endure long after they died. While many plutocrats had ideas about the purpose of their foundations, most were willing to trust the boards they appointed. […] Foundations set up by J. Howard Pew and Henry Ford also wound up promoting ideas at odds with the political philosophies of their benefactors.

“This century’s patrons adopt a more hands-on role in their engagement with ideas. Echoing billionaire Sean Parker, they largely reject “traditional philanthropy—a strange and alien world made up of largely antiquated institutions.” To twenty-first-century plutocrats, the mistake of past benefactors was to delegate too much autonomy to posthumous trustees. A new set of “venture philanthropists” or “philanthrocapitalists” has emerged to stimulate new thinking about a host of public policy issues. In contarst to the older foundations, these new entities are designed to articulate a coherent philosophy consistent with a living donor’s intent. Organizations like the Gates Foundation and Omidyar Network have developed a large footprint in significant areas of public policy.

“Most of these new philanthropic foundations are obsessed with the “three Ms”—money, markets, and measurement. Potentially game-changing ideas are like catnip to plutocrats. […] The eagerness to please benefactors affects both the content and the suppliers of the ideas. […] In the Ideas Industry, thought leaders fiercely compete to get on the radar screen of wealthy benefactors.”

Concentrated Capitalism

The concentration of the economy isn’t only happening in certain sectors, such as media. It’s becoming the norm for only a handful of mega-corporations to control their respective markets and eliminate competition.

Is it unsurprising that at the same time that the US government has become increasingly corporatist, probably already having fully become inverted totalitarianism? No, not surprising at all. This is why the majority of Americans have positive opinions of free markets and small businesses while having negative opinions of capitalism and large corporations. The problem has become obvious to the average person.

This was researched by Gustavo Grullon, Yelena Larkin and Roni Michaely, in “Are US Industries Becoming More Concentrated?“:

“More than 75% of US industries have experienced an increase in concentration levels over the last two decades. Firms in industries with the largest increases in product market concentration have enjoyed higher profit margins, positive abnormal stock returns, and more profitable M&A deals, suggesting that market power is becoming an important source of value. In real terms, the average publicly-traded firm is three times larger today than it was twenty years ago. Lax enforcement of antitrust regulations and increasing technological barriers to entry appear to be important factors behind this trend. Overall, our findings suggest that the nature of US product markets has undergone a structural shift that has weakened competition.”

Jason Zweig wrote about it in the Wall Street Journal, Disturbing New Facts About American Capitalism (full access to the article can be found on his website). The amusing part, as expected from a WSJ article, is the optimistic note it ends on:

“Still, history offers a warning. Many times in the past, winners have taken all — but seldom for long.

“Perhaps the laws of creative destruction finally have been repealed once and for all. But sooner or later, capitalism has always been able to turn yesterday’s unstoppable winners into the also-rans of today and tomorrow.”

Don’t worry, folks! Capitalism is doing just fine. Or rather, capitalism is doing what it always has and will do, until something stops it. But what is to stop capitalism from its inevitable move toward concentration, if not some even more powerful force such as a functioning democratic government not beholden to capitalist interests? Don’t look for answer to that question from the concentrated corporate media.

* * *

Look, Ma, no competition
by David Ruccio
Real-World Economics Review Blog

The business press may have changed the language—they like to refer to such corporations as “superstar firms”—but the problem remains the same: corporations are growing larger, both absolutely and relative to the industries in which they operate.

What mainstream economists and the business press won’t acknowledge is those tendencies have existed since capitalism began. The neoclassical fantasy of perfect competition was only ever that, a fantasy.

Certainly one mid-nineteenth-century critic of both mainstream economic theory and capitalism understood that:

Every individual capital is a larger or smaller concentration of means of production, with a corresponding command over a larger or smaller labour-army. Every accumulation becomes the means of new accumulation. With the increasing mass of wealth which functions as capital, accumulation increases the concentration of that wealth in the hands of individual capitalists, and thereby widens the basis of production on a large scale and of the specific methods of capitalist production. The growth of social capital is effected by the growth of many individual capitals. All other circumstances remaining the same, individual capitals, and with them the concentration of the means of production, increase in such proportion as they form aliquot parts of the total social capital. At the same time portions of the original capitals disengage themselves and function as new independent capitals. Besides other causes, the division of property, within capitalist families, plays a great part in this. With the accumulation of capital, therefore, the number of capitalists grows to a greater or less extent. Two points characterise this kind of concentration which grows directly out of, or rather is identical with, accumulation. First: The increasing concentration of the social means of production in the hands of individual capitalists is, other things remaining equal, limited by the degree of increase of social wealth. Second: The part of social capital domiciled in each particular sphere of production is divided among many capitalists who face one another as independent commodity-producers competing with each other. Accumulation and the concentration accompanying it are, therefore, not only scattered over many points, but the increase of each functioning capital is thwarted by the formation of new and the sub-division of old capitals. Accumulation, therefore, presents itself on the one hand as increasing concentration of the means of production, and of the command over labour; on the other, as repulsion of many individual capitals one from another.

This splitting-up of the total social capital into many individual capitals or the repulsion of its fractions one from another, is counteracted by their attraction. This last does not mean that simple concentration of the means of production and of the command over labour, which is identical with accumulation. It is concentration of capitals already formed, destruction of their individual independence, expropriation of capitalist by capitalist, transformation of many small into few large capitals. This process differs from the former in this, that it only presupposes a change in the distribution of capital already to hand, and functioning; its field of action is therefore not limited by the absolute growth of social wealth, by the absolute limits of accumulation. Capital grows in one place to a huge mass in a single hand, because it has in another place been lost by many. This is centralisation proper, as distinct from accumulation and concentration.

Those of us who have actually read that text are not at all surprised by the contemporary reemergence of the concentration and centralization of capital. We have long understood that the forces of competition within capitalism create both the incentive and the means for individual firms to grow in size and to drive out other firms, thus leading to the concentration of capital. The availability of large amounts of credit and finance only makes those tendencies stronger.

And the limit?

In a given society the limit would be reached only when the entire social capital was united in the hands of either a single capitalist or a single capitalist company.

“just a means to that end”

Dirty Jobs and Macro Questions
by Patrick Watson, Mauldin Economics

“Serving others is always honorable work. Every major religion teaches this. If the work itself is honorable, why don’t we honor those who do it?”

That sounds nice. The only problem is it’s total bullshit. I doubt he wants an honest answer to his question.

Our society does not value serving others and never has. If you are working some crap job serving others, our society makes it very clear that you are a loser in the game of capitalism and Social Darwinism. This is supposedly a meritocracy and so those on the bottom of society are assumed to be those without merit. That is the entire justification for our society, the story we have to believe in to maintain the social order.

“Answer: Because we would rather spend our money in other ways. When we consumers take our demand signals elsewhere, the market efficiently reduces restaurant wages to match what we’ll pay. It’s the invisible hand at work.”

There is no invisible hand, as if divine intervention were determining the Elect. No more than there is a Santa Claus. If there is a hand manipulating the system, it is most definitely visible and all too human. Get up in the middle of the night on Christmas Eve and I guarantee you’ll see that it isn’t Santa who is stuffing money into the pockets of the plutocrats.

We don’t have a free market, as is obvious to anyone who pays attention. What we have is a corporatist system where big government colludes with and to some degree is controlled by big business. Some go so far as to call it inverted totalitarianism.

“Jobs don’t disappear because greedy capitalists replace people with robots. Businesses turn to robots because consumers want lower prices than can be achieved with human workers.

“The robots are just a means to that end.”

Yeah, well…

The feudal rights of the commons didn’t disappear because greedy aristocrats privatized and enclosed land by having replaced serfs with slaves. Plantations turned to slaves because consumers wanted lower prices than could be achieved with free citizens.

The slaves are just a means to that end.

Okay. So, I guess that means everything is perfectly fine and morally justified. Quit your complaining. It’s the invisible hand responding to market forces that stole your job. It’s no one’s fault that, as surplus labor, you are now a worthless human and a useless eater. Progress marches on, with or without you.

This attitude is strange. It’s a fatalism built on capitalist realism, which is no better than communist realism. The attitude is that we are helpless before forces greater than us. All we can hope to do is adapt to the inevitable. But if failing that, then we better get out of the way or else get run over as we deserve.

Oddly, after all the clueless blather, the author almost comes to a decent conclusion.

“I think our twisted ideas about money, work, and education are the real problems. They’re distorting supply and demand. The root causes aren’t so much economic as cultural and psychological.”

Sort of. The problem is that people like this author hold such ideas and will defend them, no matter the costs. He isn’t suggesting we fundamentally change our thinking, just maybe tinker a bit around the edges.

Otherwise, the system itself is just fine. The real problem is the people, which is to say all those poor people complaining. Sure, the root causes are cultural and psychological. I’d add that indeed they are also economic, as all of it is inseparable. Improving the bad attitudes of poor people isn’t going to solve the systemic failure.

“This year’s US election, contentious though it was, brought important issues to the surface. Ditto events around the world, like Brexit. The economy isn’t working like we think it should. People are tired of asking questions and getting no good answers.”

That is to put it lightly. Important issues were brought to the surface, in the way that magma is brought to the surface when a volcano erupts. Just wait until that volcano really blows its top, turns the sky black with smoke, blocks out the sun, covers the land in ash, and sends the population fleeing in all directions. Then questions and answers will be moot.

“I don’t have all the answers. I suspect no one person does. But the answers are out there, and we won’t find them unless we look for them.”

At least, he is admitting this much. After writing all that, he states he doesn’t actually have all the answers. Yet, as an economic analyst writing for a investment newsletter, it’s his job to have answers or else pretend he has answers. He belongs to the upper class intellectual elite who are supposed to be telling the rest of us losers what we should be doing.

“That awkward, uncomfortable search will be the global macro story in 2017 and probably beyond.”

Well, it will surely be continuing into the coming generations, assuming mass catastrophe and collapse doesn’t happen before then. What is up ahead on the road might not be a pothole to easily drive around. That very well might be a sinkhole that could swallow us whole. Society continues to move forward. Some think this means progress. But what are we moving towards?

Maybe we should slow down a bit and get our bearings.

Brazil’s Hayekian Neo-Serfdom

Neoliberalism is a disease, a force of destruction. And Latin America has been one of the main workshops of the neoliberal ruling elite, a site of experimentation.

They first implement their agendas in weaker countries before trying them out in the West. Countries like Brazil are the canary in the coal mine. This will be soon coming to a country near you.

We are seeing the future form before our very eyes. Or as William Gibson put it, “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Don’t worry. The distribution will come our way.

They promised you trickle down. What they didn’t tell you was what exactly would be trickling down on your head. I can tell you this much. It won’t be manna from heaven.

* * *

Is the US Behind the Brazilian Coup?
by Ted Snider, Antiwar.com

There can no longer be a defense of the removal of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff from office. The political maneuvering by the opposition PSDB has been uncloaked and revealed for what it clearly was all along: a quiet coup dressed in the disguise of democracy.

The recent release of a recording of a phone call has done for Brazil what Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland’s phone call to American ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt did for Ukraine: it has provided incontrovertible proof that the removal of the elected President was a coup.

The published transcript of the call between Romero Jucá, who was a senator at the time of the call and is currently the planning minister in the new Michael Temer government, and former oil executive, Sergio Machado, lays bare “a national pact” to remove Dilma and install Temer as President. Jucá reveals that, not only opposition politicians, but also the military and the Supreme Court are conspirators in the coup. Regarding the military’s role, Jucá says, “I am talking to the generals, the military commanders. They are fine with this, they said they will guarantee it.” And, as for the Supreme Court, Glenn Greenwald reports that Jucá admits that he “spoke with and secured the involvement of numerous justices on Brazil’s Supreme Court.” Jucá further boasted that “there are only a small number” of Supreme Court justices that he had not spoken to.

Safe with ‘Oligarchs and Imperialists’ in US, Brazil’s New President Admits Coup Plot
by Andrea Germanos, Common Dreams

Proponents of her ouster argued that former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was targeted and ultimately booted from office for budgetary wrongdoing or, ironically, corruption.

But fresh comments by new, unelected president Michel Temer himself back up claims that her impeachment was politically motivated, specifically, that Rousseff wouldn’t enact the austerity-promoting, welfare-slashing economic platform Temer unveiled from his party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), in October when he was vice president. […]

Vieira concludes that the impeachment “was for an agenda of impunity, profit, and power that would never be ratified democratically by the Brazilian voting population at the ballot box, and was thus imposed on them under the guise of upholding the law.”

Public Radio International also reported this week: “A mere two days after impeaching Rousseff, the same senators voted to legalize the very budget tricks they accused her of playing.”

In his speech Wednesday, Fox News Latino adds, “Temer made a pointed appeal to United States investors that his country is open for business.”

Brazil’s President Michel Temer Says Rousseff Was Impeached For Refusing His Economic Agenda
by Inacio Vieira, Intercept

In his remarks, Temer clearly stated what impeachment opponents have long maintained: that he and his party began to agitate for Rousseff’s impeachment when she refused to implement the pro-business economic plan of Temer’s party. That economic plan which Rousseff refused to implement called for widespread cuts to social programs and privatization, an agenda radically different from the one approved by Brazilians through the ballot box in 2014, when Dilma’s Workers’ Party won its fourth straight presidential election. The comments were delivered on Wednesday to an audience at the New York headquarters of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA). […]

The program “Bridge to the Future” – proposed by Temer’s party – prescribes cuts to health and education spending, reduced welfare benefits, a raised retirement age, new private sector partnerships and decreased market regulations. These ideas were the ones Temer advocated in his speech yesterday at AS/COA, which emphasized his government’s push for privatization and foreign investment. The newly installed President listed the multiple benefits and guarantees that his government intends to offer foreign investors. Those benefits including guaranteeing the profit margins of the business leaders who watched him speak while consuming their meals.

The AS/COA groups which Temer addressed is composed of members of multinational corporations and the U.S. foreign policy establishment focused on Latin America. Both were founded by the American industrialist David Rockefeller and have as its President Emeritus John Negroponte: the former Reagan and Bush administration ambassador and neoconservative hawk influential in the CIA’s dirty war in Honduras and the 2003 invasion of Iraq who is now a prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton. On its website, the Council of the Americas describes itself as an “international business organization whose members share a common commitment to economic and social development, open markets, the rule of law, and democracy throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

Temer’s sales pitch was chock full of standard neoliberal euphemisms and buzzwords, including the “universalization of the Brazilian market,” “reestablishing trust,” “extraordinary political stability,” public-private partnerships, and the implementation of “fundamental reforms” in areas like labor law, social security and public spending. “I come here to invite you to take part in the country’s new phase of growth,” he proclaimed.

Temer’s comments are yet more confirmation that Rousseff’s impeachment did not occur due to alleged budget tricks, as the Brazilian media and the country’s now-ruling faction regularly claims. Nor was it for the traditional Brazilian family, nor for God, or against corruption, as congresspeople claimed during their “yes” votes. It was conducted on behalf of the interests of business owners and to the detriment of workers. It was for an agenda of impunity, profit, and power that would never be ratified democratically by the Brazilian voting population at the ballot box, and was thus imposed on them under the guise of upholding the law. Anyone still doubting that should simply listen to what the prime beneficiary of impeachment, Michel Temer, just said to his most important constituency.

As Brazil’s New Ruler Admits Lie Behind Impeachment, US Press Closes Eyes
by Janine Jackson, FAIR

But Temer’s remarkable confession was not seen as newsworthy by virtually anyone in US corporate media—though the New York Times (9/19/16) did report on the speech by Temer to the United Nations a few days earlier in which he insisted in reference to the impeachment, “Everything happened with absolute respect for the constitutional order.”

A search of the Nexis news database turns up no stories that mention his more forthright AS/COA speech in any US newspaper, magazine, broadcast or cable outlet. The story was covered in alternative outlets like The Intercept (9/23/16, 9/23/16, 9/28/16), Common Dreams (9/23/16) and Mintpress (9/26/16).

The media silence on Temer’s admission is striking, especially considering that the Council of the Americas’ members include some of the biggest names in corporate media, including News Corp, Time Warner, Bloomberg and the Financial Times.

But as signaled by Vice President Joe Biden’s recent praise for Temer’s “commitment to maintaining Brazil’s regional and global leadership role during the recent period of political change,” the US government is quite pleased with the new pro-austerity regime in Brazil (for as long as it lasts; Temer has already been barred by an electoral court from political campaigning for eight years for violating campaign spending limits). Given this official friendliness, then, it’s not surprising that elite media are not eager to expose the shady origins of Washington’s new friends.

Still Selling Neoliberal Unicorns: The US Applauds the Coup in Brazil, Calls It Democracy
by Greg Grandin, The Nation

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s recently deposed president, calls it a coup. Many, perhaps most, of the countries in the Organization of American States call it is a coup. Even the men who helped carry out the coup admit, in a secretly recorded conversation, that what they were doing was effectively a coup, staged to provide them immunity from a corruption investigation.

But the United States doesn’t think that the blatantly naked power grab that just took place in Brazil—which ended the Workers’ Party’s 13-year control of the presidency, installed an all-white, all-male cabinet, diluted the definition of slavery, lest it tarnish the image of Brazil’s plantation sector (which relies on coerced, unfree labor), and began a draconian austerity program—is a coup.

It’s democracy at work, according to various Obama officials. […]

Still trying to sell neoliberal unicorns. Nothing of the sort is going to happen, now that the United States has compliant compradores in power in Argentina and Brazil, and perhaps soon in Venezuela.

Colombia’s “security turnaround” is built on a mountain of corpses, on paramilitary terror and massive land dispossession. Until recently, the military was killing civilians, dressing them as FARC guerrillas, and claiming these “false positives” as victories in its fight against the FARC. Colombia boasts one of the largest internal refugee populations in the world—about 4 million people, a large number of them Afro- and indigenous Colombians. That’s what the Times is prescribing for the rest of the region now that the “left” is “on the run.”

The United States isn’t going to “help its neighbors become more competitive and stable by promoting investment in technology, innovation and high-quality education.” Over the past 13 years, Brazil, more than any other country, has stood in the way of Washington-backed efforts to impose a punishing intellectual and corporate property-rights regime on Latin America. That, in effect, is one of the objectives of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty, which was offered as a successor to the failed FTAA and meant to work around Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela.

But now that friendly faces are installed in Brasília and Buenos Aires, the path is clearer. Monsanto and other agri-behemoths will be able to impose their seed monopoly on the regime (as the United States now does in Central America, to devastating effect); energy resources will once again be privatized (as Hillary, as secretary of state, pushed to do in Mexico).

If you want a more realistic view of what Washington might accomplish now that the “left” is “on the run” in Latin America, look beyond the Times opinion pages to its reporting, where just yesterday it was revealed that US military aid had turned the Mexican army into the most unaccountable killing machine operating in the Western Hemisphere. Look to Argentina in 2001–02, where strict adherence to the Washington Consensus led to one of the worst economic crises in recorded history. Look to El Salvador today, where the Obama administration is using the terms of a free-trade agreement to force the government to shut down a local seed-distribution project, since it violates corporate interests. Look to Ecuador, where Chevron has turned a good stretch of the Amazon into a toxic tar pit. Or Paraguay, which after its 2012 coup was taken over by an agro-gangster government.

Or look to the US-Mexican border, where refugees from US “security partnership” risk death in the desert for the privilege of living their lives in the shadows.

Wall Street’s New Man in Brazil: The Forces Behind Dilma Rousseff’s Impeachment
by José L. Flores

The manipulation of the national budget could be considered unorthodox; however, the funds were mostly used on covering the costs of popular social programs. Acting President Michel Temer is simultaneously being investigated for bribery and corruption; however, he is a great friend to Wall Street and is a U.S. intelligence informant, which arguably puts him beyond reproach when considering impeachment or indictment.

Due to huge protests and the highly corrupt culture in Brazilian government, it has been argued that these impeachment proceedings are well overdue. However, when one studies Michel Temer and his political apparatus, it has become apparent that a return to neoliberal economic policies, diverging from Rousseff’s center-left Workers Party, is the actual goal. Furthermore, these impeachment proceedings seem to have pernicious despots secretly guided by the U.S. State Department, Defense Department and U.S. business interests, all of which have been operating in the shadows of Brazilian politics since 1962.

According to recent internal documents, provided by WikiLeaks, on several occasions Michel Temer was an embassy informant for U.S. intelligence. Temer secretly shared information to the U.S. Southern Command concerning the 2006 election of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and the vitality of his center-left Workers’ Party. Temer assured the Defense Department that despite Lula’s clear path to reelection the president would have to negotiate with the opposition, the Brazilian Democratic Workers Party (PMDB), who had just won most governorships and the Senate. He also assured the U.S. that the PMDB would soon coalesce with Brazil’s right wing parties, therefore greatly minimizing the Workers’ Party platform. Additionally, Temer also criticized the social programs being implemented by Lula and the Workers’ Party, claiming Lula was too concerned the poor and not concerned enough about “economic growth.” In these communications a thin line was drawn between espionage and informant. Temer’s loyalty seemed to be with the United States and capital and not to Brazil and democracy.

For over a decade the Workers Party has implementing social programs in order to help the poor and disenfranchised. Discontented with this progress groups like the Free Brazil Movement and Students of Liberty were mobilizing in major Brazilian cities to demonstrate. It was revealed that these young Brazilians, mostly white and over-privileged college students, were being financed by the Koch brothers through the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

Capitalism as Social Control

Some people have talked about actual functioning communism. It was the understanding that we have to deal with what we have, rather than what we wish we had.

Soviet communism, for example, had nothing to do with what Marx wrote about. Nonetheless, Marx was irrelevant for someone living in the USSR. Someone could point to non-authoritarian examples of socialism and other left-wing politics, but that was besides the point. The Soviet citizen had to deal with the reality before them.

That is the situation we find ourselves right now with capitalism. Despite all the rhetoric, actual functioning capitalism doesn’t operate according to theory and ideal. It relates to what some have come to call capitalist realism—this is the belief that no matter how bad it is there is nothing better, that in some basic sense this is as good as it can get, and even that it is inevitable. Capitalism, in this view, is merely human nature. It’s pure cynicism and it shuts down imagination.

This is why it is all the more important to look at a social system for what it is. And, indeed, capitalism is first and foremost a social system. Economic ideology is window dressing.

This was made clear to me by recent data I was looking at.

There is one report from the UN. It looked major industries and specific externalized costs related to the environment. It was determined that many of these major industries either broke even or made a net loss. It was only because of externalization that they made any profit at all. To consider how massive is that externalization, all you have to is look at how wealthy and powerful are the corporations in these industries.

Those costs still are paid. Just not by the big biz. They are paid for by governments through subsidies, tax breaks, below market price resource extraction, public clean up of environmental destruction, etc. This is to say that all of this is paid for by the public taxpayer and by public natural resources.

Neoliberalism and corporatism also comes with many other costs that are harder to calculate: destruction of communities, loss of social capital, destruction of culture of trust, and similar things. Actual functioning capitalism puts immense pressure on every aspect of society. And it is very much personal. The biggest producer of pollution is big biz. That pollution is responsible for 40% of the deaths in the world. Not just deaths, but also shortened lives, disability, suffering, and healthcare costs.

The UN report was rather limited. It only took into account a few easily measured externalizations. They barely got at the reality of the situation which is much starker.

As a more specific example, consider Walmart. It has received a lot of attention and so its impact has been studied thoroughly. Walmart is the single largest employer in the United States. Their employees are the single largest group of welfare recipients in the country. And Walmart itself is the single largest beneficiary of the use of welfare such as food stamps. Walmart is the ultimate Welfare Queen.

It’s worse than only that. When a Walmart comes to a community, it is a net loss to the local economy. It forces out most of the local businesses. This leads to the death of downtowns which were the hearts of these communities. Walmart stores also decrease the number of employed, which is to say they either force more people into unemployment or to move out of town to look for work. For those who still are employed, Walmart drives down wages and so increases poverty even among the employed, which necessitates higher rates of welfare.

It occurred to me that Walmart isn’t being run as a normal for-profit business. It’s sole role is to externalize costs and redirect wealth upward while keeping the masses just barely comfortable enough with cheap food and cheap consumer crap, similar to the Roman plutocratic tactic of social control through bread and circus. But the only reason the masses need all that cheap stuff is because corporations like Walmart have put so many people into poverty. Their communities destroyed and their lives made desperate, consumerism becomes the new religion and Walmart the official state church.

As such, Walmart is the perfect expression of actual functioning capitalism, in the United States and increasingly around the world. But Walmart is far from alone. The UN report shows that many major industries aren’t being run like normal for-profit businesses, considering they aren’t really making profits when externalized costs are included. Capitalism is simply another name for corporatism. The reality has nothing to do with the rhetoric about competitive free markets.

Like the political system, the economic system is rigged. It’s social control by another means.

Can ‘capitalism’ be free and democratic, fair and inclusive?

I came across an article from Reclaim the American Dream: Issue Brief: Inclusive Capitalism. It offers a progressive critique of present capitalism and a progressive vision of what a fair market would look like. It’s not a deep analysis, but some good points are brought up.

Here is an issue brought up just yesterday by my business management, capitalist-loving, fiscal conservative father:

“In that era, CEOs of America’s corporations did not pay themselves vast sums of company stock, as they do today. That was frowned upon as unethical insider trading, because obviously top corporate executives have inside information on new products about to appear or other major moves on the horizon.”

This is about how and where companies invest their money. Obviously, CEOs have come to see one of the best ways to invest money is by paying CEOs more. That is problematic, even ignoring the charge of “unethical insider trading” and the related moral hazard my dad mentioned. The problem isn’t just that CEOs make more money than they are worth (i.e., more than the value they contribute to the company), but that money invested in CEO pay could have been invested elsewhere.

Companies used to invest more in workers, for example. Besides ensuring their workers were healthy and safe, they did on-the-job training. It wasn’t just a time when economic mobility was high in the larger society. Mobility within companies was also higher. It used to be much easier for someone to start with an entry level job and work their way up into management.

Companies used to see employees as long term investments and employees tended to stick around for that reason. As my dad has told me, some Japanese companies still have this attitude, looking to hire people who will be long term members where the company commits to the worker in expectation that the worker will commit to the company. It’s an ethos of social trust and responsibility, a company as a kind of community.

But it goes way beyond just about the value seen and invested in employees. There used to be a mentality that a company should go to great effort to reinvest back into the company itself. That has changed so now it is seen as a priority to ensure shareholders get profit, no matter the long term damage done to the company. There has been a loss of not just social responsibility but also long term vision.

“Trillions of dollars that could have been spent on innovation and job creation in the U.S. economy over the past three decades have instead been used to buy back (company) shares for what is effectively stock-price manipulation,” economist William Lazonick reported in the Harvard Business Review in late 2014.

“The contrast between what business does today and what it used to do is stunning. In a study of hundreds of major U.S. companies, Lazonick found that in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, major U.S. companies ploughed close to half of their profits into expanding their businesses, funding R&D, retraining workers and paying them more, and paid out the other half of profits to shareholders.

“But from 2003 to 2012, Lazonick found, shareholders got 91% of corporate profits and growth got only 9%. That is a disastrous ratio the American economy.”

The focus of companies used to be on making the best products possible. Now the emphasis is more on sales and profit, with little sense of pride in doing quality work that contributes to society.

Drug companies, for example, spend more on advertising than they do on R&D; and that doesn’t even count the money they spend on lobbying, campaign donations, and maybe some astroturf. As the above data shows, this shift from investing money back into companies has become the norm.

That reminds me of what made early Quaker businesses so distinct, as they put quality of product before all else and on religious grounds were against manipulative and deceptive advertising. For a Quaker, being a businessman was a divine calling, not just a way to make money. The good and the goods of a business couldn’t be separated from moral goodness of religion and the social goodness of community.

Then again, there is the left-wing perspective. My favorite voice from the left is Joe Bageant. His writing is always amusing and insightful. One of his pieces on capitalism is Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball. With his typical style, he begins by getting straight to the point:

“As an Anglo European white guy from a very long line of white guys, I want to thank all the brown, black, yellow and red people for a marvelous three-century joy ride. During the past 300 years of the industrial age, as Europeans, and later as Americans, we have managed to consume infinitely more than we ever produced, thanks to colonialism, crooked deals with despotic potentates and good old gunboats and grapeshot. Yes, we have lived, and still live, extravagant lifestyles far above the rest of you. And so, my sincere thanks to all of you folks around the world working in sweatshops, or living on two bucks a day, even though you sit on vast oil deposits. And to those outside my window here in Mexico this morning, the two guys pruning the retired gringo’s hedges with what look like pocket knives, I say, keep up the good work. It’s the world’s cheap labor guys like you — the black, brown and yellow folks who take it up the shorts — who make capitalism look like it actually works. So keep on humping. Remember: We’ve got predator drones.”

From that perspective, it is, always was and always will be a sham. I’m sympathetic with that. When the US economy was doing its best, the US military was being ruthless around the world and even back at home the police state was being ruthless toward minorities and the poor. The American Dream was never fully a thing of substance for so many.

I do think ‘capitalism’ has become a problematic word at this point. There is no way to separate it from its long history of imperialism and colonialism, exploitation and oppression. If we honestly care about being free people in a free society with free markets, whatever that might mean, we probably better drop the baggage of capitalism.

Looking back, the capitalism of generations past can seem like a wondrous thing, at least for those who weren’t one of the many being trampled upon. It is true that many benefited and the economy grew. No one doubts that. But at what cost? Maybe what we have become was an inevitable result of what we once were. We just couldn’t see it coming. The tide that raises boats also drowns, and when the tide goes back out as it always does we are left with a bunch of stranded boats and dead bodies.

Maybe we need to rethink the whole thing, not just pine for what used to be. Still, might we salvage some lessons learned from the past?

Capitalists Learning From Socialists

Even The Wall Street Journal Is Asking Questions About How Ownership Should Work in a Democracy
by Gar Alperovitz

The piece begins with the simple imperative: “If Western countries want to disprove the dire forecasts of Karl Marx, we must think creatively about how to make the middle class more prosperous and secure.“

Let that sink in for a minute. The threat, according to this featured piece in The Wall Street Journal, is not just Marxists and their ideas, but the possibility that they might be right about capitalism after all. The author strikes the same note in his conclusion:

[…] Marx did have an insight about the disproportionate power of the ownership of capital. The owner of capital decides where money goes, whereas the people who sell only their labor lack that power. This makes it hard for society to be shaped in their interests. In recent years, that disproportion has reached destructive levels, so if we don’t want to be a Marxist society, we need to put it right.

[…] the oddity of the WSJ, bastion of capitalism’s most defended ideological heights, running such a forceful indictment of the current system and its tendency to reproduce and deepen levels of inequality inimical to democracy cannot be ignored: The system question may not quite be on the table in the mainstream media in the way it ultimately needs to be, but it’s getting close.

Confession of Faith
Theodore Roosevelt
August 06, 1912

I am well aware that every upholder of privilege, every hired agent or beneficiary of the special interests, including many well-meaning parlor reformers, will denounce all this as “Socialism” or “anarchy”–the same terms they used in the past in denouncing the movements to control the rail-ways and to control public utilities. As a matter of fact, the propositions I make constitute neither anarchy nor Socialism, but on the contrary, a corrective to Socialism and an antidote to anarchy.

“Socialism, II — Where We Can Work with Socialists”
Outlook 27 March 1909
by Theodore Roosevelt

It is true that the doctrines of communistic Socialism, if consistently followed, mean the ultimate annihilation of civilization. Yet the converse is also true. Ruin faces us if we decline steadily to try to reshape our whole civilization in accordance with the law of service, and if we permit ourselves to be misled by any empirical or academic consideration into refusing to exert the common power of the community where only collective action can do what individualism has left undone, or can remedy the wrongs done by an unrestricted and ill-regulated individualism. There is any amount of evil in our social and industrial conditions of today, and unless we recognize this fact and try resolutely to do what we can to remedy the evil, we run great risk of seeing men in their misery turn to the false teachers whose doctrines would indeed lead them to greater misery, but who do at least recognize the fact that they are now miserable. At the present time there are scores of laws in the interest of labor — laws putting a stop to child labor, decreasing the hours of labor where they are excessive, putting a stop to unsanitary crowding and living, securing employers’ liability, doing away with unhealthy conditions in various trades, and the like — which should be passed by the National and the various State Legislatures; and those who wish to do effective work against Socialism would do well to turn their energies into securing the enactment of these laws.

Moreover, we should always remember that Socialism is both a wide and a loose term, and that the self-styled Socialists are of many and utterly different types. If we should study only the professed apostles of radical Socialism, of what these men themselves like to call “scientific Socialism,” or if we should study only what active leaders of Socialism in this country have usually done, or read only the papers in which they have usually expressed themselves, we would gain an utterly wrong impression of very many men who call themselves Socialists. There are many peculiarly high-minded men and women who like to speak of themselves as Socialists, whose attitude, conscious or unconscious, is really merely an indignant recognition of the evil of present conditions and an ardent wish to remedy it, and whose Socialism is really only an advanced form of liberalism. Many of these men and women in actual fact take a large part in the advancement of moral ideas […] The Socialists of this moral type may in practice be very good citizens indeed, with whom we can at many points co-operate.

Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography
by Theodore Roosevelt

many of the men who call themselves Socialists to-day are in reality merely radical social reformers, with whom on many points good citizens can and ought to work in hearty general agreement, and whom in many practical matters of government good citizens well afford to follow.

Teddy Roosevelt’s “Socialist” Party Platform
by Timothy Ashby

THE PROGRESSIVE ROOSEVELT.
by Amygdala

Bernie Sanders’s Presidential Bid Represents a Long Tradition of American Socialism
Long deployed by the right as an epithet, this form of left-wing populism is as American as apple pie.
by Peter Dreier

How Obama’s Embrace Turned Teddy Roosevelt Into a Socialist
After Obama cited Roosevelt in his Kansas speech, Fox News has decided that TR peddled “socialistic nationalism.”
by John Nichols

Sanders’s ‘socialist’ policies sound a lot like Teddy Roosevelt’s and Reagan’s
by H.A. Goodman

My Preoccupied Mind: Blogging and Research

I haven’t been posting as much to my blog lately. I wanted to explain my reasons, in case anyone cared to know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some related things.

A while back, I started a post about the radicalism of the Enlightenment. Many people, especially conservatives, forget how violently the traditional social order was overturned, in order to create the world we know today. Modern capitalist society may be many things, but it has nothing to do with any traditional social order and the same goes for modern conservatism that aligns itself with capitalism.

That led me to other topics. I was reminded, among other things, to some of my earlier thinking on the Axial Age, Julian Jayne’s breakdown of the bicameral mind, etc. I’ve always sensed a hidden connection between that earlier era of transformation and the radicalism of the Enlightenment, the latter being a greater expression and fulfillment of what first emerged more than two millennia ago.

With all of that in mind, I was looking many different articles and books. My curiosity has been in full gear ever since. I’m in research mode, which for me can be quite an obsessive and time-consuming activity.

This was made worse because I got into a discussion about shame. While putting the radicalism post on the back burner, I looked into this other topic, as I had never explored it before. It turned out that shame is a lot more fascinating than I had considered.

My investigation into the meaning of shame once again led me back in the same direction that the issue of radicalism had brought me.

Julian Jaynes had written about the comparison of shame and guilt cultures. He was influenced in by E. R. Dodds (and Bruno Snell). Dodds in turn based some of his own thinking about the Greeks on the work of Ruth Benedict, who originated the shame and guilt culture comparison in her writings on Japan and the United States. Benedict, like Margaret Mead, had been taught by Franz Boas. Boas developed some of the early anthropological thinking that saw societies as distinct cultures.

Connected to these thinkers, I was reading Lewis Hyde’s Trickster Makes the World. I realized a connection to my own speculations about symbolic conflation, about which I recently wrote a post. I explored that in a fair amount of detail, but it only touched upon one area of my mind’s focus as of late.

As you can see, I was exploring the connections of scholarly thought, but also the connections of different time periods. The past speaks to the present, whether the past of centuries before or millennia before.

At the same time, I feel like I have a family obligation to finish up the genealogy research I started years ago. I got distracted by other things. I do enjoy genealogy, but it is difficult and requires total focus. I have barely even started on my father’s side of the family.

I have my hands full. I enjoy blogging and will continue to do so, but it might be sporadic in the immediate future. I’m not sure what I might blog about, when I do get around to it. I’m known for being easily distracted and writing about such distractions.