Saturday, October 30, 2010

Very afraid

Maxine Udall sounds the alarm:
I'm afraid I'm in agreement with Paul Krugman that if Republicans gain control of the House we should be "very afraid." [I'm already very afraid, and I'll still be very afraid even if the Democrats hang on.] I'm sorry to say this, but unless you expect to inherit immense wealth or you are already in the top 1-2% of the income distribution I think you would be nuts to vote Republican. I base my opinion on the stark economic results of their nearly invariant beliefs and their performance over the last 30 years.
But what is to be done? Maxine says,
Some of you will point out that elected US lawmakers of both parties appear to be wholly owned by corporations and finance. Even if you believe this, it hardly argues for shrinking government, thereby giving corporate and other interests even more unfettered power. It argues for a political philosophy that believes government serves an essential purpose in an advanced, complex capitalist society: that of countervailing force against those interests when they are harmful to the rest of us and helpful to those interests when they are beneficial to us.
This is, of course, the crux of the biscuit. We do indeed need to change our philosophy, but can we do so by changing only our political philosophy? We know the government can indeed act as a countervailing force against capitalist interests -- the government actually did so from the mid 1930s until this role began to decay in the 1970s. But we also know that this sort of government is unstable, precisely because it began to decay in the 1970s, and the decay has continued to this day; it was not merely a fluke, it is a structural feature of our social, political and economic landscape. I cannot see how trying to roll back the regulatory clock to the 1950s or 60s is a feasible plan: even if it could be done, why would we expect it to not decay again?

Economic power is the foundation of every society; the rulers are those who hold economic power. The concept of formally separating the traditional instruments of government (i.e. "state power") from the exercise of economic power affords only the ability of factions within the economic ruling class to more efficiently jockey for state power... and that only sometimes. Such a formal separation does not and cannot offer true political power to any class that does not actually have economic power. At best, those without economic power can be courted and used by one or another faction of the economic ruling class. The only time there's any sort of real change in the political landscape is when the physical means of production change substantially enough so that the habits and characteristics of the old economic ruling class become radically unsuited to the new conditions.

There's nothing "wrong" with the idea that the class that holds economic power is the ruling class. It's a fact of our present social, psychological, political and economic development. It's not necessarily an ineluctable fact, but it's true of human beings as we are today. So the key is, if we do not want a small group of people to have disproportionate political power, some large group of people must seize economic power. But no class can simply "seize" economic power; an economy is extremely difficult to run, and it takes generations of education, experience and the development of social and institutional legitimacy to run an economy as relatively unsophisticated (compared to ours) as the Roman Empire.

One way to seize economic power is to develop economic power under the noses of the existing ruling class, as the capitalist class did under feudalism, and as the communists almost did in the 19th century under the capitalists. Note that the victory over the European communists required the capitalists to initiate the First Imperialist War. (Defeating communism was not, of course, the only reason for this war, perhaps not even the primary reason, but it was, all things considered, probably the least trivial reason.)

The only alternative is to develop economic power rebuilding after a catastrophic collapse of the previous society, as the Russians and Chinese did after the catastrophic collapse of feudalism. (Ironically, the First Imperialist War, which dramatically weakened communism, paved the way for the collapse of Russian feudalism and the rise of communism there. Likewise the Second Imperialist War paved the way for the collapse of Chinese feudalism and its own rise to communism.) I see no signs of the first method; I see no new economic power rising under the noses of the capitalists. So the only "hope" for progress is a worldwide catastrophic collapse of capitalism. I most definitely do not advocate intentionally creating a catastrophic collapse. I don't believe it's actually possible: if the ruling class is at all vigorous and competent, it will successfully prevent a collapse. Contrawise, if the ruling class has become indifferent, incompetent or irrational, it will bring about a collapse on its own.

The capitalist ruling class appears bent on creating a world-wide collapse of society, a collapse that replicating the New Deal can neither halt nor recover from, as it did the last world-wide catastrophe.

By all means vote Democratic in the next election. I don't think it will hurt anything, and I don't see how not voting will help anything. It's entirely possible that a (miraculous) Democratic victory in the mid-terms might slow the inevitable collapse somewhat, which is not the worst thing that could happen. But don't think for a moment that any form of purely political action will do anything at all to reverse our course towards economic and social catastrophe, and don't think that we can build a new and better capitalist society on the ashes of the old. The capitalism of the last 70-80 years is the absolute best we can get. I think we can do better.

The shit is going to hit the fan. Things are going to become very very bad over the next 5-10 years. What are you personally going to do in the face of famine, plague, death and war? When the people are not just demanding justice but fighting for survival, which side of the battle lines will you be on? And when the fight is done and we begin to rebuild, what will you contribute... should you survive?


  1. Found this via Leiter.

    Seems like something you might be interested to read (if you haven't already) and also more confirmation that you're right. Shit WILL hit the fan, soon.

  2. @Camus Dude:

    That's nothing new; all those figures are merely the latest data points in trends which have been going on now for decades. (Heck, we already knew about the rich getting massively richer in 2009, too -- there was lots of evidence which came through faster than this.) At this point the only thing about that post which provided a new scare is the comment which says "these columns are too long". Really?! You can't be bothered to read or even skim a couple of pages if well-written text? No wonder the economy has moved overseas!


    I am expecting things to start getting bad even faster than 5-10 years. I predict that over the next three months things will fall apart faster than most people would even believe possible. There's a wave of financial disaster around here which is just breaking, which is hard to notice because of the general decline. The number of people I have met in the last couple of weeks who have some sort of financial disaster going on and who started it within the last month is staggering. Houses newly entering foreclosure, bankruptcies because of lost job revenue, children moving in with parents because the children can't afford to live on their own, children moving in with parents because the parents can't afford to live on their own... I think the "triple dip" has just started.

    Two years ago, I remember there was this guy who promised that he would be courageous and stand up to the right wing and actually pass some laws to make things better. He must have been a relative of the president or something, because they have the same name. Too bad the president isn't him.

  3. I am expecting things to start getting bad even faster than 5-10 years.

    Sadly, you're probably right.


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