Saturday, December 24, 2011

Krugman and the Truth About the 1% That Can't Be Spoken

I have been participating in OWS with increased intensity over the course of the last two months. The defining moment for me was the illegal and brutal eviction on November, 15. One of the things that I liked about the Freedom Plaza encampment was the Think Tank discussion: people from all walks of life gathering together in a public space discussing openly about the inadequacies of capitalism.

Today's New York Times op-ed by Paul Krugman The Post-Truth Campaign reminded me of these discussions particularly in terms of certain ideological tenets that seem so engrained into our collective unconscious even in the face of the starkest of realities. In this regard, Krugman opens his essay by positing the following:

Suppose that President Obama were to say the following: “Mitt Romney believes that corporations are people, and he believes that only corporations and the wealthy should have any rights. He wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs, forced to accept whatever wages corporations choose to pay, no matter how low.”

Krugman goes on to say that such a statement would be universally condemned by almost everyone, including himself, and much of the essay is dedicated to creating a moral equivalence between the statement above and the continuous charges coming from Republicans about Obama being a redistributive socialist. He continues by wondering why the latter statements do not meet a condemnation similar to that which the former would receive if Obama, or anyone else for that matter, would dare uttering it.

As the title of his piece summarizes, Krugman describes this type of environment the Post-Truth Campaign.

While Krugman should be thanked for putting his finger on a praxis that has become pretty much the modus operandi of political discourse, his underlying ideological tenets don't seem to alert the Princeton economist to the fact that he has lured himself into an logical fallacy. If the idea of a post-truth political environment is assumed to be true – as I believe it has been for at least a decade – then Obama should be able to say that Mitt Romney, the embodiment of the 1%, wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs without causing any particular uproar in the establishment community. For this reason, the fact that he can't say it is proof that the statement is true: the 1% wants to reduce middle-class Americans to serfs, forced to accept whatever wages corporations choose to pay, no matter how low.

One of the primary goals of capitalism is to reduce labor costs. According to Marx's concept of surplus value, the lower the wages the higher the profits for capital. This is why the 1% has historically being opposed to unions or anyone and anything (i.e. minimum wage legislation) that would champion workers' wages. In the post-truth age, the increase of surplus value is called an increase in productivity. This is an euphemism for laying off workers while putting the extra work on the shoulders of remaining workers who must work longer ours without having their salaries raised.

If we take this tendency of capitalism to maximize profit by minimizing labor costs to its logical conclusion, it follows that the ideal wage from a capitalist's standpoint is zero. And what do we call someone who works for free or perhaps for simply food and shelter? That is a serf or, in other words, a slave. For this reason, it can be said that serfdom and slavery are an intrinsic tendency of capitalism because they represent the ultimate zero-level labor cost.

Yet, many in this country – including Krugman and those who I sometimes happened to converse with in the Think Tank discussions at Freedom Plaza – seem to not be able to grasp this simple reality. It's as if it is not possible for many people to accept that in America there are people, the 1%, who would have no qualms to return this country to the middle-ages or even earlier, more brutal forms of slavery. This resistance is perhaps rooted in the positivist idea of inevitable human progress, the idea that we could never go back to certain forms of barbarism. Yet, history is full of examples of regress – the middle-ages being only one the most glaring. Even Krugman admitted so much in an op-ed earlier this year when he wrote that the country was well on its way of becoming a banana republic.

The fact is that many Americans still seem unable to accept that given the chance the 1% would gladly turn this country into a Honduran style republic, where a tiny oligarchy which controls most of the wealth uses the government and death squads as a tool to repress a population of mostly peasants. Yet, the signs of this coming reality are all around us if one only cares to look:

– The absolute impunity of Wall Street executives in the greatest plunder of wealth in human history.

– A defense (sic) bill that enables the executive to deploy the military in the United States to arrest and detain Americans indefinitely.

– A 1% whose wealth has reached 1929 levels of concentration and which is thrusting the country into a depression.

I could go on and on but the point is simple: rather than being an imaginary statement, the truth about the 1% that can't be spoken is that they sense an historic opportunity and they are pursuing it with a vengeance: turning working people into serfs. Krugman even alluded to that much when he said that the Troika is now trying to destroy the European dream. On this, economist Dean Baker concurs. The truth is that, if they succeed, we are next.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Capitalism Hits the Fan

An excellent assessment and, most importantly, possible solutions to the world economic crisis by economist Richard Wolff, author of Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What to Do About It. This aired today on Democracy Now.