Capitalism

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02 Apr

Hours per Week to Earn Living (minimum) Wage: 138

in Capitalism, Economy, Marxism

At least in my native New Jersey, though according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “in no state can a minimum wage worker afford a two-bedroom unit at Fair Market rent, working a standard 40-hour work week.”  Where does your state fall?  Click for larger version:

2012-OOR-Min-Wage-Map_0

Cut this in half for all you naysayers who don’t believe minimum wage workers should support families on a full-time income and this is still untenable in the majority of populous states.

But hey, poor people are just lazy.

On a side note, I just finished watching In Time (go Timberlake!) which, albeit not the most stunning cinematic adventure, is spot-on in its portrayal of capitalism's in-built need for stratification.  Raising the minimum wage is well and good, but an incomplete solution when the capitalist aristocracy can simply outsource jobs, raise prices, lobby for looser OSHA regulations, etc. 

Instead of raising bottom-end wages, we might explore doing away with them entirely in favor of maximum-ratio enforcement.  Pay employees whatever you want, so long as they earn no less than, say 25 times what the highest-paid employee earns (indexed to corporate tax rates).  Want to pay a $7 hourly ($14,000 annual) minumum?  Fine, so long as you cap your own salary at $350,000.  Not bad, eh?  Need a boost for that second yacht?  No worries ... pay your line workers $10/hour and you're good to go. 

Indexing wages to prosperity maintains a system of reward vs. risk while playing fair with the production class.  And hey, it comes with the added bonus of delaying class consciousness for another few decades.  That's right -- Maximum Ratio: Keeping you safe from worker revolts since 2012!

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13 Dec

The Violence Within: Bring the troops home

in Barack Hussein Obama, Capitalism, Corporatism, Foreign Policy, Marxism, Military

With the stroke of his talented larynx, Obama bids adieu to the Iraqi occupation by declaring that “those days are over.”  Aside from the physical relocation of America’s armed expression from one base to another, I’m not entirely sure what days he means.  Of course, all but his most fervent ideologues know that this is more of a pre-election year holiday salve than substantial shift in foreign policy.  A steaming pile of ho-ho-ho to maybe help forget this shameful conquest so we can go on pretending that we do not provide the mechanism for multi-national corporations to endlessly divert capital from periphery to core. 

But hey, score one for the bumper-magnet ribbon crowd who can now rejoice over years of straddling some imaginary line between abhorring the war yet supporting the troops. 

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06 Dec

Do you earn or do you profit?

in Capitalism, Economy, Marxism

As per youzsh, XKCD is the kink of visualizations and has done it again with the newest chart on money.  The teeny-tiny version below really needs to be viewed in full size to have any sort of grasp on how perverse pervasive the income gap has become. 

money

I though this made a timely contrast with Dan Gillmor’s recent insistence on rejecting the term ‘earn’ when it comes to the income of the 1%:

To be sure, one of the meanings of "to earn" is "to profit financially" – but it is not the only one. The other major meaning is related to whether someone has deserved his or her gain, which may or may not be about money. Because the word has both connotations, we tend to attach both when the topic is about financial profits.

If we know anything about the recent income and accumulated assets of the now notorious 1%, it is that much of this wealth, by any rational standard, is undeserved. This applies especially to the Wall Street bankers who looted the global economy with sleazy tactics and, sadly, also with impunity.

That is why, if I was the editor in charge of any news organisation, I would flatly ban the use of the word "earned", when "profited" or "made" (as in money) would be much more accurate, or at least neutral. I would not try to say who "deserved" profits; only that profits were made.

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."

02 Jun

Throwaway Thursday – Big Pharma and Why Your Stitches Cost $1,500

in Capitalism, Healthcare, Throwaway Thursday
A Drug Dealers Table

Image by TheDarkThing via Flickr

  • Nearly a decade ago, no lesser Capitalist than President Bill Clinton chastised the pharmaceutical industry for gross profiteering at the expense of our children by highlighting an economic sector that spends $1 billon more on advertising and lobbying than R&D.  Well as it turns out, those outrageous R&D expenses big Pharma are always whining about may be exaggerated by as much as 600%.
  • Such exaggerated costs are one of the reasons drug companies assert the need for monopolies and threaten to stop making their miracle cures if the public does not help those poor souls recoup from their altruistic endeavours.  In the process, a drug that used to be $10 per shot will now bleed patients for $1500 – nearly all of which is pure profit – all in the name of quality control.
  • After years of stacking the FDA which sympathetic cronies, Big Pharma is now claiming that the FDA approval process is so flawless that they should be indemnified against any lawsuits stemming from their wrongdoing, garnering government support in at least one state. But don’t worry, the federal government is sure to bestow fabulous cash and prizes upon any flipper babies.
  • But finally, no matter how bad it is in the good old you-ess-of-aye, at least we're not as bad as those hippies and communists in the rest of the ‘developed’ world.  And I’ve got the infograhic to prove it!


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18 May

US - Mexican Border (Photo)

in Capitalism

I don't know if this is p-shopped or not (I suspect not) but if it is genuine then it truly says a thousand words. Of course, we'll need to confiscate a few of those for interstate tax purposes, so more like 898 words. Oh, and some of those words entered this photograph illegally and must be deported, so it's really more like 743 words. But they are 743 damn interesting ones!

14 Apr

I’m a Consumer Whore

in Capitalism, Consumerism

It’s true.  I know by normal American standards my quaint European life may not appear so.  I drive a modest car (that I own), I have no television, and wear the same clothes I have worn since 1867 and am damn proud of them.  Besides, these checkered pants are going to be back in fashion any year now and then won’t you all be sorry!

But the truth is that I actually love new toys.  Anything and Everything.  Cartoon Balloon Sticky Notes?  Yeah.  Star Wars bookends?  Gotta have ‘em!  Watch made out of Dinosaur Poop?  WANT!  There are two things and two things alone keeping me from selling my organs, or my pets, or my pets’ organs to get what I want: a laughably low income and the deep shame of spending money on random crap instead of my children. 

Am I wrong?  Do we not all live in conflict between the commodity fetishism of Madison Avenue and our own sense of shame for having money to spend on crap while most of our brother’s and sister’s earn less than $1 per day?

Apparently not.

Young Cosumers of the Year

I shot this yesterday at the mall.  In case you can’t tell from the photo, this was a contest – replete with corporate sponsors and ‘Fair Trade’ promotions – where high school students competed with one another to determine who knew the most about their true and golden role on this planet.  Seriously, when did ‘consumer’ stop being an insult?

Sigh.

15 Nov

Are Americans too busy to think critically?

in Capitalism, Congress, Corporatism, Democracy, Democrats, Elections, Libertarianism, Marxism, Politics
Postneoliberalista

Image by UN MANUÉ via Flickr

Alternet has yet another compilation of 16 of the dumbest things Americans believe --- taxes went up under Obama, Hussein was connected with 9/11, ad nauseum.  Articles like these may salve the sensibilities of those not victim to the propaganda machine of a certain billionaire and corporate-sponsored “grassroots” movement currently in the ascendency, but no matter how blatant a lie is exposed, it will do little to sway those who believe the big lie – that U.S. media has a liberal bias. 

So what to do in a political and cultural landscape in which well-told lies have more validity than fact-based truth:

“...by a two-to-one margin likely voters thought their taxes had gone up, when, for almost all of them, they had actually gone down. Republican politicians, and conservative commentators, told them Barack Obama was a tax-mad lunatic. They lied. The mainstream media did not do their job and correct them. The White House was too polite—"civil," just like Obama promised—to say much. So people believed the lie.”

We’ve entered a bizzarro world in which calling out lies is considered rude, says Perlstein, so liars are allowed to sit tight and dominate the discourse. This gels with Bill Maher’s critique of the Rally for Sanity, that calling for “balance for balance’s sake” ignores two important aspects of news reporting: facts and evidence.

The modern left is saddled with a two-fold curse.  The first is the erroneous belief that civility is paramount – a paradigmatic weakness that prevents us from calling out lies and the liars who repeat them.  The second is the conundrum that left-leaning politicians are beholden to the same corporate interests that drive such lies.  True Enough has become the mantra of the modern-era; a policy of ignoring the “little” lies, laughing at the big ones, and losing elections rather than bucking the status quo.

Blaming Americans for being ignorant unwashed masses--or taking potshots at an education system that doesn’t teach critical thinking-- would be the easy answer to this conundrum.

But the reality is that if messaging has such a big effect on Americans, then messaging matters.

And indeed, it is messaging over fact that drives the 21st century political consumer.  The intelligentsia and masses alike fight a perpetual battle over whose lie can achieve critical mass (hint – the corporate media are neither left- nor right-wing, but overwhelmingly neoliberal) while multi-national corporations continue to consolidate power.  In the end, it really doesn’t matter what liars control which body of government; the debate itself is king.  Our capacity to choose tribal identity over self-interest keeps us all distracted from the only truth that matters – that the interests of the ruling class are not our own.


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25 May

Don’t Kill Our Only Democracy – Support Net Neutrality

in Capitalism, Corporatism, Democracy, Internet, Science & Technology

Contrary to the rallying cries of various grammatically-challenged teabaggers, we have never had a functioning democratic society.  If you’re a long-time reader, you may have seen a quote from Chomsky on this page:

Personally, I'm in favor of democracy, which means that the central institutions of society have to be under popular control. Now, under capitalism, we can't have democracy by definition. Capitalism is a system in which the central institutions of society are in principle under autocratic control.

 

Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...

Image via Wikipedia

Indeed, the internet is the first and only example we’ve had of a truly globalized forum in which all may enjoy equal participation.  The powers-that-be hate this and have tried (will try) everything they can, from firewalls to censorship, to squash it.  Net neutrality – the principle that the equality of all internet traffic is protected by the force of law – has been long-resisted as antithetical to the free-market.  This is, of course, utter hogwash.  It is about far more than whether Comcast can throttle down their competitors bandwidth - at this point the internet underlies so much of our lives that it has become a basic necessity to participating in our global economy.

There is an interesting parallel here with the advent of electricity.  While most of us take for granted the ability to plug in our refrigerator, there was a time when power lines were something that only rich people could use, and even then only for their new-fangled light bulbs.  Back then, there was nobody who could imagine other uses for it – the idea of using this form of fire to clean your clothes or freeze your food was preposterous.  Those who pushed for governmental intervention to ensure equal distribution were decried as socialists.  Much as with the internet, for as indispensable as it has become, we quite literally have no idea what the future will bring.

In this day and age, I would say that it's hard to believe that we're still discussing whether net-neutrality is a good thing, but this is what happens when money becomes intertwined with power and influence:

Oddly, dozens of Democrats (perhaps 70 again) have signed a letter supporting the talking points and agenda of Glenn Beck and one his major corporate sponsors, AT&T. This letter also contradicts the technology agenda of Barack Obama, Obama's Federal Communications Commission, and the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees that oversee the communications industry. The "congressional" letter is being peddled by cable and phone lobbyists to the staff of Democratic Congressmen who have a history of putting their names on cable and phone industry's debunked talking points, sometimes apparently without understanding their meaning.

This letter, being pushed by Rep Gene Green (D-TX), pertains to whether or not the Internet will remain an open engine of economic and democratic freedom. In D.C., legislators and lobbyists are debating something called "net neutrality," which is a common-sense FCC proposal to keep phone and cable companies from interfering with what you can do online and how you can use the Internet. Without net neutrality, phone and cable companies can limit your online speech and freedom. I think the Daily Show explains the issue best (here (with John Hodgman) and here).

For the time being, I think that the net-neutrality debate may suffer from poor branding - the phrase itself reeks of techno-elitist packaging that makes all but the geeky among us sglaze over.  But however much you may care about the issue itself, you should know by now that the 21st century is the age of the internet.  The series of tubes is not just about watching videos of cats - it is how you talk on the phone, watch TV, do your banking, and participate in our democracy.  It is far too important to allow the so-called 'free' market to destroy it through greed.  We need to start thinking long-term about having alternate sources of bandwidth just like we have alternate sources of fuel.  But in the short-term, we also need to ensure that our fledgling global democracy is not co-opted by those who would destroy it for profit.

With the present structure of cable-TV, is it so hard to imagine the internet's future to be something like this:

YZeFm


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23 May

Rand Paul and the Hypocrisy of Mainstream Libertarians

in Capitalism, Civil Rights, Corporatism, Elections, Libertarianism, Politics, Racism, Republicans, Tea Party

Libertarians embrace a worldview trending towards anarchism (or at least government minimalism), a position with which, as a Neo-Gramscian Marxist, I have an abundance of affinity.  In fact, on a long enough timeline (where units are measured in centuries anyway), I’ve little doubt that this is where the human condition will trend – presuming we manage not to destroy ourselves in the process.  For those of us in the present tense, however, Libertarianism, like Marxism, gets a bad rap for the fact that some of its most visible proponents are either vacuous, dangerous opportunists (Palin being the most obvious example) or else otherwise intelligent individuals who are transparently inconsistent and self-serving. 

One in a series of posters attacking Radical R...

Image via Wikipedia

Case in point of the latter is Dr. Rand Paul, the movement’s latest media darling, who was elected to the Kentucky Senate seat last week.  The news outlets and blogosphere are in an unusual flaming accord this week over his recent example of government overreach in the Civil Rights Act of 1964: (WSJ: Paul's Civil-Rights Remarks Ignite Row, Wash Post: Rand Paul comments about civil rights stir controversy, Eugene Robinson: GOP's Tea Party invite might still be in the mail, The Hill: Rand Paul causes Civil Rights Act controversy with desegregation remarks, AP: Rand Paul Is 'Kentucky Fried Candidate' Over Civil Rights Comments, Lexington Herald-Leader: Paul's statements on discrimination stir controversy, NYT: Tea Party Pick Causes Uproar on Civil Rights, Salon: More historic legislation Rand Paul wouldn't have supported, PoliticsDaily: Rand Paul: An Anti-Government Conspiracy Theorist? (h/t Americablog).

If you’ve been asleep at the wheel on this one, Paul’s position is that the act, which covers a wide range of civil rights issues on interstate commerce, is but a single an example of federal intrusion in the individual liberties of business owners to determine the nature of their clientele.  In the context of this example, Rand concedes that this would naturally expand to the right refuse service to people of color, gays, Jews, etc.  Paul’s continued inability to staunch the blood flow on this kicked the GOP spin machine into overdrive and lead Paul to cancel his appearance on Meet the Press – only the third person in 62 years to do so.

I care far less to what degree Paul may personally be racist than I do in the fact that this degenerative myopia is completely consistent with the Libertarian platform.  However persuasive I may find this mode of thought in the abstract, it presumes a fundamental faith in humanity to do the right thing without the force of law.  Individual liberty is not an absolute - it comes with the caveat that one person't liberty cannot infringe on anothers.  With regards to the Civil Rights Act, we state that you are free to operate a business in our country, but you are not free to restrict your operations based on the color of someone's skin.

Indeed, the universe may trend towards global justice, but it has a long, long way to go.  The restaurant owner who hangs a no-blacks sign up in his window will, in the 21st century, probably get run out of (most, though not all) towns by a combination of enlightened objectors and those too embarrassed to wear racism on their sleeve by frequenting a regressive patron.  But what about no-gay, no-Democrat, no-punk, no-Catholic policies or the every-more-likely no-Arab policies?  Sometimes our laws exist to compel American ideals even when our citizens find them offensive for the simple reason that we share our national identity and don’t want bigots forming an outward part of our cultural landscape.

For the time being, I still manage to disconnect my emotional processes from the issues enough to understand the difference between personaility and ideology, but herein lies the problem – this may be a particularly egregious example of Libertarianism carried to its logical conclusion, but it is nevertheless conssistent with the overall platform.  Where the movement’s present incarnation really breaks down is in its outward hypocrisy in preferencing the liberty of commerce over individual or collective liberties.  Indeed, lost somewhat in the row over lunch-counter segregation is the fact that Paul also had harsh words for Obama's supposedly ‘un-American’ stance in blaming the oil spill on, well … the company actually responsible for it.  In Paul’s universe, the same liberty that allows corporations to escape the regulatory oversight of those who would be affected by disaster should likewise extend to absolving such entities of blame when their self-policing predictably breaks down.  As Robert Slayton points out:

Advocates like Dr. Paul claim that they are speaking on behalf of the little guy, against the steam-roller of a large institution like big government.  The problem with this claim is that there is another big institution that harms the ordinary citizen in our world, and that is big business. And in that case, libertarians have little to condemn, and thus show their true colors. … So their dirty little secret is out. Libertarians are not really for the little guy, against structures that would grind down our individuality. They're really just right-wingers, pro-business and anti government, the only institution with the power to limit large corporations when they commit abuses. Rand Paul is sincere, but in his blindness and dogmatism, he becomes a shill for big business, not the champion of citizen's rights he claims to be.

Without doubt, we exist in an era where power is increasingly consolidated into the hands of a few multi-national corporations which, unlike government, have no responsibility for social welfare.  In the U.S., capitalist malfeasance has been kept in check through a strong judiciary whereas in Europe there is strong regulation.   Yet if we are to judge the Libertarian movement by it’s leaders, then we must conclude that it is a facade for what right-wingers have always pushed for – a system of commerce in which neither mode of enforcement remains available to protect citizens from the dark side of the profit motive – a conservative nanny state where the government is expected to stay out of the way - expect when necessary to ensure that capitalist movements are free from civilian oversight.  In this manner, it is a disease masquerading as a solution, spouting the ideals of liberty while covertly working to dismatle the very freedoms it's adherents espouse.


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