In the last few years the idea of a New Economy has gained wide currency, almost rivaling globalization as a neologism that characterizes our era. Thus The Economic Report of the President, 2001, begins: Over the last 8 years the American economy has transformed itself so radically that many believe we have witnessed the creation of a New Economy. This New Economy is seen, first and foremost, as consisting of those firms and economic sectors most closely associated with the revolution in digital technology and the growth of the Internet. The rapid convergence of information technologies—including computers, software, satellites, fiber optics, and the Internet—has, it is believed, fundamentally altered the economic landscape. Since the mid-1990s, these revolutionary technological developments have, it is argued, spilled over into the wider economy, generating higher productivity growth, a sustained acceleration of economic growth, lower unemployment, lower inflation, and an attenuation of the business cycle
What can we say about the assertion that there is a “New Economy”? That depends on what we mean by this term. It is nonsense to claim, and few do any more, that the business cycle has been eliminated or that the contradictions of capitalism have been resolved. In 2000 we witnessed a massacre of technology and Internet stocks ending what many considered the country’s biggest financial mania of the past hundred years. The NASDAQ lost over half of its value, a paper loss of 3.33 trillion dollars, the equivalent of a third of the houses in the United States sliding into the ocean, as one Wall Street wag tells us. While only a few months ago, all we heard about was the magic of the market and that crises are the result of bad government policies, whether “crony” capitalism or simply failure to make information available to markets in a full and timely fashion, and that the new information technology now makes markets even more efficient; all of this talk is now shown to be the usual exaggeration we find in the up stage of most long expansions. As in the past it disappears as the economy weakens. Indeed as inventories pile up the nature of capitalism becomes clear to even the financial press and the politicians
A New Economy? Today, we hear a lot of talk about the New Economy, much of it unsubstantiated and hyperbolically stated. In the United States, for example, consumers are supposedly concerned, as never before, with high-quality goods and services tailored specifically to their individual needs. Rapidly changing technology continually creates new, high-quality products, so consumer needs are perpetually changing as well. This rapid change places new demands on businesses. They must be maximally flexible, capable of changing product lines quickly, and able at all times to meet discerning and highly individualized consumer needs. Everything must be geared to customer satisfaction; a firm that does not quickly and consistently please its customers will lose business sooner than at any time in the past. The tremendous range of choices available means that customers will not be loyal to any company that cannot offer speedy gratification. Recently an Internet book company opened that promised same-day delivery!
Doug Henwood, author of Wall Strr£t:How It Works andfur lWIom (Verso, 1997) and publisher and primary author of the newsletter Left Business Observer; is a fre- quent contributor to Munthly Review. Doug was interviewed earlier this year for the San Francisco Ba:y Guardian by another good friend of ours, Christian Parenti-author of 1.JxiuJnam Ameriaz (Verso, 1999), reviewed in last month’s MR At the end of February we asked a few additional questions of Doug. The composite interview follows
Recent presidential elections in the United States have obfuscated, more than clarified, the social divisions of American society. While the Democrats project a well-worn image of protecting working Americans the Republicans declare the need to defend traditional American values. In reality, the consensus between the two parties on the superiority of American government and the beneficence of capitalism rules any challenge to the status quo politically out of bounds (even the candidacy of longtime policy activist Ralph Nader was seen as beyond the pale). The contest between Albert Gore and George W. Bush—a contest between patrician familial dynasties that could only occur in the United States—was no exception
Two decades after the Carter and Reagan administrations launched their attacks on the U.S. regulatory system the world is littered with the wreckage of neoliberal deregulation. Seldom have these failures loomed so prominently, however, as in the rolling blackouts that swept much of California in January of this year. These rolling blackouts were implemented by California power authorities in a desperate attempt to deal with a burgeoning crisis in the availability of electrical power resulting from the deregulation of California’s electrical power companies beginning in 1996. The deregulation legislation, passed unanimously by the California state legislature, promised a 20 percent drop in electricity rates by 2002. Rates for final consumers were to be frozen at around 50 percent above the national average for up to four years (1998-2002), during which time the ratepayers were required to contribute to paying off the stranded assets of the major private utility companies, consisting of billions of dollars in bad investments in nuclear power facilities. So far, California ratepayers have paid out seventeen billion dollars to the private electrical utilities under these provisions. Deregulation also required the utilities to sell off their power generation facilities (with the exception of some hydropower and nuclear facilities).
In conventional parlance, the current era in history is generally characterized as one of globalization, technological revolution, and democratization. In all three of these areas media and communication play a central, perhaps even a defining, role. Economic and cultural globalization arguably would be impossible without a global commercial media system to promote global markets and to encourage consumer values. The very essence of the technological revolution is the radical development in digital communication and computing. The argument that the bad old days of police states and authoritarian regimes are unlikely to return is premised on the claims that new communication technologies along with global markets undermine, even eliminate, the capacity for maximum leaders to rule with impunity
The Karma of Brown Folk is essentially addressed to two audiences and is surprisingly successful in being readable by both. Its primary audience is the desi—men and women of South Asian descent living in the United States. This widely dispersed group of some fifteen million first and second generation immigrants is often referred to as a model minority—untroublesome, hardworking, entrepreneurial, conservative, clannish, and family oriented. In approaching these countrymen the author’s freely avowed purpose is a subversive one. He wants to destroy the image by re-forming the fact behind it
By the time I was captured in 1981, the prologue to a life sentence, I had twenty years of movement experience—both above and underground—under my belt. So I thought I had a good understanding of the race and class basis of prisons. But once actually inside that reality, I was stunned by just how thoroughly racist the criminal justice system is and also by the incessant petty hassles of humiliation and degradation. As political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal aptly noted in Live From Death Row, there is a profound horror…in the day-to-day banal occurrences…[the] second-by-second assault on the soul. The 1980s became the intense midpoint of an unprecedented explosion of imprisonment. Since 1972, the number of inmates in this country, on any given day, has multiplied six-fold to the two million human beings behind bars today. Another four million are being supervised on parole or probation. The U.S. is the world leader in both death sentences and incarcerations. With just 5 percent of the world’s population, we hold 25 percent of the prisoners.
The claim that the U.S. is a middle-class country—which goes back at least to the eighteenth century—has set apart (white) yeoman farmers from the rural or urban poor, and notably from nonwhites. Thomas Jefferson envisioned his ideal nation as the land of, and for, hard-working property holders, free of the turmoil and corruption inevitable in Europe’s aristocratic fixed-class system
Capitalism was first firmly established in Britain in the eighteenth century and it was then and there that economics was born, in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776). Economists have served capitalism ever since, but only in the past quarter-century has capitalism needed—and gotten—so much from them
The attention given to the Florida elections in the US presidential race has highlighted the horrendous fact that in Florida and throughout the South thirty-five years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act there are numerous ways in which African Americans are prevented from voting. Thus Florida is one of fourteen states that bar ex-criminal offenders from voting even after they have completed their sentences. In Florida alone more than 400,000 ex-criminal offenders who at one time received felony convictions but who have now completed their sentences and are no longer in prison, on probation, or on parole have been barred from voting in this way. This includes almost one-third of black men in that state and more than 200,000 potential African-American voters, 90 percent or more of whom could have been expected to vote Democrat if they had voted. This situation in Florida and other states is documented in a 1998 report entitled Losing the Vote, issued by Human Rights Watch and the Sentencing Project, available on-line at http://www.hrw.org/reports98/vote/. Given the fact that under the present criminal injustice system African Americans are far more likely to be arrested and given felony convictions than their white counterparts this becomes an effective means of political control.
The unlikely postelection contest between Al Gore and George W. Bush, which ultimately led to the anointing of Bush as president by the Republican majority on the US Supreme Court (despite the fact that Bush received fewer popular votes than Gore both in the United States as a whole and most likely in Florida as well—the state that gave Bush his electoral college win), has tended to erase all other developments associated with the election. But all of this should not cause us to forget that the Ralph Nader Green Party campaign for the presidency was arguably the most extraordinary phenomenon in US left politics in many years
Oliver Cromwell Cox’s Caste, Class, and Race was first published in 1948 by Doubleday, which, in line with the anti-leftist imperatives of the time, almost immediately let the book go out of print. Fortunately, it was reissued in 1959 by Monthly Review Press, which has enabled subsequent generations to read Cox’s extraordinary text. Indeed, I discovered Cox through Monthly Review’s Modern Reader paperback edition in 1970; coincidentally, that was also the year of the only occasion on which I heard him speak, at the annual meeting of the Association of Social and Behavioral Scientists, the black social scientists’ group
My friend Daniel Singer, in a piece he wrote for The Nation six years ago, said that he often felt like a deserter from the army of the dead because he escaped the Nazi roundup of Jews in Paris by walking across France to Switzerland