The U.S. economy in early March 2007 appears to be rapidly decelerating. Orders for durable goods in manufacturing dropped 8 percent in January and the manufacturing sector as a whole shrank during two of the last three months for which data is currently available (November–January), representing what is being called a “recession” in manufacturing, and raising the possibility of a more general economic downturn (New York Times, February 28, 2007)
Volume 58, Issue 11 (April)
Changes in capitalism over the last three decades have been commonly characterized using a trio of terms: neoliberalism, globalization, and financialization. Although a lot has been written on the first two of these, much less attention has been given to the third. Yet, financialization is now increasingly seen as the dominant force in this triad. The financialization of capitalism-the shift in gravity of economic activity from production (and even from much of the growing service sector) to finance—is thus one of the key issues of our time. More than any other phenomenon it raises the question: has capitalism entered a new stage?
Once upon a time the capitalist mode of production represented a great advance over all of the preceding ones, however problematical and indeed destructive this historical advance in the end turned out-and had to turn out-to be. By breaking the long prevailing but constraining direct link between human use and production, and replacing it with the commodity relation, capital opened up the dynamically unfolding possibilities of apparently irresistible expansion to which — from the standpoint of the capital system and of its willing personifications — there could be no conceivable limits. For the paradoxical and ultimately quite untenable inner determination of capital’s productive system is that its commodified products “are non-use-values for their owners and use-values for their non-owners. Consequently they must all change hands. . . . Hence commodities must be realised as values before they can be realised as use-values.”
Seventeen years ago, in 1990, I began an essay with a poem of Bertolt Brecht. It was a poem about a man in Europe in the Middle Ages who put on “things that looked like wings,” climbed to the roof of a church, and tried to fly. He crashed, and the bishop who passed by said, “No one will ever fly.”
Twenty-first century capitalism is not an improved and benign version of its nineteenth- and twentieth-century manifestations, nor will it ever be, despite daily bluster by the system’s practitioners and apologists that a rising tide of prosperity will soon lift all boats. The animating principles of capitalism governing the pursuit of profits are as hollow and iniquitous now as they were in 1848, especially where human exploitation and the distribution of wealth are concerned. As super-capitalist Warren Buffett remarked recently in a trenchant understatement: “A market system has not worked well in terms of poor people” (The New York Times, June 27, 2006)
Although some idealize and others demean the work of teachers, few people outside the field fully understand what it really means to teach. Misconceptions about teaching influence the ways that Americans think about the profession. One of the manifestations of this enduring disconnect between the American public and the professionals who teach is the low salaries teachers receive. This is the main issue that Moulthrop, Calegari, and Eggers tackle in this thorough and valuable ethnographic study of the lives of teachers, their daily struggle to make ends meet, and what it means to teach