Saturday April 19th, 2014, 5:29 am (EDT)

US Politics/Economy

Political Economy of the US

June 2003, Volume 55, Number 2

June 2003, Volume 55, Number 2

» Notes from the Editors

The chief, indeed the only, justification that Washington offered for its invasion of Iraq during its build-up for war between September 2002 and March 2003,was the need to “disarm” an Iraqi regime that Washington contended had broken UN resolutions banning weapons of mass destruction in that country. The problem, though, was that there was no hard evidence that Iraq, which had effectively destroyed its weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s under UN supervision, had any such weapons—or if it did that they were functional and constituted a significant threat. Nevertheless, the Bush administration continued to insist (based on speculation, hearsay, and what turned out to be fabricated evidence) that Iraq had such banned weapons in significant quantities and was actually deploying them. In an extraordinary propaganda campaign in which the whole mainstream media took part, the U.S. population was led to believe that they were in imminent danger of attack from these phantom weapons and had no choice but to support a pre-emptive invasion of that country… | more |

The ‘Left-Wing’ Media?

If we learn nothing else from the war on Iraq and its subsequent occupation, it is that the U.S. ruling class has learned to make ideological warfare as important to its operations as military and economic warfare. A crucial component of this ideological war has been the campaign against “left-wing media bias,” with the objective of reducing or eliminating the prospect that mainstream U.S. journalism might be at all critical toward elite interests or the system set up to serve those interests. In 2001 and 2002, no less than three books purporting to demonstrate the media’s leftward tilt rested high atop the bestseller list. Such charges have already influenced media content, pushing journalists to be less critical of right-wing politics. The result has been to reinforce the corporate and rightist bias already built into the media system… | more |

Understanding the U.S. War State

Genocide used to be a crime without a name. Although the most heinous of all crimes, the concept was not introduced into international language until after World War 2. Until then, military invasion and destruction of other peoples and cultures masqueraded under such slogans as progress and spreading civilisation … | more |

The Commercial Tidal Wave

For a long time now it has been widely understood within economics that under the capitalism of giant firms, corporations no longer compete primarily through price competition. They engage instead in what economists call “monopolistic competition.” This consists chiefly of attempts to create monopoly positions for a particular brand, making it possible for corporations to charge more for the branded product while also expanding their market share. Competition is most intense in what Thorstein Veblen called the “production of salable appearances,” involving advertising, frequent model changes, branding of products, and the like. Once this logic takes over in twentieth and now twenty-first century capitalism it is seemingly unstoppable. All human needs, relationships and fears, the deepest recesses of the human psyche, become mere means for the expansion of the commodity universe under the force of modern marketing. With the rise to prominence of modern marketing, commercialism—the translation of human relations into commodity relations—although a phenomenon intrinsic to capitalism, has expanded exponentially… | more |

January 2003, Volume 54, Number 08

January 2003, Volume 54, Number 08

» Notes from the Editors

“The American health care system is confronting a crisis.” This was the not very surprising conclusion of a study by a National Academy of Science panel on the U.S. health care system, carried out at the request of the administration and released in November 2002 www.nap.edu/books/0309087074/html. The report, entitled Fostering Rapid Advances in Health Care, describes conditions that are little short of horrendous. Health care costs are increasing at an annual rate in excess of 12 percent. The insured are receiving far fewer benefits while paying much more in out-of-pocket expenses. States in fiscal trouble are cutting benefits for Medicaid and other health programs. The number of uninsured has climbed to 41.2 million or 14.5 percent of the U.S. population. This means that one in seven individuals in the United States lacks any health care coverage whatsoever, and many more have inadequate coverage. A quarter of U.S. children aged to nineteen to thirty-five months are deficient in immunizations. Tens of thousands of individuals die every year from medical errors and many more than that from injuries caused by the health system… | more |

The Political Economy of Intellectual Property

The dramatic expansion of intellectual property rights represents a new stage in commodification that threatens to make virtually every- thing bad about capitalism even worse. Stronger intellectual property rights will reinforce class differences, undermine science and technology, speed up the corporatization of the university, inundate society in legal disputes, and reduce personal freedoms.… | more |

December 2002, Volume 54, Number 7

December 2002, Volume 54, Number 7

» Notes from the Editors

Among the major countries of the world, the United States has the highest per capita income, and it is often assumed therefore that the ordinary American is materially better off than his or her counterpart anywhere else in the world. In fact, this proposition is practically taken for granted within U.S. national culture, since it is constantly being drummed into our ears by the media and educational institutions. Yet, as a logical proposition it is simply false. This was recently pointed out by Paul Krugman, a leading mainstream economist and columnist for the New York Times, in an article (“For Richer,” New York Times Magazine, October 20, 2002) dedicated to explaining exactly why this national myth is mistaken. “Life expectancy in the U.S.,” Krugman observes, “is well below that in Canada, Japan and every major nation in Western Europe. On the average, we can expect lives a bit shorter than those of Greeks, a bit longer than those of Portuguese. Male life expectancy is lower in the U.S. than it is in Costa Rica”… | more |

Everything Has Not Changed Since 9/11

Good evening, and thank you very much for inviting me to speak with you this evening. I am honored to be here this evening, and view this as a means of beginning a much needed dialogue between the NAACP and TransAfrica Forum … | more |

One or Two Things I Know About Us

Rethinking the Image and Role of the "Okies"

While at work on this paper, I glanced at the headline in the morning newspaper: “SWAT Team Kills Gunman at Sacramento Tax Office,” and I said to myself, “Probably an Okie.” I read the article and found no reference to Okies—that would never happen in California these days—but the evidence was there: A white man named Jim Ray Holloway, age fifty-three, from Manteca, wearing a cowboy hat, carrying a rifle, a shotgun, and a hand gun, ex-cop, mad about taxes. The name, the age, the hometown in the agricultural Central Valley, the cowboy hat, the kinds of weapons, the career, the lightening rage at the state, all point to his being an Okie… | more |

Mike Alewitz, Labor Muralist

The reappearance of the mural marks the return of painting from the museum to its public role in the human community. The work of muralist Mike Alewitz and the collective character of his projects draw upon centuries or eons of collaborative activity, from cave paintings to Michelangelo, the Dada and Surrealist movements to political graffiti. Alewitz’s approach is ideally suited to the postmodern and post-state socialist era when everything rebellious must be created anew and when “culture” along with “labor” is urgently needed to salvage a world from eco-disaster, perpetual war, and the plundering of human possibility. The art of Alewitz and Co. (with the Co. constantly changing) has already been part of labor’s recovery from decades of poor leadership, part of the struggle for democratic unions in a changing global marketplace and with a rapidly changing workforce… | more |

Upton Sinclair and the Contradictions of Capitalist Journalism

Beginning in the 1980s, there was a significant increase in awareness of the deep flaws of mainstream journalism among those on the U.S. left. Writers such as Todd Gitlin, Herbert Schiller, Gaye Tuchman, Ben Bagdikian, and Michael Parenti, each in his or her own way, drew attention to the incompatibility between a corporate run news media and an ostensibly democratic society. The work of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, in particular, introduced an entire generation of progressives to a critical position regarding mainstream journalism. As the title of their masterful Manufacturing Consent indicated, the capitalist news media are far more about generating support for elite policies than they are about empowering people to make informed political decisions… | more |

Goldilocks Meets a Bear

How Bad Will the U.S. Recession Be?

Three years ago, I wrote an article for Monthly Review entitled “The U.S. Economy in 1999: Goldilocks Meets a Big Bad Bear?” (March 1999).1 My answer to that question was yes, Goldilocks would soon meet a big bad bear, that is, the U.S. economy would fall into recession within a year or so. The recession came a little later than I thought, but, as is well known, the U.S. economy did indeed fall into recession in early 2001 … | more |

Technology and the Commodification of Higher Education

All discussion of distance education these days invariably turns into a discussion of technology, an endless meditation on the wonders of computer-mediated instruction. Identified with a revolution in technology, distance education has thereby assumed the aura of innovation and the appearance of a revolution itself, a bold departure from tradition, a signal step toward a preordained and radically transformed higher educational future. In the face of such a seemingly inexorable technology-driven destiny and the seductive enchantment of technological transcendence, skeptics are silenced and all questions are begged. But we pay a price for this technological fetishism, which so dominates and delimits discussion. For it prevents us from perceiving the more fundamental significance of today’s drive for distance education, which, at bottom, is not really about technology, nor is it anything new. We have been here before… | more |

Sweatshop Labor, Sweatshop Movement

Miriam Ching Yoon Louie, Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers Take on the Global Economy (Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press, 2001), 306 pages, $18.00 paper.

The reemergence of sweatshops in the United States has taken many people by surprise. It was commonly assumed that sweatshops disappeared years ago and that their presence would no longer be accepted. This proved to be fatally wrong… | more |

February 2002, Volume 53, Number 9

February 2002, Volume 53, Number 9

» Notes from the Editors

The meltdown of Enron, the giant energy trading firm, which recently ranked as the seventh largest U.S. corporation—now its largest ever bankruptcy—is one of the most startling events in U.S. financial history. Only a few months ago Enron was the toast of Wall Street. It was the symbol of the New Economy and of the deregulation of both finance and energy markets. Its former CEO, Jeffrey K. Skilling, promoted the idea that assets were not what made a company valuable. Instead what counted was a corporation’s intellectual capital. He sold the idea of Enron as a nimble, highly-leveraged, “asset-light” company engaged in aggressive internet-based trading. The point is that this huge and highly regarded corporation did not make anything. Nor did it perform a service like distributing energy. It was in essence a purely speculative enterprise, making money through trading made possible by the deregulation of a basic consumer need (electricity). And U.S. business bought it! For six years in a row, the editors of Fortune magazine selected Enron as the “most innovative” among the magazine’s “most admired” corporations. Enron was a principal fundraising source for President George W. Bush’s electoral campaign. It was a big winner in California’s electrical deregulation crisis, which generated skyrocketing electricity prices and huge profits for big energy traders. Enron’s corporate empire was underwritten by some of the biggest U.S. banks, including J. P. Morgan Chase and Citigroup… | more |

Taking Exams, Taking on Capitalism

Bertell Ollman, How to Take an Exam…& Remake the World (Montreal and New York: Black Rose Books, 2001), 191 pages, $19.99 paper.

Bertell OIlman’s How to Take an Exam … & Remake the World has a double agenda, which OIlman candidly acknowledges: to offer advice about studying (which the student wants) and to make a powerful plea for socialism (which OIlman wants). As a study guide, the book offers suggestions for exam preparation that are mostly serious (persistently reminding the student of the importance of advance preparation and offering guidance about how to do that), sometimes cheeky (pre-exam sex is okay, drugs and cheating not), sometimes subversive (in the advice on how to get over on the professor), and at bottom deeply crit- ical of exams as a genre, especially the ones that discourage thinking. OIlman argues that the function of exams is to train submissive work- ers, a trenchant assessment that grows increasingly explicit as the book develops. These exam tips and observations form less than half the story of the book, which scatters them amongst a devastating political analysis. While his experience as a professor makes him a good adviser for exam taking, his commitment to progressive politics and his deep knowledge of Marxism and capitalism make the political and economic material the more powerful part of the book, as he intends… | more |

Wealth Gap Woes

Chuck Collins, Betsy Leondar-Wright and Holly Sklar, Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap (Boston: United for a Fair Economy, 1999), 94 pp., $6.95 paper.

It is a telling historical fact that during both the lean times of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and the boom times of the 1990s, one thing has remained relatively constant: economic inequality in the United States has been increasing. During recessions it is workers who are asked to tighten their belts and who have to cope with falling wages, shrinking fringe benefits, or even massive layoffs, while everything possible is done to preserve corporate profits and income that is derived through ownership. During times of expansion one might expect the incomes of both owners and workers to increase. However, in the boom of the 1990s, while income derived through ownership increased, wages for most workers continued to stagnate and fringe benefits continued to be whittled down. About the only thing that kept the poverty rate at a respectably low level was the low unemployment rate. The boom now seems to have ended without workers ever making substantial gains… | more |

December 2001, Volume 53, Number 7

December 2001, Volume 53, Number 7

» Notes from the Editors

For a long time radicals have characterized the electoral systems in capitalist societies as “bourgeois democracies.” At times, this term has been used in a strictly pejorative sense, to dismiss any electoral work as inconsequential or merely a device for legitimating capitalism in the eyes of the poor and working class. Our view of left electoral work is less doctrinaire; we think there is an important place for such activity as a part of a broader socialist organizing agenda, though the degree of importance in any particular instance varies depending upon many factors. We also think that such a categorical dismissal of electoral politics misses the critical significance of the term “bourgeois democracy.” It means an electoral system in which the rule of capital—i.e. bourgeois social relations—is taken as a given, and the range of electoral debate is strictly limited, never challenging the class basis of society… | more |

Sixties Lessons and Lore

Maurice Isserman and Michael Kazin, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s (Oxford University Press, 2000), 368 pages, $25.95 paper.

The sixties were risky, frisky, shattering, chaotic, moral, exhilarating, riotous, international, destructive, communitarian, divisive, vivid, anarchistic, dogmatic, and liberating. Relentlessly commodified in subsequent years, the sixties became a boxed set: music, culture, clothing, academic professions, mythology, and de-fanged pabulum. It takes courage to undertake an interpretive survey of a turbulent recent decade; historians Isserman and Kazin’s achievement provokes, reminds, and informs. They have produced a valuable reference book, a genre where their uncertain perspective does little damage. Their brilliant opening set piece describes the 1961 Civil War Centennial Commission—which decided explicitly to exclude the words “Negro,” “slavery,” and “Emancipation,” from their re-enactment pageantry of white regional rivalry. When a black New Jersey delegate, arriving to participate in the opening Fort Sumter commemoration, was denied a room at the Commission’s segregated South Carolina hotel, all hell broke loose. Eventually, in a resolution that foreshadows the 1995 Hiroshima exhibition at the Smithsonian,“two separate observances were held, an integrated one on federal property, and a segregated one in downtown Charleston.” What a sensational narrative to open an exploration of race, history, and the war to explain the war… | more |

A Collective Past Within Us

Hadassa Kosak, Cultures of Opposition: Jewish Immigrant Workers, New York City, 1881-1905 (SUNY Press, 2000), 163 pages, $50.50 cloth, $17.95 paper.

The scholarly (and popular) subject of American Jewish involvement in the labor movement and the political left is old and familiar, but due for renewal in every generation. And for good political as well as scholarly reasons: every new generation of conservatives (or what we might call Imperial Liberals) seeks to make the radical connections into an immigrant hangover at best, while on the other side scholars dig deeper into the archives for fresh evidence of socialism as a founding faith of the Lower East Side ghetto … | more |