Wednesday April 16th, 2014, 3:04 pm (EDT)

US Politics/Economy

Political Economy of the US

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 6 (November 2012)

Monthly Review Volume 64, Number 6 (November 2012)

» Notes from the Editors

From September 10–18, 2012, …[the] rank-and-file-led Chicago Teachers Union went on strike in what is the third-largest school district in the nation with some 350,000 students.… Working-class communities in Chicago came massively to the aid of the strikers. More than a strike simply over wages, teachers were fighting against the corporatization, privatization, and degradation of schools, including: education cutbacks; school closings; teacher layoffs; merit-based pay and removal of teacher-seniority protections; loss of benefits; increased class sizes; shortages of textbooks and equipment; longer school days and longer working hours for teachers; excessive testing; teacher evaluation based mainly on student test scores…; the imposition of an increasingly standardized, corporate-derived curriculum; the charterization of schools; and a highly segregated school district.… The Chicago teachers won a number of partial victories as a result of the strike…. This struggle over elementary and secondary education…is at the very heart of class/social conflict in the United States today. Moreover, neoliberal attacks on public education are now occurring on a global level. Consequently, we intend to devote added attention to the battle over K–12 education in future issues of MR.… | more |

This Isn’t What Democracy Looks Like

On the brink of the 2012 presidential election, and without considering that electoral contest itself, it is useful to comment on the state of U.S. democracy. The most striking lesson from contemporary U.S. election campaigns is how vast and growing the distance is between the rhetoric and pronouncements of the politicians and pundits and the actual deepening, immense, and largely ignored problems that afflict the people of the United States.… Mainstream politics seem increasingly irrelevant to the real problems the nation faces…. The degeneration of U.S. politics is a long-term process.… capitalism and democracy have always had a difficult relationship. The former generates severe inequality and the latter is predicated upon political equality.… Capitalist democracy therefore becomes more democratic to the extent that it is less capitalist (dominated by wealth) and to the extent to which popular forces—those without substantial property—are able to organize successfully to win great victories…. In the past four decades such organized popular forces in the United States—never especially strong compared to most other capitalist democracies—have been decimated, with disastrous consequences. The United States has long been considered a “weak democracy”; by the second decade of the new century that is truly an exaggeration. Today, the United States is better understood as what John Nichols and I term a “Dollarocracy”—the rule of money rather than the rule of the people—a specifically U.S. form of plutocracy. … | more |

Queer Liberation Means Prison Abolition

Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock, Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011), 240 pages, $27.95, hardcover.

In 1513, en route to Panama, Spanish conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa ordered forty Quaraca men to be ripped apart by his hunting dogs. Their offense? Being “dressed as women” and having sexual relations with each other. The homophobia and transphobia behind Balboa’s actions are far from arcane relics of the past, and violence against LGBTQ people continues to this day, both legally sanctioned and in the streets.… Queer (In)Justice examines the violence that LGBTQ people face regularly, from attacks on the street to institutionalized violence from police and prisons.… [The authors] center race, class, and gender/gender nonconformity in analyzing the myriad ways in which LGBTQ people have been policed, prosecuted, and punished from colonial times to the present day.… | more |

Redwood Warriors Turn Tables on FBI

A Documentary Drama About a Bay Area Legend

Who would dream that two environmentalists-turned-redwood warriors could sue the FBI for framing them with the same COINTELPRO campaign that locked away Leonard Peltier and Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt) yet actually win? Mary Liz Thomson’s award-winning documentary Who Bombed Judi Bari? reveals the remarkable story of how this came to be.… | more |

The Wall Street Bailout: An Insider’s View

Many readers of Monthly Review were undoubtedly both surprised and delighted by Neil Barofsky’s blistering essay in the New York Times written just after he left his position as the Special Inspector General in charge of oversight at TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program).… Neil Barofsky was that truly rare government “bureaucrat,” a true believer in government by the people and for the people. Now he has written a book that should shock our nation.… | more |

The Crisis

A View from Occupied America

The theme of the 2012 Left Forum, “Occupy the System—Confronting Global Capitalism,” calls for a historical imagination informed by a realistic sense of where we are. To occupy the system is first to be aware of the system as a system—a system of unequal privilege and control. It requires that we occupy the narrative of public debate, which is something the Occupy movement, to a remarkable degree, has been able to achieve. Even President Obama, who so far has followed the economic policies of his Wall Street-friendly advisers, has used campaign rhetoric taken from Occupy Wall Street. But this time around voters are hardly convinced that the “Change” Obama promised last election will happen through the existing system. The breath of fresh air from Occupy and related activism challenges corporate power and capitalism.… | more |

A Wisconsin Enigma

Mass Struggle, Then What?

Michael D. Yates, editor, Wisconsin Uprising: Labor Fights Back (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2012), 282 pages, $18.95, paperback.
John Nichols, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (New York: Nation Books), 117 pages, $18.50, paperback.

It is curious as well as enormously exciting to be surrounded by a mass movement, full of enthusiasm, energy, and eagerness to adopt labor slogans and labor songs, almost as if the 1930s and ‘40s had come back. And it is all the more curious because the emergence of the movement seemed so spontaneous and unexpected, taking every Marxist (and any other) would-be savant by surprise, your reviewer most definitely included. Eighteen months and a major electoral defeat later, the “Wisconsin Uprising” goes on, with dampened spirits but a continuation of innovative extras. One small example is the “Overpass Light Brigade,” a group of urban guerillas who hold LED-lit slogans in various spots of the state, ridiculing Governor Scott Walker and his lackeys, until the cops arrive. But where is it going?… | more |

Some Theoretical Implications

Some Theoretical Implications

That all is not well in the realm of bourgeois economic theory is strongly felt by its closest observers. Professor Mason’s blunt statement that “the functioning of the corporate system has not to date been adequately explained,” could hardly be contradicted by anyone familiar with contemporary economic literature. Its most conspicuous feature is, indeed, this very failure to come to grips with the most important aspects of what, one would think, should constitute its central problem.… The reasons for this striking reluctance to place the realities of modern capitalism where they belong: at the center of theoretical attention, are not far to seek… There can be no doubt that the model of a perfectly competitive market economy is “more tractable,” that the examination of its manifold properties is more readily achievable by means of conventional tools of economic analysis than that of a system dominated by oligopolistic corporations. It may not be economics’ claim to applause, but it is understandable that most of its practitioners prefer not to tackle “intractable” matters, but to move along the line of the least theoretic resistance.… | more |

Why Stagnation?

The question “Why Stagnation?” has a rather special significance for me. I started my graduate work in economics exactly fifty years ago this year. The cyclical downturn which began in 1929 was nearing the bottom. Unemployment in that year, according to government figures, was 23.6 percent of the labor force, and it reached its high point in 1933 at 24.9 percent. It remained in the double-digit range throughout the decade. Still, a recovery began in 1933, and it turned out to be the longest on record up to that time. Even at the top in 1937, however, the unemployment rate was still 14.3 percent, and it jumped up by the end of the year. That also happens to be the year I got my Ph.D. Can you imagine a set of circumstances better calculated to impress upon a young economist the idea that the fundamental economic problem was not cyclical ups and downs but secular stagnation?… | more |

The poor are no longer with us; These bills are long unpaid

Two poems by Marge Piercy, author of eighteen poetry books, most recently The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980–2010 from Knopf. Her most recent novel is Sex Wars (Harper Perennial) and PM Press has just republished Vida and Dance the Eagle to Sleep with new introductions.… | more |

The Bull Market

Political Advertising

The United States is in the midst of its quadrennial presidential election, a process that now extends so long as to be all but permanent. The campaign is also drenched in more money given by a small handful of billionaires than has been the case in the past. Since the 1970s the amount spent on political campaigns has increased dramatically in almost every election cycle. It has led to the formation of what we term the “money-and-media election complex,” which has a revenue base in the many billions of campaign dollars donated annually, and has effectively become the foundation of electoral politics in the United States. Moreover, the rate of increase in campaign spending from 2008 to 2010, and especially from 2008 to 2012, is now at an all-time high.… | more |

Sado-Monetarism

The Role of the Federal Reserve System in Keeping Wages Low

Economist Edwin Dickens has written a series of significant articles analyzing the minutes of the meetings, dating back to the 1950s, of the Open Market Committee of the Federal Reserve Board. (The Committee is the main policy-making body of the Board.) Dickens’s research shows convincingly that the Federal Reserve’s partisan behavior is designed to tilt the economy in the direction of the wealthy by making workers more compliant.… A recent study formalized Dickens’s work by attempting to distinguish whether the policy actions of the Federal Reserve were responses to inflation or to low unemployment. The study concluded that “a baseless fear of full employment,” rather than the prevention of inflation, was the guiding principal of the Federal Reserve. The conclusion of this study should come as little surprise to people familiar with the Federal Reserve’s obsession with the danger of high wages.… | more |

Red State Irony

The last four or five decades have seen extraordinary economic and population growth in the southern states of the United States, continuing historic developments that started during the Second World War and were later stimulated by the end of legal racial segregation. One national effect of those changes has been a continual shift in the center of economic growth for the whole country to the southern and western states, away from the Northeast and the Midwest “rust belt.” The character of the exploitation of labor in the South has changed as investment patterns have displaced large populations from manufacturing and extractive employment.… This new “New South” has been widely celebrated, even as regional wage rates still trail other sections of the country (and while the South shares the national upward redistribution of wealth). What is different now from the pattern in the 1950s is that realizing a return on investment by the sweating-it-out of workers is nothing like the obvious low-cost option it was then.… | more |

March 2012, Volume 63, Number 10

March 2012, Volume 63, Number 10

» Notes from the Editors

As we write this, in late January 2012, international representatives of the ruling class and its power elite—wealthy investors, corporate executives, politicians, state bureaucrats, economists, pundits, and sundry celebrities—are gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss the state of the world. Today there is no disguising the fact that some five years since the Great Financial Crisis began, the United States, Europe, and Japan all remain caught in an economic slump that will not go away.… From MR’s standpoint, the current stagnation is not at all unexpected but represents the normal tendency of global monopoly-finance capital, especially in the mature economies. This tendency was disguised in part during the last three decades or more by a series of financial bubbles (and before that by Cold War military spending). Now with financialization on the rocks capitalism is once again face-to-face with the specter of stagnation, with no visible way out.… | more |

The Great Inequality

Growing inequality of income and wealth have characterized the U.S. economy for at least the past thirty years. Today, this inequality has become a central feature of politics, both mainstream and within such radical uprisings as the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon. This essay attempts to uncover the roots of inequality, showing that the source of it is in the nature of the capitalist economy. The magnitude of inequality ebbs and flows with the balance of class forces, but great inequality is built into the system’s fundamental structures.… | more |

Recessions and Human Misery

Dating the Cycle

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) decides the peak and trough dates of the business cycle. Most economists, including the government economists, accept their dates as the bible of research. Their dates do accomplish what they set out to do: they reflect the highest and lowest levels of business activity. This was the definition set by the founder of the NBER and it is very useful for many purposes. Certainly, there is a major gain if all economists use the same dates. Nevertheless, it is useful to ask a different question and use different dates for some purposes. Suppose we do not want to know the peaks and troughs of business activity, but instead we ask: How much human misery is caused by the cycle? There are many ways to answer that question, but the easiest is just to examine the duration of recessions in terms of human misery.… | more |

Reviving the Strike in the Shadow of PATCO

In the summer of 2011, labor unrest on both coasts provided a sharp rebuttal to the widely held view that the strike is dead (and buried) in the United States. Even as veterans of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) gathered in Florida to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of their historic defeat, a new generation of strikers was taking on big private-sector employers like Verizon and Kaiser Permanente. Last August, 45,000 Verizon workers walked out from Maine to Virginia in a high-profile struggle against contract concessions. One month later, they were joined by 20,000 nurses and other union members similarly opposed to pension and health care givebacks at Kaiser Permanente in California. Both of these struggles came right on the heels of last year’s biggest upsurge, the massive series of public employee demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin that included strike activity by local high school teachers.… Like the walkouts of 2011, [the three books under review] remind us what striking looks like, whether it fails or succeeds in a single union bargaining unit, or becomes part of a broader protest movement.… | more |

The Wisconsin Uprising

The essays in Wisconsin Uprising are outstanding. The accounts of the events in Madison in the winter and early spring of 2011 are the best I have seen in writing, with context, detail, and analysis I have seen nowhere else. Better yet, the connections of the Wisconsin revolt to the existential questions facing the labor movement are handled with a clarity, intelligence, perspective, and urgency that is exactly appropriate to the task. This book is a fundamental historical document in its own right and will stand the test of time. The authors include some of the most accomplished writers on the left, as well as a number of emerging young writers.… | more |

December 2011, Volume 63, Number 7

December 2011, Volume 63, Number 7

» Notes from the Editors

The last month (late September to late October 2011) was to all appearances a historical turning point. The Arab Spring gave way to the New York/World Fall as protesters occupied Wall Street (basing themselves in Zuccotti Park), and the movement of the 99% spread across the entire globe.… MR authors and friends have participated in the Occupy movement from the start, sometimes playing prominent roles. We have heard from friends directly involved in Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Boston, Occupy Chicago, Occupy Eugene, Occupy Oakland, and from people associated with Occupy movements throughout the world.… | more |

Black/White Radical Alliances in the 1960s

In The Shadows of Youth, Andrew Lewis demarcates the work of various activists, white and black, during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s. It is part of Lewis’s thesis that the efforts of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and other groups were too often overshadowed by those of Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and that the individual sacrifices made by a number of workers…. the extent…[of the] alliances…[between] black and white radicals were crucial in a number of settings outside the Deep South and…, in various locales, these alliances made a critical difference in the kinds of results that were obtained. The focus of the alliances…was often on activity that was driven less by nationalist concerns (from a black point of view), and more by concerns best thought of as generally leftist, and specifically Marxist, in origin. Thus the Black Panthers, for one, started off with a statement of purpose that spelled out their desire to work with a number of oppressed peoples, and that featured extensive reference to other persons of color groups as well as to the white working class.… | more |