Thursday April 17th, 2014, 8:35 am (EDT)

US Politics/Economy

Political Economy of the US

Dreams of Revolution: Oklahoma, 1917

In August 1917, tenant farmers and sharecroppers in several eastern and southern Oklahoma counties took up arms to overthrow the United States government, to stop military conscription and U.S. entry into the war in Europe. Renegade Socialists, organized in their own “Working Class Union” (WCU), white, black, and Indian, they believed that millions of armed working people across the country would march with them to take Washington… | more |

Two Poems

When Marilyn Buck died last August 3, she had lived outside prison, on parole, for only twenty days. At age sixty-two, she had spent her last twenty-five years in various maximum security prisons. Before that, she lived years underground, supporting and taking part in actions with the Black Panther Party and later, the Black Liberation Army. Marilyn was a white woman who carried a great deal of pain, most of which came from her unflinching acknowledgement of the centuries of untold inequities suffered by African Americans and other people of color at the hands of “freedom-loving” white America… | more |

The Wall Street Collapse and Return of Reality-Based Economics

Over the past generation, the U.S. economy as well as most of the rest of the global economy have been dominated by the idea that free market capitalism produces dynamic growth, financial stability, and as close as we are likely to come to a fair society. Supporters of this pro-market framework hold that government interventions to encourage growth, stability, or even fairness will almost always produce more harm than good. This mode of thinking has been the intellectual foundation for the era of financial deregulation in the United States—the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall regulatory system that was built amid the rubble of the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing 1930s Depression. The Clinton administration provided the final nails in the coffin of financial regulation with the passage of the Financial Services Modernization Act in 1999… | more |

Cultural Impersonations and Appropriations: A Fashion Report

Growing up on a Midwestern farm while Marx worked on the final draft of Capital, Vol. I, was a boy who, as a man, would have a very different take on the relationship of workers to the products of their labor. Thorstein Veblen would become famous for what he wrote about the fetishized commodities of consumers.…For Veblen, all the nonessentials that we purchase as consumers reflect standards of respectability established by the upper class. The “motive that lies at the root of ownership is emulation,” he wrote, not just of others but of wealthy and powerful others. Under capitalism, one’s property “becomes the conventional basis of esteem,” by which Veblen meant both the high regard of others and self-esteem.…Over the past few decades, however, standards for personal appearance have been transformed in ways that seem to turn Veblen’s conspicuous consumption idea inside out… | more |

Workingclass nostalgia

Marge Piercy (www.margepiercy.com) is the author of seventeen novels, most recently Sex Wars; seventeen volumes of poetry, most recently The Crooked Inheritance; a memoir, Sleeping with Cats; and two nonfiction books. Knopf will publish her second volume of selected poems, The Hunger Moon: Selected Poems, 1980-2010, next March… | more |

Capitalism, the Absurd System: A View from the United States

Perhaps nothing points so clearly to the alienated nature of politics in the present day United States as the fact that capitalism, the economic system that drives the society, is effectively off-limits to critical review or discussion. To the extent that capitalism is mentioned by politicians or pundits, it is regarded in hushed tones of reverence for the genius of the market, its unquestioned efficiency, and its providential authority. One might quibble with a corrupt and greedy CEO or a regrettable loss of jobs, but the superiority and necessity of capitalism—or, more likely, its euphemism, the so-called “free market system”—is simply beyond debate or even consideration. There are, of course, those who believe that the system needs more regulation and that there is room for all sorts of fine-tuning. Nevertheless, there is no questioning of the basics.… | more |

Know Thine Enemy

Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009), 356 pages, $26.95, hardcover, $16.95, paperback.

Kim Phillips-Fein has provided us with a very fine account of how we got where we are—in a stranglehold of big business conservatism that has by no means been broken by the liberal electoral victory of 2008. She has not only absorbed a considerable amount of secondary literature, but has also combed through the archives, combining her impressive research and insights with a well-paced narrative populated with a variety of interesting personalities—all quite well-to-do, all white, almost all male, and yet a very diverse and interesting lot.… | more |

The Penal State in an Age of Crisis

As a rule, crime and social protest rise in periods of economic crisis in capitalist society. During times of economic and social instability, the well-to-do become increasingly fearful of the general population, more disposed to adopt harsh measures to safeguard their positions at the apex of the social pyramid. The slowdown in the economic growth rate of U.S. capitalism beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s—converging with the emergence of radical social protest around the same period—was accompanied by a rapid rise in public safety spending as a share of civilian government expenditures. So significant was this shift that we can speak of a crowding out of welfare state spending (health, education, social services) by penal state spending (law enforcement, courts, and prisons) in the United States during the last third of a century.… | more |

Don’t Pity the Poor Immigrants, Fight Alongside Them

David Bacon, Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Boston: Beacon Press, 2008), 261 pages, $25.95, hardcover.

In this compelling and useful book, David Bacon lays to rest the anti-immigration arguments of the xenophobes and racists who bombard us every day in the press, on television, and on radio talk shows with the vicious assertion that immigrants, mainly those from Latin America, are the cause of all our economic and social problems.… | more |

The Sales Effort and Monopoly Capital

On the eightieth anniversary of the 1929 Stock Market Crash that led to the Great Depression, the United States is once again caught in a Great Financial Crisis and deep downturn of an order of magnitude comparable to the 1930s. At the center of this crisis is plunging consumer spending, caused by the destruction of household finance as a result of decades of wage stagnation and the piling up of debt.1 Consumer spending in today’s economy, dominated by giant firms, is significantly dependent on the sales effort, i.e., marketing as a whole, with advertising as its most conspicuous form. But the sales effort is also ebbing in the crisis, contributing to the general decline. So integral is the sales effort to the regime of monopoly capital that one cannot be understood without the other.… | more |

What Race Has to Do With It

Who could have imagined the 2008 presidential campaign?… | more |

Commentators, media people, and especially politicians fell all over themselves proclaiming that the 2008 election had, “nothing at all to do with race.” And yet every event, every speech and comment, every debate and appearance had race written all over it. Stephen Colbert, the brilliant satirist, hit it on the head when he asked a Republican operative, “How many euphemisms have you come up with so far so that you won’t have to use the word ‘Black?’” Everyone laughed good-naturedly.… | more |

A New New Deal under Obama?

With U.S. capitalism mired in an economic crisis of a severity that increasingly brings to mind the Great Depression of the 1930s, it should come as no surprise that there are widespread calls for “a new New Deal.” Already the new Obama administration has been pointing to a vast economic stimulus program of up to $850 billion over two years aimed at lifting the nation out of the deep economic slump.… | more |

December 2008, Volume 60, Number 7

December 2008, Volume 60, Number 7

» Notes from the Editors

The historic testimony by former Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan before the House Committee of Government Oversight and Reform on October 23, 2008, represented such a startling turnaround for an individual previously given such nicknames as “Maestro” and “Oracle,” that it might well have been entitled “The Education of Alan Greenspan.” Taken to task for the enormous and still growing economic disaster, Greenspan acknowledged that he was “shocked and dismayed” by the emergence of what he called a “once-in-a-century credit tsunami.” In his effort to account for the complete failure of foresight at the Fed, Greenspan explained that the supposedly sophisticated asset pricing models that he and others in the financial community had relied on had been based almost exclusively on the experience of the last two decades during a period of rapid financial expansion, and had failed to incorporate the negative shocks visible from a longer-term historical perspective. As Greenspan himself put it… | more |

Financial Implosion and Stagnation

“The first rule of central banking,” economist James K. Galbraith wrote recently, is that “when the ship starts to sink, central bankers must bail like hell.” In response to a financial crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression, the Federal Reserve and other central banks, backed by their treasury departments, have been “bailing like hell” for more than a year. Beginning in July 2007 when the collapse of two Bear Stearns hedge funds that had speculated heavily in mortgage-backed securities signaled the onset of a major credit crunch, the Federal Reserve Board and the U.S. Treasury Department have pulled out all the stops as finance has imploded. They have flooded the financial sector with hundreds of billions of dollars and have promised to pour in trillions more if necessary—operating on a scale and with an array of tools that is unprecedented.… | more |

Braddock, Pennsylvania Out of the Furnace and into the Fire

Braddock, Pennsylvania Out of the Furnace and into the Fire

As far as scenic ruins go, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area sets a high standard. The natural beauty of the Monongahela Valley and the built legacy of deindustrialization make gorgeous scenery out of blue-collar defeat. Beauty is no compensation for lost jobs though. The old steel towns of this region have been imploding for decades. No place has lost a greater share of its population than Braddock, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh. This ravaged, near-empty stretch of abandoned homes, storefronts, and buildings was once a storied cornerstone of the industrial age. After losing 90 percent of its peak population, today it looks more like the nightmare at the end of the American Dream… | more |

Happening upon the Exploding Sand Sculpture Competition on TV

Denise Bergman is the author of Seeing Annie Sullivan, poems based on the early life of Helen Keller’s teacher (2005), which was translated into Braille and made into a Talking Book. Her poems have been widely published. She conceived and edited City River of Voices, an anthology of urban poetry, and she was the author of Keyhole Poems, a sequence that combines the history of twelve specific urban places with the present. An excerpt of her poem “Red” is permanently installed as public art in Cambridge, Massachusetts… | more |

November 2008, Volume 60, Number 6

November 2008, Volume 60, Number 6

» Notes from the Editors

In the Notes from the Editors for the September issue of Monthly Review (written in late July) we asked why, with the United States bailing out the financial sector of the economy to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars, there was no public outrage. As we observed at that time, “In the end there seems to be no satisfactory explanation for lack of popular protest over a series of ad hoc grants showering hundreds of billions of dollars of public money on the masters of finance, collectively the richest group of capitalists on the planet. And that raises the question: Is this outrage present nonetheless, growing underground, unheard and unseen? Will it suddenly burst forth, like some old mole, unforeseen and in ways unimagined?” The collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, the resulting freezing up of credit markets, U.S. Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson’s emergency plan for a $700 billion bailout of financial firms, offering “cash for trash,” i.e., proposing to buy up the toxic waste of virtually worthless mortgage-backed securities at taxpayer expense—quickly answered our question. When the U.S. Treasury got into the act with its bailout proposal, requiring Congressional authorization (previously the Federal Reserve had led the way in bailouts, to the point that treasury securities had sunk to just over half of the Fed’s assets, as we explained in September), all hell finally broke loose. Suddenly, the public outrage that had been growing beneath the surface burst forth. The U.S. capitalist class was abruptly confronted with a major political as well as economic crisis… | more |

October 2008, Volume 60, Number 5

October 2008, Volume 60, Number 5

» Notes from the Editors

The United States in the opening decade of the twenty-first century is dominated by a new imperial project that is affecting all aspects of its society. The most obvious manifestation of this (see this month’s Review of the Month) is the expansion of the military-industrial complex. However, another, in some ways even more insidious, manifestation, as Rich Gibson and E. Wayne Ross pointed out in a February 2, 2007, Counterpunch article entitled, “No Child Left Behind and the Imperial Project”, is the current assault on the nation’s public schools through the No Child Left Behind law enacted by the Bush administration with broad bipartisan support. As Gibson and Ross explained, “Any nation promising perpetual war on the world is likely to make peculiar demands on its schools…and its teachers and youth….NCLB [No Child Left Behind] is the result of three decades of elites’ struggles to recapture control over education in the U.S., lost during the Vietnam era when campuses and high-schools broke into open-rebellion and, as a collateral result, critical pedagogy, whole language reading programs, inter-active, investigatory teaching gained a foothold.”… | more |

Marx’s Critique of Heaven and Critique of Earth

In recent years the intelligent design movement, or creationism in a more subtle guise, has expanded the attack on the teaching of evolution in U.S. public schools, while promoting an ambitious “Wedge strategy” aimed at transforming both science and culture throughout society. As explained in our book Critique of Intelligent Design: Materialism versus Creationism from Antiquity to the Present (Monthly Review Press, 2008), this has reignited a 2,500-year debate between materialism and creationism, science and design. The argument from design (the attempt to discern evidence of design in nature, thereby the existence of a Designer) can be dated back to Socrates in the fifth century BCE. While the opposing materialist view (that the world is explained in terms of itself, by reference to material conditions, natural laws, and contingent, emergent phenomena, and not by the invocation of the supernatural) to which Socrates was responding also dates back to the fifth century BCE in the writings of the atomists Leucippus and Democritus. The latter perspective was developed philosophically into a full-fledged critique of design by Epicurus in the third century BCE, which later influenced the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century… | more |

A Nation Built on the Hierarchy of Race A Practical Guide to Beating White Supremacy

Chip Smith, The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism (Fayetteville, NC: Camino Press, 2007), 466 pages, paper $19.95.

In The Cost of Privilege: Taking On the System of White Supremacy and Racism, Chip Smith has written a historical treatise on white racism in the United States. He provides a well researched, detailed account of the cause and effect of white privilege in the United States. The book effectively examines the influence of racial privilege on a broad range of social relations from an international to a personal level. It targets progressive white people who are consciously anti-racist and provides insights for individual self-reflection and organizational change… | more |