December 24, 2010

What Does the Class War Mean for Research and Development?


We have a permanent Depression setting in, the normalization of 20%+ unemployment, and it’s clear that the kleptocracy views the health care system as nothing but a rent extraction machine. The legislated policy is to use the IRS as a strong-arm goon to extort protection money in exchange for a worthless Stamp, while there will be no credible cost controls or realistic regulatory restraints on the health insurance rackets.
Under those circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how, for as long as this system endures, the actual care available to the non-rich won’t continue to rapidly deteriorate.
So we must ask about something like medically necessary research (publicly subsidized, of course): What difference does any medical advance make if it will increasingly be the monopoly of the predatory rich? In that case, don’t even medical advances become weapons against us? Weapons we pay for, to add insult to injury. Gibbon depicts the plight of conquered people doing forced labor in metal shops, “forced to forge the implements of their own destruction”. Is this the case with all technological R&D by now?
Do alleged advances really still advance us? Does the African farmer benefit by being driven off his ancestral land, which is then converted to corporate biofuel production to feed Western cars? No honest person would try to argue that. Yet isn’t that the core logic of neoliberalism, which is increasingly coming home to the West itself? Those same biofuels have been driving up the price of our food for three years now, even as our jobs vanish and the cost of living soars in every other way. Is the ethanol mandate, and the cost it imposes on us, different in kind from the looming health racket mandate? Aren’t all these mandates really the same thing?
African agro-imperialism is only a seemingly extreme, but really typical example of how this system allocates its research and the output of this research. None of it is intended to benefit the people. The people are only there to be mined and exploited, or just driven out to die. The only intent, anywhere, is corporate rent extraction. “Profit”. We are those dispossessed tribal farmers. We can see it everywhere already. Their enemies are our enemies. We’ll end up exactly as they are.
In the end, all the mid-century liberal advances were fruit of the cheap oil surplus. With Peak Oil, that period has come to an end. That’s part of why in the 1970s the power structure switched over from normal exploitation, which could include the concessions* that enabled the rise of a mass middle class, to neoliberal kleptocracy, through which those concessions have been rolled back and that middle class is being liquidated.
So everything has changed politically. The kleptocratic process is intended to be terminal toward the the restoration of feudalism. 
[*I use the word concession with deliberation. Liberalism, as an elitist trickle-down ideology, never contested the right of predatory elites to steal the labor and produce of the productive people. At its best, what liberalism did was beg for some concessions to be trickled back down. Today it no longer even does that.]
At the same time, physical resource limits are imposing a great change, the end of “growth”. A different way of putting what I said above is that it was easier for the corporatists to concede more wealth equality when the pie was growing thanks to cheap, plentiful oil. But now that the pie must contract, and the oil surplus recede, we’re headed back to history’s normal economic course, the course prior to the drawdown of the fossil fuel principal.
It’s up to us whether we let ourselves be driven back into serfdom, or whether we take all we’ve learned from the Oil Age, politically and economically, and use it to build a wiser, more prosperous world.
That requires the relentless fight against corporatism on every possible front. This fight must supersede all other concerns, since the progress of the fight dictates the status of those concerns. Even issues which are ambiguous in themselves will often become clear once placed in the corporate war context. We have to oppose the redistribution of wealth upward in all its forms, including the use of public money for alleged social goods which will really be rationed by ability to pay in an extremely wealth-concentrated environment.
When I say “fight” I’m thinking of the likelihood that it’s far more possible to block bad government actions than to induce it to perform good ones. I’ve long considered the latter impossible, and that it’s a waste of effort to beg the system for the good. But maybe it’s still possible for citizen pressure and resistance to block some of the bad. On that front, we have to be obstructionists wherever possible.
We can no longer afford to contemplate the intrinsic ambivalence of things. The struggle against corporatism and for direct democracy dictates most positions out of its own imperatives. Few things now are significant in themselves.
So that’s what I meant when I started out expressing skepticism about system research, and obviously all proprietary research. Like so many things which look intrinsically benevolent from the ivory tower, removed from the real world context (cap and trade? electric cars? a VAT?), it becomes far less so in practice if undertaken under kleptocratic auspices.
So that’s why by now my default position is: Political transformation first, even at the temporary expense of things which may be theoretically beneficial but are not so under this dispensation. 

December 11, 2009

Value-Destroying Taxes

Filed under: Neo-feudalism, Reformism Can't Work — Tags: — Russ @ 9:17 am


This NYT headline says it all: “Many See the VAT Option As A Cure For Runaway Deficits”.
For deficits, no less!
The article is clear about the way things are. Spending cuts? Not on any of the big-ticket piracy. Higher taxes on the rich? Don’t be silly.
No, as they quote a Reagan administration economist: “This strikes me as the best and most obvious way of doing it.” I’m sure it does.
The piece points out that, like universal health care, every civilized country has a VAT. Since this is not a civilized country, we should look to what happened with health “reform” to find the pattern for what would happen here with a VAT.
As was proven there (and is being proven with finance “reform” as we speak), any so-called “reform” proposal will actually be a Trojan horse. It will be disaster capitalism, a phony reform vehicle used as an anti-public, anti-reform weapon.
How will a VAT be weaponized? It’s already regressive. And look at this: “Invoking such a tax would probably require an overhaul of the entire federal tax code.” Yes – the advertised idea would be to replace “middle” class income taxes with the VAT. Of course it’s doubtful that this would even happen. In practice they’ll just lay the one atop the other. (In NJ, for example, the income tax was first instituted in the 70s with the promise that it would replace property taxes. Instead, they both exist, and both have risen tremendously.)
And what would happen with a phony “overhaul” of the tax code? It would be the goriest lobbyist feeding frenzy to date. Every kind of special interest, criminal, and parasite would win. Only the people would lose. They would lose hard, they would lose long, they would lose like they’ve never lost before. They would pay, pay, PAY.
And they want to use the loot to pay down the deficit!
Just as the obvious and only health care reform is single-payer, so the obvious and only tax reform is to render the entire code steeply progressive. That’s what the civilized countries did.
How about this for civilization: While progressively steepening the tax code in general, institute a VAT dedicated exclusively to paying for single-payer health care. In that context, the VAT would make perfect sense. This would also be in line with its anti-luxury consumption, pro-saving thrust.
But that’s rational, that’s moral, that’s civilized. Therefore we won’t do it.
[Appendix. On an different topic, but since the article made me think of it:
It gives this brief tutorial on how a VAT works:

Imagine the production of a new dress, in three steps:

¶A fabric store sells a tailor enough silk to make one dress, at a total price of $10 before taxes;

¶The tailor sews a dress and sells it to Macy’s for $30 before taxes;

¶Macy’s then sells the dress to a shopper for $50, before taxes.

What’s wrong with this picture? It doesn’t answer the obvious question, why do we need “Macy’s” at all? What value does it add? (This applies to big box stores like Walmart most of all, but really to all department stores.)
It’s best never to have Macy’s in the first place. That already means a society has reached a destructive level of complexity. This is because the moment Macy’s is entrenched enough it’ll simply use its entrenched position to extract maximum rents from both the tailor and the shopper. That’s the Law of Feudalism.
Sure, for a few decades it might have looked like department stores were adding value. But in the long run they were malevolent. To trade real jobs, greater self-sufficiency, community, self-respect, freedom, for the sake of temporarily lower prices (for crappier products, and which in the long run won’t even be cheaper), was never a good trade to make. Every supporter of “free” trade was and is a criminal against humanity.
The only way to maintain long run social value was never to have “Macy’s” in the first place.]