March 28, 2012

The Health Racket Mandate, Toward Other Corporate Mandates


A few thoughts on the health racket mandate, for anyone who supports or knows someone who supports it, constitutionally and/or on policy grounds.
(This is also for anyone who’s wondering about my rage vs. liberals, as I expressed in this post earlier today, for example. Look at this mandate as a prime example of the incoherency and malevolence I describe.)
Let’s recap the history.
1. In the mid-20th century Congress granted antitrust exemptions to the health insurance racketeers, giving them monopolies or oligopolies in every state. This is a command economy, a forced market. The only alternative for most people is non-participation.
2. On account of this growing non-participation, as well as the desperate financial straits of many insurance rackets, especially post-2008, the government instituted a bailout of the sector, in the form of Obamacare. (It’s also an austerity policy and a union-busting measure.) This is Obama’s core policy. The funds for this bailout are to be extorted in the form of a poll tax imposed on human beings, as the price of their physical existence. (The mandated “policies” themselves will be worthless, and subsidies to purchase them will never materialize.)
3. Supporters of this policy now argue that it’s constitutional, thanks to totalitarian commerce clause jurisprudence. I’ve extensively covered this here, here, and here. (For the health racket bailout and Stamp mandate in general, see my posts catalogued here.)
For anyone who supports this, please explain:
1. Does this mean that if Congress decides that proprietary GMOs are to be normative in the same way it has dictated for private health insurance, it can mandate purchase of these seeds by all growers? Impose penalties on heirloom seeds, or ban them? What about other agricultural inputs?
(See here for the shaky financial position of Monsanto. Pro-GMO Obama policy, tangibly accelerated right around the time Monsanto’s travails hit the papers, can already be seen as a Monsanto bailout. I’ll write more on this soon.)
2. Does this mean that if Congress decides that big box retailing is to be normative in the same way it has dictated for private health insurance, it can mandate shopping at Walmart and similar boxes (say, by having the IRS require receipts)? Can it penalize or ban independent retailers?
(See here for Walmart’s increasing market difficulties.)
Not for a moment do I mean for either of these examples to be taken as hyperbole or in any Swiftian sense. If the health racket mandate can be enacted, then both of these, and any number of comparable policies, would be enactable by the same logic. I have no doubt about the system’s will to enact any such policy, limited only by whatever political fears it may have.

September 18, 2011

Who’s the Rope For? (Walmart and Growing Power)

Filed under: Corporatism, Food and Farms — Tags: — Russ @ 3:06 am


Lenin said, “the capitalist will sell us the rope we’ll use to hang him.” This applied just as much to money “freely” given, as when the Bolsheviks were taking German money in 1917. Lenin’s position from early in his career was always clear – take anything you can get and use it toward the revolution. He scolded anyone who thought this was likely to mean the co-optation of Bolshevism. “Are we children or revolutionaries?”, he chided Bolsheviks naive enough to think they were going to abide by an agreement not to fraternize among German soldiers in Russia. “We’ve already violated the provision forty times, and we’ll continue to do so.”
Sure enough, Lenin never wavered from his goal of communist revolution, first in Russia, then Western Europe, and then around the world. (Although a skeptic might mention that Lenin’s version of communism was, in his own words, “state capitalism”, still potentially profitable for foreign investors, who Lenin ardently wooed. But this too was always at least implicit, and sometimes explicit, in his writings from early on.)
So the example seems to be proof of principle that it’s possible for an activist or a movement to take money even from the most criminal and corrupting sources but not be corrupted himself. Of course, we know that the odds are against this, but we can still take things on a case by case basis. In theory it’s possible for Will Allen’s Growing Power to take greenwashing money from Walmart and use that money to fight Walmart.
Of course, it would help those trying to have faith in Allen if he hadn’t immediately launched into pro-corporate propaganda:

I’d like to take this opportunity to share my position on the role that corporations can play in the Good Food Revolution…We, as a society, can no longer refuse to invite big corporations to the table of the Good Food Revolution…Wal-mart is the world’s largest distributor of food – there is no one better positioned to bring high-quality, locally grown food into urban food deserts and fast-food swamps. We can no longer be so idealistic that we hurt the very people we’re trying to help. Keeping groups that have the money and the power to be a significant part of the solution away from the Good Food Revolution will not serve us.

It’s not exactly, “they’ll make us a grant of the rope we’ll use to hang them”, is it?
Allen knows perfectly well that Walmart’s greenwashing is a scam. So here he’s telling a flat out lie. (And who could possibly think the problem is that society is too prejudiced against big corporations?) It looks like he already sees himself as on the payroll. Maybe he didn’t even need a list of talking points. He started out as a corporate salesman, after all.
One wonders how to square this with his daughter’s noble statement on how Growing Power in Chicago rejected Monsanto money a few years ago.

In 2009 we had an interesting situation with Monsanto/Seminis (Monsanto purchased Seminis, a large, regional fruit-and-vegetable seed company, in 2005). They’d hired a communications firm in Chicago to find an urban agriculture group so they could fund a youth urban agriculture project. They just wanted to give
us money, just do an urban farm so that youth could learn about what we do and also be introduced to other
forms of agriculture; Monsanto’s name wouldn’t be on it. These people from the communications firm said,
“This guy that we know at Monsanto, he’s really nice, and there are some really good people within the company.” And I said, “I am sure there are.” But I and we had to do some deep soul-searching about what we, as leaders, should do with this approach from Seminis—potentially gatekeepers of resources that could mean employment versus incarceration for some of our youth corps members. Do I not accept $200,000 to $500,000, which would build up infrastructure, provide adult mentors and social-service support, and supply stipends for pay for a few years? Could this be recompense for the global impacts of this company, but also a boon to their public relations efforts to spin their methods “to end hunger and to increase production”? I had to think about it. It’s a real dilemma: What do you do when folks approach you and you’re representing people who have very limited options and you’re being offered all those resources to develop this infrastructure?

We turned it down because of the kind of work we do, the belief in our vision, and to show our solidarity with
Via Campesina and the Department of Justice’s antitrust hearings. We advocate seed saving and slow food,
and potentially if we accepted the Monsanto/Seminis funds we would have legitimized their work.

On top of that, it would have been so hard for us, as one of the rare organizations led by people of color in this kind of work—work where we’re doing something people can see, not just talking a good game. People, our youth most importantly, look to us as role models. You’re no better than what you are trying to defeat if you do the same thing and get sucked into that system. Fortunately we have reached a critical point in our development where we do have options.

Did Walmart just offer enough more money?
One thing’s clear – the contention that one can take the money and remain uncorrupted cannot coexist with the recipient spewing the giver’s propaganda. That’s an immediate contradiction. (But then, Allen’s defense doesn’t sound like he even considers Walmart the enemy at all.)
So the Allen example already looks like yet another in the long, dreary menagerie of sellouts.

March 1, 2011

The Real Tea Party


The British East India Company was one of the earliest corporations and quickly became by far the most powerful of its age. In its heyday it was more powerful than most of the world’s governments. It already embodied most of the worst aspects of corporate existence, and its depredations in America ended up providing the final impetus to colonial independence. The American Revolution sought independence not just from British economic and political tyranny in general, but from the British-based corporation in particular.
The BEIC was chartered by Queen Elizabeth in 1600 and first issued permanent stock in 1613. One of the first instances of an award of limited liability for investors was a special Act of Parliament in 1662 bestowing this privilege upon BEIC shareholders. This Act isn’t surprising when we consider that often up to a third of Parliament were shareholders, and Kings often received loans from “the Company”, as it was usually called. Up to 10% of government revenue was from the tax on the BEIC’s tea monopoly.
The BEIC was one of the earliest joint-stock companies, pooling the capital of investors, which was better for the high-risk, high-reward nature of expeditions to places like Russia, Turkey, Africa, and China. The Company was also involved in piracy as well as the legalized chartered piracy called privateering, a common corporate prerogative to this day.
The license to privateer was one of many aspects of the monopoly charter, which originally meant an exclusive charter to extract a particular rent. Monopoly would later extend to doing business in a particular region. Corporate chartering never completely lost this feudal nature, and today the monopoly aspect is again waxing, as is the corporation’s old license to amass private armies, police, prisons, and conduct its own foreign policy. The BEIC and other early corporations did all these as well.
The Company’s original charter granted it a monopoly on all trade east of the Cape of Good Hope. Driven out of the actual East Indies by the Dutch, the BEIC ended up imposing a horrendous plunder regime upon India, depopulating whole countrysides by bleeding them of all economic ability to sustain life. Eventually the Company’s trade revenue was greatly exceeded by its rent extractions – company taxes, forced markets, prohibitions on all local industry and trading – all pure robbery.
By the early 1770s, the Company was on the verge of bankruptcy and needed a bailout. In the 1760s the shareholders kept voting increases in their annual dividends even as revenues were tightening. A Company-caused famine in 1769-70 greatly decreased the amount of plunder the Company tax collectors could extract. Meanwhile the BEIC was also losing share in the lucrative American market to Dutch smugglers.
In 1772, the Company took another severe hit as Europe fell into depression and continental tea sales plunged. It now had a tea glut in its warehouses. In collaboration with Parliament, the Company decided the solution was to dump the tea in America. This would relieve the supply glut and undercut the Dutch. Parliament agreed to suspend British-end duties in order to facilitate the scheme. It was classic globalization. But in a typical example of schizophrenic British policy throughout its confrontation with the colonies, the ministry insisted on the duty being collected at the colonial end. So the colonists would still have to pay the tax, even though the Company didn’t have to pay it in Britain. This helped revive the lately moribund taxation-without-representation agitation.
Far more potent than the tax issue, however, was the monopoly provision the Company added. Only its own special commissioners would be empowered to warehouse and retail the tea in the colonies. In Boston and throughout the colonies, most businesses were family-owned or partnerships. Corporations were unnecessary and unwanted. Under the mercantile policy and the Navigation Acts based upon it, these colonial businesses were already in a constrained position. Colonials were largely forbidden to engage in even local manufacturing let alone manufacturing for export. Their use of native resources was also subject to restraint contingent on the needs or whims of British mercantile entities like the Navy (who for example had dibs on all white pine trees according to the White Pine Act) or the BEIC.
Now these colonial businessmen saw themselves further threatened by the Company monopoly plan. It was a direct attack on their tea warehousing and retailing. Worse than this, all saw it as the prototype for all sorts of future British-imposed corporate monopolies. So not only were they foreclosed from manufacturing, but they’d be driven out of commerce as well. We can compare this to today’s prototypes, examples like the FDA’s milk “definitions” and the health racket Stamp mandate. Together these constitute such a prototype.
Broadsides of the time make clear how this was seen immediately as an early version of Walmartization:

To the Tradesmen,
Mechanics, &c. of the
Province of Pennsylvania

… Hereafter, if they succeed, they will send their own Factors and Creatures, establish Houses amongst us. Ship us all other East-India goods; and in order to full freight their Ships, take in other kind of Goods at under Freight, or (more probably) ship them on their own Accounts to their own Factors, and undersell our Merchants, till they monopolize the whole Trade. Thus our Merchants are ruined, Ship Building ceases. They will then sell Goods at any exorbitant price. Our Artificers will be unemployed, and every Tradesman will groan under the dire Oppression.

The East India Company, if once they get Footing in this (once) happy country, will leave no Stone unturned to become your Masters. They are an opulent Body, and Money or Credit is not wanting amongst them They have a designing, depraved, and despotic Ministry to assist and support them. They themselves are well versed In Tyranny, Plunder, Oppression and Bloodshed. Whole Provinces labouring under the Distresses of Oppression, Slavery, Famine, and the Sword, are familiar to them. Thus they have enriched themselves,thus they are become the most powerful Trading Company in the Universe. …

excerpts from a broadside signed “A Mechanic,” Philadelphia, December 4, 1773

As if wanting to maximize the fear and anger, Massachusetts royal governor Thomas Hutchinson wrangled appointments for his two sons, a son-in-law, and two cronies as the five Boston consignees for the BEIC tea. Hutchinson had long been reviled for among other things his decades-standing cronyist agenda, and the way he systematically sought to enshrine his family as de facto feudal nobles. The tea commissioner appointments comprised the ultimate proof of a nefarious plot between the Company, the ministry, and Hutchinson to economically enslave Massachusetts.
This was the cause of the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. A shock troop of around 150 men assembled at the home of rebel printer Benjamin Edes where they were painted and costumed to look like Indians. Joined by hundreds more in regular dress, shouting “the Mohawks are come!” and “Boston Harbor a teapot tonight!”, they boarded the three tea ships docked in Boston Harbor and destroyed the tea. There was little in the way of political symbolism about it – they wanted to maximize the economic destruction. 120,000 pounds, sixty tons, around 10% of a year’s worth of colonial consumption, 50% of normal imports from Britain, went into the harbor. The tea filled the water and piled up against the sides of the ships, until shovels were needed to keep the piles from tipping back over onto the decks. One man caught trying to secret tea in his pockets was roughed up while his coat was stripped. After the job was done the Mohawk leader, Captain Pitts, had everyone take off their shoes and shake them out, just to make sure no one was inadvertently taking home some tea he might be tempted to sell later. All the details had been carefully prepared. Every cup’s worth of tea was to be destroyed.
The non-corporatized merchants saw doom, so they acted. They destroyed the economically weaponized corporate property. The colonists were economically rebelling against colonialism in general and corporatism in particular, exactly the fight we face today. The rejection of corporate monopoly and the destruction of corporate property lay at the core of the American Revolutionary ideal. And when the British responded to the Tea Party by closing Boston Harbor and the other Intolerable Acts, the colonies didn’t cave in, but responded with galvanization, support, resolve. The American Revolution now definitively moved beyond its stage where most still hoped for some “reformist” solution, to the stage where Independence had become inevitable, even if most didn’t fully realize that at first.
Today anyone who still thinks and feels and acts in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party is an anti-corporate activist. The Tea Party was a direct counterattack on the British East India Company and the BEI/Parliament nexus, which is the same corporate/government nexus which afflicts us today. So a true tea partier is ready to whoop it up again against the tyrannical corporations. History is the authority for this fact.
And today we need such Mohawks. To give one example, for years freedom-loving people from India to Italy have repeatedly taken action to fight back and destroy the GMO fields which threaten their economic and political freedom, as well as the biosphere itself. And can we rely on the rule of law to solve such problems? On the contrary, as we speak the US government is brazenly defying a court order against allowing Monsanto’s GE sugar beets to be planted without even the normal sham environmental assessments. And we just saw the administration’s psychopathic approval of GE alfalfa, a policy guaranteed to contaminate all alfalfa, bringing us that much closer to the inevitable system collapse and world famine GMOs promise to someday trigger.
The same Indians who were once “bled white” by the British East India Company are now driven to suicide in the hundreds of thousands by corporations like Monsanto, by the US government, and by totalitarian globalization entities who are the lackeys of these chartered monopolies. Then there’s the likes of the NYT which continues to viciously, wantonly demand the further escalation of this global war on the people of America and the world.
My purpose in writing this is not necessarily to call for actual property destruction. People will have to consult their conscience and necessity to discern the right tactic for any situation. But I want to make clear how the struggle of the American Revolution was the same struggle we endure today. It was the same struggle against corporations, against monopoly charters, corporate rent extractions, corporate forced markets, the forced restraints of colonial economic policy, the same internal mercantilism we increasingly face today, against the same globalization and internal economic colonization within an empire (consider how truly alien and destructive Walmart and its clones are to our communities).
We see how corporatism is a radically regressive deterioration of our political and economic freedom and power. It’s part of the descent back to feudalism the kleptocracy has planned for us. We see how our only hope for preserving our freedom and regaining our prosperity is to continue on the original path of the American Revolution. This is the path of the true Boston Tea Party. It’s the path of total rejection of corporations and the corporate/government nexus, withdrawal from the grasp of their parasitic extractions, and total resistance to their assaults. This is the only road to freedom and self-determination. It’s the only road forward for humanity.

October 30, 2010

Trick or Treat – Walmart and Local, Sustainable Food

Filed under: Food and Farms, Relocalization — Tags: — Russ @ 3:07 am


America needs millions more small farmers. The imperatives are economic, political, and physical. We need food relocalization, our own structures, our own farmers’ markets, garden markets, CSAs, distribution networks. We need to organize, manage, and of course own all this ourselves, completely outside the corporate system. One word used to encompass all of this is sustainability.
It’s not just corporate production which is destroying our democracy and health, but corporate distribution. Therefore a prospect like Walmart allegedly emphasizing local foods is a great danger.
Gandhi famously said, “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.” He didn’t add, “then they try to co-opt you”, but it goes in there somewhere between ridicule and where we win. It proves we’re on the right track, that what we’re doing has “profit” potential, and even better that it’s a significant rival to corporate practice.
Walmart’s plan, called “Heritage Agriculture” in honor of Orwell and of George Bush initiatives like Healthy Forests and Clear Skies, purports to invest in regional and local food (“training and infrastructure for small and medium size farmers, particularly in emerging markets”), to develop a “sustainability index”, and to double (to 9%) the proportion of food it sells which is “local”. This expands upon the “green” initiative launched in 2005.
Since this is Walmart we don’t need to speculate on whether its intentions are benevolent. Obviously the intent is to co-opt the terms “sustainable” and “local” and commodify them, or at least discredit them. By definition sustainability means, among other things, resiliency, redundancy, slack, and independence. But here “sustainable” will be revalued in corporate terms of sustainably maximized production and profit, given some Potemkin criteria. That’s what this “sustainability index” is all about.

“Over time, may not need the U.S. government setting standards for how we plant, spray and harvest. We will just have to follow Walmart’s rules,” noted a farmer who has been in discussions with Walmart officials.

We could already imagine what it’ll mean for farmers to be at the mercy of Walmart’s rules. But we have more detailed evidence. I’ll just go ahead and call this the “quote of death”:

Certainly, Walmart is not alone in the rush to “go green” in the U.S. and around the globe. Other major farm and food players, like Cargill, Monsanto, Syngenta, General Mills, Kelloggs, Pepsico, Mars, Dairy Management Inc., and Stonyfield Farms are also on the hunt for measurable sustatinability goals.

They joined Walmart in funding the Sustainability Consortium, which plans to develop “transparent methodologies, tools and strategies to drive a new generation of products and supply networks that address environmental, social and economic imperatives, according to their web site. Ironically, the very farmers who might be most impacted by their benchmarks, are not part of the Consortium, where first tier membership costs $100,000 per year.

The Consortium, which is jointly managed by the University of Arkansas and Arizona State University and includes research from universities around the globe, has been developing an index which can be used to evaluate and measure sustainable practices on the farm and throughout the supply chain.

Eventually, this might lead to products in your local Walmart that are “scored” according to their level of sustainability, says Matt Kistler, the Senior Vice President of Marketing for Walmart and the man who previously served as Senior Vice President for Sustainability.

By definition you can’t be sustainable yet deeply entangled with any multinational, let alone proven enemies of humanity and the earth like Monsanto and Syngenta.
(Meanwhile we can imagine what kind of “training and infrastructure” program they have in mind “for small and medium size farmers, particularly in emerging markets”. It may not be as overtly ideological as the Chicago Boys or the Goldman Gals, but it’ll exemplify the same corporate imperatives.)
For Walmart, “sustainable” will be defined as grown and sold in the same state. Right there we can see how conceptually frivolous it is, since there’s zero scientific or practical basis for basing anything on the cockamamie borders of states.
Previous Walmart opponents, counterattacking it on other fronts, have already laid bare how bogus Walmart “sustainability” concepts are.

A 2004 Counterpunch article by Yoshie Furuhashi used a Teamster’s organizing map of Wal-Mart distribution points to demonstrate that most states are already served by local Wal-Mart distribution centers. The term local, in other words, as a definition of ‘sustainable’ doesn’t require any transformation to existing Wal-Mart distribution patterns. It’s green washing at its most sophisticated.

So Walmart already covers the geography to the point that, according to their definition of “local”, this alleged initiative really won’t require them to change their existing practices at all.
Still, this could be at least a short term boost for economically beleaguered farmers. They need as many lucrative markets as possible, so it would be dubious for anyone to argue from a political perch that they shouldn’t commit to Walmart, that they should resist Walmart. But I would just tell them the same thing I’d tell anyone about anything Walmart does: This is not sufficient for survival. It cannot be a substitute for truly local distribution, and really doesn’t even uphold local production. The money leaves the community. To whatever extent we participate in this, it has to be only as a temporary economic survival tactic while we build parallel but independent, truly local and sustainable, distribution networks. We have to become able to stand on our own. That’s the essence of what’s sustainable, and the real definition of that word includes a naturally imposed mandate. True sustainability, unlike any corporate marketing term or battle plan, is not a choice, but an existential imperative. Since Walmart “sustainability” can hinder this action, it has to be touched only with skepticism and with the consciousness that this is not enough, we need to still build our own infrastructure, and the goal is to break free of all corporate distribution.
We know where Walmart always leads. We’ve seen its scorched earth mentality toward local business (right there we have a decisive precedent for what it really thinks of local farmers), jobs, workers, externalizing costs on the community, forcing people into cars. It has a unanimous record as a kind of Mongol horde ravaging the countryside, putting all communities to the sword and torch. We know this is the same poison.
Again, we don’t need to rely purely on deduction here. We can look at the record of Walmart’s vaunted “organic” initiative. Watchdogs and studies have extensively documented how this has been widely flouted in practice. Walmart frequently uses misleading banners and shelf layouts to misrepresent non-organic products as “organic”. And it has systematically abused the term “organic” and even the USDA Organic seal on non-food products containing harmful synthetic ingredients. (Apparently there’s little restriction on the basic term “organic” on labels for non-foods, but you certainly can’t use the USDA seal for synthetic products.) Much of this organic sourcing has been offshored to China. Not only are the organic inspection safeguards practically nil in China, but this also puts Walmart’s newfound commitment to “local” production in ironic perspective. I won’t try to select a single quote from this excellent summary of what Walmart “organic” has meant. It’s a fairly short piece, worth reading in its entirety. And the white paper I linked above is a far more extensive treatment. Based on this case study, and Walmart’s universal record, we can forecast the same dynamic for “local” and “sustainable” in their hands.
So why is Walmart trying to do this, if they’re not morally on the level? The consensus is that the main reason is to continue the political whitewash and greenwash they’ve been embarked upon since 2005, after such a run of bad publicity over their labor practices and their gutting of local economies (again that perspective on localism). It may also be part of a plan to squeeze more out of bigger suppliers, by promoting an alternative with great fanfare. Even if it is pretty clearly a bluff, and one which corporate producers must in other ways applaud and support, they too have to view Walmart as fundamentally predatory toward them as well. And perhaps this is even Walmart hedging its bets with regard to Peak Oil. That’s definitely not the main reason, but it could be a secondary one.
There’s no question what we need to do as customers. It’s the same as with every other potential interaction with Walmart. If you can afford to patronize local businesses, always do so. Only shop at Walmart under economic duress. (And I disclose, being under such duress, I sometimes have to do so myself. But I’m always aware that this is something from which we need to find a way to break free completely.) So the same dynamic applies with food, but even more critically. If economically and logistically possible, buy directly from local farmers, or from local grocers who carry local produce. If you must go to a chain, choose the supermarket over Walmart. The supermarket hasn’t played anywhere near the same role in devastating communities the way Walmart has. Only shop at Walmart as a last recourse, when there’s no practicable alternative.
What should farmers do? They may need to sell to Walmart to some extent. But they need to be aware that this is a trap set for them. They need to simultaneously keep working for truly independent, democratic distribution. We need to keep ALL our money in the community, or as much as possible. If it’s possible to prevent Walmart from making off with one extra cent, that’s worth preventing. Otherwise we shall become Walmart’s serfs, just like the way the chicken and hog markets are dominated by distributor oligopolies. Here a monopoly retailer threatens, but the principle and the threatened outcome are the same.
The essence of true sustainability is that food producers own and manage their production while they and the community own and manage the distribution network, which distributes within the community for the full benefit of the local producers and community. The closer we come to this goal, the more democratic, prosperous, secure, healthy, and fulfilled our lives will be. Walmart is definitely no friend to this goal, and to the extent we have to deal with them at all, it has to be as a temporary measure, perhaps seeking if possible to use them to our advantage, but always with the consciousness that the world we seek is free of them completely. 

April 19, 2009

The Crash and the Future


America’s economic and geopolitical position has certainly become precarious in recent years, and there’s no reason to believe the empire can be sustained in the long run. However, it’s striking how the financial crisis, extending into general economic crisis, has temporarily strengthened imperial America’s relative position.
Let’s look at the situation a year ago. Oil price was surging, while supply was tightening, with almost no spare capacity. This created lots of space for geopolitical disruption or blackmail. Petrostates could have strong domestic spending and assertive foreign policies. In the parlance, they could have both guns and butter. Russia and OPEC were feeling strong. Venezuela was talking tough about replacing the dollar as reserve currency. The dollar was weak, and yet the trade deficit was huge.
Meanwhile in the domestic campaign, where the electorate was clear on the absolute failure of Bush, corporatism, and neoconservatism, all the talk was of the new space for progressive ideas and progressive policy. “Yes we can!” was the watchword.
And today? Oil is in a price doldrum, with ample spare capacity. There’s little geopolitical space for anti-globalism for the time being. The trade deficit has been dampened. The dollar has become relatively stronger, and its status as reserve currency temporarily reaffirmed. Russia and OPEC have been chastened by the plunging oil price, Venezuela is domestically scrambling, Europe and China are in disarray.
In America, although a nominally progressive president was elected, his agenda shifted immediately to “continuity” and appeasement. Obama’s main goal has been to continue the two quintessential corporatist policies: an imperial neocon foreign policy, branded the Global War on Terror (though they want to change the brand name); domestically, class war from above, intensified and accelerated wealth redistribution upwards through the Bailouts. In terms of general politics, Obama’s project has been to appease the Republicans and give them the breathing space they need to try to regroup. That they’ve been inept at this so far is not for lack of Obama giving them an opportunity.
(Why is Obama doing this? Like Clinton, he believes “it’s the economy stupid”, and he is basically a right-of-center corporatist. Therefore he sees the real foe as being not Republicans but true progressives. If you’re interested in 20th century European history, compare it to post-WWI Germany, where the new republic under a Majority Socialist government made an alliance with the hard core reactionaries against the real socialists (the Independent Socialists and Spartacists). Though here today the Right is currently in disarray, and there’s little to no coordination among true progressives, the political fundamentals are similar.)   
What has changed? The crash and the crisis: by generating demand destruction and letting off steam from the oil market, this has temporarily alleviated Peak Oil pressures and reduced the intensity of America’s basic position as oil addict in a world of surging prices and constricting supplies. America is in a vice, but the pressure has been ratcheted down a bit. Meanwhile the producing regimes who were riding high, throwing their weight around internationally and justifying themselves domestically by trickling some of the oil wealth downward, are having to retrench on every front.
Whose positions have been shored up? America’s in general (I refer to the “America” of the power elite, not Main Street), in particular that of the Republicans, the neocons, the FIRE trust, who are being coddled, appeased, bailed out, and in general given time to regroup for the intensified struggle ahead.
Who has been weakened? In a word, everyone else. America’s disaster has become the world’s disaster. Everyone is confounded in the economic turmoil. Meanwhile oil’s death grip has been temporarily weakened. While this has somewhat alleviated the stresses for the American consumer, it’s not enough to offset the disaster befalling him as jobs, investments, pensions, social programs, social contracts, hope for the future in general, are vaporized.
(Always remember that “demand destruction”, like “adaptation” in climate crisis policy, may look like a kind of solution on paper, but its real life meaning is tremendous hardship and misery for the non-rich, and especially the global poor. These are always political fig leaves for the Western power structure and its attempt to prop up the consumption/car/sprawl dystopia. They are always tools of disaster capitalism.)
The main effect of the crash has been to buy some time and political space for the elite to prepare for the post-Peak resource hunt. This will mean a fully corporatized economy and an authoritarian society. It means a more overtly Social Darwinist civilization. The carrot will be aggrofuels, tar sands syncrude, and whatever other “alternative” fuels can be wrested through ever-intensifying environmental and political violence. This will be meant to let the American consumer keep his precious car and McMansion sprawl as long as possible. For dissenters, the sticks will be many and severe.
So when we look at the plan for America over the next twenty, thirty, fifty years, however long the zombie system can be propped up before energy descent definitively kicks in (however long it will be until “peak empire”, “peak zombification”), we should perhaps look to China as a model. There the goal of society has been to keep the Communist Party in power and enrich the coastal elite. The social stability necessary for this comes from trickling some crumbs downward to the peasantry in the form of factory jobs. Dissent, meanwhile, is ferociously suppressed.
China’s ruling elite has of course for a long time now been communist only in name. Rather, seeing how world communism had become a dead end, in the 80s the Chinese elite made the decision to shift to a corporatist globalization model. Similarly, America has for decades been shifting from capitalism to corporatism. Since unlike China America didn’t commence this shift as a de jure authoritarian society, the transition has taken longer and had less central planning. But in the end, from these different directions, America and China are ending up in the same place.
So like China America will have a “fortress system”, dedicated to keeping the elite in power and the rich in their riches. The main detail which is different is that while China seeks to trickle down enough factory jobs to satisfy the peasantry, America will try to prop up a nominal suburban middle class: commuting, McMansion-dwelling, lawn-mowing, flat-screen TV-watching. Since this middle class has no economic basis for existence, the system will try to zombify it through new debt bubbles. It will exist in a state of ever greater financial tension, as its wages and social protections become ever more attenuated. Every middle class family will be existentially closer and closer to being one lost paycheck away from literally living in a box. This will dovetail nicely with a more overtly fascist and authoritarian political system. Such will be the socioeconomic balance of terror which props up the elite’s power foundation.
But evidently, for the American consumer, it’s all worth it for the sake of low prices at Walmart.     
While all this doesn’t mean the crash was consciously premeditated (since exponential debt always had disaster “priced into it”, it’s more likely the power elite were always ready to shift opportunistically into disaster capitalist mode at any time), it does mean the suffering of Americans and of people around the world is being used and intensified for the advantage of America’s rich.

March 20, 2009

Globalization Brief

Filed under: Corporatism, Globalization — Tags: , , , — Russ @ 9:16 am

What does it mean when we are told globalization is good for “the economy”?

Globalization is about, among other things, the convergence of all wages to the subsistence minimum, and as often as possible even below this. It has driven down real wages everywhere, including in the ostensible “high-wage” places like America. This is part of the nefarious “race to the bottom” which is the nihilistic core of globalism.

The real point of globalism is to eradicate nation-based capitalism and replace it with an international neo-feudalist rentier racket, where this small elite would not only maximize profits but monopolize all real assets, while the people everywhere are reduced to serfdom.

This has to be the real end goal since “consumerism” is clearly not sustainable, especially as you systematically impoverish your customer base. If as Walmart you come into a vicinity and destroy x middle class jobs but “create” x + y non-living wage “greeter associate” jobs (and this is precisely what globalist cadres mean when they claim globalism creates job growth), well, how long can this process continue? Walmart has lower prices, but it drives down consumer wages. It’s another downward spiral which can’t be sustained. Another contradiction of capitalism.

The process is most advanced in the non-industrial countries, but is also advancing everywhere else. 

Globalization does not benefit any aggregate, and it does not benefit any nation.

The fact is, there is no such thing as a “nation”. There is no such thing as America, for example. Of course, TPTB want people to believe in such fraudulent mirages, since this is how they obscure the reality of class struggle.

But the fact is, this struggle is the only socioeconomic reality. A large country is by definition a free-fire zone of conflicting interests. While I won’t go here into whether or not the struggle necessarily has to be zero-sum under conditions of economic growth and resource plenty, it is indisputable that in our brave new world of resource constraint and the end of growth, where everywhere we now run up against Malthusian limits, the fight will now be over a shrinking pie, and from here on to the end of history it can never be anything other than zero sum class war.

The globalists understand this perfectly. As always, the elite has class consciousness, the people mostly do not. That’s always been the secret of their success. That’s why over the past several decades they’ve orchestrated this world-historical shift from conventional capitalism to a rentier economy of corporatism, financialization, neo-feudalism, and asset monopoly (land, oil, infrastructure). The process is now in its endgame.

(For anyone who doubts this, who believes in the good faith of globalists, here’s a question. If they were ever really serious about “comparative advantage”, which concept of course incorporates regional inefficiencies which allegedly add up to a more efficient whole, then why wasn’t this ever enshrined in practice? In practice, no one ever wanted to allow anyone a comparative advantage where it was possible for the handful of multinationals to seek absolute advantage.

At least in practice globalization has been literally totalitarian in seeking the hegemony of rentier finance and multinational corporatism, through the mechanisms of the dollar as reserve currency, what is basically the thuggery of the World Bank and the IMF, and the “race to the bottom”.)