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Let's Just Admit It: Capitalism Doesn't Work

By John Atcheson - Common Dreams, November 13, 2017

In almost every way you examine it, capitalism – at least the relatively unconstrained, free- market variety practiced here in the US and supported by both parties -- has been an abysmal failure. Let’s take a close look some of its worst failings.  But first, it must be admitted that when it comes to exploiting people and the planet for the purpose of generating apparent wealth for the few, it has been a smashing success.  More about that notion of “apparent wealth” in a moment, but now, the specifics.

The logical end-point of a competitive system is an oligarchic monopoly

A recent report  by UBS reveals that the global march of economic inequality is accelerating.  The report found that the billionaire’s share of wealth grew by nearly 20 percent last year, reaching a level of disparity not seen since 1905, the gilded age.  Interestingly, the first gilded age followed decades of uber-free market laissez-faire policies, just as today’s gilded age has.

Not surprising, really. Empirical evidence shows that without constraint, markets will proceed toward a winner-take-all status. In short, monopolies and oligopolies. For example, the United States has had three periods of prolonged laissez-faire economic policies, and each was followed by extreme wealth inequality and the three biggest economic crises in US history, such inequality causes.

Oh, but the magic of competition makes companies compete for our dollar, so they can’t afford to exploit us, right? Not so much.

The magic elixir of competition doesn’t work—for the simple reason that there isn’t much competition anymore. Having convinced folks that regulation is bad, the Oligarchy is in the midst of a frenzy of mergers that is giving a few large conglomerates control of many of the major market sectors.

Derrick Thompson, in a recent article in the Atlantic, lays out some of the grim statistics that illustrate the trend. As Thompson writes,

To comprehend the scope of corporate consolidation, imagine a day in the life of a typical American and ask: How long does it take for her to interact with a market that isn’t nearly monopolized? She wakes up to browse the Internet, access to which is sold through a local monopoly. She stocks up on food at a superstore such as Walmart, which owns a quarter of the grocery market. If she gets indigestion, she might go to a         pharmacy, likely owned by one of three companies controlling 99 percent of that market. If she’s stressed and wants to relax outside the shadow of an oligopoly, she’ll have to stay away from ebooks, music, and beer; two companies control more than half     of all sales in each of these markets. There is no escape—literally. She can try boarding an airplane, but four corporations control 80 percent of the seats on domestic flights.

The consolidation of the media is yet another example; just six corporations now control 90 percent of the market. And of course, there’s the inconvenient fact that the “too-big-to-fail” banks that were a major cause of the 2008 Great Recession are now bigger and fewer.

This concentration of market power translates into lower wages, fewer jobs, and higher prices – exactly the opposite of what the neoclassical economic theory embraced by capitalists tells us will happen when we remove regulatory constraints – and exactly the opposite of what the Republicans’ trickle-down myth says will happen. Or what the neoliberal Democrats tell us, for that matter.

But it also gives the wealthy control over our political system, and the people have gotten wise to it.  That’s why a little over a quarter of the eligible voters were able to put Trump in power – most of the rest of us are completely turned off by a political system that’s clearly for sale and so, increasingly, many do not show up to vote.

That control has expressed itself in policies that result in extreme income disparities between the increasingly few haves and the expanding have-nots. Today, just five people have as much wealth as the 3.8 billion people comprising the least wealthy half of the world’s population, and nowhere in the developed world is the problem as acute as it is in America.  The system is rigged, and our belief in capitalism and the power of the magic markets is what allowed that.

What Whales Have to Teach Humans About Capitalism

By Laura Bridgeman - Common Dreams, October 22, 2017

The International Whaling Commission meets every four years to decide the future of the whales. That is, it decides which nation will kill how many, and for what reasons (commercial, subsistence, “research”). Stakeholders from around the world are engaged, from whaling and non-whaling nations alike.

Notably absent in these discussions on the future of whales, are the whales themselves. But this is not just because they would have a hard time fitting into the conference room. It’s an intentional omission, since whales are a part of the commons: that great, amorphous void which we draw individuals out of, pour refuse in to, and in which lives the nameless, faceless “biomass” that we refuse any real legal or political consideration on a categorical basis. According to our current paradigm, the whales, and everyone else in the oceans, are resources to be protected, conserved or exploited: divided up (albeit unequally) amongst ourselves, and consumed.

This might sound like an article about whales, but it isn’t. It’s really about us, and what we chose to believe about ourselves, our societies, and what our future can look like. For perhaps the first time in history, we human cultures of the world are largely united in a struggle for what comes next – an active discussion, a exercise in collective imagination that’s becoming all the more urgent as we watch our current world, and worldviews, fall apart – or more aptly, being ripped apart by late-stage capitalism.

Our current system is incapable of addressing the problems within our own species because inequality is embedded within its very foundation. Strategies to dismantle plutocracy and eradicate poverty often involve new ways of managing the commons. However, as long as we try to preserve or manage “habitats” and “ecosystems” for human benefit alone, the resulting devastation of the lives of other species will reverberate into our own in increasingly disastrous and unpredictable ways.

Within capitalist models, individuals of other species are not only neglected - their very existence is denied. They are instead relegated to the realm of property, only to be considered or “conserved” when their bodies are seen as necessary for the health of an ecosystem of value; and then, they are lumped into “populations” or “stocks” rather than recognizing them as individuals with interests, deserving of their fair share of resources like any human being.

When we begin to consider this legion of individuals of other species, the commons can transform into a system for “mutualizing responsibilities” wherein other species are considered active stakeholders as they participate and benefit from those responsibilities. This can maximize the health and generative capacities of a given area, be it in the ocean or upon the grasslands or within a forest.

Let’s go back into that conference room again, with its notable absence of the whales who are being discussed. The changes I’m proposing might sound extreme, but not if we begin with species that we can all agree are intelligent and sophisticated enough to have interests of their own. We can begin by considering whale’s needs, desires, and perspectives as stakeholders. Rather than having conservationists advocating for whales’ protection, we ought to be giving whales a seat at the table – via a representative such as a guardian ad litem - to express what’s in the best interest for these individuals in matters concerning them, such as establishing Marine Protected Areas designed to protect their culturally relevant spaces in the ocean. Whales should also be considered stakeholders where industrial projects, such as salmon farms, may have adverse impacts on their lives. And, one day, whales should be considered stakeholders at the very meetings where their kin are being scheduled for slaughter.

This is no quaint idea rooted in sentimentality towards charismatic megafauna. It’s an idea that can save us - all of us – because when other species thrive, we all thrive.

Any accounting of the commons without acknowledging the presence and interests of others within these spaces will lead to their continued destruction, to our human detriment as well. But when we consider the perspectives of the other species, whom we rely upon for our survival and vice versa, can we begin to work towards nurturing an environment that is actually sustainable. Doing otherwise will only doom us to repeat history. And it’s already a bit late for that.

Greed Has Poisoned Their Souls

By Demand Climate Justice - The World at 1°C, September 9, 2017

Unless you are an environmental geographer or a regular reader of The World at 1°C, chances are you apply the term “natural disaster” to events such as Hurricane Harvey, the landslides in Sierra Leone which claimed 1000 lives, or any of the other countless climatic shocks felt over the last month.

The fact is that nothing could be more unnatural:

In every phase and aspect of a disaster […] the contours of disaster and the difference between who lives and who dies is to a greater or lesser extent a social calculus.”

This is true enough of events which occur irrespective of human activity, such as volcanic eruptions, but when it comes to the droughts, storms, floods, and famines (and, actually, even some earthquakes) caused by climate change or extractive industries, the term natural disaster hides not only a truth about differentiated impacts — it also masks a truth about where responsibility lies.

ExxonMobil, for example, has known that its continued existence causes climate change for decades. And ExxonMobil lied about having this knowledge with such abandon that now even their ex-employees are suing them (in addition to Californian communities affected by climate change). A journal article published this month was the first to analyse all of Exxon’s communications about climate change. It concluded that the corporation knew the facts thanks to its own scientists, yet continued to peddle doubt and foster confusion (including through paid editorials in liberal papers like the New York Times).

The very same ExxonMobil, which now has a major ‘in’ at the White House via Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has been repeatedly let off the hook by authorities. One emblematic story recently published in The Intercept explains how the company has been poisoning a black community in Beaumont, Texas, for decades, by pumping millions of tonnes of toxic chemicals into the air while refining “sour crude.” The community, where people suffer from high rates of hair loss, birth defects, asthma, and cancer, tried to get the EPA to do something (the Exxon refinery regularly broke the law), but were ignored for 17 years. Those who could afford to moved away. Those who could not still live in the shadow of Exxon’s stacks, which stand as monuments to greed and indifference to human suffering.

The market-based “logic” of greenwashed capitalism is that if corporations must pay for doing things like ruining people’s lives or even ruining the planet, then they won’t do it, or at least not as much. But that is demonstrably untrue. Last year, Exxon’s Beaumont refinery illegally released 2,125 pounds of carbon monoxide, sulfur oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. They were fined $7001. Even when companies are fined much more — as Exxon was when one of its decrepit pipelines burst in 2013, flooding an Arkansas community with 200,000 gallons of Tar Sands oil — they are often able to appeal, as Exxon did.

If a conviction somehow sticks, corporations are sometimes able to ignore the ruling altogether, as these 3 companies appear to be doing in Indonesia. Following successful convictions with penalties in billions of dollars, the Indonesian government has been unable to collect. While the corporations make billions exploiting Indonesia’s vast mineral reserves and precious forests, the communities in the way are left destitute and savaged by both corporate mercenaries and state military forces.

Cognizant of (negative) publicity, corporations are careful to cover themselves with the fig leaf of “corporate social responsibility” and other such meaningless phrases which sound good but don’t mean much in practice. In a case that has echoes of ExxonMobil’s climate change cover-up, Monsanto was recently exposed in The Poison Papers as having made and sold a toxic industrial chemical known as PCB almost a decade after being told by their scientists that:

The evidence proving the persistence of these compounds and their universal presence in the environment is beyond questioning.”

In addition to covering up the horrendous health impacts of its PCB products, newly revealed documents show that Monsanto also conspired with a consultancy firm to “ghost write” a supposedly independent review of the health impacts of its flagship herbicide Roundup. Monsanto has since attempted to force the documents offline, out of sight.

What these examples make clear is that the ways in which people are made to suffer under the dominant social, political, and economic systems are not natural or innate. People suffer by design. And the designers have names like Exxon and Monsanto.

Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, August 4, 2017

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their "business as usual" approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Today, the question that should haunt progressive-minded and radical scholars and activists alike is whether capitalism itself is in crisis, given that the latest trends in the system are working perfectly well for global corporations and the rich, producing new levels of wealth and increasing inequality. For insights into the above questions, I interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

The Epic Failure of Labor Leadership in the United States, 1980-2017 and Continuing

By Kim Scipes - CounterPunch, August 4, 2017

The US labor movement is in terrible shape; in 2016, union membership was only 6.4 percent of workers in the private sector, and 34.4 percent of the public sector, giving an overall percentage of 10.7 percent.[1]  (It had been 33.4 percent in 1954.)  But, worse than the actual numbers and percentages is the all-but-total lack of vision as to what to do about this.  The labor movement has been under direct attack since at least the PATCO strike in 1981, and the leaders of the labor movement—and focus here is on the AFL-CIO, although there are others labor organizations outside of its ambit—have had no vision and, arguably, no clue about what to do about this.  And other than perhaps a nine-year window under John Sweeney (1996-2005)—I’m being generous—it has been blind and vision-less.  And this continues today under Richard Trumka.[2]

This problem is a major reason for the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, aided strongly by working class voters, and I’m speaking of those who are not generally racist, sexist, homophobic and/or xenophobic.

The fact is that, no matter how good any one of our national/international union leaders might be as an individual trade union leader, that does not necessarily make them a good labor leader.  By “labor leader,” I’m referring to those who look out for the well-being of working people in general in this country; i.e., those who go beyond members of their own union to think about working people overall.  I would give the AFL-CIO leaders, individually and collectively, an “F” for their efforts since the early 1980s—with Sweeney possibly getting a D for the nine years referred to above.

This failure is even worse in light of myriad efforts by rank-and-file activists, lower level leaders and staffers, and labor researchers/academics who have spent years of their lives struggling to get the labor movement to address its’ weaknesses and change its ways.  Whether through organizing new members, educating and mobilizing current members, analyzing what we can learn from workers’ struggles in the past as well as from studying contemporary efforts at home and overseas, and thinking about how we can revitalize the labor movement so as to seriously address the problems facing working people in this country, there has been extensive efforts by those “below” to overcome the lack of vision and ineptitude of national labor leaders; but the institutional power granted these “leaders” has overcome all efforts to date to initiate progressive, life-enhancing change.[3]

I’m going to argue that this organizational failure is more than individual failures, which could perhaps be overcome by the election of new leaders, although obviously individual leaders can have a significant impact once put into office.  However, I’m going to argue that the primary problem is in our very model of trade unionism in this country:  I argue that the model of trade unionism that has dominated US unionism—business unionism—offers no viable way forward and must be replaced by another model, that of social justice unionism.  I’m going to argue that unless this change from business unionism to social justice unionism is made, and made soon, the US labor movement is going to fade into irrelevancy, with its power and importance diminishing even further as years go by.

Several steps must be made to develop this argument.  First, the theoretical delineations of business and trade unionism are presented, which are crucial to understand the argument being made.  Then, a historical overview is presented, with a primary focus on the CIO years, 1933-1955, and special attention is paid to the removal of “the left” from the CIO in the late 1940s.  This is followed by a discussion of “global competition, the US economy and the attacks on working people,” and then a question:  “where is the AFL-CIO leadership?”

Following, there is an effort to make sense of why the AFL-CIO leadership has been “missing in action.”  Key to understanding this, it is argued, is to connect the lack of AFL-CIO initiative in domestic situations to the initiative it shows in international affairs—and that requires discussion of the US Empire, and the AFL-CIO leadership’s support of it.  And why they support the US Empire.

And then, there is the beginning of a discussion of how progressive workers can reclaim our labor movement.

Oscar-Nominated Actor James Cromwell Speaks Out Before Jail Time for Peaceful Anti-Fracking Protest

James Cromwell interviewed by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh, Democracy Now! - July 14, 2017

AMY GOODMAN: Oscar-nominated actor James Cromwell is reporting to jail at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time today in upstate New York, after he was sentenced to a week behind bars for taking part in a nonviolent protest against a natural gas-fired power plant. Cromwell says he’ll also launch a hunger strike. He’s one of six activists arrested for blocking traffic at the sit-in outside the construction site of the 650-megawatt plant in Wawayanda, New York, upstate, December 2015. The activists say the plant would promote natural gas fracking in neighboring states and contribute to climate change.

James Cromwell is well known for his roles in some 50 Hollywood films, nominated for an Oscar in Babe, as well as a number of TV series, including Six Feet Under. I spoke to him Thursday along with one of his co-defendants who’s going to jail today, as well, Pramilla Malick, founder of Protect Orange County, a community group leading the opposition to the fracked gas power plant. She ran in 2016 for New York state Senate. I began by asking James Cromwell about why he’s going to jail today.

The Fortress World of Capitalism vs. the Beautiful Possibilities of Cooperation

By Cynthia Kaufman - Common Dreams, July 7, 2017

Our beloved world is entering an increasingly unstable period, full of dangers and also full of possibilities. In many countries, old political parties are crumbling faster and anyone thought imaginable. Old geopolitical alliances have come unglued as the US comes to exercise its role as world hegemon in new and unpredictable ways. The development of the internet, of mobile phones and of apps has led to incredible disruption of many aspects of many societies: from how we pay for and listen to music, to how we consume and propagate information and news, to how we shop for almost anything. All that is solid is melting into air.

At this crossroads it is possible that the global community will move in the direction that the dominant social forces seem to be pushing us towards. That possibility has been called “fortress world.” It is a world where we continue to burn fossil fuels and destroy the atmosphere; where climate refugees desperate to leave Africa are forced by military means to stay in a continent with a decreasing ability to produce food; where finance capital fashions a “market” that continue to squeeze working class people to into extreme poverty; where xenophobia rises in the wealthier countries and keeps masses of people voting for politicians who serve the masters of an extractive and unequal economy. That fortress world is a real possibility and the election of Donald Trump is certainly a sign that this worse future may be on the way.

But it is also possible to build a future where fossil fuels are phased out very quickly, where the political forces that oppose the domination of finance capital come to win elections, and where we work hard to create an economy where no one needs to work very hard.

The technical solutions to the climate crisis are already well at hand. Renewable energy is now economically competitive with fossil fuels, and alternatives to dirty technologies have emerged in virtually every sector of production. The problem of poverty and wealth is also an easy one to solve on a technical level. The world produces enough food to feed everyone, and our technology has developed to the point where we can meet our needs with very little work.

To give one simple illustration of how within reach a better life for all is: take the total personal income in the United States. Divide it by the number of people, and multiply by four. It turns out that the average family of four could have $220,000 per year to live on if we had income equality.  Imagine raising minimum wages, taxing the wealthy, and providing a guaranteed minimum income as ways of distributing that income. Imagine reducing work hours so that, as productivity when up, work time could go down, and work could be shared among those who needed an income. One of the main arguments against this approach is that without the profit incentive our technology would not develop. Imagine worker owner cooperatives developing better ways of doing things and sharing the wealth that comes from those developments with the people who work on them.

A new wave of automation is about to hit the world’s economies so hard that millions of service jobs will be lost in the coming period. People are starting to talk about the need for a guaranteed minimum income to deal with that displacement. If that wave hits the US with the current political consensus in place, it will mean another giant step toward the fortress world, as some people profit enormously while others have no access of the means to survive.

If You Want to Be Realistic, Be Radical

By Robert Jensen - Resilience, June 27, 2017

Students will sometimes ask me — often hesitantly, out of fear of offending — if it’s true what they’ve heard, that I’m a liberal.

“Don’t you ever call me a liberal again,” I tell them, feigning outrage. “I’m a leftist and a radical feminist.” Once they realize I’m not angry, I explain the important differences between left and liberal.

A distinction between left and liberal may seem esoteric or self-indulgent given the steady ascendancy of right-wing ideas in U.S. politics. Is now the time for this conversation? Liberals ask leftists to put aside differences toward the goal of resisting the reactionary right, and I’m all for pragmatic politics (coalitions are necessary and potentially creative) to mount challenges to dangerous policies. (Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan pose serious threats on ecological, social and economic fronts.)

But strategies should be based on a clear understanding of shared values. And with a carnival-barker president leading a party so committed to a failed ideology that it’s willing to risk ecocide, radical left ideas have never been more compelling. In the face of conservative and liberal failures to deal with our most basic problems, leftists offer reality-based solutions.

Let’s start with a general distinction: Liberals typically support existing systems and hope to make them more humane. Leftists focus on the unjust nature of the systems themselves. Two of these key systems are capitalism (an economic system that, to a leftist, celebrates inequality and degrades ecosystems) and imperialism (a global system in which First World countries have long captured a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth through violence and coercion).

Liberals don’t oppose capitalism or U.S. imperialism, arguing instead for kinder-and-gentler versions. Leftists see the systems as incompatible with basic moral principles of social justice and ecological sustainability.

Things get more complicated with white supremacy (historical and contemporary practices rooted in white or European claims of a right to rule) and patriarchy (men’s claim to a natural role over women in systems of institutionalized male dominance). Leftists disagree among themselves about how these systems interact with capitalism and imperialism. Some on the left focus on class inequality and decry “identity politics,” which they define as reducing all political questions to race, gender or sexual identity. Others reject putting economic inequality alone at the center of politics and argue for an equal focus on white supremacy or patriarchy.

Complicating things more are leftists who disagree with radical feminist opposition to the sexual-exploitation industries of prostitution, pornography and stripping, arguing that women’s participation means the industries can’t be challenged and shifting the focus away from why men choose to use women.

Lies That Capitalists Tell Us

By William Hawes and Jason Holland - CounterPunch, June 26, 2017

While idiotic supporters of our two-party system wring their hands over the sensationalist nonsense reported by the mainstream media, we thought it might be worth touching on the most dangerous lie of all-time: capitalism. It’s an all-encompassing delusion, including: the myth of continual technological progress, the mendacious assumptions of endless economic growth, the lie that constant bombardments of media and consumer goods make us happy,  and the omissions of our involvement in the exploitation of the planet and the resources of distant, poorer nations, among other things.

We’ve taken the time to hash out some of the most pernicious mendacities we’ve come across in our (relatively) young lives, in the workplace, in our private lives, and in the media. ***

Please share these counter-arguments far and wide, in order to educate your fellow citizens, and, if necessary, to provide the intellectual beat-downs needed when arguing with pro-capitalists. So without further ado, here is our list of the most devious “Lies that Capitalists Tell Us”:

1) Wealth will “trickle down”

It’s hard to believe an economic policy that conjures images of urination could be wrong, but the idea is as bankrupt as the lower classes who have been subjected to the trickling. Less than ten people now have the financial wealth equivalent to half the planet, and the trickling seems a lot more like a mad cash-grab by the (morally bankrupt) elites. Rather than trickle down, the 1% and their lackeys have hoovered up the majority of new wealth created since the 2008 crash. After 40 years of stagnant wages in the US the people feel more shit on than trickled upon.

It’s not a mistake that the elite reap most of the profits: the capitalist system is designed this way, it always has been, and will be, until we the people find the courage to tear it down and replace it with something better.

EcoWobbles - EcoUnionist News #160 (Special Parexit Edition)

Compiled by x344543 - IWW Environmental Unionism Caucus, June 7, 2017

The reactions to President Donald J Trump's reckless and unstrategic decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement are numerous and range from condemnation to disdianful. We present an extensive but far from exhaustive collection here:

Trump's Decision

Fact Check

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