Thursday, August 18, 2011

What is Going On?

What is Going On? Is it, perhaps, the end of the world, at least as we have known it up until now? Is it maybe the end of democracy as we have known it? Is it the end of “The American century?” Possibly the end of the American “empire?” Or is it, as some believe, the end of the Middle Class? What is happening to our nation, seemingly unable to cope with the crises threatening to bring us down? Our credit worthiness is under attack, the Stock Market is in free-fall, unemployment is rampant, more people are living in poverty, children are going hungry, millions have no health care, people are frightened, as a nation we are deeply in debt, politically paralyzed, and there is seemingly no significant help in sight.

It is not literally the end of the world, but it probably is the end of the world as we have known it. It may also be the end of the American century, and quite probably the end of our world-wide empire. The middle class is rapidly disappearing what with unemployment, foreclosures, minimum wages, lack of health care, the collapse of the market, and so on.

There are, I think, speaking strictly from the perspective of the U.S., six significant and related developments that have brought us to our now perilous position. First, we have neglected and exhausted many of the earth’s natural resources, second, we have abused and neglected the environment shamelessly, third, it is not as easy to criminally exploit other countries as we have done up until now, fourth, we have failed to invest in the future, both with respect to our superstructure and more importantly our children, fifth,our (pretend) democracy ended quite some time ago (As Marx observed, the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them), and sixth, and most important, capitalism, related to all the above, as predicted, is bringing about its own demise.

“According to Marx, competition compels capitalists to introduce labour-saving machinery; as they do the rate of profit falls, which increases the pressure to innovate, and so on. Eventually there will come a point where production is no longer profitable, and where so much labour has been displaced that the working class does not have enough income to buy what is produced. So there is a crisis of 'overproduction'. There are several other kinds, but this is interesting because of the paradox (the 'contradiction', Marxists would say), that to make a profit in a competitive world the capitalist must put out of work the people who must have incomes to spend if capitalists are to make a profit.”

When this happens (is it not happening now) the result is a recession (or depression). This means that everything, including labor, becomes less valuable, which also means the wealthy and powerful can buy everything cheaply and the same process begins again. I read Marx some sixty years ago when I was in college, I was far too young (and far too lazy) to truly understand it. But after all these years of observing, especially the last three decades, I have finally come to realize the brilliance of Marx (even though he was quite wrong about some things). He predicted, rather uncannily I think, what would inevitably happen when unrestricted capitalism would be allowed to flourish, and we are now seeing his predictions come true. When wealth increasingly becomes the property of a few at the expense of the many it creates an intolerable situation for those at the bottom, and thus threatens the status quo with potential violence and even revolution. While I like to believe Warren Buffet is perhaps basically altruistic at heart, it is just as likely the case that he recognizes the dangers of concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. He is not alone in this as it seems the wealthy are increasingly turning to bodyguards and other protections to guard against potential dangers. You might think they would be wise enough to give up a small percentage of their obscene wealth to avoid potential dangers, but it appears even if they wish to do so the Republicans (now captive to a minority of true believers (better yet, corporate shills) will not allow it. The question that is yet to be answered is what do you do with those who simply refuse to compromise? Either you give in or…what?

“Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone

John Maynard Keynes

“Capitalism turns men into economic cannibals, and having done so, mistakes economic cannibalism for human nature.”

Edward Hyam

"Karl Marx, it seems, was partly right in arguing that globalization, financial intermediation run amok, and redistribution of income and wealth from labor to capital could lead capitalism to self-destruct (though his view that socialism would be better has proved wrong)," writes Roubini. "Firms are cutting jobs because there is not enough final demand. But cutting jobs reduces labor income, increases inequality, and reduces final demand."

Nouriel Roubini

Predatory capitalism created a complex industrial system and an advanced technology; it permitted a considerable extension of democratic practice and fostered certain liberal values, but within limits that are now being pressed and must be overcome. It is not a fit system for the mid-twentieth century

Noam Chomsky

No comments: