Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

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The line in the chart measures total U.S. government employment as a percentage of total nonfarm employment.

As Mark Congloff explains,

If President Obama is a socialist dictator like some say he is, then he’s doing it wrong: The government sector has slashed jobs steadily since the recession, shrinking government payrolls to their lowest level in eight years.* At this rate, there won’t be enough people to run the FEMA camps.

 

*Even longer (more than 12 and a half years) if we look at government employment as a percentage of total nonfarm employment (which was last this low in April 2001).

 

Gar Alperovitz puts forward a vision of economic and political change that embraces both uncertainty (mistakes will be made and new ideas will emerge) and radical transformation (new forms of economic and political democracy will be created in the process).

Lambert Strether offers some background to the cooperative institutions Alperovitz mentions in his talk.

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The final vote tally is now in: Kshama Sawant, an economist and a socialist, has been elected to the Seattle city council.

Sawant, a 41-year-old college economics professor, first drew attention as part of local Occupy Wall Street protests that included taking over a downtown park and a junior college campus in late 2011. She then ran for legislative office in 2012, challenging the powerful speaker of the state House, a Democrat. She was easily defeated.

This year, though, she pushed a platform that resonated with the city. She backed efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15; called for rent control in the city where rental prices keep climbing; and supports a tax on millionaires to help fund a public transit system and other services.

“I will reach out to the people who supported Richard Conlin, working with everyone in Seattle to fight for a minimum wage of $15 (an) hour, affordable housing, and the needs of ordinary people,” Sawant said in a statement.

Here’s a link to her appearance on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes.

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Culture of wealth

Posted: 7 October 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Empathy

I’ve often argued on this blog (e.g., here and here) that, instead of studying the so-called culture of poverty, we should focus instead on the pathologies and culture of the rich.

Now, what I had in mind is something like the following:

how the rich underestimate the future costs of immediate satisfaction (especially the costs incurred by the employees of their corporations and by the taxpayers who were forced to bail them out) and their self-control problems (such as attempting to achieve more income and to accumulate more wealth even when they have plenty to buy everything they need).

But Daniel Goleman has discovered another set of pathologies of the rich:

Turning a blind eye. Giving someone the cold shoulder. Looking down on people. Seeing right through them.

These metaphors for condescending or dismissive behavior are more than just descriptive. They suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States. . .

Since the 1970s, the gap between the rich and everyone else has skyrocketed. Income inequality is at its highest level in a century. This widening gulf between the haves and have-less troubles me, but not for the obvious reasons. Apart from the financial inequities, I fear the expansion of an entirely different gap, caused by the inability to see oneself in a less advantaged person’s shoes. Reducing the economic gap may be impossible without also addressing the gap in empathy.

If the rich are much more prone than the rest of us to display a lack of empathy, maybe then we need to create a different economic system, one in which compassion is the norm.

There’s a name for that. . .

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Mike the Mad Biologist [ht: sm] has discovered that the people actually prefer at least a bit of socialism in their lives.

Once you get past all of the hooting and hollering about ‘socialism’, it turns out people like free healthcare clinics. In Montana, no less.

According to NPR, “Montana recently opened a second state employee health clinic in Billings, the state’s largest city. Others are in the works.”

I guess that socialism things actually works.

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There’s no shortage of reasons to move beyond capitalism, to some kind of socialism. And lots of ways of making such a transition.

Chris Dillow discusses some of them:

So, for example, credit unions and Roscas [Rotating Savings and Credit Associations] might eventually grow at the expense of banks (especially if the latter’s state subsidy is withdrawn); farmers’ markets and even allotments nibble away at supermarkets; the internet is undermining the media and music industries. And so on. These are examples of everyday decommodification.

Dillow’s argument is, first, that the “existing leftist strategies of sanctimonious posturing, talking amongst themselves and hoping for a government with ‘political will’” is getting us nowhere. And, second, there are alternatives: create socialist institutions in the midst of an otherwise capitalist economy and society.

All I’d add is we need to bring together two fundamental ideas: democracy and surplus. Democracy is important because it’s a way to imagine extending people’s participation in the decisions that affect their lives from politics to the economic sphere. Economic democracy is a way of practicing democracy in the places where people work, where they spend a good part of their lives. Surplus is also important, because the manner whereby it is appropriated and distributed determines how the economy and society are organized. And new ways of appropriating and distributing the surplus—such that workers participate in appropriating the surplus they create, and the surplus is distributed to satisfy people’s needs instead of being directed by and to those at the very top—can bring about new socialist institutions.

If we keep democracy and surplus in mind, then we can have a new kind of discussion about traditional areas of politics, including voting, political parties, and elections. We can ask of them two simple questions: How do they support the creation of economic democracy? And how do they change the way the surplus is appropriated and distributed?

Those are the kinds of questions that challenge the way the current crises are being resolved—whether of the Washington Post or the city of Detroit or the choice of the new head of the Federal Reserve. There are already plenty of examples of economic democracy (including cooperatives and credit unions) and changing the way the surplus is appropriated and distributed (within enterprises and in the country as a whole, from worker-owned enterprises to financing Social Security), and even more that can be imagined. Different combinations of collective initiative and government policy can make such transitions beyond capitalism a viable alternative.

Just as capitalism itself came into being not so long ago:

The transition from feudalism to capitalism did not generally happen because peasants protested in the streets, nor because they found a government with the “political will” to overthrow feudalism. It happened because a sequence of smallish individual actions – often without consciousness of their full effects – meant that, eventually, people found better things to do than obey feudal lords. Perhaps the transition from capitalism will occur in a similar way.

The only difference is, this time, the goal is to benefit the 99 percent.