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Travel days

Posted: 2 May 2015 in Uncategorized
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A couple of travel days ahead. So, no posts until I return. . .

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Sale Of Slaves

We seem to be in the midst of a veritable renaissance of research on the history of capitalism, especially on the role slavery played in the emergence and development of capitalism in the West.

Two new books on the subject have just received the Bancroft Award: Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton: A Global History and Greg Grandin’s The Empire of Necessity.

As Grandin [ht: ja] explains,

Despite all this scholarly work, each generation—from WEB Du Bois’s to Robin Blackburn’s, from Eric Williams’ to Walter Johnson’s—seems condemned to have to prove the obvious anew: slavery created the modern world, and the modern world’s divisions (both abstract and concrete) are the product of slavery. Slavery is both the thing that can’t be transcended but also what can never be remembered. That Catch-22—can’t forget, can’t remember—is the motor contradiction of public discourse, from exalted discussions of American Exceptionalism to the everyday idiocy found on cable, in its coverage, for example, of Baltimore and Ferguson.

Right now, we are living that history—of the spectacular failures of capitalism and the enduring effects of slavery.

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Back in 2013, David Simon, “Baltimore’s best-known chronicler of life on the hard streets,” that capital was taking over the electoral process.

The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.

Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process.

According to CROWDPAC, the top .01 percent of the wealthiest campaign donors in the United States has effectively captured the political process.

In 1980, this elite segment of the population contributed a total of 16% of all campaign contributions. Today, it’s over 40% and heading towards 50%. Yes, already, close to HALF the money in American politics is coming from 0.01% of the wealthiest donors – that’s around 25,000 compared to nearly 150 million registered voters.

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The headline, “Labor vs. Capital,” is not mine; it’s the Wall Street Journal’s. And the argument is,

For decades, labor’s share of American national income has shrunk while the share that goes to profits has expanded.

There are now tantalizing signs that labor may finally be gaining ground on capital.

Workers in the first quarter of the year recorded their biggest annual gain in pay since 2008, evidence that a steady decline in unemployment is finally having an effect on paychecks.

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That’s because, according to latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics [pdf], the wage and salary portion of the employment cost index increased by 0.7 percent during the first quarter of 2015 and 2.6 percent for the 12-month period ending March 2015 (as one can see in the chart above), which was higher than the 1.6-percent increase in March 2014.

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But we have to remember that workers’ share of income has been declining for decades, which means that a big chunk of the growth that has occurred during that period has gone to profits, shareholders, and a tiny group at the top of the distribution of income.

It’s going to take much more than a 2.6-percentage annual rise in the wage and salary component of the employment cost index—even if sustained for many years—for workers to really gain ground on capital.