Posts Tagged ‘socialism’

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about utopia these days—from the plenary address I gave at New Harmony last November to the talk I’m giving at Manchester University in April.

So, I’m fascinated by the fact that Mark Bittman, in honestly confronting the Brave New World—”featuring even fewer haves and more have-nots than the current one”—has turned to the idea of utopia. He looks at some top-down solutions (such as public works and Guaranteed Basic Income) but then argues that bottom-up changes have “even more potential for a more equitable economic system.”

What we’re seeing, on a small but growing scale, is a world where energy and even power may become increasingly decentralized, and communities are building more on local and regional levels, creating organizations that benefit more of their members. Worker ownership — which, for obvious reasons, combats income inequality directly — is becoming more common, and these organizations are talking to one another locally. Even something as simple as the farm-to-school movement means that economies are becoming more local and communities are supporting their own businesses.

Those kinds of institutions—in which workers, their families, and the communities in which they live—do, in fact, have much more potential than more jobs and an economic safety net to challenge and provide an alternative to a system in which “capital has full control, as it nearly does now.”

Socialist utopia is what we used to call that change from the bottom up, although Bittman worries that “both those words are forbidden in neoliberal society.” Maybe he’s right, and we might want to come up with a different “pitch.”

For my part, the key is to connect the idea of utopia to critique—to a “ruthless criticism” of the existing order. And that’s what I plan to talk about at Manchester University in April, connecting the idea of utopia as critique to the task of reviving the idea of the intellectual and challenging the new corporate university.

As William Deresiewicz argued in his 2008 American Scholar article,

The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university, its center of gravity shifting to technical fields where scholarly expertise can be parlayed into lucrative business opportunities. . . Yet there is a dimension of the intellectual life that lies above the passion for ideas, though so thoroughly has our culture been sanitized of it that it is hardly surprising if it was beyond the reach of even my most alert students. Since the idea of the intellectual emerged in the 18th century, it has had, at its core, a commitment to social transformation. Being an intellectual means thinking your way toward a vision of the good society and then trying to realize that vision by speaking truth to power. . .

Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them.

Fortunately, we can count Bittman among those who are thinking their way toward a vision of the good society and then trying to realize that vision by speaking truth to power.

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Off to New Harmony, Indiana, to give a plenary talk on “Utopia and the Marxian Critique of Political Economy” at the conference on Capitalism & Socialism: Utopia, Globalization, and Revolution.

No posts, therefore, until I return. . .

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Sorry. I just couldn’t resist this one from Barry Levinson, on the minimum wage according to the logic of Abbott and Costello:

Lou: I am below the poverty line, things are desperate.
Bud: Then you need a job… go to work, Lou.
Lou: I have a job!
Bud: Then all is well.
Lou: But I can’t afford to live and support my family.
Bud: I thought you said you had a job.
Lou: I do.
Bud: Then why’d you say you can’t support your family?
Lou: Because I can’t!
Bud: But you just said you had a job.
Lou: I know.
Bud: Do you have a job or are you living below the poverty line?
Lou: I’m living below the poverty line. A lot of us are.
Bud: Then you don’t have a job?
Lou: I do have a job. A minimum-wage job that I can’t even support my family on.
Bud: Are you working illegally?
Lou: It’s a legal job, Bud!
Bud: A legal job and you’re living below the poverty line?
Lou: Precisely.
Bud: Oh, I get it. You’re working part-time?
Lou: It’s full-time. Forty hours a week! They need to raise the minimum wage.
Bud: But if they raise the minimum wage, it will put people out of work.
Lou: Who?
Bud:The people who are living below the poverty line.
Lou: I’m living below the poverty line!
Bud: Exactly. Isn’t it better to be working and living below the poverty line, than not working and living below the poverty line? That way you have a sense of pride.
Lou: But I need more money to get by.
Bud: Do you want to put people out of work? Do you want to be responsible for them losing their jobs?
Lou: No.
Bud: That’s the spirit. You all share in getting less.
Lou: Why can’t we all share in getting more?
Bud: That’s socialism.
Lou: Then what’s sharing and getting less?
Bud: That’s capitalism!
Lou: Why is getting a little more socialism?
Bud: Because if you all get a little more, someone is going to get less.
Lou: Who?
Bud: The person who used to get more. The job makers.
Lou: Why can’t they make a little less?
Bud: Well, that’s un-American! This is the free market… Do you want to destroy
American capitalism?
Lou: Of course not.
Bud: Do you want to stifle the American economy. Suffocate ingenuity?
Lou: No.
Bud: That’s the spirit.
Lou: But I can’t support my family. Bud, I work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, no vacations, and I still can’t support my family.
Bud: Criticize. Criticize. Be thankful you have a minimum wage. There was a time you could have been paid less than minimum.
Lou: There was less than minimum?
Bud: Yes! Be thankful that these are the good times.

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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).