Posts Tagged ‘United States’

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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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Back in 2010, when I first watched The Wire, I was struck by the fact that David Simon had done an amazing job narrativizing the ravages of capitalism without depicting capital itself.

Or perhaps better: capital is the abstract, ghostly presence of much of what transpires in the worlds of politics, drugs, policing, and international trade (through season 3). The capitalists themselves exist mostly just off-screen (except, perhaps, for short appearances by “The Greek”) but the logic of capital (its calculative rationality and homogenizing economistic project) can be felt throughout the various spheres of economic and social life that characterize life in Baltimore.

And so it is with the current situation in the real Baltimore: capital is the abstract, ghostly presence that has created a tinderbox of segregation, poverty, and unemployment that was lit on fire by the recent death of Freddie Gray.

What’s interesting, at least to me, is the fact that precisely that idea—of the specter of capital—that has surfaced in some of the recent commentary on the clashes between Baltimore’s citizens and the police.

So, we have Alyssa Rosenberg expressing her worries about our Wire-induced fatalism and then concluding that “The Greek and global capitalism will never die, but at least there will be Jameson at the bar.”

More seriously, there’s Baltimore Orioles Chief Operating Officer John Angelos, son of owner Peter Angelos, responding to local sports-radio broadcaster Brett Hollande and offering his own explanation of why people have taken to the streets:

That said, my greater source of personal concern, outrage and sympathy beyond this particular case is focused neither upon one night’s property damage nor upon the acts, but is focused rather upon the past four-decade period during which an American political elite have shipped middle class and working class jobs away from Baltimore and cities and towns around the U.S. to third-world dictatorships like China and others, plunged tens of millions of good, hard-working Americans into economic devastation, and then followed that action around the nation by diminishing every American’s civil rights protections in order to control an unfairly impoverished population living under an ever-declining standard of living and suffering at the butt end of an ever-more militarized and aggressive surveillance state.

OK, it’s not just the shipping of jobs to China and other “third-world dictatorships.” It’s also the decline of unions, the use of new worker-displacing technologies, the increasing importance of finance, and much more.

In other words, it’s the “whole damn system” that has created an economy of extraction for a tiny minority at the top and an economy of exclusion for a large portion of the working-class in Baltimore and across the United States. What we are witnessing, then, are the effects of capital that is operating in the background—in the real world just as in The Wire—just off-screen.

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Chart of the day

Posted: 24 April 2015 in Uncategorized
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This is what the three-class seating on an Airbus A330-300 would look like if it were reconfigured to represent the distribution of income in the United States:

In Air Gini’s three-class layout, some things look familiar and some things are a bit different. Economy Class makes up just under eighty percent of the passengers. Passengers seated there correspond to everyone who makes less than about $97,000 a year. Their share of total income in the US is just below fifty percent, and thus so is their share of the seating space. On the regular airline it was about fifty eight percent, so for these working stiffs the new arrangement is even more cramped than on our ordinary international flight. Economy Class passengers on Air Gini should expect less overhead bin space and more passive-aggressive interactions with the guy in front of them who insists on reclining his seat.

Up with the managers, meanwhile, things have become more compressed, too. Business Class travelers are just over eighteen percent of passengers, but now they get only fifteen percent of the space. That’s obviously still much better than Economy class, but it’s down from the thirty percent or so they had in the original plane. These fliers are almost all in the top quintile: in real-life terms, they correspond to everyone from just below the 80th percentile of the US income distribution up to just above the 96th percentile. Roughly, that’s households making between $97,000 and $280,000 a year. Yet many of them feel a little angry about how little space they have. Strange though it seems, some of those in the seats closest to the front of their section even feel somewhat poor—at least by comparison to those a bit further up the plane. Air Gini understands their situation and compensates them with a complimentary in-flight snack.

What has happened to make Business Class more cramped? The answer is to be found in Ruling Class. Sorry, I mean, First Class. On Air Gini, those eight most-valued passengers—three and a half percent of those on board—get thirty five percent of the available seating space. That’s a lot of legroom. So much, in fact, that as First Class passengers have spread out to take up the first third of the plane, Air Gini has been forced to replace the luxurious Business Class seats in the real-life configuration with still-comfortable but noticeably smaller chairs.

Not to worry, though. Air Gini’s eight First Class passengers can really enjoy themselves, which is the important thing. And yet, even here at the head of the aircraft, Air Gini’s layout hints that inequality may extend all the way up to the flight deck. Two of the first class seats are close to the front of Business Class, and behind a bulkhead. Awkward. Those passengers make about $300,000 a year. The passenger in the very front row, meanwhile, makes a hell of a lot more than that and has even more room to relax in than his peers. All things considered, you have to wonder exactly who is flying this plane—and more importantly, perhaps, who owns it.

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