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Six reasons why Marxists and progressives need to oppose unemployment compensation

December 21, 2010 2 comments

I received this response to my post, What help for the 99ers? (Part four: It’s not personal), yesterday on GonzoTimes:

Turn your soul off. Turn your humanity off. Turn your brain off. And voila, you’ve turned into a Republican “pro-lifer” who says “screw the poor”. Genius!

The comment was a bit cryptic to me. Is the writer saying I have become a Republican pro-lifer who hates the poor? I could not be sure so I responded with this gem in a moment of anger:

If your cryptic comment is directed at me, I take offense — not with your remark, but with the phony humanitarianism hidden behind it. Giving the unemployed $300 a week does nothing to address the causes of unemployment, which is Washington itself. If you are moved by the plight of the 99ers, as I am, I suggest you link up and find ways to support them on an authentic basis, rather than mailing your support in via your taxes. But, more important, I hope you will be moved to fight to reduce hours of work to abolish unemployment and the system that creates it permanently.

You might also consider Badiou’s critique of phony humanitarianism in his book, Ethics.

I am not satisfied with this response. It was driven as much by defensiveness as by any positive statement on the situation of the 99ers. It, therefore, does nothing to convince those who really support the cause of the 99ers to take another look at their assumptions.

Am I a renegade? The question asked, of course, demands a complete response — not first to the commenter, but to myself. Am I on some slippery slope to the renegacy decried by Badiou? Definitely time for an attitude check, and a deep examination to make sure my humanity was still in working order.

I come away from this moment of self-reflection even more sure of my position and a more fervent opponent of unemployment compensation than before. I do not think my view is one of a renegade or heartless conservative, but one who remains committed to the aims I have stood for since I was a teenager and first encountered the idea of communism. I put forth below six reasons why I think it is the classical communist position to oppose unemployment compensation:

The question I asked myself is this: Would Marx have supported unemployment compensation in his day? And, my answer to that was, “Yes.” Without a doubt he would have advocated for it, and considered it a demand consistent with the aim of communism — a measure designed to protect the working class from the vagaries and misery of the business cycle. So, why am I advocating against it? This is not Marx’s day. In his day periodic crises were common enough and no more than temporary lulls between periods of expansion during which the productive capacity of society was being augmented by capital. The scale of production was being increased, and the numbers of laborers moving from agriculture into industry was, however subject to fluctuations and sudden fits and stops, progressively converting the labor process from that of solitary farmers into massive engines of immediately social production. The process was not pretty, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was moving society generally in the direction of the abolition of labor.

Today it is otherwise. Society is drowning in its own productive capacity and we face a State that, for its own purposes, seeks to drive us under altogether. This requires we rethink all our assumptions. So here are my thoughts:

First. Today’s crises are not the mere interruption of an otherwise revolutionary reconstitution and enhancement of the productive power of labor. They are  failures of State measures to facilitate the constant expansion of completely superfluous labor. Supporting unemployment compensation today, when unemployment is no longer a temporary condition but a permanent feature of an economy drowning in a surplus population of able-bodied workers, and when the only effective policy to reduce this surplus population is to reduce hours of labor, is a travesty.

Second. Just as this crisis is not a momentary cessation between periods of expansion of capital, so it is not an accident, defect, or aberration. It has been established by economists that we are facing a long-term secular decline in Washington’s capacity to force the creation of new jobs. Washington’s tools of fiscal and monetary policy are gradually becoming ineffective in stimulating superfluous economic activity. It is also requiring more aggressive measures to produce the same effect — much like in the case of a junkie requiring larger doses of his preferred substance to achieve the same high. Washington is now creating massive amounts of new debt each month in a desperate attempt to keep this ugly Ponzi scheme right side up. The declining effectiveness of job creating measures stems not from lack of serious effort on Washington’s part, but on the very goal of the effort itself: to create work where there is no need for work.

Third. The strategy adopted by Washington to create unnecessary work was predicted to fail by many economists during the housing bubble; and at least as early as 1993, Hyman Minsky predicted a financial disaster was unfolding before our eyes. He warned of just the kinds of Ponzi schemes that Washington was facilitating in its deregulation of financial activities in its desperation to lengthen the working day by encouraging working families to accumulate unprecedentedly large personal debts. Despite these warnings, Washington, under the Clinton administration, and again under the Bush II administration, facilitated this accumulating family debt and even put in place measures to prevent working families from declaring bankruptcy to relieve themselves of it. Fully two thirds of all job creation during that period resulted from such debt accumulation.

Fourth. Beyond this, Marx and many other writers warned that a collapse of capital was inevitable. The growing output of industry resulting from improvements in productivity of social labor, Marx explained, was running into declining demand for productive employment of labor resulting from this improvement. In its drive to accumulate surplus, capital was making the ever increasing employment of superfluous labor into the necessary condition for the employment of productive labor. In time it would, he argued, become a matter of life or death for capital to find some means to increase the absolute waste of human labor in order to support profitable investment. That time arrived during the Great Depression when every industrialized nation suffered a catastrophic economic failure, and the State stepped in as the ultimate consumer of commodities and labor power rendered superfluous by overly long hours of work. Efforts by many to reduce hours of work during that period were defeated in Washington, which went on to erase the possibility of less work time from political-economic conversation.

Fifth. Despite all of the above, an argument could be made that we are nevertheless forced to support unemployment compensation because we have no power to change the situation in the short run. I think this argument is specious and even misleading: Unemployment compensation is exactly the wrong measure to pursue at present because it asks people to identify with the very cause of their unemployment. It is the political equivalent of asking people to lobby Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for handouts to ease their poverty. This “progressive” solution to the problem of the ever lengthening work day, which is the entire basis for the present unemployment, is to ask the very institution in society responsible for unemployment to ease the impact of the problem it created in the first place. We have to wake up to the fact that Washington is not a neutral actor in this play: it is the largest single consumer of surplus value in the society — and in human history; beside it, every other consumer — all “the rich” taken in their entirety — run a poor second. Washington not only knows the consequences of its policies, it fucking intends to create those consequences! The whole of its policies are designed to press the consumption of the mass of society to the lowest possible level in order that it may feed on the resultant surplus.

Sixth. We should be completely offended by the very concept of State aid for unemployment in any case. The entire argument for it, as offered by progressives and Marxists, rests on the image of the unemployed as helpless victims who must be protected from the vagaries of economic forces. As Badiou might argue, this image is completely isolated from its social context. The image of the suffering victim does not ask us how this pathetic creature came to be in her circumstance, nor does it seek to identify who caused her suffering. We are left with the need to do something — anything — to end the suffering. But, what? It is all too easy to write your congressperson or senator demanding an end to the suffering, and then sit comfortably at home watching the progress of the bill on the Rachel Maddow Show — self-satisfied that you did your part, and outraged at those who didn’t.

I am sorry, but I do demand you do something — something real, something authentic! I demand you go out of your house and find 99ers, create a network of support among folks in your community to support all 99ers. Make their plight your own in voluntary association with others. And, demand Washington cease to exist.

Forget about unemployment coming down in your lifetime…

December 8, 2010 1 comment

Zero Hedge: Unemployment projections to 2015

Forget about unemployment coming down through fiscal and monetary stimulus in your lifetime. There isn’t enough money in the world to fix this problem.

Above is a chart created by the blog Zero Hedge with a chilling projection on when employment will return to pre-recession level.

The chart starts at the National Bureau of Economic Research’s officially designated date for the beginning of the recession in December 2007. The NBER asserts the recession ended 18 months later in June 2009 — when, as you can see on the chart, employment had not only not recovered, but was still falling unchecked.

In the dotted line on the chart Zero Hedge projects that the total number of people employed will reach the 2007 level again about five years from now. They also note, for the record that this total will not include all the new people who will come into the labor force during that period.

This means, even when employment reaches its pre-recession peak, an unemployed population equal to all the people who entered the labor force in the eight years between 2007 and 2015 will still be unemployed.

To put it another way: even if we get back to pre-recession levels by 2015, an additional 16 million people will have been added to the unemployment rolls.

Sixteen million additional unemployed is larger than the total number of jobs lost in this recession.

It gets worse: according to Spencer England at the blog Angry Bear, the average length of an expansion after a recession since 1950 has been 52 months. This means, based on the NBER’s call, we should be going into recession again sometime in 2013 — when employment will not have recovered even to its 2007 level.

Your congressperson and senator need to know these figures.

And, you need to know when they are going to sponsor legislation to reduce hours of work so it can be fixed.

Banality has another name: AFL-CIO

December 4, 2010 1 comment

So, we don’t know what to make of this, and thought we would let you decide. Below are two videos — the first, from Christian Children’s Fund; the second is from the AFL-CIO. See if you can spot the common theme:

Christian Children’s Fund:
Vodpod videos no longer available.
AFL-CIO: Lifeline
Vodpod videos no longer available.
The website Firedoglake calls the second video, “a heartbreaking video of unemployed workers from all walks of life, all of whom are about to run out of their unemployment benefits.”

They continue:

These are the people President Barack Obama is using as a human sacrifice in order to extend Bush’s tax cuts for the incredibly wealthy, just to avoid being accused of “raising taxes” in 2012.

Congratulations to the AFL-CIO for a phenomenal video – go write to Congress on their site now.

Our first reaction was anger at a seedy, sophomoric attempt to sensationalize the plight of some two million who have lost their unemployment benefits as Washington democrats and republicans demagogue the federal budget for their own perverse ends and those of their bankster bosses.

Our second reaction was disgust with the AFL-CIO — an organization of working people so corrupted and compromised by its involvement in, and subservience to, Washington politics that it deserves only to be dismantled.

This video is an obscenity, we think. But, we could be over-reacting.

So, Obama supporters, how is that recovery going?

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Collateral Murder…

July 22, 2010 4 comments

What the Fuck are you doing Mccord!?” It was my platoon leader. “You need to quit worrying about these Fucking kids, and pull security!” he screamed. “Roger that, sir” I said and immediately went to a roof top to pull security. While on the roof, one of the soldiers took a picture of me, I didn’t realize that the blood of the two children was all over me.

Here

Website supports whistle blower Bradley Manning

June 17, 2010 3 comments

There is now a website supporting Bradley Manning, the American hero who exposed war atrocities in Iraq. It provides a postal address where direct messages of support can be sent to the soldier.

Bradley Manning broke no laws, since it is the lawful obligation of every soldier to report evidence of war crimes.

The Golden Grimace (Part Nine: Gold, the dollar, and superfluous work)

June 9, 2010 Leave a comment

The price-form, however, is not only compatible with the possibility of a quantitative incongruity between magnitude of value and price, i.e., between the former and its expression in money, but it may also conceal a qualitative inconsistency, so much so, that, although money is nothing but the value-form of commodities, price ceases altogether to express value.

–Karl Marx

The relationship between the two measures of GDP is this:

The debasing of the dollar allowed a quantitative disparity to emerge between the prices of commodities and their values. This divergence of price from value not only emerged in the price of individual commodities, but also in the sum of all the prices of all commodities taken together. Because fiat dollars cannot measure the values of commodities, value no longer determines prices.

At first glance, this might not seem surprising since the value of commodities is something invisible to us – we do not and cannot know the value of anything we buy or sell. The value of a commodity is only expressed over a period of time through the apparently random fluctuations of the price of the commodity. It is something only apparent to us in the movement of these prices.

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is this:  what was once true for any specific price of a commodity (that any price paid for it might not actually coincide with the value of the commodity) is now absolutely true even for the average of the fluctuations in the price of any specific commodity. And this is also true for all commodities taken together – no commodity’s prices ever reflects its value, and the aggregate prices of all commodities no longer reflect their aggregate value as well.

In other words, the dollar measure of GDP does not, in any way, reflect the value created by economic activity in the U.S. economy.

But, the value of a thing is only the expression of the socially necessary labor time required for its production expressed in some quantity of gold (or, another metal) money. So, to say this another way, in our society the actual work done in the economy is no longer determined by the socially necessary labor time required for the production of commodities. When the quantitative disparity emerged between the prices of commodities and their values, a disparity also emerged between the amount of work we do and the amount of work that was socially necessary to maintain our current standard of living.

Work was now determined by the fiat dollars rushing into the economy.

This absolute quantitative incongruity between price and value has profound implications for our present crisis. The value of a commodity is only a measure of the labor productively employed on it taken as an average of all the individual labor times employed on all the commodities of its type for which society has a need. If more labor is employed in producing the good than is on average necessary, or, if more of the good is produced than is necessary (supply and demand), these disparities would have been signaled by a fall in its price.

This no longer occurs.

The chart below displays the total output of United States GDP from 1929 to 2009 as measured in dollars. As such it measures only the growing total aggregate of dollar transactions – of the exchange of useful things for dollars, and the circulation of these useful things – over time. These use values are not, and cannot be, measured by dollars as values, because, as we have stated, the aggregate measure shows only the dollar demand for the goods and not their socially necessary labor times, neither individually nor as an aggregate.

The chart, therefore, measures the sum of the social labor process – the sum of use values in circulation to satisfy human need – but only insofar as this human need takes the form of money demand. It is a measure of the ever increasing raw productive power of social labor expended on disparate things of great value to us – things like food, houses, schools, medical care for disabled veterans of the genocides in Iraq and Afghanistan, and  research into cancer cure. It also measures destructive things of no value to us whatsoever – cluster bombs, depleted uranium shells and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As a measure of dollar denominated activity, it even includes bizarre things of altogether contradictory value – such as all the economic activity that led to the BP Gulf of Mexico oil disaster AND the dollar cost to clean it up. Both the money spent creating the disaster and the money spent cleaning it up after are registered on the above chart as GDP! Every transaction is represented in aggregate, with no indication as to how much society benefited from it or was impoverished and damaged by it.

This next chart measures that same aggregate output in terms of the dollar price of a billion ounces of gold. This chart does measure the aggregate socially necessary labor of the total social product in circulation over time – the amount of labor actually productively employed over the period.

The chart does not, and cannot be a measurement of the value of the individual use values within this circulation, but only the measure of all of them in aggregate. Even if we knew the dollar price of any object in this aggregate, we could not extrapolate from this dollar price to how much socially necessary labor time it embodies, because the dollar price of the good conveys no information about that labor time. (Remember, Washington can create as much money out of thin air as it needs to purchase anything it wants.) We also cannot know how much time we actually spent at work when this value was produced, because there is no definite relationship between the amount of work we do and the value we produce.

Gold can only measure the amount of work we HAD to do to produce the value; and, the dollar only measures the amount of work we actually did. When the dollar was on the gold standard these two measures were one and the same. But, now that this relationship is broken we have to perform an extra step: Only by dividing the annual dollar denominated GDP by the price of an ounce of gold for that year can we arrive at some idea of how much of the work we were doing was actually necessary.

The two charts above begin in 1929, before the dollar was debased from gold and are presented in absolute values. However, if we convert them to percentages, using 1929 as the base year, we can align them to see what happened when the dollar was debased. As you can see from the chart below, there is a fairly sharp divergence between the two measures of GDP after the dollar was debased by gold in 1933. This period is shown in the chart below.

US GDP (1929-1939) in gold (yellow) and dollars (green) as a percentage of 1929 levels

The chart shows the sudden sharp divergence of the prices of transactions in the US economy as measured in dollars (the green area) from these same transactions as recorded in the price of billions of ounces of gold (the yellow area). The dollar was not simply debased from gold, it was also devalued against gold – reduced from $20.67 per ounce to $35 per ounce. This was an overnight 41 percent reduction in the value of the wages of working families – a brutal material assault on their standard of living carried out by that puppet of Wall Street, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The fact that Roosevelt went on to be reelected three times after this monstrous economic calamity – and, to this day, enjoys almost universal adoration – does not, in any way, change this material fact. Recovery from the depression began only after Washington engineered a massive collapse in the real wages of working people.

This assault was, simultaneously, a sharp divergence of the actual labor time of working people from the socially necessary labor time required for the production of commodities. In every year after the debasement of the dollar, actual labor time exceeded its socially necessary requirement by 40 percent – meaning the country was increasingly awash not only in worthless dollars, but also a superfluity of work – unnecessary, superfluous labor that was the material precondition for the military buildup leading to the catastrophe of World War II.

The two measures of GDP, therefore, record the emergence of labor in its purely superfluous form – in the form of labor that neither results in any increase in the material wealth of society, nor in the means to create that material wealth.

If we extend this chart to 1980, we can see that this newly emerged superfluous labor expands even further to absorb a greater portion of actual labor time:

US GDP (1929-1980) in gold (yellow) and dollars (green) as a percentage of 1929 levels

Superfluous labor expanded dramatically between World War II and 1970 – growing from 40 percent of all work performed to more than 50 percent of all work performed. However, the Great Stagflation of the 1970s imposed such an unimaginably harsh reduction on the living standards of working families that by 1980 superfluous labor expanded to include more than 95 percent of all work performed. No more than five percent of the work day was necessary!

WORK ITSELF HAD BECOME ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY!

Let us repeat that, because you obviously did not hear what we said:

BY 1980, WORK ITSELF HAD BECOME ENTIRELY UNNECESSARY!

US GDP in gold (yellow) and dollars (green) as a percentage of 1929 levels

In the ten years since 2000, even this insignificant level of necessary work was cut in half – dropping to no more than 2 percent of all work performed. At the same time, economic activity, as measured in dollars, exploded in bubble after bubble, These bubbles were no more than the desperate actions of Washington and the gang of sociopaths residing on Wall Street trying desperately to maintain some semblance of economic activity through an explosion of debt,  financial instruments, and every sort of sordid Ponzi scheme to maintain their grip on the social power they wield over you, and which is embodied in your own self-enslavement to them.

Below, we show the divergence between the labor process measured in dollars, and that same labor process measured by socially necessary labor time, as the percentage of the total labor day embodying socially necessary labor time. This is the actual percentage of the present labor day required to satisfy human need.

Based on what we have presented here in this series, that chart indicates that no more than 2-3 percent of the current labor day is required to satisfy the total needs of society.

It also indicates that if the self-expansion of capital falters, for whatever reason, as now seems to be happening , economic activity will disappear in a massive catastrophic implosion.

Work is dead, folks. You’re all gonna have to get a life!

The is an old skool collection from some guy who sets up a hidden cam and captures his antics with a series of anonymous women in his home and at the office. For the most part, the faces are deliberately obscured, and his face is never shown. The guy initially sold the tapes, but also posted them in short clips on the usenet around 2000-2002.