Are poor people moral degenerates?

They certainly are according to capitalist morality.

I’m sorry, but I’m going to fucking Jonathan Pie this post because I’m getting royally impatient and pissed off with you ignorant fuckers out there who, in your self-righteous, holier-than-though attitudes consider poor people to be less than human. Recently someone posted on Facebook that a group of volunteers had cleaned up after a homeless camp had been dismantled here in the Comox Valley. There was a nice photo of the volunteers attached to the item. The comments on this post were mostly supportive of the volunteers, but the odd comment slipped in there that was outrageously stupid as in calling the homeless camp residents ‘filthy pigs.’ Piss me off.

Would you call someone in the hospital dying of cancer a ‘filthy pig?’ Would you call someone who is physically disabled and unable to clean up after themselves ‘filthy pigs? Would you call someone who has been injured and unable to clean themselves or their rooms ‘filthy pigs?’

Some of you might answer yes to the above questions because you’re complete morons. Most of you, I assume, would answer no. The reason most of you would answer no is because you believe that the people who are the objects of the questions are not responsible for their conditions. Still, I think that a number of you who answer no to the above questions would answer yes if I had asked about responsibility. If I had asked: ‘Do you think people dying of cancer in the hospital are responsible for their situation?’ No, you would probably say. ‘Do you think that homeless people are responsible for their situations?’ Yes, you might say even though we know that ‘mental illness’, drug use, and other ‘ailments’ are not much different than cancer to the human body. It’s okay to be physically ill, but don’t be mentally ill because that’s a clear indication that you are morally weak. Cancer patients are not considered morally weak but if something goes wrong in your brain for any number of reasons you’re a loser and a moral degenerate and god forbid you get addicted to drugs or gambling.

So, what’s the basis for our beliefs about illness, homelessness, poverty, and disability? Well, it’s not that complicated although it’s shrouded in obfuscation and ideology. It’s all about morality. Capitalist, Neo-liberal morality. What the hell is that? Isn’t morality all about good and bad, and is it not a guide to how to live life properly? Is morality not just a set of ideas that are more of less universal and agreed upon for the most part? Basic things like those that can be found in the Christian Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill, covet thy neighbour’s wife and so on?

Well, those ideas are a part of capitalist morality but not even those ideas stand up to careful scrutiny as being universal behavioural precepts. It all depends on context and situation. Killing is perfectly moral if you’re killing an ‘other’. Morality is fundamentally grounded in material life. Veblen would say that ‘habits of thought’ are based in ‘habits of life.’ There is no such thing as a disembodied morality.

So, what is capitalist, Neo-liberal morality? I’m sure you won’t have any trouble identifying it when I point it out to you. It’s actually based on the ideas of people like the 17th Century writer and philosopher, Thomas Hobbes. He’s the guy who people sometimes quote as arguing that life is short and brutish. He and the ideology he helped spawn were (are) firmly attached to a growing labour situation in England whereby people were being systematically weaned from their relationships with their feudal lords and forced, more of less, into new wage based forms of employment. Capitalist morality is based on the ideas that one must be self-sufficient, that one is responsible for all of one’s actions, that one is in a constant power struggle with everyone else in a society, that one must work hard to ‘earn one’s keep’, that people are a bunch of lazy things that need to be prodded into action, that no individual is beholden to any society, that illness is weakness, that poverty is failure, and that all the good or bad that befalls us is our own doing.

Capitalist morality is based on the ideas that one must be self-sufficient, that one is responsible for all of one’s actions, that one is in a constant power struggle with everyone else in a society, that one must work hard to ‘earn one’s keep’, that people are a bunch of lazy things that need to be prodded into action, that no individual is beholden to any society, that illness is weakness, that poverty is failure, and that all the good or bad that befalls us is our own doing.

Of course all of this is a crock of shit and has been established over and over as a crock of shit by generation after generation of psychologists and social scientists. Problem is, the findings of psychologists and social scientists that don’t accord with the basic principles of capitalism with are summarize by C. B. Macpherson in the phrase ‘possessive individualism,’ are summarily dismissed by those people who have a vested interest in an unequal distribution of wealth which means rich people. Of course, that’s only partially true. Rich people are rich often not because of any stellar performance on their part. They often become rich because they have rich families to inherit money from. To get richer, it helps if you’re already rich, family-wise I mean.

So, in order to illustrate my thinking about morality I want you to think about a wall (why not, walls seem to be popular these days), a metaphorical wall that is. In the rough drawing I did below, you see a blue section in the middle, thin lines that surround that blue section and the thick line that surrounds it all and that’s what I call our moral wall. US and Others are located where they are to illustrate our relationship to ourselves and to others. Others, those people we just can’t relate to at all because they live in places very foreign to us, we consider outside our moral wall. They don’t even figure in our conceptions of morality, or of what’s good or bad. They are barely considered human. “US” on the other hand includes all people who share a world dominated by capitalist social relations. The closer one gets to the middle, the stronger the pull of Hobbesian ideas and real concentrations of wealth and power. The concentric rings represent groups of people who are related to the concentration of wealth but in various intensities and amounts. The closer one is to the vortex or black hole at the centre, the more one represents the ideals of capitalism and individualism and the closer to the wall one gets the weaker our relationship is to capitalist production. So, for example, people occupying the absolute (blue) centre are the 1% who control the greatest proportion of human wealth. The people who occupy the 2nd ‘arrondissement’ are still very wealthy but generally work as close advisors or specialists to the people in the dead centre.* The people in the 3rd ‘arrondissement’ are wealthy middle class investors, managers, CEOs, etc. The people in the 4th ‘arrondissement’ are the supporting class, the technicians, educated specialists who do the bidding of the 1% and of the people in the closer ‘arrondissements’. The people who occupy the 5th ‘arrondissement’ are generally technically trained but poorly educated cadre, often moderately well-paid but unhappy because of their distance from the centre. They so want to be rich. They buy lottery tickets. They so want to be like the people in the centre that they have tummy aches over it. They adore the people in the centre and know they can do no wrong otherwise how would they get to the centre of our moral universe in the first place? They must be blessed by God! Whatever the 1% do is fine by them even if it’s often considered illegal. If it is illegal, it’s legitimate to ignore the law of push to have it changed. The people in the 6th ‘arrondissement’ are the uneducated, the poorly trained, the unemployed, the poor, the marginal folks of all kinds. These people either see the 1% as gods to bow down to and revere (Trump followers) or as devils to resist in every way possible (progressives).

Now, the thing about people in the 6th arrondissement is that they often also look at the centre with melting hearts knowing always that their distance from the centre of our moral universe is all their fault. If only they had been better people, worked harder, made better decisions. dressed better, were better looking, went to school, everything would be hunky-dory. We absorb these feelings into the very fabric of our existence. They colour the way we see the world, and how we treat others.

That said, there’s people all the way through the multiple ‘arrondissements’, at least at the lower levels, that know the morality embodied in this fictitious moral world is bullshit. They know that there’s something wrong with a world based on defining personal worth by reference to how much wealth one has accumulated in one’s life and how well one did in the competition for scarce resources. Maybe they have gotten an education and have had to agree with social scientists that capitalism is not a natural human condition, but only a phase in history, one we would do well to escape as soon as possible before it destroys us all. Capitalist Neo-liberlism truly is a world without love (intimate connections with others), compassion and caring. Individuals who demonstrate love, caring and compassion are often ridiculed, marginalized, and called weak.

If we can get through this, I’m optimistic about the future. If we can’t beat the capitalist cancer that threatens to do us all in, we will succumb to the planet’s rejection of us because of our stupid overconsumption and lack of consideration of the world around us, the plants and animals that we need to survive and thrive. A pissed-off planet is not good for us humans. We are going to go extinct one way or another, but we don’t have to rush into it and drag most other species on the planet with us.

  • The dead centre of this moral world of ours is populated by individuals, certainly, but also by organizations like banks that concentrate wealth. So the situation is very complex on the ground but simple conceptually.

My next post: how is about how capitalist wealth is increasingly concentrated and why.

Now, back to writing. Do you have any themes you’d like me to address here?

Time to get back to writing. Several ideas have come to mind as themes for blog posts. One is mapping. In the 1980s and 90s I taught mind mapping, a note making method created by Tony Buzan, and that spurred me to research mapping in general as a means of understanding the world using line and metaphor. That, in turn, motivated me to look into language, semantics and semiotics. That led me to the work of Alfred Korzybski and especially his book, Science and Sanity (I have a copy). He coined the famous phrase: The Map is not the Territory. It is one of the most complex books I have ever read on mapping and metaphor and destroys the myths we have about sanity, insanity, science and reality. It also dissects the idea of science. I also discovered many books by the likes of Umberto Eco (The Theory of Semiotics), Mark Johnson and George Lakoff. Lakoff and Johnson wrote one of my favourite books. It’s called Metaphors We Live By. I used all of these books – and hundreds of others, of course – extensively in my lectures. Words are metaphorical by their very nature as are maps and all representations. Dictionaries are essentially closed systems of metaphors. There’s lots more to be said on this subject, making it a strong candidate for future blog posts.

 

Another theme, one that I’ve already addressed quite a lot, is the relationship of nationalism and capitalism, especially as they relate to the rise of global finance capital and what we call globalization. The rise of global finance capital was bound to produce the kinds of backlash among the working classes of the world as labour becomes an increasingly smaller component of capitalist production. The general public tends to cling to the notion that the nation-state is a means of controlling and promoting economic production and jobs in the face of growing finance capitalist expansion. People don’t think using highfalutin terms like I use here. They do, however, know that their world of work has become more and more precarious, tenuous and fragile. They know that little by little jobs ‘Canadian’ jobs are being eliminated by automation and exportation. They don’t know that there are no “Canadian’ jobs, just jobs in the capitalist world. They have also been convinced that having a job is the way to happiness. Anyone in their right mind knows that ‘work’ is not often a means of acquiring happiness, whatever that means.

Employment is alienating, no matter how we cut it. Work, however, is a different thing and humans by their very nature are producers of goods, makers of things (homo faber).

As we get squeezed between the need to pay our rents and mortgages and the increasingly insecure labour market, something has to give. The tension brought on by ‘austerity programs’ and ‘structural adjustment programs’ imposed on debtor countries by the World Bank and other transnational organizations in cahoots with national governments will be released somehow. Can you say ‘open rebellion’ and ‘violence in the streets’? Trump’s disaffected followers are just the spark that could ignite and then fan the flames of violence in America. People will find scapegoats upon which to heap their fears because they have no idea who their real enemy is.

Part of this theme revolves around the nature of capital and the evolution of social, economic and cultural systems. This form of evolution has been a major theme in my teaching practice.

I just might pick up this theme again in future blogs.

How could I leave out sex? Of course I will deal with sex and its role in our lives in future blog posts, but I want to also consider aspects of our language around sexuality and the pornography industry in particular. Why do we so often refer to sex as dirty? And what do we make of the fact that we are born between shit and piss? How do we  culturally and psychologically address the mess that happens in labour with the wonderfulness of babies and their eventual and necessary deaths?

Contradictions abound in our cultural creations around sex and sexuality. We love the act of sex and lovemaking, but we are supposed to do it in very prescribed ways between approved partners. Tell that to teenagers with sex pheromones bleeding out of every pore of their bodies and it becomes ludicrous. Bodies will trump social rules more often than we would like to consider. Of course, sexual mores have become increasingly lax over the last few decades, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve completely vanished.

Global Corporate Charters

http://www.gtinitiative.org/documents/IssuePerspectives/GTI-Perspectives-Global_Corporate_Charters.pdf

So, I’ve been researching and teaching about the expansion of the global capitalist system for decades.  From all the research I’ve done, it strikes me as just about inevitable that business will soon break away from its national charter licence system to one that is supra-national.

International law as it now stands is virtually toothless, but it won’t be long before a global justice system with enforcement capabilities will be necessary.  When large business corporations no longer operate nationally, but have their headquarters in one country, research and development in another and production in several others with no one country able to legislate their activities, it’s time for a change.  The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, formerly the Canadian Manufacturers Association, has no problem representing businesses who produce nothing (or virtually nothing) in Canada.  Businesses that formerly produced (manufactured) refrigerators, stoves and other appliances in Canada but who now produce them in China in their own factories or under licence to Chinese companies or in other countries with low wages and virtually no health and safety standards for workers are still considered Canadian manufacturers.  To me that’s pretty odd.

As business corporations become more and more global they will need to be regulated more and more globally if we have any hope at all of avoiding becoming nothing but fodder for the creation of obscene corporate profits. Of course, it’s much more complicated than I’ve stated it here.  I’ll have more to say about this in subsequent blog posts.  In the meantime, have a look at the article for which I’ve included a link above.  Check out its provenance,  the Tellus Foundation.  What they propose in this article is a new global charter system for business corporations.

Gwynne Dyer – A review of a recent talk: a lot right, some not so much.

Gwynne Dyer – A review of a recent talk: a lot right, some not so much.

 

Gwynne Dyer (http://gwynnedyer.com/) spoke recently at North Island College as part of the Institute of War & Peace being taught over the spring term by three faculty members from the English and Humanities and Social Sciences Department.  This is the third time I’ve heard Dyer speak and on every occasion he has demonstrated an uncanny ability to go on for an hour and a half without notes or even the benefit of a power point presentation.  Astounding!  But he is a compelling speaker.  When I was still teaching sociology at the college I often used Dyer’s films in my classes, one on the experience of Marine basic training on Parris Island, South Carolina and another great one on the ‘tribe’ as an organizing social and political force.  Dyer is an intelligent reporter and critic on world affairs, especially those with military dimensions.

 

In his recent talk at the college he covered three areas of ‘current unrest’ in the world, the Middle East, the Ukraine and the South China Sea.  His analyses often seem counterintuitive as one listens to them yet strangely plausible at the same time.

 

With reference to the Middle East, Dyer argues that there has been no major war to disrupt the area for quite some time.  He goes over the power and potential of the major states in the area, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and Iraq, but also of Egypt, to win a war with Israel.  He concludes that all out war between Israel and any one of those Arab states is highly unlikely.  Of course, the tension always seems to be there and there have been the odd military excursions here and there and punishing attacks by the Israelis in Gaza in ‘retaliation’ for Palestinian attacks like the wave of bus bombings in Jerusalem a few years ago.  The West Bank is slowly being overrun with Jewish settlements.  So what would be a viable solution to the ‘crisis’ if one were a Palestinian?  Well, the two state solution seems plausible with Israel taking the bulk of the territory but with the Palestinians at least holding on to some territory over which they would have sovereignty.  A better solution, still, Dyer proposes, might be a one state solution where Israel would cover the whole area from the Egypt to Lebanon and everyone would become a citizen of one country, Israel, whether Jewish or Palestinian.  Because of the demographics of the situation, and if the Palestinians had the vote which would be their right as citizens of Israel, power could realistically devolve to the Palestinians in a reasonable period of time.  Apparently, this scenario is gaining ground as a possibility among Palestinians but the impediments to such a solution are not easily discounted.  Plausible…as they would say on Mythbusters, but probably a long shot.

 

Dyer’s comments about the Ukraine are less optimistic than are his thoughts on the Middle East.  He sees a lot of outright stupidity and bravado there but he is cautiously optimistic that war will be averted as long as Western countries keep their noses out of it but that the tension could very well devolve into something more serious than a skirmish.  Dyer is much more knowledgeable about the situation than I am.  I freely admit that I know very little about the politics of that area of the world, but I still feel there is something lacking in Dyer’s analysis, a feeling I get from my general knowledge of the global political economy over the past few centuries, particularly since the first serious wave of the spread of European capital to other parts of the world in the 15th Century. (let’s not quibble about the Roman empire).  Back to that later.

 

Dyer ended his talk with a note on the South China Sea where China and Viet Nam are now in a dispute about the ownership of some islands that coincidentally are on top of substantial oil reserves.  We know from the news that Chinese nationals are being attacked by Vietnamese in Hanoi and other cities causing thousands of Chinese to return in haste to China. Dyer also talked about longstanding disputes between Japan and Korea over islands (of course).  His main point in his talk about the South China disputes is that China is headed into a deep recession.  Its in need of a diversion so that its citizens are focused on an external ‘threat’ thus inflaming an always present but sometimes dormant nationalism.  For the Chinese leaders this is a much better outcome than having China’s workers brooding on the fact that their jobs have disappeared and having them get revolting over that. There’s already enough unrest in Chinese factories with workers demanding pay increases and better working conditions.  Don’t need any more of that!   I don’t believe I’ve misinterpreted Dyer in any of this but I’m open to be corrected if need be.  That said, I left Dyer’s talk last week a little dissatisfied.

 

Dyer, being a specialist in military and political history, can be forgiven for not integrating political economy into his analysis more completely.  In reference to some situation in the Ukraine that I can’t recall at the moment, although it may have had something to do with the sad state of productive capacity and outmoded means of production and competition from other jurisdictions, he made an offhanded remark that ‘well, that’s just business.’  Well, business, especially at the scale we’re concerned with here, is never just business.  When Dyer mentions that a coming recession in China is driving foreign policy he’s getting it, sort of, but not essentially.

 

I want to step back here for a moment and consider why there has been no major military battles in the last 70 years on this favourite planet of ours.  It could be argued, I suppose, that assured mutual destruction may have something to do with it.  Launching nuclear weapons is a no-win game and everybody knows it.  That doesn’t mean that some nut job in the Pentagon or the Kremlin hasn’t thought about it.  So far more rational heads have prevailed.  Let’s hope it stays that way.

 

I believe, however, that the main reason for the fact that bombs aren’t flying between major powers in the world today is much more about the fact that countries are not really the drivers of economic activity, multinational corporations are.  I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but from my reading of European history, the driver of the formation, configuration and constitution of countries (states) from as far back as the 14th Century is capital expansion.  In the Middle Ages the acquisition of land, often violently but mainly by treaty and intermarriage, was the way wealth and power were accumulated.  After all, it was the prospect of new territory that prompted Queen Isabella of Spain to bankroll Christopher Columbus on his little jaunt into the Atlantic Ocean.  Columbus himself didn’t care a hoot about territory. He was interested in ‘stuff’ he could bring back from India or wherever he landed to sell on the European market to make himself rich.  For his class of people, the bourgeoisie, commodities, not the conquest of land were the source of wealth.  That’s still the way it is today although today we’ve come to a time when the world is becoming highly integrated in economic terms.  Companies with head offices the whereabouts of which matter very little anymore, produce (or contract other local businesses to produce) goods in export processing zones all over the world.  They then move them to ‘consumer’ markets mostly in Europe and North America, but increasingly to every corner of the planet by just-in-time processes of distribution.  In whatever country a corporation has a head office (usually just because it first saw the light of day there) it’s likely to lobby hard and get the support of the national government to champion its interests even though those interests may clash with those of the citizens of said country.  The larger the corporation the less likely the national government is to ignore it.  And if, as with the petrochemical or auto industries, a number of corporations lobby hard through their non-profit lobbying societies like the Canadian Petroleum Producers Association, then the government takes the call no matter what time of the day or night.

 

In fact, with a few exceptions, the governments of our world are all too eager to serve corporate interests to the detriment of those of its own citizens.  A recent article in The New Republic suggests that a number of ‘American’[1] corporations are already whining about how economic sanctions against Russia would be sanctions against them because they do billions of dollars of business a year in Russia and have high hopes for Russia as an emerging market for US goods (some produced, no doubt, in China). There are Pepsi and Coca-Cola signs all over Moscow. (Vinnik 2014)  Now this has a critical impact on the likelihood of open interstate warfare, especially where nuclear weapons are concerned.  It’s really not about territorial expansion anymore, anyway.  It’s about control of commodity markets, including those for cheap labour power.  Particularly strange would be for the US to decide to attack China with bombs.  It’s true that if Walmart were a country it would be China’s 8th most important trading partner.  I can’t imagine Washington attacking Walmart’s factories in China!

 

In fact, in a perverse kind of weird way, I think that the fact that corporations, in looking for the cheapest sources of labour and raw materials, spread themselves all over the globe is a deterrent to all-out war between states.  Of course the fear of war is important because that justifies feeding billions of dollars into arms producing businesses.  But skirmishes here and there use up some of that arms production as do military exercises like patrolling the South China Sea, something the American Navy has done since 1945.  Still, an American government aiming to protect ‘its’ corporations is not likely to send in the troops when that would lead to dropping corporate profits.  Nowadays, war is not always good for business and its clearer now than ever that corporate interests come first in our world.  I hate to admit it, but corporate global expansion may be a strong deterrent to interstate warfare. (Vinnik 2014)

Works Cited

Vinnik, Danny. These U.S. Corporations Are Probably Scared of Sanctions on Russia. March 4, 2014. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116853/economic-sanctions-would-hurt-american-companies-russia.

 

 

 

 

[1] Corporations are considered legal individuals in the US and in Canada but it’s a stretch to think of them as ‘national’ when capital supercedes state in the way the world is organized these days according to Thorstein Veblen and other commentators for whom I have a great deal of respect.  Although the relationships are complicated, it’s more accurate to say that capital created the modern nation-state than the other way around.

It’s about time I publish a new post!

Not much action on this blog lately! Truth of the matter is that I got very ill early in March and stayed that way for most of the month. Nasty flu. Then I confess that I’ve had outrage overload for a bit and find myself uninspired to write. So, what I’ve decided to do is leave current affairs alone for a while. I’ve got over 50 posts on current affairs and I want to give that interest of mine a break. [We’ll see how long that lasts!] Instead, in this blog, I want to address some issues around evolution, particularly the notion of evolution as it applies to social institutions. As Harold Innis (1894-1952), the economic historian and political economist who spent most of his career at the University of Toronto after getting a PhD from the University of Chicago, was quick to point out, following many others including Thorstein Veblen, that empires come and go. There is no example to the contrary. Every empire in the history of our species on this planet is either deceased or moribund. Go back as far as you like. Empires don’t last forever, So the question is not whether or not an empire – say, the U.S.-centered finance corporate empire – will survive, the question is how will it die? How did the Roman Empire wane and die, for instance? Or the British Empire? Are there patterns in these events or processes? Indeed there are. Imperial overreach is a concept used to try to explain why empires fail. There are different versions of it (http://www.mmisi.org/ma/32_03/lankevich.pdf) as these two reviews of Paul Kennedy’s book The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 make clear. But for me, it’s fairly straightforward, say in the case of Rome. Here’s how it works.

An empire is born in the ruins of previous failed and exhausted quasi-states. Said empire begins to grow slowly by conquest. In that it faces sometimes strong external opposition but also domestic strain because the more military conquest is the favoured instrument of international relations, a ‘thinning’ of the young males in the population is inevitable. As well, there is the stress of volatile consumer markets caused by military conquest. But wait! The empire grows stronger. Conquest brings wealth and new recruits. Military success fuels more military activity and the armies get spread farther away from home. In order to maintain conquered lands, military leaders from the Empire’s armies become governors and bureaucrats of far-flung provinces. There aren’t enough Romans to keep this machine in play so one strategy is to free trusted slaves or not enslave some of the opponents of the Empire, the really nasty ones (warlords, really) in what we now know as France, Germany, and Britain, negotiating with them instead entry into the Empire’s sphere of trading activity while allowing them to maintain land holdings of their own. Once this practice becomes commonplace, there is an internal threat to the Empire and that is the erosion of slavery, the real economic base of the Roman Empire. Rome grew too widespread geographically to control all of its subject peoples from Rome. Communications strategies just can’t keep up with the logistical and military demands of maintaining an empire like Rome, keeping enemies at bay and conquering new territories. That’s imperial overreach. The American Empire won’t fail for the same reasons because essentially there is no ‘American’ Empire.

The prevailing empire in the world today is not based in any country or nation state and it’s not geopolitical. It’s financial. As Thorstein Veblen was keen to point out, states are creatures of higher order institutions like private property and class power. Capital rules. In our times (for the last 700 years or so) merchant capital slowly gained in power at the beginning of the feudal period and held on to power pretty well into the early 19th century in Europe. It was replaced as the dominant form of capital by industrial capital which itself slowly gave way to finance capital in the second half of the 20th century. This is an evolutionary process. Marx sees the driver of this as the process by which capital replaces labour in production. Of course this is too simple a presentation of a very complex process, but essentially, that’s it. Of course all capital is a product of human labour, but capital has had a smaller and waning use for labour in the productive process as automation, Fordism and technology become prevalent. The price of labour-power varies in different parts of the world and for different occupations, but there is a long-term tendency for the value of labour to fall everywhere.

My point is that countries are not in charge, nor are politicians. Capital is and has been for some time. For centuries it’s been in a struggle with labour, the only reason capital exists, to gain a larger part of the value produced by human labour. For centuries now, capitalists have tried and largely succeeded in reducing the value of labour with the help of the state. In the US now we have the spectacle of corporate business leaders and politicians openly sharing the same bed, seemingly without any guilt or shame whatsoever. And we have the pathetic spectacle of vast numbers of people completely ignorant of how they are being manipulated by the state and its communications corporations blithely going about their lives in the belief that the American (and in my case, Canadian) government acts on their behalf. Flags fly everywhere. Patriotism is a powerful force. However, it’s not powerful enough to counter the despair and angst that will drive many marginalized and disempowered people from turning on each other and others in a desperate search for meaning in their lives in the absence of a good, well-paying job and a sense of social security.

The end of the finance capitalist empire will come only when it has reached and dominated every nook and cranny on the planet and when it has exhausted itself in trying to eliminate labour. Finance capital is well on its way to dominating the entire planet. Countries are still based on land and borders and are thus restricted in their activities. Corporations have few restrictions now and want even fewer in the future. Countries and their citizens don’t stand a chance against finance capital because they operate within an old paradigm. That paradigm is based on the false assumption that countries have economies, trade with one another and are the basic global unit of analysis. Yes, countries can still go to war with one another, but the more finance capital and production infiltrate every corner of the planet it makes less and less sense to bomb the hell out of your own factories in the target countries because chances are that where you’ve located them to take advantage of low wage costs. Global war is a thing of the past as global production drives us and our labour-power into a global market. That doesn’t mean that threats of war and local military operations aren’t useful to reduce domestic dissent by targeting a foreign enemy. We’ve experienced over the last hundred years or so the consolidation of states into larger and larger units. The European Union is an example of this type of consolidation but so are the plethora of free trade agreements that are part of the geopolitical map these days. And why this expansion? To help in the free flow of capital and labour. Globalization is foremost a process of freeing up capital to move as it sees fit unencumbered by elected parliaments and other political institutions. It’s also about the control of labour by the free movement of production. If a ‘Canadian’ forestry company moves one of its sawmills to the Philippines to take advantage of cheap labour there, it’s effectively controlling labour in Canada.

After decades of study and observation of geopolitics and capitalist production I can’t help but conclude that the future will be fraught with uncertainty as governments give up power to finance capitalists and we are left with no democratic way of deciding anything about our lives. Politicians have sold us out for a pittance and now we’re increasingly at the mercy of the big banks and business corporations that are psychopathic by their very nature, unrestricted in their expressed need to pollute the planet at will, dominate our lives with pharmaceuticals aimed a lot less at making us healthy than to making corporate profits, and privatizing all public lands and services. Profits rule. Who gives a shit if they serve to help us or kills us.
Marx predicted that the end of the capitalist mode of production will come when labour has been largely replaced by capital in human production. Machines don’t buy commodities so by eliminating workers and replacing them with machines, the capitalist class is eliminating itself. What’s the fate of countries like the US and Canada? Well, before it gets better it will get much worse. There is bound to be class war in the US and all over the world, it’s just a matter of time. Throw enough people out of work and out of their homes, make cities impossible to live in and see what happens. We haven’t suffered enough yet to push us into precipitating a revolution, but we’re headed in that direction. What can stop the momentum?

The Tyee – Canada’s Reckless Banks Inflate House Price Bubble

The Tyee – Canada’s Reckless Banks Inflate House Price Bubble.

I’m back after having a nasty flu for the past 2+ weeks.  This article by Murray Dobbin lays out a scenario for a future crash in the ‘Canadian’ housing market.  The banks (finance capital) are in charge with the government following along like a loyal puppy dog.

Corporations  are sitting on a lot of cash right now.  That’s probably a good strategy for us as individuals: get liquid.  Not so easy to get done.  We are the unwitting dupes of  finance capital content with the sense that we are in control of our lives and every decision we make is self-generated and independent of larger social, economic issues.

Privatization, Apple and Wealth Beyond Imagination

John’s question: Isn’t it fair to say that “capital” (as in, portable property not necessarily tied to wealth in the form of land) is inherently about privatization? If so, a capitalist society can do little other than drift toward further privatization, no?

My answer: Capital is a complex concept and Marx defines it in many ways including relating to it as crystallized labour.  Marx argues that more and more capital derived from human productive activity is finding its way into the coffers of the ruling class.  As Marx notes, the capitalist mode of production is based on the exploitation of labour-power by which surplus value is produced.  Profit comes from surplus value and becomes capital. This applies to individual capitalists but Marx intends that it should apply principally to the ruling class as a whole.  So, privatization, as much as anything means that the working class is getting less and less of ‘its’ share of the proceeds of social production.  It’s being appropriated by the ruling class which, for Marx, includes capitalists, of course, but also the state.  [The nature of the state and the ruling class is not by any means agreed upon by all Marxists. I may go into this in another post later.]  But that’s not how we’ve come to understand the concept these days, at least not entirely.  

Nowadays, we consider privatization as the simple movement of assets from the government to ‘private enterprise’ or business as in the case of the privatization of prisons.  The transfer of public land, formerly ‘tree farm licenses’ (TFLs) to business corporations is another example.  That kind of activity is proceeding apace.  Harper is smacking his lips, there’s so much potential here and, believe me, we’re nowhere near seeing the end of it.  But that’s not the whole story.

Essentially, capital is capital and it does not have to be concentrated in the ruling class, in the hands of a few, so to speak.  It can and will be collectively controlled according to Marx.  The irony for ruling classes throughout history has been that the more wealth gets concentrated in their hands, the harder it is for them to continue to accumulate capital. The margins get smaller and smaller the greater the concentration becomes.  Where are we now?

Well, the concentration of capital is proceeding apace globally.  Apple, my favourite computer company, has so much capital (in the form of cash) that it has to seriously consider what to do with it.  It’s giving a lot to shareholders.  It could lower its prices or pay its workers more in the sweatshops they work in all over the globe, but that would just be wrong…it would not be keeping the wealth in the right hands.