Hiding the Real Number of Unemployed

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Your government believes that exhausting your unemployment benefits is a cause for celebration — because you are no longer unemployed!

Huh? Well, there is a slight of hand here. Only working people who are receiving unemployment benefits are counted as “unemployed” in official statistics issued by countries around the world. Thus the actual unemployment rates are much higher than the “official” rates, generally about twice as high. Most governments make it difficult to find the actual rate, and the corporate media does its part by reporting the official rate as if that includes everybody.

Then there is the matter of how much of a given national population is actually engaged in paid employment, another useful number difficult to discover. Finally, we can consider wages, both how fast they might be rising as compared to inflation and whether they are increasing in concert with increases in productivity.

To cut to the chase, things ain’t so hot. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Let’s start our global survey with the United States, where, contrary to expectations, the real unemployment figure is easier to discover that most other places. Perhaps the Trump régime hasn’t gotten around to suppressing it, busy as it is hiding scientific evidence about global warming, pollution and other inconvenient facts. The official U.S. unemployment rate for May was reported as 3.8 percent, the lowest it has been in several years, and less than half of what it was during the post-2008 economic collapse. Predictably, the Trump administration was quick to take credit, although the trend of falling employment has carried on for eight years now.

Nonetheless, you might have noticed that happy days aren’t exactly here again. The real U.S. unemployment figure — all who are counted as unemployed in the “official” rate, plus discouraged workers, the total of those employed part-time but not able to secure full-time work and all persons marginally attached to the labor force (those who wish to work but have given up) — is 7.6 percent. (This is the “U-6” rate.) That total, too, is less than half of its 2010 peak and is the lowest in several years. But this still doesn’t mean the number of people actually working is increasing.

Fewer people at work and they are making less

A better indication of how many people have found work is the “civilian labor force participation rate.” By this measure, which includes all people age 16 or older who are not in prison or a mental institution, only 62.7 percent of the potential U.S. workforce was actually in the workforce in May, and that was slightly lower than the previous month. This is just about equal to the lowest this statistic has been since the breakdown of Keynesianism in the 1970s, and down significantly from the peak of 67.3 percent in May 2000. You have to go back to the mid-1970s to find a time when U.S. labor participation was lower. This number was consistently lower in the 1950s and 1960s, but in those days one income was sufficient to support a family. Now everybody works and still can’t make ends meet.

And that brings us to the topic of wages. After reaching a peak of 52 percent in 1969, the percentage of the U.S. gross domestic product going to wages has fallen to 43 percent, according to research by the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve. The amount of GDP going to wages during the past five years has been the lowest it has been since 1929, according to a New York Times report. And within the inequality of wages that don’t keep up with inflation or productivity gains, the worse-off are doing worse.

The Economic Policy Institute noted, “From 2000 to 2017, wage growth was strongest for the highest-wage workers, continuing the trend in rising wage inequality over the last four decades.” The strongest wage growth was for those in the top 10 percent of earnings, which skewed the results sufficiently that the median wage increase for 2017 was a paltry 0.2 percent, the EPI reports. Inflation may have been low, but it wasn’t as low as that — the typical U.S. worker thus suffered a de facto wage decrease last year.

What this sobering news tells us is that good-paying jobs are hard to come by. An EPI researcher, Elise Gould, wrote:

“Slow wage growth tells us that employers continue to hold the cards, and don’t have to offer higher wages to attract workers. In other words, workers have very little leverage to bid up their wages. Slow wage growth is evidence that employers and workers both know there are still workers waiting in the wings ready to take a job, even if they aren’t actively looking for one.”

The true unemployment rates in Canada and Europe

We find similar patterns elsewhere. In Canada, the official unemployment rate held at 5.8 percent in April, the lowest it has been since 1976, although there was a slight decrease in the number of people working in March, mainly due to job losses in wholesale and retail trade and construction. What is the actual unemployment rate? According to Statistics Canada’s R8 figure, it is 8.6 percent. The R8 counts count people in part-time work, including those wanting full-time work, as “full-time equivalents,” thus underestimating the number of under-employed.

At the end of 2012, the R8 figure was 9.4 percent, but an analysis published by The Globe and Mail analyzing unemployment estimated the true unemployment rate for that year to be 14.2 percent. If the current statistical miscalculation is proportionate, then the true Canadian unemployment rate currently must be north of 13 percent. “[T]he narrow scope of the Canadian measure significantly understates labour underutilization,” the Globe and Mail analysis conclude.

Similar to its southern neighbor, Canada’s labor force participation rate has steadily declined, falling to 65.4 percent in April 2018 from a high of 67.7 percent in 2003.

The most recent official unemployment figure in Britain 4.2 percent. The true figure is rather higher. How much higher is difficult to determine, but a September 2012 report by Sheffield Hallam University found that the total number of unemployed in Britain was more than 3.4 million in April of that year although the Labour Force Survey, from which official unemployment statistics are derived, reported only 2.5 million. So if we assume a similar ratio, then the true rate of unemployment across the United Kingdom is about 5.7 percent.

The European Union reported an official unemployment rate of 7.1 percent (with Greece having the highest total at 20.8 percent). The EU’s Eurostat service doesn’t provide an equivalent of a U.S. U-6 or a Canadian R8, but does separately provide totals for under-employed part-time workers and “potential additional labour force”; adding these two would effectively double the true EU rate of unemployed and so the actual figure must be about 14 percent.

Australia’s official seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 5.6 percent, according to the country’s Bureau of Statistics. The statistic that would provide a more realistic measure, the “extended labour force under-utilisation” figure, seems to be well hidden. The most recent figure that could be found was for February 2017, when the rate was given as 15.4 percent. As the “official” unemployment rate at the time was 5.8 percent, it is reasonable to conclude that the real Australian unemployment rate is currently above 15 percent.

Mirroring the pattern in North America, global employment is on the decline. The International Labour Organization estimated the world labor force participation rate as 61.9 percent for 2017, a steady decline from the 65.7 percent estimated for 1990.

Stagnant wages despite productivity growth around the world

Concomitant with the high numbers of people worldwide who don’t have proper employment is the stagnation of wages. Across North America and Europe, productivity is rising much faster than wages. A 2017 study found that across those regions median real wage growth since the mid-1980s has not kept pace with labor productivity growth.

Not surprisingly, the United States had the largest gap between wages and productivity. Germany was second in this category, perhaps not surprising, either, because German workers have suffered a long period of wage cuts (adjusted for inflation) since the Social Democratic Party codified austerity by instituting Gerhard Schröder’s “Agenda 2010” legislation. Despite this disparity, the U.S. Federal Reserve issued a report in 2015 declaring the problem of economic weakness is due to wages not falling enough. Yes, the Fed believes your wages are too high.

The lag of wages as compared to rising productivity is an ongoing global phenomenon. A separate statistical analysis from earlier this decade also demonstrated this pattern for working people in Canada, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Japan. Workers in both Canada and the United States take home hundreds of dollars less per week than they would if wages had kept up with productivity gains.

In an era of runaway corporate globalization, there is ever more precarity. On a global scale, having regular employment is actually unusual. Using International Labour Organization figures as a starting point, John Bellamy Foster and Robert McChesney calculate that the “global reserve army of labor” — workers who are underemployed, unemployed or “vulnerably employed” (including informal workers) — totals 2.4 billion. In contrast, the world’s wage workers total 1.4 billion. Writing in their book The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China, they write:

“It is the existence of a reserve army that in its maximum extent is more than 70 percent larger than the active labor army that serves to restrain wages globally, and particularly in poorer countries. Indeed, most of this reserve army is located in the underdeveloped countries of the world, though its growth can be seen today in the rich countries as well.” [page 145]

Having conquered virtually every corner of the globe and with nowhere left to expand into nor new markets to take, capitalists will continue to cut costs — in the first place, wages and benefits — in their ceaseless scrambles to sustain their accustomed profits. There is no reform that can permanently alter this relentless internal logic of capitalism. Although she was premature, Rosa Luxemburg’s forecast of socialism or barbarism draws nearer.

By Pete Dolack/Counterpunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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3 Cheers for Capitalism: #MeToo Swimsuits, Girl Scout Cookies at Pot Shops, and Jimmy Buffet Not Begging For Food If you ever wondered why free enterprise and capitalism triumphed over command economies and communism, I’ve got some answers right here.

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Last fall, Katherine Mangu-Ward and I participated in a widely attended and watched debate about “capitalism” with the socialist editors of Jacobin magazine (you can watch it right here and you can listen as a podcast). Actually, to be fully accurate, I should say the Jacobin folks thought we were debating late capitalism.

That’s the preferred term to describe what the hard left believes are the final days of private property, free enterprise, wage labor, and all the epiphenomena related to what Marx called capitalism. I first encountered late capitalism (the phrase, not the supposed objective reality) when I started graduate school for literary studies in 1988. Almost everyone assumed that the Cold War would be resolved in favor of the Soviets and communism. When that turned out to be way off, many academics switched to using advanced capitalism, which got most of the opprobrium across without betraying too much teleological optimism.

When the Great Recession hit, late capitalism came back into vogue. Finally, markets and economies were collapsing all around the globe, comrades! And yet…here we are, a decade or so later and capitalism is still doing pretty well. To be sure, it’s nowhere near perfect, but what economic historian (and Reason contributing editor) Deirdre McCloskey calls “the Great Enrichment” proceeds apace, with fewer and fewer people living in what the U.N. calls “extreme poverty.” As everyone except Pope Francis will tell you, that’s because of free-er trade and more (not fewer) markets. As Ronald Bailey has documented, higher levels of economic freedom correlate strongly with longer lives, less disease, better environmental indicators, and even higher rates of life satisfaction.

Communists, socialists, progressives, and critics ranging from Fredric Jameson to Bernie Sanders to Thomas Frank to Naomi Klein to Hans Magnus Enzenberger continue to marvel at and grouse about the ways in which capitalism “absorbs” economic and philosophical challenges, “commodifies” them, and then keeps on truckin’. Capitalism’s genius, it turns out, is a form of repressive tolerance that, as economist Joseph Schumpeter observed, brought more and more stuff to more and more people. “The capitalist achievement,” he wrote, “does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens but in bringing them within reach of factory girls.”

Or, to put it in slightly different terms, capitalism allows more people to express themselves through work and live relatively high on the hog. Which brings to me three examples torn from today’s headlines that show why capitalism persists—and why that’s not a bad thing at all.

1. Sports Illustrated’s #MeToo Swimsuit issue. What do you do with a classically sexist excresence of capitalism such as Sports Illustrated‘s annual “swimsuit issue” in an era of heightened sensitivity? You commodify your dissent (“SI swimsuit models celebrate more than just their bodies”), even if that means devoting pages to women wearing no bathing suits at all:

2. “Girl Scout sells 300 boxes of cookies outside pot dispensary.” Well, of course she did! The nine-year-old entrepreneur, who isn’t being named, sold about 50 boxes an hour by showing up outside a San Diego pot store, according to her father. And to its credit, the Girl Scouts organization is cool with it all.

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FFS, even communists are getting with the program: Young Pioneer Tours, a company that takes its name from (mandatory) youth groups in Russia, China, Cuba, and elsewhere, markets its trips to the former Soviet Union, North Korea, and elsewhere as “group tours for people who hate groups.”

WikipediaWikipedia3. Awful musician Jimmy Buffett is not only not living hand-to-mouth, but is insanely wealthy. If you’re lucky, you only know one song by the bard of “parrotheads,” 1977’s ode to alcoholism, “Margaritaville.” Better yet, you know no songs by Buffett, whom, as Eric Cartman observes in a South Park episode, “nobody likes…except frat boys and alcoholic chicks from the South.” As The New York Times reports, though, Buffett is worth around $550 million and presides over a growing empire of bars and casinos, has a Broadway show based on his music, and owns more houses than he can keep track of (though it goes unmentioned, Buffett is also a prolific author). Under what other economic system could something like this happen without pillage and plunder? Although I call him an “awful musician” (hey, I’ve listened to Last Mango in Paris) one of the things that is great about capitalism is that my tastes (or yours, for that matter) don’t get to dictate anything other than what I consume. Capitalism is the application of classical liberal principles to economics, so pluralism and diversity are the rule, not the exception. People who like Jimmy Buffett can dine at Margaritaville restaurants, catch his show on Broadway, and read his books. And the rest of can avoid him like the plague. That’s an outcome all of us should be able and willing to live with.

So three cheers for capitalism, which enables free expression, social and commercial innovation, and generally rising standards of living. It’s not perfect, but it beats the alternatives.

By Nick Gillespie/Reason

Posted by The NON-Conformist

5 Big Myths Sold by the Defenders of Capitalism Our dominant economic system causes too many Americans too much pain.

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I’ve been writing about the economic and environmental realities of marginalized communities for some time, primarily from the perspective of positive systems that are growing to support disenfranchised people. Many of these alternative economic networks, such as barter and time trade, are born out of necessity. As I explore these economies and some of the new ways communities are fostering and investing in health and growth, I am increasingly met by the same arguments against them—and every single one of these arguments is a myth. Capitalism is, at its core, an entrenched system of addiction, whose very root is the greed of over-consumption, whether it’s food, sex, money, mouse clicks, or property.

Here are five myths people continue to promote that we’ll all be better off without.

1. Myth: Jobs Will Save Us!

Permits to pollute and tax breaks are just two of the things corporations receive when they promise jobs to local populations. In a city like Detroit, which has struggled for decades with unemployment and economic decay, oil companies, real estate moguls and sports teams have all offered jobs in exchange for getting something big in return. At the end of the day, the promised jobs aren’t necessarily fulfilled. The rich get richer while the poor fund corporate projects, die from corporate pollution or end up on welfare because they never got the jobs promised in the first place.

Yet politicians love to promise jobs—Trump ran on a jobs platform. But there’s a problem with that: People are infantilized to the point of not being able to support themselves or their families any other way but having a job. It creates a paternalistic mentality that everyone needs a big corporation to take care of them.

If you could hunt, fish, grow your own food, build your own house and have your own clean water source, would you really need a job to go to every day? Today, the basics of sustenance are heavily regulated and placed out of reach, even for the indigenous societies that relied on their way of life for thousands of years.

In our society, jobs are important. How else does one pay for gas, electricity, water, sewerage, and internet? And certainly there are lots of amazing jobs that support society that we absolutely do need. But when a politician pledges to bring jobs back to coal country, and the masses applaud and the coastal elites sneer when the jobs go undelivered, we have a problem.

The truth is, jobs will not save coal country. But what can save the people and places with mass numbers of unemployed are new systems that build people up rather than breaking them down: Educating people to be be self-sufficient and contribute to community and offset taxes would be a better use of taxpayer dollars than a new arena or factories polluting with impunity.

What we need aren’t jobs, but opportunities to identify what we can contribute to our communities, and learn and develop those skills to the best of our abilities, not just for our communities, but for ourselves and our families. A job that a machine can do isn’t the future. The future is in developing human potential. Every minute and dollar spent on the jobs myth is a minute wasted and stolen from that much-needed development.

2. Myth: Brand Loyalty Over Small Businesses

You know it when you see it: Nike, Adidas, Apple, Polo. People identify by the logos they wear, and they’ll pay top dollar for that logo. But why pay top dollar to advertise a company you have no connection to? Brands should pay you for your loyalty, but unless you’re Instafamous, they don’t. For the hundreds you spend on a label, you could pay a local tailor or seamstress to make something tailored just for you. Retail doesn’t want you to do that, but why not give it a try? You might be surprised to find what replacing brand loyalty with real-world community loyalty can bring you.

3. Myth: Trickledown Economics Works

We’ve been talking about this issue as long as I can remember, and it still doesn’t work. Just because the rich received a special tax break that will make them exponentially richer does not mean they will spend any money on you, or contribute anything healthy or beneficial to any community other than their own. Isn’t that what “A Christmas Carol” was all about? That the only way the wealthy will ever share their wealth is if they are terrorized by ghosts? Believing in the benevolent goodness of the super-rich is one of the most perverse things we do in the U.S., and perhaps it’s rooted in the myth that you, too, can one day be wealthy.

4. Myth: Pull Yourself up by Your Bootstraps

The myth that if you just work hard enough you will one day be rich is a pervasive idea in the United States. This myth relies on the absence of inherited wealth and ignores the grievous injustices often committed in creating that wealth, and denies racism, marginalization and generational disenfranchisement. Yet people continue to preach it as gospel. The exceptions are held up as rules, without a close examination of how those folks got to where they are. No one in this world makes it to the top alone, and the lower one is on the ladder, the harder it is to get to the top—especially when the structure is the ladder of capitalism. Make the system a jungle gym, and have the community work together to navigate it, and see how much more successful and happy everyone can be.

5. Myth: Everyone Is Free in a Capitalist Society

In an age of clicks, sponsored content and fake news, it’s sometimes hard to tell capitalism from freedom. After all, capitalism is marketed to you every day as freedom, on television, social media and even NPR. But capitalism doesn’t equate freedom. Look at the prison industrial complex or the number of people going to debtors prison for unaffordable and unpaid civil infractions. Look at the nearly 20,000 households in Detroit that had their water shut off just this year as a result of unpaid water bills. Look at the homelessness created by bad mortgages from which lenders continue to profit. Capitalism in each of these cases isn’t promoting freedom, but robbing freedom from millions of Americans who could, in another time and under a humane system of economic governance, might prosper in communities they are able to contribute to and benefit from.

Capitalism is fueled by many more myths than just these. But these five might be nice places to start disassembling the dominant economic system that is causing too many Americans pain.

By Valerie Vande Panne / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Plunder Capitalism

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I deplore the tax cut that has passed Congress.  It is not an economic policy tax cut, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with supply-side economics.  The entire purpose is to raise equity prices by providing equity owners with more capital gains and dividends. In other words, it is legislation that makes equity owners richer, thus further polarizing society into a vast arena of poverty and near-poverty and the One Percent, or more precisely a fraction of the One Percent wallowing in billions of dollars.  Unless our rulers can continue to control the explanations, the tax cut edges us closer to revolution resulting from complete distrust of government.

The current tax legislation drops the corporate tax rate to 20%.  This means that global corporations registered in the US will be taxed at a lower income tax rate than a licensed practical nurse making $50,000 per year.  The nurse, if single, faces in 2017 a 25% marginal tax rate on all income over $37,950.

A single person is taxed at a rate of 33% on all income above $191,651.  33% was the top tax rate extracted from medieval serfs, and approaches the tax rate on US 19th century slaves. Such an upper middle class income as $191,651 sounds extraordinary to most Americans, but it is so far from the multi-million dollar annual incomes of the rich as to be invisible.  In America, it is the shrinking middle and upper middle class incomes that bear the burden of income taxation.  The rich with their capital gains from their equity holdings are taxed at 15%.

Even single individuals who earn between $1 and $9,325 are taxed at 10% on their pittance.

The neoliberal economists who are the shills for the rich, Wall Street, and the Banks-Too-Big-Too-Fail claim, erroneously, that by cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20% all sorts of offshored profits will be brought back to the US and lead to a booming economy and higher wages.  This is absolute total nonsense.  The money won’t come back, because it is invested abroad where labor costs are lower, if invested at all instead of buying back the corporation’s stock or buying other existing companies.  After 20 years of offshoring US manufacturing and professional tradable skills and the incomes associated with the jobs, who is going to invest in America?  The American population has no income with which to purchase the goods and services from new investment, and the American population’s credit cards are maxed out.

All that is going to happen is that Wall Street will calculate the lower tax rate  into a higher equity price.  Wall Street can do this without any of the offshored earnings coming home.  Suddenly, everyone who owns equities will experience a boost in wealth, or the boost has already occurred in anticipation of the handout.

The deficit-conscious Republicans have put into the Bill for Enhancement of the Rich’s Wealth, cuts in social services in order to “save workers from higher interest rates from budget deficits.”  This is more dishonesty.  If the Fed lets real interest rates rise to any meaningful amount, derivatives will unwind, and the Fed will have to create trillions more in new dollars to keep its Ponzi scheme in place. The deficit that results from the tax cut will be covered by the Fed purchasing the Treasuries, not by a rise in interest rates.

What we are witnessing in the US and indeed throughout the western world is the total failure of capitalism.  Capitalism is now merely a looting machine. The financial sector no longer supplies capital for production.  What the financial sector does is to turn discretionary consumer income into interest and fee payments to banks.  Aggregate demand can only grow through debt expansion, and the consumers reach a point where they cannot expand their debt.

Capitalism, hiding behind “globalism,” which is misrepresented as a good thing when it is death itself, locates production where labor is cheapest, thus depriving First World labor of good wages and work opportunities and putting First World countries  on the path to becoming Third World countries.  Short-term profits and executive and board bonuses and stock options are maximized at the cost of the destruction of the domestic consumer market.

Plunder Capitalism also privatizes as much of the public sector, such as the military, as possible, thus driving up the cost of the Pentagon’s budget.  Jobs that the soldiers themselves formerly did are given to politically-connected firms.  What was once KP (kitchen patrol) is now provided by an ouside private service. Private mercenaries hired by the Pentagon collect as much in a month as troops in the line of fire earn in a year.  I don’t know that the army any longer has  a supply organization other than the private business that has the contract.

Medicare and Medicaid are the next to be privatized, along with Social Security.  The tax cut will result in deficit and high interest rate hype, and these lies will be used to save the workers from high interest rates on their mortgage, credit card, and student loan debt by scaling back or privatizing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The environment and public lands will be sacrificed to the private profits of timber, mining, and energy companies.  Grizzly bears and wolves are losing their protection under the endangered species act so that states can sell trophy hunting licenses to men who have to prove their manhood by killing an animal with a high-powerful rifle at a safe distance.

What we are witnessing is the complete looting of America and the entirety of the West.  While the Western World collapses, the insouciant, submissive people sit there sucking their thumbs while they are being ruined.

Nothing is left of the West except looters at work.

This tax bill is an abomination, an act of brutal plunder.  Its sponsors should be tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail, if not hung from a lamp post.

by PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

American Hyper-Capitalism Breeds the Lonely, Alienated Men Who Become Mass Killers Despair, rage and lack of human connection among white men are key culprits in America’s mass shooting epidemic.

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Economically, he was one of the growing millions without a secure, meaningful, socially approved, well-paid job. He had previously amassed money by buying and selling real estate, but had no ongoing job. He lacked the relationships that flow from working with others to accomplish a shared goal where each person has a part to play. The stability of a daily job and the people to whom that job connects you are bulwarks against loneliness and mental instability.

Stephen Paddock’s last family contact was with one of his brothers whom he telephoned three years before the shooting. He had not contacted other family members for 20 years. He and his live-in girlfriend kept their blinds closed. They socialized with no one.

Paddock had been told throughout his life that the U.S. was a special place, an exceptional place. Each generation, if its members studied and worked hard, would live better than the one before. Progress and prosperity awaited him. He would raise a family and provide his wife and children with more than had been provided to him and to his family of origin. Both of his marriages soon ended in divorce.

As millions of secure jobs disappeared, especially after the 1970s, Paddock became unemployed often for long periods. He became a real estate dealer buying and selling buildings for profit. He amassed some wealth, an American dream most men do not achieve, but it did not connect him to other human beings. Paddock had failed to achieve the promised dream of the connections and family that money was supposed to accompany. He lost his moorings.

Even when he managed an activity that brought him money, it tended to be in areas not associated with hard work in connection with others. From making money speculating in real estate he moved on to solitary gambling at casinos. He had no place in the socially approved work and life images he had grown up to value, expect and seek as markers of his success as a human being.

Mental health can be likened to a table resting on four legs. One leg is an intimate relationship with a partner, friend or relative to whom one can intimately connect when the need arises. A second leg is a wider circle of people with whom one shares friendly connections. They may be work colleagues or a circle of casual friends or relatives whose company you enjoy. It may even be close Facebook friends, but you see them less frequently than your intimate connection(s). A third leg is a group to which you connect in a limited but shared activity. That may be a team sport, a volunteer effort, a PTA, or political organization whose members develop the solidarity of working together. A fourth leg is connection to one’s nation and the world through political activity, engagement with media covering major current events, and sharing opinions, ideas or petitions online. A table can be sturdy and stable with at least three strong legs, but only two or one does not suffice.

Americans have become frighteningly disconnected and alone. There are fewer Americans active in any group than there were in bowling leagues alone in 1970. The many millions of loners accumulating in the U.S. since the ’70s tend to experience and define their disconnection as personal. Many think it is their fault that they cannot occupy a happy place of connection in the America they imagine is still there. They imagine that other people continue to find ways to connect. They feel adrift. They can come to resent those from whom they are slipping away.

American white men once received two wage supplements in what was a sexist and racist labor market. One wage supplement was for whiteness and the other for maleness. With the resulting “family wage” generally paid to white men, they could support a woman working full time at home, providing full maid service, sexual labor, child care, and the emotional labor of making social connections to engage the whole family with friends and relatives. With white men’s family wage now largely gone, most women are now employed outside the home. They cannot, in addition, do all the housework, childcare, etc., that they did before. They want their men to share emotional and domestic burdens in the home. Yet many men want extra services at home to compensate them for their lower pay and lower status outside the home. Household tensions rise. Women are abandoning those men who cannot support them yet still demand a range of household services that employed women cannot and do not want to perform. American white men have been disempowered. They are hurting.

The family wage for white men evaporated as modern jet travel and telecommunications enabled U.S. capitalists to relocate production overseas where wages are much lower. Simultaneously, computers enabled an intensification of automation. Capitalists stopped worrying about living, no less family, wages, safety standards, benefits, or ecological safety measures. Where once capitalist profit-seeking produced a family wage, post-1970s profit-seeking took it away.

Gender plays its own role in white men’s pain and their coping mechanisms. Men’s emotions are constrained. They have to “man up” even in the face of devastating, real losses. Sex remains a key need allowed both for and within a widespread male stereotype. Likewise, anger remains an emotion permitted and often celebrated as manly and powerful.

Many men look to recoup their lost powers. They become especially vulnerable to advertisements for products promoted as conveying power. Nothing illustrates this better than some ads for Bushmaster automatic weapons. They ask, “Does your wife or girlfriend make more money than you? Revoke your man card. Do you prefer tofu to meat? Revoke your man card.” After such questions, the Bushmaster automatic rifle is celebrated with the statement “Reinstate your man card.” That ad was pulled after many protested and after the Bushmaster was used by Adam Lanza in the Sandy Hook mass shooting that killed 20 elementary school children and six staff members.

In stark gender contrast, women often find primary feminine identity in close friendships with other women or in connection to relatives and children. Their identity allows a wide range of vulnerable needs and emotions. Women are far less frequent gun users. Women also do not appear on the roster of mass shootings.

Often, disempowered people—particularly white men—are tempted to search for and find scapegoats to blame for their disenfranchisement and loneliness. Cues from political leaders seeking votes can point them to certain social groups. For example, Trump and many Republicans make none too subtle negative comments about immigrants, women, minorities and a government they denounce for privileging those groups at the expense of white Americans, etc.

The liberal U.S. media often blame angry, disempowered white men and their spokespersons for being politically incorrect and boorish. Those media rarely if ever analyze the role of capitalism in denying white men their family wages and the American dream. Capitalism—the profit system—is thereby rendered innocent while angry white workers are deplorably prejudiced. Men versus women, white against non-white, immigrant against native: a divided mass of people (mostly employees) get caught up in conflicts as while capitalists accumulate wealth and capitalism evades criticism.

Americans do not have a mass party or organized voice to help people understand that capitalist profiteering motivated those who took their family wages and jobs. Many are thus left with hatred for other people. That seldom works to overcome or end loneliness.

Americans have found still other ways to cope with their loneliness and disconnection: they medicate themselves against personal pain with alcohol and painkilling drugs. Self-medicating is a now an epidemic. Fully 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2016. In this drug refuge, capitalist profit also shows its hand. Most U.S. drug deaths are caused either by opiates (natural substances like heroin) or opioids (synthetic painkillers like Oxycontin, Vicodin, Percocet and Fentanyl). Doctors are paid well to keep prescribing by the supremely profitable pharmaceutical industry. Alcohol is legal and also affords a personal escape from the misery of losing family wages. An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually. Food is also a comfort for loneliness. One in three American adults and at least one in ten U.S. children are obese. Loneliness is an epidemic in America.

Work is a central activity for most adults. The more speedup is installed by employers, the more employees are prevented from connecting at work. The less people are employed together, the lonelier they are. As the gig economy and part-time and temp work situations multiply, so does loneliness. Most men’s only emotionally close relationships are tied to their work or sex partnerships. With work relationships ever more fragile and temporary, much the same happens to sexual connections. Meanwhile, marriages are being undermined by that same erosion of the family wage. For the first time in U.S. history, a majority of people 35 and under are now unattached.

One out of four Americans has no one to talk to even in the worst emergencies. Most of those people are men. For deeply disconnected and resentful men, social norms can fade; angry shooting at random others becomes possible. This is an especially American phenomenon. In 2017 so far, we have had 152 mass shootings. No other developed nation has had anything remotely like that. Why? One reason is that all other developed nations have gun controls and none have an unchecked gun industry that relentlessly equates guns with manhood. Another reason is that other developed nations have powerful unions and political movements that direct people’s anger about the pain in their lives toward its social causes and especially the inequality and instability of capitalist systems. They connect people to change those social and economic conditions together.

For 150 years from 1820 to 1970, every generation of families led by white men did better economically than the generation before them. Even in the Great Depression of the 1930s prices fell faster than wages; employed men even then earned more than their predecessors. That historical process of improvement stopped in the 1970s. The belief in American exceptionalism did not stop with the changed reality. That left American white men with self-blame for their economic difficulties and the resulting psychic pains. Worse still, it left them with the idea that they could individually overcome their intolerable situations.

What we need in order to stop the carnage of mass shootings is a social movement that articulates a social analysis of America’s problems and is unafraid to put the capitalist system at the core of those problems. We also need a social movement committed to social changes that include going beyond the capitalist system. If people could join together, face that their lives are plundered in order for capitalists to increase profit, and face that gender stereotypes distort our shared humanity, then together we can change the conditions of despair, rage, and loneliness that generate mass shootings.

By Harriet Fraad, Richard D. Wolff / AlterNet

Posted by The NON-Conformist

Capitalism, the State and the Drowning of America

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As Hurricane Harvey lashed Texas, Naomi Klein wasted no time in diagnosing the “real root causes” behind the disaster, indicting “climate pollution, systemic racism, underfunding of social services, and overfunding of police.” A day after her essay appeared, George Monbiot argued that no one wants to ask the tough questions about the coastal flooding spawned during Hurricane Harvey because to do so would be to challenge capitalism—a system wedded to “perpetual growth on a finite planet”—and call into question the very foundations of “the entire political and economic system.”

Of the two choices, I vote for Monbiot’s interpretation. Nearly forty years ago, the historian Donald Worster in his classic study of one of the worst natural disasters in world history, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, wrote that capitalism, which he understood as an economic culture founded on maximizing imperatives and a determination to treat nature as a form of capital, “has been the decisive factor in this nation’s use of nature.”

Care must be taken not to imagine capitalism as a timeless phenomenon. Capitalism has a history and that history is important if we are to properly diagnose what happened recently in Texas and is about to happen as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida. What we need to understand is how capitalism has managed to reproduce itself since the Great Depression, but in a way that has put enormous numbers of people and tremendous amounts of property in harm’s way along the stretch from Texas to New England.

The production of risk began during the era of what is sometimes called regulated capitalism between the 1930s and the early 1970s. This form of capitalism with a “human face” involved state intervention to ensure a modicum of economic freedom but it also led the federal government to undertake sweeping efforts to control nature. The motives may well have seemed pure. But the efforts to control the natural world, though they worked in the near term, are beginning to seem inadequate to the new world we currently inhabit. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built reservoirs to control floods in Houston just as it built other water-control structures during the same period in New Orleans and South Florida. These sweeping water-control exploits laid the groundwork for massive real estate development in the post–World War II era.

All along the coast from Texas to New York and beyond developers plowed under wetlands to make way for more building and more impervious ground cover. But the development at the expense of marsh and water could never have happened on the scale it did without the help of the American state. Ruinous flooding of Houston in 1929 and 1935 compelled the Corps of Engineers to build the Addicks and Barker Dams. The dams combined with a massive network of channels—extending today to over 2,000 miles—to carry water off the land, and allowed Houston, which has famously eschewed zoning, to boom during the postwar era.

The same story unfolded in South Florida. A 1947 hurricane caused the worst coastal flooding in a generation and precipitated federal intervention in the form of the Central and Southern Florida Project. Again, the Corps of Engineers set to work transforming the land. Eventually a system of canals that if laid end to end would extend all the way from New York City to Las Vegas crisscrossed the southern part of the peninsula. Life for the more than five million people who live in between Orlando and Florida Bay would be unimaginable without this unparalleled exercise in the control of nature.

It is not simply that developers bulldozed wetlands with reckless abandon in the postwar period. The American state paved the way for that development by underwriting private accumulation.

Concrete was the capitalist state’s favored medium. But as the floods
mounted in the 1960s, it turned to non-structural approaches meant to keep the sea at bay. The most famous program along these lines was the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) established in 1968, a liberal reform that grew out of the Great Society. The idea was that the federal government would oversee a subsidized insurance program for homeowners and in return state and local municipalities would impose regulations to keep people and property out of harm’s way.

At the same time that the U.S. government launched the NFIP, a Keynesian crisis that would extend over the course of the next decade and a half began to unfold. Declining corporate profits were brought on by rising wages, mounting class conflict, escalating competition from Japan and western Europe, and increased consumer and environmental regulation. The profit squeeze combined with stagflation and widespread fiscal problems to produce major economic dislocation.

A new form of capitalism began to slowly emerge as business responded to the crisis. Major institutional change occurred in the global economy, in the relationship between capital and labor, and most important for our concerns here, in the state’s role in economic life. In the early 1970s the Business Roundtable was established as a corporate lobbying group. Among its tasks was to undermine various forms of consumer and environmental regulation.

This was the context for the assault on the liberal flood insurance program. By the 1990s, under the Clinton Administration, the pretense of regulating land use on the local level was all but dismissed in favor of a policy that simply encouraged localities to do the right thing to ensure the safety of people and property. It is not an accident that one of the worst-hit developments in Houston—southern Kingwood—was built in the last years of the twentieth century and the aughts right in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s designated 100-year floodplain.

Nor is there anything the least bit natural in how cities in the postwar United States have functioned as profitable sites for capital accumulation. Developers have been able to derive profits from capitalist urbanization in coastal locations because of what was effectively a giant subsidy by the American state.

Flirtation with disaster is in a sense the essence of neoliberal capitalism, a hyperactive form of this exploitative economic order that seems to know no limits. Some might find comfort in the words of Alexander Cockburn: “A capitalism that thrives best on the abnormal, on disasters, is by definition in decline.”

Others, myself included, worry that the current organization of this market economy to benefit the interests of capitalists, with its blind, utopian faith in the price mechanism, is likely to head in precisely the direction that the economic historian Karl Polanyi predicted in 1944. An institutional arrangement organized around a “self-adjusting market,” he warned, “could not exist for any length of time without annihilating the human and natural substance of society; it would have physically destroyed man and transformed his surroundings into a wilderness.”

Capitalism and Its Discontents: What Are We Living For?

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Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism.

— Max Horkheimer, from the essay “The Jews and Europe”, December 1939

Aren’t we all tired of capitalism? Haven’t most of us gotten sick of the drudgery, the monotony, the exploitation, sucking up to our bosses and management who pretend to care about the average worker? The drive to consume more and more has degraded all art, values, and sense of community in the US.

Capitalists literally are holding the people of the Earth in bondage. As liberal democracy crumbles in the West, the risk of neo-fascism continues to rise in North America and Europe.

It’s worth examining why the US has TV shows like “Hoarders”, where truly sick people have problems collecting useless crap, and where viewers publicly shame and judge the afflicted. Yet, where is the outrage at the real hoarders, the billionaires, the banks, and the military industrial complex? This is serious hypocrisy, a cultural blind spot: a double standard that is not being addressed by our society.

Capitalists are Addicts

Why does society not ask arch-capitalists the obvious questions: when is enough, enough? Who needs a billion dollars? Once you can provide a comfortable life for your family, children, and grandchildren, what is the point of hoarding your money in bank accounts and lording over a monopolizing mega-corporation? Where does this endless desire for more come from?

It’s fairly obvious that a failure to confront death is closely linked to the bottomless appetite exhibited by capitalists. The perceived need to construct towers, monuments, mansions, and manufactured narratives of their own greatness is proof. Not to mention how many of the super-rich have chosen to become cryogenically frozen post-mortem: this is in outright denial of their own mortality, and the necessity of death so that future generations may live.

In failing to confront death, any object can be used as a crutch, an addiction. Addiction is linked to social isolation and lack of community, which the capitalist class creates by artificially creating specialized divisions of labor, alienation, and class differences.

Addiction leads to a disconnection from what some would call a “reality principle”, leading to further and deeper indulgences and lack of restraint. There are further similarities between capitalists and drug addicts: the impatience, the disconnection from others, the neediness, as well as a general childlike need to be validated and pampered.

Methodology and Treatment in an Age of Insanity

We see where capitalism leads: to a permanent crisis, a never-ending state of emergency. Since the 1970s, workers have increased productivity mightily with little to zero increases in wages considering inflation and other factors. Americans are also working longer hours; young adults are even having less sex partly because of this. There is a huge problem with prescription drug abuse (not just opioids), teen suicide is rising (sadly, at a 40 year high for teen girls in 2017), and child poverty isn’t being addressed properly, if at all, by our own government.

All of these absolutely tragic issues are connected to capitalism. When we are forced to compete against each other, in grades at school, for that raise or promotion in the workplace, this breeds a mindset of dehumanization.

I would also posit that the separation of young children from their parents when they begin schooling, either day care or pre-school or kindergarten or afterwards, is one of the first steps in life where the feelings of individual atomization starts, and collective social disintegration begins. Being ripped from your parent’s arms because they have to work just to survive, and the state/private/charter school substituting for the role of a parent, is one of the first deep tragedies inflicted on many of us by the “needs” of the modern world. I believe this suffering is lodged deep in our unconscious selves, and this is not being addressed publicly at all, and barely acknowledged in our private lives.

Treatment starts when we want to become free of the Great Beast of capitalism, the “Babylon system” as some like to call it. We must ground ourselves, and return to a deeper relationship with our mother Earth. Self-reliance is true freedom, and families and communities should begin to grow as much of their own food as possible. I understand the limitations for those in urban areas, or those stuck in jobs where time and effort cannot be adequately put towards farming, of course. Collectively, as a city block, a suburban neighborhood, a rural township, we are all going to have to learn to get together, share food and technology, and become independent of this beast. We must begin to develop a gift economy, an indigenous-based economy, based on reciprocity and trust, not exploitation and coercion, as Charles Eisenstein explains.

Other than that, a mass protest movement must be created so the resources that our federal government receives in taxes can be shifted from weapons of destruction to schools, health care, community projects, and renewable energy.

Analyzing a Popular Alternative

I believe it’s important to discuss some of the budding alternatives to capitalism that are developing around the globe. In the US, support for socialism has risen immensely, especially among the younger crowd, thanks to the work of Bernie Sanders (notwithstanding him not really being a socialist) and others. Yet how serious are most American socialists?

One of the most popular groups in the US is called Socialist Alternative (SA), led by the charismatic Seattle councilwoman Kshama Sawant. SA has some great ideas, and yet, some of their proposals make it seem as if they’re just going through the motions. Let me explain.

On their about page, a few things stand out. They write: “We see the global capitalist system as the root cause of the economic crisis, poverty, discrimination, war, and environmental destruction.” Very well put. Yet then, this is followed by the line below:

“As capitalism moves deeper into crisis, a new generation of workers and youth must join together to take the top 500 corporations into public ownership under democratic control to end the ruling elites’ global competition for profits and power.”

This sounds nice, but I wonder how much time was really spent thinking through the implications of this policy. What if democratic control only leads to redistribution of the companies’ wealth, and not fundamental transformation of the products, resource usage, and dangerous working conditions?  Where is the sense of urgency, the fact that deadlines are being approached regarding global warming, regarding the ecological damage being done by these companies?

One wonders, has SA bothered to take a look at the list of the 500 top companies? For some, perhaps they can be repurposed to make sustainable products. For others, maybe the factories and warehouses can be dismantled and recycled for public use. For a few, it might be feasible that they could be broken up into smaller entities and non-profit co-operatives.

Yet, we must realize that these companies have only been able to thrive due to government tax breaks, insider trading, off-shoring hidden wealth, and other financial chicanery. Further, these mega corporations rely on specialized division of labor, fueling worker alienation.

Also, the biggest companies choose not to compete against each other in entire sectors, allowing for large profit margins. What happens when “public ownership” leads to stricter competition and price wars, forcing many employees to be laid off? How will these companies be able to compete against Europe and China? Is SA committed to local and bio-regional approaches to agricultural and socially responsible industrial practices?

For many of these companies, though, the only democratic thing I can think of to do is to vote on who gets to throw the first brick or Molotov through the empty building. These corporations have done irreparable harm to the planet. Some of them are simply not going to be able to be reformed.

The only way to transform these entities (the ones that can be saved) properly, with the proper protections, would be to rewrite the constitution to include environmental and social rights, as well as the rights of mother Earth, as Bolivia has done. Without a legal framework based on ecology, there is no way to make sure “democratic control” of a transnational corporation would actually lead to environmentally-safe production.

SA is notable for fighting for a $15 an hour wage. First, I want to say that I support this policy. It is a laudable goal, and may work soon in some of the nations wealthy, tech-savvy, coastal metro enclaves.

Yet we need to ask what would happen if this were enacted nationally, and what we should do to prepare if it ever does. The elites would pull their money out of the system, if only to spite the Left and the socialists who enacted the policy, and give them a taste of pain for disobeying capitalism. The neoliberal economy is designed around low-wage service work, and is so tightly interwoven, not to mention extremely monopolized, that a sudden wage rise would lead to high levels of inflation, and possibly to a severe economic recession or depression. Are groups like SA ready to organize outside the political structure, to make space for a civic society, domestically and abroad, which will need massive influxes of resources, food, and housing when shit hits the fan?

SA also wants to “slash the military budget”, which is great. SA does not clarify where that new money should go. SA also proclaims that they support internationalism. Allow me to make a proposal: money from the military budget should be given away freely to developing countries, with transnational groups, either under UN auspices or some new framework, helping distribute and allocate resources so they are not wasted by corrupt dictators and governments. Poorer nations will need massive influxes of revenue to help them develop and avoid using fossil fuels and habitat-destroying industry, in the realm of trillions of dollars over decades. The West has accumulated ill-gotten wealth from centuries of colonialism, chattel slavery, and genocidal policies towards the “Global South”, and now may be the last chance to give back, before it becomes too late.

Are US socialists committed to these sorts of radical proposals? Are SA and others ready to admit to its followers that real socialism will involve hard sacrifices, and almost certainly (in the short term, at least) lead to less material goods and privileges that Westerners have enjoyed for centuries? Are socialists as ready to support a living wage in China as they are in the USA? Finally, are American socialists committed to transforming the nation, or just promoting an ideology that is centered too much on human needs, and not enough on the needs of non-humans and future human generations?

Ecocentrism, not Anthropocentrism

The Left has been fragmented for decades. Liberals, socialists, communists, greens, and anarchists have all endlessly debated future models for society. One wonders how many are just talking, and how many are willing to listen? There already are models for society to live sustainably and to prosper, very, very old ways: by following the paths set by the indigenous.

For instance: by living in the moment, and observing things as they really are, it becomes quite clear that humanity is facing huge challenges unlike at any other time in history. Just one hundred companies have pumped out 70% of worldwide greenhouse gases since 1988. Is the answer, as SA has posited, really just to democratize these corporations and hope for the best, or to shut them down completely?

Westerners are going to have to realize very quickly that despite our space technology, skyscrapers, and instant media, we are the children in the room when it comes to ecological knowledge, and the indigenous around the world are the adults. Native American tribes and various indigenous peoples worldwide have catalogued thousands if not tens of thousands of local plants in their local ecosystems, often with hundreds of different uses for each individual plant. Indigenous accept their own mortality and have constructed elaborate rituals, ceremonies, and initiations to help each other confront death. Also, and this is critical, indigenous tribes understand their carrying capacity in their local habitat, so are able to regulate and rationally plan for their population levels. Overpopulation now threatens the world with ecosystem degradation, habitat destruction, global warming, resource wars, ocean acidification, plastics proliferation, pandemics, and mass starvation and drought.

The indigenous are plant people, and we can follow just a few basic ideas to help us escape capitalism: conserve what remains of the South American, African, and Southeast Asian rainforests, as many future cures from disease and chronic conditions will be found there. In the Americas, the milpa, a planting of corn, beans, squash, and various nutrient rich veggies allows for huge crop productivity in a small area. We can use hemp and legalize cannabis to make biofuels, produce paper, make innovate building materials like Hempcrete, and provide the masses with a safe, relaxing herb for recreational, medicinal, and spiritual use. Advanced technology in most scenarios will only make things worse. What is the best thing one can do to stop global warming? Not a solar array, but planting a tree. Slow down soil erosion? Plant a tree. What is resistance? Planting a community garden is a more socialist, a more significant thing to do now than attending another symposium on Marxism.

The indigenous are freer and happier than Westerners not by some innate abilities, but because they have chosen to work for their freedom: by co-producing food, tools, clothes, pottery, by hunting, fishing, and foraging together. Westerners have refused to resist thus far, because deep down, many know they are dependent on the system for survival, and don’t want to pull that plug, to bite the hand that feeds. It’s the only way, though. We are going to have to walk away from all this, and activists, protestors, and concerned citizens are going to have to metaphorically step into our own Lacandon jungle, and organize around ecology, democracy, and social justice.

Yet, we must realize that it is too late in the game to rely simply on voting. Citizens will respond to a mass movement to the degree that it represents the will of the people: to the degree it can articulate a political truth on a deeply visceral level. Most mainstream socialists (important exceptions being Ian Angus, Paul Burkett, and John Bellamy Foster) have so far been too committed to a flailing, abstract ideology; specifically, wrongly committed to a Eurocentric, technocratic, anthropocentric worldview; to capture people’s imaginations. Developing an ecological worldview, one that acknowledges our interdependence and interconnectedness with all species, is crucial.

Thus, as the 21st century progresses, Standing Rock will eventually be seen as having more influence than Occupy Wall Street. We are connected to our planet and the web of life more than we can ever know or attempt to explain. For instance, we won’t end warfare until we abolish factory farming: the two are intimately linked, as exploitation of man over animal allows fascists the ideological justification for exploitation and the killing of man by man. Ecology is the keystone science: it allows us to see the linkages between species, food webs, and provides the science needed to develop scale-appropriate, sustainable technology. Ecologists understand that an injury to one is an injury to all, and under capitalism, we’ve all been wounded, plant, animal, and human alike, even the rich, who’ve suffered spiritual decay and moral disintegration.

The only democracy possible is an ecological democracy, with a long-term planning, and rational, sustainably-oriented national constitutions, a 90-95% reduction in fossil fuel use within a few decades at most, and an international consensus which will guarantee safeguards against habitat destruction, even in the face of democratic majority opposition. If we don’t face up to these facts, and collectively and courageously organize, we may, in fact, be due for the Kali Yuga, as the Hindus prophesied.

Thus, perhaps we can update and re-phrase Horkheimer’s famous quote for the 21st century:

“Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about the 6th mass extinction.”

By William Hawes/DissidentVoice

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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