Austerity kills

It is always worth making the effort to recognize that an unnecessary but not pointless austerity politics creates adverse and, sometimes, existential problems for those individuals without the means or power to solve their personal problems. These individuals can only suffer what they cannot avoid. Scot Rosenzweig of Allentown, PA confronted Pennsylvania Governor Corbett with this issue, forcing him to defend his support for his Healthy Pennsylvania project, derided by its critics as CorbettCare. Corbett notoriously refused to accept the greater Medicaid monies authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Corbett eventually proposed a plan that would limit the scope and efficacy of the health care provided by the state of Pennsylvania to its poorest citizens. Currently, thanks to Corbett’s ideologically motivated scheming, Pennsylvania has neither an expanded Medicaid program nor even the lesser CorbettCare. At least one death can be attributed to this lack:

Her death did not faze Corbett, however.

First Black President© to open Plantations!

A White House press release announced the good news:

For decades before the economic crisis, local communities were transformed as jobs were sent overseas and middle class Americans worked harder and harder but found it more difficult to get ahead.  Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zone Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  Today, the President announced the next step in those efforts by naming the first five “Promise Zones”.

The first five Zones, located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have each put forward a plan on how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity.  In exchange, these designees will receive the resources and flexibility they need to achieve their goals.

Each of these designees knows and has demonstrated that it takes a collaborative effort – between private business and federal, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents – to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

Good jobs for everyone? Well, no. The program is limited in scope (it does not include everyone in need) and lacks a living wage requirement (wages and benefits will reflect the labor market for unskilled labor). Is this welfare for the common man and woman? Again, no. The program will be formed around tax breaks, regulation suspensions and similar corporate welfare programs. The tacit goal is to create a government sponsored low-wage, low-regulation labor market in areas which suffer from a labor market surplus. The program is, in fact, a rehash of what were once called Urban Enterprise Zones. The Promise Zones are, plainly put, plantations, as Mike Whitney pointed out:

Plantations were a familiar feature of the antebellum South, but were abandoned following the Civil War. Now a new generation of corporate kleptocrats want to revive the tradition. They think that weakening consumer demand and persistent stagnation can only be overcome by skirting vital labor protections and shifting more of the cost of production onto workers. Obama’s promise zones provide a way for big business to slip the chains of “onerous” regulations and restore, what many CEO’s believe to be, the Natural Order, that is, a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog world where only the strongest and most cunning survive.

I wonder if Foxconnthe “we drive our employees to commit suicide” people — will open an Arbeitslager in the United States? They surely are the kind of company Obama wants to attract.

The PRC — A worker’s paradise

 

Quote of the day

John Stanton wrote:

The USA and European Union (EU) continue on their downward trajectory in the 14th year of 21st Century. The perpetual state of war against terror, drugs, immigrants, the press and whistle-blowers moves on uninhibited. Another war, this time named Austerity, is being waged by USA and EU leaders against the middle and lower classes. Youth are particularly hard hit with the average unemployment rate in the EU at 23 percent. In the USA the figure is 17 percent according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But never mind that.

Cutting benefits, or, rather, throwing people away, will reduce the unemployment rate and that’s good for the economy. Such is the mindset of the financier class as reflected in the comments of Joe LaVorgna, chief economist at Deutsch Bank. He noted that in the USA,  23 percent of the 1.5 million who are losing their unemployment benefits will simply exit the work force, and another 850,000, at the state level, would give up on trying to find employment. LaVorgna stated that the unemployment will drop to 6.7 percent. Yippie!

Stanton here seeming channels thoughts previously explored by Zygmunt Baumann and Loïc Wacquant. Bauman wrote (2003, p. 5) that:

The production of ‘human waste’, or more correctly wasted humans (the ‘excessive’ and ‘redundant’, that is population of those who either could not or were not wished to be recognized or allowed to stay) is an inevitable outcome of modernization, and an inescapable accompaniment of modernity. It is an inescapable side-effect of order building (each order casts some parts of the extant population as ‘out of place’, ‘unfit’ or ‘undesirable’) and economic progress (that cannot proceed without degrading and devaluating the previously effective modes of ‘making a living’ and therefore cannot but deprive their practitioners of their livelihood).

Wacquant wrote (2009, p. 303)

Punishing the Poor contends that it is not the generic “risks and anxieties” of “the open, porous, mobile society of strangers that is late modernity” that have fostered retaliation against lower-class categories perceived as undeserving and deviant types seen as irrecuperable, but the specific social insecurity generated by the fragmentation of wage labor, the hardening of class divisions, the erosion of the established ethnoracial hierarchy guaranteeing an effective monopoly over collective honor to whites in the United States (and to nationals in the European Union). The sudden expansion and consensual exaltation of the penal state after the mid-1970s is not a culturally reactionary reading of “late modernity,’ but a ruling-class response aiming to redefine the perimeter and missions of Leviathan, so as to establish a new economic regime based on capital hypermobility and labor flexibility and to curb the social turmoil generated at the foot of the urban order by the public policies of market deregulation and social welfare retrenchment that are the core building blocks of neoliberalism.

The jobless poor, the masterless men and women who live in slums, basements, shelters, tent cities and, of course, on the streets of many cities, are fated to confront a bitter death as ‘freemen’ and ‘women’ or as prisoners within the vast prison apparatus that has grown these last 50 years. They are, however, artifacts produced by capital. As such, they also comprise signs that point to the barbarism of the age. The goal of our governors: To remove them from a shared everyday life and render to them faceless.

Quote of the day

The Guardian reports that:

The White House is stepping up pressure on Congress to approve emergency measures that would reinstate payments to more than 1.3 million long-term unemployed Americans who saw their benefits cut three days after Christmas.

President Barack Obama’s chief internal economics adviser appeared on two Sunday talkshows to warn against failing to reintroduce payments for those who have been out of work for more than six months – while also indicating that the benefits programme could legitimately end when unemployment rates return to “normal”.

But, what if a 7% U-3 rate reflects a new norm? What if an austerity politics combines with long-term stagnation to produce a high-unemployment economy? Will America’s natural aristocrats move to secure the well-being of those Americans less fortunate than they are? Will they reinvigorate America’s welfare state?

I would not recommend holding one’s breath waiting for the aristocrats to move on this matter.

Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness for a Hundred Years

Stephen Zielinski:

Corey Robin nails it in his depiction of the collateral effects produced by neoliberal regimes like Obamacare. One may wonder why other countries can have single-payer health care systems while the United States generates a Rube Goldberg monstrosity? Well, Uncle Sam is exceptional, and Obamacare provides one more data point in the case proving his exceptional nature!

Originally posted on Corey Robin:

In yesterday’s New York Times, Robert Pear reports on a little known fact about Obamacare: the insurance packages available on the federal exchange have very high deductibles. Enticed by the low premiums, people find out that they’re screwed on the deductibles, and the co-pays, the out-of-network charges, and all the different words and ways the insurance companies have come up with to hide the fact that you’re paying through the nose.

For policies offered in the federal exchange, as in many states, the annual deductible often tops $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple.

Insurers devised the new policies on the assumption that consumers would pick a plan based mainly on price, as reflected in the premium. But insurance plans with lower premiums generally have higher deductibles.

In El Paso, Tex., for example, for a husband and wife both age 35, one of the cheapest plans on…

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Getting what you vote for

Politics Does it matter that many can’t register for coverage?

Word

This has been said before, many times, in fact, but Zach Ward-Perkins and Joe Earle say it again because economists and their paymasters cannot learn from their past mistakes:

Every year thousands of economics graduates take jobs in the City, thinktanks and at the heart of government itself. Economics is highly technical and often mathematical, and this elevates economists to a position of expertise from which they mediate economic analysis to the British public. They are the guardians of our economy, charged with its upkeep, and they play an important role in shaping political narratives around economics. Yet British universities are producing economics graduates who are not fit for this purpose.

The financial crisis represents the ultimate failure of this education system and of the academic discipline as a whole. Economics education is dominated by neoclassical economics, which tries to understand the economy through modelling individual agents. Firms, consumers and politicians face clear choices under conditions of scarcity, and must allocate their resources in order to satisfy their preferences. Different agents meet through a market, where the mathematical formulae that characterise their behaviour interact to produce an “equilibrium”. The theory emphasises the need for micro-foundations, which is a technical term for basing your model of the whole economy on extrapolating from individual behaviour.

Economists using this mainstream economic theory failed to predict the crisis spectacularly. Even the Queen asked professors at LSE why nobody saw it coming. Now five years on, after a bank bailout costing hundreds of billions, unemployment peaking at 2.7 million and plummeting wages, economics syllabuses remain unchanged.

Catastrophes such as this are what one necessarily encounters when the mote remains in one’s eye.

On the forgetting of our human nature

Wendell Berry once wrote:

We Americans are not usually thought to be a submissive people, but of course we are. Why else would we allow our country to be destroyed? Why else would we be rewarding its destroyers? Why else would we all — by proxies we have given to greedy corporations and corrupt politicians — be participating in its destruction? Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us.

How do we submit? By not being radical enough. Or by not being thorough enough, which is the same thing.

The essay from which I pulled this quote addresses the destruction of the land in America and around the world. Berry’s thought: If human beings destroy the land on which they live, they will have committed collective suicide and, ironically, genocide. If human beings lack habitable land upon which to create a life, our species, one of many, will become extinct.

For Berry’s land one could substitute the idea of a world that can sustain both human and a diverse abundance of non-human life. Human beings have known the ‘civilized’ version of this generic world since about 8,000 to 12,000 BC, from the time when our ancestors began to develop an agricultural economy. Although this habitable world is both necessary and irreplaceable, over the last one-hundred years it has become possible to imagine its destruction. About a century ago, the advent of total and world war brought about the age of catastrophe, the age in which we live, an epoch of holocausts and apocalypses, of the subjugation of the human world to globalizing economic and political systems. Nuclear weapons exemplify the destructiveness now in the hands of some of the most belligerent war-making modern states. But it is modern industrial production and consumption, now encompassing the globe, which mortally threaten those species attuned to the mechanisms and rhythms of a first nature billions of years in the making.

Civilized human beings believe themselves to reasonable, pragmatic and thus adaptable. They believe themselves to be masters of and responsible for their destinies. Yet it is the most powerful members of this lot that have shown themselves to be incapable of learning from the situation we all now confront. What must they learn? This: A civilization that requires the hyper exploitation of finite resources will not last forever.

The endgame of the human project has already appeared. These are reactionary times, a moment during which capital is at its apex, and, as such, they thus call for a radical response: Social and political revolution. “If not now, then when?”

The shutdown: Day two

Norman Pollack’s recent description of the impasse rings true:

The “shutdown issue,” presently mired in the political-ideological battle between the Far Right and the Less-Far Right (House Republicans and Administration Democrats), has little to do with the social welfare of the American people, and instead reveals discernible differences only on the degrees of sophistication informing the programs of each in their determined assistance to corporate capitalism. Republicans in this tableau (a staged presentation going back decades in the roles assumed by each side) are the visceral fascists, striking out at government without realizing how much it helps, assists, and protects business and banking, while Democrats actively, yet with becoming liberal rhetoric to hide from themselves their delusions and treachery, take help, assistance, and protection to a higher level of systemic interpenetration between business and government by means of a regulatory framework written by the affected interests.

Pollack considers the shutdown to be an opportunity:

Shutdown, ideally, equals wake-up, an exposure of widespread impoverishment on one hand, widespread waste, corruption of democratic institutions, and military aggression pure-and-simple on the other. If nothing more, scaring the folks at Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs until the legislative conflict is papered over, is worth the candle, considering that nothing will be done for the poor in any case.

But it should prove to be an opportunity missed by those who need to act to bring Superpower to heel:

Sequestration will ensure the lifeblood of the current American polity and economy, militarism attached to the continuing program of global hegemony, so that neither Republicans nor Democrats find urgency in resolving the present stalemate—and in fact, holding the bottom one-fourth of the people hostage to the utter good will of the political system and the consolidated wealth standing behind it, as the source for a solution, is a good lesson in proper obedience, deportment, citizenship. Dangle just enough social- welfare anticipated goodies before the people to ensure quiescence while simultaneously magnifying ideological differences that hardly exist, and one has the perfect formula keeping the masses distracted from the main show—not shutdowns or debt ceilings, but a foreign policy of global capitalist expansion geared to US-defined financial, monetary, and trade advantages, coupled with necessary regime change for their realization, all wrapped in a framework of massive surveillance at home and the quickening paces for demanding patriotism and conformity.

Today, political accountability originates in the streets. Democracy also. Both originate in the streets because America’s electoral mechanism, its judicial practices and its Congress have proved themselves incapable of protecting the citizenry from the government and, of course, the world from America’s empire. But public action of this kind is now risky and even mortally dangerous. Nevertheless the appearance of anti-system social movements and public protest motivated by a system-critical political culture appear to be necessary conditions for the country if it is to move beyond the current situation.

Capitalism and US Oil Geo-Politics » CounterPunch

Rob Urie has provided us with a concisely written essay which identifies the predicaments generated by the capitalist democracies in the West as well as by the global empire governed by power elites located in Washington, DC and Wall Street. Reading Urie’s essay is worth the effort.

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