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.

Solidarity during the austere age

Aditya Chakrabortty, writing for the Guardian, considered Sweden’s recent and surprising troubles:

More than 20 cars torched in one night. School classrooms gutted by fire. Fifty far-right extremists chasing immigrants around a suburb.

You probably haven’t seen much about it in the papers, but for the past week Sweden has been racked by rioting. The violence began in a suburb of Stockholm, Husby, and spread around the capital’s edge before other cities went up in flames. Police have been pelted with stones; neighbourhoods have turned into no-go areas, even for ambulances. Such prolonged unrest is remarkable for Stockholm, as those few reporters sent to cover it have observed. Naturally enough, each article has wound up asking: why here?

It’s a good question. Don’t surveys repeatedly show Sweden as one of the happiest countries (certainly a damn sight cheerier than Britain)? Isn’t it famous for its equality, its warm welcome to immigrants? Whatever happened to Stockholm, capital of progressivism, the Mecca towards which Guardianistas face for their daily five minutes of mindfulness?

We all know the cliches, but the reality is they no longer fit the country so well. Whether it’s on the wealth gap, or welfare, or public services, Sweden is less “Swedish” than it has ever been. As in other continental capitals, the Stockholm version of the “European social model” is an increasingly tattered thing, albeit still appealed to by the political elites and still resonant in the popular culture. But the country seized by turbulence last week is becoming polarised, and is surrendering more of its public services over to private businesses (sometimes with disastrous effects). Those riot-scene correspondents ought not to be asking: why here? A better question, surely, is: if such instability can happen here, what might unfold elsewhere — including Britain?

Rioting has occurred in other OECD countries. Most notably, they took place in Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Spain and Turkey since the onset of the Great Recession. The United States also produced the peaceful Occupy Movement, which the various governmental bodies suppressed with rioting police forces. The causes of unrest are the same across Europe and in the United States: Growing inequality, social polarization, austerity and, in some instances, economic stagnation. Sweden is a special case, as Chakrabortty avers. Its welfare state was notable for its commitment to collective security and to economic growth. The Swedish economy continues to grow. But the Swedes are slowly jettisoning their commitment to collective security, to solidarity. This is when the authorities need the police to keep order. This is when the democratic class struggle becomes class warfare.

Looking for work?

Look harder. For many Americans, the labor market remains a cemetery composed of dead hopes and dreams:

Stating the obvious

Robert Reich talks to the establishment:

The 5 percent of Americans with the highest incomes now account for 37 percent of all consumer purchases, according to the latest research from Moody’s Analytics. That should come as no surprise. Our society has become more and more unequal.

When so much income goes to the top, the middle class doesn’t have enough purchasing power to keep the economy going without sinking ever more deeply into debt — which, as we’ve seen, ends badly. An economy so dependent on the spending of a few is also prone to great booms and busts. The rich splurge and speculate when their savings are doing well. But when the values of their assets tumble, they pull back. That can lead to wild gyrations. Sound familiar?

The economy won’t really bounce back until America’s surge toward inequality is reversed. Even if by some miracle President Obama gets support for a second big stimulus while Ben S. Bernanke’s Fed keeps interest rates near zero, neither will do the trick without a middle class capable of spending. Pump-priming works only when a well contains enough water.

I agree with Reich. Economic and political conditions in the United States have squeezed the middle class. Yet it is not just the middle class that lacks the economic resources needed to pull the economy out of its stagnant state. The working class also lacks these resources while the size of the underclass — composed of the permanently un- and under-employed — grows in step with the real rate of unemployment. Gross inequality, like high-unemployment and low-wages, marks the steady-state of the current economic regime. This situation ought to be a political problem. But is it? No, it is not. It clearly is not because we have seen the Washington elite respond to this steady-state by reaffirming neoliberal verities. Their response has amounted to affirming the constraints which now limit aggregate demand. The elite have chosen economic stagnation and all that that choice entails.

One might judge the elite response incompetent if, firstly, one believed a competent response would have included a large stimulus and an effort to take wealth from the rich and give that wealth to the poor and if, secondly, one believed the elite in general would affirm an effective program to increase aggregate demand. Why should we accept the second condition as true? After all, if the powerful and influential wanted to reignite the economy, that is, if a consensus among the elite had formed which affirmed a pro-growth and pro-equalization project, they would have, by definition, the means to implement this program. The lack of effort reveals something akin to a collective intent. It shows the class preference of the economic and political elite to be to remain stuck in this stagnant steady-state. They prefer this economic regime because it protects their wealth and power.

Reich, to my mind, wasted his time. The “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) will never reasonably talk the ‘greater people’ into giving up shares of the wealth and their power.