Green Capitalism

Is it an oxymoron or just a plain dumb idea? I believe we can easily guess Rob Urie’s answer to this question:

The bottom line is one of commensurability. Economic production that produces toxic externalities like global warming, dead oceans, undrinkable water, unbreathable air, etc, depends on assigning little or no value to these. To make this very clear, Western economic ‘accounting’ places no value on these, on the most fundamental necessities of living beings, by design. As Oscar Wilde put it, a cynic is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. This is in fact a summation of Western economics; circumscription of the ‘knowable’ world by what has had a price tag put on it. The externalized costs of capitalist production are real— more real than the stuff in stores that is only ‘cheap’ because the true costs were lobbed off on people who haven’t yet fought back. To Mr. Krugman’s argument, even if technological innovation did reduce carbon emissions the people who would reap the benefits are not the same people who will pay the consequences— more carbon emissions is more even if the rate of growth is reduced.

Global warming is but shorthand for the increasingly conspicuous fact that the quest for ‘stuff’ has turned the entire planet into a noxious garbage dump. This concern might rightly be considered effete if ‘we,’ broadly considered, could exist in the garbage that some of us have created. But as global warming suggests, we can’t. The time for gimmicks, ‘technology,’ was a half century ago. And unless you missed this, the West is still plenty rich— rich in approximate proportion to the social and environmental catastrophes that capitalism has wrought. The question today is who pays, not what the costs are.

Robert Polin on minimum wage increases

Lost jobs because of modest — and thus inadequate — minimum wage increases? Not according to Robert Polin:

Good question

Michael Hudson asks:

This pro-austerity mythology [which animates orthodox economics and economic policy in the United States and elsewhere] aims to distract the public from asking why peacetime governments can’t simply print the money they need. Given the option of printing money instead of levying taxes, why do politicians only create new spending power for the purpose of waging war and destroying property, not to build or repair bridges, roads and other public infrastructure? Why should the government tax employees for future retirement payouts, but not Wall Street for similar user fees and financial insurance to build up a fund to pay for future bank over-lending crises? For that matter, why doesn’t the U.S. Government print the money to pay for Social Security and medical care, just as it created new debt for the $13 trillion post-2008 bank bailout?

The answer to these questions: Banks and other financial institutions want to keep as much of their income as they can. Transaction fees, regulations, oversight, taxes, etc. — these consume profits. America’s banks want to transfer these costs to others, namely, to those individuals who lack the political power to defend their standard of living. This cost transfer project amounts to a hidden and sometimes obvious tax the government levies on the 99%. When coupled to a system of risky and fraudulent financial transactions, elite looting and private debt creation, this cost transfer project amounts to little more than a predatory political economy.

The ridiculous fiscal cliff debate which now dominates America’s public life is but a crude expression of this predatory political economy.

Quote of the day

In Obama’s America, each day is Halloween. The “lesser people” (Alan Simpson) should be afraid, very afraid! Why? Uncle Sam is bankrupt. He lives merely on the kindness of strangers. Only painful actions can remedy this situation.

Uncle Sam, you see, has long suffered from Affluenza. While the condition is often mistaken for a state of healthy well-being, the illness can be terminal. There are limits. They need to be respected. Austerity looms. The open question before Americans today: What kind of austerity will we have? The common answer amounts to this: Uncle Sam’s Affluenza would be fatal but for the remedies which a public commitment to fiscal austerity can provide.

The medicine is harsh and drastic, but necessary.

Or, so it is often claimed by a large fraction of America’s political and economic elite. Bob Urie, on the other hand, points out that:

The scare tactics being used to cut social insurance depend on the public’s misunderstanding of several related issues. In the first, the U.S. isn’t ‘broke’ because it can create money as needed — ask yourself: how were the bank bailouts funded? Next: what is an ‘entitlement’ when existing government policy overwhelmingly benefits the rich through favorable tax treatment, cost-plus government contracts, Federal Reserve bailouts and government guarantees of the banks. ‘Free markets’ have nothing to do with how the wealthy became so. The fight over ‘entitlements’ is over how government expenditures are allocated, not over their ‘scarcity.’

Urie suggests that the rich have prevailed in the democratic class struggle and now wish to deepen and intensify their exploitation of the “lesser people,” using the federal state and its fiscal situation as their hammer:

Social Security has an income ‘cap’ of $110,000 above which no deduction is made. A billionaire who became rich by sending jobs overseas — by firing and lowering the wages of labor, pays a smaller proportion of his or her income into Social Security than does the worker whose wages have been reduced. And by reducing the wages of labor, workers are left with less to pay in to these social insurance programs through payroll taxes. The problem with Social Security and Medicare is that a small group of connected plutocrats have ‘entitled’ themselves to far more of what labor produces. How often has the deficit ‘crisis’ been raised when there is a war to be fought for multi-national oil companies or a corporate welfare scheme like the bank bailouts to be paid for?

And this all ties back to Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act — if he and his corporate supporters were truly interested in fiscal discipline they would have pushed for far less costly ‘Medicare for all.’ Instead Mr. Obama pursued a deal with private health insurers that includes (sic) a ‘profit’ above the cost of a government program. Those wanting to argue the political infeasibility of Medicare for all are now confronted with a ‘liberal’ Democratic President who believes he can cut the programs that most of us have paid into under known terms for decades. If doing this is politically feasible while building a rational public health care system isn’t, we are truly doomed.

Doomed? Yes….

Ultimately Mr. Obama, like his ‘opponent’ Mitt Romney, is but an apparatchik in a class war launched by the rich against the rest of us. Left out of the contrived nonsense about an ‘entitlement’ society is who exactly is entitled. Were the government spending the rich live off of under the knife there would be no argument of scarcity — we have the wars, the bailouts and corporate welfare to prove it. But social insurance programs stand between over one hundred million of our citizens and destitution. And these are programs we have collectively paid for — they aren’t a ‘gift’ as the rich and their servants in government would have us believe.

Even the ‘gifts’ of income transfers, support for education and public transportation, Medicaid, subsidized housing, occupational training, works programs, etc. are not lacking in social benefits which directly and indirectly improve the quality of life enjoyed by every American. Every American would benefit from a fair and humane society, from a better standard of living. Such a society serves a common and public good. Who, after all, wants to watch the homeless die on the street for want of food and medical care? How might the United States compete with the emerging Asian economic powers when its education system, long the envy of the world at large, falters because of a lack of fiscal and political support? Who wants to bring children into the world when they will intimately know insecurity and want?

But the Nobel Laureate Americans just reelected wishes to create neither a fair nor humane society. He is a system politician who serves his various masters. The latter are cruel and greedy. Americans of the lesser kind along with the world at large deserve much better than Barack Obama. They truly need a man much better than him.

 

Quote of the day

Andrew Leonard wrote:

There’s no getting around the hard truth: right now, there is no such thing as an “ethical smartphone.” Or, for that matter, an ethical flat-screen TV, digital camera, or any kind of personal computer.

Labor abuse offshore is hardly a new phenomenon. It is not strongly correlated to the production of digital technology in the Far East. Nor, for that matter, is labor abuse unknown onshore (see, for instance, this, this, this, etc.). Worker’s suffer abuse because they are exploitable
commodities and because some employers seek to extract well-above average value from the worker’s they use. The abuse often enables these super-exploiters to take this above-average value from their workers.

If Leonard or anyone else wants to purchase ethically defensible goods, they might find during their research that their lives are thoroughly compromised by the objects they consume. And, as I have already pointed out, this is not a new problem. It is a feature specific to capitalist and imperialist economic systems.

Super-exploitation at the Huffington Post

Mike Elk, a journalist recently ‘fired’ by the Huffington Post for annoying a fraction of the nabob set, wrote:

Last week was a milestone in journalism, as the Huffington Post exceeded the New York Times in Web traffic and cemented its role as a main rival to the Gray Lady. It was also noted that the combined AOL-Huffington Post newsroom staff of 1,300 people is now bigger than the Times‘ 1,200 person newsroom staff. While much of the debate about the rivarly [sic] has focused on Huffington Post’s adoption of savvy Internet tactics versus the much more old-school New York Times, very little of the discussion has focused on where the two newsroom differ the most: their labor practices.

The Times’ newsroom staff is entirely unionized, while the AOL-Huffington Post staff is entirely nonunionized. Also unlike the Times, which insists on paying every professional writer (even op-ed contributors), the Huffington Post has relied on a network of over 8,000 unpaid bloggers to establish itself and drive traffic to its site. In a Forbes magazine article, AOL executives were quoted as saying that AOL CEO Tim Armstrong “talked a lot about the importance of recruiting hordes of free bloggers…. “It was always, ‘Arianna does it. That’s what she’s built her business on. Why don’t we do it, too?'” says a former AOL editor-in-chief.”

Labor leaders claim that with 11,000 journalists having lost their jobs due to newsrooms cutbacks in the last three years, AOL-Huffington Post has risen to its stature by exploiting journalists desperate to establish names for themselves as writers, and thus willing to work for free in the hopes that they may someday find paid work. They say that the fact the Huffington Post doesn’t pay its writers is an unfair business advantage that is sure to lower the standards of journalists.

Unpaid labor! Ms Moneybags should be so lucky.

In response to what labor leaders see as an exploitative situation, on March 17th, the Newspaper Guild and the National Writers Union both called for bloggers to refuse to blog at the Huffington Post and join an electronic picket line against the Huffington Post.

The unions are demanding that a pay schedule be established for compensation of all unpaid Huffington Post bloggers and that unpaid bloggers at the Huffington Post be given greater editorial control over how their works at the Huffington Post are used.

The unions requested a meeting with Arianna Huffington to describe labor practices at the Huffington Post. So far, Arianna Huffington has not granted their request for a meeting, but union officials are in discussion with people close to the Huffington Post hoping to secure one.

The upshot: I support and advocate supporting the unionization of Huffington Post.