David Dayen: The Uprising of the Second Tier in a Time of Late Capitalism

By David Dayen, a lapsed blogger, now a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, CA. Follow him on Twitter @ddayen

The past several years have demonstrated the obvious point that inequality and depression will combine to produce flares of mass social unrest. You see this in Europe and the Middle East, where rising food prices had as much to do with the Arab Spring as decades of political repression. Things are no different here in America. Even though elites are fortunate enough to have a militarized local law enforcement apparatus in place to make sure the rabble doesn’t get too out of control, these flares, indications of broader awareness that in an economy rigged against them, the only recourse is to step outside the system and shout to the heavens. We’ve seen this before in US history; it was called the Gilded Age, and it led to the set of progressive reforms as well as a legacy of labor organizing that might, just might, be awakening from what seems like a decades-long slumber.

Over the past year or so, low-wage workers have staged wildcat strikes, walking off the job for a day or two. It started at Walmart, America’s low-wage giant, the largest private employer in the US and the company that the Federal Open Market Committee looks to when making macroeconomic policy decisions. Workers in dozens of stores walked out last October and November, demanding better pay and working conditions, stable hours and above all, respect. This has predictably spread to other parts of the low-wage sector. Fast food and retail workers have been systematically striking, one city at a time, under the banner of a $15 per hour living wage. Workers in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee have walked off the job in the one-day wildcat strikes. SEIU and a variety of community groups have been behind the stoppages. It would be natural to expect chronic one-day strikes like this at the beginnings of union formation. This is exactly how voiceless workers in the 1880s and 1890s began to mass their collective power. That doesn’t mean it will succeed, but it means it’s following a very similar script.

Yesterday’s action in Washington involved the 2 million workers paid, directly or indirectly, by the federal government, who make $12 an hour or less. The federal government is actually the largest low-wage job creator in America, higher than Walmart, McDonald’s or anyone else. The Demos report detailing this is very thorough and has already spurred a House Democratic investigation (believe it or not, Steny Hoyer’s going to show up at it):

These are employees working on behalf of America, doing jobs that we have decided are worthy of public funding—yet they’re being treated in a very un-American way. Our nation has a history of ensuring our tax dollars provide decent jobs. From the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act to Executive Order 11246 of 1965, and a host of other laws and executive actions, our laws have mandated that companies working on behalf of the American people are upholding high standards of employment practices. Yet as the nature and prevalence of federal contracting, lending and grant-making have changed, and some laws have been weakened, working people have fallen through the cracks.

When our tax dollars underwrite bad jobs, the economy as a whole is weakened and all of us are negatively affected. There is a ripple effect as low-paid workers and their families have little money to spend, hindering economic growth that could be creating more jobs. Poorly-paid workers also contribute less in taxes and are more likely to rely on public benefits to care for their families. In contrast, we would all benefit from an economy where workers earn good wages—and we have a special responsibility to see that the people working on behalf of our nation are paid and treated fairly. Raising standards for people working on behalf of America is one important piece to providing opportunities for workers to reach the middle class.

Hundreds of these employees walked off the job yesterday. Food courts at the Reagan Federal Building and the Air and Space Museum had to shut down. Here’s one worker’s story:

“I can’t even afford to get an apartment or raise my daughter properly because of the money that I’m making,” said Jonathan Ross, one of the D.C. strikers. Ross works at the Constitution Café, a privately managed restaurant in the Smithsonian Institute’s American History Museum. He told MSNBC that after four years of being employed at the restaurant, he still makes only $9.71 an hour.

“For the four years I’ve been here, I’ve had a 10-cent raise, a 15-cent raise, and another 10-cent raise,” he said. While he doesn’t receive federal assistance in the form of food stamps or subsidized housing, he said he struggles to provide for his 15-year-old daughter, over whom he has sole custody.

Josh Eidelson has more. The President could actually do something about federal contractors who violate labor law and underpay their workers without having to go through Congress, incidentally.

These low-wage worker actions are small in the grand scheme of things, but significant because of what they represent – mass dissatisfaction with the current economic order. The land of the free imposes lots of barriers to this type of assembly, action and speech, many of them psychological. The American “ideal” of individual work ethic places lots of pressure on people not getting by in this economy to blame themselves, to see their lot as part of some personal deficiency. And when that doesn’t work, there’s good old-fashioned police repression.

I highlight this even though I don’t completely support yesterday’s action by homeowners out in front of the Justice Department. I don’t completely support it because one of the main organizations that put the action together, under the umbrella group Campaign for a Fair Settlement, basically sold out these same homeowners when they threw in their lot with Eric Schneiderman and his Potemkin task force, squandering whatever leverage was gained over banks for their abuses of property laws. I don’t trust the instincts of these people, nor do I trust that the protests will amount to anything of value, and I fear that elements of the Occupy Our Homes movement, who stayed overnight in front of DoJ, are being misled by bad leadership. But at some level, this exists on a continuum with the labor strikes; desperate actions by desperate people fighting a rigged economic system and their own government’s implication in the policies that support it. And what happens in the clip below to Carmen Pittman, an Occupy Our Homes fighter in Atlanta who spent a year saving her house from JPMorgan Chase, is indicative of how the state reacts to these flares of unrest:

Digby summons the requisite outrage at this; that it happened on the steps of the Department of Justice makes it all the more shameful. Unfortunately, if this doesn’t connect to an actual strategy to build power, it’s just ritual pulverizing. And I don’t know if the galvanizing power of outrage even exists anymore in America – the famous pepper sprayer at UC-Davis was basically a one-day story. But I include it because it’s worth noting what happens to non-elites when they step outside carefully constructed lines of polite dissent.

Whatever you think of the value of public protest or one-day strikes with set time limits, I see them as part of a stirring. Occupy and Wisconsin and what’s happening right now in North Carolina (about 60 civil rights activists get arrested every Monday to protest the actions of their state legislature) fit within that context as well. These vapors circling around the country don’t have to form into a solid mass, and they won’t without a lot of clever, savvy organizing and strategizing. But the conditions do exist for it to happen. Life still retains the ability to surprise.

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About David Dayen

David is a contributing writer to Salon.com. He has been writing about politics since 2004. He spent three years writing for the FireDogLake News Desk; he’s also written for The New Republic, The American Prospect, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, The Washington Monthly, Alternet, Democracy Journal and Pacific Standard, as well as multiple well-trafficked progressive blogs and websites. His has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Russia Today, NPR, Pacifica Radio and Air America Radio. He has contributed to two anthology books, one about the Wisconsin labor uprising and another on the fight against the Stop Online Piracy Act in Congress. Prior to writing about politics he worked for two decades as a television producer and editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ddayen.


  1. Mac

    Indeed some jobs do not pay a wage that will support a family. It should be understood that wages should reflect the value of the job,not the needs or desires of the worker.

    1. YankeeFrank

      The idea that some jobs dont add enough value to pay someone a living wage is not a practical way to look at jobs in the first place. Many (most?) jobs don’t directly create value at all. Human resources, regulatory positions, administrative jobs, most IT positions — none of these have value isolated from the firm they are part of. The value of a particular job often has little to do with the salary of that job: management positions often pay highest and yet most companies could cut their management staffs in half or more and still operate efficiently. When effective turnaround specialists take on a failing business the first people they study are the actual providers of value. In the case of manufacturers that is the men and women on the factory floor making the products. Of course these are the people who earn the least. Management thinks they add value but an effective turnaround will usually get rid of many management positions because they are overpaid and under-performing. So yes, some jobs don’t add value — but those jobs should be eliminated, not reduced to poverty wages; and its often the most puffed-up and self-important that earn too much and provide little value.

    2. Hugh

      No, it should not be so understood. This is like the line that the primary purpose of corporations is to maximize profits for investors. What both these examples intentionally overlook is that employers and corporations exist only through the sanction of the societies in which they operate. That is they only exist if they add to the social good. Paying workers substandard wages or maximizing profits as the be all and end all of corporations not only does not accomplish any social good, but do great damage to society.

      Just because an employer wants to pay shit for shit jobs does not convey any legitimacy to the practice. What value is there to anything the Walton heirs have ever done? Yet they receive billions. All you are showing is that the way work is evaluated in an economy as abusive to workers and unequal as ours favors those who are most abusive.

      1. nonclassical

        here hear…

        what not many (Yves, Satyajit Das-exeptions) bring up is conflation of “values” regarding labor-industry-government. RepubLIEcons propagandize government should operate like household-build equity, self-reliance…what is not stated is since early 80’s, corporations have been reducing their own equity=assets by performing paper debt shuffles, turning assets into debt. Think private equity, which itself is a conflation of S & L scandal accounting…

        It doesn’t stop there-this is an integral component of “financialization” of U.S. economy…and economic-derivative-secrecy jurisdiction offered by banksters..

        Recent stats confirm 5-10 year stats, showing 41% control of U.S. profits by financial sector….suspicions (Shaxton-“Treasure Islands”) are it is much, much more…race to the bottom economic “competition” is what is being “manufactured”…

    3. jake chase

      If you think the purpose of society is to produce mountains of toxic shit and endless vapid entertainment and luxuries for a tiny minority and despair for everyone else, I guess you are probably right.

      1. dolleymadison

        Mountains of despair…wonder how many ‘pay for performance’ plans that is on? Quite a few, apparently.

      2. curlydan

        Most Americans’ conception of freedom these days seems to mean that they can download any song from Apple for $0.99 or stream any movie on Netflix–that’s all the freedom they care about.

        We’ve got corporations mistreating people, Americans going on kill lists without even being indicted, and AP and Fox News under surveillance. Do we care? Hell no. Now where are my ear buds?

    4. DakotabornKansan

      “It is man’s nature to be doing something, or at least to fancy that he’s doing something, but to what purpose, and for whom? Satisfactory answers to the questions lately have been hard to find, not only for the unemployed poor but also for the underemployed remnant of what was once a diligently aspiring middle class. It isn’t simply that the consumer markets don’t value work worth doing; it’s that the society’s ruling and possessing classes regard working for a living as the mark of inferior or damaged goods.” – Lewis H. Lapham, “The Servant Problem,” http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/preamble/the-servant-problem.php?page=1

    5. banger

      Depends on what you call value. The tendency of pro-capitalists is to see everything in dollars and cents terms degrades what it is to be human. We are deeply connected and I think it is time to decide just how important economic value is in our lives. I think in the face of what Confucius called *ren* or what we might call compassion our lives are cheapened when we reduce a person’s value to how much profit they can bring to their corporate bosses. I find this emphasis on profit disgusting. It may have had a positive effect by moving people out of the old feudal mentality but we are now at the point which such values are more destructive than helpful. Capitalism as we knew it is over. We can either find a more human and lovely way to live or go back down the path of feudalism.

      1. Joe

        “It may have had a positive effect by moving people out of the old feudal mentality but we are now at the point which such values are more destructive than helpful.”

        At least some peasants could rely upon guaranteed access to the commmons under the feudal system as mandated by documents like The Charter of the Forest. A resurgent feudal system formed in the wake of neoliberal policies probably won’t even grant the lower classes that concession.

    6. Moneta

      The value of work is completely distorted in the first place.

      Let’s list all the high paying jobs that were created in the credit bubble which were unsustainable… people using their fake home equity to pay for plastic surgery is one of them. But for some reason, nobody questions the value of those paychecks.

      Like I said, because of laissez faire money printing, we could argue that the vast majority of labor is mispriced.

      IMO, if a business can not pay living wages, it should fold… one has to realize that there are externalities to exploitation… government or the people will end up paying for the underpaid in all kinds of ways: depression, crime, social decay, welfare, etc.

    7. anon y'mouse

      are you telling me that the entire economic edifice rests upon some people not earning enough through their work (always the most stressful and difficult jobs, but not necessarily the most dangerous) to support 1.5 living beings? that “some people” are always going to have to settle for earning less than it takes to a human to survive on? that economic health is dependent upon a situation that is, viewed from a distance, worse than slavery?

      if a job is not worth paying someone enough for at least them to survive on, it’s not worth doing. since we are all connected to at least one other person (child or elderly) who needs support, you are also basically saying that poor people can’t afford to love others.

      if you’re making the comment that a bagger at McD’s should not expect to raise a spouse and 6 kids, perhaps I agree with you. but if you are saying that we should not expect the lower-wage workers to have any personal ties that require them to support each other, then you are an obvious sufferer of one of the anti-social personality disorders.

      1. Carla

        “if you are saying that we should not expect the lower-wage workers to have any personal ties that require them to support each other, then you are an obvious sufferer of one of the anti-social personality disorders.”

        Mac is in awfully good company. He joins Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, the Walton family, President Obama, the Bush family, almost all the members of Congress, and a couple million other elites. I hope he’s being sufficiently compensated to trumpet the ideology of those sociopaths.

      2. JTFaraday

        “you are also basically saying that poor people can’t afford to love others.”


    8. Timothy Gawne

      “Wages should reflect the value of a job?”

      Of course, the economic value of any commodity – water, food, labor – is not driven by it’s intrinsic utility, but only by the relative balance of supply and demand for that commodity.

      This is why computer programmers in India make much less than truck drivers in Switzerland and Japan.

      If people get low wages, it is NOT because they are unskilled or their labor is of intrinsically low value. It is because the market has been rigged to flood the labor market, by both encouraging too-rapid population growth at one end (increasing supply), and using financial manipulations to crush economic growth at the other end (decreasing demand).

      Low wages are the obvious and deliberate consequence of specific government policies. Why shouldn’t people complain?

      1. Carla

        Why shouldn’t they complain?

        Because people like Mac (and Dimon and Blankfein and etc, etc) have made them ashamed to do so.

        A few brave souls aren’t taking that crap, and they get punished for it. Numbers, folks. It’s the only thing we’ve got on our side.

      2. F. Beard

        The implicit social contract of our money system is that some, the so-called “creditworthy”, entrepreneurs, etc. shall be allowed to steal our purchasing power and create better products and jobs for all of us.

        How’s that working for you?

    9. from Mexico

      Ah yes, the Alice in Wonderland world of the oligarch.

      The reality, of course, is something very different, as Reinhold Niebuhr explains:

      [I]t is impossible to justify the degree of inequality which complex societies inevitably create by the increased centralisation of power which develops with more elborate civilisations. The literature of all ages is filled with rational and moral justifications of these inequalities, but most of them are specious. If superior abilities and services to society deserve special rewards it may be regarded as axiomatic that the rewards are always higher than the services warrant. No impartial society determines the rewards. The men of power who control society grant these prequisites to themselves. Whenever special ability is not associated with power, as in the case of the modern professional man, his excess of income over the average is ridiculously low in comparison with that of the economic overlords, who are the real centres of power in an industrial society. Most rational and social justifications of unequal privilege are clearly afterthoughts. The facts are created by the disproportion of power which exists in a given social system. The justifications are usually dictated by the desire of the men of power to hide the nakedness of their greed, and by the inclination of society itself to veil the brutal facts of human life from itself.

      –REINHOLD NIEBUHR, Moral Man & Immoral Society

      1. rich

        After big donations to Gov. Scott, insurance company may reap $52M

        TALLAHASSEE — Two months after contributing $110,000 to Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign, an upstart property insurance company is likely to reap a $52 million windfall, paid from the coffers of Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

        Sitting on a record cash surplus of $6.4 billion, Citizens is hoping to sign a special deal today with Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance Co., a St. Petersburg firm that opened nine months ago and has made significant political contributions.

        Heritage has donated more than $140,000 to Scott and the Republican Party of Florida in recent months, and spent tens of thousands more lobbying the Legislature. Now it’s in line to get special treatment from Florida’s state-run insurance firm in the form of an unusual and lucrative “reinsurance quota share” agreement.

        If the Citizens board of governors approves today, the state-run insurer will pay Heritage up to $52 million to take over 60,000 policies, about $866 a piece.
        Proponents say the push to shrink Citizens will pay off when the next hurricane hits, saving consumers from having to bail out the state-run insurer. Critics see the campaign cash and lobbying by Heritage as evidence that Citizens and Scott are tapping the insurer’s $6.4 billion surplus for special giveaways to politically connected companies.

        “Citizens’ board continues to fall prey to Tallahassee lobbyists who cook up these get rich funding schemes,” said Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.

        It’s the second time this year Citizens is looking to subsidize an upstart private insurer using its massive surplus, which has been built up over seven years as the state has dodged hurricanes. In February, Citizens’ board approved a deal with Weston Insurance, agreeing to pay the young company $63 million to take out 30,000 policies. Weston has spent more than $250,000 on lobbying this year, and two of Citizens’ seven board members abstained from voting because of conflicts of interest.

        In both deals, the payments are structured as backdated “reinsurance” agreements, where Citizens essentially pays the company to cover Citizens’ losses on certain policies over a specified period of time. Since the period of time is in the past, the company can actively select policies that had no losses, in effect making the deal virtually risk-free.


        this is what is valued….

        1. Jagger

          These people truly have no fear of justice. If we really want change, I think we are going to have to bring back the guillotine.

      2. Joe

        I find it shameful that even brilliant men like Leibniz produced dogrel in their attempts to legitimate stratification.

    10. Kurt Sperry

      These hard value judgments about the worth of people’s labor are idiotically simplistic, ignoring vast carefully inbuilt bargaining asymmetricalities between employers and common labor, trivialize workers, people generally and can easily pass into the realm of sociopathy. What is the quantified “value” of a park ranger or a kindergarten teacher or orderly at a VA hospital?

      The society–and incidentally but less importantly the economy–would run better if all jobs were true living wage jobs. There are few things morally lower than a person who looks on the poor with contempt and disdain.

    11. Stephen Gardner

      Any job that doesn’t have enough value to be worth a decent wage clearly isn’t a job that needs doing. Why does it exist? Actually folks, value is a slippery thing in an economists hands. Supposed value is why the rich make so much and the poor so little but I suspect it is all propaganda to make the poor accept their lot.

      1. Yalt

        Want to find out what the value of a job is? Provide everyone with a basic income sufficient for necessities (basically shelter, food and heat) independent of employment, and then see what you have to pay to get someone to clean the bedpans and toilets and sewers when there aren’t any desperate people willing to do the worst jobs for subsistence pay just to survive.

        1. Nathanael

          Bingo. Guaranteed minimum income.

          As a world, we’re rich enough to do it. So let’s do it.

    12. Min

      It should be understood that there is no such thing as an intrinsic value of a job. If a job does not support the worker, it is no job at all. Workers who get below slave wages –the slave master who does not support his slave loses the slave– cannot continue to do so unless somebody else gives support to the worker. If that somebody else is all of us, through the gov’t, then the employer who pays those low wages is sponging off of the rest of us.

  2. Julien Sorel

    ‘We’ve seen this before in US history; it was called the Gilded Age, and it led to the set of progressive reforms as well as a legacy of labor organizing that might, just might, be awakening from what seems like a decades-long slumber.’

    Your history’s entirely a bit off. The Gilded Age’s “robber barons” (so-named due to an anachronistic slur developed out of Depression-era scorn for Big Business) were simply replaced by/transformed into the fathers and grandfathers (literally and not) of today’s corporate capitalists. This was done by clearing up the chaos (competition + social unrest) of the then-current system (almost laissez faire + the squalor-and-violence of industry) and by writing the regulations themselves, thus killing competition and instilling the fundamentals of the order that’s held strong, more or less, to this day.

    The Progressive Era is generally thought of as possessive of positive value due to (1) the inclusion of the term ‘Progressive’ in the moniker in tandem with (2) a false (i.e. agitprop-laden) appreciation of what Progressive Era regulation actually does/did (aside from the most obvious and visual reforms) and how it played/plays out. Opposite-of-Bingo.

    It’s not that the Progressive Era wasn’t progressive. It was. But before dealing with that, there’s an even more fundamental issue that ought to be unpacked: progressives give positive power (i.e. moral goodness) to the term in which they self-identify (which is natural) and use that term to encapsulate their own ideas (which are mostly milquetoast versions of social democracy). Again, we need not reference the farmer’s dog.

    “Progressive” is most accurately understood as being value neutral. It’s a descriptive term for mechanical actions (strategy and/or tactics) to achieve results within the confines of a political regime. “Progressive” does not really signal anything as to the actual moral contents of those actions, though many self-described progressives would loudly suggest this is the opposite of the truth in their world and mind’s eye, but, this is like asking a fish to say something rude about water.

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but, “progressive” only speaks the language of the dominant order. (In the sense of paradigmatic/normative values, there’s an argument that this does confer some moral value on the term, but that’s slightly beyond the scope here.) The key thing to understand is that anyone can be a progressive when they’re working out of the master’s toolshed–but they cannot if they don’t.

    Of course, contemporary self-styled progressives (would-be social democrats), victims of institutional liberal re-branding efforts, have tied their wagons to the historically-labeled “progressive movement” (with who they do, of course, share some intellectual and moral positions) with the result that this experiment in DC-thought molding has made one term (“progressive”) interchangeable with another (“liberal”) while some scream about purity and bona fides and traitors and desperately try to do anything that might vindicate any of Rousseau’s ideas about society as applied to our modern predicament–in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

    So, while the Progressive Era was certainly progressive, it certainly did not lead to, intend to, set the stage for, or do much of anything towards triumphs for what even the most socially democratic progressives (then or now) hope it was meant to accomplish.

    Gabriel Kolko and Kevin Carson have been over the second part of the progressive dilemma before in great detail. This is the part where progressives fail to understand the actual relationship between power, law, corporations and regulation. (See, e.g. http://www.amazon.com/Triumph-Conservatism-Gabriel-Kolko/dp/0029166500 and http://c4ss.org/content/13061)

    Self-styled progressives, of course, never seem to listen. (Indeed, being fed on a steady diet of power’s intellectual nothings, it’s difficult for them to listen to the content of lectures like these as most literally cannot understand the subject matter on a basic level because it requires looking beyond almost the entirety of the language used to describe a muddied understanding that’s even more polluted by imprecise language and so on. The cycle is vicious. Whew.)

    Nope. Self-described progressives (again, actually social democrats of various degrees) have, for almost the entirety of the 20th and 21st centuries, no matter the choice, proven adept at the upkeep of their a-historically and exercised historical (if misguidedly moral) role as “useful idiots” (in the historical sense) for ruling class interests.

    1. jake chase

      I think I understand what you think you mean about all this. You may be on the trail of something incisive, but IMHO this rant needs more work.

    2. banger

      I’m not sure I understand what you mean either. But I will give you a reaction. Whatever being a progressive once was it is not so now. I think, in some ways, progressives are just confused like everyone else except, of course, the authoritarian right which, by definition, cannot be confused.

      The contemporary world is so radically different from anything that came before that traditional political positions are actually impossible from a theoretical POV. I think we have to dig deeper into philosophy and ethics first and then come out the other side with some political agenda. We need to ask questions like: what is the meaning of life? or what is the value of the life of a fellow human? or where to I fit in this fabric of society that I am a part of? Of course there are many other questions but we no matter who we are just have not been able to ask these questions we just go along with whatever we are conditioned to do and to believe. Human beings have never had to ask and answer these questions for the most part–these things were left to the shamans, priests, philosophers, mystics, artists and so on. But today, in an age of deep fragmentation we all need to ask this question because we cannot trust what has come down from the past (sorry fundies) because our situation is so radically unique that whatever answers people have had in the past are almost useless as much as I deeply love some of those answers.

      So being progressive or a social democrat is now kind of useless because the situation is too crazy. I’m a social democrat that realizes the floor has dropped from under me so I must look deeper into life than the surface we love to live in. Making fun of conservatives like Comedy Central likes to do has become way too boring. Conservatives have something to teach us we can no longer divide that way. The divide now is those that seek to love more and those who seek to love less.

      1. Moneta

        Interesting. This type of questioning always seems to arise when there are a lot of slaves doing the work… and it usually comes from those who have the luxury of time and money.

        1. banger

          We are fortunate to live at a time when more of us can have the leisure to think about things other than sheer survival. We have slaves galore–they are called machines.

          1. citizendave

            This seems like a good time to mention “Development as Freedom” by Amartya Sen. Sen argues that poverty should not be viewed simply as low income. Those who toil at the low end of the economic spectrum are not free to develop their human capabilities to the fullest extent.

            Freedom is directly proportional to income, with vast “unfreedom” at the low end of the economic spectrum. Quoting Dylan, when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose. If we, the rabble, are not rising up, maybe it’s because we believe we still have something to lose. I heard a rumor that the House is talking about cutting food subsidies. Maybe that would do the trick.

      2. washunate

        “Making fun of conservatives like Comedy Central likes to do has become way too boring.”

        I agree with the sentiment – my main litmus test when I hear a Democratic politician or pundit speak now is whether they blame Republicans. That’s an easy, simple signal that they’re not serious about addressing problems.

        But at the same time, this actually is an interesting cultural artifact. The leftist comedians are some of the most perceptive on this matter, relatively speaking. Stewart and Colbert have been far more critical of stupid policy from both sides than, say, a lot of think tank and advocacy and higher education actors supposedly from the Democratic side of the aisle (veal pen and all – look at what the SF Pride board is in the news for recently).

        One of the things that was most courageous about Colbert’s historic Correspondent’s Dinner speech was precisely that it wasn’t just Blame Bush. It was more than that. Or to take a more recent example, the bizarre trillion dollar coin inflation denying wing of MMT must have been pretty upset when even Colbert mocked the idea. A couple examples for the liberal peace humpers and tree huggers thinking locally and bombing globally:


        1. banger

          Well, Colbert’s speech was great and he is, unlike Stewart a truly gifted comedian. My point is that the problems are deeper than party politics and the CC people don’t really address that. Compare Colbert to Carlin–Carlin told very uncomfortable truths–he was dead serious yet funny because his truth hurt a lot of the time. Carlin or another great talent Hunter Thompson would not be welcome today.

          1. Susan the other

            I would classify both Carlin and HST as hard-core progressives. They survive in our thinking more that all the orthodox intellectuals. I just stumbled on a little-known historical factoid in America Framed – that progressives from the 1890s to the New Deal all hated Unions and then all hated the New Deal because it made their charitable work irrelevant. Interesting. Because progressives were all connected with corporatism and wanted capitalism to work, etc. Much of this attitude is prevalent today. Pete Peterson would fall into this approach to sociology. So you could even extrapolate that Pete is a progressive – in his own mind. Anyway “progressive” applies to everyone on the planet. Nobody wants to regress even though all of us digress.

          2. Carla

            @Susan the other: I seldom disagree with you, but I’m not sure you have all the facts about the Progressives. They wanted serious monetary reform.

            However, this I do know: George Carlin certainly was not a “progressive.” He was a Radical.

          3. Nathanael

            The Progressives were much more radical than Susan realizes. (Though more radical were the Populists, and before that were the even more radical Greenbackers.)

            Remember, the Progressives never actually got power. We got a few attenuated Progressive ideas passed in order to suck the energy out of the Progresssive movement. That worked.

            Hell, that would work for today’s elites. Throw us a few bones: restore the progressive income tax, give us single-payer health care, legalize pot. Everyone would calm down for another several decades.

            Today’s elties are too psychopathic to do it.

        2. Massinissa

          You never understood the goddamn coin.

          It wasnt for an economic purpose, it was for a POLITICAL purpose.

          It would not have been spent, it would not have entered circulation, therefore it could not create inflation.

          Its political purpose was to bypass the debt ceiling by adding a trillion FICTIONAL dollars to the balance sheet of the government.

          It would NOT effect actual payments on debt, or even the amount of debt.

          The ‘debt ceiling’ is itself a political gimmick. If the gov. gets too much debt, it cant pay back the debt? What the fuck kind of rule is that?!! Its a political gimmick, to be combated

          You simply dont understand the concept of the trillion dollar coin. IT WOULD NOT BE SPENT. IT WOULD SIT ITS ASS IN THE TREASURY FOREVER. It could not POSSIBLY create inflation, as it would not be sent.

          Its fictional political money, to circumvent a fictional political problem.

          1. washunate

            Fictional dollars? Now I really am lost :)

            My long response is below, but I have to press this turn of phrase specifically. Do you have any self-awareness of how absurd that sounds?

            I hear you on the editing thing; but it sounds like you are actually advocating that there are two parts to the government’s books: the real dollars and the fictional ones.

            I guess I should pray to the platinum gods that Social Security gets the real ones and Goldman Sachs gets the fake ones.

        3. Calgacus

          Or to take a more recent example, the bizarre trillion dollar coin inflation denying wing of MMT must have been pretty upset when even Colbert mocked the idea.

          There’s no such “inflation denying wing”; I don’t know of any MMT supporter who dislikes the coin, which is just a workaround for the irrational, idioscyncratic US debt limit, and if anything would be deflationary.

          What is truly bizarre is the weird mainstream idea that the form in which a state issues its main form of debt: Printing bonds, printing currency or minting trillion dollar coins makes much of a difference at all. The USA and many other states around the world have been printing trillions – and no inflation from it to speak of. The problem is too little printing/minting , causing unemployment, which may cause long run inflation.

          1. washunate

            Massinissa and Calgacus,

            This is exactly what I’m talking in regards to our cultural discourse that banger mentioned – Comedy Central actually does a lot more than just make fun of conservatives, and it’s remarkable that a few comedians often spark more discussion than actual serious intellectuals in our nation’s supposedly Democratic punditry and major think tanks and nonprofit orgs and whatnot. That drone ducking bit was one of his finest moments, I thought.

            In addition to that point, on the substance of the other particular issue, I stand by my characterization of the trillion dollar coin’s 15 minutes of fame as bizarre.

            It’s the classic example of getting caught in the weeds, of missing the forest for the trees. It’s attempting to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. There is no debt ceiling. No acts of Congress bind future Congresses. It gets raised every time the government wants to spend more money. Every dollar that the USFG wants to spend it spends. We have spent tens of trillions of them over the past decade of warfare and bailouts.

            I challenge either of you to identify $1 in spending that the government wanted to spend that it couldn’t spend.

            I’ll respond to one specific quote that I think is particularly revealing:

            “The USA and many other states around the world have been printing trillions – and no inflation from it to speak of.”

            You really have to have your head in the sand to think three things:

            1. That the CPI is a useful measure of living standards.
            2. That only consequences in the present matter.
            3. Even ignoring future risks, that prices are remotely reasonable in our economy today.

            How can anyone possibly say there is no inflation when essentially everything in society that normal people need to live well costs way too much? Do you have any empathy, or even understanding, of what it is like to live on $8 or $10 or even $15 an hour?

            The median wage, as tracked by the Social Security Administration, is about $27K. That’s basically tantamount to indentured servitude at today’s price levels.

            Do you understand that decent housing easily costs over $1,000 per month (rent + utilities or mortgage + taxes + utilities + maintenance), and decent healthcare (insurance + out of pocket) easily costs $800 per month, and decent transportation (car + taxes + gas + insurance) easily costs $400 per month? That’s more than the entire take home pay of the median worker on just those three components! Haven’t even gotten to making fun of the ridiculousness of higher ed costs or how much a nice steak has appreciated in price and don’t even talk about fun stuff like sporting events and concert tickets and running shoes and ski equipment…

          2. Calgacus

            Washunate:I’ll respond to one specific quote that I think is particularly revealing:

            “The USA and many other states around the world have been printing trillions – and no inflation from it to speak of.”

            I understand very well that price inflation in many things bites many people, including me. I don’t think prices are remotely reasonable today. But we don’t have 70s level inflation right now, even with historically large deficits. I have understood you to be saying that government money printing could be inflationary. But it just isn’t in current conditions, nor would doubling the deficit be genuinely inflationary – now or in the future.

            Suggesting that I am saying “That only consequences in the present matter” suggests to me that you don’t understand the economics of it. Yes, other things being equal, the consequences of bigger debts/deficits ARE inflationary. But the effect is so small it is negligible. That correct conclusion is not what naive theories ultimately based on the commodity theory of money say, which many are unconsciously trapped in. Respectfully, I suggest that your problem is what you think goes without saying, that you unconsciously think MUST be true – and isn’t.

            There is no debt ceiling.Of course it is a game. But it is a real, horrible game, with real consequences, that is used by our monstrous duopoly to hurt real people. The debt ceiling law is but an extra weapon in the hands of the worst.

            All the big coin is is a way to stop playing this game. And MUCH MORE IMPORTANT, to educate people in how money works. The first step is to restore the higher level of understanding that academia and more importantly, the general population had say from 1920 to 1970. E.g. everybody used to understand that “loans create deposits”, that “government credit and government currency are one and the same thing”. That it’s all just NFA, printed by the gubmint. Not just obscure heterodox postkeynesians.

            No acts of Congress bind future Congresses.
            That is just wrong in the US legal system. True of the UK. NOT the USA. The Congress does not have the legal power to default on “government obligations” including but not restricted to bonds. And basically, nominally (which is the important sense), it never has, although what “government obligations” are is arguable. There is a lot of case law on this.

          3. washunate

            Thanks for the further discussion. I don’t want to get into a spat of each saying the other doesn’t understand – my point is there is legitimate disagreement.

            In general, I’m fascinated that upon pushing the issue of price inflation, you are willing to change your language from no price inflation to speak of to not as bad as the 1970s. Now it’s a matter of degree rather than existence – an altogether different framework.

            That’s what I thought was revealing about the earlier comment – the total denial of inflation is an ideological belief system, not an evidence-based conclusion.

            Until someone can answer why politicians will spend additional dollars wisely, it is nonsensical to make blanket claims that additional dollars will improve the situation. We’re not in some uniquely time-constrained liquidity emergency where we have to throw gobs of money at a problem right now. We’re in a long drawn out transfer of wealth. What matters is allocation of resources, not the number of dollars spent.

            Anyone who disagrees, I recommend you go to prison. You will be stimulating the economy since it creates jobs to build prisons and run law enforcement agencies and staff courts and hire corrections officers and parole officers.

      3. citizendave

        Maybe it boils down to: progressives are not being progressive enough. We find ourselves mired in the logic of the past. It takes persistent effort over a long period to root out the neoliberal and neoclassical dogma drilled into our minds almost from birth. We have concepts like realpolitik and Overton Window to help us calculate what may be politically possible in our lifetimes. But the parameters of what seems politically possible really only amount to incremental changes, or swings of the left-right pendulum. The political center does not progress much — it’s more like two steps forward, one step back — or two steps back.

        A week or two ago there was an announcement here about grants to academics for new economic thinking. A criticism leveled by more than one frequent NC commenter was that the “new” probably would just be some variation of the old, that instead of heterodox thinking we would just get new twists on familiar orthodox ideas.

        To move beyond incremental progressive-ism it would help to be able to hold in our minds a coherent idea of what our economic life can become, a vision thoroughly purged of mean-spirited infinite-growth capitalism. We can see disparate elements, like public banking, permaculture, fair trade, etc. But it’s difficult to find a whole cloth depiction of what is not only possible, but possible in a relatively short time frame.

        1. banger

          My favorite economic program is “fight for your right to paaaarrty.” Or to put it another way, “the economy” exists to help us to enjoy our lives–to feel good when we wake up in the morning and greet our animal friends, our plant friends, our human friends and even our imaginary friends. Feeling good, becoming fully who we are most intimately that’s the point of economics. If you favor capitalism as currently constituted then you are, fundamentally, a kill-joy. If we opted for the best idea I know of from Buckminster Fuller which is to give everybody a living and have complete confidence that out of a hundred people several or even one person will do something amazing to more than benefit the others who are just playing around.

          We are playful creatures and that creativity, I believe, is what will get us to the next level to deal with collective issues we face whether it’s climate change or meteors or deadly diseases. Instead we chose to live in fear and allow the most amoral among us run our lives.

          1. citizendave

            I would amplify. The floor should support everybody — we could have a modest social security-type stipend that would pay for the basic cost of living: shelter and food. Medicare for all. Education for all. Public transportation for all. Let them play all day long for the rest of their (our) lives if they want. We have millions unemployed, under-employed, dis-employed — while people who have jobs are forced to work longer hours. We could ease up, take the pressure off, pay more for less work. We’ll need to do something like that if we’re ever going to achieve a steady-state economy that will not consume the whole planet in a generation. As you suggest, the economy should serve us. We should be able to enjoy much more leisure time. It would help to reduce the cost of health care — I’m convinced that the cost of modern living in the developed world, or at least here in Estados Unidos, takes a heavy toll on health due to stress. I see no fundamental or inherent reason why we can’t adjust the worth of an hour of human labor greatly upward. For anyone who wants to work, let an hour of labor pay the cost of living for a day. Or a week. Or a month. I know a conservative person who will howl at this idea, but his frame of reference is the old (current) infinite growth paradigm that cannot last forever. We need a lot more money for a lot less work.

      4. from Mexico

        Lawrence Goodwyn, in The Populist Moment, renders a critique of progressivism similar to Sorel{s, but like yours it is much more fundamental.

        Folks like Goodwyn don’t see a lot of difference between state capitalism and state socialism. As he explains:

        On the available evidence, twentieth-century people around the globe are paying a high price for their submission to the hierarchical languages of political analysis that have grown out of the visions of Adam Smith and Karl Marx. The problem that will doubtless interest future historians is not so much the presence, in the twentieth century, of mass political alientation, but the passivity with which the citizenry accepted that condition. It may well become known as the century of sophisticated deference.

        As objects of study, the Populists themselves were to fall victim to the inabilty of twentieth-century humanists of various ideological persuasions to conceive that authentic political substance might originate outside such acceptable intellectual sources as the progressive, capitalist, middle classes or the European socialist heritage.

        My favorite thinkers at the moment hail from the world systems school, folks like Immanuel Wallerstein, Samir Amin, and William I. Robinson. Some people call them Marxists, but if they’re Marxists, they do a pretty rigorous critique of orthodox Marxism.

        My take is that both capitalism and Marxism are products of what Stephen Toulmin called “unreconstructed Modernism.” But, as Toulmin explains, unreconstructed Modernism has pretty much run its course as a useful doctrine:

        Intellectually, the unreconstructed Modernity whose rise and decline we have chronicled here had three foundations: certainty, formal rationality, and the desire to start with a clean slate…. With the reconstruction of Europe after 1648, the rigidity of the structures that developed in response to those demands had real merits: they met the demand for “stability” that was a prime preoccupation of Europeans at that time. As we approach the third millennium, our needs are different, and the ways of meeting them must be correspondingly rethought. Now, our concern can no longer be to guarantee the stability and uniformity of Science or the State alone: instead, it must be to provide the elbowroom we need in order to protect diversity and adaptability.

        Nostalgia for the Modern Cosmopolis exposes us to the frailty of the image of Nature on which it rests: of a stable physical system of bodies moving in fixed orbits around a single, central source of power – the Sun and the planets as a model for the Sun king and his subjects. This model served constructive ends in the 17th century, but the rigidity it imposed on rational practice in a world of independent and separate agents is no longer appropriate in the late 20th century, which is a time of increasing interdependence, cultural diversity and historical change. Intellectual and social patterns that had the virtue of being stable and predictable in earlier times turn out, in our time, to have the vice of being stereotyped and unadaptable. By continuing to impose on thought and action all the demands of unreconstructed Modernity – rigor, exactitude, and system – we risk making our ideas and institutions not just stable but sclerotic, and being unable to modify them in reasonable ways to meet the fresh demands of novel situations.

        –STEPHEN TOULMIN, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity

      5. Joe

        “But today, in an age of deep fragmentation we all need to ask this question because we cannot trust what has come down from the past (sorry fundies) because our situation is so radically unique that whatever answers people have had in the past are almost useless as much as I deeply love some of those answers.”

        I wouldn’t throw out the baby with the bath water just yet. Our ancestors were much more effective problem solvers than they are given credit for, and their more inventive solutions to the problem of conservation are well worth emulating. For instance, consider the existence of terra preta, an anthropogenic soil that is extremely fertile, in the Amazon Rainforest. The present scholarly consensus has it that the reason that the Amazon has such an unusually high amount of biodiveristy is because the indigenous populations were able to create terra preta and use it as the basis of their agricultural systems. The areas of the forest containing the highest concentration of this type of soil, along with the greatest extent of biodiversity, also happen to be the locations of the great civilizations that were wiped out as a result of contact with the Spaniards. In other words, the inhabitants of precontact South America were able to terraform their local environments! Give the works of William Balée a read if you’d like to learn more.

    3. sufferinsuccotash, stupor mundi

      Most of us get our notions about the Progressive Era from our high school history texts which tend to portray it as a lot more radical than it really was. Also at work is the fallacy of “Whig history”–viewing the past in the light of the present.

      “At first those greedy meat packers operated their businesses in a filthy, unhealthy and unregulated fashion. BUT, then Upton Sinclair wrote ‘The Jungle’ which Teddy Roosevelt happened to be reading while chomping on a breakfast sausage. So out of that we got the FDA and then we all lived happily ever after.”
      That’s the sort of narrative that tells us what we’re supposed to want to hear, complete with a Hollywood-style ending and the implication that no further reform is necessary. What gets overlooked is the fact that, as Kolko pointed out, the big meat packers actually wrote the regulations that went into enforcing the Pure Food & Drug Act, their purpose being to drive small meat packers out of business.

      There’s another common and deeper misunderstanding regarding Progressivism’s overall goals, which were mainly along the lines of regulation rather than redistribution. In fact, most Progressives saw regulation (antitrust legislation, railroad rate regulation, the Federal Reserve) as an acceptable substitute for the socialism or syndicalism represented by, say, Eugene Debs and the IWW (it’s worth noting that come WW1 the erstwhile Progressives didn’t hesitate to railroad Debs and the Wobblies into prison). The 1912 presidential campaign’s great debate between the competing views of Roosevelt (the “New Nationalism”) and Wilson (the “New Freedom”) was basically a debate over how to regulate business, something which a sizable portion of the business community was ready to support, or at least accept. The genuine left-wing candidate was, of course, the Socialist Debs.

      Maybe the contemporary embrace of the term “Progressive” is really more about branding than anything else. “Socialism” as a political label seems to be pretty radioactive nowadays, but then who’s responsible for that? It’s the Right that’s responsible, and part of the Left’s problem is that it tacitly acquiesces in how the opposition frames the debate.

      1. Susan the other

        Also falling under the category of how did we get in this mess in the first place: Incorporation was initially reserved for common goals like incorporating towns and charities. It was found to be useful by big industry because they needed a lot of shareholders to spread the risk (sound familiar?) When corporations like the Railroads took hold people reacted by unionizing. A natural reaction to being left out of the profits of progress. Corporations had turned incorporation on its head morally by extracting most of the common good away in profits. And they made up for this by a virtual PR trick – distributing a dividend, however small, to their common shareholders. Etc.

        1. banger

          Indeed. Corporations have a competitive advantage over individuals as any organization has that advantage. This is what we are seeing–the end, thank goodness, of individualism as a viable way of life for most people. What people who do not live to play dominance/submission games need to do is form corporations–that legal status has great advantages–this is what is missing–a pragmatic approach to reality by the left. Reform and social democracy are not in the cards–we’ll either survive as the equivalent of free-cities in feudal Europe or be serfs to the predatory corporations. The choice is up to us.

          1. sufferinsuccotash, stupor mundi

            Speaking of “feudalism”, the alternative of free cities could evolve into a fairly powerful countervailing force if they join in confederations. The Middle Ages provide some plausible-looking examples in 12th century northern Italy’s Lombard League and in the nearly contemporaneous Hanseatic League in northern Germany. After all, the current economic system is in part an outgrowth of the post-Westphalian territorial sovereign state enjoying absolute and undivided authority within its own borders. It’s at least conceivable that the next economic system might depend on a re-invention of sovereignty.

    4. nonclassical

      ..this “rant” needs more than work-it requires historical documentation, as it flies in the face of historical reality-there actually WAS a “Pecora Commission”. There was also a time when Wall $treet banks asked FDR to “nationalize” them..

      These were desperate times, leading to stabilizing legislation, which held U.S. economy stable for over 50 years…(historical documentation).

      Anti-“the people’s representative government” types attempt to obliquely define
      abstraction, as usual. (not that government under bushbama is in people’s interest). This “rant” is simply more of same…anti-government-blame government neo-intellectualism…obviously assigned to abstract scapegoating..

  3. Kevin S

    Consider a 260 day work year with 10 hr work days.

    Entry-level analyst salary at an average firm making maybe between 50-60k.

    You are unlikely to take lunch hours, you’ll work well-past a 10 hr day sometimes, and your email will need checking even while sick/weekends/holiday.

    You get between $20-25/hr at a nominal rate, probably less after adjusting for those negatives listed. But you have a living wage and maybe decent benefits. Because a market exists for your services, and you can accept that value. A market also exists for unskilled/semiskilled labor, and the price for it is the price they can hire at, subject to a floor.

    Workers rights are incredibly important, but there’s a big difference between low wages and abusive practices. Now, if collective bargaining can get you a better salary, I am all for it. But it’s a moot point if you take a job, get irritated at the pay, and they can replace you at an equal rate.

    1. Ben Johannson

      Minsky made the point the best way to deal with such problems in a capitalist economy is by tightening the labor market via ELR. He also pointed out our efforts to deal with poverty were doomed to failure because we continue to view the poor as the problem rather than the economy itself. Rising wages and job security are the outcomes of labor scarcity.

      1. Yalt

        ELR doesn’t seem to address the other problem mentioned above, “development of human capabilities to the fullest extent.”

        Wouldn’t it be more effective to tighten the labor market with a guaranteed subsistence income for all, one not tied to any requirement for “employment”? I suspect that most of the people in need of ELR would find far more productive uses of their time than the makework of an ELR program.

    2. anon y'mouse

      you can’t “afford” to take lunch and must answer emails at home all the time even when you are sick? so when does a person in that situation ever get enough psychological distance from work (which is what “rest time” is, not just physical rest) to build back up the stamina to give their best? or is this the theory that a constant, but lower-than-optimal level of stressed out work is better than someone who goes home and has a nice evening with friends and a bottle of wine and never looks at their cell, then comes to work refreshed and ready to take on the new challenges?

      there is nothing going on in most people’s jobs that is SO IMPORTANT (lives are not dependent upon it) that they must be on the leash at all times of the day and night. for one to be willing to be so, they must necessarily sacrifice at least part of their attention to themselves and their families.

      sounds like worse-than-slavery to me. just because you’re patting yourself on the back for being “smart enough” to get twenty bucks an hour doesn’t make you any less the master’s dog.

      1. from Mexico

        This quote might help:

        The white collar worker may not own any property and may therefore logically belong to the proletariat, but the dictum of Boudin and others that salaried workers “are in reality just as much a part of the proletariat as the merest day laborer” fails to take important psychological factors into consideration. If we may regard Germany, where all the social and political forces of modern civilization have reached their most advanced form, as a criterion, none of the disinherited middle classes express themselves politically in proletarian terms. On the contrary they turn to fascism, which combines enough radicalism, to give the poorer middle classes some hope of better things to come, with the political strategy of anti-Marxian and nationalism, by which it gains the support of the economic overlords, who are afraid of the rising tide of labor. That the middle classes can be drawn into a party in which the wealthiest and the poorest ostensibly make common cause, is the measure of their political intelligence. Whatever may be the logic of their position in economic terms, they would rather express their resentments in a nationalistic spirit, and in minimum demands for the elimination of financial abuses, than in thoroughgoing economic changes. They will never be reduced to proletarian terms politically (even though they are reduced to those terms economically) until they have lost their cultural as well as their economic inheritance. Unlike the proletarian, they do not stand outside, but thoroughly inside, the national culture.

        –REINHOLD NIEBUHR, Moral Man & Immoral Society

        1. Maju

          While I’m not in total disagreement with the quote, saying that fascism is in any way “radical” (i.e. addressing the problems at their roots) is a total fallacy. Hence, when faced with real problems, fascism can’t but fail miserably exactly the same as its more moderate bourgeois-parlamentarian alternatives.

          Anyhow, while I’m indeed concerned about the raise of fascism in various forms, including maverick “firefighter” populism like Beppe Grillo’s, there is something in the nature of the period we live in that makes fascist success very unlikely: the disciplinary nature of Fordist Capitalism is long gone and fascism (like Stalinism) cannot effectively work with the more chaotic and cooperative nature of late “Toyotist” Capitalism, which need of free informative flow in order to properly organize the cooperation of the social worker.

          Hence today fascism is a cul-de-sac in spite of all.

      2. from Mexico

        As well as this one:

        Disraeli’s discovery is one more proof of how well they [modern race/class ideologies] serve to combat feelings of social inferiority. For if race doctrines finally served much more sinister and immediately political purposes, it is still true that much of their plausibility and persuasiveness lay in the fact that they helped anybody feel himself an aristocrat who had been selected by birth on the strength of “racial” qualification. That these new selected ones did not belong to an elite, to a selected few – which, after all, had been inherent in the pride of a nobleman – but had to share chosenness with an ever-growing mob, did no essential harm to the doctrine, for those who did not belong to the chosen race grew numerically in the same proportion.

        –HANNAH ARENDT, The Origins of Totalitarianism

      3. banger

        There’s absolutely no point to much of modern wage slavery other than bosses dominating employees because they are perverts.

        I was very interested when decades ago many people (including me) became interested in flattening hierarchy using group dynamics and what we now call crowd sourcing to make for more efficient and human organizations–everyone attended seminars, meetings and a lot of blah-blah–but in the end things returned to business as usual only even worse because there was a permanent bunch of jargon to contend with that made everything seem like a Mad-Hatter’s tea party. In fact, managers had not the slightest interest in actually flattening the organization (ok, some did) it just increased their self-esteem to pretend to be interested. In fact, they wanted control and power that’s why they bothered to step on other people to become managers in the first place.

        This is how much of the “real” world operates and wastes a lot of time on.

        1. anon y'mouse

          banger, it is even worse in my view (what you allude to).

          they will take ideas like that and pervert them to their own ends, using the New-Newspeak to paper over their abuses while trying to trick the employee into earning them more money. making the leash a bit more camouflage with this jargon that espouses equality, sharing, values, etc. on and on.

          the business classes I took at college (which made me switch out of that as my major, ultimately) were full-on propaganda vehicles to tell the world that BIDness, as they would like us to view it, is a giver and a giver and a giver—of jobs, of gewgaws, of equality, of charity money and so on. and we should just all feel blessed (channel the Church Lady) to be a part of it.

          they want to hoodwink the workers as much as the customers. sorry, but behind-stage is as ugly as a sausage machine and no amount of clever wording or PR stuff can hide it from even a semi-intelligent dummy like me.

  4. allcoppedout

    It would be good to see more street protest and worker power. The real problems are deeply ideological. Our work ethic is nonsense, as is inherited wealth and rentier crap. Management is difficult without some ability to boot arse – I had a farcical job not that long back in which I was supposed to get academics to do extra work for no extra pay (central and faculty finance wanted to steal the cash). There needs to be reward for the hard yards, but it seems to me we have become fascist in this, overturning persuasion, coercion and violence to violence, coercion, persuasion, calling this fascism meritocracy.
    My guess is we need something radical in the way we are prepared to organise. The rich need sequestration, but along with many other changes needed, we need to invent a system that will get needed work done without current brutality and threats from the ‘global race’.

    1. banger

      What we need is compassion. We are deeply connected and we are hardwired to be connected. This is objective fact. That notion needs to spread, i.e., that there is no such thing as a separate individual–it is an impossible ideal to be alone and separate and pursue your own interests. It is like the theory of phlogiston or that the sun revolves around the Earth.

      Once the above is clearly understood politics can follow. If we live in an radically unequal society everyone is stressed both the poor and the rich–the rich just have better drugs, or to be more presices, their addictions can be fed and they can turn off their higher brains more easily and be surrounded with people who sing their praises–indeed, this is actually the case, the rich actually do surround themselves with flatterers and that is why they are so f!cking blind–it’s not that they are merely evil (though some are like Dimon, Blankfein and others).

      1. Glasshammer

        “That notion needs to spread, i.e., that there is no such thing as a separate individual–it is an impossible ideal to be alone and separate and pursue your own interests.”

        Any system of government built on an “anti-social” social policy is complete nonsense.
        But the belief in such a system has spread through the nation like a memetic virus.

  5. banger

    The way we arrange our lives is deeply dysfunctional. The proof is in the pudding. We are a society that is unable to deal with any challenge the collective faces. All we can do is run in place. The prime issue of our time is that we live in a finite planet, we have almost unlimited technological capacities, and we will not and cannot deal with the environmental crisis staring us in the face. Doesn’t matter what scientists say we refuse to act or do anything about it other than make feeble hand movements (the left) in that direction at best and at worst just give the problem the finger (the right).

    What does this have to do with labor issues? Plenty. We, as a society, do not care for our fellow humans unless we personally know them and even then it’s very iffy. Science tells us that we are hard-wired for connectivity–we connect even when we don’t want to connect–we are connection machines. Yet our culture demands that we be as unconnected as possible though when there are disasters all of a sudden we have permission to open our hearts. Other than that, lock them up!

    We had a struggling young couple over for dinner. The wife is unemployed the husband is employed and must travel almost an hour each way to his job. He’s a good guy and wants to work but he has a boss who is humiliating him and making him feel like he wants to die. As he describes it I understood the pattern in detail as the content of an S&M fantasy except our friend did not consent to be the bottom. Bosses like being bosses often for the opportunity to exercise their perversions just like scout leaders or priests will use their position to sexually abuse children. This is who we are as a society–we sanction dominance and submission relationships at work whether they are overtly sexual or not they are always, in a way, overtly sexual. Cruelty seems to be what we honor. Humiliation is something that seems to amuse us as reality TV shows us. This is who we are as a culture. Deeply dysfunctional, deeply perverse. The Marquis de Sade is our guru, our saint. Can we find yet new ways to hurt people? Let’s try grabbing people from Central Asia and torture them publicly just so everyone can see we can do it and we will do it them even if they haven’t done anything wrong just because we’re f!cking nuts—hahahahaha. Are we much different than John Wayne Gacy? We still support a monster like Mr. Obama who orders people to be killed without trial or, I suspect, much evidence or due process thereby eviscerating habeas corpus? I can probably guarantee that those people are not a serious threat to any of us in this country. At the same time, Obama orders the Justice Dept. to not even seriously investigate Wall Street criminals who literally stole money from me and maybe you? These people caused death and misery to countless people around the world. How many suicides? How many depressions, anxiety attacks–I can name people this deeply affected and almost broke–my current wife and ex wife being just two people close to me who both owned small businesses that were affected by this gang of thugs.

    The whole capitalist system is a cancer, not because it is inherently evil but because it is simply not practical or able to meet our human needs for connection and joy. It is to life what the sex-scenes in *Eyes Wide Shut* are to sex.

    1. Eclair

      “This is who we are as a society–we sanction dominance and submission relationships at work whether they are overtly sexual or not they are always, in a way, overtly sexual. Cruelty seems to be what we honor. Humiliation is something that seems to amuse us as reality TV shows us. This is who we are as a culture. Deeply dysfunctional, deeply perverse. ”

      Thank you, Banger, for condensing into words what has been a free-floating miasma in my mind for a while. Can we call it Patriarchy? That need for dominance, which always implies someone (or something) else as submissive.

      1. Massinissa

        I dont think the word Patriarchy suffices, firstly because this sort of sadism isnt an inherently male thing (God alone knows there are plenty of sadistic female bosses, even if they are not as common as the male version),

        and secondly because the term Patriarchy when used in feminism means something almost completely different and unrelated to what Banger is saying.

      2. banger

        Well, I don’t know–there is an aspect of patriarchy that has that dynamic. Riane Eisler might think so.

  6. washunate

    Preach it David.

    Every time someone tries to claim that wage stagnation and wealth inequality are caused by international trade or technology or free markets or lazy millennials or skills mismatches or any other such crap, remember, it’s the federal government itself that pays some people $15 an hour and others $500 an hour.

    It’s the federal government itself that sets the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour and the salary test level for FLSA overtime exemption at $455 per week and the maximum marginal income tax rate at 39.6%. It’s the federal government itself that incarcerates low income drug users and immigrants even as the psychopathic financial crooks and war criminals steal our national wealth.

    Domestic public policy is the problem.

  7. Nathanael

    The violent assaults on relatively peaceful protestors is familiar in countries from Palestine to apartheid South Africa.

    This is a case where they aren’t being ethnically discriminatory about it, which is particularly stupid on the part of the police state leaders. The last countries which I can think of which committed that sort of *general*, non-ethnically-based abuse of the populace were monarchies shortly before they collapsed in revolution. (Governments where the abuse is ethnically based can keep it up longer, by appealing to racism.)

    The only result of the violent abuse of protestors is radicalization. If you know you’ll get shot with rubber bullets or electrocuted for peaceful protests, does it make you compliant? No, it does not. It makes you much more likely to switch to more unstoppable tactics.

    Usually the next round would be bombings and assassinations, a la Dorner. I’m not sure *why* the leaders of the police state want their homes firebombed and their families murdered, but that appears to be what they’re asking for, and they’ll probably get it.

    The third round is when large numbers of people start organizing with truly serious intent, as they did in Russia between 1909 and 1914. The elite has absolutely no idea how to deal with this, and neither do I. This isn’t a path I would have gone down. It’s a path which destroys the existing elites. Why are they going down it? They’re stupid and psychopathic.

    1. Massinissa

      “Usually the next round would be bombings and assassinations, a la Dorner. I’m not sure *why* the leaders of the police state want their homes firebombed and their families murdered, but that appears to be what they’re asking for, and they’ll probably get it.”

      The elite dont care about history, and more importantly, do not understand it at all. If they know any history at all its probably the fabrications about american history created for the proletariat by previous elites (In other words, the Inner Party has been listening to the prolefeed).

      The elites are not cohesive, so have no collective memory of what happened a hundred or more years ago (not that theyre alone: most parts of society dont, with the exception of particularly ingrained cultural events like, say, the American Revolution).

      Without a historical narrative beyond the last few decades, the elites are entirely incapable of forseeing other possible conclusions to their current socio-political actions.

      To be fair, they are making decisions using the only information they possess. And that is knowledge of an inherently docile population. Under such a variable, their predations upon the masses are rather rational.

      If a cat has never seen the rat fight back before, why would the cat expect it?

    2. from Mexico

      Nathanael says:

      Governments where the abuse is ethnically based can keep it up longer, by appealing to racism.

      I don’t know about that.

      The United States managed to fight an ideologically justified war (war on communism) for over 40 years , and to kill over 6 million people in the process, as Philip Agee and John Stockwell explain here:


      And for the past 12 years the US has done a pretty good job of keeping it up in another ideologically justified war, the war on terrorism, in which it has maimed and slaughtered millions of people.

      1. Yalt

        My recollection of the demonization of that particular enemy–the ones we actually killed, I mean, not the ones we shook our fists at–is that it was quite explicitly racial. They were LBJ’s “yellow horde”, they were “gooks”.

        We bloodied our hands with some white people along the way, to be sure, but the scale of the violence was never quite so grotesque when the victims were European and I don’t think that was an accident.

      2. Kurt Sperry

        The “war on terror” is an ad hoc conflation of quasi-ideological fear mongering–“they hate us for our freedoms”, “Sharia law stands at the doorstep” and essentially racism– “dune coon”, “towel head”, “sand nigger” categorical dehumanizations of what would here be visible minorities. The subtext of the rhetoric plays on the cusp between xenophobia and racism, but to people who can’t find Iran or Egypt on a map the distinction is essentially meaningless.

        1. from Mexico

          There is, however, a difference between racism and tribal nationalism.

          Racism is a supranational ideology (i.e., a “Jew in general” is a “Jew everywhere and nowhere.”) In racism, the state does not let some races in, regardless of what ideology they profess. Being a Jew, according to German racist ideology for instance, was immutable, and excluded one from inclusion in the nation.

          In tribal nationalism, all races are allowed in, but they have to check their ideology at the door. They have to “assimilate” and profess what Teddy Roosevelt called “True Americanism.”

          A perfect example of this was to be found in Barak Obama’s commencement speech to Moorehouse College just a couple of days ago. The Atlanta-based historically black private college is exclusively for men. Here’s what Obama had to say:

          As Morehouse Men, many of you know what it’s like to be an outsider; know what it’s like to be marginalized; know what it’s like to feel the sting of discrimination. And that’s an experience that a lot of Americans share. Hispanic Americans know that feeling when somebody asks them where they come from or tell them to go back.

          Gay and lesbian Americans feel it when a stranger passes judgment on their parenting skills or the love that they share. Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith. Any woman who knows the injustice of earning less pay for doing the same work — she knows what it’s like to be on the outside looking in.

          In other words, in America racial, gender, religious, and sexual-identity diversity will be allowed. But as we know from other actions and statements Obama has made, ideological diversity will not be allowed, and anyone who doesn’t profess the one true faith — American exceptionalism coupled with unwavering support for US imperial ambitions (world hegemony and full spectrum dominance) and free-market fundamentalism — will not allowed in, and will be marginalized and hounded by the state.

          1. Kurt Sperry

            “Muslim Americans feel it when they’re stared at with suspicion because of their faith.”– BHO

            Says the man putatively at the head of the security state focused in large part on doing exactly that. The naked cognitive dissonance required must be pathological.

    3. Jagger

      Anyone that has studied history must be struck by the repetitive nature of mistakes by the “ruling elite” regardless of time, culture, society, etc. Over and over and over, the same types of mistakes are repeated which are often simple and clear as day when viewed from a distance. Power and hubris is a dangerous combination. Our “ruling elite” is no different.

    4. hunkerdown

      They do seem to have invested significantly in force multipliers, the technology to manage public sentiment, and various ways of neutralizing radicals with minimum noise and maximum deniability before they become effective radicals.

      They may well be thinking “it’s different this time”, and they may well have made that so.

      1. Nathanael

        It’s not even a little bit different this time. The tools they have for suppressing dissent and revolution are LESS powerful than the tools present in feudal Europe.

        Those included:
        – a legal system tying people to the land
        – legal monopoly of weapons in the hands of the elite
        – legal monopoly of education in the hands of the elite
        – legal monopoly of information distribution in the hands of the elite
        – The obey-your-leaders form of Christianity as an ideological operation ordering people to do what they’re told or go to hell

        The latter was particularly powerful. While television was an effective brainwashing device, religion has it beat by a huge factor.

  8. Eric Patton

    These vapors circling around the country don’t have to form into a solid mass, and they won’t without a lot of clever, savvy organizing and strategizing.

    Left:strategizing::fish:bicycle. Except when it comes to running small businesses. The left is very good at strategizing about that.

  9. Maju

    I just read elsewhere (http://firenexttimenetwork.org/2013/05/21/a-thousand-students-walk-out-of-classes-in-philly/) that Pennsylvania students are striking intermittently for their right to a proper education. While I’ve got negative statements here about the capability of the US working class to organize and fight, the facts on the ground actually show the opposite in a growing manner. Furthermore, I get the impression that, in the mid-term, as the most brutal and merciless kind of Capitalism is being restored, the class consciousness can only grow. When you can’t even pay your bills, you cannot be content with the regime but extremely upset, and this is obviously not anymore limited to an underclass but a generalized growing phenomenon: a boiling pot which will unavoidably explode at some point.

    1. Nathanael


      From studying history, I know how to stay in power, if I become a ruling elite. Step one: keep everyone fed and busy. (Bread and circuses, if you like. Or, grain, holidays, and pyramid-building, to use the ancient Egyptian method.)

      We’ve got psychopaths and situational psychopaths in charge, who are for whatever reason unwilling to provide those basics. Because of that, class-consciousness and organized rebellion will happen quite spontaneously and be quite unstoppable.

      Well, unstoppable unless some sensible member of the elite — call him a “warlord” — whacks the current psychopaths and provides the bread and circuses.

  10. Lil'D

    It’s human nature.
    the strong tend to exploit the weak
    the weak can establish some security with joint action
    tribes form, compete, etc

    Goods and services need to be produced and the allocation of them is “economics”

    More human nature – extract rents. Why should there be any private ownership of land? it’s all about who has the force (or can command the force of “the state”) to control it.

    on and on
    but of course, in the long run Fukushima will poison us and climate change will knock off a few billion and the world will be different

    1. Susan the other

      Private property. How did we get in this mess in the first place? By declaring our right to property for value given. By declaring our right to hold land and use the surface of it for our own gain. For a house, a farm, a parking lot, a business. If you want your mineral rights you have to get another title. The private property rights for land are a contract that guarantees you the right to use your land according with the land use rules in effect. And pay your taxes accordingly. Following the rule of law is important – it is what entitles you to “own” your interest in property. This is where rubber meets road. Especially for the DoJ. They are ignoring the rule of law in favor of the banksters who are a rogue entity with no interest in any property. Or hardly any. By this treasonous maneuver, property rights as we have known them no longer exist. I think it’s a constitutional question at this point.

    2. banger

      I don’t agree–it is not human nature to exploit or dominate the weak. It happens when societies decline and become perverse. Science is showing us that we are hard-wired to be empathic and to connect with others. I believe the greed and nasty qualities of the elites come from sickness not health.

      I think we are on the cusp of establishing a cooperative culture out of this current dominator culture. I think more people are realizing this sort of thing is silly and we need to come together to solve our collective problems or we will seriously increase human misery in the next century.

      1. from Mexico

        That’s certainly the message that Larry Pinkney, John Pilger and Chris Hedges deliver in this video:


        I kind of run hot and cold on Hedges, because philosophically and theologically I don’t think he’s thought things through as thoroughly as Martin Luther King. But nevertheless, this is Hedges at his very best.

        1. banger

          I too have many misgivings about Hedges, he’s a little too in love with his rhetoric and he seems like a bit of an SOB but he’s our SOB and I admire him and his truly courageous stances and insightful books, particularly his attack on the liberal class.

          1. Massinissa

            At the end of the day, there is no black and white.

            Like everything and everyone else, Hedges is grey.

            But he is a considerably light shade of grey.

            He has faults, certainly, most people do. But his contributions are not unimpressive.

      2. Joe

        I’ve been loving your comments on this thread, banger. I’d just like to plug a few books for anyone interested in investigating the nature of human prosociality. Sarah Hrdy’s “Mothers and Others” establishes the central role that cooperative breeding played in making our distinctly empathetic and collaborative species what it is. Michael Tomasello’s “Origins of Human Communication” is by turns a trenchant critique of the Chomskian denial of the communicative function of language and an exploration of the psychological (theory of mind) and cultural (trust between speakers) foundations necessary for the utilization of language.

  11. Kenny Bunsen

    “The President could actually do something about federal contractors who violate labor law and underpay their workers without having to go through Congress, incidentally.”

    Oh for shit’s sake, get real. Besides underpaying the people who are working for them, contractors prevent people from getting jobs. The president could actually do something about a complete lack of rights in the workplace. Wasn’t card check promised for his second term?

  12. juliania

    Thank you so very much, David, for continuing to make your voice heard. This was a very informative piece, expanding helpfully into the housing protests, with which we remember Cheri Honkala’s involvement as an activist.

    This is, I think, profound:

    “…These vapors circling around the country don’t have to form into a solid mass, and they won’t without a lot of clever, savvy organizing and strategizing. But the conditions do exist for it to happen…”

    I gaze at our curious strands of climate change clouds, high and feathered, moving swiftly on. It is all, and will be I am sure, connected. There are many, many vaporous, streaming clouds around the country right now. Please do keep on keeping on.

  13. Wat

    I support these protesters. Obama’s behavior is just evil, with his Potemkin SOTU task force and the cost-of-doing-business settlement. At the same time, I did not think the cops were rougher than necessary. When the guy in the yellow polo shirt put his arm around the female protester’s neck, he seemed to me to keep the force focused on her shoulders, away from her throat, and they didn’t seem to yank her or do anything to cause pain during handcuffing.

    1. p78

      “Note the casual sadism. The young woman is surrounded by three men as she links arms with another protester.

      She does not appear to be in any way violent or threatening. The big man behind her holds her around the neck and whispers in her ear (who knows what he told her, but if it’s the usual, he says “cooperate right now or you’re going to be tased.”) As a peaceful protester engaged in civil disobedience she naturally refuses.

      At this point, they would normally pick her up bodily and carry her to the paddy wagon. Instead, they hit her with 50,000 volts of electricity, she crumbles to the ground as her whole body is overwhelmed by pain.

      And then they blithely walk away, leaving her writhing on the ground. Let’s just say they were lucky she wasn’t one of the thousands of people who’ve died from tasers. I guess they would have noticed at some point when she stopped screaming.

      This makes me sick to my stomach. And that it happened on the steps of the United States Department of Justice makes me ashamed to be an American.”


  14. RanDomino

    Hate to break it to you about Wisconsin, but after the union mis-leaders sounded the retreat the ‘movement’ fell on its sword. There is nothing left of it. It was basically a middle-class outburst and they decided they liked privilege too much to fight. Now it’s just a matter of how fast the neoliberals can sell the state’s assets and public lands, deregulate, privatize, etc. There are a few activists picking out hills to die on but that’s about it.

    1. Nathanael

      Naw. This is just phase one. It’s sometime after everyone has declared defeat that the actual revolution starts. Ask the Russians in 1918.

  15. RBHoughton

    Lots of anger here. Usually that suggests we are unsure what to do.

    Here’s a proposal.

    Work on your Governors and representatives to repeal the master / servant laws that control employment and lobby for a move to self-employment for all.

    Initially it may simply mean exchanging a sub-contract for your employment contract but its a step towards freedom and we will soon learn our power.

    1. from Mexico

      Not so.

      Most people don’t move from formal employment to informal employment of their own volition, but because they are forced to.

      In Mexico, for instance, the number of those in the informal sector has exploded since NAFTA, and almost all of them are worse off for it.

      Empirical studies have confirmed this.

  16. JTFaraday

    “The federal government is actually the largest low-wage job creator in America, higher than Walmart, McDonald’s or anyone else. The Demos report detailing this is very thorough and has already spurred a House Democratic investigation”

    Despicable. Plantation Master– the one American job that never goes out of style.

    Great post.

  17. ThatDeborahGirl

    These low-wage worker actions are small in the grand scheme of things, but significant because of what they represent – mass dissatisfaction with the current economic order. The land of the free imposes lots of barriers to this type of assembly, action and speech, many of them psychological. The American “ideal” of individual work ethic places lots of pressure on people not getting by in this economy to blame themselves, to see their lot as part of some personal deficiency. And when that doesn’t work, there’s good old-fashioned police repression.

    I’ve been reading Barbara Erenreich’s “Nickled and Dimed”. She makes the same points. If you haven’t read it, you should.

    1. Nathanael

      Actually, they haven’t done so yet. They could still turn back.

      They seem to intend to keep squeezing forever, though. Eventually, a huge number of people will have nothing left to lose, and then we will see revolution.

      The current elite don’t know when to stop. They are psychologically defective.

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