Is America Committing Slow-Motion Suicide? A Look at the Decline of CUNY

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Yves here. CUNY really was once a vehicle for allowing smart and disciplined people from low income backgrounds to move up in economic and social terms. I know a CUNY graduate who won an important physics medal, became the chief information officer for a major Wall Street firm, and also has several important inventions in his name (he loves tinkering with electronics). This is the sort of talent being wasted by the degradation of our education system.

By Louis Proyect, who has written for Sozialismus (Germany), Science and Society, New Politics, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Organization and Environment, Cultural Logic, Dark Night Field Notes, Revolutionary History (Great Britain), New Interventions (Great Britain), Canadian Dimension, Revolution Magazine (New Zealand), Swans and Green Left Weekly (Australia). Originally published at Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

Since my wife is a faculty member at Lehman College, the picture of its library in yesterday’s NY Times captured my attention:

lehman library CUNY

Lehman and other City University of New York colleges were profiled in an article titled “Dreams Stall as CUNY, New York City’s Engine of Mobility, Sputters” that like so many in the newspaper recently depicts an American in deep if not irreversible decline. Lehman’s library was a case in point:

At Lehman College in the Bronx, Robert Farrell, an associate professor in the library department, said the library’s entire book budget this academic year was $13,000, down from about $60,000 a decade ago. Because the roof has been chronically leaky, about 200 books were damaged during a rainstorm three years ago; a tarp still covers some volumes.

Mr. Farrell also said that the library has had to reduce its spending on academic journals and database subscriptions. “We can’t be a serious institution of higher learning without providing our faculty and students with access to these kinds of things,” he said.

It was just one more reminder that the ruling class of the USA has no intention of funding the public good. With respect to private enterprise, unless the same kinds of profits can be generated on American soil that can be made overseas in an epoch when capital takes wings and flies around the globe in search of higher profits, you will wait in vain for the post-WWII prosperity that both the Trump and Sanders campaign evoke. After all, capitalism does not exist to create middle-class jobs. It exists to allow men and some women to be able to buy $15 million condominiums in New York and vacation in St. Bart’s just like Gaddafi’s sons did.

The article mentions that the City University of New York was founded by Townsend Harris in 1847 as the Free Academy of New York to educate “the children of the whole people.” What a benign figure. But if you take five minutes digging into his past, you will learn that he was named the first Consul General to Japan in July, 1856 just after Commodore Perry made the Japanese an offer they couldn’t refuse. Perry commanded a fleet of four warships that arrived in Edo Bay on July 8, 1853. After the Japanese instructed him to go to Nagasaki, the designated port for foreign contact, he threatened to burn Edo to the ground unless they kowtowed to American demands to “open” up their country for trade. As it happens, the American Manifest Destiny that led to this gunboat diplomacy and the creation of a school for “the children of the whole people” went hand in hand. Slavery, colonial expansion abroad and internal expansion through the grab of Mexican and Indian land were essential to the consolidation of a modern capitalist powerhouse that needed an educated workforce to maintain its ledger books and sell its commodities.

It is questionable whether the same imperative exists today, even as neocolonialism and the oppression of Mexicans and Indians continue.

It is probably not news to people who have been following higher education issues as I have ever since I began working at Columbia University in 1991, but essentially the powers that be are “starving the beast” as Grover Norquist urged. The Times reports:

Since the 2008 recession, states have reduced spending on public higher education by 17 percent per student, while tuition has risen by 33 percent, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Arizona is spending 56 percent less, while students are paying 88 percent more. In Louisiana, students are spending 80 percent more on tuition, while state funding has been cut by 39 percent.

The article places emphasis on feuding between NYC mayor Bill De Blasio, hailed by the liberal left like Obama was in 2008, and Governor Cuomo about whom there are no illusions. Cuomo has foisted much of the funding for CUNY on the city, a burden it can ill afford. Some say that this is his way of paying back the PSC, my wife’s union, for backing his rival Zephyr Teachout in the DP primaries in the last gubernatorial election.

As a frequent visitor to the Nicaragua Network meetings in 1989, De Blasio struck me as a smooth operator but I hardly figured him as a future mayor. Despite dark reminders about his visit to Cuba and Sandinista sympathies, De Blasio has been a reliable friend of real estate interests. In yesterday’s Times, there’s an op-ed piece on the gentrification of Harlem that nails him for his failure to take them on:

Still Harlem endures as a community with high hopes, and in 2013, we felt sure we had found a champion. Bill de Blasio ran as the mayor for everyone, which we figured had to include Harlem. Black voters were crucial to his victory, and we thought we were covered and cared for. He even has a likable son, as liable to get stopped by the police as ours might.

We were wrong. The man we saw as “our mayor” may talk about housing affordability, but his vision is far from the rent control and public housing that President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia once supported, and that made New York affordable for generations. Instead, he has pushed for private development and identified unprotected, landmark-quality buildings as targets. He and the City Council have effectively swept aside contextual zoning limits, which curb development that might change the very essence of a neighborhood, in Harlem and Inwood, farther north. At best, his plan seems to be to develop at all speed and costs, optimistic that the tax revenues and good graces of the real estate barons allow for a few affordable apartments to be stuffed in later.

Corey Robin, who teaches at Brooklyn College, one of the more prestigious campuses in the CUNY system, blogged about the article:

The piece makes a brief nod to my campus, Brooklyn College, whose “rapidly deteriorating campus” has earned it the moniker “Brokelyn College.”

I can personally attest to that. On Thursday, as I left campus, I stopped in the men’s room of our wing of James Hall. One of the two urinals was out of business, covered by a plastic sheet. I sighed, and thought back to the time, about a year ago, that that urinal was so covered for about six months. The clock in my office has been stopped for over a year. Our department administrator tried to get it fixed: it worked for two days, and broke again.

He includes a picture of the desks in a classroom:

CUNY desks

You can bet that there are no desks like that at NYU or Columbia where the students are being prepped for jobs in the financial services or those sectors of the economy that look after big business’s far-flung empire. I imagine that an MBA from either of these two schools and a minor in computer science might open doors at an accounting firm or investment bank. Art history or sociology? Forgettaboutit.

You have to understand the decline of CUNY in the context of public higher education’s nationwide crisis. Everywhere you look, schools are being denied funding adequate to their needs. This almost certainly means that it will be more and more difficult for American corporations to staff the middle-tier managerial positions for which these schools are expected to furnish. The Times article points to the difficulties a young woman is facing trying to become qualified as a public school teacher:

At City College, Anais McAllister, 22, a senior from Yonkers, said she had planned to major in English with a concentration in education, which would have allowed her to become a teacher after graduation. When some of her required education classes were canceled, she realized she would need another year — and another $6,000, at least — to graduate with the education credential.

With her scholarship expiring at the end of this academic year, and a younger brother entering trade school in the fall to obtain his plumber certification, she dropped the education concentration.

“The fact that this can happen, where your department can be cut financially where you have to think about dropping it, is ridiculous,” she said.

With her problems probably being repeated across the system, it will be difficult for public schools to operate effectively, which obviously will be of little importance to someone like Cuomo who is a major backer of charter schools.

When Corey Robin posted a link to the Times article yesterday morning on FB, the first comment to appear was this: “We’re committing slow-motion suicide as a country.” I responded as follows:

This is obviously related to the state of American capitalism that in its current phase has little interest in the kind of national development that led to all sorts of public investments such as expressways, railway systems, higher education on one hand and on the other private investment in nationally-based manufacturing (auto, steel, etc.) Bernie Sanders advocates investment in the former but really has no idea how to get the capitalist class to invest in American manufacturing when you can get Mexican auto workers to accept much lower wages. The writing is on the wall but it is not suicide–it is homicide. Andrew Cuomo, the Koch brothers, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama–all of them could care less if Lehman College, where my wife works, has a leaking ceiling. They are only interested in serving their own class interests. The USA needs a socialist revolution and the longer we place hopes in capitalist reform, the longer we delay confronting the tasks that are staring us in the face.

Of course in FB, you are loath to post longer comments but I’d like to now expand upon what I wrote.

On May 15th Barack Obama gave the commencement speech at Rutgers University that contained this Panglossian statement:

Point number one:  When you hear someone longing for the “good old days,” take it with a grain of salt.  (Laughter and applause.)  Take it with a grain of salt.  We live in a great nation and we are rightly proud of our history.  We are beneficiaries of the labor and the grit and the courage of generations who came before.  But I guess it’s part of human nature, especially in times of change and uncertainty, to want to look backwards and long for some imaginary past when everything worked, and the economy hummed, and all politicians were wise, and every kid was well-mannered, and America pretty much did whatever it wanted around the world.

Guess what.  It ain’t so.  (Laughter.)  The “good old days” weren’t that great.  Yes, there have been some stretches in our history where the economy grew much faster, or when government ran more smoothly.  There were moments when, immediately after World War II, for example, or the end of the Cold War, when the world bent more easily to our will.  But those are sporadic, those moments, those episodes.  In fact, by almost every measure, America is better, and the world is better, than it was 50 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even eight years ago.  (Applause.)

Although the students were likely to appreciate the president’s visit, they might have questioned his take on the “good old days” considering that the school’s tuition is now $13,000 per year, one of the most expensive public university in the country. Of course, the school has tried to generate revenue through its athletic program but it keeps running into scandals on an almost yearly basis, the latest one connected to the football coach trying to get the administration to overlook a star player’s failing grades.

The problem for Obama is that many Americans do remember “the good old days”, which were not that long ago. When I was a student at the New School in 1967 and had completed most of the credits I needed for a PhD in Philosophy, I needed a job to keep me going as I worked on my dissertation. That led to jobs as a welfare worker and 5th grade teacher in Harlem that went begging back then when AFDC and funding for public education were in ample supplies as part of the Great Society—funded to some extent by feverish war spending a la Military Keynesianism.

When those jobs became too much of a psychological toll, I began looking at the classified ads in the Sunday Times business section, which usually ran for 5 pages or so. They were in alphabetical order and I turned directly to those that started “college graduates”. There were usually about three hundred listed that read something like this: “Major insurance company seeks programmer trainees, starting salary $6000. No experience necessary.” That’s how I got my first job at Met Life in 1968. The $6000 was adequate to pay for a modest one-bedroom or studio apartment. For me that was “the good old days” even though it was inextricably linked to a brutal imperialist war that would cost the lives of millions of Vietnamese.

For most working people in the area, jobs could be landed at places like Ford Motors in Mahwah, New Jersey or the oil refineries just across the river along the New Jersey Turnpike. Those were good union jobs that paid the kind of money that would allow you to live in a suburban tract housing and send your kids to college. Those who remember those “good old days” are being wooed by both Trump and Sanders who have about as much of an idea to bring them back as I do about the origins of the universe.

None of this matters to Barack Obama or the rich bastards who are funding both the Democrats and Republicans an on equal opportunity for profit basis. Their newspapers like the NY Times and even Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal can publish hand-wringing items like the one on CUNY but in the final analysis, they have no idea how to make America “great” again.

We are living in a period that can both be described as capitalist decline and capitalist expansion. Places like Detroit go down the tubes but for the capitalist investor, it could not be any better. All you need to do is stroll around the Chelsea neighborhood in NYC and gaze at the new condominiums that are the preferred homes for Wall Street hedge fund operators or plutocrats from Brazil, Russia, India or China, the bloc of nations that are supposed to be rescuing us from neoliberalism according to imbeciles like Mike Whitney.

The truth is that we are in a new kind of “The Other America”, the 1962 book that SP leader Michael Harrington wrote about the pockets of poverty in a nation in which everybody else was prospering. The coal fields of West Virginia and California’s Central Valley came under the spotlight. Nowadays, it is getting to the point where there will be pockets of extreme wealth surrounded by oceans of poverty or near-poverty only relieved by those middle-class families that can tread water sufficiently to keep from drowning.

This is not a nation “committing suicide”. It is one in which the superrich are killing the rest of us through a slow process of attrition. There is absolutely nothing in Bernie Sanders’s economic program that can reverse this. The idea that the USA can adopt a Nordic socialist model when Northern Europe itself has been cutting back on social programs and making life hell for immigrants is—in a word—utopian. The sooner we revive the radical movement of the sixties in which Sanders was committed to genuine socialism, the better.

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  1. Disturbed Voter

    We need to invade new continents, enslave new people, steal new land. Or unilaterally benefit from a World War started by Europeans. Repeat what works, until it stops working. It isn’t practical to extend this to Mars.

    We can’t wave a magic wand and become Swedes. They have their ME refugees, we have our Mexican refugees. Globalization is a one way trip, it can only be done once. All prior expansions were regional.

    1. ambrit

      “Globalization is a one way trip…”
      I’m not so sure. Look back at the Roman period. A powerful system that lead the then “known world.” Sure, there were places like Persia and China. This was well known, but peripheral to the Mediterranean Basin. For several hundred years, that region was run on an almost unified basis. Then the disasters of the early sixth century came along, and everything fell apart. If regional hegemonies can fall apart, there is nothing I can see that precludes the same happening on a global scale. The basic cause of such a collapse, which this article implies, is the disappearance of a prosperous middle class capable of purchasing the cheaply made goods from ‘overseas.’
      Having ‘tons of money’ probably is a lot of fun. Needing bodyguards, armoured automobiles, and being shut into gated communities and estates, is not so much fun. All we need is another series of disasters on the scale of events in the early sixth century for the monied class to start suffering along with the rest of us.

      1. Harry

        Don’t be looking at the Roman model unless you fancy being one of the slaves. I doubt I would be in the patrician class. Those disasters of the 6th century at least let me keep some of my work product.

    2. James Levy

      Most political economist will point out that we have barely recreated the level of globalization that existed in the era 1890-1914, so we’ve seen this picture before–think of the populating of the white settler colonies, the Italian peasants flocking to Argentina, and the Indian and Chinese collie laborers of the Caribbean basin.

      The US can hold on and not “decline” (as measured by the people at the top and those who identify with the power of the State) as long as it can finance its military forces and find passable recruits to man it. Rome and China show that you can go on a long time without a healthy economy or society for “the masses.” Even a rather shaky Manchu dynasty found the resources it needed to put down the Tai Ping Rebellion. It was being discredited by its failure to hold foreign powers at bay that doomed the Manchus, not the decline of some mythical middle class.

      1. Ed

        This is a good point. History is filled with examples of despotic states and empires where any creativity vanishes, but they just keep on keeping on for decades. The Ottoman Empire post Suleiman is a good example. The Chinese dynasties tended to be pretty useless as far as the elites went after the founders’ grandchildren’s left the scene, but could last centuries until the warlords returned.

        However, as other commentators noted, its actually different for the US because of the massive damage to the biosphere, mostly due to actions by US elites. And this is pretty unprecedented. Otherwise I would have no problem in predicting that America will wind up like China under the late Ming or Qing, or the Middle East under the Ottomans or late Abbasids.

      2. ambrit

        I take your point about the degree of “Globalization” during the Late Robber Baron Era. However, I would suggest that the basis of the economies roughly contrasted are different. The Belle Epoque West was still industrializing furiously, and labour was being utilized strongly. Today, labour is being relegated to running the dustbins of history, a task limited by the amounts of consumption, an ever shrinking factor as measured against the overall economy. Toss in population increase, and we have an ever expanding gap between supply and demand for labour; that gap being expressed as oversupply.
        The other variable tending to increase volatility in socio political relations is education. I will assert, unless someone can put forth evidence that the general population back then was one of bright shining philosopher serfs, that todays’ laboring classes know more and are exposed to a wider variety of useful stimuli than at any time in human history. As warmongers everywhere will tell you, once the bloom is off of the rose of a war, it takes the young and dumb to man the levies; hence, the ever intensifying struggle to control the means of information dissemination.
        So, for example, if the Peasants in Sinkiang province in the past go up in revolt over a lack of yak butter, deficiencies in communications in real time would dampen the movement towards sympathy strikes by the Peasants in Nanking. The time and effort required to coordinate naturally cross supportive movements would act in support of the central authorities movements to crush the Great Yak Butter Revolt. Playing the information differences would allow the possessors of superior information to act soonest and gain the upper hand. Today, near instant communications at least theoretically give the Yakistas and the Nanking Collective a chance to coordinate actions and thus effectively push their agendas forward.
        Finally, your example brings up a scenario fraught with danger. The last Gilded Age, somewhat similar to todays dynamic, ended with “The War to End All Wars.” An entire way of life was wrecked. Such an outcome today could wreck an entire world.
        Finally, and most importantly; how does one define America?
        This is what the political struggle is generally about.

        1. Art Vanderlay

          There’s really a mountain of evidence that working-class culture during the late 19th and early 20th century was more literary, inquiring and intellectual than it is today. Public education and libraries are core demands of the worker’s movements of those times. Jonathan Rose’s ‘The Intellectual Life of the Life of the British Working Class’ or much of Raymond Williams’ writing would be a good place to brush up on this. Contrast the contributions to newspapers at the time by people like the Massachusetts mill girls with the fact that functional illiteracy is rising in the USA and your point is nonsense.

          And what “wider variety of useful stimuli” are you referring to? Lolcats? Fast & The Furious 7? 50 Shades of Grey?

          People in the last period of globalization had near instant communications. They’d had it since 1844 when Mr Morse sent his first telegraph. And movements of workers, intellectuals, soldiers, etc were certainly more than capable of organising revolutions in that time – see the Mexican, Irish, Meiji Restoration, the overthrow of Caceres, 5th October Movement in Portugal, and of course the Russian Revolution.

          The role of Twitter and social media in modern rebellions has been mercilessly demolished by Evgeny Morozov in ‘The Net Delusion’ so let’s put that one to bed. The real effect of social media on attempts to organise social movements is to make surveillance possible on a scale that 19th-century Peelers could never have imagined.

          And what is meant by ‘labour was being utilized strongly.’ The miners who Engels observed rarely living beyond age 50 were certainly ‘utilised strongly’ but maybe not in the way you mean. The Bureau of Labor Statistics started collecting unemployment data in 1948. Before then we have to rely on census data which is patchy. With very frequent and deep recessions as well as ‘zero-hours’ contracts being the norm in many industries, labour was very often not being utilised strongly. Or at all.

    3. Moneta

      The US consumes more than 40% of resources and energy… so logically it should expect to house 40% of world population over time, or to see a reduction of its consumption.

      But it’s not just the US that is blind to this gift of energy. The whole Western world has lost track of the link between their lifestyle and nature’s bounty. From rags to rags in 3 generations?

      1. Vatch

        40%? I’ve seen references to 25% (which is still too high). What’s your source? Thanks.

        1. Moneta

          Stats go from 25% to 35% depending on the resource. I add 5-10% for resources consumed in other countries to produce goods made for Americans.

  2. Nickname

    I think it’s important to define what “genuine socialism” is. There’s state socialism, which is closer to what the Nordic countries have, and as the author rightly points out, social welfare programs are being cut back here (I live in Sweden) and the government is increasingly being co-opted by big business. In my opinion, the only sustainable (and just) form of socialism is libertarian socialism, whereby the power not only truly rests with the people (it already does, we’re just good at not realizing that) but the system is set up so as to reflect that as well.

    As an interesting side note, even though higher education is free here (though most still have to take loans to pay for their living expenses while at college – at rather favorable terms mind you), enrollment numbers are pathetic. Only about a third of high school students register for courses after high school (even taking gap years into account). That means that even though it is universally acknowledged that people who have completed some form of higher education have more career options and earn more money (i.e. greater financial freedom), two-thirds of the population chooses not to take that opportunity.

  3. troutbum75

    Capitalism is committing suicide, it’s called global warming. There is no free market price mechanism that can price the future. Hence the continued increase in greenhouse gases which are now driving climate change at an exponential rate. That is to say, it’s a non-linear rate of change which is additive to global warming in that warming begets more warming. Think about melting polar icecaps, huge forest fires, drought driven agricultural corp failures, and 6th mass extinction now underway. When will the “invisible hand” of capitalism begin to save humanity?

  4. the blame/e

    Note to the editor:

    Just once you might have told us what “CUNY” means. It is common usage of the English Language to first (or even periodically throughout a lengthy article such as this), spell out fully what CUNY is an abbreviation for. You are assuming that your audience knows. You are creating assumptions. Maybe this is why “CUNY” is in such dis-repair, dying from “benign neglect,” or something else. Nobody knows what CUNY stands for.

    I am an Upstate New Yorker. I will readily agree that the growing, provoked, unrelenting, blood sucking of just one city on a whole state does tend to make us a bit prickly. Upstate New Yorkers spell out who we are for those that believe New York City (NYC) is all that New York State is. Spelling things out doesn’t alleviate the blood sucking or the dismay most of us feel about being turned into NYC taxi cab drivers, but it is a start.

    1. cwaltz

      I would agree they did a horrible job with pointing out what the acronym means but I’m pretty sure that it is because they buried it’s meaning in the article instead of spelling it out for us.

      The article mentions that the City University of New York was founded by Townsend Harris in 1847 as the Free Academy of New York to educate “the children of the whole people.”

      CUNY=City University of New York

      1. Ignim Brites

        I expect that the point of the comment was that New York state would be better off without New York City. And since there is no way the rest of the Union would approve a state of New York City, secession, which is the new name for revolution, is the only option.

    2. peteybee

      As a former city resident, now happy upstate new yorker, and also once very briefly employee of CUNY (CCNY, specifically), I think this comment is mixing up a bunch of things.

      Firstly, yes, upstate NY and NYC/westchester/long-island/etc are distinct enough that they may well be better off as separate states. The bloodsucking comment is going to do what, exactly, to help?

      Second, state-funded (SUNY) and state+city-funded (CUNY) colleges are one of the actual good things that create some hope for the future. Though CUNY, or at least CCNY where I worked, was very clearly an institution past past its prime when I worked there ~2003. Which is really sad, it is something badly needed. SUNY typically gets compared to UC (and loses). With NYC still basically the power-capital of the planet, CUNY ought to be up there but is not, and it’s sad.

    3. Pat

      Just out of curiosity, does your condemnation of the bloodsucking city include all of its residents or is it a reference to one small section of that city – the one that houses the financial industry? Because if it is the former you need to get your facts straight. Similar to the fact that states like NY pay more in taxes than they get back, NYC actually supplies more of the state’s operating budget than it gets back. That is NOT bloodsucking.

      What has been destructive to upstate NY AND the majority of the city’s population has been the policies of our financial elite and their control of our elected officials. As industries have been destroyed in or relocated from both areas and the calculated schemes to deprive the citizenry of reasonable wages, and ALL of our communities of the taxes from the wealthy and the major corporations that they deserve, both areas have seen their population get poorer, their schools become more overcrowded and our infrastructure both physical and supportive crumbling or even disappearing.

      The city and the majority of its citizens are not the blood suckers you are seeking. And that is no jedi mind trick.

      1. Moneta

        If we include all the externalities that do not get reflected in our economic models, can we say the same?

      2. Ulysses

        I still identify very strongly with upstate, where I grew up, over the city, where I now live. I think that the perception that upstate people have is fueled by really obvious, tangible physical realities. The entire state subsidizes mass transit, for example. Yet there are no trolleys, subways, or even reliable local bus services that would allow upstaters to live without owning cars.

        The fact that the city subsidizes Medicaid, meth-treatment programs, food-stamps, etc. for the de-industrialized and pauperized upstate communities– devastated by outsourcing schemes cooked up in city boardrooms– is a very cold comfort to people north of Newburgh!

        1. jsn

          The vast majority of “State” funds with which NY State “funds” New York City PA/MTA etc. are revenues taxed from the City by the State: taxing authority is not wealth creation and even with PA/MTA “subsidies” to the City, the City pays more in tax to the State than it gets back. The shortfall is worst in education, on which this post focuses.

      3. direction

        I think a distinction can be drawn between a city and its residents. This original comment is reflecting a very widely held belief up here about new york city, but it doesn’t relate to people, just to the forces of urbanization in general. I grew up in Rochester, and am visiting currently. I have seen benefits to downtown over time that make the dreary 70s and 80s look like the economy back then was stagnated far far worse than now. But local taxation is heavy; housing prices stay low because no one can afford greater property taxes. The intelligentsia is drained (i know of only one person who stayed in the area from amongst my group of 50 high school classmates) not just to nyc but to other states and abroad. This is the only medium sized city where the skyline has changed because major high rises were not able to rent out enough office space to cover their taxes and had to go to the wrecking ball. We’re talking 20 stories tall. And that was before Kodak went bankrupt and all that subsequent demolition occurred. Kodak once employed 32,000 people, so you can say new small businesses are being created to fill the employment void, but that is a big void to fill, not to mention small business ventures do not support people with pensions etc. and the flight of businesses started well before the dot com boom. Rochester and Buffalo had huge amounts of industry early on due to the cheap power from our hydroelectric and then businesses started fleeing in the 80s. My father agrees that nyc is not what is draining us. I have heard it’s the local property taxes that are stifling us here and discouraging businesses from staying. We have very nice schools and town halls and fire departments, and no one seems to be able to bring the tax level down because jobs. So people see the riches of new york city and the decline of norther cities and believe causation when it is probably correlation. a common human tendency.

  5. shameonyou

    O nonsense, the problem at Cluny, as elsewhere, is that the money is spent on things not need for academic work. Administrators, “sport complexes”, dubious “centers”, and etc, suck up the cash, as does government interference by way of increased regulation. It is all about keeping the Liberal Nomenklatura in the pink.

    Itt has abosultely noting to do with “the super rich”, unless those members of the “super rich” are in the Nomenklatura.

    And this: “We need to invade new continents, enslave new people, steal new land. Or unilaterally benefit from a World War started by Europeans. Repeat what works, until it stops working. It isn’t practical to extend this to Mars.” is pure Marxist claptrap. This sort of agitprop could have been written in the 1930. Shame on you for repeating it.

  6. Michael C.

    I believe the faculty has worked 6 years without a contract and has voted over 90% to strike. Without attempting to sound like a conspiracy theorist, the assault on education is actually a conspiracy being worked via austerity. The Powell Doctrine was taken seriously. One of its key elements is to turn higher education into something different than an institution that educates people to critically function in a democracy. The wholesale defunding of it, the turning the faculty into predominately a part-time precariat class, the shrinking of the humanities in favor of punching out machine parts to fill the needs of the capitalist class—it’s all happening with intention, and as the present shows, intention is karma.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Karmic distress? Funny, I don’t see the Global Raping Class as suffering any Karmic distress. A nice notion, but who has all the money and property and power, again? And pretty much complete freedom from consequences? Who can drop $50 million for a painting or yet another “home” in some secure and beautiful foreign spot?

      The deal is, the worst among us (from the standpoint of the vast majority of us humans, who I still, perhaps naively, believe mostly just want a decent life) get to live out their lives of obscene consumption and ownership and predatory destruction, titillated and gratified beyond the imaginations of most of us. Then they finally die, comforted and cosseted by the kindness of the most skilled and diligent caregivers, the best medicines and treatments, the most attentive attentions and ministrations to ease their passing.

      And once they are dead, they are of course beyond any kind of retribution and escape any kind of restitution. What are we going to do to them? We mopes can’t get it together to resist and regulate the predators and parasites while they are alive — and dead, what remedies, what Karmic levers, can we mopes apply? Disinter them from their mausoleums, hang their rotting carcasses from lamp posts, slash and burn the dead flesh? or somehow gather the scattered ashes of their “cremains,” and urinate and defecate on them? “Apres nous who fokking cares what happens? IBG, bwahahahaha!”

      I don’t see much Karmic reaction to the end-game idiocy of the people who have figured out how to rule us, loot us and the only place the rest of us have to live. And what do we mopes do? Console ourselves with the reassurance reportedly given by Jesus (and others) that if we live meekly, render unto Caesar, give away all our wealth, do unto our neighbors as we would be done to, we shall “inherit the (residual husk of the) Earth”?

      1. Moneta

        Karma does not mean you get what you “deserve”, it means there is cause and effect.

      2. TheCatSaid

        “mostly just want a decent life” This is part of the problem, we have crappified our aspirations and imagination till they are reduced to just wanting a “decent life”. This is no doubt a major intention of the programming to which we are subjected from birth.

      3. sid_finster

        I see no evidence of karma. That’s why the Hindus had to come up with reincarnation, cause otherwise there are too many examples of virtue unrewarded and monstrosity unpunished.

  7. Paul Tioxon

    “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” ….. Oscar Wilde

    You can catch a fine Brit enunciating this pearl of wisdom in the movie starring Helen Hunt, along with great scenes from Italy: A GOOD WOMAN. A lively cast from 2004, including Tom Wilkinson and Scarlett Johanssen, witty, witty, witty.

  8. david lamy

    I do not feel that waving pom-poms for Upstate NY versus thumbs down for NYC is productive. We all share pretty equally in getting hosed by capitalism’s excesses.
    For me, there is no joy in seeing the City University of New York (CUNY) having worse facilities than SUNY New Paltz or SUNY Albany.
    Just as I am sure that NYC residents will recognize that casinos and craft beer brewing will not be the economic engine that returns Upstate NY to prosperity.
    I look forward to all New York State residents finding a better path forward.

  9. RabidGandhi

    Proyect is always worth a read, but this post encapsulates what turns me off about him. He makes substantial well-founded points (eg: don’t accept the Obama/DeBlasio apologism for the decimation of real jobs! Amen) but he then undermines his point with petty attacks (Mike Whitney is an “imbecile”) and blanket statements that owe more to marxist mantras than they do to reality (“Sanders advocates [infrastructure] investment… but really has no idea how to get the capitalist class to invest in American manufacturing”).

    For example, to me Mike Whitney falls into a group of writers who, as Proyect rightly points out, see the world as Good Guys vs Bad Guys, with the US being the former and the BRICS being the latter (other examples that come to mind include André Vltchek). And it is the strength of many Marxist writers (I think Proyect self-identifies as Trotskyist?) that they can see through the rhetoric of these regimes which are at most socialist in name only. So Whitney is misguided in a lot of his political analysis. But does that make him an imbecile? Especially compared to how Proyect reserves such epithets not for major criminals like Obama and DeBlasio but for Mike Whitney. How is that in any way constructive? Criticising Whitney is fine and dandy, but it should be put in perspective.

    Secondly, Sanders. Proyect’s complaint is that Sanders “has no idea how to get the capitalist class to invest in American [sic] manufacturing”. To which I say– so what? The only way the capitalist class does anything in the general interest is when they are dragged into it kicking and screaming. And this dragging is what we’re seeing (albeit in slow– far too slow– motion). Sanders has brought the idea into the Overton window that a grassroots movement is needed to force the hands of the capital class and their political stooges. Obviously, this is a call for the return of the New Deal (which is not a goal: worker control of industry is a goal). But if Proyect has a real, feasible, tangible programme for reaching that goal that will make more progress in that direction than the Sanders campaign, I’m all for it. Until then, supporting the Sanders campaign is one of the many strategies we should be implementing. But Proyect’s invective that “[t]here is absolutely nothing in Bernie Sanders’s economic program that can reverse this [process of attrition]” is false by exaggeration: the Sanders programme is not ideal and should not be treated as such, but it does call for bringing back millions of good paying union jobs, which would be a yuge improvement in the lives of most people in the country– nothing to snort at.

    Like I said, Proyect is always worth a read and I agree with most of his contentions; I just wish he wouldn’t undermine his salient points.

    1. Minnie Mouse

      ” how to get the capitalist class to invest in American [sic] manufacturing” A whopping carbon tariff on made in China – invest revenue in made in USA infrastructure. simple – it has been done before.

  10. Ed

    One of my knuckle-dragging reactionary opinions is that its time for New York State and New York City to just pull the plug on their state university systems. Its pretty obvious that they will never get the funding and organization to actually be good universities. We are in a situation where there are not enough jobs for college graduates even from universities with better reputations than CUNY/ SUNY (and no, these places don’t exactly teach critical thinking skills either). One thing that has been pointed out about late twentieth century/ early twenty-first century America, by people like Paul Fussell, is too many crap “universities”. So if you can’t fix them, just shut them down and find better uses for the money and the students will find better uses for their money and time.

    1. Lumpenproletariat

      The NYC vs. Upstate NY schism is yet one more hyper exaggerated issue used to distract and divide the populace.

      Why can’t the class interests of the moneyed elite be juxtaposed against the increasing desperation of the general public?

      And since we are talking about NYC vs. Upstate; let’s finally build a high speed rail line connecting Manhattan to Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. Oh wait, money is better spent financing asset speculation than on mundane things like CUNY/SUNY funding, or even fixing up dumpy LaGuardia.

    2. dav

      It is most definitely to me not obvious that the SUNY and CUNY systems cannot get funding.
      Here is the fix: elect assembly persons and senators that will fund them!
      I also take a bit of exception to the thought that our modestly funded state universities are crap. The crap is calling for pragmatic education rather than a time for scholarship for its own sake. But jacked up tuition fees lead to eliminating pie in the sky studies like history, English or mathematics in lieu of business vocational training.
      It is past time for a return to free public universities and just as importantly, free community colleges too.

    3. vegasmike

      In the 20th Century CUNY produced 15 Nobel prize winners. As for critical thinkers, many important left-wing leaders went to CUNY.

  11. Ishmael

    The sooner we revive the radical movement of the sixties in which Sanders was committed to genuine socialism, the better.
    The statement above is pretty funny. I keep asking people for one working example of a socialist state but you have to exclude Norway because it is small and has huge oil deposits. No examples ever occur. Having been involved in Argentina in the 70’s, Norway and one other quasi-socialist system I can tell you it generally has a strong authoritarian presence and usually does not benefit its citizens that well.

    Yesterday, I was reading about one group of Socialist Revolutionaries out of California during the period the author references. They moved their commune down to South America. They wanted close ties to the USSR and Red China. Do you know what it was called — Jonestown. I never knew it was founded on socialist and communist principles. Did not work out so well did it, but at least after most of them killed themselves in their wills they left several million dollars to the USSR. I am sure they appreciated it.

    The problem with the US is not that it is a capitalist system it has the heavy stench of socialism wrapped in with Corporatism.

    1. RabidGandhi

      Argentina was “quasi-socialist” in the 70s? When? Under the US-backed Onganía/Lanusse dictatorship (1966-73)? Under the Peronists when they used death squads to hunt down “subversives” with the Argentine Anti-Communist Alliance (AAA) (1973-76)? Under the Junta dictatorship which disappeared approx. 30,000 people, mostly syndicalists (1976-83)?

      You’re either talking about a different 70s or a different Argentina.

    2. pretzelattack

      in other words, you don’t actually know anything about the period the author was referring to. jonestown was a tragedy, caused by a cult, not “Socialist Revolutionaries”.i have no knowledge of anybody leaving “several million dollars to the ussr”–most of the cult members had little money, and it was more of a weird religion than anything to do with formal marxism or socialism (they are not the same). many of the people were murdered, not “suicides”.

      i think all nations have some sort of mixed economy these days. the us is farther from socialism than most, and the problems of economic inequality, declining standards of living for most, environmental degradation, and declining social mobility, among others, are driven by the greed of the elites, not the pathetically inadequate social safety net we have today, or high taxes, or burdensome regulations. global warming is a stark example of the failures of capitalism–the market cannot deal with it. you need heavy regulation, heavy government investment in renewable energy, and high taxes on fossil fuels.

      1. Alejandro

        IMHO, it seems to come from viewing “capitalism” and “socialism” as a contentious dichotomy…much like “I am” v. “We are”, which from my POV is a false dichotomy, that seems to be in constant flux, and without context become meaningless. I’m not even sure that these abstractions CAN be defined separately…

      2. Ishmael

        Well in fact when you look at certain statistics called ‘dependency ratio” the US is slightly further along on the socialism than even Sweden.

        As I read the continual bloviating of comments of the the Naked Capitalism FSA, I will once again repeat what I have said many times. Please give me one example of where you want to go which does not include a country with low populations and high natural resources. To date I have not seen one good example even though I have thrown down the gauntlet several times. People here are looking for the land of Skittle crapping unicorns.

        As regard to Argentina. Below is a little description of Peronism. Let me give you a short cut. Peronism translated to English is the Social Justice party. Look up Socialism and you will see one of the main goals is Social Justice.

        Sorry it is Jonestown not Jamestown, but with regard to millions please see below. I am also attaching the site if you want to read more of the communist/socialist connection. As they say keep drinking the Kool-Aid comrades. You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.

        Three high-ranking Temple member survivors claim they were given an assignment and thereby escaped death. Brothers Tim and Mike Carter, aged 30 and 20, and Mike Prokes, 31, were given luggage containing $550,000 in US currency, $130,000 in Guyanese currency, and an envelope, which they were told to deliver to Guyana’s Soviet Embassy in Georgetown.[148] The envelope contained two passports and three instructional letters, the first of which was to Feodor Timofeyev of the Embassy of the Soviet Union in Guyana, stating:

        Dear Comrade Timofeyev,

        The following is a letter of instructions regarding all of our assets that we want to leave to the Communist Party of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Enclosed in this letter are letters which instruct the banks to send the cashiers checks to you. I am doing this on behalf of Peoples Temple because we, as communists, want our money to be of benefit for help to oppressed peoples all over the world, or in any way that your decision-making body sees fit.[148][149]

        The letters included listed accounts with balances totaling in excess of $7.3 million to be transferred to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[149][150][151] The Carters and Prokes soon ditched most of the money and were apprehended heading for the Temple boat (Cudjo) at Kaituma.[148] It is unknown how they were supposed to reach Georgetown, 150 miles (240 km) away, since the boat had been sent away by Temple leadership earlier that day.[148] The brothers were given the task before the suicides began, and soon abandoned it when they realised what was about to happen; Tim Carter desperately tried to search for his wife and son, discovering his son in time to witness him being poisoned, and his wife killing herself in despair. At this point Carter had a nervous collapse and break from reality, and was pulled away from the village by his equally distraught brother.

      1. jrs

        The whole jumping to Jonestown is trolling if ever there was that, a half decent point is made about the lack of successful socialist states by some definitions of socialism (but what about Cuba huh? that’s a glaring admission there). But then the derailing to Jonestown and pure ad hominem, a definite tell, that reasonable debate has gone out the window.

        As for few successful socialist states, the U.S. has also overthrown and undermined every leftists movement going back over 60 years, so there is that.

  12. Robert Dannin

    Lou’s criticism of the Sanders’ campaign is somewhat excessive in reference to the collapsing state of public higher education. Bernie’s proposal seeks to fund free public college and university tuition by a modest tax on all Wall Street transactions. Were this even half-way effective, students would desert expensive private institutions in favor of public institutions. Increasing enrollment in 4-year colleges and universities in particular will create an attractive market for private equity investors who can ‘harvest’ profits from their favorite cash-cow, the public sector. As long as the return is competitive with interest rates, they will continue to find opportunities in financing higher education. Many western states, for example, already benefit from private investment in dormitories, educational, and athletic facilities. This was the model for Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s State University of New York system that was hijacked ironically by Gov. Mario Cuomo for the state prison system. It’s time to force Cuomo the Younger to reverse gears, or hand it over to someone more capable than another DNC stooge. It’s fun to complain about the dire consequences of late capitalism, but there are millions of young people who hope and deserve to further their education. We owe it future generations to keep these place functioning, even if the measures taken are unorthodox, hybrid compromises with big capital and inept government. Besides there’s nowhere better than a college campus for recruiting the cadres necessary for a genuine revolution.

    1. Ulysses

      “It’s fun to complain about the dire consequences of late capitalism,”

      I don’t know if “fun” is the adjective that I’d choose, but I agree with your general point that we might as well try to make the horrible system we now endure somewhat less awful– while we press for more sweeping changes. This is the point that Antonio Gramsci never tired of making against the “maximalists,” who denigrated any struggles against the worst excesses of capitalism that didn’t immediately replace it with a post-capitalist utopia. A $15/hour wage is better than an $8/hour wage. Weak unions are better than no unions at all, etc.

      Sadly, today we don’t have the luxury of waiting for the long arc of history to bend towards justice. If this “late” (optimistic labelling?) capitalist world system isn’t put in check very soon, the likeliest outcome is that our one planet will no longer be hospitable to human life. Chances aren’t very good that Silicon Valley squillionaires will save humanity, through some super-high-tech mission to Mars. We need to save ourselves!

      Our brothers and sisters in France are making a start, by refusing to allow predatory anti-worker policies to be implemented without a struggle.

  13. Ulysses

    From the article:

    “Nowadays, it is getting to the point where there will be pockets of extreme wealth surrounded by oceans of poverty or near-poverty only relieved by those middle-class families that can tread water sufficiently to keep from drowning.

    This is not a nation “committing suicide”. It is one in which the superrich are killing the rest of us through a slow process of attrition.”

    I would only suggest that the future tense be replaced with the present, to make this more accurate.

  14. Steven

    “…a logical definition of wealth is absolutely needed for the basis of economics if it is to be a science.”
    Frederick Soddy, WEALTH, VIRTUAL WEALTH AND DEBT, 2nd edition, p. 102

    The same could be said for government as a science. The foundation of national power is genuine wealth creation, not the ex nihilo money of Western bankers or the ‘toxic waste’ of its financiers. Geopolitical Great Games with Russia and pivots to Asia are not going to affect the ultimate outcome. It is most likely not possible to possess ‘hard power’ of preeminence without the ‘soft power’ preeminence nations acquire from their ability to produce the things people need to live.

    Soddy listed one of the ingredients of wealth as ‘discovery’, i.e. the acquisition of knowledge that could occur at sufficiently funded schools like CUNY. Another is, (surprise, surprise) energy –like what Saudi Arabia has (or had) buried beneath its desert and what has endowed it to tell the world’s sole remaining ‘superpower’ what to do in the Middle East and around the world. I can’t help wondering if it wasn’t the Saudis rather than the CEOs of U.S. oil companies, its banks and financial institutions and the nation’s military-industrial complex so prosperously engaged in selling the Saudis (and the Iranians before them until 1979) the weapons they handed out to terrorists when they weren’t using them for their own hegemonic purposes.

    It would appear the U.S. ruling class, said to be besotted with ‘game theory’ and ‘keeping score’, has forgotten the incredible destructiveness associated with employing the ‘hard’ military component of national power to, as Obama puts it, ‘bend the world more easily to our will’. Having turned the wealth its progenitors created for it by murdering the native populations of a resource rich continent in exchange for the bank ‘checkbook money’ and other forms of liquid financial wealth, is it any wonder they should mistake that money for ‘wealth’ rather than the debt Soddy and real economists like Michael Hudson say it really is?

    1. Steven

      Should have been:

      I can’t help wondering if it wasn’t the Saudis who told Reagan to take down Jimmy Carter’s White House solar panels rather than the CEOs of U.S. oil companies, its banks and financial institutions and the nation’s military-industrial complex so prosperously engaged in selling the Saudis (and the Iranians before them until 1979) the weapons they handed out to terrorists when they weren’t using them for their own hegemonic purposes.


      1. philnc

        No doubt the Saudis gave Reagan their opinion, bur the truth is that Reagan and at least half the US at the time didn’t get what a game-changer a serious commitment to renewables would be. Those solar panels were just for passive heating of water, by the way. Lots of people who voted for Reagan were either too stupid or too stubborn to understand how much that could save them in furnace fuel each winter.

        1. Steven

          Those solar panels were just for passive heating of water, by the way.

          Thanks. I’ve wondered about that but never enough to research it. Makes sense though. I doubt the technology was far enough along for anyone but DoD to afford PV.

  15. philnc

    In 1976 my long term education plans included moving to NYC and getting my MA at one of the CUNY colleges after graduating from a local state college. Like many others the goal was to go into teaching. Hugh Carey and the Financial Control Board ended that. So instead I went on to get a JD at Rutgers and a decade long legal career whose net worth is now hard to see. Fortunately the tech boom came along, and with it the chance to retrain as a big company sysadmin.

  16. seanseamour

    We recently took three months to travel the southern US from coast to coast. As an expat for the past twenty years, beyond the eye opening experience it left us in a state of shock. From a homeless man convulsing in the last throes of hypothermia (been there) behind a fuel station in Houston (the couldn’t care less attendant’s only preoccupation getting our RV off his premises), to the general squalor of near-homelessness such as the emergence of “American favelas “a block” away from gated communities or affluent ran areas, to transformation of RV parks into permanent residencies for the foreclosed who have but their trailer or RV left, to social study one can engage while queuing at the cash registers of a Walmart before beneficiaries of SNAP.
    Stopping to take the time to talk and attempt to understand their predicament and their beliefs as to the cause of their plight is a dizzying experience in and of itself. For a moment I felt transposed to the times of the cold war, when the iron curtain dialectics fuzzed the perception of that other world to the west with a structured set of beliefs designed to blacken that horizon as well as establish a righteous belief in their own existential paradigm.
    What does that have to do with education? Everything if one considers the elitist trend that is slowly setting the framework of tomorrow’s society. For years I have felt there is a silent “un-avowed conspiracy”, why the seeming redundancy, because it is empirically driven as a by-product of capitalism’s surge and like a self-redeeming discount on a store shelf crystalizes a group identity of think-alike know-little or nothing frustrated citizens easily corralled by a Fox or Trump piper. We have re-rcreated the conditions or rather the reality of “Poverty In America” barely half a century after it’s first diagnostic with one major difference : we are now feeding the growth of the “underclass” by lifting ever higher and out of reach the upward mobility ladder, once the banner of opportunity now fallen behind the supposedly sclerotic welfare states of Europe.

  17. Sound of the Suburbs

    John Kenneth Galbraith captured the 1950s American Dream:

    “The family which takes its mauve an cerise, air-conditioned, power-steered and power-braked automobile out for a tour passes through cities that are badly paved, made hideous by litter, lighted buildings, billboards and posts for wires that should long since have been put underground. They pass on into countryside that has been rendered largely invisible by commercial art. (The goods which the latter advertise have an absolute priority in our value system. Such aesthetic considerations as a view of the countryside accordingly come second. On such matters we are consistent.) They picnic on exquisitely packaged food from a portable icebox by a polluted stream and go on to spend the night at a park which is a menace to public health and morals. Just before dozing off on an air mattress, beneath a nylon tent, amid the stench of decaying refuse, they may reflect vaguely on the curious unevenness of their blessings. Is this, indeed, the American genius?”

    America has always worshipped the private sector and denigrated the public sector.

    Private luxury, public squalor – US trademark

    Bad ideas the US has now exported to the rest of the world.

    Time for a change?

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