Will It Be Socialism or Barbarism for the Twenty-First Century?

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Yves here. Rob Urie was kind enough to provide us with a fundraiser post of sorts, so please thank him (Lambert’s Mr. Subliminal: And please make a detour to the Tip Jar if you haven’t yet!). It is too bad that the Red Scare of the 1950s also made socialism into a bad word for most people, even though the American economic system then, with its very high income tax rate and New Deal social programs, was well on the way to being European-style social democracy, and the Great Society programs of the 1960s moved it further in that direction. Having said that, during the Sanders campaigns, polls found a majority of young adults and teenagers approved of socialism. I confess I have not tracked more recent surveys to see if the rising voter cohort holds now holds similar views.

A major focus of this post is how de-industrialization has shaped politics in America.

By Rob Urie, author of Zen Economics, artist, and musician who publishes The Journal of Belligerent Pontification on Substack

The nature of the American political system is often hidden behind theories of how democracy works. In these we, the people, choose politicians to represent ‘our’ interests within the realms of government, foreign affairs, and commerce. In contrast, at least according to the annual polls conducted by the Alliance of Democracies, fewer than half of Americans believe that the US is democratic; is a democracy. The reasons given against the US being a democracy are 1) corruption (73%), followed by 2) corporate control of the political system (72%). In other words, the reasons for this missing democracy are economic.

From the advent of neoliberalism in the mid-1970s to today, the US has been systematically deindustrialized. Capitalist industry has been the motivation for much modern political theory, fostering explanations of capitalist production such as ‘economics,’ as well as competing systems of political economy such as socialism, communism, and fascism that constitute the fault lines claimed to motivate geopolitics and wars. The deindustrialization of the US undertaken from the 1970s forward punished workers in the ‘old economy’ while directing Federal largesse toward favored industries such as finance and technology.

The ideological explanation for this shift was ‘markets.’ The US is subject to the immutable laws of nature, went the claim. Economic relations are subject to these immutable laws (continues the logic). There was therefore little that the American political and economic leadership could do in the face of ‘nature.’  That deindustrialization was undertaken at the behest of connected industrialists to break the back of organized labor was left out of this explanation. Likewise, Federal largesse toward Wall Street and Big Tech represented the evolution of markets which Wall Street existed to support, and which Big Tech sold into. In other words, markets uber alles.

Graph: the ‘enemies’ of the US (in red above) have a freakish, even preternatural, propensity for possessing large oil reserves. As if this weren’t bad enough, five of the ten nations with the largest oil reserves have ‘authoritarian’ leaders who tend toward insanity, if you believe what the CIA has to say about it. That the Americans are willing to slaughter a few million innocents abroad to control oil supplies begs the question of how many Americans they would be willing to kill to do so. The most likely answer given the substance of this essay? All of us. Source: worldometers.info.

In fact, the mercantilist relationship between the Federal government and favored industries represents capitalism in its truest form. Markets are a distraction; a misdirection with a purpose if you will. Deference to nature obviates class conflict by ‘naturalizing’ ruling class dominance. Sure, the Federal government supports some industries while crushing others according to the whims and wishes of corporate executives and oligarchs. But little Jimmy-Sue’s choice between a can of soda and a candy bar (‘micro’ foundations) explains the emergence of the union movement in nineteenth century Europe, runs this implausible logic.

The irony that the political class was selling the magical qualities of markets both going into the Wall Street bailouts of 2008 and coming back out of them illustrates the political use-value of economic misdirection. ‘Markets’ would have meant the demise of Wall Street and the American auto industry around 2008 had the Feds not intervened. Then consider the politics. Half of the US workforce had been cut loose and left to its own devices through deindustrialization while the other half was subsidized through Federal largesse for favored industries. How plausible was it then that ‘markets’ explained the mercantilist policies of neoliberal governance?

As the geography of economic production had it, from the start of the American industrial revolution until the 1970s, industry had been widely dispersed across the US. For better or worse, it represented the ‘structure’ of capitalism, providing livings for industrial workers who in turn supported local businesses, towns, cities, and ultimately the Federal government. The motive for deindustrialization was to crush labor unions, eviscerate environmental standards, and establish a center – periphery relationship (imperialism) with the rest of the world. Before 2007 or thereabouts, this program remained vaguely plausible to powerful constituencies.

The political divisions of 2023 follow the basic contours of these manufactured economic divisions. Deindustrialization gutted the heartland while Federal support for favored industries benefited large cities and suburbs. The prior group had been poorly served by the American political establishment while the latter group had its fortunes raised by it. The prior group turned away from the urban liberals who crafted these policies for their own benefit, while the latter group could not, or would not, admit its own role in ‘managing’ the transition away from industry. Intellectual honesty isn’t the strong suit of the technocrats of megalomania.

The class dynamic that was created was of urban and suburban workers in these Federally supported industries prospering while workers in the ‘old’ industries that had built the modern capitalist world were left to compete for jobs that don’t pay. Those who have seen the labor documentary Harlan County, USA, will recall articulate, anti-capitalist, coal miners in a battle against armed Pinkerton strike-busters and the state police. The miners’ explanation of ‘gun rights?’ To keep the Pinkertons from slaughtering them with impunity. The result in 2023: an urban bourgeois that ‘loves’ labor but that hates workers.

This dynamic can be seen in the enthusiastic disinterest that urban liberals have in labor issues beyond lip service. Joe Biden calls himself a ‘labor President’ while he has perpetuated the urban, bourgeois, war against displaced industrial workers. For instance, Mr. Biden promised to raise the minimum wage and then reneged. He promised to support labor activism and then crushed the railway workers’ strike. More recently, he reneged on the ‘just transition’ previously embedded in his environmental proposals in favor of the direct transfer of tax credits to corporate coffers. While the lip service suggests ‘liberal,’ Mr. Biden’s actual policies are neo-fascist.

Mr. Biden’s supporters contend that he, and they, are passionate about labor issues even though they conspicuously loathe actual workers. The propaganda and censorship industries now being supported by liberal Democrats target ‘extremists’ who are overwhelmingly refugees from the deindustrialized heartland. That half of the nation had their livelihoods destroyed by the neoliberal ‘center’ suggests that political dissolution was the goal of deindustrialization. Missing as explanation is the utter stupidity of the people now running the US. Joe Biden voted to admit China to the WTO (World Trade Organization). He is now trying to launch a war against China over the consequences of his own policy. Many of us knew better at the time.

Graph: American healthcare policy is substantially run by urban. liberal, technocrats. After decrying the Trump administration’s seeming indifference to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic, these technocrats adopted his libertarian posture as they fixed their pandemic response around the election schedule of Joe Biden. That Biden’s Covid-19 response was likely the worst in the world— 50% more Americans died from Covid-19 under Biden than Trump, is considered a problem of ‘messaging’ rather than substance. If the US really wanted to destroy Russia, why not send the American healthcare establishment to ‘help’ with its pandemic response? The entire nation would be dead in a week.  Source: statista.com.

Reneging on the ‘just transition’ is especially pernicious as it was intended to elicit support for environmental policies by subsidizing displaced workers during the transition to less destructive energy technologies. After all, the Federal government thought nothing of shoveling tens of trillions of dollars in Federal largesse to ‘save’ Wall Street from its own dysfunction. Were Mr. Biden’s urban, bourgeois, supporters aware of the Federal aid dispensed during their own economic transition, they might understand the contribution to economic and political stability that the Federal government has occasionally brought about. But it is a political error to leave Federal spending to a captive political system. The interests of the people need to be re-asserted.

Following the 2016 election, the class divisions between displaced industrial workers and those laboring in the Federally subsidized ‘new economy’ were brought to the fore. The urban bourgeois imagined themselves to be the masters of their own fortunes as they benefited from Federal support for favored industries. Surveys taken around 2008 found cogs in the Wall Street wheel who were convinced that their paychecks matched the social value of their production. Sure, bond trading paid poverty wages before Wall Street was liberated from social accountability, but what does that have to do with them, runs the logic? This inability to see which social levers are being pulled and by whom would be heroic if Prosperity Theology hadn’t beaten then to the punch.

This isn’t to suggest that these urban, bourgeois, bureaucrats for capital have easy lives. The inability of capitalism to produce enough ‘good’ jobs for those who want them means that precarity rules lives and psyches. Following graduate school, I didn’t dare take a vacation for fifteen years. The word from management at the time was ‘if we can do without you for a week, we can do without you forever.’ (This was considered a very ‘good’ job). While the Covid-19 pandemic has now apparently killed or disabled enough workers to cause a labor shortage, this is hardly the ‘nature’ to whom economists so regularly refer.

Graph: what disaster has the American political class wrought? Beginning in the early 1980s, life expectancy (at birth) in the US began falling relative to similar nations abroad. Americans now live 6.3 years less on average than the citizens of France, Britain, Canada, and Australia. In a functioning society, this alone would motivate a revolution. Following the passage and implementation of the ACA (Obamacare), this disastrous result got even worse. Notably, the American Congress has its own healthcare system. They know better than to cast their lots with the ‘little people,’ formerly known as ‘citizens.’ Source: worldbank.org.

American liberals have assumed that the majority view that the US isn’t ‘a democracy’ is related to the 2016 election and its aftermath. In fact, subsequent polling hasn’t materially shifted this result. Moreover, the AoD poll results tie to those of other well-regarded polls that go back years. Ousting the liberal’s bete noir in 2020 didn’t result in a plurality of Americans suddenly believing the US to be democratic. This makes sense given the explanations of bipartisan corruption and democracy-suffocating corporate power offered. What they suggest is that without taking on corruption and corporate power, there is little hope for American democracy.

This social logic should in theory give solace to Left political movements and parties. Corruption and corporate power are endemic to capitalism. However, via the umbilical cord that ties the American Left to the Democratic Party, the results are perpetually placed within the frame of party politics. Forgotten is that prior to 2016, political difference emerged from different premises about the world. Republicans supported what they believed to be the capital accumulation and allocation functions of capitalism, while Democrats claimed that these had to be managed by the state to function well.

In the brief interregnum between the 2020 campaign and the introduction of the Democrat’s policy proposals, substantial bytes were spilled 1) admitting that liberal Democrats bore significant responsibility for the election of Donald Trump via their economic policies, and 2) that lessons had been learned and the mistakes of the past wouldn’t be repeated. Missing is that the national Democrats saw this as a problem of ‘messaging’ rather than substance. Again, these are extraordinarily not-bright people. If they were paid based on ‘merit,’ they would be paying us to employ them.

In fact, the alliance between liberals and capital long ago eliminated the ‘opposition party’ frame of American politics to create a ‘uniparty.’ From the start of the post-War period through the election of Jimmy Carter (1976), the reforms of the New Deal kept capital in check with respect to corrupting American politics, domestically at least. And while liberals tie the start of ‘money in politics’ to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, the Supreme Court wouldn’t have ruled as it did had capital not already controlled domestic politics. The liberal conceit that Democrats oppose the Citizens United ruling conflates empty posturing with principled opposition.

The ‘opposition party’ frame that had mimicked mediation between labor and capital was abandoned in favor of both parties seeking the favor of capital. The logic is both simple a corrupt. Wall Street was given the ability to create money via the capital allocation function. While government could likely do a better job of it (bankers lend against collateral, not business plans), ideology trumped both history and common sense to place the function with ‘private’ bankers. Surprisingly (not), these bankers began keeping more and more of the money they created for themselves.

Illuminating the depravity of late-stage capitalism is a fools errand without alternatives. The US— Left, Right, and Center, is beholden to the logic of capitalism. The ‘Left’ response to the failure of Covid-19 mitigation policies has been libertarian, not ‘Left.’ Lest this come as a surprise, libertarianism is the ethos of capital that claims that corporate executives and oligarchs should be ‘free’ to exploit labor, pollute with impunity, and cheat on their income taxes. It is the ethos of unaccountable power. It is approximately as compatible with Left politics as European fascism of the twentieth century was. The point: the US desperately needs Socialist and Communist political alternatives. Deference to libertarianism will leave fascism as the only ‘logical’ alternative.

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  1. digi_owl

    I suspect neither those for nor against socialism in USA know what it means.

    With those for expecting something more akin ot the Nordic model, that itself is slowly being eaten away by neoliberalism, and those against expecting something akin to the Khmer Rouge.

    1. Sam Owen

      This. I doubt many Americans at all can define concepts essential to understanding socialism like “economic rent” or “finance capitalism”.

    2. Mikel

      Digi & Sam,

      Why should they have to mire themselves im abstract theory to get material benefits?
      By this I mean, they know what they have experienced in life.
      Present people with concrete changes that benefit their lives in the present. They understand that and have time for it.

    3. Alice X

      Thank you for this piece.

      >Will It Be Socialism or Barbarism for the Twenty-First Century

      We certainly saw barbarism in the Twentieth Century, Rosa Luxemburg is reported to have written this of the first world war:

      Friedrich Engels once said: “Bourgeois society stands at the crossroads, either transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.” What does “regression into barbarism” mean to our lofty European civilization? Until now, we have all probably read and repeated these words thoughtlessly, without suspecting their fearsome seriousness. A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. The triumph of imperialism leads to the annihilation of civilization.

      I don’t know for a fact if Engels had originated the phrase but Rosa used its shortened form in her December 1918 essay What the Spartacus League Wants. Available at the Marxists internet library.

      >I suspect neither those for nor against socialism in USA know what it means

      It is not written in stone what socialism means, though some would point to Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto and for many in the twentieth century it was the writings of Lenin. Rosa critiqued his 1902 essay What is to be Done, with its prescription for a Vanguard Party of the Proletariat, as a path to a communist dictatorship. Trotsky, at the time, concurred though he would later switch sides. While Lenin’s program ultimately created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the soviets (local councils) had been destroyed early on. What developed was neither soviet, and according to the anarchists (who in Russia had also been destroyed) was it socialist. But calling that system socialist was useful to both the Soviets (since the title lent moral authority) and the Capitalists, who could proclaim that socialism leads to tyranny and thus justify their Red Scares.

      There is a spectrum of opinions on what a socialist society would look like.

      I like Rosa’s program of December 1918 but she was murdered on January 15, 1919 and that was only one of the treacherous acts of the world’s bourgeoisie to head off social progress. The US had Wilson, and he was one of the worst.

      Also, I should point out that US usage of the term Libertarian has again been a subterfuge by the right wing to hijack moral authority when there is little. Originally, and still in Europe it is associated with the left, as in Left Libertarian, Libertarian Socialist or Anarchist.

      Karl Widerquist has written an informative piece titled: Libertarianism in which he touches upon the right, left and socialist versions thereof.

      A fundamental question for socialism is: who owns what.

      That’s a good as I can do for now, I have to eat breakfast.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        This seems like a good place for an old Bertrand Russell essay which I like to post from time to time – In Praise of Idleness. Can’t get a link to post, but a search on the title will bring it right up.

        Russell’s writing can be pretty opaque, but he’s crystal clear in this one, and puts things in such as way that anyone can understand it. A sample –

        “First of all: what is work? Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth’s surface relatively to other such matter; second, telling other people to do so. The first kind is unpleasant and ill paid; the second is pleasant and highly paid.”

        The whole thing is definitely worth a read.

        1. KLG

          Russell recommended that a scholar’s first work be opaque, so the world would take it seriously ;-) Then write for the intelligent reader. But some of the straight philosophy is dense. Principia Mathematica is a wonder to behold, but might as well be written in Sanskrit.

          When I was a student the University Bookstore had a large section of Bertrand Russell. This one was a keeper! When I last visited the alma mater, the space previously devoted to books was filled with apparel and other assorted branded bullshit. After all, the football team is on a roll! Books? Two relatively small sections of current hardbacks, fiction and nonfiction. Nothing particularly worth reading. No essential backlist material that any good university student should have access to. Not. One. Book. No philosophy, political economy, history, anthropology, sociology, psychology, science…Other than currently assigned textbooks.

          Last week I was here: https://www.toppingbooks.co.uk/
          But for luggage weight restrictions, I could have gone broke. Doubly heartbreaking at lack of same at home. But St. Andrews is a serious place, not only devoted to golf.

    4. BeliTsari

      We’ve several generations, who grew up as the phantasmagorical “social safety net” collapsed, was yanked-out, or rotted from under them? We’ve had oddball, BS facades of Ringi (& Karōshi) type worker participation fail hilariously. So boomer yuppies image of blue collar life, is a bad Michael Keaton/ Ron “Opie” Howard movie & Flashdance? Socialism isn’t for the likes of uppity essentials & death o’ dispartity deplorables! Socialism, to our PMC betters: Congress is told, which multinational conglomerate wins & which innovative & disruptive start-up gets all ‘et up?

  2. Samuel Conner

    > American liberals have assumed that the majority view that the US isn’t ‘a democracy’ is related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.

    The thought occurs that the events of the 2016 presidential primaries suggest that while the D party was not “a democracy”, the R party still was.

    > Ousting the liberal’s bete noir in 2020 didn’t result in a plurality of Americans suddenly believing the US to be democratic.

    well, of course. We were observing the 2020 primaries, too.

  3. Henry Moon Pie

    Thanks to Rob for this big picture history of how we got to this miserable point. A couple of things:

    1) I also have a very clear memory of the interview of a scab in “Harlan County, USA” who said he was against higher wages because he’d just have to pay more taxes. Income tax rates over 100%?

    2) I recently listened to a fascinating Nate Hagens podcast with Lisi Krall, who teaches economics at SUNY Cortland. Her Ph.D. is in economics, but she also has a masters in biology and an undergraduate degree in anthropology. Krall’s contention is that surplus and its management is the key marker of authoritarianism and inequality. Capitalism marks a continuation of the same process that began with grain agriculture.

    I found the discussion enlightening and important. We find ourselves on a path that has led us to the cliff’s edge. The question is where did we take a wrong turn. If it was as recent as the neoliberalism that Urie tracks for us in this post, we really don’t have to change that much. Go back to Keynes and JK Galbraith and all should be well. If it’s capitalism, then that would require some more fundamental changes. If it’s surplus and the larger organizations, hierarchy and bureaucracy that it brings, any renovation of human society is going to have to take things all the way back to the bones.

    3) I think Leftists need to admit and confront that the consumer society must be dismantled. The lists of foreign policy targets highlights not just the rapaciousness of capitalism but the incessant demands of a consumer society, including the middle and working classes, for cheap energy. Jason Hickel has attempted this in his writing and public speaking. This is his address to the Beyond Growth Conference a few months back.

    To continue advocating for socialism as a way to open up consumer joy to all of society (and societies) is short-sighted at best and dishonest at worst. Hickel and others are advocating for socialism as the only way to manage with equity a major drop in materials and energy throughput required to preserve a viable biosphere,

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      In getting the link for the Hickel address, I ran across this recent roundtable discussion of four degrowth advocates, one Ph.D. candidate studying Hong Kong, and three teaching in Europe: Julia Steinberger; Jason Hickel; Giorgos Kallis. The three are involved in a new project called a “Post-Growth Deal.” The idea is to take post-growth/degrowth beyond a high-level policy or even philosophical debate down to modeling how post-growth could be achieved from the standpoints of materials and energy requirements to achieve certain minimum levels for all Earth’s residents and policy prescriptions that would achieve degrowth equitably both within countries and between the Global North and South. They are even going to model how different socialist organizational components, like worker-owned enterprises or commoning, will contribute to or detract from the goals of bringing throughputs down to the level that the Earth is not being further damaged and yet the essential needs of all are being met.

      I would liken it a reverse of Donna Meadows “Limits to Growth” team. The Meadows group was asked to look into the future and determine how we could solve some seemingly intractable problems like poverty and crime. In the process of pursuing that goal, they uncovered that our consumption and population levels were taking us to Overshoot.

      Kallis, Hickel and Steinberger are being asked (the project is funded by the European Research Council) to look into the future and determine how we might “land the plane” as Raworth says. Raworth’s donut is mentioned repeatedly in the discussion, but they’re trying to take things a step further. Raworth combined setting an already existing list of human needs as a minimum, and another set of planetary boundaries established elsewhere as a maximum. It was a good approach that allowed us to think in this new, very socialist, Raworth calls it feminist with some justification, paradigm for planning. No markets, no prices, just communities figuring out how everybody has what they need to live decently while we pull back consumption levels to fit within the Earth’s limits. But probably because of Hickel’s influence–he previously concentrated on relations between the Global North and South–they’re tackling planning for the entire world with the equality goal of leveling up inequality within nations and between the Global North and South. And the idea of gaming various socialist ideas for economic and social organization to uncover some possible systems relationships is smart. It will limit mistakes.

      So these are degrowthers who are engaging in socialist planning for the future as a way transitioning humanity from a dead end consumerist culture to a new eco-socialism with the hope of bringing as many of the 8 billion of us through this wrenching change as possible. I think that’s about as optimistic and inspiring news as I’ve heard for a while.

    2. digi_owl

      > 1) I also have a very clear memory of the interview of a scab in “Harlan County, USA” who said he was against higher wages because he’d just have to pay more taxes. Income tax rates over 100%?

      Ugh, i am so familiar with that argument. And to some degree it is correct, as it all seems like a red queens race in the end. And that comes basically from how wages and profits are part of the same money circulation.

      I love Steve Keen’s little model for this, involving subdividing the economy as a square. In the end either the government has to run a deficit or the households end up buried in debt.

    3. Vicky Cookies

      With regard to 2), many socialists would argue that the neoliberal era represents a tendency to state capture inherent to capitalism; Keynesian policy, while it would be a balm as compared to a largely deregulated environment which has seen tax become regressive, would merely delay another attack upon the working class, while further entrenching the relations of production which define the mode. As to 3), commodity production for exchange value, appropriating the surplus produced by labor is capitalism. Marx writes that commodity production is necesarily mass production, creating the wasteful and wanton consumer society as its market. The social ownership of the means of production which would define socialism means production for use value. Here, both digi_owl and GramSci make illuminating, if depressing points.

      1. Henry Moon Pie

        I’m trying to argue what I think is the opposite of your point. If you’re saying that social ownership of the means of production would end overconsumption and our Overshoot problem, then my reply would be that if we have to wait for that (or Jesus), we’re out of luck.

        Instead, the necessity of responding now and radically to our situation of Overshoot requires full-scale social planning across national boundaries. This is what Hickel, Steinberger and Kallis are beginning work on. The hope would be that in times of collapse and chaos, the folks with a plan will get a hearing.

        At the beginning of that discussion, the moderator asks Hickel about some of the “closed door” meetings he’s been having with governmental authorities, including the Dutch Parliament. Basically, the questioner wanted to know if Hickel thought these people were trying to get to know their “enemy,” were trying to co-opt him, were simply curious, etc. Hickel replied that these were leftish parties inviting him (as at the EU’s Post-Growth Conference), and that they were curious, but very wary.

        Do the billionaires have a plan? Sure, we’re following it. But when the time comes (not if) that their plan allows things to become too chaotic and the pain too widespread, the mass of people may lose (are already losing) confidence that the billionaires’ plan isn’t going to kill most of us. Then somebody might get a listen if they had at least thought about how we would switch things around so we could keep people alive and keep from crashing hard into Mad Max, People with answers about how we can grow enough food while transitioning away from Fossil Fuel Ag will have information people who are responsible for other people will want to know.

        1. Vicky Cookies

          While I do think the radical approach is at least eventually crucial, the situation you describe with the Dutch is a main reason I continue to study socialism/other economic alternatives. What inspired me was actually Milton Friedman, writing “only a crisis – actual or perceived, produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”.

  4. John R Moffett

    The US economic system really is like a type of highly organized crime, but with the flavor of a religion that has all its made-up rules and warped world view. Now that capital has pretty much full control over the Corporate Owned News, think tanks, major universities and the government regulatory agencies, they can do whatever they want and there will be no push-back from the public. While the working public knows that things are amiss, they don’t understand that their problems are all coming from big capital and the “captains of finance”. I hope that younger generations will get the message that the system is rigged, and needs a complete overhaul. But first, we are going to have to turn socialism and communism back into positive concepts rather than boogeymen.

  5. GramSci

    I think everyone knows what “socialism” means.

    (Democratic) socialism means a confiscatory income tax above ≈ US$400k per year, with no loopholes for “unearned” income. It means this or it means nothing. Money is power.

    It’s a simple definition, one easily phrased as a pollster’s (or a candidate’s) question. Yet it is never asked. Neither of or by the PMC, out of courtesy, nor of or by the general populace, out of fear.

    I suspect it is the latent criterion by which Rob Urie’s 73% blame “corruption” for the demise of USian democracy.

      1. GramSci

        Therein lies the problem with talking in with abstractions like “socialism” or “capitalism”. Let’s talk concrete material benefits. If no one earns more than $400k/year (and that is 10x the minimum wage), then no one has enough money to (significantly) bribe democratically elected officials.

        I call that “democratic socialism”, a form the USA under FDR and much of Europe came very close to achieving. But I admit large pools of capital will need to be formed to manage human overpopulation and pollution in a survivable, sustainable fashion.

        If you want to call that “capitalism”, that’s ok. What would be wrong with it? Would the likes of Bill Gates/Microsoft develop or survive (or be tolerated) if the Big Men couldn’t afford passage on the Lolita Express? I don’t think so.

        1. elissa3

          Very, very few active workers today have any idea that the uppermost income tax bracket in the USA during a part of the Eisenhower administration (1953-1961) was 90%! Eisenhower, a Republican, was considered a conservative in the vernacular of the time. Yeah, if you were CEO of GM you would have a second home and a pretty damn good life in terms of comfort and luxuries, but the absurd gap between the hyper-rich and the median worker today is absurd.

        2. Bryan Steele

          Well done GramSci,

          The moment that one allows their thoughts to be labeled is the moment others will take advantage of that lable and mischaracterize it, often by creating a fictional black and white duality. I think that’s one of the reasons we are drawn to authors like Urie because he focuses on the interactions of the parts of the system rather than the label of the system itself.

          The term socialism is being characterized as a thing, as an ideal, rather than a process. As already stated, socialism is primarily a question, who owns what? Socialism doesn’t dictate the answer to that question it’s simply requires an answer.

    1. Rob Urie

      Socialism has nothing to do with tax rates.

      It as argument for shared control of capital versus the concentrated control of oligarchy. It is an argument for economic democracy.

      Within the American uniparty frame, the tax rate canard serves both parties.

      Republicans call all public spending proposals by Democrats (except military) ‘socialism,’ and neoliberal Democrats accept the slander because it grants a public interest when their program proposals more precisely benefit their donors alone.

      Finally, Americans hate taxes because we get so little in return. I wouldn’t voluntarily contribute one penny to the US war effort over the last half-century. It infuriates me that I am made to.

      But then taxes don’t directly fund Federal spending, so there’s that.

      1. GramSci

        As you note, the point of taxation is not to fund Federal spending. It is to prevent the accumulation of power (money, corruption) in few hands. Concentration of money and power is not compatible with economic democracy.

        In his April 1942 message to Congress, FDR said

        «Discrepancies between low personal incomes and very high personal incomes should be lessened; and I therefore believe that in time of this grave national danger, when all excess income should go to stopping the pandemic and climate changethe war, no American citizen ought to have a net income, after he has paid his taxes, of more than $25,000 a year.»

        $25,000 after taxes would be $400k in current dollars. The Notsies understood FDR was espousing “socialism”. That’s why they offed him.

      2. Irrational

        I would not voluntarily pay Danish tax rates (>50%), because they – at the time -very lavishly funded people taking a years worth of leave for no particular reason in addition to the regular social safety net, which is OK.
        In general, it is a self-selecting process: if you agree with the policy you stay in DK, if not you don’t.
        I have since discovered plenty of other reasons to not live in the country that issues my passport since then – data privacy, xenophobia, self-righteousness and, most recently, pathological pro-Ukraine fervor. ;-)

  6. Louis Fyne

    5 starting points that will not see the light of day because it will offend someone(s)…

    Raise long-term capital gains taxes, raise estate taxes, raise tariffs.

    All immigration is done via a Australia-style points system (no chain migration, no non-compliant migration).

    slash the Pentagon + CIA budgets by 33 to 66%

  7. The Rev Kev

    Not sure if it will be a matter if Socialism or Barbarism but more a matter of Socialism or Feudalism. When I look around, I see an attempt to push the social order back to feudal times with people having even less rights than medieval serfs and a wealthy monied class living separate lives and financed by a rentier based society. So you could consider the push for school age children to be pushed into the workforce – even though there is no need for them whatsoever – as part of this move general.

    1. redleg

      Serfs had more job stability and time off than USians have today.
      Seeing that rights are currently being taken away, I’ll bet that many if not most people would trade rights away in return for stability + fewer working days.

      1. Refugee

        You first.
        How many people trust their neighbors to do what they espouse?
        How many want a life, if one could call it a life, of enserfitude?
        Or being told what to think?
        Or wanting neighbors to be Stasi informers?

        Those with experience in life behind the Iron Curtain, as one example, don’t wish that on others.

  8. Raelyn

    Capitalism is about ownership and that’s why we’re supposed to think it’s the best system ever. But it’s really just concerned with Big Capital Ownership. Property value OVER human value. Privatization is at the core of fascism.

    The race to own everything, including making all of nature an asset class now, is the trajectory of fascism. It’s not our consumption problem, it’s the capitalists’ consumption problem. You can’t even expect to own your own body (though patenting living genes is absurd since epigenetics reveals how cells are morphing all the time).

    Individual and national sovereignty stand in the way of global governance, which is why democratic freedom and the nation-state are under assault. The only freedom that’s increased these past 50 years is unfettered capitalism, or aristocratic fascism. “Liberalism”, then, has been reduced to mean economic liberty at the expense of social liberty.

    “Just renaming fascism as “libertarianism” or “neo-liberalism,” has fooled the masses to think that it’s pro-democratic. “Capitalism” has thus come to be re-defined to refer to only the aristocratically controlled form of capitalism: fascism.”

    Paul Romer’s charter city idea is still alive, though has yet to succeed anywhere.

    The Technocrats’ ultimate dream:

    The New World Order is Ruled by Global Corporations and Megacities, Not Countries

    “As cities and companies gain in influence and the power of nation-states decreases, the world is undergoing a seismic transformation.”

    “In a libertarian society, there is no commons or public space. There are property lines, not borders. When it comes to real property and physical movement across such real property, there are owners, guests, licensees, business invitees, and trespassers — not legal and illegal immigrants.”
    ~ Jeff Deist, president of the Mises Institute

    “What you have today is the economy imagines that the financial sector, the real estate speculators are part of the economy and part of GDP instead of being an overhead, a tumor.”
    ~ Michael Hudson

    Removing the rentier tumor, (once again, we are at “euthanizing the rentiers”) is a necessary requirement if we are to have any kind of healthy society.

    1. digi_owl

      A nice reminder that a British gentleman was someone that had enough passive income from property rent etc that he could spend his days at the club or exploring hobbies.

    2. Rolf

      Yes, neoliberalism was always a very poor and highly misleading expression. Even Merriam-Webster’s definition, “a liberal who de-emphasizes traditional liberal doctrines in order to seek progress by more pragmatic methods” is deceptively anodyne. There is nothing “liberal” about it.

    3. Tom Doak

      Jeff Deist is a great name for the President of the Mises Institute. Is that a pseudonym? Or does one’s name confer one’s destiny?

  9. Carolinian

    Thanks for this. One might point out that a couple of our SC congressmen did defend “markets” in 2008 and said the banks should have been allowed to go under. But then there aren’t any major banks in South Carolina (that would be North Carolina). I do think that 2008, like 2001 and 9/11, should be considered watershed moments in our slide into the morass. It’s when some of us started reading NC.

    It was the Dems and Obama and Pelosi who saved those banks while many Republicans voted against it. So it is the Dems who are at the heart of our current Neoliberalism even as the MSNBC crowd tries to blame it all on Reagan. And now fightin’ Joe Biden has made the Dems Neocons as well. Trump, the great obsession, was merely a sidebar and distraction to all this. After all as a NY real estate tycoon owning lots of golf courses he had as much interest in saving the upper classes and Wall Street as anyone. Time for a prairie populist?

  10. Gil Schaeffer

    How can anyone call the US a democracy when it has political institutions like the Senate, Supreme Court, and Electoral College. Democracy means one person, one equal vote as the basis for political representation. The US has never had equal representation. Maybe we should be talking about how to get democracy before we jump to socialism.

    1. Paul P

      Yes, the Senate, Supreme Court, and Electoral College are not democratic, as is the Constitution with its built in gerrymandering of two senators for each state without regard for population. But,
      I’m surprised no one has expressly mentioned monopoly corporations and their power.

      The Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers ran a campaign for the American mind to oppose the New Deal. The campaign was national and comprehensive like the Creel Commission’s campaign Wilson used to lead us into WW1. It used ministers to paint the New Deal as a Godless, pagan statism. The way to fight the depression was with unfettered free enterprise. The ideas of creeping socialism were born in this campaign and its legacy is felt today.

      Kevin Kruse, “One Nation Under God: Corporate America Invented Christian America.” You can find an interview with Kruse on Youtube.

  11. Glenda

    Just FYI the summer double issue of Monthly Review is all on Planned Degrowth with lots of essays on Planning, cooperation, communal alternatives etc. The authors seem to be from around the world. One of its best issues ever. See monthlyreview.org or mronline.org This has been my guide over the decades, and now I have Naked Capitalism to make my morning coffee stronger. Thanks, tip is in the mail.

    I’m pessimistic and suspect we are headed for Neofeudalism (or is that NeoLiberalism?)

    1. justsomeguy05

      For years I have been predicting neofeudalism. Surveillance based (cameras, AI, social credit software, datamining), and brutally enforced locally. yes, an extension of neoliberalism, even during the decline/collapse. Thanks for the link to monthly review. I will check it out.

  12. Rolf

    I don’t know if my previous post was rejected or maybe just list in the ether, so am resubmitting it here. My apologies to NC if this ends up being duplicated:

    Thank you Yves, for including this post and your introductory comments. Great piece.

    The propaganda and censorship industries now being supported by liberal Democrats target ‘extremists’ who are overwhelmingly refugees from the deindustrialized heartland. That half of the nation had their livelihoods destroyed by the neoliberal ‘center’ suggests that political dissolution was the goal of deindustrialization. Missing as explanation is the utter stupidity of the people now running the US. Joe Biden voted to admit China to the WTO (World Trade Organization). He is now trying to launch a war against China over the consequences of his own policy. Many of us knew better at the time.

    I can’t remember if John Mearsheimer’s article in Le Monde diplomatique, “Great power rivalries: the case for realism”, where he distinguishes realism (e.g., Putin’s policy with respect to US/NATO) versus liberalism (the recent and current US strategy with respect to everyone) as foreign policy frameworks, was tagged or discussed in NC. If not it’s worth reading as a summary statement, and Mearsheimer also underscores Biden’s role in creating the very problem with China that he now wrings his hands to solve:

    The US helped to create this perilous [US-China] rivalry by ignoring realist principles. In the early 1990s the US faced no rival great powers and China was economically underdeveloped. As liberalism prescribes, American leaders embraced a policy of engaging with China: helping fuel its economic growth and seeking to integrate it into the international order. They assumed that a wealthy China would become a ‘responsible stakeholder’ in that American-dominated order and eventually evolve into a liberal democracy. In short, a powerful but democratic China would be a peaceful China that would not challenge the US.

    Engagement was a colossal strategic blunder. If American policymakers had been guided by realist logic, they would not have sought to speed Chinese growth and would have tried to maintain the power gap between Washington and Beijing instead of reducing it.


    Given the myth that Putin is committed to open-ended expansion, one might think NATO enlargement, too, was based on realist logic: the US and its allies were aiming to contain Russia. But that view would also be wrong. The decision to enlarge NATO was made in the mid-1990s, when Russia was militarily weak, and the US was well-positioned to force expansion on Moscow. Again, we see the perils of being weak in the international system. Nor did Russia pose a threat to Europe in 2008, when the decision was made to bring Ukraine into the alliance. So, there was no need to contain it then or now. Indeed, the US has a deep interest in pivoting out of Europe to East Asia, and enlisting Russia in the balancing coalition against China, not getting bogged down in a war in eastern Europe and driving the Russians into the arms of the Chinese.

    Lastly, I couldn’t agree more with Urie’s statement:

    Ousting the liberal’s bete noir in 2020 didn’t result in a plurality of Americans suddenly believing the US to be democratic. This makes sense given the explanations of bipartisan corruption and democracy-suffocating corporate power offered. What they suggest is that without taking on corruption and corporate power, there is little hope for American democracy.

    1. Refugee

      Start by changing American elections.
      They look rigged to the world.
      Money corrupts the process and encourages fat cats to fund their pet ideas.
      People get elected to stay elected.

      Nowhere in that process is there anything about representing the will of the people.
      One person, one vote, paper ballots counted and verified in public.
      Those results would be revolutionary.

      1. Rolf

        One person, one vote, paper ballots counted and verified in public.
        Those results would be revolutionary.

        Fully agree.

  13. Susan the other

    Not to be too optimistic, but I’d say that so far in the 21st.C barbarism has had a very unsuccessful track record, achieving nothing but mounting abhorrence beginning with 9/11 and continuing right up to today in the totally hapless “country” of Ukraine. And above it all looms the climate crisis. The reason medieval Europe came together in towns with democratic governance was to protect themselves from the growing scourge of robber barons. The contradictions among the interests of human society have been simmering in the pressure cooker ever since. Ukraine is the modern day gasket to the whole capitalist debacle. I think it is ready to blow the soybeans all over the ceiling. But IIRC there will still be enough left to make tofu. And none too soon.

  14. Nevermore

    I think the issue is not capitalism as we traditionally knew it, (there is no better system and socialism is but a big lie) but rather a crony type of financial capitalism which has its origin when we abandoned the gold std for pure fiat money.
    It has gotten worse since. Look what happen with $1trillion PPP sent to the richest people, forgiven and tax free. I just learned that they will again get up to $30k in tax credit for each worker employed during Covid. Absolute plunder of public treasury.
    I talk to those people and know them and they admit that it was a pure gift, most of it went into real estate.
    No king or emperor could have dreamt such powers as our government has today, at the stroke of a pen can print trillions, dilute and devalue your labor and savings while rewarding their cronies through Cantillon effects. Slavery indeed.
    What can a poor schmuck do against the Leviathan?
    Stop feeding the beast, dont borrow money, dont buy what you dont need and dont work more than you need to if at all, your lifespan on this planet is insignificant and your overall impact nil. Carpe diem.

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