Capitalism is a ‘totalizing’ force, like the Holocaust, or slavery. As the thesis goes, a few contained the lot by depriving them of any vision beyond their present walls. We tend to rate capitalism different because were sold patched-up versions, whereas no one imagines a ‘reformed’ holocaust or ‘progressive’ slave-holders.
When it serves, or when circumstances demand, -to prevent Facebook from re-rigging rigged elections, and so forth- we regulate capitalism’s policies, rarely its capital. But policies are as much to blame as prejudice was for the lucrative, Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Marx explained this in plain terms, but Marx isn’t part of the discourse. Officially because of his flawed predictions, but that hasn’t excluded Larry Summers and Alan Greenspan, nor our current Democratic leadership, though blind-sided in most elections. Rather, the emphasis on resistance makes him undigestable to the capitalist Left.
Rather, since we fear investors less than errant thugs we find ways for democracy to protect capital. Mind, our constitutional lure invoked democracy to reign it in. But we’ve learned, instead, how to pad and sedate democracy to absorb capitalism’s abuses. Thus, I myself doubt there exist ‘reformed’ or ‘progressive’ capitalisms.
8 months ago Cornell West wrote a scathing critique of Ta-Nehisi Coates, calling him the ‘Neoliberal face of the black struggle’.[i] Some of us were aghast how much fell on Coates, but the point to realize was how well Neoliberalism has been served by a ‘Left’ that doesn’t know it’s neoliberal. From the 1970s on capital effectively drove the revolution indoors, helping elect Black mayors, into newly-formed regulatory commissions like the EPA, and into the corporate sphere through public-private partnerships, etc. Then it divested, leaving the formerly-radical Left to promote commerce in order to feed their disenfranchised programs and communities. [ii]
By procuring us a survivable-share of the market, instead of wriggling us free of capitalism, the Left made power analogous to a strong economy. This is a HUGE problem since they obviously don’t control it. And this is the true crisis of Trump. Trump gets to play both Savonarola and pimp -haranguing profiteers while indulging their tax-free fantasies, while the dizzy and befuddled ‘Left’ defends the Empire, mostly via the tools of their enemies like Alan Greenspan and Larry Summers.
On the contrary, our economy is growing, and it’s bad for democracy. Mainly because we owe our remarkable, 4.1% growth to corporate buy-backs, paid for with would-be tax dollars. In fact, we expect the S&P 500 to repurchase a record $800bn in stock this year. But as the stock market climbs the general populations’ already-modest share has been in decline. [iii] To date, the top 1% own almost 40% of all stocks, the top 20% own 90-some%, and the bottom-half own less than 1%. [iv]
Biggest difference is, in the great-the-first-time-around America it was worth it to offer us the scraps. In this round Trump already tossed them to the rich along with the rest of creation. And things can’t be in two places at once. But since we’ve learned to talk aroundcapitalism, we lose this simple narrative, completely. The most the Guardian could say was the ‘boon might be unsustainable’.[v] 2 days later, they ran an endorsement of Trump’s proposed ‘tax-cut2.0’ to Capital Gains.[vi]
Adjacent to it, they ran an interview with liberalism’s second-favorite public intellectual (after Coates), Yuval Noah Harari, headlining his claim that ‘free information is badfor democracy’ (he thinks it, not lived-experience, gave us Trump?) -and so its important -for democracy- that we have pay-walls![vii] Forget Summers, that puts the Left somewhere to the right of the ‘vote with your dollars’ ‘democracies’ championed by Hayek and Milton Friedman.
Luckily, we’ve a still few magical-thoughts to cling towhile we circle the drain. There’s even hope that China investing in renew-ables could incite a ‘race to the top’ once we rid ourselves of Trump. Well, so far the Trump coup has axed our barely-deterrent corporate penalties down to about nothing. Between 2015 and 2017 Justice Department fines dropped by 90%, the FCC by 85%, the CFTC (Futures and Stock-Options)-80%, the SEC -68%, and the EPA, under the biggest jack-ass to ever hold the office (but not the biggest to grace the administration), a whopping 94%, from $24 billion to $1.5 billion.[viii] And in-doing he laid off most of those former-revolutionaries. So reality is, even if we rejoin the non-binding Paris summits, it will be near impossible for any shill-president to reinstate even the veneer of regulation we had under Obama.
And anyway, acknowledging ‘climate change’ has not proved impetus for reform anymore than acknowledging a democracy-deficit has got money out of politics.
Take, for example, insurance companies cannot afford to delude themselves about climate change, and expect to profit. So they don’t. Their literature is rife with facts, predictions, and unanimous agreement as to its (coal and oil) causes. According to them, a 4° rise in temperature would make the world un-insurable. Yet insurers, particularly in the US, remain the fossil-fuel industry’s 2ndbiggest investor. Their ‘cure’ is higher-premiums and disinvestment zones, not a cooler planet. More than 95% of all flood victims live in the Third-World, where 9 out of 10 are uninsured, anyway.
So we must consider another possibility. The over-heated future doesn’t look all that bad for the rich so long as they can the of us, first. And losing-political-parties are the perfect recepticles. After all, the rich survived the Plague by retreating to country homes, divesting in cities, in labor, and civism, but leaving a welcome police-force to clear the human rubble. True, when it was over, the poor found chance of more land and higher wages, but it didn’t take state-power long to re-regulate, putting caps on wages, and prohibiting barons from hiring peasants entailed to other barons, etc. There was bigger helpings for the survivors. But more notably, a period of massive pre-capitalist accumulation; beginnings of the utopia we inhabit today.
But to continue picking on Noah Harari, in that same Guardian interview, the author of Homo Deus (which predicts a similar upheaval) admits he’s most concerned, not with justice, nor even safety, but our piece of mind. In his words, ‘we must invest more resources in the psychological resilience of people.’ (It’s uncanny how much top liberal scholars sound like insurance companies.) Here, for example, is how he resolves the Palestinian question:
‘All that is needed is to apply the norms. Israel’s neighbors should recognize its existence, the Israeli occupation should end, and the Palestinian refugees should be allowed to strike roots, even if that falls short of giving them justice.’[ix]
Harari, though mildly-critical of how his country (Israel) treats the most-traumatized population on Earth (1/3 of Palestinians reportedly have PTSD), thinks we’ve not more than a hundred years left before artificial-intelligence finds something akin to the occupation for all humankind. And he wants padding, not power.
For measure, Marx, made predictions too, but we always had, not just the option, but the responsibility, to act. And that’s missing. Harari is not a shill, but I sense he’s willing to let his teleology preclude resistance, much the way Armageddon helped James Watt decimate our forests before-hand. Or at least his vocal fans, Obama and Bill Gates for two, are willing. It seems the crux of liberal strategy, these days. -Padding society so capitalism might continue to wail on it without it altogether breaking.
However, a little closer to home (and less-speculative than Homo Deus) we can expect a die-off in our lifetimes among the reigning Democrats. The Democratic establishment is uniformly up in years, and on that ground, their panic about 30-somethings like Ocasio-Cortez and Abdul Sayed makes sense. It’s uncertain Trump will hang himself in time to secure an establishment victory, and one of the principal concerns for building an America Left (in more than namesake) is whether we plot within or against the Democratic Party. (I’ve joined the Democratic-Socialists and the conversation repeats itself there.)
All I’m certain is there’s no such thing as democracy in theory, only in action. (Here, I can at least tip my hat to Antifa.) Right now I’m convinced the Left is still loosing ground within the party, despite the alleged ‘pink wave’. And we haven’t seen many election victories. It might be time to stop saying ‘losing’ and call it ‘dead’. Maybe then we can take the conversation elsewhere.
But the bastards will die soon for real, too. And if we pick up where they leave off -within or without the party–that’s all we’ll do. And we have to do much better than that, if we’re to survive. I’m not talking about Trump in 2020, but 2024.
[ii] From #blacklivesmatter to black liberation (keeanga yamahtta-taylor) gives a good account.