Thursday, March 31, 2011

Connecting the Dots Follow Up and the Negative Economic Consequences of Attacking Immigrants

So I thought I would do just a shotgun approach to posting some links and thoughts of my own (mostly links). 

A few posts ago I posted a quote from Daniel Little about the value of Marxist theoretics, and "connecting the dots" and I thought it was a generally a favorable view.  Little however thought that Marx doesn't exactly give us enough empirically to go on for the present.  And of course how could he when he was writing about 150 years ago.  Radical economist David Ruccio takes exception to Little's verdict, and has a different take; it is interesting reading.

Eventually if I can ever find time, I would like to do a well thought out post critiquing the so-called "illegal immigration" debate we have in this country.  So much of the real issues never makes it into mainstream discourse because mainstream liberals ignore them. One of the things that irks me is the assumption that undocumented workers are "taking" and not contributing.  Of course from a Marxist perspective, if one knows what that is, this is absurd.  By working here, immigrants are a tremendous source of easily exploited labor, and thus surplus value and profit. And their illegal status makes them that much more so.  However, even from the perspective of taking the capitalist system for granted, the attack on immigrants, regardless of legal status, is counter productive and bad for the economy.  Here's a post from a Tucson Citizen blog The Data Port on immigrant contributions to the Arizona economy.  The orignal link from the Center for American progress is broken, but this quote is worth pasting at length:
The complex relationship of labor and consumption means that driving undocumented workers from the state would not “free up” more jobs for native Arizonans. Instead, it would have the same impact as driving out any other significant slice of the workforce. The report uses the town of Riverside, New Jersey, as an example.
After a construction boom in Riverside led to an influx of undocumented construction workers in the first half of the 2000s, the town adopted an ordinance in 2006 that imposed heavy fines on any businesses or landlords who hired or rented to undocumented immigrants. The ordinance was never enforced, but nonetheless had a big impact.
Feeling persecuted, 75% of Riverside’s immigrant population left, resulting in 45% of the town’s businesses being boarded up as they had been before the influx of immigrants. The legal cost of defending the ordinance in court also forced the town to delay infrastructure repairs and improvements. The ordinance was rescinded in 2007, but the damage had been done.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Conversations with Tea Party Activist Jim

Ahh heck, I just want to keep this blog active, and its going to be tough in the next few weeks due to the move back to my home state and a new job (sort of). (Yippee!)

A few months ago I had an email exchange with a Tea Party activist, Jim. The discussion began in the comments section of a post at the Rationally Speaking blog, and then we carried it into an email exchange. I figured why not make a blog post out of it. This is the lesson I gave that Jim in "Socialism":

I am glad you asked this question about me being a socialist and sharing your concern about our road to "serfdom". You seem to think this is a contradiction? Well not neccessarily if you keep in mind my operating definition of socialist, which is a movement of workers for workers.

It has been a long time since I read Hayek's book, but I recall the jest of it. You do know of course that Hayek did not invent the term "serfdom"? And you also realize that he was making predictions that the Labor government in Britian, after implementing welfare state reforms, would eventually become totalitarian. None of this happened.

Its ironic that Hayek used the term "serfdom" because the original meaning of the word was in reference to the class positions of serfs under the social system of fuedalism. Basically, a hereditary lords or nobles owned vast properties, and the serfs would farm this land, keeping a subsistence for themselves, and paying tribute to the lord in labor and produce.

According to Hayek and your analogy of "serfdom" the government plays the role of the lord, who collects taxes from the serf.

However, doesn't capitalism mimic this fuedal system in many ways, (yet with important differences)? In capitalism, relatively few people own productive wealth and resources (i.e. land, factories, capital etc.), just as nobles owned landed estates in fuedalism. To gain access to productive land serfs had to attach themselves to the estate of a lord and turn over the products of their labor to him. In capitalism, the majority of people don't own productive wealth, so they must sell their labor power to the owner of capital.

From this arrangement, workers get a wage, but have few rights to what they produce. Of course the apologist for capitalism claims that this is right and just arrangement, as the capitalist owns the factories, invests the capital etc. But as I argued in the thread on Ayn Rand, this accumulated capital is the result of previously exploited labor.

Jim, I must give you credit for something. I was struck by your previous mention in the Rand thread of the fact that your salary on Gillette's production line is paid for in a short few minutes of the work day. Do you realize that this very point is also made in Marx's critique of capitalism, in vol. 1 of Capital? The work you do in a few minutes pays your salary, then you proceed to work 7.5 hours more, the product of which is profit for the company, theirs, not yours.

So if we are to make an analogy with "serfdom" to how things are today, why simply focus on "big government" as the sole culptrit? Shouldn''t we also consider the hugely disproportionate concentration of wealth and income of the top 1-3% of the population? While at the same time it gets harder to make a living for average working people?

You have voiced your concerns about the dissapearing prosperity for America's working middle-class. On that we AGREE. But this economic hardship is not soley due to "big government" and taxes. I really wonder why "Tea Party Patriots" don't seem to have a problem with corporations undermining America's industrial and manufacturing base by moving production overseas?

All social-economic systems are based on mutually interdependent relationships, and the production of surplus. So the question is how is the socially produced product is distributed? I think capitalism distributes the socially produced surplus very poorly, unjustly and ultimately inefficiantly.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Newt Gingrich talks faith — And a lot of Bullshit

Now compared to the likes of Sarah Palin and G.W. Bush, Newt Gingrich is not a stupid man.  I think he knows that a lot of what he says is total bullshit.  And even more, he knows just what to say to appeal to the know nothing righty idiots who now dominate the Republican party.  Consier this gem of steaming bullshit:

Newt Gingrich talks faith — (And a lot of bullshit)
"'I have two grandchildren — Maggie is 11, Robert is 9,' Gingrich said at Cornerstone Church here. 'I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.'"
As for myself, I sure would like to see how this would play out, a secular atheist country dominated by a radical Islamist theocracy.  At least some righty idiots are somewhat coherent in their rants against the threat of Islamist Jihadis in warning that they will persecute the liberals and atheists. But not Newt, he just throws contradictory bullshit and hopes it will stick.  Unfortunately I fear much of it does.

Hat tip from the Atheist Ethicist for this.

Quote of Note and a Talk Back on NPR

From an article by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, What the right means when it calls NPR "liberal" - War Room -
"So what do conservatives really mean when they accuse NPR of being 'liberal'? They mean it's not accountable to their worldview as conservatives and partisans. They mean it reflects too great a regard for evidence and is too open to reporting different points of views of the same event or idea or issue. Reporting that by its very fact-driven nature often fails to confirm their ideological underpinnings, their way of seeing things (which is why some liberals and Democrats also become irate with NPR)."
There is much to agree with here and I think Moyers and Winship point concisely to what the Right means when it calls NPR liberal.  Now I am not so sure what they mean by the last clause in parenthesis, not being a Democrat, and not being "some liberals".  However, as a "Leftist" to the left of the mainstream of the Democratic party, and critical listener to NPR, I find many examples of what I call an "establishment bias".  I find NPR reporters and programs often don't question deeply what can be considered the mainstream establishment consensus of American society.  Furthermore, NPR often does its best to appease and accommodate the Right.

Quote of Note on Understanding Marx

Much of the rhetoric dismissing the relevancy of Marx and the school of thought he fathered is a focus on his alleged predictions or so-called prophecies about the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.  The reasoning is: it hasn't happened yet, therefore it never will, therefore Marx and Marxism is wrong about everything.  To be sure, the overthrow of capitalism and the establishement of a socialist society actually directed by its working class is a real problem.

Regardless, the real value in Marx can be found in the theoretical tool kit he developed to critique capitalism.  This theory and critique I think is still valid irrelevant of the possibility of a socialist future.  And the critique can be used to either reform capitalism in to its most favorable condition, or as an argument to end it. 

The following I think is a concise statement of Marx's project from Daniel Little , professor of the philosophy of social science at his blog UnderstandingSociety

"The most basic goal of Marx's economic programme was to demystify the workings of the political economy of capitalism. He wanted to sweep aside the appearances that capitalism presents and to lay bare the underlying social relations of inequality and exploitation that really constituted the causal core of the system. (This is the point of his theory of the fetishism of commodities; link.) And he believed that active systems of ideology and false consciousness conspired to conceal these workings from ordinary participants. In particular, he wanted to demonstrate the process through which wealth is created within capitalism, and the relations of inequality through which its benefits are distributed. It is a class-based analysis, and Marx proposes to the proletariat (and the rest of us) that we look for the class mechanisms of our ordinary economic experiences."
Daniel Little goes on to state that the problem is that this is a schematic theory, and there still needs to be empirical data and analysis of the problems of capitalism as it is lived today.  I cannot agree more.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Slander is Always Sufficient for Marx and his Defenders

From a blog post by the British Spectator by Alex Massie on Terry Eagleton's new book Why Marx Was Right:

"I should note that Tyler says Eagleton does a fine job in debunking or correcting some mistaken interpretations of Marx and his work but, really, when you wish away the deaths of millions - to say nothing of the apparatus of the totalitarian state - as a mere detail that, however unfortunate it may have been, is, implicitly anyway, a price worth paying for the socialist system's 'achievements' and when you do this in 2011 then your moral compass is, um, malfunctioning.
I suppose one will have to read the book to discover quite how deliciously paradoxical* it is that Stalinism 'bears witness' to the validity of Marx's work.
Revolting, really."
I suppose that slander and straw man arguments are always sufficient for Marx and his defenders. The book is available in the U.S. and I have just read the chapter in question with the quote provided here.

The argument is that the process of industrialization is a nasty one, and that Marx's concept of socialism can only emerge from a revolution lead by a mature working class in a developed capitalist society.

Thus, 20th century Russia was underdeveloped, socialism was not possible, and Stalin seized the opportunity to build a totalitarian dictatorship that was NOT socialist.

I have actually been waiting for a book such as Eagleton's that has an answer for the boilerplate slander of Marx and Marxism(s), and hopefully will be blogging on the book more in the future. (But I am pretty damn busy with a move to a new job and location). 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Other Tsunami - Dennis Prager - National Review Online

Very short and to the point blog post.

The Other Tsunami - Dennis Prager - National Review Online: "Yet, among the injustices of the world, what the Israelis have done to the Palestinians would not even register on a moral Richter scale."

Oh really Mr. Prager? Seriously?