Tag Archives: capitalism

Eff The 90’s

Have you been watching President-elect Barack Obama’s appointments to his administration with a sense of confusion? A feeling of anti-nostalgia? Crying out, “Why all the ClintonAdmin re-treads!?”

Steve Fraser is your man. Writing in The Nation, Fraser echoes a familiar complaint by liberals about recent appointments, registers dismay at the nearly uniform “neo-liberal” ideology, and compares the group think to the greater diversity that stocked Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet during a transition period frought with peril.

Worth reading for historical boning up, I suppose, but I was more interested in Fraser’s call for bolder action:

Under the present dispensation, the bailout state makes the government the handmaiden of the financial sector. Under a new one, the tables might be turned. But who will speak for that option within the limited councils of the Obama team?

A real democratic nationalization of the banks–good value for our money rather than good money to add to their value–should be part of the policy agenda up for discussion in the Obama era. As things now stand, the public supplies the loans and the investment capital, but the key decisions about how they are to be deployed remain in private hands. A democratic version of nationalizing the financial system would transfer these critical decisions to new institutions created by the Congress and designed to pursue public, not private, objectives. How to subject the flow of credit and investment capital to public control ought to be on the drawing boards if we are to look beyond the old New Deal to a new one.

Or, for instance, if we are to bail out the auto industry, which we should–millions of jobs, businesses, communities, and what’s left of once powerful and proud unions are at stake–then why not talk about its nationalization too? Why not create a representative body of workers, consumers, environmentalists, suppliers and other interested parties to supervise the industry’s reorganization and retooling to produce, just as the president-elect says he wants, new green means of transportation–and not just cars?

Why not apply the same model to the rehabilitation of the nation’s infrastructure; indeed, why not to the reindustrialization of the country as a whole? If, as so many commentators are now claiming, what lies ahead is the kind of massive, crippling deflation characteristic of such crises, then why not consider creating democratic mechanisms to impose an incomes policy on wages and prices that works against that deflation?

Why not, in effect, assert greater control by the people over the economic forces that affect them? “Cuz that way lies socialism! Aaagh!” Onoz. Heavens to betsy. And, well, probably not. More like neo-social democracy.

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Whipped Into a Frenzy

I will not be the first nor the last person to observe this: the Black Friday stampede at a Long Island Wal-Mart that killed Jdimytai Damour suggests our culture is sick. It represents just about everything that is wrong with our economy: the big box store, the exploitation of low-paid seasonal hires, hyped-up materialism, desperation and greed for “bargains” and a “tradition” of post-Thanksgiving shopping, disregard for workplace safety standards — as a friend of mine observed before Damour’s identity was known, “the poor guy was probably an undocumented worker.” He wasn’t, but given past practices by Wal-Mart and other global corporations, my friend’s suspicion was not without reason.

That said, I won’t martyrize Damour; he didn’t “die for our sins.” He died because people — the bargain-obsessed shoppers and the big box operators who whipped them into a frenzy — value things over people, “getting ahead” over courtesy. The store owners could not be bothered to provide adequate security; the shoppers could not be bothered to wait another five minutes for opening time or walk casually to make their purchases. Push down the pregnant woman! What do you mean we have to leave? I’ve been waiting since 9 o’clock last night!

In the wake of this awful event, consider the reported response by the Toy Industry Association to a letter-writing campaign launched by parents demanding fewer advertisements aimed at their children:

“If children are not aware of what is new and available, how will they be able to tell their families what their preferences are?” an industry statement said. “While there is certainly greater economic disturbance going on now, families have always faced different levels of economic well-being and have managed to tailor their spending to their means.”

The full AP article deserves reading. It reports a sociologist and a social worker discussing desperate parents straining their budgets to meet the demands of their kids, despite facing unemployment and homelessness.

And while it is all well and good to counsel such parents on the virtues of saying “no” (with practice, I have become pretty good at it; but then, I’m a dick), the working poor have few other outlets for entertainment than television, where the psychological warfare is waged.

Yesterday — to take a random personal example — my four-year-old son vegged out in front of a full day “Sponge Bob Square Pants” marathon on Nickelodeon. How nice of those programmers at Nick to create 12 hours of non-stop Sponge Bob. They must have done it outta the goodness of their hearts, yes? Uh, no. Sponge Bob sells toys.

“I want that,” my son would say on seeing a much hyped toy. Then another commercial. “I want that.” And another commercial. “I want that.” And so on. All day. Of course, we employed the usual parent artillery: uncommitted speculation (“We’ll see….”), disbelief (“You don’t even know what THAT is!”), outright rejection (“Not in my house”) and sarcasm (“Of course you want that, honey. You want everything.”)

Not pleasant, but not unendurable. I take it as part of the challenge of raising children in a crazed consumer culture. I won’t shelter my kids from the ugliness of capitalism; I would rather arm them with it. That said, I cannot endorse the trial-by-fire so casually described by a toy industry consultant:

Gottlieb also contends that it’s good for children to encounter toy ads — even in cases where products later turn out to be disappointments.

“It teaches, for very low stakes, how to navigate in our consumer culture,” he said.

“They are going to have to spend the rest of their lives listening to every kind of marketing approach, and childhood is where they will learn to cope with it.”

As for the economic pressure on parents, Gottlieb sounds a fatalistic note.

“Believe me, there are families with much bigger issues on their plates right now then worrying about whether their child will be unhappy because they did not get a particular toy,” Gottlieb wrote in his “Out of the Toy Box” blog. “Delivering disappointment goes with the job of parenting.”

Wow. That’s right. Why change the culture? Why exercise some of that “corporate responsibility” so often given a special bullet point in mission statements? Why look where you’re stepping when rampaging through the store to get that useless crap for 50% off!? 

Why listen to parents (who, um, do the purchasing, hell-o!) when they ask you to target ads to them and not their children? Apparently that is too “nanny state” or “paternalistic” for champions of “free enterprise” like Gottlieb. Better to exploit a child’s natural greed and let him or her nag the parent. Corporations don’t want your input, silly consumer; they want your money. Prepare to get trampled.

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The Wrong Bailout

As it’s entertaining to see McCain’s panicked behavior make him look more like an ass than ever, we should not forget that Senate Democrats – including the Democratic nominee for President – are letting BushAdmin fear-mongering push them into going along with this bullshit bailout, so matter how many negotiated “principles” a revised bill adheres to.

There are two fantasies at play here: first, that we have $700 billion to spend at all; second, that putting ourselves more in hock to foreign lenders should be done for the sake of salvaging a corrupt and incompetent banking and financial industry. If we’re going to put my children’s grandchildren into debt, why not spend the money on things that will serve them best in the long run? Why not bail out the health care system? The education system? The energy production system? Are there not workers who need retraining? Are there not new technologies that deserve more research and investment to push them along so that we are free from fossil fuels, more secure as a nation, and less destructive environmentally?

The panic-stricken will scream that “doing nothing” will push us into a depression. I’m not saying “do nothing.” I’m saying, do something for the long term social and economic health of the country as a whole (with dividends for the rest of the world if we get our crap together), and let the bankers, the lenders, the investors, and the other money-monkeys go marching off to their own doom. As for the depression – be realistic. This bailout will not forestall the next calamity. Ruben Bolling explains why.

In Contempt (9/25/2008): How to Deal With the Financial Crisis

How to Deal With the Financial Crisis
Click to read a cartoon that will fundamentally realign your wheels of perception.

In Contempt (4/3/08): Negative Thinking

Negative Thinking
Click the image to see the full cartoon.

Edit: The link works now.

In Contempt 2/5/08: Mickey's Club House

Mickey's Club House
Click to see the whole cartoon