Multiculturalism is not a thing.

The battle between “multiculturalist” and anti-Davos nationalists is a battle based on fallacious premise: that there even is “multiculturalism” in any thick sense.  The old metaphorical argument goes, multi-ethnic nation states used to be melting pot, softening down the differences and melting the identity down into a singular white paste. Now, in a metaphor, I have heard since the 1990s, we have replaced that melting pot with salad bowl, each element contributing to the dish, whole and without it’s identity changed.  The nationalists argue that either a melting pot is still needed with basic cultural softening returning, or, increasingly, even that was a utopian pipe dream and we need barricades of good, decent frog-nazis to combat the force feeding of salad the Lizard people at Davos and D.C. are forcing upon us.

Yet, all this is predicated on some simple misconceptions about culture and identity. Misconceptions that inform ideas beyond “multiculturalism” itself.  Most of these battles define culture in various superficial degrees.  To ask ourselves, what truth there could be between these two positions, we have to ask ourselves, “what is culture in the first place?”  Culture is, like most abstractions, is disputed term in itself. Like more obvious and semi-cognitive terms like “equality,” “freedom,” etc., part of the battles about culture have both sides of the debate hide a definition that is often different from what is being debated.   Culture is larger than religion, language, even ethnicity, as anthropologists will inform you that their can be common cultures between ethnicities, classes, genders, etc.

If we trace the etymology of the term, it is comes Cicero in his Tusculanae Disputationes here he referred to “cultura animi.” He meant the grounds to cultivate the mind towards it’s highest good. It was an agricultural metaphor for teleological development.  To cultivate yourself was a social practice that made one something more than mere being, a barbarian, but fully human.    Note that it has none of descriptive habitus in its original use.

To stop here or to assume this root gives us the sole insight into what culture is would be etymological fallacy. And, frankly, it would cut against my point: even people who share a language, a religion, a technological level of society, have different ways of being fully human.  More modern definitions will, such as the one in the Cambridge dictionary,  will assert: “the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time,” or to use the definition in the source of all that is easily looked up on the internet, Wikipedia, “a culture” is the set of customs, traditions, and values of a society or community, such as an ethnic group or nation. Culture is the set of knowledge acquired over time. In this sense, multiculturalism values the peaceful coexistence and mutual respect between different cultures inhabiting the same planet. Sometimes “culture” is also used to describe specific practices within a subgroup of a society, a subculture (e.g. “bro culture”), or a counterculture. Within cultural anthropology, the ideology and analytical stance of cultural relativism holds that cultures cannot easily be objectively ranked or evaluated because any evaluation is necessarily situated within the value system of a given culture.”   The definition is expansive, but it can be reduced to “the elements of a person and group’s that are acquired through social learning.”

So, at various, levels of analysis, there are multiple cultures within on culture: different religious, gendered, class, regional, and even professional practices. However, there are common forms of life they share.  To return to out salad bowl metaphor, if we whole cultures to co-exist in a polity or economy in a completely self contained way, the metaphor also implies they are cut from the root and cannot grow.  Indeed, one sees this in a lot of talk of “cultural appropriation” as if “habits” and customs can be owned by abstractions like nations or ethnicities.  An abstract “owning” an abstraction. Often the practices have roots in other cultures, so we tend to go back to the early modern period and freeze time there, or at the development of separate cultures.  There is nothing “progressive,” or, frankly, even anthropologically or philosophical coherent about this.  Yet it fits with the “salad bowl” notion of intact and easily frozen identities. Admittedly, the history of ideas behind “cultural appropriation” are more complicated than this, and some of which are even legitimate in my view, but this more common and base understanding seems to be a misconception that fits with our shallow notion of identity and multiculturalism.

However, the moment two “cultures” interact without its members trying to eradicate each other, a “third” culture is born from the exchange.  New habits are socially learned, modified, exchanged.  Boundaries are softened, loan words are spread, ways of life alter.

In short, there is no way to stop the melting effect, but it is rarely total unless a campaign of erasure is attempted.  However, this still does get to why,  any thick description of “multiculturalism” is generally false.  A friend of mine, who writes the blog Cold Dark Stars, pointed out in “Multiculturalism and the Clockwork City,” points out:

Canada sells itself as one of the most multicultural countries in the world. It is true that many religions, skin tones, and languages coexist here. But the diversity stops there. In a clockwork world where synchronicity is required, only the right sized gear or spring can fit. The immigration system has already filtered the worthy candidates that can adapt to the friendly and generous canadians. That cab driver used to be a doctor in Islamabad. That engineer’s parents were the upper one percent in China. I am studying a PhD in the natural sciences. Someone in some office with a masters degree in public policy has decided that we were more worthy than the others. There is no diversity in any of this. No varied modes of life. Either a skilled worker, a technocrat, or a capitalist.

I would go further then him, but it hints at the key point. Economies cannot tolerate cultures that are counter to production. Sub-cultural modes can co-exist, home languages can remain intact, but material culture still has to fit in the dominant modes of production, consumption, and exchange.  Cultural forms that cannot be commodified are simply not sustainable.

In short, the overarching culture trumps not matter how much civic or national difference one allows.  This is why isolated peoples are changed by the moment of study or contact with the outside, and if they are fit into the networks of trade, are subsumed into the larger global culture around capitalism.

I lived in many countries and seen this over and over.  It is not that capitalism or liberal modernity erases most cultures, or even melting into the same stew of whiteness, but it dissolves their boundaries.  Remnants remain.  The Protestant capitalism has differences from the Confucian capitalism even after both have given up their traditional faiths and speak a common language. However, can they be said to have completely separate “life-ways?”

Indeed, many of the frognazis point out that multiculturalism has a homogenizing effect.  They aren’t entirely wrong, but except themselves from the equation. They say multiculturalism is about creating new markets, finding cheap labor, undercutting the common culture. This seems like a profits imperative, and one that goes far beyond immigration issues.

Multiculturalism in a sense of completely separate and intact cultures co-existing unchanged is not a thing.  Most of what is fought for by “progressives” and “reactionaries” (two terms of orientation that are merely slurs without the specific issues that one is progressing or reacting to being stated) around this so-called “multiculturalism” is proxy for other issues.  Be it free movement of peoples, or belief that economies can grow perpetually behind the imagined communities of nation-states. Something else is almost always at stake.

People will fight to maintain elements of their traditions, language, and ethnic identity beyond joining or participating in a culture, but they are also subsumed within that culture.  Even culture separatism is borderline impossible because that act itself changes the culture in response to perceived foreign elements.  Any definition of “multiculturalism” thus must remain thin and focus on elements of identity that don’t impede the general economic culture of a polity or system.  Cultures that really and truly oppose this often just die out from their members being unable to reproduce their ways of life.  Most battles about so-called “thick multiculturalism” are thus red herrings, or people trying to sell you something. Furthermore, anytime you hear about defensive of a pristine and unadulterated culture, feel free to roll your eyes because the very declaration of that battle means adulteration has already happened.

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The Strange Death of Liberal Wonktopia, Day 6: Intersectionality is always a key term until someone asks you to actually do it.

Let’s getting something out of the way that is spreading like a virus: You can’t understand what it means to be “white working class,” or any working class, from polling results.    This isn’t going to become a John Cougar Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen video with a folksy version of the Internationale in the melody.  Finally, no, you don’t have to empathize with the “white working class.”  You don’t have to empathize with anyone for a lot of what I am going to say to make sense.  That, however, isn’t the same thing as not shaming them, ignoring them, pretending what is happening to them isn’t happening.

The first part of the narrative:  The interests of the working class are divided by both race–and something even Marxists don’t talk much about anymore–region.  The reason for this difference is historical, but not just because of the long history of racial violence in the United States.  That most definitely plays a part, and the real gap in wealth between the black community and the white community largely comes from that very history: slavery, Jim Crow, sharecropping, chain gangs, and the second wave of Klan. The gap in wealth between the white community and the black community has to the ownership of real property and investment, and not just current income.  It also has to do with inheritance and access to fair investment markets.  That, however, most left-liberals and Marxists vaguely understand.

What historical factors are ignored?  The shape of economic development in the country. While it is tempting to think the interests of the working class are unified, even within the “white” working class, this is somewhat laughable if you look at the shape of the country.  The Union movement in the USA has largely failed. As I wrote about in another place, the South and West’s “Right to Work” laws and history of race baiting actually killed the Unions there.  But there was another problem–the South were NEVER industrialized on the same model as the upper mid-West of the United States and share-cropping and prison labor was used to keep agricultural wages down as well. Similar to the way exploiting undocumented immigrants who do not have wage protections are done now . This means the industrial union model never took off, and the few unions that did exist were largely for contractors, functioning more like professional guilds.  After all, who can a Union of independent contractors strike against as they are technically their own employer.

The West Coast’s working class and now most of the South have a working class in the service sector or in the military or education.  That said, the service sector in the West Coast, largely because of a historical accident, is in higher skilled work like computing in urban areas or in crops that are resistant to mechanization like vegetables, nuts, and fruits in rural and suburban ones.  In the mountain West, outside of the cities, the main employer is mineral extraction but of more profitable and rarer minerals than in the mountains around the rust belt. The South is even more complicated,  being largely urbanized and de-urbanized very quickly, centers of population are even more concreted than North East.  This changes the nature of land ownership, and the kinds of employment there.   While in area manufacturing and contracting specifically for turning former farm land into rich subdivisions provided a lot of jobs, that manufacturing work was limited. Furthermore, many employers from Japan and even the US moved factories to the South but they were newer, much more highly automated, and cost of living and wages low enough that even a non-unionized job was more attractive than what else was on offer.

This is a very rough sketch of the last two decades of development, and I am sure there is much to contend with in the fine print.  It definitely related to the voting patterns. Here’s what we know about Trump’s voting electorate.  It was overwhelming white, but upper middle class. The “white working class” only seemed to turn the election to his favor actively in the devastated areas of the rust belt.

To delve into some further vulgar Marxism, the bourgeoisie in the US are mixed too and not just by size of their businesses. Small business owners have been in decline as have small farmers. This is nothing new.  However, the GOP has largely based itself out of Sun Belt where these declines were more pronounced.  Furthermore, ironically, the GOP and black Democrats colluded to make sure that representation was more concentrated, allowing for a bigger electoral hold on Sun Belt states than would otherwise happen in exchange for some clearly black representation of mostly black districts.  The Democrats, whose origins back to Andrew Jackson or Thomas Jefferson, depending on our interpretation, are a populist party without an ideological or even consistent class base core. The GOP has always, even in Lincoln’s day when it was radically progressive, been a party of business.  The nature of business to society itself has changed. As the Brahmin Republicans declined in the North East and West because of urbanization, the Nixon strategy and the Goldwater vote on the civil rights act, and the taint of the Dixiecrats drifting away the Democrats, Democrats were able to take over the political machines and the interests of the Wall Street in the North East fairly easily.  Meaning that there are some substantive differences between the GOP and Democrats even though they both favor managerial and bourgeois interests–those interests are different. For example, Trump and Koch make things or build things, but Goldman Sachs finances things and Silicon valley disrupts things–ironically, though, because even the sharing economies business model of ending monopolies is based on intellectual property monopoly.

You will note that NONE of that requires empathy. It does require understanding. It requires also a buzzword that everyone throws around in Social justice circles but few people actually try to do: Intersectional understanding.  Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined that term from his work in law at the turn of the 1980s to 1990s. It did really take off with meme and think-piece culture in the late aughts. Like lectures about privilege, it hide in legal and pedagogical studies in the academy before being integrated by undergraduates into to think pieces 20 years later. I have written in other places extensively on the strange relationship of intersectionality to ideas like standpoint epistemology, and it has theoretically absorbed some of those assumptions in its common use. But at least, Crenshaw wanted disability, race, class, gender, sex, caste, and class into our understanding of human interactions.   Crenshaw did not think they could weighted or put down in simple categories and thus all analysis had to be multi-casual. This is easily done in cases like understanding American labor, but it removes the easy of sloganeering and simple reductive rhetoric.

Yet think pieces and blogs have increased simple reductive rhetoric to the point that “intersectionality” is generally used a way to shut people up,  or as a substitute for the idea of Solidarity, or as way of erasing the very things it was suppose to overlay. When combined with the psychologization of a lot of left-liberal politics–with analogies to trauma, unintended aggression, and constant pleas to empathy–you can see where this valuable way of analyzing the world drops out and becomes useless because the substantive methodological content goes into the air.

This brings me to a series of counter articles written in the last few days to all these naive pleas about the empathizing with the white working class. Some of this is a weirdly liberal appropriation of Maoist-Third Worldist ideas, but only applied to race within the US. I will ignore that because J. Sakai being used to support Hillary Clinton is absurd on its face. Other responses are been more nuanced in part, addressing “white allies.” I will talk about Kali Holloway’s piece for Alternet,  “Stop Asking Me to Empathize With the White Working Class: And a few other tips for white people in this moment,” as I think it is representative of what is likely to become a genre in the few weeks of doubling down on ideas and paradigms that largely only speak to themselves.

Holloway begins with,

The only people who were surprised by white people voting for white supremacy is other white people. Muslims, black folks and other people of color have been petrified of this outcome for a long time now, because we know how white power will do anything to preserve itself. We have seen it, worked beside it, watched it on the news, lived next door to it, witnessed it call itself our friend and then question our experiences with racism when we recount them.

Right out of the park, we begin with a bunch of assumptions that have to be unpacked. One of my problems with standpoint epistemology is the way it conflates derailing someone’s experience with questioning the scope of someone’s experience. Is a vote for Clinton NOT a vote for white supremacy?  After all, she was an active supporter of her husband’s tough on crime act.  Furthermore, in most of the country, “lived next door to it” is a false claim.  This implies an integrated America that only exists in the upper middle class suburbs of large cities. It also implies equal class footing. That’s not even false.

However, the conflation of both interests of whites being unified and the interests of people of color being unified but opposed is common.  It’s a white hat/black hat myth, with the moral significance of the colors inverted, but it’s common.  Yes, all white identified people benefit from the social structures around race, but they do not all equally nor is white power necessarily in everyone’s interests equally. Furthermore, as we pointed out, the diversification of the elite actually hasn’t been that much of a threat to white power. That is not what is going on.

Holloway says,

The only surprise to come out of this election is how many, and how quickly, white people want us to empathize with the people who voted against our humanity, our right to exist in this place. Even before the election, the Washington Post actually had the audacity to berate us for not crying for the white working class. In the days since Trump won, the number of articlesurging everybody to be cool to Trump’s America, to understand what they are facing, to hear their grievances, has added insult to injury. Bernie Sanders issued a statement saying Trump “tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.” I read it at least three times and couldn’t find the words “white supremacy” anywhere in it.

Which is true, but also it wasn’t just white supremacy being maintained. 47% of the population didn’t vote. 70% of the voting electorate was white, about 9% more than representation of the country, and while the majority of those votes did go to the Republicans, the white working class that needs someone to listen to them didn’t vote for anyone. Neither did larger portions of working class blacks and hispanics. These are facts. I have documented them elsewhere.  The reasons why people are calling for this to be looked at is based on a simple question:  how are you going to win state level races to get back those purple states if you can’t address white people?  2060 is the year projected that the white population becomes majority minority–if and only if other current groups don’t start identifying as white.  But even then, you have to assume simplified interests among groups.  This doesn’t start up to much pressure.

Without that reforms of electoral college and other things that liberals are putting their hopes on are not just unlikely but impossible. Furthermore, as has been a theme, shaming people on this front doesn’t work.  Holloway makes it worse though in key ways:

Let me pass along some advice black folks have been given for a long time: stop being so angry and seeing yourself as a victim, and try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. That’s really all I have for you right now, this re-gifting of wisdom.

This is not just spite, it’s stupid spite. Everyone knows in her circles that this is not possible. Indeed, the very image is a logical impossibility but dismissing that is the normalization of a downward trend that also continues to affect large portions of the black and hispanic community. Hard work doesn’t change aggregate outcomes for anyone.

Holloway makes another lazy argument:

Here’s another reason I’m not interested: This whole idea that I have to understand the people America seems to believe are its “real” citizens is less and less relevant. Yes, they won an election. This country is getting browner and gayer by the day, and for all they are fighting to get back to the 1950s, lazing in toxic nostalgia isn’t going to change that. The demographics of this country are not on their side. They might want to try understanding the future—in which they are outnumbered and outvoted—because it comes for us all.

Yes, but Republicans are getting more and more of the brown vote, the idea that identity has set ideological content because of abstractions is, frankly. absurd. White power is a material thing, as it wanes, the interests of those who replace it in the same economic system will resemble that of who they replaced. Don’t believe me? Study the history of the coloreds in Haiti versus the black former slaves and who made up the elite classes there after the whites were gone.  The demographics of the U.S. are centralized in urban areas in a way that make it less and less democratic, and fixing that without also erasing many state borders and localities, would quickly cause several constitutional issues to become manifest like they did in large nation-states with diverse population that didn’t have a system to balance those interests:  see the history of Mexico and Brazil and the increased history of party centralization, corruption, and military coups for the long gains from that.  You don’t only change one part of a broken system, and yet that is all that is being talked about and predicting that raw number demographics will change things for the Democrats and People of Color. In Brazil, the “whites” (although Americans who think of them as Latinos) dominated and still dominate politics despite demographic trends being against for almost two decades. Why?  Accumulation, centralization of power, and conflicting interests among other groups.

Holloway doubles down again before she’s finished,”To paraphrase Samantha Bee, if Muslims and black folks have to take responsibility for every member of our communities, so do you.”  This again is confusing identity revenge with some vague notion of justice. The reason why everyone from bell hooks to Samantha Bee says making people representative of their race is it bad thinking. Inverting it is still bad thinking and is basically just sticking ones finger in the air and screaming: you did it too.

Holloway does make some sound points: poverty is always portrayed more romantically for whites and is perceived differently by the public, the diversification of elites isn’t what is causing white working class problems, and that it is basically each community’s responsibility to speak to itself.  However, if one was intersectional AT ALL in the analysis, it would be clear that communities overlap.  Indeed, Holloway’s whole premise in the beginning based on exposure to white communities is predicated on it overlapping.

I will quote a friend’s conversation with me about this as it makes the point clear:

Here’s what I mean (I feel like I’m talking to 5th graders, so I’m even worse than mansplaining): SOME white people are racist ignoramuses, and SOME white people are economically oppressed, and the intersection of these groups is not
the NULL SET. See? That’s not hard, is it?

The main point being not that “I am right” in the particulars, but that a certain amount of complexity is irreducible. As an analogy: if you want to cure a disease, you have to get the etiology right. Bleeding someone with malaria might make you feel better about yourself, as a caretaker, but it will do fuck all, therapeutically, for the patient.

The right isn’t totally wrong about how therapy has taken over a model for politics, they are just wrong about how and why. There are confluence of interests and actors in all of this, but the liberal and conservative–indeed most of the American– imagination has become so withered by simplistic typologies and the focus on emotional states that simple descriptive facts seem beyond most people’s capacity.  The personal being political, and the politics being symbolic has massively eroded liberals’ ability to parse complicated reality.  It has make intersectionalism the buzzword for most activism while also making it nearly impossible to say anything that actually has a multi-factor analysis as its core,  which is what intersectionality itself demands.

The Lame Necromancy of Political Sigils

If I were a magician or a Inquisitor and could magically remove the tongues and fingers of those who think they can key-broad warrior to revolution (ignoring that outside of cyber-security threats, pens may be mightier than the sword, but they are tend to be a be weaker than tank division) or take their long march through academia into the streets instead of out of it, I would ban people trying to invoke 19th and early 20th century discussions about Unions and Labor Parties as answers to contemporary political problems from the face of the North America.

This lame necromancy of trying to talk with words about Unions from pre-Taft Hartley or like the legal structures of either the US or Canada even remotely reflected that of North Europe needs to be dropped. This isn’t just a case of rebranding, although I will make an argument for that in a minute. This cuts deeper than this.  I used to call it LARPing, but this metaphor has blossomed on the inter like red algae in the Mexican gulf killing the fish of thought in droves. It is, frankly, trying to be pretend a lot of the 20th century just didn’t happen in the US.

Not that I don’t want people to read labor history, know the writings of Eugene Debs and history of the IWW, or even know debates about Unionism in the Soviet Union.  People can be benefited by this history, but what you aren’t going to do is raise the dead.   No amount of blood rites to Trotskyist newspapers or kickstarters or canvasing factory is going to be enough to have labor unions have significant power in the even OECD as a whole, much less the United States.

To quote the source of all easy knowledge:

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics surveyed the histories of union membership rates in industrialized countries from 1970 to 2003, and found that of 20 advanced economies which had union density statistics going back to 1970, 16 of them had experienced drops in union density from 1970 to 2003. Over the same period during which union density in the US declined from 23.5 percent to 12.4 percent, some counties saw even steeper drops. Australian unionization fell from 50.2 percent in 1970 to 22.9 percent in 2003, in New Zealand it dropped from 55.2 percent to 22.1 percent, and in Austria union participation fell from 62.8 percent down to 35.4 percent. All the English-speaking countries studied saw union membership decline to some degree. In the United Kingdom, union participation fell from 44.8 percent in 1970 to 29.3 percent in 2003. In Ireland the decline was from 53.7 percent down to 35.3 percent. Canada had one of the smallest declines over the period, going from 31.6 percent in 1970 to 28.4 percent in 2003. Most of the countries studied started in 1970 with higher participation rates than the US, but France, which in 1970 had a union participation rate of 21.7 percent, by 2003 had fallen to 8.3 percent. The remaining four countries which had gained in union density were Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Belgium.

IF there is a magic rule of political revolutions, they require the participation of the 1/3 of the population. Even in the vaulted mystical realm of Western Europe, where left-liberals often seem to the think promised land is prototyped, you don’t reach those numbers. Furthermore, large scale industrial and social change actually is harder than a political revolution and generally requires closer to 50% of social mobilization. Agrarian capitalism and the transition to industrial capital in England took place over a 200 year period and involved most of the mobilization of society, fundamentally changing the nature of English class structure. It wasn’t planned–it was a confluence of Protestant reformations, limits of nobility to use extra-economic force inside of England, seizure of church poverty by the state, enclosures of the commons, and end of both the peasant and the yeoman class throughout. It also was aided by a revolution of religious zealous land holders, and then some Kings coming back and making concessions to them.  Much harder than taking control of a state house or enforcing a constitution.

What does that have to do with Unions?  Well, even in France and Germany, Union membership is approaching less than 35%.  In the US and UK, where many of these Unions were born, it is down below 20%. Furthermore, it gets worse when you look at the composition of Unions: 

  ▪ Management, professional: 11.9%
▪ Service: 9.2%
▪ Sales and office: 6.5%
▪ Natural resources, construction, and
maintenance: 15.3%
▪ Production, transportation, and
material moving: 14.8%

Services and trucking are two largest sectors of the US economy. The largest private employer is Walmart and out of the top 10 private employers–eight of them are retail services.  These workers do not make commodities and do have the same pull overproduction, so striking is not as effective.  Furthermore, they make up on 9.2% of all Union membership in the US.    Trucking is the largest employing field, and while it does have 15% union membership, a large portion of the trucking work force is

Parsing the numbers though, the bad news doesn’t end there. The military and police are huge sectors of the US employment, and police unions have been a bane of Liberals for a long time.  Military is not unionized as they do not have civilian rights, and a military welfare state reduces the need for anyway.  Left Liberals like teacher unions, although they are illegal or highly limited in many US states–in Georgia, they are technically illegal and have no right to strike–but most of their money goes to lobbying anyway.

Most of the operational budget of AFL-CIO goes to lobbying, mostly to Democrats, who generally betray them anyway because they are seen as a locked in patronage. Although the rise of Trump may have complicated that, it seems to continue.  Meanwhile, stocks make up an increasing amount of Unions  income, and Union leadership tend to make up words of 200,000 a year. 

Lastly, trade unions are one of few types of unions allowed largely in the Southern US: contractors Unions, writers unions, electrician unions.  These, however, do not function like industrial unions as they largely work to provide insurance for the members and to help with state licensing regimes. This means they operate more like medieval and early modern guilds than our picture of industrial unions.

This doesn’t even include Taft-Hartley, which gutted a lot of what we think of Unions being able to do in a labor movement: it outlawed closed shops, helped AFL-CIO kill dual unionism limiting the ability to work across various industries, killed the Wagner Acts provision on employer neutrality,  had explicit anti-communist and anti-socialist clauses, made cross coordinated strikes illegal.

All this does not include the historical ambivalence of Unions on race and immigration in the work force, which has also damaged reputations of unions in some of the most marginalized communities.

Why do you think appealing to strikes in the 1930s and ignoring things like the lost of the battle of Matewon and the end of the Wagner act can just make this history magically go away?

When we talk about US labor, we aren’t talking about a unionized work force.  In fact, only in four Nordic countries have unions made some gains and even here there have been relative declines partly over immigration.

Words don’t fix that.  They aren’t spells to resurrect a corpse.

This also means that a labor party that could access “dual power”–see my discussion with Doug Lain on this concept--and not just work for vote funneling like most modern political parties can’t depend on that model either.  No matter how much Bernie Sanders or even someone I deeply respect like Adolph Reed wants it too. In fact, as I discussed in with Tom O’Brian a few years back, this notions of a Leninist or even Kautskyist vanguard party are dependent on fundamentally different notions about what a party is than what contemporary people believe they are.  The political organizations that have been successful at dual power strategies in the modern period:  religious groups and religious-ethnic political parties.  Hamas builds schools as does the Southern Baptist convention. These groups function like older political groups that Marxists seem to think are looming somewhere in reading groups, college dorm roads, and meet-ups with the 10 local 20-somethings who are in labor unions.

The first step to admitting fixing a problem is admitting the scale of the problem. The second step is to stop magic thinking.  Let the dead bury themselves and quit trying to keep those zombies going.  It’s time to think differently about political organization. We are in the midst of watching a political realignment happen over two decades and finally begin to manifest in the US. The Overton window has moved in both directions in such a way that makes even contemporary taxonomies feel vaguely like necrophilia of old ideas.  Forms of organization from before world war 2?

Those skeletons are seeping calcium at this point.

 

 

Review: Piketty Explained [Kapitalet i det tjugoförsta århundradet: Sammanfattning, svenskt perspektiv] by Jesper Roine (Density, 2014)

Roine breaks down much of the maths and the operational assumptions of Tomas Piketty’s Capital. Roine simplifies and sums up the historical data that Piketty used as well as much of the argument that Piketty makes. Furthermore, by focusing on the differences between Capital developed between France/UK and the States, one sees some trends that are generally obscured in the texts. The first major trend that Piketty (as well as Roine) point out that stood out to me is that income inequality increased in both the social democratic influenced capitalist countries of Europe as well as in the States, but in the States the differences came largely from income and wealth accumulation whereas in the Europe the differences stated from investment in capital and wealth accumulation. Furthermore, Piketty points out that wage stickiness applies at all ends of the spectrum and that this would have some real implications for wealth accumulation. Surprisingly, given Piketty’s general resistance to Marx (despite what some of his critics claim) some of his models from historical data do mirror developments in Marx’s Kapital. For example, the investment on capital declines when capital is steady and only becomes highly “profitable” after periods of capital destruction like war. However, wealth value as well as wage levels remain relatively static in their percentages. Piketty also notices that while Feudalism was no-growth economic situation in the mean, early capitalism had two hundred years for fairly steady low growth (around 1%) whereas after the industrial revolution this increases dramatically at first and then drops slowly over time towards a norm. This, again, mirrors classical and Marxist assumptions more than one would expect. However, Piketty makes the argument that most of the accumulation of wealth in the states is a result of policies that accelerated it in the 1980s with changes in policy. Unlike most economists (even some leftist ones) neither Piketty or Roine see this as a removal of non-capitalist element on the markets, but just a change in policy. Roine does not discuss exactly why this policy shift happen, and Piketty in the book did not explore that Reagan’s liberalization of the market were actually began under Carter and just accelerated under Reagan, as the political elements of political economy are largely outside of the realm of Roine’s and Piketty’s study. Lastly, in political discussions, Roine summarizes the two options that Piketty sees as possible answers: 1) being the global tax structure, and 2) being extremely high levels of protectionism and internalization of the economy to nation states. Piketty, however, points out (and Roine emphases) that the first option is highly unlikely and the second option would severely slow economic growth. Many economists I respect both economic left (Andrew Kliman) and economic right (Deirdre McCloskey) have implied or frankly stated where utopian. The suggestion is Utopian, but Roine points out that Piketty realizes that is extremely unlikely to happen, but without it, capital flight would undo the action of any one nation state and would be an external pressure on any nation state’s action.

Unlike a few of the critics of Piketty, be they Marxist or Austrian economics or even other Keynesians, this book is mostly a sympathetic guide, and that stands to reason as Roine was a source of research for the book. It is not hagiographic. While Roine is favorable to Piketty, he does point out that some of Piketty’s future predictions have some assumptions built into the maths that could limit have bad the severity is. Furthermore, Roine does seem to imply that more work would be done on more politically plausible answers.

Roine’s 80ish pages are helpful. Piketty’s Capital resembles Marx’s Kapital in one key way: the variety of kinds of arguments it uses, and the patience it requires to go through those arguments. Piketty makes historical references, uses long-term data for trends, does comparative economics between countries, and tries to define capital itself in terms of axiomatic (and mathematical) laws. It can start hitting one like waves unless one is reading very slowly, and that makes a such a long book more work than most are willing to give. Roine should NOT be a substitute for actually reading Piketty (and then other critiques and defenses of Piketty as well as some of the cited research), but it does make it less daunting for the non-specialist.