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‘I’ll believe a corporation is a person the day it gets a colonoscopy’

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On Monday night I attended the NY book launch for Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA at Housing Works bookstore. CSPAN was there, and as you can see, the house was jammed. In this video, taken with my usual high standards, Debbie Smith, a contributor to the book, introduces her husband Michael Smith, lawyer and radio host, and asks, “Michael what’s been the reception of this book so far?”

Smith (a friend of this site) says the reception has been surprisingly friendly, indicating a groundswell of support for socialist ideas. Alice Walker wrote him to say the timing couldn’t be better. Fox Radio had him on and wants to have him back.

“Things are changing…. This book is a contribution to that energy and movement.” 49 percent of people under 30 have a favorable view of the word socialism; the online Webster dictionary’s highest number of hits last year were for the words capitalism and socialism.

The first part of the book is “an indictment of capitalism” based on its two claims, Smith says: providing democracy and a decent standard of living for people. Smith cites NSA spying and the Citizens United decision as proof of the failed promise of democracy.

“I’ll believe a corporation is a person the day it gets a colonoscopy.”

Later Smith addresses the material failures of capitalism, including the widening gap between rich and poor and environmental destruction. “We can’t solve global warming under capitalism.” He also addresses the (high) average age of the panelists/contributors to the book by explaining that there have been “hills and valleys” in the history of American socialism. “And the 60s was a hill,” providing the experience to the folks on the panel. “And we’re coming up onto another hill.”

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56 Responses

  1. Marco
    Marco
    January 29, 2014, 1:25 pm

    Socialism, if it’s to be taken seriously again, needs to demonstrate that it can be efficient, that it can produce sustained economic growth, and technological progress.

    It used to be that socialists took for granted that not only could it match capitalism in these areas, but vastly outstrip it. This was a particularly popular idea during the 1930’s, when the U.S. and Europe were in depression and Stalin was, ruthlessly and through forced labor, rapidly industrializing the Soviet Union. But even until the 1960’s, this was a tenable view.

    But today, not even socialists for the most part argue that their system will bring economic growth and sustained material progress. Instead, they try to erase their history of making such bold claims for building up the forces of production by making their failure into a virtue. So, socialism is needed not in order to bring material plenty and progress, but in order to create a sustainable zero or low growth society. The latter amounts to a liquidation of socialism and its submersion into anti-technological Deep Ecology radical environmentalism. These days, one gets the sense that socialism has ditched industry, the workers, and all talk of modes of production in favor of Malthusian environmentalism and relentless dehumanizing identity politics.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      January 29, 2014, 1:46 pm

      “Socialism, if it’s to be taken seriously again, needs to demonstrate that it can be efficient, that it can produce sustained economic growth, and technological progress.”

      Why? Unabashed capitalism, to the extent it has produced these things, has concentrated the benefits more and more on 1% of the population. If instituting socialism improves the lot of the 99%, even if it destroys the 1%, why should the 99% care? It’s not like the 1% cares now…

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        January 29, 2014, 2:49 pm

        The 1%’s argument is they are the ones that provide the jobs. IOW, trickle -down economics. The truth is that small business, not big corporations, provide most of the jobs, and they don’t get the breaks and tax incentives that the big corporations get. I will believe a corporation is a person worthy of some special consideration by all of us when the corporation looks like that Sergeant Obama trotted out during his SOTU speech yesterday. The legal fiction that a corporation is a person was invented by those fat cats who wanted corporate shareholders to be immune from the actions the sociopathic CEO’s did to assure the shareholders profited big time from their capital investment. Those CEOs and shareholders won the battle a long time ago–it has just grown more visible when folks started looking at the income gap growing like Topsy on a binge. Welfare for corporations and slackers is paid for by you and me, the first by Tax Code special treatment (“bacon”), and the latter by gerrymandered power of voters on the dole. Neither pure socialism or pure capitalism aids the average ordinary, hard-working American, but rather, both stick it too him or her–right up the tukus. There is no third way in American politics due to the details in its two party system. Hence, as fills the news daily, the American “middle class” in vanishing. The only question is when will the middle class take to the streets in numbers that scare both the 1% and the welfare suckers. (This does not mean I am against all welfare, nor against all laws that benefit job makers.)

        Take a look at the big hit seniors have been taking who have invested in bonds and CDs. This won’t happen to welfare slackers (votes to keep the spigot turned on) or big corporations (who will continue to get low net taxable income due to the special privileges for them built into the tax code).

        If the government ended the tax code for a fair tax without exemptions, credits, subsidies, and other “loopholes,” Congress would have no power. Congress depends on legalizing unfair taxation and exemptions, etc.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        January 29, 2014, 4:25 pm

        Why? Unabashed capitalism, to the extent it has produced these things, has concentrated the benefits more and more on 1% of the population.

        I don’t find any of the “isms” particularly compelling, especially the extremes of communism and capitalism. My father was born in 1904 and grew-up on a family farm. If you look at Lewis Hine’s pictures of child labor during that era, you’ll see where unbridled capitalism had taken our country. We obviously needed a healthy dose of socialism to keep capitalist abuses in check.

    • Dan Crowther
      Dan Crowther
      January 29, 2014, 2:15 pm

      Hey chief, how many times does capitalism get to fail? literally hundreds i suppose.
      socialism? just gets the one go, right?

      I hate calling the soviet system socialism, but the point remains – capitalism has failed time and again, and yet it’s socialism that has to “prove” itself. Sort of a joke if you ask me.

      • marc b.
        marc b.
        January 29, 2014, 2:21 pm

        but, but, Dan . . . *heaving breathlessly* capitalism produces genius, it promotes innovation, it gives you choices. like this choice: a. consumer capitalism; b. Stalin; or c. Pol Pot. which does you want?

    • talknic
      talknic
      January 29, 2014, 2:17 pm

      @ Marco “Socialism, if it’s to be taken seriously again, needs to demonstrate that it can be efficient, that it can produce sustained economic growth, and technological progress”

      Strange. It bailed out the capitalist system when it crashed recently.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        January 29, 2014, 2:56 pm

        @ talknic
        TBF is socialism for the rich.

    • xanadou
      xanadou
      January 29, 2014, 2:36 pm

      Marco, you are saying “socialism” but then proceed as if you had written “communism”.
      Considering the degree to which socialist ideas have influenced a number of West Euro social democracies, from Germany to Sweden and beyond, the rest of your posting makes no sense. Unless you are informed solely by the pro-corporate US media. Or as if China’s enormous and growing economic power were merely a fantasy.

      Furthermore, no ideology/economic system is immune from the passage of time and changing ideas. With the massive influx of people from the country into cities, feudalism was replaced with the term “capitalism”, but the underlying principles remained the same for both systems until the workers started to effectively fight capitalism, especially in the second half of the 19th century. The workers’ ideology was labelled social-ism, because is was not about creating a world for the minority of wealthy and powerful land/industry-owners, or a world where artificially created social status and capital lorded over humanity, but a system for and by society/people. Not some of the people but all, b/c all are essential to a profitable endeavour. George Lakoff said it best: the myth of “job creators” needs to be replaced with the reality of “profit creators”.
      http://ianmasters.com/sites/default/files/mp3/2013mp3/bbriefing_2014_01_27c_george%20lakoff.mp3

      Socialism, like all social systems that preceded it, is a passing phenomenon with a purpose for a limited time in history, to be replaced by a system better suited for the changing times. A concept that eludes the pathocrats and their strange and absolute faith in their power and financial status quo, while forgetting about the perpetually spinning Wheel of Fortune that spins in one direction only. Ergo: what comes up, will go down.

  2. doug
    doug
    January 29, 2014, 1:30 pm

    Oh, come on.

    This trope that a corporation is a person just plays into stupidities like SCOTUS’s expansion of first amendment rights to corporations and insulating corporate executives from criminal actions because they operate corporations that are TBTF. People commit crimes and when they do it with corporations they should be charged based on the leverage gained in their managerial roles. Corporations have never been deemed human but rather entities with a selection of rights and responsibilities that are needed for their function.

    Last I saw Corporations:
    Can’t Vote.
    Aren’t required to attend school.
    Aren’t required to get vaccinated.
    Don’t have spousal immunity if they pair up with another corporation.

    I can see why a corporate entity needs to make contracts and such. Most all groups of people that get together for a purpose form a “corporation” or equivalent for purposes of contracting like leasing a church building or running a co-op.

    But really, why on Earth should corporations have First Amendment rights. That is just weird.

    • xanadou
      xanadou
      January 29, 2014, 2:56 pm

      Doug, love your post to which I would add that marriage is a contract whose sole purpose is to define and give purposeful consequence to long-term social partnerships, not the contractors’ sex life. A detail that eludes the strange people who obsess about gay marriage as Rome is burning (so to speak).

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 29, 2014, 3:14 pm

      With its 5 (all GOP)-4 decision, the Supreme Court willfully opted to ignore two essential differences:
      Corporations lack two feet and a heartbeat.
      Regular folks typically do not have access to the same millions (or billions) that a company desiring to wade into politics can leverage, rendering the playing field inherently unequal.
      Legitimate fears that the nation was on a slippery legal slope that would eventually confer full personhood on corporate entities commenced. How can anyone think that the likes of Haim Saban (on the Democratic left, as a PEP) and Sheldon Adelson (on the extreme right, as a self-proclaimed Israel Firster) are not both a dire threat to America as a light to the best intentions of America and the Free World?

      Just look at the pay differential as between workers and CEOs. How does that help the average American? And how does it help a foreign policy that best protects America’s interest outside of its own borders, considering AIPAC litmus test for all elected US politicians? It’s really a horror show no pre censorship 1950s comic book ever knew, not to mention, it’s scarier than anything HG Wells ever produced.

    • Hostage
      Hostage
      January 29, 2014, 4:50 pm

      This trope that a corporation is a person just plays into stupidities like SCOTUS’s expansion of first amendment rights to corporations and insulating corporate executives from criminal actions because they operate corporations that are TBTF.

      Clarification, it’s not a trope, it’s a judge-made law. The Constitution never said that the 14th Amendment applied to the Southern Pacific Railroad, our Supreme Court did, while refusing to hear any arguments to the contrary.

      Even if corporations are “persons of law”, it doesn’t logically follow that they have 1st Amendment rights; that we can’t limit their creation; or that they can’t be handed a death sentence if they violate the terms of their public charters.

      After all, there are plenty of real people, including aliens, American Samoans, and the residents of Washington D.C., who the Courts and the Congress have excluded from fully participating in our democratic system of self-government.

      • marc b.
        marc b.
        January 29, 2014, 5:32 pm

        I’m sure you know the history, but Southern Pacific is an odd case. The Supreme Court decision did not contain any such ruling, the reference to the constitutional rights of a corporation were contained in the reporter’s notes. Jack Beatty in ‘Age of Betrayal’ goes through a bit of the flim flammery that took place there.

        this also from the U.S. Code:

        In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise—

        the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals;

        in any event, granting corporations constitutional protections synonymous with those given to individuals creates a ‘Frankenstein’ of sorts, as its been described, something greater, more powerful than an individual human being. that’s the importance of the Citizens United case also. the court granted authority to organizations which are incapable of even casting a vote in a public election, that completely overwhelms and undermines the franchise. it’s bizarre.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        January 29, 2014, 11:10 pm

        I’m sure you know the history, but Southern Pacific is an odd case.

        The Supreme Court decision did not contain any such ruling, the reference to the constitutional rights of a corporation were contained in the reporter’s notes.

        Once again, there was an instruction given by the Chief Justice at the outset of oral arguments in the case that amounted to the adoption of a Judge-made law:

        “The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations.

        If you had been hired to travel to Washington D.C. from California, in order to argue that corporations aren’t people, then you suddenly found your services were no longer needed. If you believe that corporations and natural persons enjoy equal protection under the existing laws and tax codes, then you are sadly mistaken.

  3. pabelmont
    pabelmont
    January 29, 2014, 1:42 pm

    I wouldn’t want to be in the room when a large corporation gets its colonoscopy.

    Seriously: many criticisms may be levelled at corporations, but the most serious is not about them but about us: we have allowed them unlimited political power. And correcting “Citizens United” is by no means enough.

    Americans must define the problem of the spending of big-money for political action broadly, and then arrange (legislate, amend, whatever it takes) that no-one can spend any money at all to pay for political action but human people — neither corporations, nor labor unions, nor sewing clubs, nor corn-husking bees, etc. Just people. And the spending of any one human-person must be limited.

    People must, of course, be allowed to send money to PAOs (political action organizations) to make their spending effective. And there must be a cap (the millionaires-limitation-cap) on cumulative political spending per person per calendar year. Candidates, campaigns, political parties, and all lobbying groups will need to re-organize themselves as PAOs (subject to the millionaires-limitation-cap and no corporate contributions limits).

    That’s it. The very rich will get to spend their money on yachts but not on political action. The publication of newspapers, books, etc., which are sold for enough money to cover costs will NOT be deemed a “political action” and so “freedom of press” will be preserved. But such publications will not be allowed to be subsidized outside the limitations for PAOs if the publications are of a political-persuasion nature.

    After that (if we ever achieve it) it will be time to correct the other ills on capitalism. before that, it will be scarcely possible.

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      January 29, 2014, 2:05 pm

      The problem is that those who benefit from the system also control it (every branch including the judiciary) and they’re not going to let anything threaten their control.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 29, 2014, 3:16 pm

      There’s a space on your 1040 to give $ for a publicly financed campaign finance system, but who would want to contribute, given our two party and gerrymandered system of producing effective candidates?

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      January 29, 2014, 6:18 pm

      For a much more elegant dissertation on how “We the people” have become
      “We the unwanted”, see: GOLEM, who declares that we, the people, are, nowadays, in most important ways, unrepresented (though taxed all the same).

  4. Stogumber
    Stogumber
    January 29, 2014, 2:10 pm

    I’m quite prepared to support “economic democracy” if it begins with peacemeal reform: first one enterprise lead democratically – and thereafter one corporation, lead democratically – before socialists try to lead a whole country.
    This would be the way by which socialists can analyze their failures and correct their errors, before their experiments are “too big to fail”.

    • doug
      doug
      January 29, 2014, 4:50 pm

      I quite agree. It’s the governance issues with socialism that tend to devolve into cliques of self interested folks. How to provide structures that deal with this is the classic problem. “Dissent,” and the late Irving Howe struggled with this and I much enjoyed reading the mag back in the day. Quite a counterpoint to “Commentary.” Capitalism, in it’s current “financialism form,” has become quite an engine but one that has exponentially created great disparity.

      As an aside, Bertrand Russell made a trenchant observation about the former Soviet Union’s experiment commenting that he saw a great similarity between the large industrial operations there and the giant corporations of the West. The new man looked a lot like the old man to riff on The Who.

  5. lysias
    lysias
    January 29, 2014, 2:37 pm

    I just happen to be reading Michael Smith’s memoir Notebook of a Sixties Lawyer (copyright 1992) at the moment. On page 15, he has this to say:

    What specifically did it mean for me to be a Jew? Judaism is not a religion with a creed held in common, not if you take into account the spectrum from Reform to Hassid. It’s not a race. My two sisters have blond hair. My brothers and I don’t. It’s not a nationality. Jews live around the globe and the majority of them have lived outside of Israel since before the Roman conquest two thousand years ago, the efforts of the Zionists to obscure this notwithstanding.

    I think in its essence what it means for me to be a Jew is the holding of a common morality. The learned great Rabbi Hillel was asked, the story goes, if he could explain the meaning of the Talmud while standing on one foot. He replied, “Don’t do unto others what you wouldn’t want done to you.” That ethical injunction distills the wisdom of Jewish teaching. As Rabbi Hillel added, “All else is commentary.”

    Carrying out this perspective in actuality means holding an internationalist view of world problems and seeking a common solution to oppression with other victims. Finally, I would say that to be a Jew means to identify with a culture and history, although interpretations of that culture and history may vary.

    If that’s what Judaism is, Israel ain’t Jewish.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      January 29, 2014, 2:51 pm

      I don’t think Israel was ever Jewish. Did Hillel ever praise thuggery?

      • xanadou
        xanadou
        January 29, 2014, 3:02 pm

        In Antiquity? No. Judaism was cobbled in the region of Judea. (Finkelstein/Silberman “The Bible Unearthed”)

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 29, 2014, 3:23 pm

      @ lysias
      Very well put! As a non-Jew, but one who studied Jewish culture, and one who has experienced in the real world in the USA being married to a Jew and with daily contact with her extended family in Chicago, I can only agree with you. Too bad neither my Jewish contacts or Gentile contacts, on a personal level of experience, are doing anything about it, nor do they really care.

  6. seafoid
    seafoid
    January 29, 2014, 2:49 pm

    I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.

  7. Clif Brown
    Clif Brown
    January 29, 2014, 3:16 pm

    Capitalism, socialism, anyism, it’s all deck chairs on the Titanic. Human beings are acquisitive and 6 billion of them are driving the environment into a wall. Ideologies are irrelevant to the basic human drive of “I want more”. No place on earth serves this drive better than the U.S. but capitalism only expedites and accelerates our consumption. It produces the goods at incredibly cheap prices. Competition works to drive down wages, but also prices, and in doing so offers a barrier to any thought of revolution.

    All the technical stuff that we all love, all the consumer-coddling gadgets and frills, the big screen displays, the smart phones pour out of the bottomless cornucopia. The system is so productive that there can be such as Larry Ellison and Bill Gates and so many more like them. The injustice of such economic inequality is stark, but, hey, let’s go watch that concert I grabbed on Tivo.

    Socialism, even if it were to live up to the ideal, would only slow our exploitation of the planet and distribute the wealth we take from it more equitably. It would not help a bit to stop too many people wanting too much from a finite physical world. That issue is present to each of us individually, as agents who claim to be free to choose what we do…and look at how we address it – by buying more and more every year. I understand the desire for big houses is now coming back even as average household size continues to shrink.

    The problem is not what “ism” we live under, it’s in the insatiable desire we seem helpless to control as individuals.

    • philweiss
      philweiss
      January 29, 2014, 3:56 pm

      This is also my misanthropic belief. My socialist friends tell me human nature is more plastic in a socialized environment than I give it credit. The guy who just fixed my furnace left his truck running for an hour so it wouldnt get cold. My wife talked to him about it, and he remonstrated and left it running.

      • Bumblebye
        Bumblebye
        January 29, 2014, 6:13 pm

        That’s nuthin!
        The plumber who came Monday to fix the leak in the loft (here in chilly Yorkshire)? He came via Chicago!

      • piotr
        piotr
        January 29, 2014, 8:52 pm

        From Ciechocinek, I presume (or Szczebrzeszyn, Pcim or another town that may cause a serious tongue injury to an English speaker).

      • Bumblebye
        Bumblebye
        January 29, 2014, 10:11 pm

        No piotr, I didn’t get the oh so fashionable here Polish plumber! It was definitely the Windy City – and the accent that goes with! Didn’t seem the type to be frequenting any of the many ‘Polski Skleps’ that have opened in town.

      • RoHa
        RoHa
        January 29, 2014, 8:25 pm

        What’s wrong with leaving his truck running, if it was safely out of gear?

      • philweiss
        philweiss
        January 29, 2014, 10:03 pm

        For an hour? I’m saying, Who’s going to stop global warming? How do you incentivize people, tell them their planet is in danger? They know that already. I feel like the species is going down

      • dbroncos
        dbroncos
        January 29, 2014, 11:59 pm

        @ Cliff brown
        “The problem is not what “ism” we live under, it’s in the insatiable desire we seem helpless to control as individuals.”

        In his excellent book, The Humanure Handbook, Joseph Jenkins had this to say about our current situation:

        “There is a disturbing theory about the human species that has begun to take on an alarming level of reality. It seems that the behavior of the human race is displaying uncanny parallels to the behavior of pathogenic, or disease-causing, organisms.
        When viewed at the next quantum level of perspective, from which the Earth is seen as an organism and humans are seen as microorganisms, the human species looks like a menace to the planet. In fact, the human race is looking a lot like a disease — comprised of organisms excessively multiplying, mindlessly consuming, and generating waste with little regard for the health and well-being of its host — planet Earth”

        and this…

        “There is a second consideration: infected host organisms fight back. as humans become an increasing menace, can the Earth try to defend itself? When a disease organism infects a human, the human body elevates its own temperature in order to defend itself. This rise in temperature not only inhibits the growth of the infecting pathogen, but also greatly enhances the disease fighting capability within the body. Global warming may be Earth’s way of inducing a global ‘fever’ as a reaction to human pollution of the atmosphere and human over consumption of fossil fuels.”

    • Krauss
      Krauss
      January 29, 2014, 4:05 pm

      Except that there have never been more democracies than ever in human history, there have never been less people killed in wars. There have been amazing progress to eradicating poverty, ahead of the UN millenial goals, in the last 15 years.

      And, by the way, the countries who went furthest in eliminating poverty, China and India, moved away from socialism (in the economic sense), not towards it. Both employ a social democratic capitalistic viewpoint, but both have also steadily moved towards a more free market system. This has created vast inequalities and environmental problems, something the free market fundamentalists have not yet grappled with seriously, but socialists can’t deny that while they use the rhetoric of compassion, the actual results are far more limited and meagre for their side.

      • seafoid
        seafoid
        January 29, 2014, 5:49 pm

        “And, by the way, the countries who went furthest in eliminating poverty, China and India, moved away from socialism (in the economic sense), not towards it. ”

        Krauss

        I don’t buy that spiel about India
        The government has always fudged the numbers.
        80% of Indians lived on less than 75 rupees a day when I was there in 2008.
        65% have no access to a toilet. Which is more important- a toilet or wifi ?

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3BHWhLpKjmk&list=PLB7D3B39FEFC68436&index=1
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4m7FwTNmao

        Bill Gates has his own agenda

      • pabelmont
        pabelmont
        January 29, 2014, 6:27 pm

        China may have moved away from economic socialism, and away from nanny state, BUT not toward democracy and it is controlled by a politburu rather than, as here and EU, by large international (and decidedly non-patriotic) corporations. I suppose china has corporations, but they only control what the government lets them control, whereas with us, its the opposite.

        This distinction is NOT the old soviet joke, which deserves to be dusted off from time to time:

        Comrade: do you know the difference between Communism and Capitalism? No, what’s the difference? Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, whereas with Communism it’s exactly the opposite.

  8. Citizen
    Citizen
    January 29, 2014, 3:25 pm

    Do US corporations experience routine male baby circumcision even though it has little health or medical value? I mean, do they feel pain while being totally helpless just to make their parents happy?

    • miriam6
      miriam6
      January 29, 2014, 4:14 pm

      Do US corporations experience routine male baby circumcision even though it has little health or medical value? I mean, do they feel pain while being totally helpless just to make their parents happy?

      Oh do stop with your Jew – baiting crocodile tears!

  9. miriam6
    miriam6
    January 29, 2014, 4:13 pm

    And what is a Corporation made up of?!
    Individuals!
    All very simple really ..

    • Woody Tanaka
      Woody Tanaka
      January 29, 2014, 4:40 pm

      Not really. Many corporations are made of other corporations. It’s a legal fiction with the sole purpose of protecting rich people’s money and giving them a way to avoid just debts in a way that they do not extend to you or I.

      • pabelmont
        pabelmont
        January 29, 2014, 6:33 pm

        Miriam:

        That’s the original theory. But the lawyers and so forth have shown the corporations that they may not only prosper within a democratic society (one controlled democratically by the citizens) but may actually take over the reins of power and rule (reign) as oligarchs. So that they do not operate profitably within the rules set for them but instead make the rules set for them — rule of, by, and for the corporations.

        To keep the rabble in line, the people are allowed a simulacrum of democracy by being allowed to decide the social questions that don’t affect corporate pocketbooks — abortion, guns, gay-marriage, taxes (for the poor).

  10. Krauss
    Krauss
    January 29, 2014, 4:26 pm

    As always, one should be upfront with one’s economic views and not try to camoflouage them like many do(we’ve seen this in “progressive” media on I/P too much anyway).

    So here’s mine: I’m a social democratic progressive. I believe in technologal progress, not as an article of faith but as a consequence of concrete results, amazing progress, the world has seen over the past century or two.

    I see two obstactles to Socialism in America, today. The first is race. Race is an inevitable discussion in America. It’s not a coincidence that public schools and unions had far higher support in the 1950s and 60s. In a homogenious society, people are much more willing to pay higher taxes, because they understand that their people will benefit. When there are many groups and relations between groups is fraught with suspicion, people’s willingness to pay higher taxes fall.

    The issue is of white distrust. Whites are a disproportinate share of the tax base’s entire income. If socialism was allowed to run its course, that would mean much more investment in black communities. A lot of whites are skeptical if that would help. They have local examples that show them that it hasn’t helped.
    They look at Asians and Jews and say, you know, stop this nonsense that being non-white is impossible in America. Why can’t blacks me like them?

    I mean we can come up with a lot of arguments in favor or against, but the reality is that whites will be majority until the 2040s at least. Secondly, hispanics in the democratic primary have consistently chosen the centrist(often white) candidate. In 2008 – not 2012! – they voted for Hillary 2-1. 50% of them see themselves as white, too. So if you think, more Hispanics = more solidarity with blacks, think again. Hispanics will vote left for economic issues, but there are many issues where the community will take a stance more in line with white conservatives(such as crime).

    I don’t think there is any issue on Wall Street. I don’t think the Tea Party likes those people, anyway. Foreign policy is easily the area where there is most agreement and where coming to a general concensus should be pretty hassle-free. Even many conservatives will sign up for a socialistic point of view on intervention/foreign wars.

    Drug policy is probably going to come. Many conservatives see that the war on drugs has failed. Crime is a more dicey issue, but I think more lenient sentences for marijuana and similar stuff could be bridged.

    The fundamental issue remains economic and racial, and often in linked ways. Higher taxes means more money to poorer, blacker/browner communities. Those taxes will disproportionally come from whites. If you don’t think there’s a racial conflict here you are deluding yourself.

    Again, considering for how long the racial status quo in America has held, people are just skeptical(and by people I mean white people). You can damn them all you want but NIMBYism run high in all groups. In Canada, Asian-Canadians vote with conservatives. They vote with the left for reasons most Jews vote left: they feel culturally alienated by the GOP which is a strongly Christian, white male party, with social values more in tune with the Deep South than among the urban cities on the coast(where Asians and other minorities tend to congregate).

    But I’ve looked at some of the Pew polls on social attitudes. While Asian-Americans often displayed a social liberalism above almost everyone else, they were often polling to the right of whites on issues of redistribution, while remaining very liberal on other issues.

    And again, a more “modern” GOP, like the Canadian one which actually tries with serious effort to woo minorities could very well split the Asian vote. Asians voted for GOP as late as the early 1990s, Bush the I, when the GOP still had a pro-science bent and when there were still quite a few Rockefeller Republicans left before the 1990s die-off and the evangelicals moved from the loudest in the room to the most influential in the room.

    And the final point is appeasement. The global business 1%ers, and their American counter-parts, are very well aware of these things.
    If the heat becomes too high, they will move to placate. Not change the system, but placate. This has killed socialism every time it tried to take off. Part of it is tactics, lack of cohesion among socialist groups.

    But part of it is also the fact that people understand that Socialism has always promised much, but when people actually try the economic policies of Socialism, the results have been meandering, at best.

    In theory, the best antidote to this is social democracy. Not Clintonian “Third Way”, mind you, but genuine social democracy. Socialized health care. Possible nationalization of banks. Very high tax rates. All these things do not necessarily have to be socialist, they can function in a capitalist economy. The problem is that over time, people become relaxed and complacent and the business lobby gains ground and starts corrupting/controlling the system, moving the stakes in their favor. Socialists say: see! Social democracy will always fail.

    But the problem for these people is that their own system doesn’t work. There are very few countries with a genuine socialistic system left, Cuba and Laos. North Korea can be counted, too, even if it is more communist.
    I mean, you can try and defend those countries all you want. (North Korea is an unfair example to socialism but not communism).
    But most people will not be convinced.

    • Krauss
      Krauss
      January 29, 2014, 4:31 pm

      P.S. my last sentence does not mean that the status quo is the best and we shouldn’t try. Read it as a disqualifier of socialism. What we have now is not social democracy and I would argue not even mainstream “centrism” (which I define as positions popular with the public, not conventional wisdom in the Beltway, which has moved steadily to the right on economic matters).

      I just wrote all of the above in one go without proof-reading and my food is getting ready. Time is not on my side right now, but environment needs to be written about, too, the way it is contrasted with capitalism.
      Also, before I start eating, just one more thing: I’m disappointed that the only thing about technology they write about in the book description is surveillance. Socialism used to be much more optimistic about technology, especially in the 1950s. Maybe too optistmistic, but the current dystopian view of technology is neither sane, healthy or, frankly, logical.
      This is an early criticism of the discussion, but it is sadly a reflection of the discussion. You could say that forgives them, but you could also say it shows they aren’t challenging the zeitgeist enough inside the left-liberal camp.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        January 29, 2014, 6:57 pm

        Not sure where you come down from what you’ve said, but I sure wish Dick and Jane would distinguish social and cultural stuff like abortion, gays, female equality, religion, etc–from who will pay for any economic change in the average American’s paycheck, and from what are we doing funding Israel and what it actually represents, and is this good for the USA?

    • lysias
      lysias
      January 29, 2014, 6:51 pm

      More and more whites aren’t doing that well either, as the middle class disappears.

      • Citizen
        Citizen
        January 29, 2014, 8:48 pm

        Yes, it’s an economic class thing these days. Race is a diversion, exercised by the Democratic leaders to get their way, and ignored by the Gop to get their way. The inconsistency is merely that there’s more whites than black but both are really suffering.

  11. MRW
    MRW
    January 29, 2014, 6:24 pm

    Oh, great. Aging Baby Boomers with zero imagination or capability, it seems, to create a new language for what’s needed, so they fall back on socialism , a word freighted with meanings they will have to spend 3/4 of their time trying to redefine.

    It shows a lack of thinking. New thinking creates new language.

    It shows, also, that they don’t know what the problem is. Not one of those people on that stage could tell you in 20 sentences or less how federal accounting works. And therein, lies the problem.

    Want to read a smart guy? Try this. He’s talking to a group in Italy about how to fix their Euro problems, but he’s also talking about the American monetary system.
    http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2014/01/beyond-euro-left-crisis-alternative.html

  12. Keith
    Keith
    January 29, 2014, 7:21 pm

    For those interested in changing our present system, I strongly recommend not using either the traditional labels such as capitalism, Marxism or socialism. Few people would agree on a common definition, yet use of the label implies agreement where there is none. Also, I would recommend abandoning both Marxist and neo-classical economic terminology. Both are ideologies which significantly misrepresent reality and which will tend to bias your thinking in unproductive ways. Forget about the bourgeois, proletariat, unearned rents and ownership of the means of production. The 19th century came and went.

    What then? Simply describe the way things are using common everyday language, then figure out what should change and how that can be accomplished. A lot of things need changing, some more meaningful than others, some easier. A key factor concerns social power. In our system, money is power, economic power in fluid form, the primary instrument of social control. The last couple of decades there has been an enormous upward shift of power (money). The 1% is stronger than ever, the 99% weaker. Our political economy is radically out of balance and needs correcting. Progressive taxation on income and wealth for individuals and organizations is the only way I know to do that. Until the 99% financially re-empowers itself, little else can be accomplished. A lot of other things need doing, but without social power there is little prospect for success. Also, we don’t need to daydream about some distant revolution leading to some illusory workers paradise while neglecting the present. I can assure you that right now the corporations and financial system are implementing plans (TPP, etc) to turn the planet into one big corporate town with the 99% reduced to a form of indentured servitude (neo-feudalism).

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 30, 2014, 3:19 am

      @ Keith
      Yep. Plain talk about how the US campaign finance system really works, and also about how the Tax Code redistributes wealth, both to the poor and slackers on one hand–for head count votes, and to the rich and their tool big corporations, on the other hand, would go a long way. And you don’t need abstract isms to talk about it.

      Of course, who will simply say how all politicians are simply bribed via these two systems, campaign finance and tax regulations? Certainly not congress, because public finance of campaigns and a simple fair tax would leave every congress critter and wannabe and POTUS and wannabe without anything to “trade.” My goodness, they would all have to really try to represent the American population as a whole! Can’t get rich and powerful, or stay that way, without a zero sum game. Imagine if every POTUS mandate and Congress mandate came with a footnote in large caps telling you what Peter is being robbed/exploited to pay/entitle what Paul.

  13. MRW
    MRW
    January 29, 2014, 8:40 pm
  14. MRW
    MRW
    January 29, 2014, 8:49 pm

    As Warren Mosler wrote in that link I gave above:

    What a good economy should look like

    I just want to say a quick word about what a good economy is because it’s been so long since we’ve had a good economy. You’ve got to be at least as old as I am to remember it. In a good economy business competes for people. There is a shortage of people to work for business. Everybody wants to hire you. They’ll train you, whatever it takes. They hire students before they get out of school. You can change jobs if you want to because other companies are always trying to hire you. That’s the way the economy is supposed to be but that’s all turned around. For one reason, which I’ll keep coming back to, the budget deficit is too small. As soon as they started tightening up on budget deficits many years ago, we transformed from a good economy where the people were the most important thing to what I call this ‘crime against humanity’ that we have today……

    So what you do is you target full employment, because that’s the kind of economy everybody wants to live in. And the right size deficit is whatever deficit corresponds to full employment…

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 30, 2014, 3:29 am

      @ MRW
      Meanwhile, our government keeps doing FTAs, and even if Obama got Congress to end legal off-shore tax evasion, the code would remain chock full of special loopholes to redistribute wealth to Democrat poor voters and GOP rich donors. If congress gave up tax code pork, how could it be influential and powerful? If would actually have to do stuff that benefited the population as a whole.

  15. brookwood1704
    brookwood1704
    January 30, 2014, 6:53 pm

    Socialism has never been a successful system. Capitalism only gets into trouble when detractors seek to impose socialist principles on it. Prime example would be the Community Reinvestment Act that created the housing bubble. Natural laws, including survival of the fittest and (less natural perhaps) Supply and Demand, are fundamental truths. Any system that seeks to override these with fantastical notions of “what should be in a perfect world” will quickly fail. See how well Socialism is fairing in South America in Brazil and Venezuela, right now. Disasters in the making.

    Churchill had it right. Capitalism is the worst system there is, except for all others. Bemoan the human condition, and the often terribleness of it, if you must, but don’t take away what has improved life and living conditions for billions of people including many not in the 1%.

    • Citizen
      Citizen
      January 31, 2014, 10:30 pm

      I don’t disagree with much of what you say, but the Community Reinvestment Act didn’t create the housing bubble alone. Remember the Glass-Steagell Act?

  16. Citizen
    Citizen
    January 31, 2014, 10:58 pm

    The Community Reinvestment Act required regulated banks and thrifts to offer loans and banking services throughout their service areas, including lower-income communities. But here is the wrinkle–the CRA essentially served to protect low and moderate income communities from predatory lending–such as subprime mortgages. But when Clinton ended the wall between commercial banking and investment banking what did we get? And a lot less transparency to boot. Wall Street banks bundled & so buried them in securities, all those predatory loans that grew like Topsy. Finally the taxpayers were forced to bail out the TBTF banks, the apex of corporate welfare. I’d like to be TBTF too, and how’d you like a TBTF job?

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