This party isn’t gonna get any better

The hopes for rebuilding and strengthening the left lie outside the Democratic Party.

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer

Clockwise from top left: Nancy Pelosi, Tom Perez, Cory Booker and Chuck Schumer

TWO STORIES have gotten attention in recent weeks as key indicators of what direction each of the major political parties is heading in the lead-up to the 2018 midterm elections.

Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, one of Donald Trump’s leading Republican critics, announced that he wouldn’t run for re-election after it became apparent he wouldn’t win a primary challenge from Kelli Ward, the rabid xenophobe whose campaign is part of Steve Bannon’s master plan remake the Republican Party in Donald Trump’s vile image.

A few days earlier, Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair Tom Perez purged a number of Bernie Sanders’ key allies from the organization’s leadership posts and its rule committee.

Many of the progressives were replaced with current and former lobbyists for big banks and energy corporations. Also appointed was Donna Brazile, best known most recently for using her job at CNN to leak debate questions to the Clinton campaign–“an interesting choice for a committee that focuses on ‘rules,'” as Branko Marcetic noted for In These Times.

Put the two stories together and what do you have? At a time of growing polarization in which people are moving toward both ends of the political spectrum, the Republican Party is moving further to the right while the Democratic Party is…also moving further to the right.

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BERNIE SANDERS’ stunning success last year as a self-proclaimed socialist running for the Democratic presidential nomination created justifiable excitement on the left about the prospects for socialism to finally break out of isolation after many decades in the American wilderness.

Since then, Sanders’ popularity has only increased. A recent Harvard-Harris poll has him as the most popular politician in either party, with especially strong support registering among young people generally and Blacks and Latinos of all ages.

It isn’t hard to see why. While Sanders is pushing for policies like a single-payer health care system that would benefit the vast majority of the country, other leading Democrats have little to offer beyond hoping that the Robert Mueller investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia will somehow lead to the president’s impeachment.

No wonder many supporters of the Democrats are getting restless. The same Harvard-Harris poll shows that 52 percent of Democrats support “movements within the Democratic Party to take it even further to the left and oppose the current Democratic leaders.”

Even more encouragingly, the AFL-CIO convention passed a resolution last week calling for labor to form an “independent political voice” because “the time has passed when we can passively settle for the lesser of two evils.”

These expressions of frustration with corporate Democrats are important, but they shouldn’t give the left a false sense of confidence that the maneuverings of Perez and the DNC represent the last gasp of a clueless old guard whose time has passed.

In fact, as the outlook for the 2018 midterm elections starts to take shape, it’s looking more likely that the party apparatus knows what it’s doing in maintaining control than the progressives who think they’re reshaping the party from the inside.

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ALL THIS takes place in the context of political volatility around the world.

Countries that have failed to restore living standards to the level before the Great Recession of 2007-08 have seen increasing polarization, creating crises for parties of the center–and the rise of more radical parties and leaders on both the right and left.

In the U.S., Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries was both the culmination of a decades-long move to the right and a dramatic shift in the GOP’s internal power dynamics–to the extent that its traditional corporate power brokers now have to accommodate and sometimes follow the ideologically hardened nationalism and fascist flirtations of sections of the party’s base.

Jeff Flake’s problem in Arizona wasn’t that Kelli Ward and Steve Bannon are wildly popular–Harvard-Harris puts Bannon’s approval rating at 16 percent–but that they increasingly dominate a party shifting even further to the right.

The Democrats, of course, have their own polarization to deal with. But unlike their weakened and divided Republican counterparts, the Democratic leadership has remained united around a vision of corporate liberalism–with political platforms that read like generic corporate brochures about the benefits of a diverse workplace and the wonders of retraining programs when you inevitably get laid off.

This party unity in spite of the discontent of its base was clear last year when Sanders won 45 percent of primary voters, but was backed by only 8 percent of the elected officials, staffers, lobbyists and donors who made up the party’s “superdelegates.”

Republicans have reflected the polarization of this period so much more clearly than Democrats in part because there is much less room for radical left-wing politics inside parties owned by the 1 Percent than there is room for radical right-wing politics.

The militants inside the Republican Party have been funded by a constellation of billionaires with overlapping reactionary agendas, ranging from libertarianism to Christian theocracy to fascism.

These ideologues may cause some discomfort among party donors in the boardrooms of ExxonMobil and Morgan Stanley, but ultimately, all sides can agree on the general principle of empowering the wealthy and keeping everyone else divided and oppressed.

This doesn’t work as a blueprint for the radical left, which has to be built by large numbers of working people in the labor movement and grassroots organizations “speaking with an unquestionably independent political voice,” as the AFL-CIO resolution put it.

Instead, we have the worst of both worlds: hundreds of unions and civil rights organizations that have been completely captured by a Democratic Party owned by Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the Pentagon.

Rather than acting as “pressure groups” inside the party, this professional left more closely resembles, as Jane Hamscher once famously put it in the early days of the Obama administration, a “veal pen” that forms a left flank to protect the party from the wrath of their own members.

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OF COURSE, this is precisely the situation that many progressives are hoping can be changed by the wave of Sanders supporters fighting from the inside for the soul of the Democratic Party.

“A striking feature of the current political moment is that many activists on the Left are flocking to the Democratic Party, Frances Fox Piven and Lorraine C. Minnite wrote at In These Times.

“But the Democrats are not merely gaining voters,” they continue. “They are gaining activists, people who are committing not only to pull the party lever in the voting booth, but who are determined to rejuvenate and transform the party, beginning at the local level.”

It’s easy to see why that scenario would be attractive to people. But the hard truth is that an organization which has dominated American politics for as long as the Democrats doesn’t allow itself to be “transformed” without a fight–and there aren’t many indications so far that the party’s left is up for even the kind of battle that would change its current rightward direction, much less really transform the Democrats.

The response of the Sanders wing to the DNC purge, for example, was anything but threatening.

“I’m concerned about the optics, and I’m concerned about the impact,” complained James Zogby, one of the purged DNC executive committee members. “”I want to heal the wound of 2016.” Zogby voiced similar sentiments on Twitter: “This doesn’t bring the party together, it deepens the divide at a time we need all hands on deck.”

Not exactly a Bannon-like threat to go to war against the party hacks who sold their souls to corporate interests.

Zogby’s comments reflect the larger timidity of the party’s left wing to wage any kind of fight that will threaten organizational unity in upcoming elections. Unlike Bannon and the Tea Party before him, Sanders Democrats aren’t planning to wage primary challengesagainst centrist House and Senate incumbents in 2018.

The fear of continued Republican rule in Congress in the Trump era is understandable. But as long as that fear continues to be the primary architect of liberal strategy, Democrats will continue moving rightward, assuming its base will follow.

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THE IDEA that progressives have no choice but to work inside the Democratic Party in order to stop Trump and Bannon rests on the assumption that there’s nothing we can do to stop the Republicans outside the halls of Congress.

This might be the biggest problem with the electoral focus of the left: It’s taking attention away from the sources of our greatest power.

One professional football player started a protest last year that has revived a discussion of racist police murders and inspired hundreds of other players to engage in workplace protests in defiance of their employer and the president of the United States.

Hundreds of thousands of women have come forward with their stories of sexual abuse, which has not only dramatically changed awareness of the issue, but led to the investigation, suspension and termination of dozens of powerful executives.

These actions offer a glimpse of the social power just of uncoordinated individuals. Imagine how powerful those protests could be if civil rights groups called for millions of us to kneel outside district attorney’s offices until cops were arrested for killing Black and Brown people. Or if unions organized a campaign to identify and fire the thousands of managers guilty of sexual harassment every day.

Yes, it’s possible for the left to do protests and electoral work at the same time. But they’ll only be effective if they flow from a unified strategy, based on an understanding that our greatest power lies outside of a rigged political system.

The fight to get Congress to pass a “clean” DREAM Act, for example, would be greatly strengthened if it was based less on appeals to Democrats and Republicans to do the right thing, and more on the credible threat that there will be widespread and sustained upheaval on many campuses and in workplaces and communities if 800,000 DACA recipients lose their legal status on March 1.

Similarly, we should be clear that the growing support for single-payer health care will only have a chance at becoming law when we’ve built a powerful movement including patients and health care workers together.

We’re, of course, nowhere near that level of struggle. By contrast, engaging in electoral work inside the Democratic Party, particularly at the local level, feels more productive to many progressives at the moment. It’s the path of least resistance–but people should ask themselves why that is.

The current popularity of Bernie Sanders and progressive politics shows that for the first time in decades, it’s possible to see a future U.S. with a genuine left-wing party, which could have a transformative impact not only here, but around the world.

But that project has to be rooted among people committed to building that alternative not on the Democrats’ terms, but on the explosive potential of popular struggle.

Otherwise there’s a very real danger that we will lose a new radical generation to the doomed project of “reshaping” the Democratic Party in much the same way that bunny rabbits reshape a python after they walk through its open jaws: briefly.

Editor’s Note: This article was initially published with an ableist word, “lame,” in the headline, which has since been deleted. This was a mistake we regret, and we apologize for it.

https://socialistworker.org/2017/10/31/this-party-isnt-gonna-get-any-better

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The US media and the Kennedy assassination documents: “Move along, nothing to see here”

By Bill Van Auken
30 October 2017

The Trump administration’s partial release of previously classified documents related to the November 22, 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been dropped by the US mass media with what can only be described as unseemly haste.

Last Thursday night, when the White House announced that it was releasing only 2,800 of the once-secret papers, withholding a significant amount of the most sensitive material in compliance with demands from the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the event was widely covered, including the publication of numerous articles in advance of the document release concerning its historic significance. A large force of reporters was deployed to stake out the National Archives.

By Sunday, it was as if the whole thing had never happened. The question was not discussed on any of the Sunday television talk shows, and neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post published so much as a word about the assassination documents in either their news or editorial pages.

From the outset, the media’s treatment of the event was characterized by a palpable nervousness. Cable news anchors and talking heads expressed their concerns that Trump’s extraordinary acknowledgment that he had “no choice” but to withhold a significant number of files because of CIA and FBI warnings over “potentially irreversible harm to our nation’s security” would only encourage “conspiracy theorists.”

This epithet, when used in relation to the Kennedy assassination, applies to roughly two-thirds of the American population, who reject the official story. Codified in the cover-up produced by the Warren Commission, this narrative insists that the murder of the 35th president of the United States was the work of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, firing a $21 mail order rifle at Kennedy’s motorcade as it moved through Dallas’s Dealey Plaza.

This majority consensus has declined somewhat from the period of 1975 to 2001, when polls showed that over 80 percent of the population rejected the US government’s version of the Kennedy assassination.

Why would the withholding of the documents not strengthen the views of the hundreds of millions of “conspiracy theorists” who populate the United States? What plausible explanation is there for this action other than the fact that the files contain incriminating material relating to elements within the US government and its intelligence agencies?

It is not as if the documents that were released are of such scant interest as to justify the media’s collective response of “Move along folks, nothing to see here.” They expose a state apparatus steeped in bloodshed and criminality, in which assassination was an accepted means of advancing US imperialist interests.

Some of the documents concern conspiracies exposed over 40 years ago, such as the CIA’s connivance with the Mafia in plotting the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro with such exotic methods as exploding seashells and a toxic wetsuit. Then there are newly exposed files that raise serious questions about a state conspiracy surrounding the assassination. These includes a document citing FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s frantic demand, two days after Kennedy’s death and before the investigation had even begun, for something to be “issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.”

Along similar lines is a truncated file from the 1975 Rockefeller Commission’s investigation of the CIA, which records the agency’s former director Richard Helms being asked, “Is there any information involved with the assassination of President Kennedy which in any way shows that Lee Harvey Oswald was in some way a CIA agent or agent.. .” The file leaves the question uncompleted and Helms’s answer unrecorded.

Whether there exist withheld files containing the answers to such questions is unknown. No thinking person, however, can give the slightest credence to Trump’s Saturday night tweets pledging to release “ALL #JFKFiles other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living,” in order to “put any and all conspiracy theories to rest.” Trump, who during the 2016 race for the Republican presidential nomination charged that the father of his rival, Ted Cruz, was part of the conspiracy, will make public only the documents the CIA allows.

In its rather cursory coverage of the document release under the headline “A Peek Back at an Era of Secrets and Intrigue,” the New York Times on Friday commented that the “once-secret documents…harken back to an era of Cold War intrigue and spy-versus-spy contests, when assassinations and clandestine plots were a matter of trade craft, not John le Carré novels.”

The article approvingly quotes political analyst Larry Sabato as stating, “It was a very different time, and you have to remember the context. Almost everything revolved around the bipolar system we had between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

That it was “a very different time” no one can deny. The Kennedy assassination marked a turning point in the crisis of US imperialism and was bound up with political, economic and social contradictions that have only deepened in the more than half-century since. But to suggest that we have left behind the era of “assassinations and clandestine plots” is ludicrous.

If anything, the end of the “bipolar system” through the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent attempt by Washington to offset the declining global influence of US capitalism through the pursuit of a “unipolar” world by means of military force, has seen an explosive development of state criminality that makes the methods of the early 1960s look quaint by comparison.

Assassinations have moved from the realm of covert operations to open state policy, including not only a global drone assassination program initiated under the Obama administration that has killed thousands, including American citizens, but also the open discussion of “decapitation” operations to murder Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un.

Wars are launched behind the backs of the American people, with no debate, much less authorization by Congress, and with the CIA arming and supporting Al Qaeda elements to carry out regime-change operations in Libya and Syria.

With the Trump administration, the political underworld of CIA assassins and criminals that emerges in the still limited number of documents released about the Kennedy assassination is, together with the military brass, firmly in control of the levers of state power.

The truncated coverage of the Kennedy documents by the major media and the concerns expressed about “conspiracy theories” are driven less by the events of November 1963 than by the ongoing conspiracies in Washington. The real worry is not so much what will be exposed about the state criminals of the 1960s, but rather the light these crimes shed upon the methods of a government that is today far more thoroughly dominated by the sprawling US military and intelligence apparatus.

Among the most revealing reactions to the Trump administration’s limited release of the Kennedy documents is that of the Democratic Party. Twenty-five years ago, the Democratic-led Congress passed the legislation requiring that all of the Kennedy files be released by October 26, 2017. That Trump bowed to the CIA and FBI in keeping a substantial number of these documents secret provoked not a peep of protest from any leading figure in the Democratic Party, which has moved uninterruptedly to the right since the Kennedy assassination.

The Democrats are seeking to align themselves as closely as possible with the CIA and the military. They oppose Trump not from the standpoint of the threat of nuclear war against Korea, his vendetta against immigrants, his assault on health care, his tax cuts for the rich or his scrapping of corporate and environmental regulations, but rather on the basis that he is “colluding” with Russia to “sow divisions” within American society.

The Democratic Party has emerged as a champion of Internet censorship and a general assault on democratic rights aimed at suppressing “conspiracy theories” exposing the conditions producing mass opposition within the working class to war, social inequality and the destruction of living standards.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/10/30/kenn-o30.html

Chomsky: Imagine a World Without Neoliberals Privatizing Everything in Sight

NEWS & POLITICS
A proposal for a progressive social and economic order for the United States.

Noam Chomsky.
Photo Credit: screenshot via Democracy Now!

This is the first part of a wide-ranging interview with world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin. The next installment will appear on October 24.

Not long after taking office, it became evident that Donald Trump had engaged in fraudulent populism during his campaign. His promise to “Make America Great Again” has been exposed as a lie, as the Trump administration has been busy extending US military power, exacerbating inequality, reverting to the old era of unregulated banking practices, pushing for more fuel fossil drilling and stripping environmental regulations.

In the Trump era, what would an authentically populist, progressive political agenda look like? What would a progressive US look like with regard to jobs, the environment, finance capital and the standard of living? What would it look like in terms of education and health care, justice and equality? In an exclusive interview with C.J. Polychroniou for Truthout, world-renowned public intellectuals Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin tackle these issues. Noam Chomsky is professor emeritus of linguistics at MIT and laureate professor in the department of linguistics at the University of Arizona. Robert Pollin is distinguished professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Their views lay the foundation for a visionary — yet eminently realistic — progressive social and economic order for the United States.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, the rise of Donald Trump has unleashed a rather unprecedented wave of social resistance in the US. Do you think the conditions are ripe for a mass progressive/socialist movement in this country that can begin to reframe the major policy issues affecting the majority of people, and perhaps even challenge and potentially change the fundamental structures of the US political economy?

Noam Chomsky: There is indeed a wave of social resistance, more significant than in the recent past — though I’d hesitate about calling it “unprecedented.” Nevertheless, we cannot overlook the fact that in the domain of policy formation and implementation, the right is ascendant, in fact some of its harshest and most destructive elements [are rising].

Nor should we overlook a crucial fact that has been evident for some time: The figure in charge, though often ridiculed, has succeeded brilliantly in his goal of occupying media and public attention while mobilizing a very loyal popular base — and one with sinister features, sometimes smacking of totalitarianism, including adoration of The Leader. That goes beyond the core of loyal Trump supporters…. [A majority of Republicans] favor shutting down or at least fining the press if it presents “biased” or “false news” — terms that mean information rejected by The Leader, so we learn from polls showing that by overwhelming margins, Republicans not only believe Trump far more than the hated mainstream media, but even far more than their own media organ, the extreme right Fox news. And half of Republicans would back postponing the 2020 election if Trump calls for it.

It is also worth bearing in mind that among a significant part of his worshipful base, Trump is regarded as a “wavering moderate” who cannot be fully trusted to hold fast to the true faith of fierce White Christian identity politics. A recent illustration is the primary victory of the incredible Roy Moore in Alabama despite Trump’s opposition. (“Mr. President, I love you but you are wrong,” as the banners read). The victory of this Bible-thumping fanatic has led senior party strategists to [conclude] “that the conservative base now loathes its leaders in Washington the same way it detested President Barack Obama” — referring to leaders who are already so far right that one needs a powerful telescope to locate them at the outer fringe of any tolerable political spectrum.

The potential power of the ultra-right attack on the far right is [illustrated] by the fact that Moore spent about $200,000, in contrast to his Trump-backed opponent, the merely far-right Luther Strange, who received more than $10 million from the national GOP and other far-right sources. The ultra-right is spearheaded by Steve Bannon, one of the most dangerous figures in the shiver-inducing array that has come to the fore in recent years. It has the huge financial support of the Mercer family, along with ample media outreach through Breitbart news, talk radio and the rest of the toxic bubble in which loyalists trap themselves.

In the most powerful state in history, the current Republican Party is ominous enough. What is not far on the horizon is even more menacing.

Much has been said about how Trump has pulled the cork out of the bottle and legitimized neo-Nazism, rabid white supremacy, misogyny and other pathologies that had been festering beneath the surface. But it goes much beyond even that.

I do not want to suggest that adoration of the Dear Leader is something new in American politics, or confined to the vulgar masses. The veneration of Reagan that has been diligently fostered has some of the same character, in intellectual circles as well. Thus, in publications of the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, we learn that Reagan’s “spirit seems to stride the country, watching us like a warm and friendly ghost.” Lucky us, protected from harm by a demi-god.

Whether by design, or simply inertia, the Republican wrecking ball has been following a two-level strategy. Trump keeps the spotlight on himself with one act after another, assuming (correctly) that yesterday’s antics will be swept aside by today’s. And at the same time, often beneath the radar, the “respectable” Republican establishment chips away at government programs that might be of benefit to the general population, but not to their constituency of extreme wealth and corporate power. They are systematically pursuing what Financial Times economic correspondent Martin Wolf calls “pluto-populism,” a doctrine that imposes “policies that benefit plutocrats, justified by populist rhetoric.” An amalgam that has registered unpleasant successes in the past as well.

Meanwhile, the Democrats and centrist media help out by focusing their energy and attention on whether someone in the Trump team talked to Russians, or [whether] the Russians tried to influence our “pristine” elections — though at most in a way that is undetectable in comparison with the impact of campaign funding, let alone other inducements that are the prerogative of extreme wealth and corporate power and are hardly without impact.

The Russian saboteurs of democracy seem to be everywhere. There was great anxiety about Russian intervention in the recent German elections, perhaps contributing to the frightening surge of support for the right-wing nationalist, if not neo-fascist, “Alternative for Germany” [AfD]. AfD did indeed have outside help, it turns out, but not from the insidious Putin. “The Russian meddling that German state security had been anticipating apparently never materialized,” according to Bloomberg News. “Instead, the foreign influence came from America.” More specifically, from Harris Media, whose clients include Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel, and our own Donald Trump. With the valuable assistance of the Berlin office of Facebook, which created a population model and provided the needed data, Harris’s experts micro-targeted Germans in categories deemed susceptible to AfD’s message — with some success, it appears. The firm is now planning to move on to coming European races, it has announced.

Nevertheless, all is not bleak by any means. The most spectacular feature of the 2016 elections was not the election of a billionaire who spent almost as much as his lavishly-funded opponent and enjoyed fervent media backing. Far more striking was the remarkable success of the Sanders campaign, breaking with over a century of mostly bought elections. The campaign relied on small contributions and had no media support, to put it mildly. Though lacking any of the trappings that yield electoral success in our semi-plutocracy, Sanders probably would have won the Democratic Party nomination, perhaps the presidency, if it hadn’t been for the machinations of party managers. His popularity undimmed, he is now a leading voice for progressive measures and is amassing considerable support for his moderate social democratic proposals, reminiscent of the New Deal — proposals that would not have surprised President Eisenhower, but are considered practically revolutionary today as both parties have shifted well to the right [with] Republicans virtually off the spectrum of normal parliamentary politics.

Offshoots of the Sanders campaign are doing valuable work on many issues, including electoral politics at the local and state level, which had been pretty much abandoned to the Republican right, particularly during the Obama years, to very harmful effect. There is also extensive and effective mobilization against racist and white supremacist pathologies, often spearheaded by the dynamic Black Lives Matter movement. Defying Trumpian and general Republican denialism, a powerful popular environmental movement is working hard to address the existential crisis of global warming. These, along with significant efforts on other fronts, face very difficult barriers, which can and must be overcome.

Bob, it is clear by now that Trump has no plan for creating new jobs, and even his reckless stance toward the environment will have no effect on the creation of new jobs. What would a progressive policy for job creation look like that will also take into account concerns about the environment and climate change?

Robert Pollin: A centerpiece for any kind of progressive social and economic program needs to be full employment with decent wages and working conditions. The reasons are straightforward, starting with money. Does someone in your family have a job and, if so, how much does it pay? For the overwhelming majority of the world’s population, how one answers these two questions determines, more than anything else, what one’s living standard will be. But beyond just money, your job is also crucial for establishing your sense of security and self-worth, your health and safety, your ability to raise a family, and your chances to participate in the life of your community.

How do we get to full employment, and how do we stay there? For any economy, there are two basic factors determining how many jobs are available at any given time. The first is the overall level of activity — with GDP as a rough, if inadequate measure of overall activity — and the second is what share of GDP goes to hiring people into jobs. In terms of our current situation, after the Great Recession hit in full in 2008, US GDP has grown at an anemic average rate of 1.3 percent per year, as opposed to the historic average rate from 1950 until 2007 of 3.3 percent. If the economy had grown over the past decade at something even approaching the historic average rate, the economy would have produced more than enough jobs to employ all 13 million people who are currently either unemployed or underemployed by the official government statistics, plus the nearly 9 million people who have dropped out of the labor force since 2007.

In terms of focusing on activities where job creation is strong, let’s consider two important sets of economic sectors. First, spending $1 million on education will generate a total of about 26 jobs within the US economy, more than double the 11 jobs that would be created by spending the same $1 million on the US military. Similarly, spending $1 million on investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency will create over 16 jobs within the US, while spending the same $1 million on our existing fossil fuel infrastructure will generate about 5.3 jobs — i.e. building a green economy in the US generates roughly three times more jobs per dollar than maintaining our fossil fuel dependency. So full employment policies should focus on accelerating economic growth and on changing our priorities for growth — as two critical examples, to expand educational opportunities across the board and to build a green economy, while contracting both the military and the fossil fuel economy.

A full employment program also obviously needs to focus on the conditions of work, starting with wages. The most straightforward measure of what neoliberal capitalism has meant for the US working class is that the average wage for non-supervisory workers in 2016 was about 4 percent lower than in 1973. This is while average labor productivity — the amount each worker produces over the course of a year — has more than doubled over this same 43-year period. All of the gains from productivity doubling under neoliberalism have therefore been pocketed by either supervisory workers, or even more so, by business owners and corporate shareholders seeing their profits rise. The only solution here is to fight to increase worker bargaining power. We need stronger unions and worker protections, including a $15 federal minimum wage. Such initiatives need to be combined with policies to expand the overall number of job opportunities out there. A fundamental premise of neoliberalism from day one has been to dismantle labor protections. We are seeing an especially aggressive variant of this approach today under the so-called “centrist” policies of the new French President Emmanuel Macron.

What about climate change and jobs? A view that has long been touted, most vociferously by Trump over the last two years, is that policies to protect the environment and to fight climate change are bad for jobs and therefore need to be junked. But this claim is simply false. In fact, as the evidence I have cited above shows, building a green economy is good for jobs overall, much better than maintaining our existing fossil-fuel based energy infrastructure, which also happens to be the single most significant force driving the planet toward ecological disaster.

It is true that building a green economy will not be good for everyone’s jobs. Notably, people working in the fossil fuel industry will face major job losses. The communities in which these jobs are concentrated will also face significant losses. But the solution here is straightforward: Just Transition policies for the workers, families and communities who will be hurt as the coal, oil and natural gas industries necessarily contract to zero over roughly the next 30 years. Working with Jeannette Wicks-Lim, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Brian Callaci at [the Political Economy Research Institute], and in conjunction with labor, environmental and community groups in both the states of New York and Washington, we have developed what I think are quite reasonable and workable Just Transition programs. They include solid pension protections, re-employment guarantees, as well as retraining and relocation support for individual workers, and community-support initiatives for impacted communities.

The single most important factor that makes all such initiatives workable is that the total number of affected workers is relatively small. For example, in the whole United States today, there are a total of about 65,000 people employed directly in the coal industry. This represents less than 0.05 percent of the 147 million people employed in the US. Considered within the context of the overall US economy, it would only require a minimum level of commitment to provide a just transition to these workers as well as their families and communities.

Finally, I think it is important to address one of the major positions on climate stabilization that has been advanced in recent years on the left, which is to oppose economic growth altogether, or to support “de-growth.” The concerns of de-growth proponents — that economic growth under neoliberal capitalism is both grossly unjust and ecologically unsustainable — are real. But de-growth is not a viable solution. Consider a very simple example — that under a de-growth program, global GDP contracts by 10 percent. This level of GDP contraction would be five times larger than what occurred at the lowest point of the 2007-09 Great Recession, when the unemployment rate more than doubled in the United States. But even still, this 10 percent contraction in global GDP would have the effect, on its own, of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by precisely 10 percent. At a minimum, we would still need to cut emissions by another 30 percent within 15 years, and another 80 percent within 30 years to have even a fighting chance of stabilizing the climate. As such, the only viable climate stabilization program is to invest massively in clean renewable and high energy efficiency systems so that clean energy completely supplants our existing fossil-fuel dependent system within the next 30 years, and to enact comparable transformations in agricultural production processes.

The “masters of the universe” have made a huge comeback since the last financial crisis, and while Trump’s big-capital-friendly policies are going to make the rich get richer, they could also spark the next financial crisis. So, Bob, what type of progressive policies can and should be enforced to contain the destructive tendencies of finance capital?

Pollin: The classic book Manias, Panics, and Crashes by the late MIT economist Charles Kindleberger makes clear that, throughout the history of capitalism, unregulated financial markets have persistently produced instability and crises. The only deviation from this long-term pattern occurred in the first 30 years after World War II, roughly from 1946-1975. The reason US and global financial markets were much more stable over this 30-year period is that the markets were heavily regulated then, through the Glass-Steagall regulatory system in the US, and the Bretton Woods system globally. These regulatory systems were enacted only in response to the disastrous Great Depression of the 1930s, which began with the 1929 Wall Street crash and which then brought global capitalism to its knees.

Of course, the big Wall Street players always hated being regulated and fought persistently, first to evade the regulations and then to dismantle them. They were largely successful through the 1980s and 1990s. But the full, official demise of the 1930s regulatory system came only in 1999, under the Democratic President Bill Clinton. At the time, virtually all leading mainstream economists — including liberals, such as Larry Summers, who was Treasury Secretary when Glass-Steagall was repealed — argued that financial regulations were an unnecessary vestige of the bygone 1930s. All kinds of fancy papers were written “demonstrating” that the big players on Wall Street are very smart people who know what’s best for themselves and everyone else — and therefore, didn’t need government regulators telling them what they could or could not do. It then took less than eight years for hyper-speculation on Wall Street to once again bring global capitalism to its knees. The only thing that saved capitalism in 2008-09 from a repeat of the 1930s Great Depression was the unprecedented government interventions to prop up the system, and the equally massive bail out of Wall Street.

By 2010, the US Congress and President Obama enacted a new set of financial regulations, the Dodd-Frank system. Overall, Dodd-Frank amount to a fairly weak set of measures aiming to dampen hyper-speculation on Wall Street. A large part of the problem is that Dodd-Frank included many opportunities for Wall Street players to delay enactment of laws they didn’t like and for clever lawyers to figure out ways to evade the ones on the books. That said, the Trump administration, led on economic policy matters by two former Goldman Sachs executives, is committed to dismantling Dodd-Frank altogether, and allowing Wall Street to once again operate free of any significant regulatory constraints. I have little doubt that, free of regulations, the already ongoing trend of rising speculation — with, for example, the stock market already at a historic high — will once again accelerate.

What is needed to build something like a financial system that is both stable and supports a full-employment, ecologically sustainable growth framework? A major problem over time with the old Glass-Steagall system was that there were large differences in the degree to which, for example, commercial banks, investment banks, stock brokerages, insurance companies and mortgage lenders were regulated, thereby inviting clever financial engineers to invent ways to exploit these differences. An effective regulatory system today should therefore be guided by a few basic premises that can be applied flexibly but also universally. The regulations need to apply across the board, regardless of whether you call your business a bank, an insurance company, a hedge fund, a private equity fund, a vulture fund, or some other term that most of us haven’t yet heard about.

One measure for promoting both stability and fairness across financial market segments is a small sales tax on all financial transactions — what has come to be known as a Robin Hood Tax. This tax would raise the costs of short-term speculative trading and therefore discourage speculation. At the same time, the tax will not discourage “patient” investors who intend to hold their assets for longer time periods, since, unlike the speculators, they will be trading infrequently. A bill called the Inclusive Prosperity Act was first introduced into the House of Representatives by Rep. Keith Ellison in 2012 and then in the Senate by Bernie Sanders in 2015, [and] is exactly the type of measure that is needed here.

Another important initiative would be to implement what are called asset-based reserve requirements. These are regulations that require financial institutions to maintain a supply of cash as a reserve fund in proportion to the other, riskier assets they hold in their portfolios. Such requirements can serve both to discourage financial market investors from holding an excessive amount of risky assets, and as a cash cushion for the investors to draw upon when market downturns occur.

This policy instrument can also be used to push financial institutions to channel credit to projects that advance social welfare, for example, promoting investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The policy could stipulate that, say, at least 5 percent of banks’ loan portfolios should be channeled to into clean-energy investments. If the banks fail to reach this 5 percent quota of loans for clean energy, they would then be required to hold this same amount of their total assets in cash.

Finally, both in the US and throughout the world, there needs to be a growing presence of public development banks. These banks would make loans based on social welfare criteria — including advancing a full-employment, climate-stabilization agenda — as opposed to scouring the globe for the largest profit opportunities regardless of social costs…. Public development banks have always played a central role in supporting the successful economic development paths in the East Asian economies.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

 

 

C.J. Polychroniou is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He is the author of several books, and his articles have appeared in a variety of publications.

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