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hegel_portrait_by_schlesinger_1831LUMPENPROLETARIATGONZO:  Whilst studying heterodox (and neoclassical) economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (which houses one of the USA’s most radical economics departments), one of the most influential philosophers, which came up in many discussions with graduate students around campus, is Hegel.  In a special supplemental broadcast of free speech radio’s Economic Update, economist professor Dr. Richard Wolff has improvised a second hour of programming to expand the weekly hour-long broadcast (and pick up the slack for the absent sports-and-politics show The Collision). [1]  Listen (and/or download) here. [2]

Messina

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ECONOMIC UPDATE—[17 FEB 2017; 12:00 PST]  [musical break:  instrumental, ‘Eastern’ jazz ensemble] 

[KPFA announcement:  KPFA meetings are posted on KPFA Event Calendar at least a few days in advance, etc.  Submit email to meetings@kpfa.org to receive correspondence regarding KPFA’s democratic governance structure, by which KPFA listener-supporters are the owner-operators of the local and national free speech Pacifica Radio Network.]  (c. 2:30) 

[Economic Update theme music:  John Lee Hooker and Santana]  (c. 3:30)

[Dr. Richard Wolff’s opening remarks.]

DR. RICHARD WOLFF:  “Welcome, friends, to another edition of Economic Update, a weekly programme devoted to the economic dimensions of our lives, our incomes, our debts, those coming down the road to confront us, and those already changing the lives of our children.

“I’m your host, Richard Wolff.  I’ve been a professor of economics all my adult life.  And, currently, I teach at the New School University in New York City.

Weekly Economics News Updates

[Switchback Brewery (Burlington, Vermont) became a Worker Self-Directed Enterprise (or workers’ cooperative), upon the coming retirement of the two founding members, who decided to democratise the workplace by transferring their shares to the workers.  Three cheers for Switchback Brewery for bringing democracy to the workplace!]  (c. 7:40)

[snip]

[Next segment, on Trump administration and profiteers, coal corporations, and coal workers (coal miners).]  (c. 15:13)

[snip]

Democratic Party Apologia for Anti-democratic Capitalism

DR. RICHARD WOLFF:  “Well, an interesting thing happened a week, or so, ago.  It was captured on video; and, so, it became a kind of viral story.  And it is one, that I want to comment on, in case you missed it.

“A young man at a town hall organised by the network CNN had a confrontation, a very mild and polite one, between a young college student, Trevor Hill, and the leader, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, from the Bay Area in California.  Young Mr. Hill cited a poll taken last spring by Harvard University‘s Institute of Politics.  And it showed that a random sample of young Americans from the ages of 18 to 29—not just Democrats or anything, but a random collection—no longer support the system of capitalism.  They are, either, in favour of socialism or have serious doubts and criticisms of capitalism.

“And young Mr. Hill‘s question to Nancy Pelosi was:

Are the Democrats, your party, Ms. Pelosi, willing to move to the left to accommodate, to respond to, to reflect the views of the young people that are, of course, growing into the majority of American people with the passage of time?

Nancy Pelosi‘s response was very quick.  And I’m going to quote it to you.  Quote:

Well, I thank you for your question.

“She said and, then, continuing—her words:

But I have to say we’re capitalist.  And that’s just the way it is.

“End of quotation.  I think Mrs. Pelosi is quite right.  The Democratic Party is capitalist, in the sense that it accepts, supports, endorses, encourages—all that kind of word—the capitalist economic system, that is dominant here in the United States.  And, in that way, the Democratic Party is exactly like the Republican Party, which feels the same way about the capitalist system.  And I mean all of the Republican Party—the George Bush type of Republican Party, the Paul Ryan type of Republican Party, and the Donald Trump type of Republican Party.  Indeed, all three of those names—Bush, Ryan, Trump—are, themselves, capitalists.  And, so, it’s hardly surprising.  (c. 18:35)

“But this raises a question.

What does it say about a society, like the United States, that the two major parties, that completely and absolutely dominate the federal government—the state government and, basically, most local governments in the United States—that these two parties have no substantial difference about the capitalist system?  That the leaders of both parties would respond just as Mrs. Pelosi did, by saying: Of course, we’re capitalist.  And that’s just the way it is.

“Here’s what it tells you.  There is no opposition to capitalism in the United States, that takes a political form.  We know from the Harvard poll, that Trevor Hill quoted that there’s lots of opposition to capitalism in the society.  We know that millions of people voted for Bernie Sanders, who described himself as a democratic socialist.  So, we know that there’s widespread feelings, views, attitudes, that are critical of capitalism, and that would like a better or different economic system in its place. [2]

“So, here’s what we’ve got:  A society with grave doubts, widespread criticism of capitalism, but it lacks any political party able, or willing, to express, to organise, to mobilise that perspective.  And that makes the United States different from most capitalist economies.  That is, most other countries, in which the capitalist system prevails—because in most other countries, where capitalism prevails, there are political parties, that are critical of capitalism, opposed to capitalism, pursuing other systems—they are stronger in some countries and weaker in others.  They carry names, like socialist, communist, anti-capitalist, and so on.  But the United States lacks a political party, that could put forward a critique of capitalism and a programme for moving to another system.  And, yet, there’s every evidence that, if such a party emerged, and if it positioned itself that way, it would have, very quickly, a very sizable constituency, as young Trevor Hill and his question clearly implied.  (c. 21:46)

Trevor Hill (NYU student) challenging Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi [3]

“It makes one wonder whether the absence of such an anti-capitalist political party in the United States really has very little to do with the population’s feelings, views, needs, or desires, and a great deal to do with the concerted effort by Republicans and Democrats to avoid any competition from such a party.

“Please keep that in mind the next time you hear a leading Republican and/or Democrat give one of those July 4th speeches about the virtues of competition, please keep in mind how those very same people, have been and, continue to do everything in their power to avoid, repress, suppress, anything and everything, that moves in the direction of producing a party, that would respect and reflect huge anti-capitalist political perspectives.  That’s what was behind the squelching of the Occupy Wall Street movement under Obama.  That was, likewise, the squelching of Bernie Sanders movement by the Clinton part of the Democratic Party, of which Mrs. Pelosi was a leading, and is a leading, member.  It is important to keep that in mind(c. 23:39)

A critique of the financial advisor industry in the context of eroded, pillaged, and stolen pension systems

“Our next update has to do with a move by the Trump administration this last week to direct the Labor Department to review an Obama administration rule governing financial advisors.  Let me explain.

[snip]  (c. 29:00)

Statistics show immigrants actually increase value of property and community

[Statistics valorise immigrant communities.]  [snip]  (c. 31:00)

[Next, Dr. Richard Wolff appealed to listeners to ‘please share Economic Update and its content’ with their friends and family, on their social media, blogs, websites, and their local free speech radio and TV stations, and so on.  Dr. Wolff encouraged listeners, as he does regularly, to also partner with Economic Update to help inform and educate the public on questions of economics and ‘the economic dimensions of our lives’.  (Economic Update began broadcasting in March of 2011.)]  (c. 37:20)

On Hegel’s Concept of Slave and Master

DR. RICHARD WOLFF:  “Alright.  I wanna turn to an unusually philosophic subject for the first of our major discussions.  And I wanna begin by reminding you, if you’re not familiar with it and I’m explaining it, perhaps, for the first time.

“A remarkable piece of philosophic reflection by, perhaps, the greatest German philosopher ever.  His name was Hegel—H-E-G-E-L.  And, perhaps, the most famous thing he ever wrote—and he wrote quite a bit—and much of it has been extremely influential in the history of the world over the last few centuries.  But one of the most important pieces he wrote was called The Dialectic of the Master and the Slave.  And it was an exploration, a few pages long—it’s not very difficult—about the relationship between master and slave because he felt that it had not been properly understood.  And he wanted to explain how he understood it.  (c. 38:34)

His idea is fundamentally simple, that the mistake has been to imagine that because the master dominates the slave that the line of dependency is one direction: The slave depends on the master. The master orders, controls, directs, literally owns the slave. The master is active. The slave is passive. The master controls. The slave is dependent.

“The point Hegel wants to make is that this is only a one-sided perspective.  It turns out, it runs the other way, too.  What I mean is that the master is dependent on the slave, also.  And here’s how it works.  Precisely because the master can get the slave to do virtually everything he needs, because that’s what a slave means—that the slave is so dependent, the slave is so subordinate, the slave is so slavish—that the master can compel the slave to do everything, and in so doing the master becomes dependent on the slave doing everything for him.  And, thereby, the very mastery of the slave makes the master the slave of the slave, the slave of his own dependence on the slave.  Or, to say the same thing as simply as I know how, the line of dependency runs both ways.

The illusion of the master, that he is in charge, is smashed the minute the slave declares he’s not gonna do it anymore.  He refuses to continue to be a slave, whereupon the master discovers his dependence on the slave.  And, in that act of rebellion, the slave confronts what Hegel is teaching, that the dependence runs both ways, that the slave and the master are caught in a relationship they both depend on(c. 41:20)

Now, why do I talk about this?  Because it gives us an insight into how capitalism, among other systems, works.  Let’s show you that.  The capitalist needs the worker.  But the capitalist also dominates the worker.  The capitalist decides whether the worker he employs has a job or not.  That’s an enormous power.  The capitalist pays the worker, or not.  The capitalist profits from the worker.  The worker is dependent for income, for the work, for his or her position in the world, ability to feed their children.  The dependence of the worker on the capitalist can appear to be one-sided, can appear to be slavish in many respects.  And many workers have felt that.  And, indeed, the capitalist acts in a dominating way towards the employee all the time.  Let me just give you the two big examples.  (c. 42:45)

“Capitalists are forever trying to replace workers with machines, to get rid of the worker, to save having to pay the worker any wage by replacing the costly worker with a less costly computer or a less costly, at least in the long run, robot.  The capitalist is always, in a way, threatening the worker with unemployment by having the worker replaced with a machine. [4]

“Likewise, the worker is threatened by his or her employer because the employer has the power, as an employer, to relocate production. [5]  That is, to move it.  To move it where?  For example, where wages are lower—threaten your job by moving to China or India or Brazil or Mexico.  There’s another way that a capitalist can threaten your job.  If he chooses not to move the production to another country to catch the low wages there, he can bring the low-wage people here—immigration—and get away with paying them less money for the work, that he would have had to pay a native-born person here.  (c. 44:15)

So, capitalists are always squeezing, threatening, calculating, conniving, to save on labour costs, which threaten the worker.  The system compels capitalists to do that.  They are competing with other capitalists, who are doing it.  So, they have to also.  They depend on profits to stay in business.  And profits can be enhanced by automating your workers or relocating to lower wages.  But here comes, now, the other side, that Hegel alerts us to look for.

“The more successful the employer is replacing workers with machines, so he doesn’t have to pay those workers wages anymore, moving production out of the country—firing the workers here in the United States, for example, and hiring ‘less expensive’ workers in Asia, Africa, Latin America, or where ever—the more the capitalist does that, the more he is forced to confront his dependency, as a capitalist on the workers because, having cut the wages or removed the wages of workers, they lack the ability to buy.  To buy what?  To buy what the capitalist has to sell, if he’s going to stay in business.  (c. 45:47)

“Herein lies what Hegel would call the contradiction—the two-way relationship of dependence.  The worker depends on the capitalist, to be sure, like the master depends on the slave.  But the master—excuse me.  The slave depends on the master.  That’s how the worker depends on the capitalist.  But the reverse also holds.  The capitalist depends on the worker.  He depends on workers to produce whatever it is he has to sell.  But he also depends on workers to buy what it is he has to sell.  And, if they cannot, or if they do not, then the capitalist is as destroyed, as a capitalist, as the master would be destroyed if the slaves were unable or unwilling to work.

“And, you know, it runs the other way.  Workers know, in some sense, even if they can’t say it in so many words, that that capitalist depends on them, that in a way they have the upper hand, even if it seems that the capitalist does.  How workers have the upper hand?  How do workers make capitalists depend on them?  Well, let’s quickly review.  (c. 47:13)

“First of all, the workers are the majority.  The capitalists are the minority, as it was with masters and slaves.  And workers long ago struggled to get universal suffrage, to be able to vote, to make political leadership, at least, subject to [the democratic principle of] one person, one vote.  And that gives the masses the power, through the vote, to confront the masters, the employers.  And workers use that power, often to choose someone from government, that the employers were at best neutral about or very skeptical about.  That’s what the workers in England did when they voted to leave the European Union.  And that’s what many workers did in this country when they voted for Mr. Trump after the business establishment made it clear they were, at best, of mixed minds about him. [6]  (c. 48:25)

“Here’s another way, that capitalists depend on workers.  The vast bulk of the police and the army, the enforcers of the rules of capitalism, are working people.  They are not, themselves, capitalists.  And, so, the capitalists depend on the army functioning the way they want, and the police functioning the way they want.  That’s a dependence of the capitalist on the powers of enforcement, that are workers.  But, I’m not done.

“Here’s another way workers reveal the dependence of the capitalist.  They can go on strike.  They can say to the capitalist:  We won’t work. And, you know what, Mr. Capitalist? You don’t make any money. You don’t make any profit. You depend on us, therefore, for your survival, rather like a master depends on the slave, who he has enslaved to do everything for that master. So, it turns out, the capitalist depends on the worker(c. 49:40)

“And, then, there’s that last little item, that historically needs to be included.  Workers can sabotage the production process.  And, here, the way to explain it is to give you the history of the word.  Sabotage comes from the French word, sabot—S-A-B-O-T.  And that was the word for the wooden shoes, that people in northern France and northern Europe used to wear.  Some still do.  And, when workers were angry at their capitalist employers, they were known—secretly and quietly—to throw one of their wooden shoes into the machinery in the factory and, thereby, to commit sabotage.  In other words, it’s another way to remind the capitalist that he isn’t in charge altogether, that he depends on the workers, too.  (c. 50:42)

“Well, what’s the message, and the lesson, of Hegel‘s teaching?  Master and slave, therefore, is not the master in control and the slave altogether dependentThe dependency runs both ways—between the lord and the serf in feudalism, the same truism.  And, now, between capitalist and worker, the same two-way dependency.  Well, what happens in this system is that you have two choices.  You can continue the endless conflict, the endless struggle—master trying in every way to dominate, control, and profit from the slave; and the slave finding ways to use the dependence of the master to relieve their suffering, to impose costs on the master; and the same back and forth between lord and serf; and the same back and forth between employer and employee.  (c. 51:49)

The struggle can last forever and take up your whole life.  Or you can try to make a resolution, what Hegel would call a synthesis of the two opposites.  Solve the problem of endless conflict between master and slave—lord and serf, capitalist employer and worker/employee—by overcoming that relationship.  And what that means, in economics, is a democratic worker cooperative.  Make the workers, both, the employer and the employee.  End the struggle between two people, two groups, each dependent on, and trying to overcome at the same time, this dependency and not recognising that they were locked into a relationship and that the escape from the dependency and the endless struggle requires fundamentally changing the relationship.

“That’s why, as far back as ancient slave society and throughout the history of feudalism and throughout the history of capitalism, human beings have tried to escape from those tensions, those oppositions, those contradictory struggles, to form cooperatives, to produce goods in a collective way, that did not pit master-slave, lord-serf, and employer-employee.  They did it in religious orders, when nuns and monks would work collectively to produce what the nunnery or the monastery needed.  Farmers did it in conditions where a collective effort struck them as making more sense than continuing in the endless struggle of the opposites. (c. 54:02)

Hegel’s teaching is a way to understand, both, what ails us in a conflict-ridden economic system and where the escape, the future, the better economic system lies.  It lies with an overcoming of the contradictions, what beleaguer slavery, feudalism, and capitalism.  It lies with the democratisation of a cooperative community organisation of work together with the same kind of democratic community organisation of the residential neighborhoods and communities where we live. (c. 54:55)

On parallels between the Great Depression and the Global Financial Crisis

“In the time, that remains today, which isn’t a great deal, I wanted also to draw your attention to a certain parallel between the 1930s, when capitalism crashed after 1929’s [economic] collapse, and our current period, a period after the second-worst crash.  We can learn something about what’s happening to us now by looking carefully at what happened the last time the economic system in which we live broke down badly.

[snip]  (c. 59:59)

Learn more at ECONOMIC UPDATE.

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[1]  The Collision, a sports and politics show, which normally airs on free speech radio KPFA (and, likely, other free speech radio or Pacifica Radio stations throughout the USA) failed to file their weekly broadcast.  So, Dr. Richard Wolff seems to have improvised a second hour of Economic Update.

(Dr. Richard Wolff was a doctoral advisor to one of my professors at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), Dr. Erik Olsen, who teaches Marxian economics and Urban Economics.  During the spring semester of 2015, since I often cited Dr. Wolff in class, Dr. Olsen invited me to a party at his house, which was going to host Dr. Wolff during the fall semester of 2015.  Unfortunately, I was graduating in May of 2015.  So, I wouldn’t get a chance to ask Dr. Wolff why he perpetuates the myth that the federal government taxes the public in order to raise funds for public spending.  It seems Dr. Richard Wolff refuses to acknowledge modern money theory (MMT), which is taught at heterodox economics departments, such as UMKC.  MMT reminds us that the USA operates a sovereign monetary system, which means that the USA can afford to spend without fiscal constraints, including for instituting a job guarantee programme, which can effectively end involuntary unemployment as we know it.  It seems Dr. Wolff’s preoccupation with bashing capitalist modes of production causes him to engage in intellectual dishonesty by perpetuating myths about taxation and our monetary system, by refusing to honestly inform the people about how government spending really works and by refusing to dispel myths about our monetary system (or federal money system).)

[2]  The institution and implementation of modern monetary theory (MMT) policies in the federal government, such as a federal job guarantee programme, which could end involuntary unemployment as we know it, could function as economically emancipatory institutions for the working classes as well as subversive to capitalist modes of production.

[3]  Trevor Hill asks an unscripted and sincere question of Nancy Pelosi:

Nancy Pelosi Desperately Defends Capitalist at Town Hall” posted to YouTube (12 FEB 2017) by Democratize the Media

In the video above, posted by Democratize the Media, our narrator seems either too excited to smoothly deliver his analysis; or, perhaps, he is persevering despite a challenging speech impediment.  But, be patient friends, the young man offers a very sincere and heartfelt, yet clearheaded, analysis of this notable moment in capitalist history.  Essentially, most everything the narrator says is consistent with a quality university education in economics.  And, if one watches Mrs. Pelosi’s response in its entirety, it’s quite amazing how easily an undergraduate student is able to completely throw her off her game.  Imagine if a critical undergrad student of heterodox economics or a graduate student or a radical economics professor (with an ounce of courage) was allowed to go HAM on Mrs. Pelosi in a Town Hall, with follow up questions and all.  Wow.  All we can say is that defenders of capitalist modes of production have an indefensible position.  It’s a mathematical fact that capitalism produces widening inequality.  If there’s one thing I learned at university, it is that fact.

In the video below, we can see Trevor Hill’s entire question as well as Mrs. Pelosi’s entire, pathetic and nonsensical, response.

Nancy Pelosi Dodges the Only Progressive Question” posted to YouTube (1 FEB 2017) by Dey Dey

[4]  Of course, here, we wonder why Dr. Richard Wolff never mentions an MMT-based job guarantee programme.  I do know that some of my Marxian friends in the graduate department of economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (and other heterodox economics departments) are so opposed to capitalism, as well they should be, that they view the job guarantee programme as a form of saving capitalism, or extending the life of zombie capitalism, which has already shown itself to have failed society and the world repeatedly, but which is only propped up with artificial and temporary stop-gap measures, such as bailing out failed banks, rather than nationalising them.  (Incidentally, the U.S. government essentially nationalised the major banks temporarily in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis; only, this fact was downplayed by officials and the corporate media.)

However, it’s difficult not to view as a permanent federal job guarantee programme as educational, consciousness-raising for the public, and emancipatory for the working classes, who would come to understand that the federal government can use modern money for public purpose, such as ending involuntary unemployment as we know it.

[5]  Also see issues of globalisation from above versus globalisation from below, as well as the wage race to the bottom.  An excellent introductory reading is Flat Broke in the Free Market: How globalization fleeced working people (2013) by Jon Jeter.

[6]  A common argument posed by political analysts has explained Mr. Trump’s electoral success in terms of his ability to feign a working class populist posture, which Mrs. Clinton was unable to do as a categorically establishment candidate.  (Although, we acknowledge that Trump lost the people’s vote, but won the vote of the outdated and anti-democratic Electoral College.)  Nevertheless, Donald Trump appeared to be an outsider to many working class voters, especially those with a right-wing political orientation; but news reports have indicated that Trump did meet with establishment elites prior to his acceptance by the Republican Party bosses.  This helps explain why Trump’s cabinet picks largely consist of establishment Republicans, including many Bush operatives.  And, of course, it’s widely understood that Trump would have never been able to overcome the working class populism of Senator Bernie Sanders, had Sanders garnered the Democratic presidential nomination (or had the courage or political conviction to run as a socialist, Green, or independent candidate).  But the Democratic Party, through cheating and fraud, insured that Sanders never had a chance to win the Democratic Primary election.

For more on the deceptive working class populism of President Donald J. Trump, see, for example:

  • “The Dangerous Deception Called ‘The Trump Presidency'” by Dr. F. William Engdahl, Global Research, 30 NOV 2016.
  • “Workers of the USA fooled by Trump” by dfmese1, Daily KOS, 4 DEC 2016.
  • “Guns and Butter Presents The Lost Hegemon: Whom the gods would destroy (2016)” by Messina, Lumpenproletariat, 7 DEC 2016.
  • “Hey, White Working Class, Donald Trump Is Already Screwing You Over” by Joy-Ann Reid, The Daily Beast, 8 DEC 2016.

***

[19 FEB 2017]

[Last modified at 07:42 PST on 1 MAR 2017]

 

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