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Pecuniary Culture and the Problem of Class Analysis

by NBBooks Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 12:29:28 PM EST

Cross-posted from Real Economics.

Freddie DeBoer's recent argument that "the blogosphere is a flagrantly anti-leftist space" initiated a useful discussion of the current political climate in the United States.

History teaches us, however, that the left, especially socialists and communists, are really not any better at creating and maintaining democratic governments for advanced industrial societies. Repression of human rights was a notorious feature of communist countries before the shattering events of 1989. Photobucket


In the United States, the progressive movement of the late 1800s is the only political movement in American history that directly addressed and attacked the problem of who controls the creation and allocation of money and credit in the economy. The interesting aspect of this progressive movement, for our present purposes, is that it arose from among the most conservative elements of American society - the farmers.  Through a process of self-education, American farmers shifted to a different part of the political schema, leaving us wondering today, What's the Matter With Kansas? It is this progressive movement that laid the foundation for the New Deal some four decades later. The best history of these agrarian origins of the progressive movement I know of is Lawrence Goodwyn's 1978 masterpiece, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America.

Goodwyn has made a life's work of studying popular democratic uprisings and social movements, and in his Introduction he makes the startling and crucial observation that both capitalist and socialist economies have ended up with authoritarian-leaning political systems cancerously skewed to the advantage of an oligarchic or plutocratic elite. Here, I posted a large excerpt from Goodwyn's Introduction.

So today, we see that the social democratic governments of Europe are fully committed to the same austerity and economic assault on working people, that we see in the United States. So, how to explain the world-wide supremacy of "shock doctrine" economics (unfortunately called by professional economists "neo-liberal economics")? Steve Hynd's response to DeBoer explicitly addresses this problem as neo-liberal economics: The Liberal Blogosphere Is A Neoliberal Blogosphere, Unfortunately. It is important to think in these terms, since the policies of  "shock doctrine" neo-liberal economics are engendering increasing hostility -- and feelings of powerlessness and alienation -- among subject populations, as those policies provide the catalyst for a rigid hardening of ever more severe inequalities in wealth and income and the consolidation of new oligarchies and plutocracies inherently hostile to the spirit of representative democratic government.

As I, and a few others, have argued before, using a left-right political spectrum to analyze political economy is fundamentally flawed.  Stirling Newberry recently pointed out, Sarah Palin "is that creature that is constantly erased from historiography, and sociology, because it is inconvenient: the right wing socialist."

Many people were candidly confused by Newberry's implied schema; the best thing for them is to carefully read one of Newberry's classics, Three Polar Politics In Post-Petroleum America. Newberry explains that there are three loci in American politics today: Progressive, Moderate, and Confederate. However, as I argued at the time Lambert of CorrenteWire reposted it a year after it originally appeared, Newberry's three poles analysis can be strengthened by applying Thorstein Veblen's bi-polar schema of Producers versus Leisure Class, or, in the terminology I prefer, Producers versus [economic and financial] Predators. Jon Larson developed a graphic representation of Veblen's analysis in the 1980s. More recently, Larson has used new graphics software to refine his work, and presented it at his blog, Real Economics: Illustrating a class theory. (Please be sure to take the time to watch the short, 1980s video Larson has placed there.)

Veblen’s 1898 classic, The Theory of the Leisure Class is not easy reading, but Veblen offers much better insight into the nature and problems of class in modern industrial societies than does Marx. (Always keep in mind the miserable human rights record of Marxist societies). What I think is particularly important to understand at this point in history is what Veblen called pecuniary culture. I present below excerpts from Chapter Nine: "The Conservation of Archaic Traits." But I strongly urge people to read the entire chapter, if not the entire book. Read slowly and carefully -- Veblen is "thought-dense" – quite unlike contemporary writers we are more familiar with.

. . . modern economic institutions fall into two roughly distinct categories -- the pecuniary and the industrial. The like is true of employments. Under the former head are employments that have to do with ownership or acquisition; under the latter head, those that have to do with workmanship or production.

. . . These two classes of employment differ materially in respect of the aptitudes required for each; and the training which they give similarly follows two divergent lines. The discipline of the pecuniary employments acts to conserve and to cultivate certain of the predatory aptitudes and the predatory animus. . . Under the modern, peaceable system, it is of course the peaceable range of predatory habits and aptitudes that is chiefly fostered by a life of acquisition. That is to say, the pecuniary employments give proficiency in the general line of practices comprised under fraud, rather than in those that belong under the more archaic method of forcible seizure. [Emphasis mine.]

Earlier, Veblen explained that


In the early barbarian, or predatory stage proper, the test of fitness was prowess, in the naive sense of the word. To gain entrance to the class, the candidate had to he gifted with clannishness, massiveness, ferocity, unscrupulousness, and tenacity of purpose. These were the qualities that counted toward the accumulation and continued tenure of wealth. The economic basis of the leisure class, then as later, was the possession of wealth; but the methods of accumulating wealth, and the gifts required for holding it, have changed in some degree since the early days of the predatory culture. In consequence of the selective process the dominant traits of the early barbarian leisure class were bold aggression, an alert sense of status, and a free resort to fraud. The members of the class held their place by tenure of prowess. In the later barbarian culture society attained settled methods of acquisition and possession under the quasi-peaceable regime of status. Simple aggression and unrestrained violence in great measure gave place to shrewd practice and chicanery, as the best approved method of accumulating wealth.

Veblen then explains why and how the development of modern industrial societies required a weakening of the barbarian traits of ferocity, unscrupulousness, etc. in order to achieve an economic organization of complex interdependencies typical of an industrial enterprise based on increasing technical specialization. There is thus always a tension between the pecuniary culture and the industrial culture. Veblen elaborates these tensions more fully in some of his other books, such as his 1904 book, The Theory of the Business Enterprise. But, to return to Chapter Nine: "The Conservation of Archaic Traits."

. . . . The modern industry requires an impersonal, non-invidious interest in the work in hand. Without this the elaborate processes of industry would be impossible, and would, indeed, never have been conceived. This interest in work differentiates the workman from the criminal on the one hand, and from the captain of industry on the other. Since work must be done in order [for] the continued life of the community, there results a qualified selection favoring the spiritual aptitude for work, within a certain range of occupations.

But in the United States, since the election of Ronald Reagan brought to power the ideas of Milton Friedman, the financial system has come to predominate the entire economy. (How financiers took over old-line industrial companies and looted them, including raiding the pension funds of workers, is covered by Donald Bartlett and James Steele in their important series of articles in the Philadelphia Inquirer back in 1992, which were published as the book America: What Went Wrong.  The link provides an extremely useful summary of the book, including excerpts and some graphics. I also highly recommend When the Machine Stopped: A Cautionary Tale from Industrial America by Max Holland, 1989, also released a few years later as From Industry to Alchemy: Burgmaster, a Machine Tool Company. Holland's father was a production machinist for Burgmaster, which used to be the largest machine tool maker west of the Mississippi, before it was bought up by one of the first industrial conglomerates, Houdaille, in the 1970s. But the real asset stripping of Burgmaster began when Houdaille was bought in a leverage buyout by Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts - an "investment firm" that is still around, practicing the black arts of "financial engineering" and wrecking the country as a consequence. KKR is the base of wealth for Henry Kravis, one of the top contributors to the Bush family's political operations.

This process of financialization went hand in glove with the process of de-industrialization: the financiers were making money – lots of it – by literally destroying in months, industrial companies that had taken years to build up. By the late 1980s, these financiers were being thought of as "captains of industry" even though they had no interest in actual industrial activity other than looting it. These were the great heroes of the new American economic landscape, but their financial schemes were actually slowly grinding down the working class and dismantling the industrial base. Hardly anyone was willing to admit the past three decades have been a colossal economic disaster until the big crash of 2008, and even now people prefer to talk about how the middle class is under attack, rather than facing the truth that the American working class has already been destroyed: a male in his thirties without a college education is doing worse economically, today, than his father did back in the 1970s and 1980s.

These new heroes of America, these financial parasites, are the people who had the money to give to the think tanks, and the colleges, and the universities; and both political parties. They are the people that had the money to buy, reorganize, and reorient society's various channels of communication, including most especially the news media. Small wonder that the world view of these financial parasites came to dominate American intellectual institutions. It was the process by which Veblen’s pecuniary culture rose to dominance:

. . . . These pecuniary employments, tending to conserve the predatory temperament, are the employments which have to do with ownership -- the immediate function of the leisure class proper -- and the subsidiary functions concerned with acquisition and accumulation. These cover the class of persons and that range of duties in the economic process which have to do with the ownership of enterprises engaged in competitive industry; especially those fundamental lines of economic management which are classed as financiering operations.

. . . . Freedom from scruple, from sympathy, honesty and regard for life, may, within fairly wide limits, be said to further the success of the individual in the pecuniary culture. The highly successful men of all times have commonly been of this type; except those whose success has not been scored in terms of either wealth or power. It is only within narrow limits, and then only in a Pickwickian sense, that honesty is the best policy.

. . . . The pecuniary struggle produces an underfed class, of large proportions. This underfeeding consists in a deficiency of the necessaries of life or of the necessaries of a decent expenditure. In either case the result is a closely enforced struggle for the means with which to meet the daily needs; whether it be the physical or the higher needs. The strain of self-assertion against odds takes up the whole energy of the individual; he bends his efforts to compass his own invidious ends alone, and becomes continually more narrowly self-seeking. The industrial traits in this way tend to obsolescence through disuse. Indirectly, therefore, by imposing a scheme of pecuniary decency and by withdrawing as much as may be of the means of life from the lower classes, the institution of a leisure class acts to conserve the pecuniary traits in the body of the population.

Display:
Stirling Newberry recently pointed out, Sarah Palin "is that creature that is constantly erased from historiography, and sociology, because it is inconvenient: the right wing socialist."

It is more than inconvenient. Making the call would quickly lead to a Godwin on account of the most inconvenient right wing socialist of all time. If something cannot be forgotten the best alternative is to make it radio-active so that no one goes there.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 02:52:15 PM EST
Ex-1/2-Gov Palin is not Evita, she's Juan. I guess that makes Tod the Evita-in-waiting.

Or you had another authoritarian populist in mind?

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 06:45:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes. One who was identified with socialism of the nationalist variety, one for whom, according to folk lore, Juan Perón might have made a Argentina safe place of exile.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 08:14:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought he meant that Austrian fella; he even put "socialism" on his marquee.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 06:40:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
William McWilliams? But they'd be more country populist, like the American Populists, and distrusted the Labor Party, which at the time had a "socialist eventually" plank in their platform.

Nope, got nothing. There was that Italian Fellow, Silvio Mussolini, something like that, but he hung himself.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 12:29:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
An l too far?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 03:04:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sans serifs are a pain sometimes. I meant "ell".

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt t gmail dotcom) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 03:05:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it can be 'ell not knowing what this fellow people's referring to. Can't be Franco, he was never Socialist in any way, shape or form.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 09:22:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If I recall correctly, the most inconvenient right wing socialist of all had a particularly vivid nationalist aspect to his right wing character. How many right wing nationalist socialist leaders have there been?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 01:09:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... but AFAIR that was fiction.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 06:35:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ahh, fleeting memory!

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 08:23:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the United States, the progressive movement of the late 1800s is the only political movement in American history that directly addressed and attacked the problem of who controls the creation and allocation of money and credit in the economy.

And a shining star of that movement, both in the USA and the UK, was Henry George. A useful treatment of George and the development of academic economics is available on line: Neo-classical Economics as a Stratagem against Henry George by Mason Gaffney (pdf) 137 pages of text plus 20 pages of references and bibliography.

Gaffney makes the point that George was much more on target, provided democratic solutions and was much more congruent with Anglo-American culture than Marx could ever dream of being. That is one reason we (mis-)remember Marx while George has been relegated to oblivion.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 03:07:21 PM EST
mostly, I guess, because I've not read him, while I have been delving into Veblen. But I would be grateful for any links you can provide that you think useful.

btw, one of my favorite passages from Goodwyn's book is his description of the New York Times editors sneering that "they want to bring Henry George to the prairie." (Or maybe it's from Robert Morlan book on the Non-Partisan League, Political Prairie Fire).

by NBBooks on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 12:47:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Gaffney's book is short, powerful and available free on line. It is a good place to start. George wrote Poverty and Progress, which is also available free on line.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 01:17:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
George proposed property tax as a solution to modern society. Here is his "moral" argument for that: (from "Progress and Poverty")

http://www.henrygeorge.org/pchp26.htm

by kjr63 on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 05:03:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Pecuniary Culture and the Problem of Class Analysis
the social democratic governments of Europe are fully committed to the same austerity

No argument from me that Europe is applying antisocial austerity - probably more than the US. But, in point of fact, most European governments currently are conservative, not social-democrat. The European Parliament majority is conservative, and conservatives hold almost all the top positions in the Union and Commission.

Though conservative in Europe may seem lefty seen from the States...

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 03:27:24 PM EST
But to what extent has PES pushed back or spoken out against  "austerity"? It seems that only the Greens and Die Linke have even tried. (I would be happy to be wrong.)  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 03:33:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not defending social democrats, just correcting a point of fact.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 03:43:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, now, the Social Democrat governments of Europe include Spain, Portugal, Greece, Slovenia and Austria. I think it's beyond question that the governments of Spain, Portugal and Greece have responded to the sovereign debt crisis by fully committing to austerity. I would be pleasantly surprised if the Austrian and Slovenian governments were not also fully committed to austerity policies.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 05:42:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
<sigh> My point stands, just read it.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 02:04:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
<sigh>This: "the social democratic governments of Europe are fully committed to the same austerity" is literally true.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 03:15:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you are arguing if "social democratic governments of Europe" means the "subset of governments in Europe that are social democratic" or "the governments of Europe, that by the way are social democratic".

I want to propose a third interpretation "the governments of Europe, that by the way are institutionally social democratic", in that the governments might even be called social democratic (compared to the US) independent of party affiliations, if one is not using government=cabinet but government=state apparatus.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 07:05:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Under any of these interpretations, the diary statement is true.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 09:56:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, now you guys have applied Jesuitical casuistry to simple facts, I give in.

Europe is run by social democrats, even when it is (by a very large majority) in fact run by conservatives.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 03:21:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by NBBooks on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 12:40:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by NBBooks on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 12:48:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is that it really does not matter where a particular government or individual is situated on a left-right political spectrum. I wish now I had included a paragraph along these lines: The concept of a pecuniary culture makes it easier to understand how someone like Robert Rubin, or Rahn Emanual, or Brack Obama, can be supposed liberals or lefties, but actually espouse and implement policies that benefit only a very select elite. I.e., begin to delve into the whole corporatist issue. As a friend of mine recently observed [paraphrasing], "What's a liberal these days? Someone who supports gay rights? Someone who is opposed to the military-industrial complex? Someone who wants to protect the environment? I know people who want to do all those things, but they're fucking bankers and day traders, and hedge fund managers, and they have a knee-jerk reflex against giving working people a fair shake. Their not liberals, even though they have progressive ideas." The idea of a pecuniary culture cuts through this morass, to give us, I hope, a more accurate way to gauge someone's inclination to support or oppose real  democracy and equality in the realm of economics, in addition to politics.

But when I wrote it, I used "social democratic" to describe European governments that have more advanced social safety nets than the United States now does.

Back last September, Jon Larson, who you know as Techno, and who runs the Real Economics blog, wrote about the problem in a commentary on the Swedish election:

My grandpa Nelson was already a Social Democrat when he left Sweden in 1899.  The Swedish Social Democrats (SDP) were arguably the most successful progressive movement ever.  And they were brave.  They had to be.  19th century Sweden was exceedingly poor.  The struggles against such backwardness required organizational genius and a clear vision of what a better society looked like.

The real father of the SDP was a guy named Hjalmar Branting who preached evolutionary change.  For example, he was a socialist scholar who was quite horrified by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia.  He had a degree in math and astronomy and was apparently a very gifted writer who gave up his scientific career in 1884.  In 1889, he helped found the SDP and was the party president from 1907 until his death in 1925.

Branting provided a clear distinction between socialism and communism for his fellow Swedes.  In 1918 he wrote that socialism was an applied theory of democratic development and that communism, on the contrary, was an oligarchy, an enemy of democracy and an enticement to economic disaster in its demand for destruction of proprietary rights.  Branting's socialism would provide a blueprint for Sweden to become one of the most prosperous nations on earth.  His Social Democratic Party would essentially run things for 80 years.

Yet Sunday night when the ballots were counted, the SDP had lost its second election in a row and its vote total was the lowest in 96 years.  So the obvious question is, "What went wrong?"

The answer is obviously complicated but when I was in Sweden in 1995, I stayed with a devoted (and disappointed) party member who had several theories for the decline.  She worked for a bureaucracy tasked with finding jobs and alternative careers for the unemployed.  One of her clients was an economist with important entries on his CV who had been laid off and was seeking assistance.  In spite of his plight, he still was deeply wedded to the schools of thought that had destroyed his career.

This led to a fascinating conversation about the role of Sweden's conservatives in the destruction of the SDP.  This included speculation about the assassination of perhaps the best-known of all the SDP leaders Olaf Palme in 1986.  But the biggest contribution to the death of the left world-wide came through Sweden's legitimization of right-wing economists through the awarding of the Nobel Memorial Prize--especially the one given to Milton Friedman in 1973.

So her theory was that the SDP self-destructed because they forgot Branting and Palme and became a bunch of neoliberals.  The current head of the SDP, Monica Sahlin, is about as far from Branting as George W. Bush was from Abe Lincoln.

The reason I wrote about Veblen's concept of pecuniary culture is because we in the U.S. really have a huge political problem to solve. We need to build a new, true, progressive movement, because the "shock doctrine" thinking at the top of the Democratic Party is so entrenched. If you haven't alread, I really urge you to read Steve Hynd's response to DeBoer:  The Liberal Blogosphere Is A Neoliberal Blogosphere, Unfortunately.

So, while I'm here, let me issue this appeal to you wonderful people in Europe. Right now, I have a very strong feeling that what many in the U.S. need to learn much more about, as a possible guide to our future course of action, are the revolutions in the Soviet Bloc. Not just the events of 1989, but, for example, the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the Prague Spring in 1968, the development of Solidarity in Poland, and so on. Earlier today, I read "Intellectual Origins of the Reform Movement" by Antonin Liehm (who was expelled by the Czech Communist Party in the 1970s for being a radical socialist!), and yesterday I read a 1986 interview of Janos Kis, the editor of a major piece of Hungarian samizdat. Even the most basic information would be extremely useful right now, such as who were the major leaders of the movements, and what of their material is available in English. And, I would issue this specific appeal: if you know of particularly important articles, interviews, or other material dealing with the movement in the former Soviet bloc, that are not available in English, please, please, PLEASE, consider translating it.

by NBBooks on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 12:49:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In the comments to my diary Stick the fork in Zapatero: he's done (May 28th, 2010) I quoted the following:
Los asesores económicos del presidente Zapatero | nuevatribuna.es (22.5.2009)PM Zapatero's economic advisors - NuevaTribuna.es
La orientación socioliberal del equipo económico del gobierno socialista, facilita que la derecha española, el PP, marque el territorio donde se desarrolla el debate económico, hecho facilitado en gran manera por el dominio liberal en los medios. De ahí que frente a la avalancha liberal de bajar los impuestos y reducir el gasto público, la respuesta del gobierno socialista ha sido, en ocasiones coincidente (en las bajadas de impuestos) y en otras resistente (como en la bajada del gasto público).The social-liberal orientation of the Socialist goverment's economic team enables the Spanish right, the PP, to delimit the terrain on which the economic debate takes place, a fact further facilitated by the liberal domination in the media. Hence, faced with the liberal assault to lower taxes and spending, the response of the Socialist government has been, on occasion agreeing (on tax cuts) and in others resisting (on spending cuts)
Una característica del gobierno Zapatero ha sido el de haber propuesto cambios importantes en las áreas sociales, siguiendo la tradición socialdemócrata bien establecida en Europa (y en la cual España sufría un retraso considerable), ganándose un aplauso bien merecido en áreas importantes que afectan a la calidad de vida de la ciudadanía española. Reformas tales como las del Cuarto Pilar del Bienestar (con la aprobación de la Ley de Dependencia, entre otras medidas) han merecido un reconocimiento nacional e internacional. Ahora bien, esta faceta positiva de su mandato se ha visto limitada por su política económica y fiscal, que ha disminuido el potencial que tienen aquellas medidas sociales adoptadas por el gobierno. Y ello se debe al pensamiento económico que ha guiado gran parte de estas políticas económicas y fiscales, el cual queda bien definido en el libro de Jordi Sevilla (el economista más influyente en el nacimiento de la sensibilidad conocida como Nueva Vía), titulado El nuevo socialismo, prologado por el entonces candidato José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. En este libro, Jordi Sevilla escribía (p. 73) que "¿Alguien puede defender a estas alturas del siglo que un programa socialdemócrata debe estar a favor de más impuestos y más gasto público e introducir rigideces normativas en la economía?" (para ver una crítica del libro de Jordi Sevilla, ver el capítulo "El debate sobre la estrategia socialista: el nuevo socialismo" en mi libro El subdesarrollo social de España: causas y consecuencias, Editorial Anagrama, 2002).A trait of Zapatero's government has been to propose important changes on social issues, following the Social Democratic tradition well established in Europe (and in which Spain was considerably backwards), earning a well-deserved applause on important issues which affect the quality of life of Spanish citizens. Reforms such as the Fourth Pillar of Welfare (with the approval of the Dependency Law, among other measures) have earned national and international recognition. However, this positive side of his tenure has been limited by his economic and fiscal policy, which has diminished the potential of the social measures approved by the government. And this is due to the economic thought that has guided a large part of these economic and fiscal policies, which is well defined in the book by Jordi Sevilla (the most influential economist in the birth of the current known as New Way), entitled New Socialism, with a preface by the then candidate Zapatero. In this book, Sevilla wrote
Can anyone defend in this day and age that a social democratic programme must favour more taxes and spending and introduce normative rigidities into the economy?
(to see a critique of Jordi Sevilla's book, see the chapter "the debate on the socialist strategy: the new socialism" in my book Spain's social underdevelopment: causes and consequences (Anagrama, 2002).
Considero sorprendente que esta postura sea promovida por un autor que se define como socialdemócrata y que escribe sobre el país de Europa que tenía, en el momento en que tal libro se escribió (2002), los ingresos al Estado más bajos de la UE-15, el gasto público más deficiente de la UE-15, y el gasto público social más insuficiente de la UE-15. Una consecuencia de esta austeridad de gasto público es que el tiempo promedio de visita al médico de la sanidad pública era en el año 2002 de cuatro minutos, la más baja con mucha diferencia, de la UE-15. De esta filosofía se deriva la expresión utilizada por el candidato Zapatero de que "bajar los impuestos es ser de izquierdas". Era, hablando claro, la incorporación del ideario liberal en el partido socialdemócrata mayoritario del país. La sensibilidad de Nueva Vía, en el campo económico, era la versión española del socioliberalismo.I find it surprising that this position is promoted by an author who self-defines as social democrat and writes about a European country which has, at the time the book was written (2002) the lowest state revenues in the EU-15, the most deficient public spending in the EU-15, and the most insufficient social spending in the EU-15. A consequence of this austerity in social spending is that the average doctor's visit lasted 4 minutes, by far the lowest in the EU-15. From this philosophy follows the expression used by Zapatero as candidate that lowering taxes is being 'left'. That was, speaking clearly, incorporating the liberal ideals into the country's majority left party. The sensitivity of New Way, on the economic front, was the spanish version of social liberalism

Note: "New Way" (Nueva Vía) is not the third way, but the name of the internal "current" within the PSOE which propelled Zapatero to the party leadership in 2000.

Una vez Presidente, Zapatero nombró ministro de Economía al Sr. Solbes, que fue durante la época 1993-1996, el responsable de que España viera las mayores reducciones del gasto público (incluyendo gasto público social) conocidas en la época democrática. Solbes fue responsable, más tarde, cuando fue Comisario Europeo de Asuntos Económicos y Monetarios de la Unión Europea, de garantizar la aplicación de las políticas de austeridad del gasto público (mandadas en el Pacto de Estabilidad) en la UE-15, reduciendo la tasa de crecimiento de tal gasto público social en el promedio de los países miembros de la UE-15 durante el periodo de su mandato en la Comisión Europea (1996-2004).As PM, ZP appointed as economy minister Mr. Solbes, who in 1993-6 was responsible for Spain seeing the largest reductions in public spending (including social spending) known in the democratic age [since 1978]. Solbes was later responsible, when he was EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, for guaranteeing the application of the (GSP-mandated) public austerity policies in the EU-15, reducing the growth rate of public social spending of the EU-15 member states during his tenure at the Commission (1996-2004).
Solbes, nombrado Ministro de Economía del Sr. Zapatero, indicó, al final de su primer mandato, que la medida de la cual él estaba más orgulloso era "la de no haber aumentado el gasto público", EL PAÍS (22 de julio de 2007), todo ello, dicho y hecho, en el país que continuaba teniendo el gasto público más bajo de la UE-15, lo cual daba gran satisfacción al mundo financiero y empresarial que le canonizó como el mejor Ministro de Economía que España había tenido. Su compromiso con el ideario socioliberal, sin embargo, le imposibilitó que respondiera a la enorme crisis económica y financiera que golpeó España y su énfasis en no rebasar el 3% del PIB, como límite máximo del déficit del estado, fue causa de su inoperancia frente a la crisis y su dimisión.Solbes, appointed ZP's Economy Minister, indicated, at the end of his first term, that the measure he was most proud of was "not having increased public spending" (El Pais - 22 july 2007), all this, said and done, in a country still having the lowest public spending in the EU-15, which greatly satisfied the financial and business world which sanctified him as the best economy minister Spain had ever had. His commitment to the social liberal ideals, however, prevented him from responding to the economic and financial crisis which hit Spain, and his emphasis on not exceeding the 3% of GDP as highest limit of state deficit was the cause of his ineffectiveness against the crisis, and his resignation.
Como director de la oficina económica de La Moncloa, Zapatero nombró al economista Miguel de Sebastián, que había sido director del gabinete de estudios del BBVA, y que en un artículo en EL PAÍS (14 de mayo de 2003) titulado "Bajar los impuestos y de verdad", afirmaba que no debía aumentarse el gasto público como porcentaje del PIB. Es más, a la pregunta que le hizo un corresponsal de El País sobre si confiaba en el intervencionismo público, Miguel de Sebastián respondió "En absoluto. Soy defensor de esta idea de los demócratas estadounidenses, de un estado dinamizador frente a un estado del bienestar". EEUU, por cierto, tiene el gasto público y el gasto público social más bajo del club de países ricos, la OECD (para ver una crítica del pensamiento económico de Miguel de Sebastián, ver mi capítulo "El modelo del Partido Demócrata como propuesta para la izquierda española. Debate con Miguel de Sebastián", en mi libro citado anteriormente).As director of the PM's economic office, Zapatero appointed the economist Miguel Sebastián, who had been Chief Economist of BBVA, and who in an article in El Pais (14 may 2003) entitled lowering taxes, really, claimed that public spending as a fraction of PIB shouldn't be raised. Moreover, to the question by an El Pais correspondent whether he trusted public interventio, Miguel Sebastián answered "not at all. I defend the idea of the US Democrats of a dynamic state against a welfare state". The US, by the way, has the lowest public spending and public social public spending in the rich nations' club, the OECD (to see a critique of the economic thought of Miguel Sebastián, see my chapter "The Democratic Party model as a proposal for the Spanish left. Debate with Miguel Sebastián" in my previously cited book).
Más tarde, cuando Miguel de Sebastián dejó de ejercer la dirección de la oficina económica, pasó a ocupar su cargo (a sugerencia suya), el economista David Taguas, también procedente del gabinete de estudios del BBVA, que había escrito en la revista de las Cajas de Ahorro, que la seguridad social era inviable, y que lo que tenía que hacerse era privatizar toda la seguridad social, tal como hizo en su día el General Pinochet en Chile (para ver una crítica de las posturas privatizadoras de la Seguridad Social, de David Taguas, ver mi artículo "¿La seguridad social es España es inviable? Respuesta a David Taguas, Director de la Oficina Económica en el Palacio de la Moncloa", publicado en la revista TEMAS PARA EL DEBATE, nº 151, junio 2007).Later, when Miguel Sebastián stopped directing the PM's economic unit, his position was taken (at his suggestion) by David Taguas, also [Deputy Chief Economist] at BBVA, who had written in the journal of the Cajas de Ahorros that social security was inviable, and what needed to be done was to privatize all of it, just like Pinochet did in Chile (to see a critique of the Social Security privatizing positions of David Taguas, see my article "Is Social Security in Spain Inviable? Reply to David Taguas, director of the PM's economic office", published in the journal Temas Para el Debate no. 151, June 2007).
Como sucesor de Solbes, Zapatero ha nombrado a Elena Salgado, que tiene fama de buena gestora, pero que ha nombrado como su mano derecha al economista Jose Manuel Campa, economista liberal reconocido, uno de los firmantes del manifiesto a favor de la transformación de los contratos fijos en temporales con descenso de la indemnización por despido, quien, en un artículo reciente, escribió que "la reducción de los salarios es la medida más eficaz para mejorar el bienestar social en esta crisis" (véase artículo del 15 de Mayo de 2009, EL PAÍS , sección de ECONOMÍA).To succeed Solbes, Zapatero appointed Elena Salgado who has a reputation for good management, but who has appointed as her right hand the economist José Manuel Campa, renowned liberal economist, one of the signatories of the manifesto in favour of the transformation of indefinite contrats into temporary contracts with a reduction of severance pay, and who in a recent article wrote "wage reduction is the most effective way to improve social welfare in this crisis" (See El Pais article, 15 May 2009, Economy section)


Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 04:47:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree the SAP imploded rather then was exploded.

I would put its high point in early 1970ies, with an unbroken line of cabinets since the 1930ies, a million members (out of a population of eight millions), connected at the hip with a union movement that stretched into every workplace.

But in those early 70ies SAP failed to attract the protest generation of '68 that instead saw them as the obstacle on the way to socialism and freedom. Further, a series of reforms - all at least SAP-approved - altered the political landscape. Parties got public financing and lots of career seats as political secretaries. This meant that parties were no longer dependent on having members and making sure they got their say. Add TV and creating opinions by long discussions among the members got junked.

In mid 80ies SAP had regained power after two periods of right wing government that tried to be better soc-dems then SAP. SAP then proceeded to deregulate the financial markets, with created a credit fueled real estate boom, landing in a hard housing and banking crash. A rightwing government ushered in mass unemployment and SAP kept that policy when it returned to power in 1994.

Fast-forward 16 years of blaming the unemployed for being unemployed and SAP leadership is a group of career hacks that thinks the main problem is that the members stop them from going further to the right. The soc-dem pr-agency Prime was late last year shown to work for the Svenskt Näringsliv on a mission to move SAP to the right.

The members are now about 100 000 and quickly declining, with just 4000 under the age of 25. Basically the members are the die-hard old soc-dems that does not want to abandon the party, so they leave when they die.

Oh, and the leadership fight going on right now has unknowns fighting unknowns, but it is unlikely to produce anything but further decline.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 03:10:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The reason I wrote about Veblen's concept of pecuniary culture is because we in the U.S. really have a huge political problem to solve. We need to build a new, true, progressive movement, because the "shock doctrine" thinking at the top of the Democratic Party is so entrenched.
------------------
 So, while I'm here, let me issue this appeal to you wonderful people in Europe. Right now, I have a very strong feeling that what many in the U.S. need to learn much more about, as a possible guide to our future course of action, are the revolutions in the Soviet Bloc. Not just the events of 1989, but, for example, the Hungarian uprising in 1956, the Prague Spring in 1968, the development of Solidarity in Poland, and so on.

A couple years ago I asked for help with an allied question here.
I wanted to learn about how the notion of health care as a human right became so securely installed in the Western European psyche.
Melancthon sent some good references, and I looked through them, but though they helped, I still do not feel they adequately explain that crucial event.
So far, the response to your appeal has been pretty thin. I would like to join in that appeal, and ask for further enlightenment in that crucial process, from those here who know more than I about that history that might inform the creation of a progressive balance. This diary highlights the uselessness of the current process of running about the landscape plastering labels on everyone- empty labels, empty slogans.
Competitiveness, as the heart of the SOTU, for God's sake.
Though I live outside the US now, I remain emotionally and economically tied to my homeland. I think if the US fails to learn about how to constitute a real, effective progressive counterbalance, what passes for government in the US will decay permanently into the earlier, more violent forms of predation that Veblen discusses.
Few in Europe have thought through just what it would mean to have the United States of Nuclear-armed Barbarian Predation living fifteen ballistic minutes away.  
That's the dead elephant in the European living room.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 05:48:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
geezer in Paris:
Few in Europe have thought through just what it would mean to have the United States of Nuclear-armed Barbarian Predation living fifteen ballistic minutes away.  
That's the dead elephant in the European living room.
I thought that was the unstated point of France's nuclear deterrent and traditional NATO posture.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 05:57:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see that at all.
France's "nuclear deterrent" may have been a consequence of many things, all of them unknowable to us mere mortals. But we can guess.
 ? The zeitgeist of the times was that the Great Nations (tm) had nukes.
? That any longer-term geopolitical strategic planning would have revealed a host of situations where players at the game of world power would find themselves deeply disadvantaged by the absence of a nuclear sword to wave.
? That a major civilian nuclear power project drops the sword in the lap.
etc.

Both the nuclear and the NATO strategy emerged in a different world- one in which the prevalent popular view of the United States was far more benign. But not stupid.
Still, at that time, had anyone proposed that the American Empire would have, in less than a decade, come to a point of economic collapse and barbarism- that the US would have started three stupid wars, adopted an overt strategy of absolute military hegemony and resource capture by force of arms and the contemptuous defiance of almost all European opinion, to the cheerful, even enthusiastic support of torture by an American President (and his protection by another president) they would have been politely ushered to the exit--where the belted jacket and the ambulance awaited them.

Only the wildest of science fiction writers could have proposed a "NOW" like now, Mig. But such reality transformations creep slowly into the awareness, perhaps because of their incredible nature.  

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 08:53:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
geezer in Paris:
France's "nuclear deterrent" may have been a consequence of many things, all of them unknowable to us mere mortals. But we can guess.
The US hanging the UK and France to dry during the Suez crisis?

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 08:59:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But as the South African apartheid regime found, possession of nuclear weapon capability was far from a complete solution to their security needs.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 01:12:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
South Africa's security needs were primarily internal and secondarily commercial. Nukes don't help you suppress your own population, secure the sea lanes or make other people want to trade with you. There was never a serious prospect of a foreign power driving tanks through Pretoria, which is what you have nukes to discourage people from doing.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 01:23:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly. If you don't have internal security the external might cease to matter.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 10:58:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
geezer in Paris:
Only the wildest of science fiction writers could have proposed a "NOW" like now
I'm sure Margaret Atwood is watching the looming Palinocracy with a bit of unease...

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 09:01:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Only the wildest of science fiction writers could have proposed a "NOW" like now

Oh, I don't know.

  • The economic collapse was impossible to predict in 1950, but by the time Ronny Raygun won a presidential campaign on the slogan "government is the problem," a major red flag should have gone up. When his crazy was "vindicated" by the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was all over bar the shouting as far as the political economy was concerned.

  • The barbarism is nothing new. One would have had to be wilfully blind in order to not see that one coming from a country where major demographics found it socially acceptable to lynch coloured people for the crime of falling in love with white people. Of course, in polite European company such selective obliviousness was pretty much guaranteed, given that a) Europe was only a little bit better (if at all) at the time, and b) American and European interests on the subcontinent were pretty much coterminous until around the mid-'80s.

  • Stupid wars have been a staple of the American Empire since their involvement in Indochina. Not nearly as stupid as the former European great powers' wars back in their "glory" days. But in many ways far more stupid than any of the current colonial punitive expeditions.

  • An overt strategy of absolute military hegemony has been pursued since the beginning of the '80s, at the very latest. Arguably, and as long as you are only talking about the sea lanes (which, remember, are what builds empires), it goes all the way back to the disarming of Japan in 1945.

  • Resource wars have been a staple of American policy throughout the history of the US.

  • Only the most blinkered Atlanticists could have convinced themselves that the Americans were engaging with Europe out of the goodness of their hearts. We happened to have largely coterminous interests. That is all there ever was to the "special relationship." Once that fell by the wayside, there is no good reason why the Americans should give a shit what Europe thought - and so they stopped giving a shit. The fact that blinkered Atlanticism was and is quite prevalent doesn't mean that the facts weren't out there for people to see ahead of time.

What's new is the enthusiastic bragging about all these evident facts by neoconservatives with more testosterone than good sense. But that was a PR fuckup, not a policy change.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 01:28:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but by the time Ronny Raygun won a presidential campaign on the slogan "government is the problem," a major red flag should have gone up.

There's a big difference between an alarm bell and a prescient, detailed prediction. Sure, a brick could have predicted trouble.
And just who is it that would have seen it coming?
The voters? They loved him just as much as they had when he starred in "Death Valley Days", and sold soap.
His handlers? The guys who filled out the 4 by five cards to get him through the public appearances? Not their job.
No. Corporate America was still in denial, as beguiled by their own puppet, their own bullshit as ever.
The barbarism is nothing new.

Sure. But this is new, Jake. We always lied about it, just as did the rest of the world. But if you read the seminal paper that details PNAC,-Project for a New American Century, and the strategic documents that detail Full Spectrum Dominance, ---we don't even feel the need to lie about it any more.
"We own your ass. So get back in line, maggots!"
To avoid further detailed dissection, I agree with every one of your descriptions. Chomsky has spent decades pointing out the same things. I do think a hell of a lot of smart people saw none of them. A lot of smart people still don't.
It's that some things transcend logic, and are at heart emotional issues.
My father taught American history, and was aware of much of what we speak of. Still, at the end of his life, he reverted to the world he lived in during WWII, and sought out his old commanding officer in the navy as companion and guide. He would have died rather than admit to being any part of "Full Spectrum Dominance".  
He is legion. In Europe, in the US.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 11:44:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is tied to the universal problem for individuals of self esteem. Everyone wants to think well of themselves. From the perspective of 60+ years worth of experience I can see that it is difficult to psychologically isolate one's self from the society in which one lives, to say: "This part of my society is evil, but I have nothing to do with it, so I am virtuous." It is even harder to say: "This part of society is evil and I am touched by that evil, even though I oppose it." It is easier to just become blind to those aspects which one would find disturbing. It is a whole lot easier to believe that our problems are caused by a few evil people, especially if they are not like ourselves. Then one can identify with Superman and be for "Truth, Justice and The American Way." That whole process is what RR represented and championed for the USA.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 07:55:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes.
Well said.
I tend to try to illustrate by use of anecdote.
More fun to tell true stories that teach- if the listener wants to be taught.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Thu Jan 27th, 2011 at 11:39:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ARGeezer:
it is difficult to psychologically isolate one's self from the society in which one lives, to say: "This part of my society is evil, but I have nothing to do with it, so I am virtuous." It is even harder to say: "This part of society is evil and I am touched by that evil, even though I oppose it." It is easier to just become blind to those aspects which one would find disturbing
I am reminded of the reaction of American WWII veterans to a 1995 Smithsonian Institution exhibition about the Atomic bomb. Especially with Geezer in Paris' mention of his father reverting to WWII nostalgia at the end of his life.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jan 27th, 2011 at 11:57:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A couple years ago I asked for help with an allied question here.
I wanted to learn about how the notion of health care as a human right became so securely installed in the Western European psyche.
Melancthon sent some good references, and I looked through them, but though they helped, I still do not feel they adequately explain that crucial event.

My thesis is that industrialising in the last third of the 19th century meant that labour unions could grow strong because the old money and the new money were fighting each other, rather than - or in addition to - fighting organised labour. Small colonial empires helped, because it prevented offshoring. Everything else follows from strong labour unions.

So if the US wants a serious socialist alternative, it has to urbanize and/or re-industrialize rapidly during a period where it has no empire, or only a small one, and where the leisure class is fighting amongst itself. Peak Oil will force the urbanization. Unfortunately, the urbanization process will in all probability be largely completed before the American ability to physically dominate its empire fully evaporates.

The next window of opportunity will be when the US runs out of civilian industry, forcing a re-alignment in Sino-American relations. This will radically increase the incentive to develop domestic industry, and, if China plays its cards right, downsize the the American Empire quite markedly. Which will hopefully lead to infighting among the "elites." What you have to do is ensure that there is a persuasive ideology to mobilise the masses. Marxianism proved effective in the 19th century and early 20th century, but given both the heavy attacks it has since sustained and the fundamental transformation of industrial production between 1930 and 1970 it is unlikely to be a viable ideology for mass mobilisation in the 21st century.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jan 25th, 2011 at 06:19:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for an answer. Will think on it.

Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.
by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 12:08:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To be even clearer with "the governments of Europe, that by the way are social democratic" I meant "the governments of Europe, being a subset of the group of governments that has social democratic parties in the cabinet", in which case the diary statement is false.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 03:39:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I just asked about PES. :-(

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 03:59:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wouldn't say "probably more than the U.S." though, as the austerity there has been galloping forward since Ronald Reagan in the form of horrendous tax increases on the non-leisure classes (sure, sure, they call them "fees" or "surcharges" or etc. etc., but all the same, they're necessary expenditures that come from one's pockets and get higher and higher all the time).

They also cut back on spending on education, libraries, public parks, all social safety nets, the arts, you name it, things that I find to be MUCH more readily available in Europe.  Health care insurance in America, as you already know, is a serpent waiting to strike; no matter how "well insured" you think you are, you don't get to have any peace of mind, because you know that once you really need it, they will search for any excuse they can find to deny it to you and, besides being ill, you'll be involved in a paper-and-telephonic battle with an overfunded enemy. Did you know that when you call the insurance company to get "preapproved" for a treatment or procedure, most of the time they won't even guarantee that it will be covered, but if you don't call first, it's definitely not covered?  How's that for peace of mind?

The jobs are gone, and no-one's doing what's needed to correct that.  Granted, that's not what's meant by what's going on in Europe in terms of imposing austerity in the budget, but when the powers that be are not doing the things necessary to improving the chances of job creation ("good" jobs), THAT imposes austerity in a big way.

Please excuse my rant.  Just read that in Austin, TX, the school board is going to fire 72 librarians and make the remaining ones each rotate among 3 schools.  Wonder if my daughter will be among the "victims" when they start laying off teachers.  (Also, I've just gotten back from the dentist and I'm in pain... but at least it's not financial pain.)

Karen in Bischofswiesen  

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 02:09:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Repression of human rights was a notorious feature of communist countries before the shattering events of 1989.

Repression of human rights has also been a notorious feature of capitalist countries. Ask the original Indians, or anyone on the wrong side of a CIA-trained death squad.

The West only has a tradition of human rights - limited and contingent as it is - because of progressives.

Without Marx and the rest, conditions in the West would still be colonial and Dickensian.

The horror of Sovietism wasn't created by its enthusiastic devotion to Marx, but by its devotion to a surreal heroic and paternal industrial pseudo-mythology.

The heroic ideal at the core of Soviet and Chinese communism is much closer to USian heroic individualism than it seems to be.

Both share an emphasis on heroic achievement and paternal patriotism which make it easy for exceptionally greedy but stupid individuals to gain power at the expense of those with more honest and organic collaborative instincts.

The differences are more in labelling than in quality.

In the East, power accrued through Party loyalty. In the West, power accrues through loyalty to a less formal but equally rigid party line put out by Wall St and the Fed.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri Jan 21st, 2011 at 11:34:10 PM EST
Indeed, capitalism and communism have been called the twin offspring of the enlightenment. One difference between them has been the role of revolution vs. evolution. Especially in the Anglo world there has been a stress on evolution and, at a minimum, the conservation of forms. It has been argued that this lead to a slower process of change.

However, when one examines the impact of the 1832 Reform Act in England one might question just how much difference there really was. The changes introduced there were, for the working class, every bit as brutal as the changes introduced in Russia after the Revolution. The differences being that in England the negative aspects of the impact was largely confined to the working class while in the Soviet Union all were affected and that in the Soviet Union the changes were intended to benefit the workers while in England they were intended to benefit the businessmen.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 11:40:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but what I find interesting is that BOTH the socialist and communist AND the capitalist economic systems end up with political systems dominated by a small core of elites with authoritarian leanings. I.e. no real love for actual representative democracy.

In "Intellectual Origins of the Reform Movement" Czech dissident Antonin Liehm points out that the authoritarian power pyramid began to crumble when the writers began to point out what had been apparent to the population for years: that the Communist regime was not living up to its own high-flying rhetoric about the "workers' democracy."

by NBBooks on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 12:58:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It appears the business of government trends authoritarian. One of the questions I ask myself is how I would behave if I were in charge of the state security apparatus as Interior Minister. I don't think I could last on the job or do it well without compromising "civil libertarian" principles.

And, economically, in The New Industrial State the elder Galbraith claims that by the time of writing not American corporations were increasingly integrated with the state (the Military Industrial Complex, and its analogues in other sectors, as well as the proverbial revolving door) but also that in the Soviet Union state company managers were given increasing autonomy, approaching that of an American manager, as central planning needed to decentralise a bit in order to even function in an industrial economy.

Keynesianism is intellectually hard, as evidenced by the inability of many trained economists to get it - Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 04:52:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If I would point to one single decision of the swedish SAP that spelled its decline it would be the cooperation with state apparatus to weed out communists from the party and the labor movement at large. Naturally this concentrated party power in party leadership/deep state hands. The cooperation goes back to at least world war 2, and was revealed in the form of a secret police force in the 70ies, earning the journalists that exposed it jailtime.

No real love for actual representative democracy there either.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Sun Jan 23rd, 2011 at 03:21:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the main point of NBBooks' diary is that our societies are run by and/or for predators, whether we disguise that by describing them a "the pecuniary class" or whether we are so rude as I and just call them looters and a cabal of pirates. They have nothing that could pass for a conscience. They have no concerns but the short to medium term profits of the deals they are making and, with them in charge, the entire social structures of our societies are being tossed into the shredder of "the market". Markets exist within societies, but these looters care nothing for those societies except as targets for looting.

The problem in the USA is to get to the point where this can be discussed at least on PBS and Bloomberg in the USA, but forty years of indoctrination have succeeded in so confounding the sensibilities of most citizens while removing all constraints on the behavior of the predators that this has come to be seen as "the new normal". Few realize how untenable this is over the medium to long term. Polanyi clearly stated the consequences, but he has been safely ignored by academia and only cranks refer to him these days. Even when destruction comes to the doorstep of individual families, most blame themselves.

We can only hope that going through a complete socio-economic collapse will cause some to wake up. But even then I am not sure. No species is guaranteed survival. For every species that survives a hundred million years there are vastly more species that lasted less than a million years. Or perhaps a collapse will serve to winnow the population down to a few percent of the present numbers. If so, the question will be: Have we learned anything?

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 04:19:00 PM EST
Maurice Glasman - who is currently very influential in Ed Miliband's ongoing policy development - is very much influenced by Polanyi, and quite a lot of his work has been based upon Polanyi's thinking.

Dissent Magazine - Arguing The World - Lord Glasman of Stoke Newington & Stamford Hill: A Polanyian Democratic Activist in the House of Lords -

Every once in a while one gets reminded of the ways that Britain is a funny sort of place, where the interplay between modernity and tradition continues to take rather quirky forms. Consider, for example, the case of the great historian of classical antiquity Moses Israel Finkelstein--or, as he would have been known while he was teaching at CCNY in his twenties, Moe Finkelstein. If Moe Finkelstein's name doesn't ring a bell with you, part of the reason may be that in the 1950s his having been a Communist for a while in the 1930s caught up with him, McCarthy-era persecution cost him his job at Rutgers and made him unemployable in American academia, and he moved to England, where he spent several decades at Cambridge and became not just Moses Finley (or M.I. Finley), but SIR Moses Finley.

I was reminded of Moe Finkelstein's story by the latest news about my good friend Maurice Glasman (an authentically English Jew, with remaining traces of a London working-class accent to show for it).

As I explained on my blog back in 2006, Glasman is an exceptionally bright and argumentative London-based intellectual, academic, and sometime jazz musician. We met in 1991 when our paths crossed at the European University in Florence, where he spent time as a graduate student. Since 1995 he has taught politics at London Metropolitan University.



"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 06:43:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Last summer I commented on what turned out to be an Ed Miliband position paper trial balloon and suggested they should take the analysis of Polanyi explicitly into account and base some of their arguments on it as it would lend greater coherence to their position. They wrote back politely that they were quite familiar with Polanyi. You couldn't really tell it from the paper, but I presumed they knew better than I what would fly in U.K. political discourse.

Perhaps it was Maurice Glasman to whom they referred. It would still be a very good thing to see some push-back against the NCE orthodoxy based on Polanyi. One of his major points is that the society survived the Reform Act of 1832 and subsequent "liberal" initiatives because of protective movements that spontaneously arose in society and that, absent such efforts, the project to subordinate and re-order all of society as an adjunct to "the market" would be a total disaster. Polanyi was a prophet.  

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Jan 22nd, 2011 at 08:38:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Shared on Facebook. Some of my friends will understand it, especially my Veblen-loving father.

Karen in Bischofswiesen

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher

by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 01:40:17 PM EST
If you find any sort of truly left-leaning (for lack of a better term) opposition here in the US, please please let me know! We're in such a sorry state that the 'progressives' are often the ones doing the dirty work for the rich (witness gentrification).
by Jace on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 05:17:01 PM EST
Economic issues have been removed from discussion under the pretext that economic activity is an autonomous sphere with its own laws that must be obeyed. In order for any person or group to make a difference that concept must be challenged. Right now, so long as you have presentable positions on "social" issues you can be a progressive. But if you cede the economy, all else naturally follows. We desperately need a party that understands that fact.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Mon Jan 24th, 2011 at 05:39:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Solutions?


Align culture with our nature. Ot else!
by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Wed Jan 26th, 2011 at 11:43:58 PM EST


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