Volume 21, Number 6
Mississippi’s SB 2988
Bruce k. Gagnon
A War on Communities
Z magazine Readers
Sean Bell Verdict
Damming the Flood
Triumph of Lunacy
Dr. Wall Street
Colombia Trade Deal
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
If the Left Debated the Campaign Issues
On the economy
-- ELECTION DISSENSION --
"Election Dissension" is part of a Z Magazine series on all things electoral. We welcome your contributions to the discussion; send to firstname.lastname@example.org. The previous interviews with Michael Albert, "Serving the Dominant Elites" and "If the Left Debated the Campaign Issues: On Foreign Policy," were published in the April & May issues. The full discussion is available on DVD via Z Video Productions — Eds.
An interview with Michael Albert by Lydia Sargent
SARGENT: We've discussed elections and foreign policy. Let's turn to the economy. Some predict a recession, even a depression. The candidates seem to have nothing new to offer, not surprisingly, although Clinton refers at one point to ending corporate welfare or at least affecting it. As a left candidate how would you approach talking about changing the direction of the economy?
ALBERT: When they say that we have too much corporate welfare, that's true. It doesn't suffice to point out that people are doing less well than they might. It might be more informative to say that there are 40 to 50 million people in the United States living below the poverty line. How can there be that many people below the poverty line in a country as wealthy as the United States? Well, only if you have a very skewed distribution of wealth. So a candidate could say, "Look, the problem with the U.S. economy is that it enriches the few and impoverishes the many. Or it enriches the few and allows the many to get by. That's probably 60-70 percent of the population that worries all the time about such things.
So what does this mean? Well, it means the economy is misoriented. It means the economy is oriented toward profit. It's oriented toward the well being of those who are best off. Candidates could say all that, but they don't. The reason they don't say all that is because to say it in that way would cue investors—the people who finance elections and permit candidates to enact policies—that the candidate in question was not an agent of their interests.
When Huckabee was campaigning and doing fairly well, he referred to Wal-Mart as a genius of the marketplace.
And it is. Wal-Mart is a case study in the genius of the marketplace doing what the marketplace is meant to do, which is to maintain power relations and enrich the powerful. The confusion is that the population hears that as if it's genius at production, it's genius at efficiency, it's genius at using resources in a clever and creative way. But that isn't what it's genius at. In fact, it's impoverished and psychotic at those things. It's really effective at marshaling resources in such a way as to enhance the profit of the few.
How do we see that it's bad at the other? Well, how can it be efficient to have 40 or 50 million people living in poverty? That's not efficient. That is wasting 40-50 million people's capacities. If a capitalist were to say "a portion of my productive potential is lying fallow, that's inefficient," what would they mean? They'd mean "it isn't being utilized to make me profits." But when a large portion of the human population is "lying fallow"— unemployed or underemployed or robbed of its capacities by an educational system that basically deskills and deeducates, the capitalist doesn't say that's inefficient. It's not utilizing the productive capacities of a population, but it is enriching the capitalist. So the capitalist is happy with that.
When candidates say they're interested in change you can test it in some ways. You can see whether they are going to tax profits at 80 or 90 or 100 percent. Are they going to raise inheritance taxes? Are they going to redistribute wealth so that poorer communities get a much bigger slice of the wealth in order to redress the imbalances?
Huckabee also said, "Consumerism is addictive but tranquility is immaterial."
I have no idea what that means, except this: the idea that consumerism is addictive has some merit, in the following sense. The economy is organized so the only road, the only avenue to a modicum of fulfillment for people is consumption. When the advertisements that we see use sex, friendship, and dignity to sell all manner of commodities, it's not a lie. This is a big mistake that many people make. They look at this stuff and they say to themselves, "Oh, stupid people being tricked." Nobody's being tricked. It's true. The economy is so skewed and people's opportunities in life are so restricted that to have friends, a sex life, dignity, and respect requires consumerism.
What's crazy is to have an economy organized in such a fashion so that toothpaste and clothing and types of cars and all manner of items are a prerequisite for fulfillment.
Candidates are always making promises about taxes. How would you talk about taxes?
The idea of taxes is not bad. The idea that there are many things in an economy that are collectively consumed, which must be provided in a collective manner—for example, by a government—is true. Anybody who thinks it isn't should ask themselves what they would be doing if they didn't have clean water, electricity (before it was privatized), roads, and all manner of things that are provided in this way.
It isn't just the military for which you need taxes. The fact that so much goes to the military is horrible. And there's a reason for that. The economic system we live under has to produce at a high level. It needs to keep churning. How do you keep it churning? You have to keep pouring out product. You have to keep spending. One way to do this would be to spend on education, infrastructure, rebuilding cities, parks, health care, and all kinds of things that would improve the quality of people's lives.
Another way to do it—a quite different way—is to spend money on missiles and tanks and all manner of things that don't improve people's lives, but are used to enforce unjust hierarchies. Why is that done? Most people think it's because the army is so important to the powers that be. There's some truth in that. It is important. They do want that apparatus of power. But that's not the sole reason. The second reason is that to spend lots of society's productive output on welfare, unemployment insurance, health care for all, decent housing, etc. would empower people. It would cause people currently living threadbare existences to have more confidence and more comfort. It would put them in a position to demand still more.
What else would be important to talk about during a left campaign?
One thing candidates typically won't talk about is the types of people that exist in the United States, understanding them as classes. Of course, there are many different occupations and many different roles in the economy. One way to think about people in the economy is that there are some who own factories, workplaces, etc.—that's about 2 percent of the population. These people are tremendously wealthy. In some cases, so wealthy that it is almost unfathomable. Bill Gates, for instance—not because of how hard he works or how long or how difficult and dangerous the conditions but because he has a piece of paper in his pocket, a deed to Microsoft that is worth more than the entire economies of many third world countries. So that's one class—the owning class or the capitalist class, the class for which our economy is named.
There's another group that largely monopolizes empowering conditions of work. They have workplace conditions that give them a considerable degree of control over their own lives and the lives of the people "below" them. They're managers, lawyers, doctors, engineers. They have the credentials of authority. They have incomes, typically, many times that of the third class—working people, who do mostly rote and onerous work.
Our economy is skewed in such a way that the capitalist class is by far the richest and most powerful (2 percent). The second class—the coordinator class—comes next (20 percent). It is still rich and powerful compared to workers beneath them (about 80 percent). Candidates won't talk about that because their money and their credibility and what policies they are allowed to pursue are a function of support from the first group. The third group is relatively irrelevant except for tallying votes. So candidates speak to the third group to tally votes, but they take the interests of the first group seriously.
Take education. What do we do regarding education in the United States? We spend most of our money on the rich and powerful—the 2 percent and the 20 percent. Those sectors receive education designed to prepare them to play an engaging role in society, to function with a degree of authority and influence over economic outcomes. The other 80 percent goes to school and essentially learns to take orders and endure boredom in order to occupy the slot of a working person in the U.S.
If a candidate is going to have a program about economics and you're serious about what's going to happen in the U.S. economy as a result of your programs, you have to say two things. You have to say not just that "people need more education," but you also have to tell the reason why they don't get it. And the reason is because in this economy if they were to get it, the 80 percent would come into the economy with too high expectations, too much knowledge, and too much confidence. They would likely then demand more out of life than rote and obedient conditions of work.
What kind of an economy would you be proposing, as a left candidate?
For a left candidate to propose the kind of economy I believe in—a participatory economy—wouldn't make much sense unless you could have a campaign in which the candidate was in a position to talk with the American people for a year about what the features of such a thing would be. Otherwise it would sound crazy because it would be from nowhere. People wouldn't even know what it meant.
What I would talk about is altering the economy in a direction that would lead to more justice, solidarity, equity, and people controlling their own lives. What that means is altering the way markets operate, eventually doing away with them. It would mean altering the way we allocate income, eventually making it equitable. It would mean altering the way we make decisions eventually making it self-management. I would...
By self-management, you mean...?
...I mean people having a say over their lives in proportion to the way they're affected. I would alter the way people interrelate—from competition to cooperation. Those kinds of steps entail a different economy. Our economy has institutions that violate all those values. Our economy systematically causes people to be egocentric and anti-social; to get ahead you must ignore the conditions of other people.
Why are markets so objectionable?
To interact in the marketplace you have to buy cheap and sell dear. In other words you have to rip off the person you are engaging with. For you to do better that person has to do worse. It's anti-social. To function at the head of a corporation you have to abide by the interests of those who own it. That means you have to generate profits. If you don't generate profits, your corporation will go out of business.
Even if you you're inclined to be more humane, you have no choice. The American corporation is an institution in which the disparity in power between the top and the bottom is worse than it is in a political dictatorship. There's no political dictator who even entertained the idea of having a say over when people could go to the bathroom.
As a left candidate couldn't you offer some program changes?
I would offer changes that moved in the right direction. Here's some: let's cut the work week from 40—actually from what's probably 60 to 70 hours a week for 80 percent of the population—to 30 hours a week. What do we do with all that "lost productivity?" First of all, we transfer people from producing useless stuff to producing useful stuff that would benefit people. That goes a long way toward making up a lot of that lost labor.
Imagine it was 50 years ago and people said, "What we need is to shorten the work week, and that includes surgeons and doctors. Therefore, we'd have much less doctoring. Where are we going to get it from?" What if someone suggested we get it from the people who weren't previously doing it. The response would probably be, "That's impossible. Those people are incapable of it." Well, 40 years ago, if you had looked you would have seen there were virtually no women doing surgery. It wasn't because they were genetically incapable of it. History shows that was a lie. It was the social structures that precluded their being surgeons. Well, it's also a lie that working people can't do creative work.
So a serious left candidate would say, "Look, our economy is stifling people's capacities. It is not utilizing the capacities of working people. We could all benefit from more output and less labor time—having more time to live a life."
If you accept the skewing of outcomes for the population—the super- haves, the haves, and the have-nots—it becomes difficult to do much. That's what candidates accept. What they're doing is debating over modest alterations—if you take them at their word, which is already a big stretch—while maintaining that basic situation.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
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PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
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MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
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MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
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ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
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LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
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BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
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LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
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LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
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WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
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HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
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SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
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WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; email@example.com; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: email@example.com; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.