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I don’t know about you but I’ve never walked into a hardware store like Mitre10 or Bunnings and thought to myself how beautiful it is, or that some parts are like a carnival.

But then I’m not from Cuba, whereas the guy in this video is and it documents his first ever visit to a Home Depot store in the USA.

Watching it I’m reminded of a scene from the 1980’s movie Moscow on the Hudson, where Robin Williams, playing a Soviet circus musician who defects during a US tour, is so overwhelmed by his first experience of supermarket shopping that he faints.

Little ordinary things that we all just take for granted in Western democratic capitalist nations.

On the other hand there’s this video from San Francisco that has gone viral in the last few days. It shows a shoplifter just blatantly filling up a garbage bag with stuff from a Walgreens store in daylight and right in front of a security guard, who simply videos the whole event. When the thief cycles out of the place, the guard does make a half-hearted grab for the bag but fails.

The woman beside the guard is also videoing the theft and asks about calling the cops on 911. However, arresting the man would be a waste of time since San Francisco has implemented a policy of not charging shoplifters if they steal less than $950, which has produced daily scenes in the city like this one, as shown in the rest of the video.

The inevitable happened when Walgreens recently closed seventeen of its stores in the city, but blatant shoplifting like this has become a common feature of other large, Democrat-controlled cities as well.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 20, 2021 at 3:04 pm

The Song Remains The Same

This is outstanding news:

Tens of millions of dollars have been spent on Auckland light rail since Labour came to power, despite there being no shovels in the ground to build it. 

Information released by Waka Kotahi-NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) shows $34.8 million has been spent since October 2017 on business cases, project management, legal costs, office space and equipment, and Ministry of Transport funding. 

With more projects like this we’re going to able to stand up and proudly proclaim to the world all the wonderful things we’re doing to halt Global Warming… whilst actually doing abso-fucking-lutely nothing about it.

Plus there’s the wonderful Keynesian effect of all that money passing through the hands of lawyers and consultants and into the pockets of Mercedes and Tesla dealerships and Auckland real estate companies.

Now be honest. What more could you want from a government?

The only problem is that they’re showing signs of becoming restrained:

The Government was left with a $47 million contingency in its $6.8 billion NZ Upgrade transport package after $211 million worth of rail projects were put into the package at the last minute.

This was despite repeated warnings from officials the contingency might be too small to pay for any cost blowouts.

Those warnings were prescient, as new cost estimates for the transport projects have led the Government to back away from promises to build everything they proposed a little over a year ago – something that could have been avoided had the projects been given larger contingency funding.

I’m sure they’ll learn from this and put in a bigger contingency for next year’s budget. About a billion dollars should do it.

On the other hand their extreme restraint in achieving anything may actually start being translated into spending as well, with that contingency problem perhaps not being the usual Labour screwup as an indicator of where they’re going, as Chris Trotter points out:

Let’s begin with the Labour Government’s decision to impose a three-year wage freeze on three-quarters of the Public Service. Under the old Political Rule Book, such an action would have been deemed extremely unwise. That rule book would have explained the sheer folly of effectively decreasing the purchasing power of some of the Labour Party’s most loyal supporters. This is hardly surprising: “Look after your electoral base.”; has always been the first and most important rule of electoral politics.

Chris thinks that this is all part of keeping onboard those National voters who crossed the aisle last year, but it’s more likely that Robertson has taken a look at the deficits and debt and finally got the wind up about blowing more money on stuff, especially as he considers how much of the spending to date has produced nothing of consequence or, in the case of poverty and healthcare, seen things go backwards.

To me it therefore seems quite a natural and logical progression for Labour to start down the He Puapua route of separate Maori development. As I have pointed out several times Critical Race Theory, which is currently shredding the USA, was always going to make it down here to New Zealand where it would be gleefully taken up by Maori activists and academics as an even more extremist extension of what used to be called Political Correctness (now “Woke” Politics).

But the reason why the political and activist Left have glommed on to it is that the traditional Left ideas have failed Maori, just as they’ve failed Blacks in the USA.

Public education. Public Healthcare. Social Welfare. And still Maori are suffering worse in education, health and poverty than other ethnic groups in our society.

What else has the Left got to offer Maori? Nothing, which is why this new ideology has taken hold so quickly on the NZ Left. I think it will ultimately prove to be even more useless than traditional Socialism, but for the moment it’s a salve for Maori activists and a possible electoral winner for White Leftists who otherwise have no idea what to do to improve their public institutions beyond simply dumping in more money.

There’s also increasingly a lot of moaning from the Left about why their wonderful Labour government can’t get anything done. Certainly a lot of this is due to their shambling incompetence; they are the most useless shit shower of a government that I’ve known in my lifetime.

But the simple fact is that you can’t build the same thing twice. Is Adern’s Labour government going to build another Social Security system? Another Public Healthcare system? Another building to house the bureaucracy for them? The low-hanging fruit was plucked by the First Labour government. There may be equally revolutionary things like a Universal Basic Income that they could try to implement, but I see no signs of such things from this government.

Which, as a Right-Winger, suits me just fine. I may even vote for them in 2023 on the sound basis that the more useless a government is the better it is for the individual.

But then I recall that even a government that’s too useless to build anything can still stuff things up badly by constantly saying “No” and stopping people doing things, and that’s so easy that even this government can do it. In fact it seems to be their speciality.

Labour 2023: Vote For Nothing.

If I could have just one extra promise from Labour though it would be that their post-2023 government spend less for nothing.

The privilege of wealth

Some time ago a longtime, regular Leftist blog commentator, “Sanctuary“, dismissed a Chris Trotter blog post by saying that he now understood why so many on the Left regarded Trotter as a man whose time had passed.

I don’t think that’s the case but Trotter certainly suffers increasingly from incoherence.

In one post he’ll blast the Identity Politics and Woke-fest obsessions of the modern Left, lamenting about how the Working Classes are being ignored and the Class War is being lost, see Why We (Don’t) Fight.

Then in another post he’ll gloat about the same thing, Go Woke – Or Go Politically Broke:

By alienating corporate capitalism and making bitter enemies of the mainstream media and universities, the Trumpists are, if they only knew it, corralling their followers into a socio-economic and cultural dead-end.

By shutting themselves out of liberal capitalism’s Emerald City, Trump’s poorly educated munchkins are slamming the door on their own and their children’s best chance for a happy and prosperous future.

In that post he also demonstrated that he should never write about the USA, where a simple-minded repeating of Democrat Party talking points is not sufficient to debate.

You would think that somebody buried in the Old Left would be able to see the obvious, and sometimes Chris does, but not here. For that we have to turn to historian Victor Davis Hanson, writing from deep inside the supposed future of the USA (and the world?), California, who nails the points that Leftists should automatically understand, Wealthy and Woke:

The most privileged CEOs of corporate America—those who sell us everything from soft drinks and sneakers, to professional sports and social media—now jabber to America about its racism, sexism, and assorted sins. The rules of cynical CEO censure are transparent. 

First, the corporation never harangues unless it feels it has more to lose—whether by boycotts, protests, or bad publicity—than it stands to gain in staying neutral and silent. 

Second, class concerns are never mentioned. Bastian is paid about $65,000 for each working day of the year. In a sane world, he might seem a ridiculous voice of the oppressed. 

Third, CEOs never fear offending the conservative silent majority, who are assumed not to boycott or protest.

But it goes further than simple fear and #MeTooism at the corporate executive and Board level. This trait of being lectured about your sins by very privileged people runs across the USA now:

The woke revolution is not a grassroots movement. It is powered by a well-connected and guilt-ridden elite. Yet the religion of Wokeness assumes these high priests deserve exemptions. Their wealth, credentials, contacts, and power ensure none are ever subject to the consequences of their own sermons.

Self-righteous elites rant about carbon footprints, needless border security, defunding the police, gun control, and charter schools. But they rarely forgo their own private jets, third and fourth homes, estate walls, armed security guards, and prep schools. Apparently to rant about “privilege” means the less you need to worry about your own. 

He lists them specifically, demonstrating that “across the USA” is no figure of speech:

Multimillion-dollar NBA stars blast America’s “systemic racism.” They utter not a word about Chinese communist reeducation camps, the destruction of Tibetan culture, or the strangulation of Hong Kong’s democracy. 

Tenured administrators and university presidents pulling down seven-figure salaries are far more likely to virtue signal their universities’ “racism” than are untenured, poorly paid, and part-time lecturers.

The woke media? Its clergy are elite network newsreaders, not so much reporters on the beat. 

The richest in America—the families who own and operate Amazon, Apple, Bloomberg, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—are the most likely to voice their derision for its unwoke lower- and middle-classes. 

Ditto the multimillionaires of politics—an Al Gore, Dianne Feinstein, John Kerry, or Nancy Pelosi.

The richest celebrity billionaires such as Jay-Z, George Lucas, Paul McCartney, or Oprah Winfrey weigh in a lot about the oppression of a supposedly rigged system they mastered, rarely about the plight of the less-well paid in their own professions.

Even the military are not immune…

The retired and current military who lecture us on the evils of Trump or promise to ferret out “insurrectionists” among the ranks are mostly generals and admirals—and some retired top-brass multimillionaires.

We don’t hear privates, corporals, sergeants, and majors pushing through subsidies for transgendered surgeries or petitions to garrison a quiet Washington with barbed wire and national guardsmen.

Well, there is a reason why the latter created the phrase, “Perfumed Princes” during the Vietnam War.

Wokeness is an insurance policy. The louder the damnation of American culture, the more likely a career will be saved or enhanced.

Wokeness is classist and elitist. Those who made or inherited a fortune, got the right degree at the right place, made CEO or four-star rank, live in the right ZIP code, or know the good people, believe they have earned the right to decide what is moral for their inferiors. 

It is all these things, but I think Hanson comes closest with the following comment:

So wokeness is medieval. Sin is not given up as much as atoned for—and excused—through loud confessionals.

[It] is not really about fairness for minorities, the oppressed, and the poor, past or present. It is mostly a self-confessional cult of anointed bullies, and hypocrites of all races and genders, who seek to flex, and increase, their own privilege and power.

Wealth has always been the ultimate privilege, more so than ever nowadays in social circles created by none other than the modern Left. Ultimately this is what the likes of Trotter struggle with, but at least he still struggles. Most Western Left-wing parties caved in to this reality some time ago.


Written by Tom Hunter

April 10, 2021 at 1:12 pm

Why do Millionaires hate Billionaires?

I was pondering this question the other day while observing a hilarious interchange between two such people, Robert Reich and Elon Musk.

Reich is in many ways a creature of the distant past. An old-style American Boomer “liberal” economist who strongly pushes old-fashioned ideas like boosting the minimum wage, empowering unions, and so forth. I only know of him because he was Secretary of Labour in Bill Clinton’s first Presidential term (1993-1997). He was disappointed to find that Clinton’s famous “triangulation” strategy for winning re-election in 1996 meant that Reich’s economic ideas around labour were never implemented to the extent he wanted.

Since then he has maintained a steady patter of pushing these ideas through books and articles. He’s also on Twitter and as an example of how the world has changed, he may have been surprised to find that modern Robber Barons of our age are not the hidden figures of the 19th century but are also on Twitter, which is how the following exchange came about after Reich unloaded one of his usual scathing takes on the modern US economy.

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Further humiliation followed as people began to point out one of Mr Reich’s long-standing and well-known sources of income.

According to data from 2014 Reich makes $40,000 for a 1-hour speaking engagement plus hotel, flight and food. Sweet! And it’s probably increased since then.

Down with capitalism. Up with my speaking fees.

See also, Every Billionaire is a Policy Failure.

.

Written by Tom Hunter

September 12, 2020 at 7:26 am

The Seeds of 21st Century Socialism?

I’ll finish off this series on where Socialism might be going in the future by putting out an example of how thinking on capitalism may be changing with the generations.

Coming of age in the 1980’s meant passing through the world of Thatcher, Reagan and, here in New Zealand, Roger Douglas. A world of privatisation of government-owned businesses, deregulation and the general encouragement to get out there and make big bucks.

All of this was more than just a political moment. It was cultural as well. There were TV characters like Alex Keaton of Family Ties, who appalled his Baby Boomer, hippie-values parents with his Right-Wing, pro-business attitudes, as well as keeping a framed photo of Nixon beside his bed. The series was pitched to studio as “Hip parents, square kids“: some things never change. Then there were movies like Risky Business and The Secret of My SuccessWorking GirlTrading Places, among many others.

But the one that probably had the biggest impact was Wall Street in 1987, Oliver Stone’s acidic take on the 1980’s financial world. 

And of all the scenes in the movie it’s the following one that has stuck in people’s minds, as actor Michael Douglas chews up the scenery on his way to winning the Oscar for Best Actor as Gordon Gekko, giving the famous “Greed is Good” speech explaining to the stockholders of Teldar Paper exactly how the company’s management has screwed them over while creaming it themselves.

It certainly is a speech for the ages, and to the horror of Stone and Douglas, has resulted in countless people telling them over the years that it’s the reason they got into financial trading.

America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. 

2020: Hold my beer!

Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power,..

Sound familiar with any recent political rhetoric? Paens to an American past:
 
The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!
And in a strange way, perhaps because of Stone’s beliefs, he puts words into the mouth of a corporate raider that might have come from any enraged Socialist raging against the Rich: 
… you are all being royally screwed over by these,…. these bureaucrats, with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.

… our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. 

A few years later in 1991, came a movie that I regard as superior to Wall StreetOther People’s Money. It never made as big an impact, perhaps because the moment had passed, it originally being a play written in 1987.
.

As in the former movie one of the key points occurs during a stockholders meeting as an old company, New England Wire & Cable, tries to fight off another corporate raider, this time Larry “The Liquidator“Garfield, played with deliciously brazen evil by Danny DeVito. 

 
There are two scenes here, the first where the Chairman of the Board, Andrew Jorgenson, played by the great Gregory Peck, pleads – in fact almost begs – the stockholders not to sell. Like Gordon Gecko he too appeals to a past America, but the nature of the appeal is different and I’ve always thought that Peck, in what would be his last prominent role, could have written the words himself, as one of the Old Guard Left in Hollywood who believed in FDR’s New Deal, most other Left-Wing causes and who was publicly appalled by the Age of Reagan.
 
 

There is the instrument of our destruction. I want you to look at him in all of his glory, Larry “The Liquidator,” the entrepreneur of post-industrial America, playing God with other people’s money. 

The Robber Barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake — a coal mine, a railroad, banks. 

So it’s not just corporate raiders making that appeal. But Jorgenson, calls out to something that Gekko does not.

God save us if we vote to take his paltry few dollars and run. God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters. 

And if we are at that point in this country, where we kill something because at the moment it’s worth more dead than alive — well, take a look around. Look at your neighbor. Look at your neighbor. You won’t kill him, will you? No. It’s called murder and it’s illegal. Well, this too is murder — on a mass scale. Only on Wall Street, they call it “maximizing share-holder value” and they call it “legal.” And they substitute dollar bills where a conscience should be. 

Dammit! A business is worth more than the price of its stock. It’s the place where we earn our living, where we meet our friends, dream our dreams. It is, in every sense, the very fabric that binds our society together.

I was lucky enough to see the original play in a Chicago run and during this speech the guy playing Larry The Liquidator – who was built more like Pavarotti than DeVito – would stroll up and down the aisles of the audience and burst into songs from the musical Oklahoma and other classics. It was an excellent way of showing the contempt he held for Jorgenson.

Larry gets his turn to respond and unwinds one of the greatest pro-capitalism speeches ever. There’s a better quality clip at this site.

 

You just heard The Prayer for the Dead, my fellow stockholders, and you didn’t say, “Amen.”  

This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers.

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?
 

You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

I’ve actually sat in one or two meetings where the buggy whip analogy was used, though luckily about systems rather than entire companies. 

“Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to our employees, to our community. What will happen to them?” I got two words for that: 

Who cares? 

Care about them? Why? They didn’t care about you. 

They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years this company bled your money. Did this community ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower taxes, reduce water and sewer.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And our devoted employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still making twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock — one-sixth what it was ten years ago.

==================

 

The reason I’ve put these clips up, plus the 1980’s background, is that a couple of weeks ago my kids had some of their friends around for a post-lockdown catchup and they watched a couple of movies. They’re all into Media Studies and History and Mathematics and Science and so forth, but not Economics. They’re interesting to talk to, so I showed them these three clips – none of them had ever seen either movie – and asked them what they thought of the ideas and arguments expressed in each.

  • The Wall Street clip elicited anger at the useless, fat-cat managers of Teldar while knowing that Gekko was obviously just using those sentiments to screw people and make money for himself. They didn’t admire him one bit.
  • The first OPM clip caused rolled eyes. Yes, Jorgenson seemed like a decent man but all this mythologising of the past and the idea of a company being the centre of a community just seemed unlikely. But (shrugged shoulders) if it worked for people then why not try to save it?
  • But the second OPM clip with DeVito’s speech brought forth anger: real hatred of the character and what he was about to do. Why could the company not be saved? Why could investments not be made to grab those new opportunities in fibre optics and the like? Why did it have to be destroyed? What would happen to the town that depended upon it?
I was fascinated by these reactions, which were mostly the exact opposite of me and my peers when we watched these movies thirty and more years ago.

 

I also informed them that, as with most Hollywood fantasies, the dream is saved at the end of Other People’s Money: investment is found to make hi-tech metal fibres for airbags.

By contrast the play had no such happy ending, only grim reality. Larry takes over and the company shuts down. The jobs, and likely the town, go with it. He even gets the girl at the end.

So there you are. A new generation that thinks somewhat differently than I do about capitalism, free enterprise, free trade and local communities, including nations. Perhaps the socialism of the 21st century will have new soil in which to grow and new seeds from which to raise warriors for the working day.

===============
See Also:
 
Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Written by Tom Hunter

July 1, 2020 at 6:00 pm

Fully Automated Luxury Communism

This is a phrase apparently invented by a British Communist named Ash Sarkar and it has proved so popular that one of her comrades has written a book that uses it as the title.


The comrade is a guy named Aaron Barstani.

Bastani paints a picture of artificial intelligence and automation liberating us all from work. Commodities, he predicts, will become so cheap as to be practically free; renewable energy will render fossil fuels redundant and solve the climate crisis; and genetic editing and synthetic biology will eliminate disease and the need for farmed meat, while also extending quality and length of life.

So far, so utopian. But Bastani does try to put some meat on these Star Trekian bones by going a little Alvin Toffler, talking about a “Third Disruption” based on IT – the first being agriculture and the second being industrialisation – and what this will mean for communism:

“I think communism in the 20th century was impossible. And it’s impossible today, but it’s something we’ll be able to think of if the technologies we’re now seeing emerge are as disruptive as the industrial revolution in the late 18th century.”

Also quoted is another one of this crowd, former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (“the Left’s favourite sex symbol” – 🤮), who says similar things about 3-D printing your own BMW, but pushes a little way into the social and political sphere where the Revolution is not storming the Winter Palace or the Bastille:

At that point you’re going to have a situation where the current social arrangements we have that generate all kinds of power structures and so on will simply become obsolete. And then you’re going to have a revolution and I don’t mean people holding flags and going out.”

Has he met Counselor Troi? (@ 2m14s)

 

“It unites humanity in a way that no one ever thought possible when they realize they’re not alone in the universe. Poverty, disease, war. They’ll all be gone within the next fifty years.”

For all the gloss of 21st century “cool” they apply, this all sounds no different to Marx’s original vision, with informisation substituting for mechanisation, right down to some vague concept about how all the bad stuff – private property, competition, conflict and corporations – will just… wither away? Well maybe, but in the world of IT we seem to be off to no better a start than all those Industrial Revolution workers looking up at the Dark, Satanic Mills, as The Pandemic Road to Serfdom pointed out:

… as the promise of becoming business owners and homeowners has faded—particularly for the young—many increasingly fall into the insecure “precariat” of gig and part-time workers. These modern-day serfs are suffering the most from the pandemic. Millions of low-wage workers in hospitality, retail, and restaurants have lost their jobs and possess only meager prospects of getting them back in the near- or even medium-term future.

But as jobs are destroyed on Main Street, others, like those at well-positioned Amazon, are created by the hundreds of thousands. It is also a rosy new dawn for online collaboration applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app on record.

And voila…
.

In the face of this, the best these modern communists can do is blather about the rise of a populist movement (“Greetings President Trump”) while others talk of a UBI (Universal Basic Income). In the latter there is backing from none other than the High Tech world, but the “Serfdom” article points out what may really be driving that:

Ultimately such disorder threatens the power of both the oligarchs and the clerisy. Their likely response may be embracing what I call “oligarchal socialism,” where the very notion of work disappears in favor of a regime of cash allotments. This notion of providing what Marx called “proletarian alms,” widely supported in Silicon Valley, could prove a lasting legacy of the pandemic. 

This is how Rome, as slaves replaced the middle orders, kept its citizenry in line, and how the Medieval order in times of economic stress relied on the charitable efforts of the Church.

That seems a more likely future than the ones described by Ms Sarka and friends.

===============
See Also:

Class War
Middle Class Warfare
The Pandemic Road to Serfdom
American Socialism and its Discontents
It’s Class Warfare Jim, but not as we know it!

Written by Tom Hunter

June 24, 2020 at 6:00 pm

It’s Class Warfare Jim, but not as we know it!

In looking at where American Socialism might be going in the future I came across a quote that surprised me.

It came from, The Guardian, and it was talking about someone I thought was a fully reconstructed Leninist: the Labour MP and Corbyn acolyte, John McDonnell.

[John] McDonnell believes there are limits to how far the left can increase taxes and government spending. In his view, many voters are unwilling, or simply unable, to pay much more tax – especially when living standards are squeezed, as now. He also believes that central government has lost authority: it is seen as simultaneously too weak, short of money thanks to austerity; and too strong – too intrusive and domineering towards citizens.

Wait! What? That’s my line!

I don’t know how the hell McDonnell and friends reconcile that outlook with the big-spending plans they had for Labour in government, but it at least seems to acknowledge that the old ways of implementing Socialism are being re-thought even by its most ardent believers. One of McDonnell’s more well known comments was a desire for “socialism with an iPad“.

An iPad from a newly nationalised Apple? Nope. What McDonnell is alluding to here is dealing with the same problem being faced by American Leftists:

… our post-industrial economy is more geared to individual autonomy than ever in history, as anybody using Tinder and Spotify could attest. Those are not corporate entities that any of the “youf” want to tear down or nationalise in the name of class warfare, even as the same economy pushes them into the non-unionised “gig economy” of Uber and Lyft, which rely on the same basic model of connecting individuals.

“… money doesn’t exist in the 24th century“.

Aside from desperate measures from some cities around the world to simply ban Uber, while also holding out the carrot of them unionising their workforce, the Left so far has had no real answers to these very real problems. Networked decentralisation of work just doesn’t seem solvable with unions, set wage rates, and work-to-rule practices.

But this 2019 British article, Fully Automated Luxury Communism, looks at some people who think they may have found a way around this, although they start with a past thought from Mr Marx himself:

[Marx] argued that the relentless search for profit would lead to capitalism’s demise, a process that would be accelerated by mechanisation. In its wake, he predicted, would rise a leisured communism in which a man could, “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.

A century-and-a-half later and the world is mechanised beyond Marx’s dreams. Yet there are record levels of low unemployment in the UK. On the surface it would seem that, for all his commanding insights into capitalism’s inherent contradictions, Marx underestimated its ability to reinvent itself. In any case, his vision of the leisured Renaissance man seems more like the product of the opium pipe than scientific analysis.

Basically what this new way comes down to is a future Socialism that may finally resemble Marx’s opium vision, made possible when every household has its own Star Trek Replicator.

Sarkar, who attributes her own political awakening to Marxist theory, disagrees. Marx was right, she contests. It’s just we haven’t developed enough yet. But according to her, that point of digital reckoning is fast closing in on us. As she put it in a short film she made for BBC2’s Politics Live: “Imagine if technology meant you didn’t have to work any more: fully automated luxury communism.”

That’s Ash “I’m literally a communist, you idiot!” Sarkar.

Ash Sarkar

A vivacious 26-year-old of Bangladeshi heritage, Sarkar is a photogenic gift for the selfie generation. She’s given to wearing luridly bright nail polish and defines herself as a Muslim woman who, according to her Twitter profile, 

“Walks like a supermodel. Fucks like a champion.”

In your face, Babushkas!

Although I thought that supermodels were simply another representation of the degrading excesses of capitalism, who will be put against the wall when the Revolution comes?

It would seem that in the same manner of those American Bohemian-Bolsheviks, Ash is a new type of commie far removed from the old in more than just appearance:

That sassiness is a clue to the appeal of this new communism. Back in the day, communists were called names like Harry Pollitt. They were trade unionists, white, male and walked like they were leading a picket line. They were not people whose sexual habits anyone ever wanted to consider. Sarkar, who also ghostwrites memoirs for grime artists, looks about as far from the old stereotype as it’s possible to be.

In times gone by, a 26-year-old woman like her would have been sent out for the cause to sell hard-left propaganda sheets such as the Morning Star or Socialist Worker. But in the age of social media, every good communist knows that the collective takes a back seat. This is the age of the outspoken individual.

Ah! Individualism again. Pity that Communism is not the best system for individuals to both cooperate and compete with each other: that would be a system of free enterprise and markets.

As she told the Guardian, “It’s about the desire to see the coercive structures of state dismantled, while also having fun. It’s not about driving everybody down to the same level of abjection, but making aesthetic pleasures and luxuries available to all.” 

Communism in this guise has nothing to do with coercion and repression. All those issues of how to confiscate private property, redistribute wealth and forcefully ensure equality were, it seems, a historical misinterpretation of Marx.

I’ve heard that one before.

===============
See Also:

 

Class War
Middle Class Warfare
The Pandemic Road to Serfdom
American Socialism and its Discontents

Written by Tom Hunter

June 23, 2020 at 12:01 pm

American Socialism and its Discontents

In looking at where Socialism is going in the USA I took note of an article that explored how the Chinese Sinus Rot disease might be laying the basis for The Pandemic Road to Serfdom.

Here’s another take on this question, The Strange Rise of Bourgeois Bolshevism. It’s lengthy so I’ll try and provide a synopsis of it.

American socialism is distinct from traditional European socialism, and rejects essential tenets thereof. It is a new, home-grown ideology, a made-in-America socialism.

They define socialism not by government control of the economy or by state ownership of the means of production, but rather in terms of an open-ended commitment to equality. This shift shows how American socialists are punting the elimination of capitalism—supposedly the goal of the “party of opposition” to capitalism—to an ill-defined future.

It points out that this can be seen in Bernie’s rapid evolution from 2016, where he focused on the traditional idea of economic redistribution and class struggle – to 2020, where he connected that with a focus on the concerns of minorities, naming “women, people of color, immigrants“, and “members of the LGBT community.” Following the edicts of later generations of American progressives, Bernie accepted that Class Warfare is a struggle on behalf of an open-ended, ever-growing category of minorities. In America this has distinct advantages:

The most important consequence of de-emphasising class struggle is that socialism becomes much less hostile to the bourgeois.

Well yes. But the biggest problem with the new approach is the huge gap between the struggle of various minorities and the old class struggle, even though this American movement is trying to pass off the former as the latter.

The old traditional socialist logic was that if you eliminate class you eliminate economic inequality. But if the barriers are sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, and so forth, that’s just multiplying the challenges. But more than this, such things are really talking about individuality being thwarted:

The task American socialists have set themselves is to achieve and sustain a culture of free self-creation. But this culture, the culture of individual autonomy, grows out of the bourgeois.

It cannot escape its bourgeois origins. What emerges is the bourgeois-bohemian, the “bobo”: the champion of freedom as self-expression, self-determination, and self-creation, whose social condition is inescapably bourgeois.

As the article points out these “bobos” attack the bourgeois from within, as was the case as far back as the French Revolution when the same types denounced their class for politically conservative attitudes that screwed any revolution. The thing is that what is now being denounced are any “conservative” thoughts and practices that stop the new victim groups from achieving equality by being hostile to individual autonomy and self-creation. And worse, a lot of these “isms” and “phobias” are found more in the traditional working class than the new bourgeois. What fun eliminating those things while still ploughing on toward socialist utopia. And so…

Meanwhile, the working class – the people who left-wing political parties congratulate themselves for representing – are electorally homeless. Fewer and fewer of them bother to vote. When they do they increasingly vote for the right…

As Donald Trump, Boris Johnson, and others well know.

I’ll summarise three points the article makes about how the American Socialists are trying to fit these new ideas into the old working class fight, and the main problem with each tactic they’re using:

  • The bourgeois are teaching the working class these terrible attitudes. But the social and political attitudes of “Fortune 500 CEOs and the propertied denizens of New York and San Francisco” make that claim a joke.
  • Make the fight between the Super Rich, the 1%, and the rest of us. But that doesn’t attack the system of profit at its core, and what if it’s not the 1% vs the 99% but the 10 vs the 90? Ten percent of us get to wax radical – but not radical enough to fuck up our way of life.
  • A new multi-ethnic, multi-minority working class becomes the focus. We need to overcome the ‘isms’ because they’re what hold back minorities within the working class. Except that is another way of saying that some portions of this working class are more equal than others. And also “We cannot have working class solidarity when half the working class is potentially racist.”, (or homophobic, transphobic, …..). Is it any wonder that Obama’s “Rainbow Coalition” turned to nothing once the great man departed.

The following line is brutal:

American socialism does not defy but rather kneels before the bourgeois. It may criticize individual autonomy in the market for producing inequality, but its concern is mainly that inequality infringes on the autonomy of other individuals, their capacity for self-creation.

Which presents a bit of a problem given that our post-industrial economy is more geared to individual autonomy than ever in history, as anybody using Tinder and Spotify could attest. Those are not corporate entities that any of the “youf” want to tear down or nationalise in the name of class warfare, even as the same economy pushes them into the non-unionised “gig economy” of Uber and Lyft, which rely on the same basic model of connecting individuals.

The article then delves into the history of religion mixed with the American Left, which it argues is key to this Bourgeois-Bohemian world being expanded and the denouncing of anybody hesitant to do so.

Furet had observed that the bourgeois had a “guilty conscience” at their core. In the American landscape, theology provoked it. The practice of civil rights leaders, notably King, was far from the secular public reason that a later generation of liberalism tried to extract from the era. Read through the Bible and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, the Declaration of Independence became a text in civic theology, a hope for racial equality, a call to action, and a faith in the power to heal America’s wound.

And as the memories of the 1960’s have faded, every new Left movement in the US has tried to recast itself as the Civil Rights fight of its time – except they’ve never managed to pull off the same trick of turning an elite cause into a mass movement.

By endorsing the open-ended struggle on behalf of the minorities, American socialism uses the language of the civil rights era to project its limitations onto an impersonal “system”—here, the systems of minority oppression that characterise American life. This echoes traditional socialism’s crudest determinisms, but with new content. Human beings are no longer passive objects of determined economic processes; now they are passive objects of determined racialised-sexualised processes.

Which is just not mass-movement stuff. As a result the gains have been made via law being changed through the Supreme Court, not voter-driven legislation, as we’ve just seen with the SCOTUS decision on expanding the 1965 Civil Rights act into the world of transgenderism. It notes that the Christian notion of victimhood and its moral authority remain, but they’re increasingly shaky in these new contexts:

Moreover, if not one but many American minorities wear the crown of thorns, then its application now diminishes the unique significance of its initial application to Black Americans. They become just more victims of oppression.

And that limitation shows up in other ways too:

But there is no moral agent at hand to remove this system, no messianic “proletariat” at hand to break the chains. The best one can do is become aware of one’s place within these systems by listening to those with victimhood status. Moral agency only appears as guilt, with no opportunity for pardon

And the trouble with endless amounts of guilt is that the human soul cannot carry it. There’s no future down that path, whatever thrills of moral superiority it might provide to the likes of Antifa, BLM and the rest of the Left. In fact it could kill their movements:

Faced with so many victims and so many claims to moral authority, the bobo vanguard, who often share the characteristics of the villain, are left not with hatred of the other who wounded the victim, but with their own guilt—and without forgiveness, they are left only with self-hatred.

American socialism intensifies this passion for self-hatred across all political and social life. Its clearest manifestations are self-hating American bobos who channel their hatred toward the institutions of American democracy.

He makes four observations as to where this will go with the bobos employing another new twist on socialism – a new Leninism.

  • “Leninist nomenclature is appropriate because the very concept of the “woke” is a carnival mirror of Bolshevism”. Lenin contended that only an intellectual elite endowed with superior knowledge could start the revolution. “The very concept of “woke” is explicitly this invocation of superior knowledge that the many do not possess“.
  • Leninism is subsitutionist politics.. one substitutes a real unanimous will not yet agreed upon with the will of a vanguard minority.” In this case there are many minorities but only one vanguard – the “woke”. But the response is the same in enforcing unanimity; “the vanguard deploys its activists, media-adjuncts, and ultimately the power of the state not to persuade but to destroy opponents“. Destruction is needed because persuasion involves compromise and when that happens you’re back to boring old reformism. “The vanguard cannot allow this. A revolution permits no obstacles, delays, or scruples.
  • Leninism’s revolutionary character now derives from “a consequence of understanding freedom as self-determination or self-creation. The aim is to create a world in which individuals can recreate themselves out of themselves” – and that means destroying anything standing in the way of that, which means a lot of cultural destruction.
  • Leninism serving “the goal of self-creation: libertine-Leninism“. But again this equates to nothing more than the individual autonomy that is the goal of bog-standard American Liberalism. Once the social restrictions are swept away it’s back to fighting about economic management – just like any good socialist and just as American Liberalism has argued all along.
And in that fight about economic management the writer notes something rather strangely old about this new American Socialism and its rejection of “government control of the economy or by state ownership of the means of production“. That certainly fits with the older Socialist argument that wanted to end capitalism and thus attacked Liberalism’s focus on economic reform through technocratic, managerial methods:

Norman Thomas criticized the New Deal and contended that “we do not mean to turn socialized industries over to political bureaucrats,” criticising the bureaucratic centralisation of the managerial, administrative state.

Not an argument specific to the USA of course; an American Bakunin, arguing that such approaches would just entrench state capitalism – which it has! So yay for Anarchism in CHAZ, with the bobos as the driving force? Perhaps not, at least in actual elections. For all of his talk of being a real Socialist independent of the Democrats, Bernie Sanders actually wants a bigger and better New Deal.

Sanders cleaves to the state capitalism that socialists once spurned. The political program American socialists propose—from free college and cancellation of debt, federally funded day-care, mandatory single-payer health care, and new federal agencies—is unreconstructed statism, a colossal extension of the power and size of the federal government.

So far, so normal. But the same thing is happening as a result of the bobos joining with Bernie and company; their new concept might sound like it could twist Socialism on to their individualistic path to win political power, but they’re going to find themselves stuck with Bernie’s traditional approach on how to use political power:

To be sure, there are American socialist nods toward an “anarchist tradition” to refute the charge that socialism must aim for state ownership of the economy, as well as advocates for “Progressivism localism” and for “democratizing the economy.” But the agent for these proposals remains the centralized state, and none dare disown that. 

Just like Bernie and FDR the bobos are also “punting the elimination of capitalism—supposedly the goal of the “party of opposition” to capitalism—to an ill-defined future“, which puts these Bourgeois Bolsheviks stuck right back with… Managerial Liberalism.

These contradictions are likely not anything new at all:

Toward the end of After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre argued that whenever Marxists had to take moral stances, they fell back into the moral language of liberal individualism. Marxists came to exemplify “precisely the kind of moral attitude which they condemn in others as ideological.” Moreover, the closer Marxists came to power, the more they became zealous defenders of the centralized administrative bureaucracy.

And that bureaucracy now has the additional problem of crashing into that modern, networked, decentralised economy mentioned earlier: working within an Uber / Spotify world, with the added problem of having a bunch of your own team who love the Spotify world, even as they bitch about the gig-economy of Uber world.

This seems to be American socialism’s fate. It deepens individualism and statism. It is not the rival but the patsy of state capitalism. It does not resist but serves managerial liberalism. American socialism is neither Marxian-inflected socialism nor Marxism, but it parodies their defects.

Or as stated earlier: American socialism does not defy but rather kneels before the bourgeois.

===============
See Also:
Class War
Middle Class Warfare
The Pandemic Road to Serfdom

Written by Tom Hunter

June 21, 2020 at 5:00 am

The Pandemic Road to Serfdom

In a previous look at where Marxism sits nowadays in contemporary Western society I finished up with the question of where it was going inside its last great target, the USA.

To that end I found two interesting takes on that question.

First up, The Pandemic Road to Serfdom, which says our current troubles, like the great plagues of the Middle Ages, is going to have an effect, and posits two new classes: the New Oligarchs, and the Clerisy:

The oligarchic class now owns as much as 50% of world’s assets. Just five companies—Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft—account for over 20% of the market capitalization of the entire S&P 500 index.

Known as the First Estate in pre-revolutionary France, the clerisy today is largely secular but consists of the key influencers in the media, academia, the upper bureaucracy and the ever-expanding “non-profit” sector.

Okay, but so what? How are these new classes really going to benefit from our current troubles?

The new regime of social distancing, likely to remain influential for years to come, works most directly for the interests of the technologized oligarchy. The long-term decline of travel, convention, and traditional entertainment may mean disaster for millions of workers and many businesses, but it represents an enormous opportunity for those who can deliver food, goods, diversions, and experiences over the relative safety of digital networks.

But as jobs are destroyed on Main Street, others, like those at well-positioned Amazon, are created by the hundreds of thousands. It is also a rosy new dawn for online collaboration applications like Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Rooms, Microsoft Teams, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app on record.

And of course this will also drive the tech industry’s consolidation, with firms like Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon, controlling upwards of 80% of such key markets as search, social media, cloud computing, and computer operating systems. And the Clerisy is right beside them:

Like their Medieval counterparts in the old First Estate, members of today’s clerisy see their intrusions motivated not by self-interest but rather the good of society. They constitute “the privileged stratum,” as the French leftist Christophe Guilluy argues in his recent book Twilight of the Elites, operating from an assumption of “moral superiority” that justifies their right to instruct others.

Thomas Piketty refers to them as “The Brahmin Left”, or we could just call them The Fergusonians. They’re quite the enablers of the Oligarchs and they fit right in with control of information resources:

Perhaps most concerning will be their ability to control all aspects of information as the last vestiges of local and small-town journalism face Covid-driven “extinction level” events. What is now left of the “legacy” media—the Atlantic, Time, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times—has fallen increasingly under their control.

They may as well have mentioned the New York Times, which survives only because it is owned by Mexican billionaire, Carlos Slim. And of course many people now get their news from Facebook and other Social Media sources.

As if all this was not bad enough, it is combined with the decline of the existing classes:

Millions of owners of small businesses have been devastated by the lockdowns, their lifetime investments allowed to turn to dust because the clerisy has declared them “non-essential” and hopes to keep them in lockdown well into the summer.

Worse still, as the promise of becoming business owners and homeowners has faded—particularly for the young—many increasingly fall into the insecure “precariat” of gig and part-time workers. These modern-day serfs are suffering the most from the pandemic. Millions of low-wage workers in hospitality, retail, and restaurants have lost their jobs and possess only meager prospects of getting them back in the near- or even medium-term future. 

It should come as no surprise that the NASDAQ have coming roaring back with companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and others in the lead.

Still, there is the possibility that this disaster would actually encourage the development of good old-fashioned socialism in the USA, al la Bernie Sanders.

But there is another direction it could take, more likely because it has already been on this path in recent years, and it’s pulled Bernie with it. It’s the world of woke politics, it’s beautifully suited to the Oligarchic Class and The Clerisy‘, it’s what’s really driving the US riots and I’ll take a look at it in the next of these articles.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 2, 2020 at 1:49 am

The Penny Begins To Drop

We usually think that the reason that laws are obeyed is that if they’re not we’re going to be punished in some way, starting with regulatory refusals and escalating all the way to the use of armed force by the Police.

 
Where you sit on that scale is entirely dependent upon the degree to which you are willing to cooperate with the law. The more you resist the State the worse it gets for you.
 
Certainly the Left, always under the yoke of opppression in our societies, feel all this keenly and thus yearn to be the ones with the power to enforce the laws they want. And in the last three months in New Zealand they’ve had their chance – and then some.
 
But in fact our entire system of law and order actually relies upon cooperation by we as a people, not on the State’s use or threat of force. We cooperate because the alternative is anarchy of the most primitive sort, as we are now seeing in Minneapolis and other American cities. We cooperate because we collectively think it best to do so.
 
That theory also works from a utilitarian viewpoint; were we to choose not to obey a law or laws on a mass scale then there is no amount of Police that could stop it, at least not in a free society. In a Police State huge numbers of people can be controlled by very small numbers, but even to reach that point requires the people to be terrorised and murdered in large numbers for years to really have an effect, and the effect never lasts. Such regimes always collapse from the very conditions they enforce.

 

 
There was an interesting article published ten years ago in the depth of the GFC that pointed this out, at least from one perspective of financial problems, The Coming Middle-Class Anarchy:

True story: A retired couple I know, Brian and Ilsa, own a home in the Southwest. It’s a pretty house, right on the manicured golf course of their gated community (they’re crazy about golf). 

The only problem is, they bought the house near the top of the market in 2005, and now find themselves underwater. They’ve never missed a mortgage payment — Brian and Ilsa are the kind upright, not to say uptight 60-ish white semi-upper-middle-class couple who follow every rule, fill out every form, comply with every norm

Brian and Ilsa are salt-of-the-earth people: They put four kids through college, they always paid their taxes. The last time Brian broke the law was in 1998: An illegal U-turn on a suburban street.

So they applied to the HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program) program to help and after jumping through many paper hoops for three months they get approved. Then they get a letter from the bank saying that they don’t qualify and on top of that, they owe backpayments for the months of reduced rent, plus interest. So they’re depressed and pissed off – although as the writer says:

Now, up to this point, this is just another sob story of the Mortgage Mess—and as sob stories go, up to this point, it’s no big deal.

But then he goes on to point out that something else is going on here:

Brian and Ilsa — the nice upper-middle-class retired couple, who always follow the rules, and never ever break the law — who don’t even cheat on their golf scores — even when they’re playing alone (“Because if you cheat at golf, you’re only cheating yourself”) — have decided to give their bank the middle finger.

They have essentially said, Fuckit.

“We follow the rules, and look where that’s gotten us?” she says, furious and depressed. “Nowhere. They run us around, like lab rats in a cage.”

They decide not to default but to simply keep paying the minimum and dare the bank to foreclose.

But Ilsa is quietly, constantly insisting that they stop paying the mortgage altogether: “Everybody else is doing it—so why shouldn’t we?”

A terrible sentence, when a law-abiding citizen speaks it: Everybody else is doing it — so why don’t we?

Shades of what I wrote about in Middle Class Warfare, but I was also reminded of this while reading the following article by Elle at Homepaddock yesterday, Rules only for the rule-abiding:

Businesses are failing.
Jobs are being lost.
Diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses have been delayed.
People have died and given birth alone.
Funerals, weddings and other gatherings have been restricted.
Rest home residents have been denied visits from family.
People have been prevented from worshiping, playing sport, celebrating and socializing with family and friends.
For more than two months we’ve been severely restricted in what we can do and where, with whom and when we choose to do it.

But thousands of people have been allowed to protest over the death of George Floyd.
That murder was atrocious but it’s no excuse for flouting the Level 2 rules by which  most of us, however unwillingly, have been abiding.

Black lives matter and so do all the lives and livelihoods of everyone else.

If there is no risk from ignoring the rules for a protest, there is absolutely no excuse for keeping us at Level 2 where the rules are obviously only there to curtail the rule-abiding.

Going back to the 2010 article:

TV has given us the illusion that anarchy is people rioting in the streets, smashing car windows and looting every store in sight. But there’s also the polite, quiet, far deadlier anarchy of the core citizenry — the upright citizenry — throwing in the towel and deciding it’s just not worth it anymore.

UPDATE:
Heh, when I talked of the Middle Class revolting I didn’t mean this:

A pair of Brooklyn lawyers are facing federal charges for throwing a Molotov cocktail into a New York Police Department cruiser during riots following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Colinford Mattis, 32, a Princeton graduate and member of a New York community board, and Urooj Rahman, 31, a lawyer and Fordham alumnus who recently lost her job, were arrested and charged with attempting to damage or destroy law-enforcement vehicles on Saturday after a surveillance camera recorded the incident.

Written by Tom Hunter

June 1, 2020 at 9:16 pm