Everybody knows that the Plague is coming, 4

6 08 2014

File under: why would anyone be surprised?

First up: Professor John Ashton, the president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, who writes:

“In both cases [Aids and Ebola], it seems that the involvement of powerless minority groups has contributed to a tardiness of response and a failure to mobilise an adequately resourced international medical response.”

and World Health Organization director general Dr Margaret Chan:

“We must respond to this emergency as if it was in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster. We must also tackle the scandal of the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in research [on] treatments and vaccines, something they refuse to do because the numbers involved are, in their terms, so small and don’t justify the investment. This is the moral bankruptcy of capitalism acting in the absence of a moral and social framework.”

Second, Allan Sloan, who is surprised enough to be outraged that American companies would park their “incorporation” overseas so as to avoid taxes:

Inverters don’t hesitate to take advantage of the great things that make America America: our deep financial markets, our democracy and rule of law, our military might, our intellectual and physical infrastructure, our national research programs, all the terrific places our country offers for employees and their families to live. But inverters do hesitate — totally — when it’s time to ante up their fair share of financial support of our system.

Profit-seeking companies seeking to maximize their profits?! Who ever heard of such a thing?

And those who don’t invert?

Wall Street is delivering a thumbs down to Walgreens’ announcement of a $15.3 billion plan to complete its acquisition of Europe-based Alliance Boots and decision not to pursue potential major tax savings by shifting its headquarters overseas.

Bad capitalists!

Since all is not gloomy, allow for a bit of intellectual-property absurdity:

Wikimedia, the US-based organisation behind Wikipedia, has refused a photographer’s repeated requests to remove one of his images which is used online without his permission, claiming that because a monkey pressed the shutter button it should own the copyright.

Cheeky monkey*!

David Slater/Caters—and monkey!

*Actually, a crested black macaque

~~~

h/t to a coupla’ folks at The Stranger: Charles Mudede, and Ansel Herz  (twice!)





Everybody knows the dice are loaded, 1

20 07 2014

Yeah, a new series! On the rationale and ravages of capitalism! Whoo-hoo!

Okay, most of the time it will just be quick hits, highlighting (mostly) where the pointy head of the stick pokes through the socio-economic skin and (sometimes) efforts to break that stick. And every one in a while I’ll try to stitch these bits together in an attempt to make my own sense of where we are and where we’re going.

Yep, there are others out there manifestly more qualified than I am, who’ve made long and deep study of political economy (and who I’ll crib from—with credit!—when I remember to look as needed), but I want to try to puzzle my way through this by thinking politically, not economically.

That’s some artificial line-drawin’ I’m doing there, I know, but I’m drawing in pencil, so it’s okay.

So: onward!

~~~

These two are pretty self-explanatory:

*Paul Carr: New San Francisco billboard warns workers they’ll be replaced by iPads if they demand a living wage

(h/t karoli, Crooks & Liars)

*David Ludwig, Obama Unveils New Initiative to Encourage Private Funding of Public Infrastructure

(h/t Paul Constant, The Stranger)

~~~

A bit of comment:

*Joe Pinsker, The ‘Facebook Cop’ and the Implications of Privatized Policing

Pinsker is apparently an optimist, because he concludes In all likelihood, the cop Facebook is funding will likely exert a positive force on the area, checking in on wayward kids and improving emergency evacuation procedures.

Which is an odd conclusion, given that immediately following this he notes private entities whose objectives diverge from the public’s can apply the law as they see fit. Who does Facebook’s security team pay attention to? Who do they ignore?

And I would add: What of our rights against their actions?

*Brendan Kiley, In Addition to Those 14,000 Layoffs, Microsoft is Tightening the Screws on Its Vendors and A Note from the Trenches of Microsoft Vendors and Permatemps

Temporary nation! Whoo-hoo! As a worker-mercenary myself, I can only confirm the delights of livin’ the free labor life—tho’ I must admit that I’m not completely free, union-bound as I am.

*Megan Rose Dickey, How Much Uber Drivers Really Make

Surprise: not as much as promised.

The real reason, tho’, that I picked this one out, is that the phrase “sharing economy” makes my teeth itch.

When Uber and Lyft and Airbnb and TaskRabbit are all grouped into some kind of happy-clappy “sharing economy”—sharing! it’s good! didn’t your mother teach you to share?—what is oh-so-gracefully elided is that these are really examples of the fee-for-service brokerage economy.

Uber, et. al., are brokers: they broker the relationship between provider and client/customer and take a fee for that service.

One the one, capitalist, hand, this isn’t bad: people are getting paid; on the other, socialist, one, these kinds of services demonstrate how far capitalist relations have penetrated and commodified human relations.

~~~

Deserving much comment, which I may or may not eventually get around to providing:

Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe and Sheila Bapat, What Do the Recent Supreme Court Decisions Mean for Women’s Economic Security?

Esther Kaplan, Losing Sparta

~~~

How to fight back: Together! Solidarity!

Ansel Herz, Anti-Foreclosure Protesters Block Sheriff’s Eviction of Disabled Veteran in West Seattle

He will probably end up losing his home, because the law favors the house.

Still, it’s good to fight back, if only to remind ourselves we can fight back.





Ball of confusion

27 10 2013

Imma going to steal from myself.

TNC put up a post late Friday on Tony Judt’s Postwar, during which he noted that

Judt is not wrong to focus on property. Theft is the essence of atrocity—if only the theft of dignity and life. Indeed, where I forced to to offer one word to sum up black people’s historical relationship to the American state, “theft” is the first that would come to mind. Theft of labor and theft of family in slavery. Theft of life through lynching and pogrom. Theft of franchise in half the country. . . .

To which I wrote the following (alas, too slowly: he closed the thread before I could post):

The importance of property has been a sticky issue for (some!) of us pinkos. On the one hand, an orthodox Marxist would recognize the necessity of the proletariat seizing control of the means of production during the (ever receding) revolution—which suggests that (productive) property is pretty goddamned important. Yet on the other hand, a concern for property ownership can be seen as “too bourgeois”.

The agrarian socialists have been better on this than those who focus on industrial workers, not least because in the countryside the productive property is land itself: arguing for land/squatter rights (against absentee/large landholders) can thus be seen as a kind of socialist demand for worker control.

Anyway, control of one’s property is tremendously important for those who don’t live in those gloriously liberated post-revolution societies (which is to say, all of us), and I know damned few leftists who say “Ooo, I want to live in a commune!” The puzzle for we skeptics of capitalism is to figure out how to make a place for the centrality of property in human life without having property itself decenter the human.

I went back and forth on this, writing and deleting, and then just deleting, before I ended up with this. There’s no great insight involved, but it is a useful reminder of the troubles of the late-capitalist anti-capitalist sometimes-thinker.

Of course, we anti-capitalists who like stuff are not the only ones fighting our demonic contradictions.

I refer, of course, to the Jesus Christ Capitalists, those who seek the glory of the Lord in the financialized marketplace.

To give credit to Rod Dreher (something I do rarely enough), he at least recognizes that there are tensions between those who hold both to tradition and to free trade: however creative is the destructiveness of capitalism, it does effectively pull the pins out from beneath traditional society.

If those of us on the anti-capitalist left have to figure out what to do with property, well, those on the traditional right have to figure out what to do with capitalism.

None of this to say that there aren’t people on both the right and the left who aren’t already thinking and doing something(s) about this.

I try not to mistake my lack of attention to for others’ lack of effort.





You can’t go on, thinkin’ nothing’s wrong

21 10 2013

Two things.

One, I hate Google Drive. Maybe if it worked I wouldn’t hate it, but it’s not working so I hate it.

Two, I don’t know if this is depressing in and of itself or for its utter lack of imagination.

The question of labor is going to be huge in this century: if machines are more efficient than people for the vast majority of tasks which people currently perform, then what is to happen with those people?

Do you think the sun will shine more brightly on those released from the factories, the fields, the retail counters, and the office cubicle? Once the machines are installed, what use will be found for humans?

One possibility is to rationalize our sociability, to  monetize the things that separate us from machines , which is what Brad DeLong suggests:

Our society will then be enormously rich: our collective and average productivity will be awesome. But the society will only be a good society if we can figure out how to employ each other in high-value (3b) activities–only if we find ways to organize life so that most of us can actually add a lot of value by amusing, pleasing, and encouraging others will we have a society of mutual respect, and of only tolerable inequality.

The problem with this interpretation, however, is with the notion of “added value”, which is a nice way of saying “economically useful”. In previous versions of capitalist society, economic utility was a way for [non-enslaved] humans to free themselves from blinkered judgments of “one’s proper place”: by dint of one’s wit and work, a man could make his own way.

That way might still be terrible—Marx and Engels made much of the barbarity of industrialization—but, as those who toil in the 21st century version of the “dark satanic mills” observe, it sure beats life down on the farm.

But now the hollowing out of men and society that Marx saw as the culmination of capitalism is breaching our consciousness. We worked because we were human and because we were human we worked: we accepted the deal that our worth was to be found in our utility because we could always find ways to make ourselves useful.

And now, if we are no longer able to make ourselves useful?

I hate Google Drive because it’s meant to be useful and it is not useful. It is a useless tool, a contradiction in terms; if it can’t be made useful, it should be discarded. But if humans become useless tools, are we to be discarded? What’s next?

I don’t trust Marx’s solution, because, really, there is no solution. But we need a new imagination; there must be something more.





Hazy shade of winter

22 09 2013

I have—surprise!—some sympathy for declinist narratives.

It’s easy, it’s fun, and it adds a nice gloomy depth to one’s otherwise-apparently shallow existence.

Still, sometimes the dread is a real question, as in, Are we humans nearing the end of a long moment of open society and democratic governance? Will our polities at some point transform into mere corporations of some sort of consumerist, militarist, or theocratic bent?

Two linked—or maybe one double-sided—dynamic(s) seem to be emerging: i) no work, and thus no use for, those who are unable to fit themselves into an increasingly technologically complex economy; ii) increasing control over the lives of those who are employed.

Tyler Cowen has been hitting on the first theme at his blog, Marginal Revolution, and in his new book, Average is Over. From what I can tell of his numerous references to the book, our present economic situation is dissolving into one in which most people, precisely because they are “most people” (i.e., average), will be squeezed out of economic life and will have to make do with a marginal social existence.

And the second? Consider Penn State’s desire to reduce its health care costs. It’s instituting a new wellness plan aimed at creating healthier, which is to say, cheaper, employees; a part of that plan, since shelved, required those employee to fill out a mandated survey in which they were probed about their plans to become pregnant, whether they’ve suffered depression, or been divorced.

Capitalism has always required the worker to conform to the workplace—the creation of the manu-factory is one of the markers of capitalism—but out of this required conformity emerged a counter-trend of uninterest in what the worker did away from work. (Owners didn’t want the responsibility, and labor wanted the liberty.) At higher levels of corporate life managers might have to sign contracts with morals clauses, and non-unionized workers might know that to criticize their company could be firing offense, but, for the most part, if you did your job you’d be left alone away from the job.

I hasten to add here that I think this remains the dynamic, at least in the US, and there’s no clear sign that our society will inevitably devolve into one of en masse control of the low-employment outcasts and individualized control of the fully employed.  I don’t know what will happen, and given the complexity of human life, I am leery of making any kind of long-term predictions about us.

But the hazy signs of decline? They’re all around us, just waiting to be plucked for a Sunday afternoon musing on how the story ends.

 





Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce

29 08 2013

Gotta love the logic which states that you should ask for as much pay as you can possibly get—unless you actually need that money to live a minimally decent life.

Then you’re being unreasonable and will only hurt yourself.

Stupid greedhead.





Modern thought(less): time isn’t holding us, time isn’t after us

10 10 2012

Been awhile, hasn’t it?

No, I haven’t given up on my attempt to make sense of the outer reaches of modernity by looking at the [European] origins of modernity, but I haven’t made much headway, either.

Oh, I been readin’, oh yeah, but have I done anything with all that reading? Not really. Beyond the most basic fact that modernity and secularism two-stepped across the centuries, as well as the sense that medievalism lasted into the 20th century, I have information, history, ideas—but no theory.

Peter Gay’s two-volume essay on the Enlightenment (called, handily enough, The Enlightenment) has been helpful in understanding how the ideas of the early modern period were cemented in intellectual thought, but precisely because these men were already modern, they are of less help in understanding those who became modern, or who were medieval-moderns.

Newton, for example, was a kind of medieval-modern. His work in physics, optics, and calculus encompass a large portion of the foundation of modern science, but he also conducted experiments in alchemy; the founding of a new kind of knowledge had not yet erased the old.

Other, scattered thoughts: The Crusades were crucial in re-introducing into Europe the ideas of the ancient Greeks. . . although, even here, al-Andalus also provided an entree for Muslim knowledge of and elaboration on Levantine thought into a Christian worldview. Also, I haven’t read much on the impact of westward exploration and colonization on European thought. Hm.

Evolution in war strategy and armaments—I’m thinking here of the recruitment and consolidation of armies—undoubtedly played a role, as did consequences of those wars, especially the Thirty Years War. (The Treaty of Westphalia is commonly considered an origin in the development of the concept of state sovereignty. Which reminds me: Foucault.)

What else. I haven’t read much in terms of everyday life during this period, although I do have Braudel and Natalie Zemon Davis on my reading lists. I’m still not sure where to put the on-the-ground stuff, interested as I am in intellectual history. Still, a concentration on thoughts untethered from practice yields shallow history.

I have developed an abiding hatred for the Spanish Empire. This may be unfair to the Spaniards, but they turn up again and again as the bad guys. (How’s that for subtle interpretation?) I’ve got a big-ass book on the history of the Dutch Republic that I’m looking forward to, not least because of the central role of the Dutch in the development of capitalism.

Capitalism, yeah, haven’t talked much about that, either. Can’t talk about modernity without talkin’ bout capitalism.

Still, I really want to try to nail down the emergence of the individual as a political subject: there is no modernity without this emergence. The Reformation and the wars of religion are crucial, of course, but I want to understand precisely how the connection was made between the individual and his relationship to God and the emergence of the concept of the individual citizen’s relationship to the state. (I say concept because it took awhile for the walk to catch up to the talk.)

I have no plans to abandon this project, but if I can’t get it together, I may have to abandon my hopes for this project.

Maybe I should do that sooner rather than later: I’m always better after I’ve left hope behind.








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