Sunday, March 8, 2009

Government, Small "s" Socialism, and the Economy

There is a great article from this week's The Nation that speaks to the heart of what ails America and how to try to re-direct the narrative that those in power for the last eight years have imprinted on all aspects of American life.

"It's mine. I want it now. Government is bad, but let it tell you who you can marry, when to get and stay pregnant, and what kind of theology to practice (rather, you must practice theology or you are immoral)".

In the article, Barbara Ehrenreich and Bill Fletcher Jr. suggest (correctly, I might add) we need to reconstruct how we view traditionally Marxist paradigms about economics and governance as a means to help the economy recover.

For anyone who is gasping in horror at the mere mention of Marx, I highly suspect he or she has never actually *read* Marx, much less had to discuss his theories in a written text or in a conversation beyond crying: "Socialist"! Coming from someone who has indeed read, studied, lectured, and written about Marx, I hear this brand of essential fallacy all the time.

The major problem with predicting that our country is "turning Socialist" demonstrates this poor understanding of Marxism.

Marxism, as Ehrenreich and Fletcher so cogently describe, was an idea about how to rearrange production and ownership, and to a certain extent, governance. Basically, Marxism deals with the material aspects of the manufacture of goods, performance of services, and who owns the means of producing and directing those things.

However, in light of the needs of our current situation, as should be obvious, Marxism by it's very foundations does not apply here.

We are watching our manufacturing sector sink into oblivion, while ownership has become nothing more than a signature on an empty piece of paper, a deed or a title. In this case, the banks own a larger portion of "stuff" because people tend not to buy with cash.

Market fundamentalism from Smith (et. al.) has helped us into this crisis. In such a system we (consumers) don't need to know anything because---

**The market always takes care of itself.**

How very very far from the truth this is as we have come to realize in the last two years, especially in the last eight months.

In a sense, there is a wicked irony to that truth. The market did take care of itself--- first.

The new economy must be based on a sustainable way of doing everything. This means not spending more than we have, becoming energy independent from foreign oil, fixing healthcare to work for the sick and not for the insurance companies, and mending our dysfunctional relationship to capital.

In essence socialism in the 21st century represents the harnessing of technology (broadly construed) and then using social organization to ensure that the most people receive the most benefits from that technology (be it manufacturing, energy, or elsewise).

If you paused for just a moment to reflect on the logos of this thinking, you would see that we cannot possibly apply traditional Marxist principles because our means of production have been largely outsourced, and those who control that production are going bankrupt (or fleeing to other countries where they have absconded with millions of dollars).

Who controls the money in our country?

The banks.

Not the government (at the moment).

What are the banks doing to solve the credit crisis?

Nothing. Some have temporarily suspended home foreclosures, but for the most part they are sitting on their hands and not lending anyone anything.

What is at the core of socialism as a social (not economic) practice is that it suggests citizens get together and collectively decide on solutions to problems. Sometimes people refer to it as "participatory democracy". However, as Ehrenreich and Fletcher claim, we have no model for implementing such democracy on the scale that is required in the present circumstances.

Regardless, we are all in this together.

This is the message we need to take from an old understanding of socialism and not the fear the invocation of such a word inspires.

What happens to your neighbor's home affects the value of your home.

If people continue to be without health care, rates of home foreclosures due to healthcare costs will continue to increase.

Researchers from Harvard claim that 49% of home foreclosures and bankruptcies are precipitated by high health care costs or the expense of illness.

It's a range of problems with which we are faced.

The means of economic growth in our country are so intertwined with and so dependent on the banking industry.

The only other entity in this country with any money at all is the government.

And we need the government to loan and spend the money that the banks refuse to.

5 comments:

catherinemacivor.com March 8, 2009 at 4:02 PM  

Skye,
Excellent post! The "S" and :M" words are just buzz words to instill fear. Tot truly understand how far we have hit bottom, listen to Paul Volcker, a conservative, who is not sure we will ever be the dominant economic force in the world again because we led the charge for deregulation that he blames for this economic disaster.

Now the charge to rewrite the history of the Great Depression for purely partisan political motives is ridiculous and dangerous. We all must remember that the Republicans have a huge stake in trying to make their economic policies look like they did not fail, even though they clearly did.

This is why they need Obama to fail because if he does not, the trickle down, deregulation, free market theories will go to the dustbin where they belong.

We need a balance in our financial markets. The markets need to work, but deregulation clearly showed that the market cannot police its own greed.

Thanks for the post Skye. It was phenomenal.

skyewriter March 8, 2009 at 5:57 PM  

Thanks Catherine.

I agree that the markets are broken, and I am quite convinced that no one knows how to fix them, nor how devastating this recession is and will be for generations.

Greed and absolute power corrupt absolutely. Lord Acton had it right 125 years ago.

It's sad to see that little has changed.

Seeing Eye Chick March 9, 2009 at 12:26 PM  

Whenever something arises that Conservatives and Republicans don't like, or don't understand, they inevitably reach into their grab back of labels and look for the Red Scare-Tactic.

After all, it's served them well for the last 50 years. And then people go running for their bomb shelters and their loyalty oaths, to try and prove that they are not {pick one--] Marxists, Socialists, Communists, etc.,

Its something scary they all heard about, but our school system doesnt generally cover that material, though we talk about the Red Scare, no effort is made to explore that with any depth. A paragraph at best.

Thanks, Great Article and now I am off to read your sources. I love Barbara Ehrenreich-- She writes about interesting subjects with great passion, and she is an excellent public speaker as well.

politicalmorsels.com March 11, 2009 at 12:53 AM  

But didn't you know, Rush Limbaugh has all the answers.... idiot. Great post!!! I really appreciate your thoughts on matters like this.

Sidhe March 11, 2009 at 8:21 AM  

You know what is funny about the capitalist notion that "The market always takes care of itself?"

Our capitalist government has never allowed the market to take care of itself.

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