Straw Man Socialism

Ileana Johnsongrew up in Romania under the Nicolae Ceaușescuregime and immigrated to the US in 1978.  By 1982 she had become a citizen and went on to earn two advanced degrees.  Johnson has written several books, including one on her experiences under Communism in Romaniaand anotheron the United Nations sustainable development plan known as Agenda 21.

On Monday she posted “We are Serving the Working People” at The Bull Elephant.  This essay amounted to a fascinating strawman definition of “socialism.”  A sample: 

Do they understand that socialism suppresses individuality, forces collectivism, causes mass starvation, imprisons people with divergent ideas in labor camps, herds them off their properties into high rise cinder block apartments, nationalizes all industries, and confiscates all private property and wealth?

This accurately describes East European and Russian political economies up to the end of the Cold War, so in a way Johnson comes by this view honestly.  She experienced it this way.  And because everyone called this kind of political and economic system “socialism” or “communism” back in the day, this is pretty standard-issue conservative rhetoric about the dangers of making sure the economy and political system work for everyone.  I wonder though how much this has to do with protecting corporations and the wealthy from calls for a more equitable distribution of economic productivity than it does with any real concern over liberty.  It’s not as if our system protects citizens from voter suppression and gerrymandering in a way that restricts elite power.  In the end the conservative project looks a lot like a defense of corporate rights to profits while showing little concern for what liberty looks like to people who have to work two jobs so they can pay the rent and keep dinner on the table.  

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It’s the Robot Economy, Folks

David Atkins made a good point yesterday at The Washington Monthly after former Clinton staffer Nick Merrill shot back at Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg for suggesting that economic anxiety indeed played a role in Donald Trump’s 2016 win:

So, in the argument between Merrill and Buttigieg, who is right? They both are. And the fact that Merrill doesn’t understand that point is part of the problem; and it’s a sign of what the 2020 Democratic nominee must fix.

One cannot even begin to talk about this issue without acknowledging that the white working class is quite literally dying. Mortality rates for middle-aged white Americans have been ticking upwards for nearly 20 years, led primarily by a sharp rise in “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug abuse, and alcohol abuse—among those without college degrees. According to research, these deaths are primarily driven by a lack of good jobs and the dysfunction that economic anxiety creates in the social fabric.

Buttigieg is right that Trump pretended to offer solutions for these voters specifically, and that certain aspects of Clinton’s messaging did not convey the urgency that people in these communities feel about their circumstances. It’s no accident that “learn to code” has become a scornful joke on both the right and the progressive left.

Merrill is also right that the solutions Trump offered were racist, vitriolic, and full of false promises. Trump blamed economic and social problems on immigrants, promised to use his supposed skill as a negotiator to fix trade deals and bring jobs back, and promised to use his bully pulpit to strongarm companies into keeping existing factories open and getting new ones built.

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Rob Wittman Pushes for Rural Broadband Internet Access – Except When He Doesn’t

Rob Wittman never had much to say about broadband internet access in the Congressional District he represents until the issue came up in the Democratic Primary this spring.  Much of the district is rural and without connection to the web services that stimulate economic development, support businesses and allow remote access to medical care.  They are without this connection because private markets do not provide what amounts to a public utility in remote areas, and no amount of deregulation will make them want to.  The return on investment simply isn’t there.

Back in the day, much of Tennessee had a similar problem with electricity.  The Federal Government, not private enterprise, solved the problem through the Tennessee Valley Authority, a New Deal Democrat effort to modernize rural areas of the state.  Could we learn something from this very successful effort? Continue reading

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Chris Collins and the Republican Project

Federal prosecutors indicted GOP Representative Chris Collins for insider trading yesterday.  Collins represents the 27thDistrict in northwestern New York and was an early Donald Trump supporter.  Right now his website touts three Federal grants to improve sewer, airport, and firefighting infrastructure in his district, which is how I suppose he expects to achieve his “Vision: The United States of America will reclaim its past glory as the Land of Opportunity, restoring the promise of the American Dream for our children and grandchildren.”

I guess it’s good to know that at least one GOP rep thinks Government works and should intervene without waiting for markets to allocate resources to regional airports and municipal sewer systems.  But since Collins voted for the tax “reform” act last year, he must also think borrowing money that his grandchildren will have to pay back will restore to them the “promise of the American Dream.”  Low taxes for corporations now and higher taxes for everyone else later sounds like the “Land of Opportunity,” all right – if you’re a corporate CEO or shareholder. Continue reading

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No, Voting for Trump Won’t Accelerate Progressive Change

Yves Smith (aka Susan Webber), a management consultant and principal at Aurora Advisors, writes at Politico that the “highly educated, high-income, finance-literate readers of my website, Naked Capitalism, don’t just overwhelmingly favor Bernie Sanders. They also say “Hell no!” to Hillary Clinton to the degree that many say they would even vote for Donald Trump over her.”

They (9 out of 10 Smith friends polled) developed their “conclusions” from “careful study of her record and her policy proposals,” and believe the Clintons represent a policy status quo of “crushing inequality, and an economy that is literally killing off the less fortunate.” And they think “the most powerful move they can take to foster change is to withhold their support.” Continue reading

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Trump, Sanders, Populism, and the 2016 Election

I’m glad I ran across this Salon article challenging the notion that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appeal to similar populist constituencies.  Don’t both Trump and Sanders “confront ‘establishment’ hegemony and voice small-fry ‘populism,’ plus condemn bad trade agreements, job losses, and Washington insiders?”  No, Becker says:

Sanders is not like Trump or vice versa: despite surface parallels, they are at heart more like polar opposites. In the end this measure emerges: the unassuming Sanders presents people-oriented messages that widen debate and insight. Trump’s proto-fascist, wealth-driven demagoguery kills debate with deceptive, irresponsible war cries that deter thinking and enlightenment.

I guess I agree as far as it goes: the contrast between Sanders’ intellectual and Trump’s demagogic arguments are…wait for it…yuuuuge.  But I see a much more important difference: Donald Trump sells himself as the best player of the Capitalism game.  Bernie Sanders makes a case that the game itself is rigged, and the rules need to change. Continue reading

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