Monday, January 28, 2013

National Capitalism & Obama's Second Epiphany

President Obama began his second term with an address that was a resounding rehash of his commencement address in 2004.  Addressing the Democratic Party in his maiden national speech, the young Senator from Illinois intoned,

    "I stand here knowing... that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.  ... 

    “Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation not because of [our power and wealth but because]  "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal... that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

    “That is the true genius of America, a faith...  a faith in simple dream"
 Eight years later, the simple dream rings on.

    "We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names.  What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

        “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    “Today we continue a never-ending journey, ..."
 It is perhaps true that all nations need a binding continuity; but the advantage of monarchy is that the unity can be expressed silently in the flesh without the clanging of clichéd concepts. Alas, since the founding of the Republic, American oratory has felt obliged to make up for lost pomp with parades of hortatorical pomposity.

Apart from invocations of National Conceptual Unity, equally clichéd were Obama's policies for implementing the Idea.  Back in 2004, Obama declaimed,

    “People don't expect -- people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But ...  with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all.”

And eight years on,

    “We, the people, still believe that every citizen deserves a basic measure of security and dignity.  ... We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any time, may face a job loss, or a sudden illness, or a home swept away in a terrible storm.”
How is it that this most exceptional of nations is still trying to give every child a "decent shot at life" and a "basic measure of security" 80 years on from Franklin Roosevelt's call to assure economic security for all?

The basic reason is that for the past 40 years, the United States has renounced Social Justice in favor of Social Darwinism.  Obama's political economy is more in tune with Calvin Coolidge than with either of the Roosevelts.

The key to Obama's "exceptionalism" is precisely the fact that he limits Government responsibility to exceptional situations in which through no fault of their own people "encounter" a sudden illness or job loss.  This is simply a restatement of the Calvinist doctrine of charity for the deserving poor -- those wretched poor, who may be deemed worthy enough, having committed no fault on their own, of our more fortunate gracious charity.

Obama graduated from Harvard where he was imbued with a simple faith in the political virtues of the free market. He truly believes that the individual pursuit of private selfish interests will best insure the public common good. How the sum of zeroes produces a one is “demonstrated” with a miasma of complicated graphs and mathematical formulae, all of which fly in the face of simple reason.

But within this Millsian-Calvinist construct, the role of government is to help those “unfortunate few” -- now numbering around 40 million -- who manage to fall through the cracks, somehow, through no fault of their own.  However, if the fall was not their fault, then whose?  The question is not asked. Rather than focus on the systemic economic faults which produce predictable misfortune (the fetish of the commodity), attention is misdirected toward personal psychological issues (the fetish of sin). 

At the bottom of Obama’s exceptionalism lies the exceptionalism of self-righteousness covering an absence of social-solidarity. To see where Obama is truly coming from, it is helpful to contrast his address with Franklin Roosevelt’s first inaugural in 1933.

Within the feel good wrapping of Guiding Principles, which all political oratory must inevitably invoke, FDR's inaugural was surprisingly specific. 

After decrying the "mad chase of evanescent profits" and holding forth that "our true destiny" was to "minister" to our fellow men, Roosevelt descended unto a more prosaic politic, stating that national "restoration" called "not for changes in ethics alone" but "for action and action now."

Under Roosevelt's action plan the "greatest primary task is to put people to work" through "direct recruiting" by Government, if necessary.  He called for a national "redistribution" of people back to government-supported family farms. He promised an end to the "tragedy" of home and farm foreclosures and stated his intent to replace uncoordinated, local half measures with "national planning" for those "utilities which have a definitely public character."  Lastly he called for "a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments" and "an end to speculation with other people's money" which had been responsible for the great catastrophe in the first place."

Roosevelt's plan was at once comprehensive and specific. It was much the same economic plan as Germany's and it rested on the fundamentally fascist (sic) premise that "If we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline." 

Roosevelt "frankly and boldly" spoke the truth about capitalism: it does not produce commonwealth.  This truth was recognized even by the most conservative Bismarck at the end of the 19th century.  It is an empirical fact, not an opinion, denied only by economic "creationists" whose protestations are the product of either incalculable stupidity or cunning hypocrisy. 

Given that the free market does not reliably generate  collateral benefits for the greater part of the people; and given the fact that capitalism has always received a cornucopia of government licenses, privileges and protections in return for its own social and economic irresponsibility, what then is the solution? 

The socialist answer was to abolish private ownership of the means of production.  The “third” way alternative by whatever name it was called (fascism, state paternalism, national syndicalism, progressivism, national socialism, social democracy, Peronism, etc., etc.) was that private enterprise could be made to work if it was harnessed, regulated and controlled by government. 

Being a middle ground, “fascism et al.” gets pummelled  from both ends.  Socialist types accuse fascism of entrenching corporate interests under a dispensary populism. Capitalist types accuse it of infringing individual rights in favor of lazy-fair collectivism.   But these are ideological polemics. The functional metapolitical facts are more straightforward.

State intervention in the economy is nothing new under the sun.  It has been the default condition of virtually all political systems, the sole exception being the 18th century canard of economic liberalism -- and even then the exception was frequently honored in the breach.

Of necessity, economic "intervention" entails cooperation between Government and Capital as well as a regulation of Labor.  The success of the regulatory economic model, in any given instance, depends on the ability to modulate cycles of economic sowing and economic harvesting and to balance the needs of different economic sectors comprising the overall (national) economy.  It is a complicated task which requires transparency to preclude corruption and an effective (not formal) democracy to insure that it continues to serve the common good as perceived by the common man.

Historically speaking and depending on their temperaments, socialists either deplored or welcomed this "third way." Those who welcomed it accepted the premise of socialist gradualism; and, in truth, Bismarck's watershed adoption of social insurance policies within the framework of capitalism (1880) was cribbed entirely from economic platform of Germany's democratic (i.e. non-revolutionary) Socialists.

Those on the Left who deplored the economic hybrid saw it as a mere contrivance of Capital.  Lenin scathingly dismissed the German Socialists as "social chauvinists" whose socialism, being tied to the nation state, would die on the battle-fields of nationalism.

However, most great statesmen from Augustus to Bismarck are pragmatists.  When accused by outraged National Liberals and Conservatives of being a socialist, Bismarck famously shrugged "Call it socialism or what you will, it's all the same to me."

Franklin Roosevelt was equally indifferent and pragmatic. He waved away ideological labels as unnecessarily strange and complex....

and feigned astonishment at being accused of  feasting on a breakfast of "grilled millionaire."  He was, he assured his college audience, a "devotée" of capitalism whose breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs.

A straight and pragmatic line ran from Bismarck, through Herbert Croley's  "New Nationalism" and Uncle Teddy's Bull Moose Progresivism to Roosevelt's New Deal

"Why should not the labor soldier receive a pension as much as the veteran?"  asked Bismarck.  Why not? answered Roosevelt, "Americans are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to [soldier-like]  discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good."  What Leader could have said it better?

Too many Americans have been turned into political illiterates by a propaganda which intentionally confuses geo-political issues and matters of racio-cultural policy with questions of political-economy.  Although these three areas are functionally inter-related  they remain analytically distinct.  No one in his right mind would confuse FDR's New Deal with those policies of juridical segregation and disenfranchisement which were intentionally left in place by a political coalition that was one third Dixiecrat. 

The point here is not to excuse racist policies or to rehabilitate the "fascist" brand mark but rather to get a clear and sure footing within the political spectrum so that Obama's policies may be correctly assessed.

Between the canard of liberal capitalism and the allure of pure anarcho-socialism there lies a middle ground in which government assumes levels of overall economic control in order to bring about a harmonious and equitable social result.  "Call it what you will," by the middle of the last century, those policies had been adopted by almost every advanced country in the world.  Astonishingly, in 1980, the United States did an about face and has since then doggedly marched back into the 19th century. 

The volte face was the work of capitalist reactionaries who wanted to make money for themselves freed from the irksome restraints of social responsibility.  They argued that economic regulation was counterproductive and that only "the war" brought us out of the Depression.

The argument was despicably contrived. Let us cut to the chase by assuming the truth of what is stated: only "war" got us out of the depression.  The question then is, why?  The answer is that "the war" got us out of the Depression because at that point the Government took near total control over the economy. It promoted productive stimulus, set the terms of exchange and regulated conditions of employment.

The "war" did not get us out of the Depression because somehow -- magically -- we started shooting and bombing.  It revived the economy because what had been Roosevelt's half measures now became a full measure of stimulus and control.  The neo-liberal deceptionists substitute the situational circumstance of war for the underlying economic substance of economic stimulus and regulation.  It is an intentional confusion, aimed at getting people to except war as "productive of good times."

However, “regulation” alone is not a sufficient panacea.  As stated, all governments at all times have regulated trade and production in some manner according to the circumstances of the times.  Pure capitalism, as pure socialism, are mythical endpoints on the ideological spectrum.  The real question concerns the degree of regulation and the distribution of economic product. 

The virtue of mid-century fascist models -- including FDR’s “fascism lite” --  was that they aimed at a populist distribution of economic product. The defect of end century American National Capitalism is that its highly regulated economy is calibrated to protect corporate monopolies and privileges at the expense of the working class.

Put another way, the two variables at issue are degree of regulation and direction of economic flow.  Regulation of itself is a two edged sword. Milton Friedman, the great prophet of Neo-Liberalism, pointed out that regulation could be used and perverted by the very corporate economic interests the regulations were intended to control.  This is indeed the essential feature of National Capitalism.  However, Friedman’s argument that the solution was to do away with all regulation and redirection of wealth was a return to the “pure” liberal capitalism which had been historically shown to systematically produces national poverty.  Friedman’s polemic was simply “heads I win; tails you loose.”

Another polemic used by the hawkers of liberal capitalism is to push the correlation between economic and political freedom.  However, this is but a shell game that switches the topic from government as economic regulator to government as social arbiter. As France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries have demonstrated economic regulation and political freedom are entirely compatible.

With these considerations in mind we are able to assess the differences between Roosevelt’s gradualist social democracy (i.e. faux, faux-socialism) and Obama’s National Capitalist Security State. 

In 1933, Franklin Roosevelt pinpointed the failure of capitalism: "a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return." 

A more trenchant summary was hardly possible. A majority of Americans faced starvation or austerity.  The solution was not to provide soup kitchens for the ‘unfortunate’  while calling for ‘sacrifices’ from the rest -- an America where the great number of people were left scrambling for scraps, while avoiding the inconvenience and scandal of watching people shiver and starve on street corners. 

No. His aim was to demand sacrifices from the banks and corporations so that all people could have both economic security and opportunity, including a decent education “remunerative employment,” health care, recreation and retirement. 

Roosevelt's simple casting of the problem was far removed from Obama's characterization of the problem as one of "falling on hard times."   What Obama simply refuses to acknowledge is that, without redistributive economic regulation, the free market system is in the business of producing hard times; i.e. a consistent, unabated decline in real wages and an existence now blithely labelled austerity.  

To the extent Obama acknowledges the problem his solution is to make a pretence of ‘progressive’ solutions, either through give-aways to Big Bucks Inc., disguised as popular entitlements (the Obamacare fiasco), or by taking away with one hand what is given with the other in the name of “fairness (as in raising the taxes - a tiny bit - on ‘the rich’ while seeking to cut social security benefits - a lot - for the aged poor).

Not only did Obama's inagugural speech refuse to properly frame the problem, not only did it fail to propose nuts and bolts specifics, it fell back instead on another false substitution: the substitution of cultural validations for economic security.

    As he neared the summit of his hortatorical heap, Obama intoned that “our journey” was not complete,

    1) until our daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts;

    2) until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law;

    3) until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

    4) until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants

    5) until all our children, and always safe from harm.

Imagine if Roosevelt had assumed office in 1933 vowing to protect school children and shortening waits at the ballot box.  

None of Obama’s “untils” addressed what income security any of these precious cognized groups were entitled to “under the law.” 

Buried within the muck of irrelevancies was Obama's true promise to "make the hard choices to reduce the cost of health care and the size of our deficit."  Why is the choice "hard"? Would Roosevelt have spoken of the "hard choice" to provide a "measure of social security" to the aged?  Are we to assume that Big Pharma, Big Sure and Big Med are going to be hit hard by the choices "we" must make?  Nonsense.  This is simply WashTalk for cutting back on benefits for the old and sick.

Incredibly, the mudia pundits have palavered insipidly about Obama's Second Epiphany -- his political turn-around and his recovery of courage in a second term free from the constraints of getting elected to another. 

There was nothing "progressive" about Obama's address.  It was a rehash of the same old neo-liberalism assuaged by a minimalist Social Calvinism.

If Obama’s exceptionalism were nothing more than a retrograde insistence on marching back into the early 19th century, one might laugh as "The Shining Bacon on the Hill made a global ass of itself. But the neo-liberal sludge generated by places like Harvard is in fact toxic to everything natural and moral. 

The real Obamagenda is the institution of a global regime of full-spectrum repression and plunder, which degrades both the environment and civil society while it debases the vast bulk of mankind into an illiterate insecure and desperate lumpen mass of de facto sub-humans.  This is the Orwellian reality behind “austerity” and the “war on terrorism” and behind Obama’s inaugural double-talk.

“A decade of war is now ending,” he intoned, “An economic recovery has begun.” 

I.e,  A decade of war in Afghanistan is ending as we get ready to pursue new strategic initiatives in Ibero-America, Africa and Syria. Banks, investment funds and global corporations have had their chestnuts pulled from the fire and are back to reaping profits. 

“We will support democracy  from Asia to Africa; from the Americas to the Middle East, because our interests  and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of (take advantage of) of those who long for freedom.”

I.e we will continue to promote zones of free market capitalism in Africa and against Russia and China because that’s what we are about and we are shamelessly willing to take advantage of those who hope (that word again!) for a better life.

“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”  BUT   “We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.” 

I.e., malgré nous, we will reluctantly and against our loftier hopes continue to pursue our interests through military means.   

And lastly with a toss-away bone, to the environmen talists: “We will respond to the threat of climate change.” Although “the path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult” we must protect our “national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks....”

All that was lacking was a swelling chorale to Amurrka’s Purple Mountained Majesty. But nothing Obama said can be read as an even half-hearted acknowledgement that endless capitalist “growth” and environmental sustainability are simply not reconcilable.

In so singing, Obama merely rounded the sharp edges of America’s neo-liberal strategy as postulated by Cheney and his gang of neo-cons in academe and think tanks around the world.

Among those tanks was the Project for the New American Century founded in 1997 (with money from Raytheon)whose stated aim was to polemicize “a new century favorable to American principles and interests?  (PNAC charter 1997)

In its now infamous September 2000 paper (Rebuilding America’s Defenses) PNAC argued that “America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces” in order to promote “American interests and ideals.” through “U.S. power projection around the world.” (Op.cit. pp. iv & v.)

The tasks of this “American-led security order,” the PNAC argued, was  “to secure and expand the ‘zones of democratic peace;’ to deter the rise of a new great power competitor; defend key regions of Europe, East Asia and the Middle East, and to preserve American preeminence through the coming transformation of war....”  (Op cit. pg. 2.)

A couple of tips are needed to parse this garbage. The first concerns the use of what chipsters call the "Conjunctive Confusion” which takes place when someone speak of a dual object, as in “principles and interests” or “preserve and extend” or “communists and jews.”

Yoking two objects together as if they were one, beguiles the listener into assuming that they are in fact one and that there is no tension or contradiction between the two.  The two elements become a single piece which can -- magically!! -- march in any and opposite directions.  At the same time, the more sordid aspect of the conjoined elements becomes softened by the loftier.

Thus, “interests” looses it’s sharper character as the pursuit of filthy lucre at the expense of others, and acquires a feel good glowiness from the ideal of “principles.”  Likewise “extend” looses it aggressive character and acquires a sub-silentio defensive justification from the word “preserve”

The second tip concerns “democracy” and "zones of democratic freedom”  The latter is a geo-political term of art and refers to America’s post war policy of containment.  This policy was pursued by two correlative strategies, viz: (a) the geographic and defensive cordon sanitaire around Russia and China and (b) the establishment of pro-American “outposts” in regions that were contested and up for grabs.  These “outposts” -- like Pinochet’s Chile -- shared our “values” (anti-communism, most importantly) and were coupled to our “interests” (free-trade, capitalist economies, American corporate mining or farming or entertainment.)  Functionally, these zones of democratic freedom were no different than “outposts” in Injun Territory or Roman colonae in Gaul.

Thus, when Obama intones that our “conscience” and “interests” require us to promote “democracy” from “Asia to Africa” and from “the Americas to the Middle East” he is simply restating the neo-con PNAC doctrine in somewhat softer, fuzzy-wuzzy terms.  As we have said before, a neo con is simply a neo-liberal gone punk.  But the two are minted from the same alloy.

The last tip concerns “our.”  Who we?  Obama’s use of a collective singular pronoun necessarily implied that, at some level and with respect to something, each of the separate all of us are one.

To be sure, in all societies, divergent classes find unity on some points or issues.  In terms of economy, however, the unity does not concern cultural or racial or other “personal issue” issues but economic ones. ( One would think it was obvious.)  The question, in this context, is: how are “we” an “us” with respect to commonwealth.  

To recapitulate our previous summary, the strict socialist answer is that the abolition of private property makes all wealth common and to the extent the State exists it exists to protect the equality of sharing.  The strict capitalist answer was just the inverse: the State exists to protect private property and common wealth is simply the sum total of privately owned wealths.  The “middling” answer is that the State does both, protecting private ownership but also redistributing wealth among and down.

Thus, in the regulatory state, it is assumed that the “our” inheres in a balanced stimulative-distribution as determined by an overarching “referee” known as “government.”  But in the National Capitalist state, stimulating the "economy" without accompanying distribution of wealth is regarded as a sufficient policy so that, in the end, the state becomes a mere agency of Capital, and  exists to use the political, juridical, fiscal and military means at its disposal to promote the interests and maximize the profits of corporations and banks. 

The difference between theoretically pure Liberalism and National Capitalism is one of maturation and degree. In the former government assumes the relatively simple role of protector of private property and constabulary of public peace.  In the latter, government becomes the aggressive promoter of private wealth and the repressor of public unrest.

By way of example.  Under classical liberal policy, the state will protect Mozart’s work by allowing him to maintain a private suit against Salieri for copying a symphony and peddling it as his own work. Under National Capitalism, however, “copyright” is interpreted to mean a “guaranteed lock on a market” and a legally protected entitlement to maximum profit share.  The government becomes the enforcer of a future and maximum profit stream even if this entails violation national surveillance, dipolmatic interventions, and government initiated prosecution as if the private infringement were a public crime.  The ambit of private and public are confused in favor of private capital. At the same time, public services are privatized so that the State’s role as as servant of public conveniences and goods becomes progressively restricted.  What is left of the State as “third party referee” of overall, collective wellbeing is simply an argument that by making the wheels of private profit spin fast and furious, enough collateral grist will be kicked up to benefit the remainder.  

Once parsed, Obama’s “Second Epiphany” boiled itself down to a regime of domestic austerity coupled with ongoing war abroad and “securitization” at home on behalf of corporations and financial institutions which are no longer even “American” in any meaningul sense of the word.  Obama’s regime is in fact, as it always has been, nothing more than the dystopian Orwellian state, operating on behalf of corporate interests.

Unfortunately, 1984’s dramatic devices -- everpresent video screens and Winston’s mind-breaking torture -- have tended to obscure the softer, self-executing delusions of hell.  Simply put, Orwell’s state could not exist if it had to torture and terrorize everyone.  Rather, as the iPhone aptly illustrates, people can be happily lulled into the necessary habits and mind-set.  The image of 1984, is indeed as Orwell wrote, “a boot in the face” but it is also sustained by a self-executing institutionalism feeding off its own rhetoric and bad grammar.

The structural result is a society managed by an inner circle of elite bureaucrats overseeing a relatively small outer circle of techies, technocrats and enforcement thugs living content in their illusions and secure in their zones and “supervising” a mass of lumpen work-drones and an even larger mass of “unemployed no-longer-counted”.

As at all times, society will be divided into three classes, but rather than lifting the “bottom” into the benefit-level of the middle, the upper two will be severely shrinked and controlled, whereas the lower third will be brutally repressed.

President Clinton was quite candid about it.  The whole thrust of his “new economy” was to export the grunt-work to yellow, brown and black countries, leaving America to take care of the “high tech” and managerial white collar jobs.  The “homeland” would become the core of the inner and outer party, while the rest of the world was consigned to the drudgeries of manual labor broken down into ever smaller, mind-numbing components.  

The lie of Clinton’s new economy was that America’s blue collar workers would be “retooled” for “new, well paying jobs” in our “new economy.  Refooled would be more like it.  There was simply no realistic prospect of retraining a generation of industrial workers to become office managers and computer geeks.

In fact, there is no realistic prospect that anything close to a substantial majority of the so-called “middle class” could be trained and employed as office managers and silitechs. What the Clinton economy really assumed was that masses of Americans (and in fact masses of people around the world) would simply be written off as “service sector” workers or simply consigned to official oblivion as “homeless.”

Nothing in Obama’s progressive epiphany indicates the least deviation from the dystopia of these domestic and geo-political goals.  Rather, it is a cautionary script, to be read more like a car-sale sticker, while ignoring the huckstering puff talk.

Alas, America was built on puff talk as was Obama’s career.  In 2004, as was catapulted in the Nation’s Limelight, Obama intoned,

“We have a righteous wind at our backs  ... We can make the right choices and meet the challenges that face us.  ... And out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come”
And Eight years on,

 "America’s possibilities are limitless ... Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom."

America is beyond ridiculous.  After reaching a crescendo laden with all the pomposity and hubris of Ozymandias, Obamba and Michelle, took to walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, pied a terre, like or'dnary folk.... surrounded by a triple phalanx of armed security thugs.

Orwell himself could not have described the scene as progressives tearfully, joyously lapped it up.



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