Saturday, August 30, 2014

First World Problems

Bernie Sanders is probably one of the better members of the Senate, though it should never be forgotten how low the bar is.  A lot of my liberal Democratic friends post fiery quotations from him, like the one above, or from Elizabeth Warren, which apparently make them feel good but show the limitations of their politics.

It happened that I noticed the meme above while I'm reading David J. Blacker's The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Regime (Zero Books, 2013).  Blacker is a philosopher, and Professor of Philosophy of Education at the University of Delaware.  I hadn't heard of him until this book was mentioned in connection with the University of Illinois' firing of Professor Steven Salaita.  I ordered an e-book copy, and so far (about 60 pages in) I'm enjoying it.  The technical language might put off some readers, and I admit that at first I wasn't sure Blacker was going to deliver the goods of substantial analysis, but that changed quickly.
Let us stipulate, say, that there is greed on Wall Street.  There "greed is good," in fact, as says Michael Douglas's Gordon Gekko in 1987's Wall Street.  But bankers and people in general have always been greedy.  Did they suddenly get more greedy in the 1990s when the subprime housing crisis was brewing and the many "innovative" speculative strategies were being rolled out?  It is logically possible that there was some mass alteration of human nature a couple of decades ago but this possibility seems so remote that it serves as a reductio ad absurdum of the "greed" hypothesis  [5*]...

A precondition for any Marxist [or, I would add, systemic and structural - DM] analysis of the financial crisis is that it is not ultimately caused by individual bad actors such that we could punish the culprits and/or re-regulate the banks and all will be well again ...  While deregulation certainly hastened the crisis and so is highly germane to any analysis of the late domination of the economy by the financial sector, it still begs the question, why?   Why the neoliberal zeal for deregulation or, perhaps one should say, why did this simple market idolatry suddenly become so appealing to so many? ... Why the rise of the neoliberal matrix in the first place? [59] ...

But humility also requires one to recognize the inadequacy of system-preserving proposed remedies like reining in personal greed, merely re-calibrating the regulatory parameters on finance or even redistributing corporate profits.  All of these may be fine things to do and defensible ad hoc in context, but piecemeal melioristic approaches share the unfortunate assumption that the extant underlying forces of production are static and legitimate [60].
The tendency of wealth to concentrate upwards isn't a bug, it's a feature of capitalism, along with the business cycle, bubbles and crises of the kind we saw in 2008.  My only quibble with Blacker is that he doesn't mention (I assume he knows) that these are also features of state-capitalist industrialization in nominally socialist countries like the former Soviet Union and present-day China.  The passages I quoted from Raymond Williams in these posts, along with Chris Harman's analysis in Zombie Capitalism (which Blacker cites, so he knows), pointed me in he right direction.

Bernie Sanders is a socialist, but he's the kind of socialist that Obama Democrats can get behind.  Like Warren (but also like Rand Paul from another political position), he's isolated.  He can safely denounce the corruption of the plutocrats, but if he looked to be making any real progress toward structural change, Obama himself (or Hillary Clinton, or whoever succeeds Obama) would attack him and try to bring him down, and Obama's devotees would regard him as they regard someone like Michael Moore.

*I'm not sure about the accuracy of page numbers; I'm quoting from an e-book that supposedly has "real" page numbers, so I hope that anyone who refers to a print copy will be able to find the passages I'm quoting.