mfioretti: capitalism*

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  1. "we have run out of world to commodify. And now commodification can only cannibalize its own means of existence, both natural and social." - @mckenziewark
    https://conversations.e-flux.com/t/mc...this-is-not-capitalism-its-worse/3657
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2017-12-28)
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  2. an endlessly growing population is not sustainable, even if they live like peasants.

    That said, overpopulation is not, in my view, the main driver of planetary collapse today. The main driver is capitalism. The human population has roughly tripled since WWII. But our consumption of resources has multiplied many many times greater than population growth: We use something like 6 times as much steel as in 1950, 15 times as much aluminum, thousands of times more plastic and on and on. That ravenous overconsumption of resources, and its associated pollution, is overwhelmingly driven by the requirements of capitalist reproduction, the ceaseless invention of new needs and so on, not by human reproduction. Yes we need to reduce the human population, if only to give other life forms some space and resources. But there are easy ways to do so without using force like the Chinese government. Instead of building grandiose blingfrastructure and space shots to glorify the Communist Party, China’s so-called communists could have prevented their current overpopulation problem if they had spent that money on providing adequate old age pensions and social security so that peasant farmers don’t have to raise multiple kids in the hopes that one or two will live to support them in their old age. Amazingly, this is still the “social security sytem” for hundreds of millions of Chinese.

    So overpopulation is a real problem. But if we don’t overthrow capitalism, Mother Nature is going to solve the overpopulation problem in a hurry, but in a most unpleasant manner. That’s why I don’t concern myself much with the population problem. I don’t mean to ignore it. But I think its very much a secondary driver compared to capitalism.
    http://www.resilience.org/stories/201...talist-overdevelopment-bigger-problem
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  3. Earlier studies on this issue, Brandt points out, have highlighted the risk of a “net energy cliff”, which refers to how “declining EROI results in rapid increases in the fraction of energy dedicated to simply supporting the energy system.”

    Axiom: So the more EROI declines, a greater proportion of the energy being produced must be used simply to extract more energy. This means that EROI decline leads to less real-world economic growth.

    It also creates a complicated situation for oil prices. While at first, declining EROI can be expected to lead to higher prices reflecting higher production costs, the relationship between EROI and prices begins to breakdown as EROI becomes smaller.

    This could be because, under a significantly reduced EROI, consumers in a less prosperous economy can no longer afford, energetically or economically, the cost of producing more energy — thus triggering a dramatic drop in market prices, despite higher costs of production. At this point, in the new era of shrinking EROI, swinging oil prices become less and less indicative of ‘scarcity’ in supply and demand.

    Brandt’s new economic model looks at how EROI impacts four key sectors — food, energy, materials and labor. Exploring what a decline in net energy would therefore mean for these sectors, he concludes:

    “The reduction in the fraction of a resource free and the energy system productivity extends from the energy system to all aspects of the economy, which gives an indication of the mechanisms by which energy productivity declines would affect general prosperity.

    A clear implication of this work is that decreases in energy resource productivity, modeled here as the requirement for more materials, labor, and energy, can have a significant effect on the flows required to support all sectors of the economy. Such declines can reduce the effective discretionary output from the economy by consuming a larger and larger fraction of gross output for the meeting of inter-industry requirements.”
    https://medium.com/insurge-intelligen...low-burn-energy-collapse-d07344fab6be
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  4.  For a small but committed group of economists, academics, and activists who adhere to a doctrine called Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), though, #mintthecoin was the tip of the economic iceberg. The possibility of a $1 trillion coin represented more than mere monetary sophistry: It drove home their foundational point that fiat currency is a social construct, and that there are therefore no fiscal limits on how much a sovereign currency-issuing nation can spend.

     To a layperson, MMT can seem dizzyingly complex, but at its core is the belief that most of us have the economy backward. Conventional wisdom holds that the government taxes individuals and companies in order to fund its own spending. But the government—which is ultimately the source of all dollars, taxed or untaxed—pays or spends first and taxes later. When it funds programs, it literally spends money into existence, injecting cash into the economy. Taxes exist in order to control inflation by reducing the money supply, and to ensure that dollars, as the only currency accepted for tax payments, remain in demand.

    It follows that currency-issuing governments could (and, depending on how you lean politically, should) spend as much as they need to in order to guarantee full employment and other social goods. MMT’s adherents like to point out that the federal government never “runs out” of money to fund the military, but routinely invokes budget constraints to justify defunding social programs. Money, in other words, isn’t a scarce commodity like silver or gold. “To people who’ve worked in financial markets, who work at the Fed, this isn’t controversial at all,” says Galbraith, who, while not an adherent, can certainly be described as “MMT-friendly.”



    According to this small but increasingly vocal cohort of economists, including Bernie Sanders’s former chief economic adviser, once we change the way we think about money, we can provide for everyone: We don’t have to “find” the money to “pay” for universal health care by “cutting” the budget elsewhere. In fact, our government already works that way: Spending must precede taxation, or there would be no dollars in the economy to tax. It’s the political will to spend on certain things, not the money to afford it, that’s lacking.
    https://www.thenation.com/article/the...star-appeal-of-modern-monetary-theory
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  5. Among the 30% of respondents who said they did not think things would turn out well in the future were those who said the trajectory of technology will overwhelm labor markets, killing more jobs than it creates. They foresee a society where AI programs and machines do most of the work and raise questions about people’s sense of identity, the socio-economic divisions that already distress them, their ability to pay for basic needs, their ability to use the growing amount of “leisure time” constructively and the impact of all of this on economic systems. It should also be noted that many among the 70% who expect positive change in the next decade also expressed some of these concerns.

    Richard Stallman, Internet Hall of Fame member and president of the Free Software Foundation, commented, “I think this question has no answer. I think there won’t be jobs for most people a few decades from now, and that’s what really matters. As for the skills for the employed fraction of advanced countries, I think they will be difficult to teach. You could get better at them by practice, but you couldn’t study them much.”
    http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/05/03/the-future-of-jobs-and-jobs-training
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  6. The robots hypothesis says that as technology gets cheaper, employers are substituting machines for workers. A 2013 paper by Lukas Karabarbounis and Brent Neiman found that costs of capital goods have been getting cheaper, and concluded that companies are substituting technology for human labor. This fits with other research showing adverse effects on wages from the adoption of new technologies like industrial robots.

    But there are problems with this thesis as well. A recent study by David Autor, David Dorn, Lawrence Katz, Christina Patterson and John Van Reenen found that the labor share is falling across the whole economy, but not within companies. In other words, companies themselves aren’t substituting machines for workers, as we might expect them to do if robots were getting really cheap. Instead, the economy is simply shifting resources toward a few large companies that are very capital-intensive, and away from the more numerous, smaller companies that use more human labor. Autor et al. blame increasing monopoly power for labor’s decline.

    Then there’s the idea that landowners, not corporate overlords, are taking money away from workers. While analyzing the work of French economist Thomas Piketty, Matt Rognlie found that national income accounts showed an increasing amount flowing to owners of land. More recently, economist Dietrich Vollrath examined a paper by Simcha Barkai about rising profits, and found that profits from owner-occupied housing also rose sharply.

    Supporters of the other theses have yet to really grapple with the landlords explanation. The reason is that the people pushing this fourth idea justify it based on national income accounts, while supporters of the other three explanations tend to look at corporate behavior up close. When economists speak in different languages, it’s harder to have a debate.

    So that leaves us with as many as four competing explanations, each with some reasonably compelling circumstantial evidence in its favor. What to do? Eventually, economists will probably find new, better ways of putting these theories head to head. But in the meantime, it’s worth asking whether some of these explanations could actually be measuring different parts of the same phenomenon.

    A recent blog post by Paul Krugman offers a possible insight. Krugman notes that it’s possible that some companies are more capital-intensive and some are more labor-intensive -- think of factories making televisions with robots while others assemble them by hand. When the productivity of the capital-intensive companies improves -- due to mechanization, or the internet, or globalization -- it shifts production toward those companies, and lowers wages in the process.

    Now suppose that those capital-intensive companies are a small handful of superstar multinationals, while the labor-intensive companies are a bunch of small, local competitors. Improvement in robots, information technology and globalization would therefore be shifting resources away from the many and toward the few -- in other words, exactly the same phenomenon that Autor et al. describe. Huge companies are probably more capable of building automated factories, using online supply chains to outsource production to China.

    So monopoly power, robots and globalization might all be part of one unified phenomenon -- new technologies that disproportionately help big, capital-intensive multinational companies. Meanwhile, technology that augments human labor-power -- for example, cheap energy -- might have languished in recent decades, due to the failure to replace oil and gas with better power sources. Hence, small companies that use lots of workers might be losing out in the age of information technology.

    That theory still doesn’t explain how landlords might fit into the picture. But it provides a possible way to unify at least some of the competing explanations for this disturbing economic trend.
    https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articl...stery-of-labor-s-falling-share-of-gdp
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  7. the Alt-Left is not centrist, and even, to some extent, it is anti-liberal. It should not be confounded with the Democrats in the US or Social Democrats in Europe. As you’ll see, the positions I outline in the following few posts can hardly be found in the mainstream center-left.

    You will find, over the years, that these positions will become increasingly common. This is because they reflect the attractors of how society is evolving: we are entering a new age, with an entirely new form of global economy and society. This means that many of the Old Left positions become unsustainable, irrelevant or downright counterproductive.

    If the Old Left paradigm could transform the world, it already would have. If the labor movement could take over production and turn it into cooperatives, it already would have. Has this movement produced ecological awareness, animal rights, global solidarity, even solidarity within the borders of the affluent countries? Did it even create a genuinely progressive politics of gender, sexuality and identity? The answer is no. Progressives need a new movement, and a new paradigm; an Alt-Left.

    Let’s begin with the basics:

    Alt-Left basics

    “The progressives, then, must adopt more complex stances and rely upon avant-garde groups and networks in order to affect the overall political climate and debate.”

    The Old Left still thinks and functions according to the logic and classes of industrial society. In this analysis, capitalism stratifies society into different classes and it is this stratification that must be curbed and eventually brought to an end. The Alt-Left reacts to the class divisions of a postindustrial, digitalized society.

    In this kind of society the political game changes dramatically. People have much more complex class divisions, ideologies, interests and identities. Hence it becomes increasingly difficult to “represent” a segment of society.

    Instead, you need to target these many complex relationships and try to develop them in a manner that reproduces less inequality and less alienation. One way of doing this is by deliberately supporting the elements of the economy that are less governed by the logic of capital. In the old days, you needed a lot of capital to start a business. Today you need skills, contacts, mutual trust, cultural capital – and a laptop with an internet connection. These are the primary goods and resources that must become more evenly distributed if people are to be empowered.

    Because people to a lesser degree are divided into discernible classes and identities, traditional party politics also becomes more difficult to pursue in a meaningful manner – at least if you’re the progressive. This doesn’t affect the populist anti-immigration movements; they can build upon etnhic identities and single issues. The progressives, then, must adopt more complex stances and rely upon avant-garde groups and networks in order to affect the overall political climate and debate. They must work more across and beyond the traditional political parties. An important part of this is to try to improve the quality and inclusiveness of deliberation and political culture. In the end, this should lead to a greater enfranchisement of citizens through innovations within the fruitful field of internet democracy
    http://metamoderna.org/what-is-the-alt-left-about?lang=en
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  8. As Kanth sees it, most of our utopian visions carry on the errors and limitations born of a misguided view of human nature. That’s why communism, as it was practiced in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, projected a materialist perspective on progress while ignoring the natural human instinct for autonomy— the ability to decide for ourselves where to go and what to say and create. On flip side, capitalism runs against our instinct to trust and take care of each other.
    So what do we do?

    Kanth, like many, senses that a global financial crisis, or some other equivalent catastrophe, like war or natural disaster, may soon produce painful and seismic economic and political disruptions. Perhaps only then will human nature reassert itself as we come to rediscover the crucial nexus of reciprocities that is our real heritage. That’s what will enable us to survive.

    Hopefully it won’t come to that, but right now, we can learn to “step out and breathe again,” says Kanth. We can “reclaim our natural social heritage, which is our instincts for care, consideration, and conviviality.” Even in large cities, he observes, we naturally tend to function within small groups of reference even though we are forced into larger entities in the workplace and other arenas. There, we can build and enrich our social ties, and seek to act according to our moral instincts. We can also resist and defy the institutions that deny our real humanity. Rather than violence or revolution, we can engage in “evasion and disobedience and exile.”

    We had better get to it, he warns. To put it bluntly, Eurocentric modernism is not compatible with human civilization. One of them has got to go.
    http://www.filmsforaction.org/article...r-human-nature-for-four-hundred-years
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  9. you need not be wealthy to participate. All you need to gain access to socialism for white people is a good corporate or government job. That fact helps explain how this welfare system took shape sixty years ago, why it was originally (and still overwhelmingly) white, and why white Rust Belt voters showed far more enthusiasm for Donald Trump than for Bernie Sanders. White voters are not interested in democratic socialism. They want to restore their access to a more generous and dignified program of white socialism.

    In the years after World War II, the western democracies that had not already done so adopted universal social safety net programs. These included health care, retirement and other benefits. President Truman introduced his plan for universal health coverage in 1945. It would have worked much like Social Security, imposing a tax to fund a universal insurance pool. His plan went nowhere.

    Instead, nine years later Congress laid the foundations of the social welfare system we enjoy today. They rejected Truman’s idea of universal private coverage in favor of a program controlled by employers while publicly funded through tax breaks. This plan gave corporations new leverage in negotiating with unions, handing the companies a publicly-financed benefit they could distribute at their discretion.

    No one stated their intention to create a social welfare program for white people, specifically white men, but they didn’t need to. By handing control to employers at a time when virtually every good paying job was reserved for white men the program silently accomplished that goal.

    White socialism played a vital political role, as blue collar factory workers and executives all pooled their resources for mutual support and protection, binding them together culturally and politically. Higher income workers certainly benefited more, but almost all the benefits of this system from health care to pensions originally accrued to white families through their male breadwinners. Blue collar or white collar, their fates were largely united by their racial identity and employment status.

    Until the decades after the Civil Rights Acts, very few women or minorities gained direct access to this system. Unsurprisingly, this was the era in which white attitudes about the social safety net and the Democratic Party began to pivot. Thanks to this silent racial legacy, socialism for white people retains its disproportionately white character, though that has weakened. Racial boundaries are now less explicit and more permeable, but still today white families are twice as likely as African-Americans to have access to private health insurance. Two thirds of white children are covered by private health insurance, while barely over one third of black children enjoy this benefit.

    White socialism has had a stark impact on the rest of the social safety net, creating a two-tiered system. Visit a county hospital to witness an example. American socialism for “everyone else” is marked by crowded conditions, neglected facilities, professionalism compromised by political patronage, and long waits for care. Fall outside the comfortable bubble of white socialism, and one faces a world of frightening indifference.


    When Democrats respond to job losses with an offer to expand the public safety net, blue collar voters cringe and rebel. They are not remotely interested in sharing the public social safety net experienced by minority groups and the poorest white families. Meanwhile well-employed and affluent voters, ensconced in their system of white socialism, leverage all the power at their disposal to block any dilution of their expensive public welfare benefits. Something has to break.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/chrislad...alth-coverage-in-the-us/#718842f6186a
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  10. Basic Income, when all is said and done, is a vision for nothing more than the means to be a customer in an unjust society that decides what is for sale. ”
    http://socialistproject.ca/bullet/1350.php
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