News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to MinneKota@gmail.com

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Reviving Karl Marx


The overwhelming evidence that capitalism is not benefiting the U.S. and most of the western world comes from the capitalists themselves.  For three decades, the middle class in the U.S. has been under a systematic degradation as manufacturing jobs that once provided a living wage have been displaced by jobs that provide less-than-subsistence wages. 

We know that unemployment in the U.S. is much worse than the 7-some percent at which it has hovered for some time because that figure does not include those who have given up looking for work.  Talk of immigration reform misdirects attention away from a huge problem in Europe among the so-called industrialized nations. Here is the most recent unemployment rates in the European Union:

 
Country/Region
July 2012
June 2013
July 2013
Eurozone (17 countries)
11.5
12.1
12.1
Austria
4.5
4.7
4.8
Belgium
7.6
8.7
8.9
Cyprus
12.2
17.0
17.3
Estonia
10.1*
7.9
n/a
Finland
7.8
8.0
7.9
France
10.2
11.0
11.0
Germany
5.4
5.4
5.3
Greece
23.8**
27.6***
n/a
Ireland
14.8
13.9
13.8
Italy
10.7
12.1
12.0
Luxembourg
5.1
5.7
5.7
Malta
6.3
6.1
6.0
Netherlands
5.3
6.8
7.0
Portugal
16.0
16.7
16.5
Slovakia
14.0
14.4
14.3
Slovenia
9.3
11.2
11.2
Spain
25.4
26.3
26.3
 
 
 
 
European Union (28 countries)
10.5
11.0
11.0
U.S.
8.3
7.6
7.4
*Jun 2012 **May 2012***May 2013Source: Eurostat
 
 
 

Youth unemployment in Italy and Spain has spiraled, and academic and journalistic organizations have begun surveying and tracking the youth  In those countries. Young people have largely given up looking for work and those who find it possible have moved to other countries.   Young people who have found  work in other countries have expressed attitudes toward their homelands that portend some political upheavals that threaten the current forms of governance.  They think strongly that the forces that have forced them to leave their homelands are the huge corporations which in effect are the ruling powers that caused the recession--in some countries a pronounced depression--and that those forces have reverted the countries back to medieval status in which a few overlords exercise rule and treat everyone else as serfs.  The European Union has asserted that the economic problems facing its member countries are a result of the profligacy in social programs, which is evidently true to a point.  But our western governments are afraid to raise the matter of the role large, global corporations are playing in the economic and social conditions in the world.

 

I spent a good portion of the summer in Illinois where I heard and read much discussion of a kind that is absent in South Dakota.   A local PBS radio station, located on the campus where I received my B.A. and later taught, has a discussion show.  I listened to one on which a former colleague appeared, along with professors from the campuses located in the area.   He is a retired professor of political theory and practice.  That is his official title.  He spurns the term professor of political science because he says the people who call themselves political scientists have given science a bad name.  The other participants were from a Catholic University and a state university which has established a large campus in the area.  They represented the fields of history, sociology, as well as political theory.

 

A point of discussion was how young people perceived their futures in a political context.  It was a consensus that the brightest young people are looking past the  banalities that comprise political discussion.  One of the discussants has studied the Occupy Wall Street movement and interviewed many of its participants.  He said that a striking aspect is that the young people are not accepting the definitions of capitalism, democracy, socialism, and Marxism that previous generations have passed down to them.  They are a generation that is skeptical of the old Cold War attitudes and rhetoric.  They are examining the world from the perspective of their own circumstances, and they do not see that the current state of affairs offers them a future.  They find that the current economic state of America is denying them opportunity, and they are looking for alternatives to a system that is oppressing them economically with a consciousness of the mistakes of the past.  The Occupy Wall Street movement was criticized for not having a clear agenda and an identifiable leadership.  But young people see those conditions as the fatal flaws that have created the situation where the 99 percent of Americans have only 1 percent of the wealth.   They are working on collaboration and consensus as the keys to effective governance in achieving true liberty, equality, and justice.  They dismiss the ranting about Marxism and socialism as ignorant cant and they also disregard the liberal factions for being drawn into baseless and pointless arguments. 

My former colleague, who is often a visiting professor on campuses, agrees that the most promising young people are aloof but alert.  All the accusations about Marxism, for example, make them curious to know just what Marxism is.  He says they do not confuse Marx's social criticism with the Communist Manifesto and the Soviet and Chinese brands of communism.  They are finding that income inequality in America arises from those factors that Marx cited in his observations on class warfare, but they do not see his solutions as effective or relevant.  Rather, they see that the form that capitalism has taken with global corporations as much of a social failure as Soviet communism, and that American capitalism has destroyed the equal opportunity and economic justice that were the operative principles in the growth of the American middle class.

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Table 1: Income, net worth, and financial worth in the U.S. by percentile, in 2010 dollars
Wealth or income class
Mean household income
Mean household net worth
Mean household financial (non-home) wealth
Top 1 percent
$1,318,200
$16,439,400
$15,171,600
Top 20 percent
$226,200
$2,061,600
$1,719,800
60th-80th percentile
$72,000
$216,900
$100,700
40th-60th percentile
$41,700
$61,000
$12,200
Bottom 40 percent
$17,300
-$10,600
-$14,800
From Wolff (2012); only mean figures are available, not medians.  Note that income and wealth are separate measures; so, for example, the top 1% of income-earners is not exactly the same group of people as the top 1% of wealth-holders, although there is considerable overlap.  
 
 
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Marx has a new relevance in examining the relationship of those who hold the wealth with the rest of the people.  Young people who are facing the paying of college debts with jobs that hold them in a state of poverty represent the new workforce, and they are experiencing the same forces that laborers did when unions arose.  In one way, said the discussants, it is a familiar situation in American and world history.  In other ways, it presents new factors and situations to be confronted, and the current level of political discussion in America does not address the concerns.
 
The people on the discussion show noted that young people who have moved out of their home countries to find work do not find any reason for allegiance to their home countries.  They think that their future lies in the countries where they can live their lives.  This is not unlike, the discussants agreed, the circumstance that caused the emigration to America.  They posited the question of what will happen when American young people see this as their situation. 
 
The professors said they all experienced a critical restiveness in their most promising students, who question if America can once again be the land of opportunity.  The political forces in America seem oblivious to what is facing its prime-age workforce. 

The GOP is irrelevant to this group of young people.  The Democratic Party seems too afraid of the labels its opponents cast upon it to take the necessary decisive action to restore the opportunity that once was America.
 
For the 46.5 million people living in poverty and the millions  being pushed into it, the system proposed by Marx might seem superior to the one that is in control of the economy.  Those in control have found that they can make huge profits without creating jobs and opportunity for a talented and educated workforce. 

To these people, the system has convincingly demonstrated that the system does not work..  The future of America is not in the hands of Congress or the political parties.  It is in the hands of those people in the process of deciding what to do about America.

 

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