Free Market Capitalism: The Greatest Lie Every Told

The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs Private Sector Myths

By Mariana Mazzucato

Anthem Press (2013)

Book Review

This book totally shatters the lie that the free market makes the US the world’s greatest economic power. Mazzucato leaves the reader with absolutely no doubt the exact opposite is true: the US became an economic powerhouse after World War II as a direct result of massive government intervention – more so than any country in history except for China.

As Mazzucato’s research ably demonstrates, capitalism doesn’t work without massive state investment in research and development because no private investor (ie neither banks nor venture capitalists) will risk investing in new technologies that require 15-20 years to produce returns.

Without massive state intervention, there is no economic growth – anywhere. This is why austerity budgets adopted by most of the industrialized world have been so damaging. According to Mazzucato, austerity itself is directly responsible for current global stagnation (with a decade of near zero growth). Moreover industrialized countries with the lowest level of state-subsidized research and development (Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal) are the ones struggling the most economically.

The book mainly focuses on US programs that have financed technological research and development – via grants to universities and researchers, loans, loan guarantees, and subsidies. Not only does this funding support basic research (which venture capitalists almost never fund), but it also assists private corporations in commercializing these new technologies. She emphasizes that without strong support by alleged free market champion Ronald Reagan for massive state intervention (during the 1980s), there would have been no personal computer and Internet revolution the following decade.

The main federal agencies responsible for funding technological research and development (R&D) are National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)*, National Institutes of Health (funds research for nearly all new pharmaceuticals before handing them over to pharmaceutical companies), Small Business Administration, National Science Foundation (developed Google’s search algorithm), ARPA-E, and Department of Energy (helps private industry bring clean energy technologies to market).

Among other technological innovations made possible by federal R&D funding:

  • nanotechnology
  • biotechnology
  • Tesla electric vehicle
  • Apple computer, ipod, ipad, iphone, and SIRI (Apple bought SIRI from Stanford Research Institute aka SRI)
  • the jet engine
  • aerospace (space) technology
  • semiconductors, hard drives, microprocessors, hard drive, and RAM technology making personal computers possible
  • GPS
  • lithium batteries
  • fracking technology
  • nuclear technology (still massively subsidized by the state in all countries that employ it)

*NASA and DARPA were not only responsible for creating the Internet but for helping private industry to commercialize it.

 

 

The Framing of Sacco and Vanzetti

Sacco and Vanzetti

Directed by Peter Miller (2006)

Film Review

This film, featuring radical historians Howard Zinn and Studds Terkel, concerns the 1920 framing of Italian immigrants Sacco and Vanzetti for a murder they didn’t commit,

Sacco and Vanzetti begins by exploring the appalling working conditions most US immigrants faced  in the early 20th century. These desperate conditions drew many European immigrants into an anarchist movement seeking to overthrow capitalism.

The most interesting part of the documentary is the trial, in which jurors clearly convicted Sacco and Vanzetti because they were immigrants and anarchists. The prosecution, aware the two men were innocent of murder, deliberately fabricated evidence against them.

Convicted of murder in connection with an armed robbery, they spent seven years unsuccessfully appealing the verdict. The third and final appeal (which went all the way to the Massachusetts Supreme Court) was based on a confession by a man belonging to the gang that had staged the robbery. During the entire seven years there were massive protests across the US, Europe, Japan, China and Africa demanding their release.

The city of Boston declared martial law the day they were executed – fearful the entire city would riot.

Although the film can’t be embedded, it can be viewed free at the following link:

Sacco and Vanzetti (2006 – Peter Miller)

 

Why We Don’t Quit Those Bullshit Jobs

Why We Don’t Quit Those Bullshit Jobs

VPRO (2019)

Film Review

This film, featuring anarchist anthropologist David Graeber, challenges the myth that capitalism is the most efficient form of economic production – namely because it creates a large number of managerial jobs that contribute nothing to the economy. Thirty-seven percent of UK employees believe it would make no difference to society if their jobs didn’t exist.

While adding nothing to the economy, many of these jobs are responsible for major environmental damage. This is especially true of jobs designed to aimed at increasing consumption of useless stuff. An advertising executive, for example, creates £8 of environmental damage for every £1 of salary.

Graeber contrasts redundant and damaging management jobs with low paid front line caring jobs. A childcare worker creates £9 of social value for every £1 of salary earned.

At the same time the productivity demands of the bureaucratic management class make it much more difficult for front line care workers to carry out their work. At present nurses spend 60-70% of their work day filling out forms for their managers. This leave them scant time for actual patient care.

Graeber maintains that contrary to right wing propaganda, corporations are every bit as bureaucratic as government, if not more so. Upper tier managers are loathe to reduce the number of front line managers because their pay and status derive from the number of people they supervise.

The film, which is in German with English subtitles, features interviews with a number of German managers and ex-managers. They talk about the nightmare of going to work everyday and trying to look busy (by spending time on Facebook and other on-line sites) because their assigned work takes up so little of their time.

 

 

The New Women’s Movement to Reclaim the Commons

Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons

by Sylvia Federici

PM Press (2019)

Book Review

This book is a collection of essays about capitalism’s continuing seizure and privatization of the “commons” and growing women’s movements in Africa, Latin America and Asia to resist enclosure and reclaim privatized land.

Federici divides her book into two parts. The Part One (“On the New Enclosures”) essays describe the original 15-17th century enclosure laws that drove my European ancestors off common lands they had farmed communally for more than 1,000 years. This process (which Marx refers to as “primitive accumulation”) laid the groundwork for capitalism in two important ways: 1) it allowed the accumulation of capital (ie land) to finance the industrial revolution and 2) it forced landless peasants into factories.

Part One goes on to explore how the World Bank and IMF continues to expel drive third world peoples from their communal lands, creating the largest mass migration of refugees in history. I was quite surprised to learn that communal land ownership survives intact throughout much of Africa and that women produce 80% of the continent’s food via subsistence farming.

This section also features excellent essays on the role the Chinese government has played in driving their peasant population off their communal lands – and the role of microcredit in inflicting debt on rural populations that were previously immune to the forces of globalization.

In Part Two “On the Commons,” Federici details numerous examples of third world women’s movements that are reclaiming the commons via such strategies as squatting on privatized land, urban gardening (growing crops on privatized land), time banks, savings pools, and programs to collectively undertake shopping, cooking and care of street children.

This section also offers an excellent critique of Marx’s failure to acknowledge the essential role under capitalism of the unpaid work of women and colonized peoples – nor of the degradation of the “commons” known as the environment.

The book’s final essay warns of the seductive nature of Internet technology and role it plays in distracting people from genuine face-to-face interaction that brings about real change.

The Link Between Globalization and Violence Against Women

witches and witchhunting

Witches, Witch-hunting and Women

by Sylvia Federici

PM Press (2018)

Book Review

This book is a collection of essays that continue the theme feminist historian Sylvia Federici introduced in her 2004 book Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body and Primitive Accumulation (see Witch Burning and Women’s Oppression). In addition to re-exploring historical links between witchcraft trials, enclosures, land privatization, and systematized oppression of women, Witches, Witch-hunting and Women extends her analysis to the present day. Federici sees strong links between increasing violence against women and “globalization,” a euphemism for an elitist campaign to dispossess third world peoples of their lands and livelihoods. This dispossession, in turn, has led to the largest mass refugee migration in history.

In tracing its historical origins, the book makes the case that capitalism was actually a “counterrevolution” against the widespread 14th century rebellions that improved both the working and living conditions of both peasants and early urban workers. In constant fear of new rebellions by landless peasants (expelled from common lands under enclosure laws), the landed and merchant classes introduced a totally new form of production that imposed even harsher labor discipline than feudalism.

The witchcraft trials of the 16th and 17th century were essential to this transformation. They were primarily directed against women who resisted enclosure, widows, women who had children out of wedlock, landless women who were driven into the streets (either as market vendors or prostitutes), midwives and women who practiced folk healing.

At a time when thousands of women were killed for accusations of witchcraft, all women were banned from guild membership and prohibited from engaging in crafts other than brewing or spinning and bringing legal cases to court. Under capitalism, they were generally confined to the home to perform unpaid domestic labor in total submission to their husbands.

In looking at modern equivalents, Federici sees a direct link between the massive dispossession occurring under globalization and escalating violence against women. She points to a big increase in domestic violence and rape (especially “handbook” rape*), in sex traffcking, in unprosecuted murders of women (especially women of color), in witchcraft accusations against tribal women in Africa and India, and in dowry and honor killings in India and Pakistan.

She also sees strong links between the current mass incarceration of people of color and the 17th century Great Confinement, in which droves of peasants were incarcerated in prisons and workhouses after being driven off their land.


*”Handbook rape” rape by trained military and paramilitary forces is deliberately designed to terrorize targeted populations. Examples include inserting knives or guns into a woman’s vagina or slitting open her pregnant belly.

They Fuck You Up Your Mom and Dad

philip-larkinPhilip Larkin

1922-1985

This be the verse

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn By fools in old-style hats and coats,

Who half the time were soppy-stern

And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don’t have any kids yourself.

Climate Change: A Really Inconvenient Truth

 

A Really Inconvenient Truth

Directed by Cambiz Khosravi (2007)

Film Review

This film, a moving tribute to the late radical psychiatrist Dr Joel Kovel,* is a critique of Al Gore and his signature documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Owing to his failure to make important links between capitalism and global warming, Kovel believes Gore deserves much of the blame for the failure of the current climate movement to stop global warming.

Kovel’s main criticism of Gore, who first learned of the link between carbon emissions and global warming in the late seventies, was his failure to use his immense power as Clinton’s environmental point man to pursue government action to reduce carbon emissions. Instead Gore “played the game” and continued to advance the interests of the Wall Street corporations responsible for skyrocketing emissions (eg fossil fuel companies, car makers, etc). And the banks and PR and advertising companies responsible for unrelenting psychological pressure on Americans to over-consume.

Kovel believed Gore was deliberately dishonest about labeling climate change a “moral” issue. Instead of blaming capitalism and the corporate oligarchy for climate change, Gore blamed human nature. In the process, he played along with a system that seeks to “commodify” every human need and desire for its profit making potential. Ironically his documentary resulted in the creation of two brand new commodities: carbon credits and green technology.

According to Kovel, ending climate change is impossible without ending the continual economic expansion that is fundamental to capitalism.** Individuals are helpless to stop climate change through behavior change .

Kovel, who died in April 2018, was a presidential candidate in the 2000 Green Party primary but lost out to Ralph Nader.


*Commodification is confiscation of human needs and wants (land, goods, services and ideas) into products that can be sold for a profit.

**Kovel is a bit fuzzy about why continual expansion is essential under capitalism. I suspect it relates to Marx’s failure to address the role of private banks (in creating 98% of our money as debt) in infinitely increasing debt and the necessity of continuous economic expansion to pay it.