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America's Left and Romney's Economic Agenda

by Axel-Fair Schulz Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2012 at 4:53 AM

Axel-Fair Schulz is a professor of political science at the State University of New York, Potsdam.


By Axel Fair-Schulz

[This article published in: Das Blaettchen 9/4/2010 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

If one relies exclusively on the corporate media, it seems only the left-liberal post-modernist world of academics screened off in elitist self-isolation from the supposedly “real America” exists left of the democrat Obama. This milieu of intellectuals does not seriously put in question America’s dominant self-image as a capitalist democracy without alternative. Every idea of socialism only leads to horror visions of a totalitarian state socialism of Soviet design. In any case that is the conventional picture propagated by an informal alliance reaching from primitive journalism a la private television and picture newspapers (Bildzeitung) to ZEIT and FAZ. In the US, the information situation is similarly one-sided and unfortunately whether one consults the openly and radically rightwing conservative TV station FOX or the serious New York Times makes little difference.

Happily the American reality is much more complex and diverse. Public opinion is considerably different from the opinion published by the corporate media. This is empirically proven. In February 2012, GALLUP was surprised with the unexpected survey results that 36 percent of Americans desire a socialist social order. Only 52 percent see capitalism in a positive light. Thus there are many in supposedly arch-capitalist America who hope for a socially just and environmentally-friendly world: “Another World Is Possible. Another US Is Necessary” (the slogan of this year’s US Social Forum in Detroit).

The US had and has a lively and diverse leftist landscape with many traditions, institutions and personalities. Some of these personalities even appear in the enlightened middle-class media of the mainstream. Noam Chomsky, the linguist and philosopher highly esteemed worldwide is a good example. Active since 1955 as a professor at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of over a hundred books (half are specialist academic books), Chomsky is generally regarded as one of the most influential intellectuals of the 20th and early 21st century. In his books and essays, he shows very rationally and systematically how the ruling classes of this world shamelessly exploit the large majority and destroy our environment. A whole series of Chomsky’s works are translated into German. In “The Failed State,” for example, Chomsky documents in detail how republican and democratic US governments constantly ignore international treaties and norms and thereby represent a great danger for the stability and security of our planet. He describes how a little minority of the rich and super-rich have waged an offensive class war against the wage-earning majority since the second half of the 1970s. The consequences are falling real wages and collapse of the social security systems. All these and other alarming developments, as the historian and activist Howard Zinn emphasized again and again, are obviously not inevitable results of globalization breaking over us like a force of nature but the result of a capitalist system that has lost all sense of measure and morality. Still US capitalism was not always predator capitalism. For example, the real incomes of average Americans rose around seventy percent between 1947 and 1973. This cannot be ascribed to either capitalist generosity or the often conjured self-healing power of the market but is the result of strong and determined unions that had to struggle hard for these achievements.

In his book “A People’s History of the United States” widely read in the US and Germany, Howard Zinn, professor of history at the respected Boston University for many decades, showed how a broad leftist protest movement arose through self-organization from below and the pressure of anarchist and communist movements, groups and parties which then pushed the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a socially well-balanced direction, the so-called “Second New Deal.” Moved by this pressure from below, Roosevelt’s government moved further to the left than the democrats originally planned. One important milestone was the 1935 Wagner Act that enabled a large share of wage-earners to organize in unions. New York’s combative Senator Wagner after whom this law was named said explicitly that the worldwide economic crisis was jointly caused by the low wages of the 1920s and the previous smashing of the unions.

The parallels between the 1920s and the real capitalist conditions today are certainly worth pondering. Zinn, Chomsky and Richard Wolff emphasized that a permanent economic upswing is impossible without a considerable increase of average wages and the purchasing power of the large majority of the population. Wolff, a Marxist economist who studied at Harvard and graduated from Yale is not as well known outside the discipline as Chomsky and Zinn but like them is a gifted intellectual who can effectively communicate technical analysis with wit and charisma to a wide public. As an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts and the City University of New York, Wolff advocates an un-dogmatic Marxism – seasoned with rhetorical sharpness toward the prevailing neoliberalism of Bush and Obama. His numerous books and essays and his address “Capitalism Hits the Fan: The Global Economic Meltdown and What To Do About It” (available as a DVD and downloadable on the Internet) are recommended to whoever wishes to be convinced of Wolff’s great expertise, rich humor and justified rage about the impudence and incompetence of the ruling class exploiting us.

Besides Chomsky, Zinn and Wolff, there are many other “genuine” American leftists who want to go beyond a cosmetic tinkering with present-day capitalism. Together with the Canadian Naomi Klein, the Slovakian Slavoj Zizek, India’s Arundhati Roy and Tariq Ali from Pakistan, they are part of an active and well-known international circle of socialist intellectuals. However permanent transformations must be supported by broad grassroots movements and cannot only be the work of individuals, even of brilliant activists and intellectuals of which there are many in the US. Howard Zinn who died at the beginning of 2012 emphasized this in his memoirs.

As a general meeting over several days directly following the World Social Forum, the US Social Forum occurring every two years is an answer from below to the World Economic Forum of the economic- and political elites of this world taking place every year in Swiss Davos. Thirty-thousand leftists of every shade and color demonstrated, analyzed, debated and linked in June in Detroit. Peace-, environmental- and social themes were explored from different angles and connected with each other. A Social Forum is planned for 2013 at the relatively small State University of New York in Potsdam (4500 students) that will join local and regional developments and problems with the great themes of our time from a leftist perspective under the motto: “Who, if not WE. When, if not NOW!”

Still this interesting and important dynamic among America’s leftists is not considered either in the conservative or the liberal mainstream media. On this background, Noam Chomsky in his book “What We Say Goes” recalled this was different at the beginning of the 20th century and again in the 1930s. At that time, there were hundreds of socialist daily papers and magazines in the US read by millions of Americans. People didn’t depend on “bourgeois” or “middle class” publications controlled by conglomerates.

Leftists should make use of the meager publication possibilities today in the corporate press and its electronic media. At the same time leftist structures must be built. In the US there is an increasingly expansive palette of socialist journals. Socialist Worker, CounterPunch and Z magazine are examples. They can be downloaded free of charge on the Internet and counteract the distortions and veilings of important connections in the corporate media. The daily, one-hour television- and radio program Democracy Now which can also be seen and heard free of charge via the Internet should be mentioned here. is a portal where speeches and analyses of leftist thinkers can be downloaded.

Decades ago America had a broader and more diverse leftist public. There is a tremendously rich leftist tradition on which we can and must build. America is simply too important to be left without a murmur to the power elites!


By Axel Fair-Schulze

[This article published in: Das Blaettchen 6/16/2012 is translated from the German on the Internet, . Axel Fair-Schulze is a professor of political science at the State University of New York, Potsdam.]

Whoever believes the election campaign slogans of the arch-capitalist republicans now hovering around Mitt Romney sees America’s main problem in corporations and economic bosses having much too little power and influence in Washington. The enormously rich Romney hardly misses any opportunity to praise America’s money-nobility as the rescuer of the fatherland – for example in his latest book “No Apology.” Tailored to the rather modest intellectual level of average conservatives, the usual mixture of Hurrah-patriotism, authoritarian religion and social demagoguery is found in Romney’s polemic.

On one side, the newly cured republican presidential candidate rants and raves for even more extreme tax gifts, sharper deregulation of the markets, less control and transparency and even greater concentration of power for the top ten-thousand. On the other side, an increasingly open class war against wage-earners, unions and the middle class lurks in Romney’s election campaign catalogue. One must be very naïve to see a serious program there to stop the material and cultural decline of the US. Millions of Americans, mostly rural and Bible-faithful and systematically brainwashed by the corporate media, always fall into that in a dreadful way. Disoriented and diverted from their true social-economic interests, they take ou8t their powerless rage and anger on minorities. Fueled by very real fears of social descent and – consciously misguided by the rulers – join the fascist Tea Party.

It is an open secret that Romney receives a large part of his election campaign funds from Wall Street speculators. The US Supreme Court dominated by the republicans has annulled the past limitations on corporate contributions to politicians. Romney now shows his appreciation for his casino-capitalist patrons. So he recently announced the Dodd-Frank regulatory law would be completely abandoned and important provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley law weakened with his entrance in the White House. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was enacted by the US Congress in 2010 to combat the worst excesses of Wall Street casino capitalism that caused the global financial crisis of 2008. The Sarbanes-Oxley Public Company Reform and Investor Protection Act was passed in 2002 to limit the corruption on the executive floors. The background was the collapse of the energy group Enron caused by massive balance sheet cheating and other management frauds. In its time, the firm was one of the largest corporations of the US.

The journalist William Blum nursed the naïve spine-chilling expectation that the obscene wealth of a tiny upper class could trickle down at the end to the lower social strata, the neoliberal Trickle-Down-theory aggressively defended by Romney and the republicans with a telling analogy. This theory is that low-wage workers and subcontracted workers living from the crumbs of the master’s table and becoming more numerous best improve their situation by killing themselves for the sumptuous master’s table. Then they could hope that a few more leftovers would fall to them. Blum, an apologist of the ruling class and staunch anti-communist up to the Vietnam War, changed to a leftist social critic because of American war crimes.

Thus Romney and his republicans shamelessly promote the thesis that America’s problems cou9ld be best solved through even more power and influence for Wall Street. This is hardly understandable for thinkers sympathetic to American capitalism. In his book “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power,” the former top US security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and leading Cold warrior (certainly not a leftist) identified six great problem areas in American capitalism. The growing social inequality worries Brzezinski alongside the heavy debts of the American state caused by imperial wars of conquest and irresponsible tax gifts for the super-rich economic elite, the deadbeat and crumbling infrastructure increasingly reminiscent of the third world, the increasingly manipulative and superficial mass media that is one-sidedly profit-oriented and the political system controlled more and more by corporations and their interests.

America was never really the land of unlimited possibilities for 99 percent of its inhabitants. However a relative social balance was wrested from the rulers between the 1930s and the 1970s through the self-sacrificing struggle of unions and the labor movement. For millions of Americans, there were real social chances of ascent. Now Brzezinski diagnoses the social injustice in the US as a great danger for the inner cohesion of society and as a threat for democracy. That the social inequality in the US has become considerably greater and social advancement possibilities less than in all other developed industrial states is very alarming to Brzezinski. Among the large global economies, only Brazil ranks lower.

In this connection, it is interesting that Romney’s business success began in the 1980s after he studied economics at the Harvard Business School. His own ascent started at nearly the same time as the decline of the American middle class. Romney’s mental world and his approach to problems in the economic-political realm were influenced by the market-radical neoliberal gospel. As an alternative to the dominant Keynesian paradigm aiming at a balance between the free market and state regulations, a distinguished group of economists around Milton Friedman – inspired by Friedrich August von Hayek – conceived the neoliberal dogma of self-regulating markets that gained more and more influence and rules the market today. At first the new market radical economic gurus were mainly localized at the University of Chicago. But they soon overran other institutions including the flagship of the American education system – Harvard University. Harvard underscores its national and international claim to leadership with 16 Nobel Prize winners in economics. In the meantime the Harvard Business School is known as the elite training center for Wall Street. As at other universities, the new Harvard students added every year include many idealists who want to positively change our world and do not see their aim in life in accumulating material riches. However NPR, the public radio station of the US, calculated in 2010 that 49 percent of all graduates of the Harvard Business School worked for Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. The irresponsible conduct of these firms triggered the economic crisis of 2008.

In its May-June 2012 issue, Adbusters magazine analyzed the reasons for this astonishingly high change of sides of young students who originally set out to expand their intellectual perspective in a pluralistic and un-dogmatic environment. What is offered them in the most influential introductory course of the world in economics – Economics 10 – is a one-sided market-radical catechism under the mask of supposed objectivity and ideological neutrality. Gregory Mankiw’s “Principles of Economics” – still an international bestseller among specialist books on economics – is the basis of this course that is required not only for beginning economists. Mankiw was part of George W. Bush’s team of advisors and is today Romney’s chief political-economic advisor.

In this connection, it should be recalled that economic prophets like Mankiw and professor of economics Clayton Christiansen (the latter a Mormon like Romney) also teaching at Harvard University regarded the collapse of the capitalist financial system of 2008 as impossible although the signs were clear long before. Charles Ferguson’s excellent documentary film “Inside Job” shows in detail how this school of market-radical neoliberal economists dominant since the late 1970s did not foresee the implosion of the capitalist financial system despite all the warnings of leftist economists and bears great joint-responsibility for the crash through their misguided recommendations and prescriptions. Their ideological blinders blocked their view of reality. As a result, gigantic assets created mainly by wage-earners were destroyed – over twelve trillion dollars in the US alone. At the end, the financial industry had to be bailed out by the state – by average taxpayers – from the insolvency of its own making.

Romney’s view of the world is marked by these market-radical ideologues of the school of Friedman, Mankiw and Christensen. Therefore his economic agenda is like a dance on the volcano.

It is high time for responsible-minded economists to say this with all resoluteness. In this connection, the events of November 2, 2011 at Harvard University could be a hopeful sign for an overdue paradigm change. On that day, first semester students Rachel J. Sandalow-Ash and Gabriel H. Bayard organized a demonstration in Mankiw’s Economics 10 class. They left the auditorium with seventy other students. With this gesture, they protested against the ideological one-sidedness of the lectures, against the increasing connection of the personnel of Harvard with the American financial system and all its problematic excesses and against the fact that Harvard’s economists compromise their scholarly expertise when they sit simultaneously on the boards of directors and advisory groups of large corporations and personally profit from this activity. This creates a dangerous conflict of interests. The personification of this would be Romney, the Wall Street man in the White House.

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