If you have "no place to go," come here!

Parasitism and Pooling

tarheel-leftist85's picture

[I'm leaving this sticky because I've been struggling for months with a massive theory of everything on the market state, and this discussion is useful to me. So feel free to stretch out with theories in comments! --lambert]

[I'm stickying this because the thread this comment came from was terrific, and because the writer is combining a lot of ideas in a very concise way -- and his grandma bought in! Hard to argue with that... Also, I like Theories of Everything, which this post is. --lambert]

[Note: This post is taken from a thread from this lively post on being charged as a "purist."]

Neoliberalism as a vehicle for social justice

"Neoliberalization required both politically and economically the construction of a neoliberal market-based populist culture of differentiated consumerism and individual libertarianism. As such it proved more than little compatible with that cultural impulse called 'post-modernism' which had long been lurking in the wings but could now emerge full-blown as both a cultural and an intellectual dominant. This was the challenge that corporations and class elites set out to finesse in the 1980s." - David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism

Extrapolating, MBA/MPA programs, and humanities departments (which tend to feed people into these programs with such dismal job prospects otherwise) pushed the narratives of a "free market" being the most effective vehicle for social justice. Implicit in this idea, is, also to borrow from Harvey, the "financialization of everything" (including the acceptance of debt peonage via the financial-education complex). It would make sense that people under 50 - and I've previously been incorrect in limiting this phenomenon to people more immediate to my age cohort - operate according to the same paradigms (most prominently, that cultural affectations, or markers, define/govern one's political orientation).

In the 1980s, I hope I'm not doing a disservice to Harvey, colleges became repositories of and testing grounds for competing consumer identities. And the opportunity costs of devoting intellectual energy to these identities include(d) subjecting the emergence of monetarism (which had, I believe, had begun to supplant Keynesianism a decade before) to the scrutiny/disdain it deserves, challenging/advancing post-Keynesian alternative explanations to the government-as-household myth, and refuting NAIRU and other mythologies with the ample empirical data available.

Maybe foily, but I don't think it's a coincidence that the Obamney twins are talking about Social Security "reform"(TM) not applying to current recipients (at least before Grand Bargain lame-duck session time - maybe there's sacrifice for all ages!). Because those in their fifties and younger were trained in the sort of institution described by Harvey, they are likelier to accept the debt terrorism, inflation terrorism, and other deadly innocent frauds. Even though not everyone sub-fifties went to college, those who did were charged with shaping/nurturing/promoting (complementary) cultural affectations to be transferred to those who didn't go. To the extent that these affectations were received in the public at large, the positive correlation between college attendance and electoral participation, (kabuki) polarization, and the whiney Broder-esque compromise memes (e.g., why can't they get along like Tip and the Gipper - in a Grand Bargain[TM]?) may be seen as

(1) An indication that investment (or lack thereof) in electoral politics is a function of (complementary) cultural affectations (or the failure to adopt them), and
(2) The extent to which people adopt these affectations relies upon the proportion of people attending school*.

My error in limiting to sub-thirties, I suppose, is a product of personal experiences presiding over College Democrats, interactions with college friends, and the like. The College Dem meetings seemed to always devolve into bashing dumb redneck others (who, I suppose, became Obie's "bitter" "clingers"). It became apparent when talking to professors more extensively during my grad education and to older (sub-fifties) college-educated colleagues, that the same neoliberal orientation predominates among liberal 30-, 40-, and 50-somethings. And Harvey's account of the dual emergence of monetarism and "that cultural impulse called 'post-modernism'" does a great job of presenting this timeline.

Whether one is talking to a soi disant liberal, moderate, or conservative, one will find universal acceptance of "private-public partnerships" and the general trust associated with such arrangements in providing for the social good. Furthermore, and probably more comprehensively, this idea has been manifested in the market state concept which has been fleshed out on here previously. By my understanding, the market state operates by using the government's sovereignty to enrich the private sector - in particular, those sectors which really have no productive output (e.g., insurance) - as gatekeeper to provision of actual goods/services (e.g., healthcare). Another example, I suppose, would be Congress abdicating it's power to "coin money and regulate the value thereof" to the private Federal Reserve banking cartel. Finally, instead of direct public sector job creation (through both massive national-scale projects and federally-funded/locally-democratically-executed projects), we have an arrangement of throwing no-strings money at companies to "create jobs" and at "higher"-education to issue meaningless credentials for "jobs" that never seem to materialize.

Rents, Rent-Seeking, and Parasitism

It's all about the rents/rent-seeking: This is the tag I adopted after finding Corrente sometime around the end of 2009/beginning of 2010 (I'm always here, just don't comment!). It's here (this, for example) where I first became familiar with the concept of (economic) rents and how rent extraction is a function of political rent-seeking. Though many actors have developed revenue streams that keep people away from money, healthcare, food, transportation, etc., I think that probably the most important actor is that of the financial industry - that we are embedded in a hierarchical system of rent-seekers, atop of which is the financial industry. Broadly speaking, as business model, they have a strategic advantage: To make money, this sector does not have to provide any goods/services. Even as crappy as the Big Oil and other Big [insert other rent-seekers] are, they still provide a crappy "product" - a strategic(?) disadvantage or costs that the financial sector does not bear. I think it likely that other sectors, like "higher" education have co-evolved to accommodate for this hierarchy - that the administrations (self-licking ice-cream cones) are charged with arranging a system that maximizes rent streams to the financial sector, and in turn, receive a cut. To this end, that "all roads lead to finance," is something I've tried to propagate with my friends/family/acquaintances, as this sector are the rentier supremo. I really think it's catchy: Even my grandma is saying it!

Political rent-seeking, then, is basically about finding a stream of voters and keeping them from their preferred policies. Strategic hate-management plays a critical role, specifically, undermining the goals associated with each of the (complementary) cultural affectations, providing an illusion of choice to reinforce allegiance to one's tribe, and all the while harming the economic location of your host/client. In much the same way, parasites are wont to locate themselves on things to which the host depends as a point of access (e.g., a food source). So, as the financial sector must undermine households' finances (access points being through lower-ranked sectors like health, education, etc.) in order for these households to become even more reliant upon debt, the legacy parties must undermine their respective bases' objectives in order to make them ever more reliant on the party. With regard to the latter, the cultural affectations of the legacy parties offer an example: As society becomes more "immoral" or "intolerant," members of each base seek further refuge in and intensify their allegiance to each of the legacy parties. Recognizing the potential danger of widely-shared class consciousness, the parties have adapted with anti-classist** rhetoric (Democrats and Republicans rail against different conceptions classism, treating class as just another identity***, not the same as class exploitation, and each legacy party has fashioned a different construction of class identity). Anti-classism, a sort of psychological rent, functions as a barrier between people and their class consciousness. And this is something that the legacy parties have finessed.

Parasitism, Pooling, and Modern Monetary Theory

The concept(s) parasitism and/or rent-seeking are useful in discussing the political-economic ramifications of MMT. Like standing/pooling water, standing/pooling money (either in the accumulating class or in the public sector "surplus") drives parasitism. So if a money-sovereign decides to destroy private sector surpluses, undoubtedly these surplus funds will come from the non-accumulating class, making this class further reliant upon the financial parasitic sector (most notably, retirement); before this, we do have enormous private sector surpluses - dollar for dollar, equivalent to the public sector debt - but which are mal-distributed, specifically pooled with the accumulating class which uses the leverage of their pooled money for parasitic extraction. A federal jobs guarantee removes some of this leverage. Even the inflation associated with more money is good for the non-accumulating class, as it mitigates the leverage of accumulated wealth (money just sitting loses value with growing wages).

* Getting people to attend college achieves two things: (1) increases rent-streams; and (2) creates a sort of critical mass that allows neoliberal ideology to spread beyond those who go/went.

** Neoliberalism allows for class exploitation pretty openly IMO - hence, the current obsession with "leadership" and becoming a leader and so forth - but doesn't tolerate classism. As the "free market" is advanced as a solution to racism/sexism/etc., classism is thrown in as another identity. You may be poor, but you won't be treated poorly! Try to become a leader, and take out non-dischargeable student loans for education to become this leader!

*** Amorphous and fragmenting, in contrast to the directness of Occupy's 99% locution

No votes yet


Submitted by Aquifer on

Cannot speak to the theoretical economics - but have, as an elder boomer, taken to apologizing to younger generations for leaving such a mess for them ...

The story i tell about what happened is pretty simplistic, but it does seem to provide me with a suggestion or 2 as to how to "fix" things. I wrote this over 10 years ago , as a letter to the editor (some of the references are obviously to local issues ...), and would like to know if anybody thinks this is at least another way to tell the same story, at the sitting around the campfire level;
Dear Editor,
Fifty years ago people built schools and hospitals for the public good; today we build malls and casinos. Fifty years ago business subsidized educational and healthcare institutions with taxes and contributions; today the public subsidizes business with tax credits and subsidies. Fifty years ago people empathized with those less well off and set up "safety nets" for the poor and elderly knowing that we and our progeny would/could all be there one day; today we empathize with the rich and set up tax shelters and rebates for corporations fantasizing that we will be there one day. Fifty years ago people built and fostered businesses that actually made things and paid "living wages" so that one person with one job could support a family: today we foster businesses that buy and sell things made far away and pay wages such that two people need several jobs to get by.
To add insult to injury, not only are we abandoning all those institutions built by the public for the public that have served us so well, but we are actively dismantling them as we substitute and subsidize institutions built by private interests for private interest while plaintively (pathetically?) crossing our fingers that our subsidies ("incentives") will result in a "trickle down" of public crumbs from the private table. Fifty years ago we, the public, were builders, today we are beggars. About the only ideas we have preserved from 50 years ago are an acceptance of pollution and of weapons of mass destruction as the price of "progress" and "freedom".
I know "it's out of our hands, times have changed, so one must get with the program!" The problem, however, is that getting with the program seems to increasingly require chemical intervention or why would fully 1/3 of the locally most prescribed drugs be for treatment of depression or ulcers? I am not saying that there are no instances of strictly organic causes for the conditions these drugs treat, only suggesting that in the the majority of cases we medicate ourselves as a substitute for dealing with the absurdities of "the program". So that, when we read "mega-mall built"/"hospital bankrupt","mega-aquarium coming"/"schools closing","stock market sky high"/"employment rock bottom", its OK because we've taken our medication. Fifty years ago people taxed themselves and their businesses to fix problems, today our "fix" is in the drug store.
Why? Do we need the drugs because, as we were told in one recent letter, "thinking" (a legacy of our old educational system) has left "the vast majority (of us so) totally unprepared for (the) ordinary life" we find ourselves in? How depressing when petitions to save hospitals go unremarked as mall builders are courted. How corrosive when our employers have no place for us as CEOs are rewarded. Perhaps "thinking" and "getting with the program" are mutually exclusive. If we could just stop thinking, maybe we wouldn't need the drugs.
Or perhaps we need them to forget that in substituting laissez-faire, private competition and individual/corporate tax forgiveness for the old communitarian ones of cooperation and public/private taxation as paradigms for progress, we have left ourselves no role as social beings in the fashioning of our collective welfare.
Or perhaps they are necessary to dull the discomfort of admitting that it is we who have made this "ordinary life" we find ourselves in, that it is we who have given it the lie of inevitability and progress, and that it is we who, having built a world that values individual choice above all else, routinely deny ourselves the one choice that might free us, the choice to affirm the value of public institutions and programs built for us by a vibrant public 50 years ago.
For reasons which escape me, apparently we prefer to take our medication, go to the mall, and insist that our schools stick to the "facts" of our new, improved "ordinary life" and "not be charged...with teaching students to think." After all, aren't fish tanks better than think tanks? Or are even the fish, at least the ones in the lake, depressed? I suppose we can always look on the bright side; if we persist in this course long enough, there will be one legacy we can leave our progeny 50 years from now; freed from the burden of "thinking", they won't need to take so many drugs, which is just as well, because they won't have the money to pay for them, either.

Not a piece of literature, by any means, (should have used a thesaurus :)) but to me tells the story of the boomers, as i have seen and felt it unfold ... can we put the stories together so they make sense to "the (wo)man on the street"? I would really like to try - am desperate to try to match my "gut level" stuff with the knowledge and expertise i see displayed here - hitch the (?too) "simple" to the "sophisticated" and tell a story for our age ....

Or, Lambert, just delete this whole thing as irrelevant ....

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Instead, there's a perennial battle between the short term interests of the wealthy and those of everyone else. During what you indicate were the good old days, New Deal/Great Society liberalism did manage to dominate the politics of America with a broad political consensus but, eventually, with Reaganism the wealthy have been able to achieve a return to historical normalcy.

As to the issues you raise in your letter to the editor, have you ever read the 2009 "zombie food court" remarks of the late Joe Bageant, who was no fan of post-WWII liberalism?:

...As psych students, most of you understand that there is no way you can escape being conditioned by your society, one way or another. You are as conditioned as any trained chicken in a carnival. So am I. When we go to the ATM machine and punch the buttons to make cash fall out, we are doing the same thing as the chickens that peck the colored buttons make corn drop from the feeder. You will not do a single thing today, tomorrow or the next day that you have not been generally indoctrinated and deeply conditioned to do -- mostly along class lines.

For instance, as university students, you are among the 20% or so of Americans indoctrinated and conditioned to be the administrating and operating class of the American Empire in some form or another. In the business of managing the other 75% in innumerable ways. Psychologists, teachers, lawyers, social workers, doctors, accountants, sociologists, mental health workers, clergy -- all are in the business of coordinating and managing the greater mass of working class citizenry by the Empire's approved methods, and toward the same end: Maximum profitability for a corporate based state.

Yet it all seems so normal. Certainly the psychologists who have prescribed so much Prozac that it now shows up in the piss of penguins, saw what they did as necessary. And the doctors who enable the profitable blackmail practiced by the medical industries see it all as part of the most technologically advanced medical system in the world. And the teacher, who sees no problem with 20% of her fourth graders being on Ritalin, in the name of "appropriate behavior," is happy to have control of her classroom. None of these feel like dupes or pawns of a corporate state. It seems like just the way things are. Just modern American reality. Which is a corporate generated reality.

Given the financialization of all aspects of our culture and lives, even our so-called leisure time, it is not an exaggeration to say that true democracy is dead and a corporate financial state has now arrived. If you can get your head around that, it's not hard to see an ever merging global corporate system masquerading electronically and digitally as a nation called the United States. Or Japan for that matter. The corporation now animates us from within our very selves through management of the need hierarchy in goods and information....

Submitted by lambert on

Pulling what what to me is the key portion:

The corporation now animates us from within our very selves through management of the need hierarchy in goods and information....

Exactly so. And if you're a materialist like me -- or more precisely if you don't believe in supernatural beings, and there is world "beyond" this one -- Bageant's statement implies that "management of the need hierarchy" is stamped into our very flesh, our bodies (I've always thought that T. gondii was more than just a metaphor).

In daily life, that's why it's important to turn off the teebee; those smiling faces are dangerous to public health. More generally, if we conceive of money as literally transforming itself into flesh and then back again into money -- M-C-M', eh? -- then it puts a whole new slant on the means of production and reproduction, and shows the limitations of Marx-inflected analytical tools. I know this is a theory of everything, and part of the coming critique of the Market State.

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Broadcasting, television in particular, has been the biggest game changer since the Inquisition. I guess this is one of Yves' links, not yours:

Manipulated America: One Theory of How They Control US Jonathan Turley (Chuck L). Not bad, but they are starting WAY WAY too late. Propaganda was already well established by the 1970s, see Alex Carey’s Taking the Risk out of Democracy (which goes back to 1907), the Century of the Self (to the 1920s) or the work of Walter Lippman and Eddie Bernays, who were apologists for propaganda after the American public learned it had been used on a massive scale to stoke hatred for Germany during World War I (see Creel Committee for details).

Submitted by Aquifer on

"With Reaganism, the wealthy have been able to achieve ..."

So where were the rest of us non wealthy during all this time - were we passive, were we complicit - hadn't we, as i indicated, switched to identify more with the rich than with the poor? If we hadn't would there even have been such a thing as "Reaganism"? Where were the boomers during that time - we switched our tie dyes for suits and went off to join corporate America and happily invest in the stock market. And when Clinton, the quintessential boomer, gave us NAFTA, WTO, China MFN and our blue collar neighbors lost their jobs - what did we say? "Suck it up, man, adapt, don't whine! Go back to school! Get with the program!" He balanced the budget on the backs of blue collar folk, and we cheered him on, giddy with the promise of wealth from dot coms .... I was there man, i saw and heard it all. When Personnel became Human Resources .... Did i understand the "economics"? No, but i certainly understood the psychology - and when the swamp waters started rising around us - did we throw our TVs out the window and yell, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" No, we took our Prozac, went to the mall and voted Clinton (Reagan II) back in ...

Methinks Bageant's post is a perfect example of what he is talking about - we have been conditioned to believe that we are completely the products of our conditioning, that we bear no personal responsibility - TPTB are in charge and "resistance is futile" - conditioned to learned helplessness, to chemical fixes - and might i point out "justified" by a great deal of "scientific proof" that we are just a bundle of chemicals, and reflexes and if we are depressed it's because our chemical balance and not our society is out of whack ...

At what point do we say - " We f***ed up, man, we didn't pay attention, we went along with it, even promoted it, because we wanted to BE like those guys at the top." Were told we could be BUT we had to forget about things like safety nets (for losers), pensions (drags on the job creators) - we didn't need that stuff because we had the Stock Market ... And we said "Sure, sign me up!" The Gospel of Prosperity replaced the Sermon on the Mount and we ate it up ...

Ya know, now that i think about it - I have seen precious little in the way of talking about apologies - it's always "the other guy ", the "bad guy" that is supposed to apologize - We, poor befuddled dears that we are, have nothing to apologize for, we are the "victims" of the big bad corps ..... and now, it's too late ..... sigh

Too Late - self defeating, self fulfilling, another example of conditioning by TPTB ....

We insist on assigning blame to the bankers for the crisis - fair enough - but where were WE when the politicians that made the conditions for their malfeasance possible? We were VOTING for them, for Pete's sake ... - they promised us riches ...

I think we need an EA, EconAnon, and the first step is to say "I screwed up, I'm sorry!" You can't learn from your mistakes until you admit you made them and you can't reconcile until you apologize ...

So, yeah, I am sorry - me, my generation, i think, as a whole, we screwed up BIG time .... We weren't paying attention (heh, still aren't - Obama being the proof) and our kids and grandkids will pay a big price ... If you were a saint during all this, Bless You, My Child .... but to the extent that we buy into this stuff that, "It's not our fault ....", well maybe, just maybe, we are perhaps not quite as blameless as we think ...

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

It's true that a lot of this dismantling of the Roosevelt era social contract was carried out during the boomer generation. However, I think there are a couple of very important issues we shouldn't lose sight of, namely, GHWB and Reagan were not boomers, neither were most of the people actually responsible for changing the tide. It was the so-called "Greatest Generation" that primarily did that.

I know a lot of people hate generational politics, but it can't be denied that generational experiences flavor what we do. I think what we are living through now is the tail end of the boomer's response to the WWII generation's view of how the world should be, just like the 60's, 70's and 80's are more the WWII generations response to the Depression-era generation.

The 60's pretty much saw the end of public investment in infrastructure and "Big Government". Most of our public infrastructure (including so-called "entitlement programs) was built or imagined prior to the mid-sixties. These things were pretty much the brain-child of the Depression-era, who were the last ones who saw with their own eyes that collective investment could actually improve their own lives.

But it hasn't only been economic politics going on, in most ways, I think the battle of change between the WWII crowd and the boomer's has been more on social issues, such as racism, sexism, identity politics, etc.. The battle on all of that is mostly ending, as the next generation has pretty much decided. The current marriage amendment push being the last gasp of what many (but not most) in the Boomer gen want to preserve from the WWII gen. The commitment to government enforced, institutionalized racism and sexism has been discarded (which by no means means structural racism and sexism are gone).

So I actually think it is wrong to view Clinton as "Reagan II"*, he is actually "Boomer 1.0", GWB is "Boomer 2.0" with Obama as "Boomer 3.0". Obama is, like I am, actually on the very, very tail end of what people would call a "boomer". Although because of that, we have been bumping up against the glass ceiling of boomers our whole lives and needed to be basically "uber-boomers" in outlook to "succeed".

But what about the wars? Seems there is no generation really interested in ending that. The only thing different are the weapon systems.

* Anyway, you would have to pry that moniker out of Obama's clenched fist.

Submitted by Aquifer on

Chronologically speaking - i cannot argue with your generational breakdown - Clinton and i are the same age. So how did Boomers wind up following the Clinton/DLC Pied Piper of Reagonomics? (That's why i called him Reagan 11 .... )Why did we turn aside from the "social gospel" that produces civil rights, Medicare, et,al and adopt the neo-liberal market model of life that still persists?

I suppose one could argue that in a sense - the "me" generation, arising in "rebellion" to the previous one, simply extended the hedonism of the 60's into the stock market of the 90's and, in so doing, fell perfectly, if somewhat unconsciously, into that "right wing" paradigm - without realizing the consequences; the Powell memo got the engine started, but the boomers gave it the gas - we weren't paying attention, we didn't want to ...

I really do think though that our (boomer) biggest flaw is that we took too much for granted,and assumed we had it made and didn't have to pay attention any more - The End of History, doncha know, the "struggle was over, let the good times roll ..."

Time and again, as i write this stuff, the image of Pinocchio keeps popping up - not the Disney version, but the original by C. Collodi - the image of the little wooden head who buries his coins (intended for his school books) in the field because the fox and the cat ( the vampire squids of their day) told him they would grow into a money tree - they hide as he plants the coins, then dig them up when he is gone .... One could read this as a "victim" story, the 1% ripping off the 99%, but notice that this victim is a wooden head .... Yes we were duped - but we wanted to be, we were primed for the pump ... and as we cavorted on that wonderful island of pleasure - we weren't paying attention as our tails grew and our ears got longer .... while our neighbors were spun off the carousel ...

Were we bring ripped off? Yes indeed .. Could we have prevented it? Methinks the answer to that is also Yes. So why make a big deal out of saying this? Because if we don't look in the mirror, into our eyes and not at our couture, we will keep following that Pied Piper over the cliff - and it won't be the "fiscal" one ....

I fully realize that my critique sounds like that old "bootstraps' routine, so fondly pulled out by the right - but one of the biggest problems i have with much of the left is what i see as a stubborn insistence on maintaining the "victim" mentality, and all that arises from it, e.g. identity politics, even when, IMO, it is clearly counter productive ...

Too "preachy"? No doubt, but hey, I'm desperate ....

Submitted by cg.eye on

of all sorts, with the mantra "we have to run X as a business" predominant, is it no wonder that for-profit colleges serve the needs of academics to run rents-seeking institutions without that intellectually-expensive camouflage of the public interest?

As we saw with the MOOOC kerfuffles, privatization is now the natural language of college management, to the point that it would be heresy for an liberal arts institution to consider eliminating business majors or degrees just as it would be to eliminate varsity sports -- both rents-seeking behaviors, as they take out more from budgets than they provide as support to purely academic missions.

The neoliberal frame puts all struggles against it in a cultural category of irrelevance, whilst the powerbrokers promote business ethics as beyond race and gender, making class irrelevant through the usual upward mobility propaganda. Nice hegemony, and all without nukes -- and we wondered what would happen at the end of history....

Submitted by YesMaybe on

On this topic, for anyone who might be interested and hasn't read it already, there is Thorstein Veblen's book 'The Higher Learning In America: A Memorandum On the Conduct of Universities By Business Men.' It's a hundred years old, but very perceptive. And it seems not that much has really changed, things just kept going further in the same direction (though maybe with some detours, I wouldn't know).

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

And will take me some time to read. Who was I reading that said that after expansion into the West ended, the capitalists needed to herd immigrants somewhere else and that was school? It was so they thought there was upward mobility when there wasn't really.

Submitted by lambert on

Remember, we are "human resources." That is, animals. I have often thought that the work of Temple Grandin would be on point when I write the theory of everything on this point.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

it is hard on me a certain times of the year. I do see similarities. I can't help anthropomorphizing. Cattle trucks are awful things.

Submitted by Aquifer on

I guess i thought of "Human Resources" in contradistinction to "Personnel" and thought about why the name change - seemed to me that when we were Personnel we were nouns, or at least they thought there was some point in maintaining the illusion, so when we became Human Resources, it was open recognition that we were, in fact, merely adjectives AND could be treated as all other resources - mined, processed, machined, sold, used and discarded ....

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

I'm sure that is the question rentiers are asking. After (or maybe before?) your home, and/or retirement (if you have one) it is the biggest "investment" people make, and certainly the biggest extraction of wealth, both from parents and from young people. As well as the government scholarship and education funds. It's a threefer. It's basically the most expensive lottery ticket in the world.

But how do you bubble it? How do you package those "human resources" and sell them as a commodity? The only way to do it is make sure people can't get out of the debt through bankruptcy, and looky there, it's exactly what happened.

But given how far a hole it puts people in, the time cost of not earning during those years, the fact that many never end up graduating, and that when you do, you still will likely end up the most educated person at the frame shop, is it worth it? Will people eventually decide it is a huge racket, and there are cheaper, easier ways of gaining the social connections that are the big selling point? I mean aside from someone interested in a career in medicine of engineering, what puts someone with a college-education above a similarly intelligent person with a very good reading list?

Submitted by cg.eye on

out of style. It's job training.

If you can create an organization that gives an advantage to Us, by locking Us into blackmailable offenses against Them, wouldn't you make certain those privileges stay acceptable in American culture? That means whatever job you get where you have authority will have rituals of humilation; schools will never, ever, *ever* get rid of them; and governments will run on them. Sexual harassment, perforce, isn't a cost of doing business; it's a benefit, as is homophobic hazing. *That's* the meritocracy we've moving back to, as if we ever left it.

The great move toward universal education was whittling away some of those distinctions, through protests against fraternities/sororities/private clubs/ROTC, but now? No one even blinks when military recruiters come to campus, only that they'll get access to private student data.

Submitted by YesMaybe on

Veblen is also great when it comes to his analysis of rent-seeking and political economy in general (and his ironic writing style is incredible). The book to read on this is 'Absentee Ownership,' definitely my favorite thing of his among the ones I've read. It's not online, but it shouldn't be hard to get it through interlibrary loan at your local library.

Submitted by Aquifer on

"Money Driven Medicine" by Maggie Mahar- excellent book, real eye opener. Also raises a few caveats about concept of "performance based" reimbursement as the "cure" ...

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

piece. In Athens there was no word for school as we know it. It meant leisure. Sitting in the forum asking each other questions. And tasks such as sewer fixer and water supplier were chosen by lottery. Seems more civilized than running things like a business with silly terms like "strategic dynamism".

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

Neoliberalism rewards short term thinking and value extraction at all levels. This is evident not only in business and government, but in people's personal relationships and political organizing as well. No one wants structure, no one wants to build institutions, it's all supposed to be ad hoc and figured out on the fly.

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

The Trap, his documentary on the importation of neoliberalism into governance is almost as good as The Century of the Self on the rise of consumer culture as a means of population control. The subjects are at least closely related to this thread.

Submitted by MontanaMaven on

And welcome to blogging. Sometimes I write a carefully thought out post with all kinds of links on some grand theory that I would like dissected. And sometimes I post something quick like "the purist" which is a cry for help to friends. Conversation is a good thing.

Submitted by Lex on

The Bagent quote above gets to the heart of the matter, and uses the magic word that nobody but purists dares to throw into a conversation: empire.

While we have new details, technology, and economic codenames, what we're seeing isn't new at all. Britain went through it all, and most importantly in economics.

Of course, the pragmatists will say we're not an empire because we don't just set up shop and control other countries. It's really too bad that American education has been hollowed out for so long to serve the empire; otherwise we might realize that rarely did the British act in our mental model of empire. For most of the history of that empire, people denied that they had one. And control was mostly handled by quite a small coterie of professionals who preferred to affect local institutions rather than run somewhere directly. The British also preferred to exercise control through economics rather than force. (Not so oddly, Rome followed the same trajectory and so did Athens.)

Economically, Britain followed much the same track. First it was an industrial powerhouse based on its own inputs and labor (wool, plenty of coal, etc.). It developed a technological lead that gave it much power, so it kept its industry and sought out raw materials. This is why the American colonies were so important and a rent-seeking economic arrangement eventually pissed the colonists off. The cotton for the mills in England had to be sold to Britain; the materials of colonial life had to be bought from the British traders. Technology for building that industry in the colonies was protected upon threat of death.

And then, eventually, the British economy grew out of its making stuff phase and financialized...realizing that it could retain almost all of the control just by being the money men. Easier profits going up and still profits going down.

As we all know, the British empire fell ... albeit relatively gracefully. It even managed to keep much of its interests from financialization.

The reason we see the inculcation in Boomers and younger is that it was the Boomers who got treated to solidification of the empire. Prior to them, the US was mostly an internal empire with some pushing at the fringes and plenty of its own resources and manufacturing might. With the Boomers came the transistioning to financialization in their adult years (early in some cases, as financialization started with Nixon). But they were conditioned by a childhood of duck and cover, a fear of the Soviets so deep that many of them show it still today even though there are no real Communists in power anywhere of import.

It was easy for the small coterie of masters to develop the neo-liberal model as being the only definition of Capitalism: just juxtapose it with that deep seated fear of Communism at every turn. And that's just what was done ... and is even still being done. Everyone after the Boomers only recognizes the present state of affairs as "normal" unless they've gone outside the bounds of their established culture on their own.

From a few steps back and without weird incantations of American Exceptionalism, the US looks like one thing and one thing only: a dying empire. Those who've give their all for it are unlikely to be willing to recognize the illness, and will focus on fighting over the scraps and/or prolonging the system for as long as they can.

Oddly, the bureaucracy doesn't look like the British Empire at all. It looks downright Soviet. The nomenklatura may be in our out of favor, but aside from a few being tossed aside, their power remains and keeps institutional momentum. They are supported by great numbers of apparatchiks, who concern themselves mostly with institutional survival (pleasing the correct nomenklatura at the correct time) and cannot/will not question the institutions. You can't win an argument with an apparatchik.

Perhaps the difference is that the US has more layers of apparatchiks than the USSR did with its monumental and singular state mechanisms. In the Bagent quote, he's talking about them without using the Russian word. They're not the think tankers, lobbyists, government employees, or political staffers/media, but they've got their shoulders to the same wheel.

Submitted by lambert on

Remember that one? What a lie it turned out to be.

I'm not much on generational analysis, partly because it's a tool of strategic hate management against Boomers meant to soften up the body politic for the removal of public goods put in place during the FDR era.

That said, this is acute on the role that the "solidification" of the empire (empires are never solid of course, although, rather like banks, they hire architects to convey the appearance of solidity, as with marble columns and gold leaf, and so forth) in the worldview of my generation. It really is true about being trained to run the empire -- everybody on every barstool in the land has an opinion about how the Afghans should comport themselves and what "our" military should be doing there; a whole cluster of assumptions that enables the empire and its "missions."

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

tool of strategic hate management against Boomers meant to soften up the body politic for the removal of public goods put in place during the FDR era."

You nailed it.

Bowles-Simspon's The Moment of Truth is basically a "stimulus package" on the backs of the elderly and disabled (Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Reform), and the poor, working- and middle-classes (so-called Tax Reform, by "broadening the base" through elimination of loopholes.)

The ACA requires employers "to disclose the aggregate value of employer-sponsored health coverage to each employee on form W-2, Box 12D, beginning in 2013." Even though rarely mentioned by the MSM, expect this "loophole" to be among the first to go.

Submitted by Aquifer on

The "knowledge economy" - as physical beings, how the hell did we ever buy that one?

" ....generational analysis, partly because it's a tool of strategic hate management against Boomers meant to soften up the body politic for the removal of public goods put in place during the FDR era."

Well seems to me the best way to defuse it as a tool for generating resentment is for the boomers to embrace the critique themselves - not to defend their position, but to acknowledge that the reason the younger folks aren't enjoying the benefits the elders are is NOT because the elders are enjoying them at the EXPENSE of the youngers, which is the tack used by the dividers, but because too many of the elders were asleep at the switch when those public goods were being privatized, and failed to protect their preservation; the basis for that being that these public goods were created BY the public, and their disappearance is not a foregone conclusion, but the result of inattention on our part as the private interests muscled back in. Once we acknowledge that - "The only thing necessary for the private to rule is for the public to do nothing" - then we can heal any generational divide - "This is for ALL of us and if we stick together, and pay attention, we can reinvigorate it - where SS and Medicare are concerned, e.g. it IS a matter of choice ..."

SS and Medicare are the vehicle for talking about, thinking about the whole idea of "public good"

Not to mention that a bit of humility is good for the soul ....

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

Martin Gilens says:

If Americans at different income levels agree on a policy, they are equally likely to get what they want. But what about the other half of the time? What happens when preferences across income levels diverge?

When preferences diverge, the views of the affluent make a big difference, while support among the middle class and the poor has almost no relationship to policy outcomes. Policies favored by 20 percent of affluent Americans, for example, have about a one-in-five chance of being adopted, while policies favored by 80 percent of affluent Americans are adopted about half the time. In contrast, the support or opposition of the poor or the middle class has no impact on a policy’s prospects of being adopted.

These patterns play out across numerous policy issues. American trade policy, for example, has become far less protectionist since the 1970s, in line with the positions of the affluent but in opposition to those of the poor. Similarly, income taxes have become less progressive over the past decades and corporate regulations have been loosened in a wide range of industries.

Nor do cross-class alliances work to dent the influence of the well off. When middle-class preferences align with those of the poor, responsiveness to the affluent remains strong while responsiveness to the poor and middle class is still absent. Low- and middle-income Americans have been united, for example, in opposing free trade agreements such as NAFTA and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and in supporting abortion restrictions such as requiring the prior consent of the biological father.

But the affluent tend to favor free trade and to reject these kinds of abortion restrictions. And the affluent few have gotten what they want.

His research comes on the heels of the Hacker and Pierson book: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.

But hey, if they're wrong, if it really does work the way they used to teach it in grade school civics class then I guess you might be right that it's been, instead, a unique moral failure of the boomer generation which has brought us to our current state of affairs.

Submitted by Aquifer on

I would tweak that a bit and say i don't think "moral failure" is unique to the boomers - I suspect every generation has its own moral failure; being a boomer i guess i have just thought more about the one that identifies my own - and my riff rather explains what i think it is. I guess the reason i am a bit overt about it is that i see one of the problems of my generation as the acceptance of the psychology which says "nothing is really my fault" - "its the way i was brought up", "its the media" "its the rich", the "necessity" to shed the concept of "guilt" and build "self esteem", etc/etc. Granted all these areas of influence are real and important, but at what point do i stand up and take some responsibility for myself? 'Cause if I never do, then I'll never know i may need to change, and if i don't then i have resigned to accepting the "insanity" of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result ... which is precisely the political rut we are in and have been for some time ...

I am sure your analysis has a good deal more "heft" than my "grade school civics class" version (maybe i could find some quotes from authority to back me up, don't know ..) but i am a pragmatist, i like to think in the Jamesian tradition, Truth is What Works - and i have found that blaming other folk for everything wrong doesn't really work out all that well ... As somebody said, the unexamined life ain't worth living ....

Plus i get a headache trying to figure out which "class" i am in, or whether i am "affluent" and so if i am one of the "good guys" or "bad guys" ..... And even if i think i have it figured out, there is always someone out there - some expert on the subject that tells me i don't/can't belong there ....

But I do know when i was born ....

Alexa's picture
Submitted by Alexa on

Aquifer, when you refer to "elders," are you referring to already retired seniors?

And I ask this not to be contentious, but because I'm not certain why we need to defuse resentment. I say that because as I understand it, the majority of the "Boomer Generation" is getting ready to have "you-know-what" handed to it. (I hope that's not too graphic, or in violation of any rule here. LOL!)

Seriously, it appears that if the Democrats have their way, almost every Boomer will have his/her benefits slashed. As I understand it, the birth years of the Boomer generation spans from 1946-1964.

Boomers born between the years of 1946 and 1950-1951 may be spared the progressive price indexing, but they most likely will not escape the age increase, and certainly not the lowering of their COLA increases (by the change in the CPI-Index).

Of course, Republicans promise to shield those folks age 55 and older, but who could trust them.

The PtB hope to frame this as a "us vs them" (Boomers vs Everyone Younger) debate. But I believe that we all lose, if we allow them to do so.

(But maybe I'm misunderstanding your use of "elders." And I also wasn't certain if you were referring to our social safety net programs, when you said "we can reinvigorate it.")

Submitted by Aquifer on

Perhaps it would be "clearer" if i did specify - but I do not do so deliberately, because ISTM that is part of the problem - we get bogged down trying to figure out who "wins" and who "loses" and whether "I", whoever "I" is (bad grammar?) am on the winning or losing side, because i agree with you completely that we will ALL lose if this nonsense goes through ....

I and all my sibs are boomers, and though i am on the "high" side, i have already seen the age for "full" SS benefits extended - this isn't really new, and maybe symptomatic of our inattention - we should have been bitching about it then, as the "slippery slope" it has become ..... What seems to be new as far as i can tell, is that my younger sibs, let alone the next generation, have already succumbed to the meme that SS/Medicare, under current conditions, won't be there for them at all ....

But, just in case they realize that that is BS - TPTB want to make sure it won't be there - so we have the "starve the beast" lowering of the payroll tax and the "greedy geezer stealing from the youngsters" routine - and the definition of a greedy geezer in their parlance is malleable, as you point out ....

So the younger boomers won't put up much of a fuss, 'cause they figure it's gone anyway, the younger generation may buy this "greedy geezer" routine - and the older boomers, unfortunately may well live up to the stereotype - "Don't you dare touch my SS/Medicare!" without engaging in what we need to do to preserve it for "all time"

You may be right - I may be overestimating inter generational resentment - I hope you are, but i see a real attempt by Right wingers to foster it, and I cannot know how successful they are being - so i try to "defuse" the potential for it when i can .... And if i need to start out by apologizing (let's face it, that is the last thing they expect ...), I will ...

Jessica Yogini's picture
Submitted by Jessica Yogini on

This "knowledge economy" is to a real knowledge economy as Obama is to a democrat.
The real knowledge economy, which the current system is incapable, which the current system is the degenerate alternative to, will not be about rent collecting but about everyone creating well-being together.
You are absolutely right about the bath water.

Submitted by Lex on

I meant nothing in that as an attack on any particular generation. What i pointed out was not something that Booomer's did, but rather their probably just unfortunate positioning on the historical timeline of the American empire. They came into life just as the US was really taking the mantle. They had a childhood filled with war movies glorifying the work of their fathers and leaving out pretty much all of the scars their fathers' covered up. They were fed rank fear of the Other, deliberately (see, Curtis LeMay) from birth. And, yes, they were quietly trained to run the empire. those of us who came after, as i said, continue to see this existential fear and neoliberal empire as normality. Boomers didn't build that, they were raised in it.

And i'm not blaming the Greatest or Silent generation for it per se. Just pointing out what, imo, happened.

Yes, i remember the knowledge economy. A well-crafted phrase that spoke to the ideas seeded in the Boomer mind. That college was the way to the middle/upper middle class. Even though probably most Boomers didn't go to university, look at the education bubble built around their children's education. It came from those ideals, and here i think the Booomers really did have the very best intentions for their children. As i understand it, that bubble got its start with returning WWII vets and the GI Bill to keep the US from descending into tremors of unemployment with the economics of the war effort winding down ... and yet another reason to keep the military-industrial machine humming.

And also yes, knowledge economy was also a short hand for we're done making things and will now proceed to the financialization facet of capitalist empire. Under Clinton, the Boomers (and everyone else) got to benefit from the short term boom of that process. It's just not sustainable. It's the end point of empire, when the strength to impose its will is waning but nobody inside the empire of apparatchiks is ready or willing to let it all go. We end up with one harebrained scheme after another to prolong it just a little more and fighting over the remains.

Submitted by Aquifer on

Well, I do think it is something we "did" or rather, perhaps, didn't do - and that was examine and question the whole "inevitability of progress" paradigm - hey, don't look a gift horse in the mouth and all that ...

But you raise a point - what % of boomers did go to college? Were we the first generation where that was a generational aspiration shared by our parents? Is that what "ruined us"? Widely sewed seeds of disdain for manual labor and those who did it? Dunno, just curious ...

Submitted by Aquifer on

"With the Boomers came the transistioning to financialization in their adult years ...."

Methinks every generation is a "pivotal" or "transitional" generation in its own way - and i do agree that the boomers marked a passage from a "real" physical economy to an invented, virtual one, and that passage is monumental in terms of its implications.

We boomers DO have to do some hard thinking here, for we are perhaps the last generation that has some "institutional memory" of what it was like to live in an economy that acknowledged the reality and the NEED for "the physical" - before we were "convinced" that the virtual could not only replace but improve on the physical. The younger generations feel acutely the results of the ignoring of the need to attend to the physical but perhaps don't know how to actually live in a world where there are other machines than computers ...

Our parents' generation was the one that lived through a time when the absence of public goods was acutely and immediately felt and did something to remedy that. That was their legacy to us. Our (boomer) problem is we took it for granted and ignored the fact that, like a garden, public goods do need tending, and, as a result of our neglect, the weeds took over ....

Perhaps we can figure out how to combine the 2 - in the process of weeding our public garden, we can share with the youngers how to live in the physical world once again - after all, ISTM that, like it or not, we will be physical beings for some time yet ...

CMike's picture
Submitted by CMike on

If I recall correctly, the Greatest Generation ended up embracing Ronald Reagan with as much enthusiasm as any of the others.

Submitted by Aquifer on

I suspect you are correct about that - but i wonder if folks understood that embracing "Uncle Ronnie" was the same thing as embracing "Reaganism" especially considering that, ISTM, Ronnie didn't even really embrace it - gov't got bigger than ever. Maybe that's why the Right started out with this avuncular fellow, a wolf in sheeps clothing, etc,etc ,although, as Hedrick Smith claims ("Who Stole the American Dream") the watershed event in the inauguration of Reaganism predated Reagan -

He was a member of that generation - ah, the old identity factor ...

But you are correct, things ain't quite that simple ....

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

There Is No Alternative. This is the death star of the oligarchy. We owe the Russian Revolution a whole lot. The misery brought on by the financial collapse of the 1930s struck terror to the rich because of the fear that the Commies would win. FDR was rescuing capitalism with the New Deal. Throughout the 50s, 60s, and into the 70s, Western governments had to make the case that workers were better off under capitalism than they would be under communism. The Soviet state had barely begun to topple before the business press was filled with dire warnings about the pampered workers and how the nations couldn't afford social welfare.

This isn't to remove agency from Western peoples and their governments, but the presence of another system and the fear of the elites was very important, maybe decisive, in the power of the workers, and in the development of an ethic of the public good.

Submitted by Aquifer on

TINA is a great way to keep folks in line - if, and only if, that is, folks swallow that line ...

And i suspect TPTB know they can't get away with that forever - folks fed up enough with the status quo will find/invent alternatives. So that necessitates plan B for TPTB - scout out the alternatives popping up and squash/discredit them ASAP (ala 3rd parties)

TINA works only as long as we let it ....

nihil obstet's picture
Submitted by nihil obstet on

"Nihil obstat" basically means that there's no objection to a proposal or declaration. "Obstet" is the subjunctive, "Don't find this objectionable."

Submitted by Aquifer on

Gotcha! I was familiar with nihil obstat, but couldn't place the obstet - my Latin teacher would NOT be pleased .... :)

Submitted by lambert on

... and I'm damned if I can see where the point of leverage would have been to make things come out differently than they did. I'm with Aquifer in trying to share as much across generations as possible.

ISTM means?

Submitted by Aquifer on

It seems to me - I use that phrase a lot - too much, no doubt - so i abbreviated it. i notice lots of folks do that and there are all sorts of initials floating around that i have had to try and figure out - some are totally outside the confines of my limited imagination ...

Points of leverage - good phrase ... Methinks there were probably many missed opportunities, and that would be a good "parlor game" .... I also think what we come up with as "crucial" depends on our moment of "awakening" .... I think of the decisions we made in the 90's around trade, e.g. when "protectionism" was made a dirty word - when we allowed the corps to cement those agreements, fatally removing the leverage labor had over business - the alarm bells were going off all over the place, but we ignored them - "blue collar work", the stuff that built this country, was made passe, a thing of the past - we could have dug in our heels then. The irony of praising "labor saving technology" ... And folks who "woke up" before me can think of times before that .... Each moment, another opportunity .... The ole' what did we know and when did we know it - let us be honest and admit we should have known ... Then of course the times we did know but turned away - see, that's where i think we are now - we rather know .....

And what do we need to share across generations - maybe the concept of why inter- generational solidarity is so important. Are the boomers the first generation who have a nagging feeling that they may have to learn more from their children than vice versa - what happens to a society when a "handing down" of knowledge and skill is turned upside down? When the "old ways" are considered to no longer have any value? Another irony, that they might be lost just at a time when, due to resource depletion, they are needed more than ever ... Time to get out the irony board - huh? now what, pray tell, is that?

Submitted by lambert on

... then you need to carefully remove all the tiny rent-seeking mandibles from your flesh. Starting with television, moving on to food, etc.

Usura rusteth the chisel
It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
It gnaweth the thread in the loom

Pound went very wrong both in his politics and (I would argue) his poetry, but what an ear!