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Posts from the ‘Politics’ Category

The Robot in the Market Machine

News reports from yesterday’s sharp drop of the Dow point to the role of computer algorithms that sell stocks when they reach a certain point as one of the main sources of the drop.  This explanation would appear to be the logically absurd conclusion of a so-called free market economy.  Defenders of a free market economy maintain that the market can best distribute goods at the right prices when human beings each act for their own self-interest.  Will Roberts makes the case that this surrender of human decision-making to the market is why Marx argues that capitalism does not cultivate freedom.  In a market economy, human beings no longer deliberate collectively about what is best.  They each act for themselves and the market decides.  They lose the collective work of speaking together about how to direct the community. Read more

We Have Dreamers, Too: Trump and the Deceptive Appeal of the American Dream

In Trump’s State of the Union he tried to take back the “dreamers” language from recent immigrants, saying, “We have dreamers in this country, too.  You can’t forget our dreamers.”  He  went on to say:

I am extending an open hand to work with the members of both parties — Democrats and Republicans — to protect our citizens of every background, color, religion and creed. My duty and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American dream.

Trump restricts the American dream for citizens and restricts the duty of those in office to citizens, forgetting the immigrant history of those citizens.  The American dream language works almost identically to the America First language as I map out here.  It makes those who have been left out of the promise of prosperity feel none the less that the dream is for them if only the work hard enough.  And it makes them understand their poverty as a result of lack of hard work, not as a result of structural barriers to economic mobility.  It makes them think the Dream is possible, if only they can get there.

Immigrants who came to the United State as children and are appealing for a road to citizenship seized on the language of the dream and contend that the dream should be accessible to everyone.  By taking up this language, these immigrants have also reminded us that the American dream functions to exclude.  When Trump said, “We have dreamers in this country, too,” he ignores that those immigrants are in this country and divides the country between those who are supposedly “rightfully” a part and those who are not.  Such a move reminded me of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ description of the United States as “a country lost in the Dream,” in Between the World and Me (12).  Lost in the Dream, America cannot see itself.  Coates describes America’s investment in the Dream as undergirded by fear (34), and that seems precisely what is played on in the #AllLivesMatter kind of turn to “We have dreamers too.”  The way Trump’s appeal works is to trump those forgotten and excluded by being denied citizenship by foregrounding those forgotten and excluded who are already citizens but find the country no less invested in them.  Attesting to the investment in the forgotten poor produces the sense that they are the concern of the country’s elected officials even as a new tax law is passed that will put more of the tax burden on them than on those who are living the Dream.  Recognizing their fear of exclusion and acknowledging their rightful place in relation to the aspiration to the Dream while denying them any path toward the dream pits them against those made to appear unworthy of the Dream.  But neither are given access to the Dream.

Coates argues that Dream is oppressive to those for whom it is never even held out as a promise.  That oppression is of a whole different order than the oppression of those for whom it is held out as a promise (106).  The oppression for those for whom it is denied functions in the active forgetting of those to whom the Dream is denied, which it is why it is striking to see Trump so boldly assert that “our dreamers” can’t be forgotten, when everyone knows who the “our” is and who it is not.  As Coates writes in reference to the discussion he has with the mother of Prince Jones, a young Black man who was killed by police:

When it came to her son, Dr. Jones’s country did what it does best–it forgot him.  The forgetting is habit, is yet another necessary component of the Dream.  They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs.  They have forgotten, because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the world.  I am convinced that Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than live free (143).

When Trump asks that we not forget our Dreamers, he invites us to continue to forget the conditions upon which that dream thrives, and he invites people to be more invested in their whiteness than their freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

The SOTU, or as I like to call it, STFU

I didn’t want to watch.  The tickets had typos (I know, this is the least of our worries).  But then I listened to David Harvey’s A Brief History of Neoliberalism on Audible on the way into work today and remembered that things are not newly bad.  Things have been careening toward deficit-driven upward redistribution of wealth since at least the George W. Bush Administration.  We need to watch in order to bear witness.  In truth, I’m torn between giving Trump too much attention and doing my civic duty.  I decided to do my civic duty.

Before the address, I looked up “pre-game” reports and found that ABC called it Trump’s First “Must See TV” State of the Union and almost decided against watching again.  But here I am.  Girding my loins.  I switched to CBS.  Ok, I can’t talk about how creepy the thing is, how viscerally difficult it is to watch: Trump’s squint, his hand gestures, Paul Ryan’s self-satisfied smirk.  This cannot be my focus.  As I’ve been saying since more than year ago, these things are not what we need to concern ourselves with. Read more

Which America First?

Trump spoke at the World Economic Forum at Davos yesterday (full transcript here) about “America First,” saying, “I believe in America.”   Trump seems to think it is obvious who he means by America, and many of his supporters think it is obvious too.  Yet, increasingly, the policies of “America First” do not support those who support it.  Last week, in an effort to protect American interests the Trump Administration slapped a tariff onto solar panels coming from China this week.  Though Trump fancies himself a “job creator,” this move will likely result in the loss of 23,000 American jobs.  Solar panel manufacturing will help FirstSolar, Tesla, Suniva, and SolarWorld, but manufacturing only makes up a small portion of the solar panel industry.  Most of the work is in installation.  Some analysts are even suggesting that foreign companies will see most of the benefit. Read more

I Marched, But Not for the Polls

When I started writing this post, I wasn’t going to go to the march.  But I started thinking about the post that went up yesterday about purity.  I realized you know, it is pretty easy to find lots of reasons not to do things and then be very consistent and kind of useless in terms of doing something in the world.  As my post yesterday suggested, purity in the politics might be the enemy of doing any g–d— thing at all.  Then I realized that some of my friends were going and that they had made posters that were not at all about winning at the polls, so I thought, maybe we can go, and be a part of shifting the conversation.  And you know what they say in organizing efforts, you gotta go where the people are.

I am wary of political organizing whose aim is not really to change the political order.  Any political organizing that is trying to motivate people to resist by voting is doing very little to really try to change the normal order of things.  I am not saying that people shouldn’t try to vote out Republicans in November.  They should.  However, I am not here for that effort if Democrats are just going to be a cleaned up version of militaristic imperialism and corporate underwriting.  Read more

Purity and Individualism

In my first or second year of graduate school, I was newly immersed in feminist theory and generally excited about seeing the world again through a feminist lens.  I had recently read Luce Irigaray’s “Women on the Market,” which analyzes the ways that customs around marriage and weddings contribute to viewing women as commodities.  A graduate student friend who was finishing the program got engaged around the same time I was reading this piece and her partner gave her a diamond ring, which she wore.  This friend was (and remains) something of a feminist hero to my young graduate student self so I asked her how she held together her feminist commitments and wearing a diamond ring.  She told me, I still have to live my life, I still have to live in this world. Read more

Border Walls, Immigration Policy, and Hannah Arendt

This semester I am teaching a course I’m calling “Thinking with Arendt.”  The question of the course follows from Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: if failing to think enables us to do great evil, what is it about thinking that leads us to live well?  A corollary of this question is what are the ways that we think about other people that allow us to dehumanize them to the point where we can justify actively killing them or letting them go to their deaths?  I’ve been teaching Eichmann as discussions about US immigration policy and border security are underway ahead of a deadline today for funding the federal government and I’m finding that second question particularly pressing.

First, I should say that it continues to boggle my mind that people in the interior of the United States talk about the need for a border wall, when there IS A BORDER WALL at much of the parts of the border that can be walled.  Above is a photograph of part of the wall at the Hidalgo County Pumphouse that I took when I was living in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas.  The wall purposefully does not cover the whole border because it is meant to funnel people crossing to places where the border patrol can focus.  The existence of the wall in the face of the discussions of it demonstrate the extent to which people in the interior are far removed from the reality of the border.  People who live at the border don’t want a wall and they have long been mad about the way the current wall has destroyed ecosystems and public spaces. Read more

Ramp Hollow: Not all Work is Created Equal

As John Locke tells the story in his Second Treatise on Government, land that is common becomes private property by the work that a person puts into it.  Because work is an extension of oneself, working on land makes the land an extension of oneself and hence gives one the right to that which she has extended herself to (the gender of who works to own and whose work is owned by another is the subject of Carole Pateman’s The Sexual Contract, where she argues that under patriarchy women are the natural commons that men appropriate by working on).

Critical race theorists have long noted that Locke is largely responsible for the view that treating land as property is a sign of progress.  Those who do not treat their land as private property are deemed backwards and uncivilized.  Julie Ward notes how European officials thinking about Africa retain this notion that “entering into history” is a matter of entering into a certain notion of progress based on developing value out of land when she quotes then French President Sarkozy’s address in Senegal on the French-African relationship.  Sarkozy remarked that, “The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history … They have never really launched themselves into the future…The African peasant only knew the eternal renewal of time, marked by the endless repetition of the same gestures and the same words…”

Steven Stoll’s Ramp Hollow returns to this question of how work produces property, and specifically what relations of production are required for work to produce property.  Property is not only what a person can claim a right to access, as the commons can be, but also what one can freely alienate and exchange for value.  Stoll’s account raises the question of which work gives one a right to land and which work does not.  It puts the lie to the notion that property is acquired by work rather than by the willingness of government to recognize and enforce a right. Read more

Ramp Hollow: Taxation and the Enforcement of Capitalism

One thing I realized in reading Ramp Hollow: The Ordeal of Appalachia is that all of us concerned with the extreme inequality in American life need a better way to talk about taxes.  I found the discussion of the tax bill in terms of how individual families across the economic spectrum would be affected misleading.  That approach seems to make the way we think about taxes into whether people at the bottom end have their tax burden alleviated, and if so, it is good.  Insofar as liberals are willing to defend taxes, they do so by arguing that taxes support government services.  The argument against tax cuts then becomes a defense of government on the basis of the services government provides for the poor.  When poor people argue against taxes in general, liberals tend to argue that they are arguing against their self-interest.  Liberals argue that taxes are not the problem, it is the regressive structure of taxes that puts the burden on the poor and middle-class and shifts the wealth to the rich, as the recently passed tax bill does.

Steven Stoll makes the case in Ramp Hollow that it was the introduction of a tax, specifically of a tax on whiskey that forced the enclosure of the commons in Appalachia and made previously independent mountaineers into people irrevocably tied to and dependent on the national economy and eventually dependent for their sustenance on coal companies.  This case suggests that tax when used as a mechanism against those who live off of a commons is a coercive mechanism in the service of enforcing a capitalist economy, where those who might be laborers must work to increase value for capitalists rather than work independently for their own sustenance to the extent they wish to work.  Capitalists are willing to pay a tax if the tax changes the relation of the mountaineers to their land, their labor and the national government.  Later discussions of the distribution of the tax are incidental to this initial demand that everyone pay the tax, a demand that requires those living off the commons to turn their commodities into value, and thus to monetize what was previously beyond the scope of the national economy.  At this stage in late capital, the distribution of the tax contributes to inequality, but knowing the history explains how taxes on rural populations in the early days of the United States were the coercive efforts of the government to enforce one economic system on those who had no need for it, and who received little support from the government in return for it. Read more

Ramp Hollow: Tragedy of the Commons ≠ Justification of Enclosure

Somewhere along the way, the concept of “Tragedy of the Commons” has become an argument in defense of enclosure and private property.  The term first came into use by British economist William Forster Lloyd in 1833 to argue that unregulated grazing on public land could destroy the land, but it has largely entered public discourse through sustainability advocates to describe the situation of what happens when public resources such as rivers are unrestricted, everyone fishes them, and the ecosystems that fostered the fishing are destroyed. Open to everyone, people act to deplete the resources for everyone.  The argument of the tragedy of the commons has been used to justify restricting access to fishing and hunting in order to protect the common lands, not unlike the kinds of decisions people have been making about the commons for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Students have come to think that “tragedy of the commons” means that only what is held in private is properly managed.  It’s not just students, though.  This kind of argument has been put forth as the public justification for privatizing public services and utilities including the U.S. mail service as if the resources will only be well-managed when they are managed for a profit.  On that point, there is little evidence.  This reading misunderstands “the commons” as that which is unregulated and open to anyone, instead as that which serves the whole community.  The whole community is invested in regulating and facilitating the protection of the commons when it is the source of sustenance for the whole community.  The case for how this works has been made by 2009 Nobel Prize Laureate in Economic Sciences Elinor Ostrom. Read more