Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unhappy Birthday

While I am certainly no great fan of the former Soviet Union, I can't help but feel sickened by this article on Mikhail Gorbachev’s 80th birthday party. Apparently Gorby was thrown a huge birthday party in London. The event was attended by business moguls, Hollywood actors, and various other pop celebrities. But as Bridget Kendall notes at the end of her article, many Russians would not be singing "Happy Birthday to You" to the former Soviet leader. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought immense suffering to millions of Russians as neoliberal shock therapy resulted in much of the economy being handed over to gangster-like oligarchs while the Russian people saw their living standards plummet dramatically.

In his defense, Gorbachev has also criticized the Washington Consensus model of neoliberalism that has brought so much suffering to millions around the globe. Unfortunately, Gorbachev's own country did not escape the ravages of the Harvard Boys and other neoliberal technocrats who replaced the failing system of communist central planning with a kind of vulture capitalism. Keeping these realities in mind, it is difficult for me to avoid becoming angry witnessing all of this cheesy sentimentality and hallow glitz poured out over the collapse of communism and the current revolutionary waves in the Middle East when it is painfully obvious that the global elite is only interested in trendy revolutionaries that won't harm the interests of global capital.

For example, one of the hosts of Gorbachev’s party, Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey, characterized the current world protests as people "… fighting for the very kind of freedoms and access and ability to cross borders that Mikhail Gorbachev did so many years ago.” Spacey apparently fails to take into account the problem of massive unemployment and underemployment that is likely fueling much of the rage across the Middle East and elsewhere. If anything, young people are likely to have many opportunities to cross borders as they leave their homelands to look for work in foreign countries.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Failure of Shareholder Capitalism

Michael Lind has written a great article on the Anglo-American system of shareholder capitalism, which has put the short-term maximization of shareholder value above all other considerations, including those of workers and the communities they live in. It is definitely worth a read.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bizarro Economics

Paul Krugman has an excellent analysis of the Republican Party's bizarre plan to increase employment by firing government workers and lowering wages, here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hearts and Minds

Matt Smith at Guild Socialism has an excellent post on the issue of cooperatives and individual attitudes towards things such as work, wealth accumulation, solidarity, etc. It is a very important topic and one that socialists and social democrats must take very seriously. One of the major arguments cited by proponents of capitalism is that it is essentially the only system that can work given the reality of human nature. While at first glance this may seem like a very convincing argument, it is undeniable that humans have existed for much longer than capitalism and even though it is true that human nature can be greedy, selfish, and egotistical, there were time periods when these values were very much frowned upon by society and by the authorities that ruled society and set the “rules of the game” so to speak. Even if individual people evidenced a “capitalist spirit,” that spirit did not dominate the whole of society. The economy of Medieval Europe, for example, often operated on a very different basis due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, any economic system, especially in the modern era, is going to have to prove itself on the battlefield of material prosperity. But it is also important to recognize the limits of materialism, something the Left has had to learn the hard way. One of the major failures of the central planners was their attempt to beat the capitalists at the game of consumerism instead of turning the system on its head and emphasizing things like human dignity in the workplace (that is, shifting the focus away from the worker as a wage earner and consumer to the worker as a producer worthy of human dignity), which the old guild socialists championed fiercely.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Wild Wild East ?

The BBC ran a story today about the Russians christening their children in ice cold water. While I don’t endorse this practice (and neither does the Russian Orthodox Church, from the way the article reads), I can’t help but think that this article is another one of those “aren’t those Russians weird and crazy!” pieces you see a lot in the Western media. At one point the Russians were weird and crazy for being communists, now they are weird and crazy for experiencing a religious revival. The fact that Russia happens to be an Orthodox Christian country probably makes this revival seem even weirder to many Westerners.

However, when I think about the more bizarre sections of American Christianity (I am looking at you, Christian Zionists!)  I can’t help but be a little jealous of the Russians. In the United States we have televangelists who literally promise miracles for people if they send them money. I wish I were exaggerating, but this is essentially what some of the more unscrupulous televangelists say. I don’t want to pick on Evangelicals too much (the vast majority are decent people and so are their ministers), so I think it can also be said that many mainline Protestants and even some Roman Catholics would prefer such a politically correct, watered-down version of Christianity that it is not surprising that so many Americans are attracted to the more emotionally powerful versions of Christianity, such as Pentecostalism and other faiths within the galaxy of Charismatic Christianity. 

Western Christians (and American Christians in particular) need to do a better job recognizing the importance of our Orthodox brothers and sisters. The ignorance and prejudice that marks much of Western attitudes towards Eastern Christianity probably helps explain the popular nonchalance that accompanied the bombing of Serbia, the support for Islamist terrorists in Chechnya, and the invasion of Iraq, which has devastated that Middle Eastern country’s ancient and important Christian community.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Example of Giorgio La Pira

Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent meeting with the National Association of Italian Local Authorities, mentioned Giorgio La Pira as a positive model for mayors. Similarly, his predecessor, the great Pope John Paul II also held up the former Mayor of Florence as an exemplary Christian and public leader. On this, the 150th anniversary of Italy's unification, we can only hope that the country that gave birth to La Pira will find inspiration for the future in his life and works. Today's ruling in the European Court of Human Rights allowing Italian public schools to continue to display the crucifix is a great sign. However, more work must be done to strengthen Christianity in Italy and in the West in general.

To be sure, while Giorgio La Pira represented a political tradition that was strongly Christian in its economic and social/cultural values, La Pira was always respectful of other cultures and peoples. La Pira was famous for his activities promoting peace in the Middle East and Vietnam and between cultures generally. After La Pira's death, Italian, Israeli, and Palestinian children placed a lamp upon his tomb bearing the words "Peace, Shalom, Salaam," a clear indication of La Pira's lifelong campaign to promote peace between peoples. The fact that the last two popes have held up such a man as a model for public figures everywhere should give pause for thought to the Dawkinsites and others who constantly attack the Holy See for its supposed bigotry and intolerance.

Indeed, the political thought of La Pira is exactly the opposite of the caricature of political Catholicism as a hopelessly reactionary and benighted tradition. For example, La Pira embraced Keynesian economics and the necessity of full employment in order to preserve the dignity of the worker. As La Pira himself once remarked:

"If I am a man of the State, my rejection of unemployment and of neediness must imply this: my economic policies must strive towards blue-collar employment and the eradication of poverty: this is clear! No specious objection emerging from any so-called "laws of economics" can detract me from striving towards this objective."

What a stark contrast to today's politicians who simply ignore the unemployed, forgetting how many lives will be ruined by the recession and the cowardly refusal to intervene on behalf of the victims of private avarice. While La Pira was extremely humble in life, often giving his clothes away to the homeless and sleeping in an unheated monastery cell, his spirit towers like a colossus on the horizon, putting to shame the small men of the neoliberal order and presenting the bright example of a viable Christian alternative to today's selfish and uncaring socioeconomic system.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pro-Life and Progressive

While browsing the Internet, I found this gem of a pro-life article by Jim Trageser. It is a rather old article, having originally appeared in The American Reporter way back in the late 1990s. However, it is interesting and relevant because it seems to be written from a secular progressive point of view, and not the usual religious perspective. While my own pro-life views stem from my Catholicism, I believe the pro-life movement should be a “big tent” and that means welcoming secular people and secular arguments in order to strengthen the cause of protecting the weak.

As mentioned earlier, the article is quite old, but it is powerful. There is one instance of the use of profanity, but I will give the author a pass because I believe it fits with the righteously angry tone of the article. Please give it a read. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Class War on Marriage

Jill Filipovic wrote an interesting article on Cif America celebrating the collapse of traditional marriage. Ms. Filipovic covers a lot of ground in her article, but what really jumped out at me was how utterly bourgeois the whole piece was. In particular, Filipovic’s glowing description of the superior marriage outcomes of affluent, well-educated women was telling, even if it was not surprising. One commenter writing under the name “ninoinoz” really caught the spirit of Filipovic’s article when he pointed out that while “liberation” may have been great for middle-class women, it has not always been so kind to working-class or poorer women, especially for those with husbands in the declining industrial sector.

To be frank, I can’t help but think that stable marriage and the benefits it confers upon people are becoming a luxury affordable only to the affluent. While affluent social liberals write glorious paeans to the collapse of marriage, they sure seem to enjoy the benefits of stable marriages in their own lives and among their own class while essentially ignoring or downplaying the plight of poorer, less-educated women. 

Of course, harsh and judgmental puritanism is not the answer either. Instead, a public commitment to full employment at high wages, especially for men, is the only way to end the class war being waged against poor and working class families by economic right-wingers and social liberals. In practical terms, this may require large amounts of state intervention, including placing certain industries under public ownership. Many social conservatives will cry foul, but would they rather have people on the dole? Fierce right-wing opposition to public jobs programs during this latest recession seems to indicate that the answer is “yes,” as most mainstream conservatives would apparently rather keep people on the dole than have the state intervene to provide good jobs to the unemployed, especially unemployed men.  

Additionally, changing laws to make marriage more attractive and divorce more difficult to obtain would also be necessary in a broad, pro-family, pro-marriage program. However, it is clear that the great marriage divide is currently being drawn along class lines, therefore necessitating an economic solution. Here is an area where social conservatives and the economic Left must join forces to slay the libertine beast that is devastating the poor and working-class all in the name of a false, pay-to-play concept of freedom and equality.

Lindsay on Ferguson

David Lindsay is fantastic as usual in this post on historian Niall Ferguson. Please give it a read, it is a wonderful piece.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Some Thoughts on the 1950s

In light of the Republican Party's latest assault on organized labor, I have to bring up the issue of nostalgia for the 1950s. Many conservatives seem to have a great deal of nostalgia for the 1950s based on the prevailing social conditions of the time. Families were more likely to stay together, the media was more family-friendly, religion was respected and more seriously practiced, etc. Progressives, on the other hand, often seem to view the 1950s as an age of repression and domination by white males. The focus of the Left is on the plight of blacks, women, Hispanics, and other "out" groups. Under the social liberal analysis, the 1950s were basically repressive. Both of these narratives, however, are lacking. While I agree with conservatives that the 1950s represented a more family-friendly era, conservatives fail to realize that this was largely due to the fact that the Left had more power in the economic sphere. Labor union membership was at its peak in the mid-1950s, at close to 40% of the American labor force.  High wages allowed millions of Americans to enjoy a comfortable living on one breadwinner’s income, something that even well-educated professions sometimes find difficult to obtain today.

Additionally, the broad consensus among both Republicans and Democrats was to maintain the New Deal system developed under FDR. Even Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, while opposing over-centralization, admitted that any political party that tried to eliminate Social Security and other popular social and economic programs would be doomed, and that the best way to defeat communism was to address the legitimate demands of working people. How different from today’s radical Republicans who seek to privatize or gut federal and state programs for regular people. 

As for the social liberal critique of the 1950s, it is important to recognize that while women and minorities did indeed suffer from discrimination and other unpleasant conditions, matters were improving. Indeed, even before 1950, President Truman officially ended racial segregation in the armed forces via Executive Order 9981 in 1948. On the topic of the role of women and feminism, I am more brazenly conservative. In many respects, the feminist movement has been a success for women in high-status careers such as medicine and law, but for most working women, the results have been exhaustion, both mental and physical, more alienation between mothers and children and wives and husbands, and generally more stress as the demands of the workplace intrude on home life to the detriment of family stability and the mental and physical health of the individuals within the family. Western, liberal feminism pits men and women against each other to the benefit of the capitalists and the detriment of pretty much everybody else. While it is probably true that many women did feel stifled and bored at home, and that large numbers of working-class women have always worked for money to supplement their husband’s income, even in the 1950s, the situation has become much worse as wages have stagnated and American families are now on a ferocious, endless treadmill of overwork and debt peonage. 

Indeed, if there was any major downside to the 1950s and the post-war consensus generally, it was that the system was built too heavily upon consumerism. Advertising and public relations became more powerful and started to have a greater influence on society, including politics. Perhaps the great sin of the 1950s was the belief, prominent among both capitalists and communists, that economic abundance would solve all problems. Clearly, the modern world still has a great deal of problems to solve despite humanity’s tremendous productive powers. Furthermore, the 1950s may also have been a rather unhappy era for social nonconformists compared to today when neoliberalism has arguably supported the public proliferation of different lifestyles via its constant search for more marketing niches. But it is still interesting to note how both the mainstream Right and mainstream Left get it “wrong” when it comes to the 1950s and the post-war era in general. The post-war consensus was definitely not perfect, but on most issues it was probably far superior to today’s neoliberal consensus

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Welcome to the New Cross of Gold.

Lord Keynes has a great post linking William Jennings Bryan's famous "Cross of Gold" speech to today's neoliberal drive for austerity. I strongly suggest giving his piece a read.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Infantile Left

I feel disgusted that Northwestern University, my father’s alma mater, would allow this to occur under its aegis, even if the school is now trying to apply some damage control. While I am sure that plenty of American progressives will be just as disgusted by this as I am, I can’t help but think that the American Left is heavily to blame for polluting the academy with ridiculous subjects, such as courses on human sexuality (as if most people didn’t figure out the basics in a normal biology class). When the Left switched its focus from economics to “Lifestyle Leftism” and identity politics it lost a good portion of its largely socially conservative, working-class base. Indeed, the Infantile Left has been a tremendous accomplice of neoliberal economics. The two go together rather well, despite what many on the mainstream Right and Left may claim.

The Left is in serious need of a moral revival, and this means returning to a moral vision that includes rejecting the silly obsessions of Infantile Leftism and embracing a more traditional morality. Otherwise, right-wingers will continue to convince working people that the Left is simply out to destroy the faith and values that they hold dear.