Thursday, August 25, 2011

Crude Summer

Chris Floyd has an interesting article over at CounterPunch on the recent events in Libya, with a special emphasis on the motives behind Western military intervention. Definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The David Lindsay Experience

Tired of the same views on politics, culture, economics and religion from the usual suspects on the Right, Left, and Center? I strongly suggest picking up the new book by the indispensable David Lindsay. Mr. Lindsay has one of the best blogs on the Net, so I know his book will also be great.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Giorgio La Pira: Against Abortion


Another gem from the website of the Fondazione Giorgio La Pira, this time with excerpts from Giorgio La Pira’s March 19, 1976 article "Faced with Abortion," published on the front page of L’Osservatore Romano. La Pira writes: 

Are there not great deficiencies, great “gaps”, in the social and juridical structures that are not as capable as they should be of protecting the unborn? They must be eliminated, with great urgency and determination, with adequate legislative measures; but never by taking the being, the life of the unborn baby. Do not kill: this is the uncrossable frontier of our true, unique, shared human civilization. 

 (...) Abortion is not only the killing of an unborn child ("murder" is what the Church Fathers call it): it has been "introduced" into history's teleological plan, tarnishing it, into the history of hope, producing immeasurable upheaval in the historical transcendence of God: by bringing on the "collapse" -if such a thing is possible- of the entire human civilization, the mystical body and the whole body of nations.

(...) Abortion is not an act that liberates women, but rather, in a certain sense, a form of inner slavery: no "human intervention" can free her. 

There is no social reform, as vast as it is, or change in economic, political, or welfare structures etc. ... that can liberate women from this "true inner alienation" that abortion invariably causes. 

La Pira’s stance on abortion is one that I think many members of the pro-life Left can get behind. He points out that “great deficiencies” exist in the protection of unborn life. I would argue that, in light of La Pira’s tireless work for social justice, he would approve of measures to reform the economic system to take into account the needs of unborn children. Indeed, how can the Left deny the unborn a place at the economic table while claiming to support the weak against the strong? And how can Christian politicians claim to defend the rights of the unborn but do nothing to alleviate the economic pressures that drive some women to choose abortion over life? 

However, as La Pira points out, reforms by themselves cannot erase the stain of abortion. Abortion cannot simply be made “safe, legal, and rare.” Abortion must be eliminated from human culture as any other inhuman practice should be. Economic and political reforms must be a part of any successful pro-life strategy,  but we must always keep in mind that the elimination of the practice of abortion is our ultimate goal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Neoliberalism Is Anti-Family

As a follow-up to my August 06, 2011 post on family policy, I want to point out that the Japanese economist Makoto Itoh wrote an excellent article in the April, 2005 issue of the Monthly Review. While it is an old article, Itoh does an excellent job describing how neoliberalism has damaged family life and helped to drive down the birth rate in Japan. Much of what Itoh writes also applies to other nations. Itoh writes:

Another important symptom of deteriorating social conditions for Japanese working people is a sharp decline in the average birth rate. Needless to say, the average birth rate needs to be more than two per woman if population is not to decrease. It remained above two for Japanese women at the beginning of the 1970s, but thereafter fell continuously to 1.29 in 2003. Thus it is estimated that the Japanese population will begin to decline after 2006. Speculative long-term extension of this trend shows Japan’s population halved by the end of this century and back to the size of the feudal Edo period toward the end of the next century.

A fall in birth rate is more or less common in many advanced countries (excepting a few such as the United States), but Japan is among those with the highest rapidity of change. A prompt shift to an aged society upsets all the relatively stable proportions of Japan’s postwar economy. The shift threatens to undermine accustomed expectations for pension plans, medical public insurance, and educational institutions; the budget crisis of the state; and national economic vitality in relation to prospects for the growth of both consumption demand and the supply of labor-power. Thus, this aspect completes a vicious circle of the Japanese economy in structural difficulties.

Marx in Capital (vol. 1, chap. 25, sec. 4) formulates as “a law of capitalist society” that “not only the number of births and deaths, but the absolute size of families, stands in inverse proportion to the level of wages, and therefore to the amount of the means of subsistence at the disposal of different categories of workers.” He quotes Adam Smith’s statement “Poverty seems favorable to generation,” as well as Samuel Laing’s prediction that “If the people were all in easy circumstances, the world would soon be depopulated.” This law may well apply to the pressure of population explosion in many of the developing countries in the contemporary world. However, the depopulation trend in Japan and other advanced countries is not a result of easy circumstances among working people.

On the contrary, marriage has been delayed by the massive mobilization of relatively cheap female workers into automated workplaces equipped with various information technologies (IT) in the process of capitalist restructuring under the pressure of continuous depressions and neoliberal ideology. Social care systems such as access for young people to reasonably priced dwellings, guarantees for child-bearing leave, and public child-care centers, have remained quite insufficient and unimproved by neoliberal “reforms.” Under the pressure of long hours and poor wages in not very promising jobs (or the greater pressure of unemployment) the traditional pattern of raising a family in a home of one’s own has become harder for a large portion of the younger generation.

Capitalism has developed on the ground of commodification of human labor-power by disintegrating communal social units and formations. Starting with the destruction of communal feudal social orders, Japanese capitalism mobilized more and more workers into the urban labor market. The total population quadrupled since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, as a result of the abolition of feudal demographic restrictions. Especially in the postwar period of high economic growth until 1973, large families (typically with three generations) were broadly divided into nuclear families with two generations as the younger generation moved into urban capitalist work places. Thereafter under the influence of both IT in a capitalist firms-centered society and the pressure of neoliberal initiatives to meet global competition, nuclear families seem to have been further fragmented so as to expand the supply of single workers’ cheaper labor-power, as well as the demand for those highly profitable consumer goods and services—such as cell phones, personal music players, and computer games—which, by their nature, are not sold to the whole family, but to individuals.

Thus, in a sense, contemporary advanced capitalist societies like Japan are paradoxically undermining their own social foundation in the reproduction of human beings, as a result of the excessive success of the commodification of labor-power, by the formation of an extremely individualistic market society. Depopulation in Japan thus does not at all signify the easy circumstances of working people, but it is rather a symptom of a deep structural disease rooted in the basic historical tendency of a capitalist market economy, tendentiously driving societies toward atomistic individualism.

Please read the rest of the article for Itoh's detailed description of the worsening fortunes of Japanese workers and other problems associated with neoliberalism in Japan, much of which is still relevant in 2011 and not just for Japan.

WORKS CITED

Itoh, Makoto. "The Japanese Economy in Structural Difficulties," Monthly Review Volume 56, Issue 11 (April, 2005).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ratings Reality

Bill Mitchell has an excellent blog post on the US government debt downgrade, here.

Edit: Hat tip to the invaluable Lord Keynes for the source of the link.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Nanny State or Pater Familias?

When I read news stories such as this one on the think tank CentreForum’s “five a day” checklist for improving parenting, I sometimes want to revert back to my former libertarianism. The welfare state sometimes has a certain busybody element to it that becomes more prominent when benefits become increasingly means tested or when they are attached to certain patronizing requirements like attending parenting classes or only purchasing certain types of food with government food subsidies.

A better course of action would be for the State to enact policies that improve the environment for raising families and leaving the rest for actual families to sort out organically. For example, supporting full employment and high wages, especially for male workers, can help strengthen families by providing the necessary economic base for paternal authority within families while at the same time obviating the need for mothers to find employment outside of the home or to put children in daycare centers. Additionally, making divorce more difficult would strike at the heart of the culture of caprice that is reflected in many of the social problems present in today’s society.

Friday, August 5, 2011

More Than A Martyr


It has been a while since I have written a substantive post. However, I have been doing some research of sorts and have stumbled upon a veritable treasure trove in the form of a website devoted to the study of the life and thought of the late Aldo Moro, the former Prime Minister of Italy. Tragically, Moro is mostly known for being the victim of a brutal assassination by the Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization. Moro was murdered by left-wing extremists because of his work to save Italian democracy by integrating the whole nation into a revitalized democratic system. Moro’s Historic Compromise with the Italian Communist Party angered Washington and Moscow, as well as the intransigent sections of the Italian Right and the Left.

As I see it, Moro’s death was a severe blow to Italy. A tremendous mediator within his own faction-ridden Christian Democratic Party, Moro may have been the only Italian politician with the ability to hold together a country that, in many respects, was only superficially united. Additionally, far from simply being a milquetoast master of compromise, Moro was also a progressive in the best sense of the word. Like other left-leaning Christian Democrats, Moro looked to the British Labour Party, and especially the government of Clement Attlee, as a source of inspiration. Moro’s vision of democracy was social democracy, not the pale imitation of democracy that has developed under plutocratic neoliberalism. 

Because of the dramatic and controversial circumstances of Moro’s murder (including a wide array of conspiracy theories that rival those surrounding the John F. Kennedy assassination), I gather that most people are more familiar with his death than with his life. This is an unsurprising yet unfortunate state of affairs, as Moro was an important thinker in addition to being a politician. I hope to be able to present my own thematic posts focusing on interpretations of different aspects of Moro’s thought and its significance for our own time.

In the meantime, I highly recommend the website of the Academy of Historical Studies – Aldo Moro, along with its blog, as a resource for those interested in Aldo Moro and his life and work.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Recovery For Whom?

Yes, he is a Marxist or “Marxian” if you prefer, but Prof. Richard D. Wolff is spot on in his analysis of the phantom “recovery” in the United States. Definitely worth a read.