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My name is Peter Joseph and the following is a critique of the Bernie Sanders
March 19th Town Hall with Michael Moore, Elizabeth Warren and others
from the standpoint of a structuralist.
Structuralism simply means you're accounting for larger order contexts
when addressing a given situation.
The point being that much of what was discussed
in the context of root causes and solutions was rather disappointing to me
as the true origins of the problem of socioeconomic inequality
and loss of democracy was not really addressed at all.
Naturally if you do not understand the root problem
you cannot create viable solutions to problems or symptoms.
And it's frustrating to see how this representative group of influencers
still don't seem to have the awareness or perhaps the courage
to go after the market economy and its incentive psychology
and procedural dynamics.
When I say incentive psychology I'm referring to the individualistic,
effectively antisocial incentives generated through competition,
seeking short-term profits
generally at the expense of long-term sustainability
not to mention humane ethics.
An obvious example is that when a person works to invent something,
they do it first and foremost to sell, to make money.
The incentive is to make money, not advance society.
While some argue this relationship - this proxy relationship -
has been fruitful, which of course it has on one level,
it has also simultaneously been unnecessarily destructive,
especially when other economic alternatives that remove this proxy incentive system
could be applied to human society.
Also, things do not get done in our society because
they have no profit possibility,
which is extremely depressing and one of the main core reasons
so many problems go unresolved today,
from the resolution of ecological decline
to the prevalence of poverty and homelessness.
Similarly, when I say procedural dynamics
I'm referring to the game of market trade and how it orients human rationality.
In the same way a person plays a sport,
orienting behavior around the structure of the game itself,
there's a near automatic pattern of response
happening throughout human society
working to game itself in effect
for each individual or group's advantage.
For example, a universal constraint inherent to this market game
is the need for cost efficiency.
Cost efficiency simply means people are trying to save money on input
while maximizing gain upon the final sale of course.
And what has this led to? Well, slavery for one.
Whether abject slavery,
or the millions of slaves that exist in the world today
getting paid virtually no money or so little that it doesn't even matter,
in various degrees of coercion
driven by poverty and vulnerability.
And keep in mind - and I think it's an important distinction -
that what we call capitalism or a capitalist society,
isn't really capitalist by any absolute definition
because there's no such thing as a purely capitalist society nor could there ever be
in terms of the free-market foundation.
It's more accurate to say that it is capitalistic:
a qualitative property.
And this capitalistic tendency
was birthed by the Neolithic Revolution 12,000 years ago
molding and evolving society and culture ever since.
It's a specific structural framework that we've been inside of.
And if you're not familiar with that I can point you to my book
'The New Human Rights Movement' which details it
along with other issues related to socioeconomic inequality.
But suffice it to say, it's very important to understand that there's a
long term geographical determinism that has set
the characteristics of our society in motion.
That said, and put another way,
countless people are pulling levers on a giant machine,
engaging the market economy's gaming
through cost efficiency and so on,
not realizing that the long term result
includes human exploitation and abuse
along with a loss of earthly sustainability.
It's built into the collectively-operating mechanism.
without the need for individual malicious intent
on the part of any single individual.
Cost efficiency is often confused with the idea
of technical or natural efficiency and design.
The truth is cost efficiency is deeply destructive
because it doesn't actually employ any kind of true science.
Systems science would define true efficiency
in the design and production of a given good.
True efficiency is about doing things correctly from a scientific perspective in other words,
and cost efficiency is simply about doing things in order to maximize income
and reduce loss in the process of production and sale.
This again leads to enormous earthly waste and perpetual human abuse
as empirical and formal evidence shows.
And when you put these two things together -
incentive psychology and procedural dynamics of capitalism -
you begin to understand why any attempt to push back against the outcomes,
the inevitabilities of this system that we see consistently,
will either be short-lived or they will fail.
It will also happen, again regardless of the moral aptitude of the society,
because this isn't some trivial matter in decision-making.
This is about survival:
individual self-interest coupled with familial or group self-interest,
coupled with an expansive materialist culture now derived from our need to
keep consuming and having growth and GDP and creating jobs and so on,
will forever condemn any hope of improvement
in the context of socioeconomic inequality or class war
without large-scale structural economic change,
which effectively voids what we consider to be
the purest form that we've ever known of market economics.
In other words if you want to change the behavior of people and how we relate to each other
you have to change the framework they are operating in.
That said, let's begin with the basic opening by Sanders stating their cause.
[B. Sanders] But tonight's discussion is not just an analysis of our problems.
We're going to talk about solutions,
about where we go from here,
and how we create an economic and political system
which represents the needs of all Americans
and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.
Elizabeth, what's going on in America?
[E. Warren] Okay.
So I want to start this where
we're picking up where Bernie left off and that is
look at all the data right now about inequality in America,
inequality in wealth, inequality in income.
But I want to reframe this a little bit.
I see this as inequality in opportunity
and that that is one of the most corrosive parts
about what's happening and what's gone wrong over a generation.
[PJ] The synergy of influences that limit human potential,
individual by individual, is vast
and the idea of equality and opportunity
or equal access to potentials of society
become increasingly dubious, tenuous and confused
when the entire society is actually premised
in something that moves against any type of balance or equality.
In other words, the foundation of the society we have today
is premised in scarcity, competition,
and the game of seeking income to support future interests
and hence greed and so on.
You can't have equal opportunity in a society
that for example makes money out of debt,
selling that money like any other good.
You can't have equal opportunity
when there is an actual boom and bust cycle that periodically
wipes out the lower- and middle-class potentials.
And the list goes on, and it's a little bit disappointing
and even though I agree with Warren's gesture,
that no one brings up the other forces that limit human potential and public health.
And I think the general gravitation of the Democratic socialists and others of this mindset
is also that you can kind of regulate it in hard rigid laws
that will preserve some degree of equal access,
even though the entire society is premised on unequal access
as a driver of industry and innovation, by the way.
And once someone does even attempt to create such legislation like FDR did decades ago,
you'll notice that the general pressure
is always to dismantle such programs in the name of free markets
and the problem here effectively is consistency.
You cannot have contradictory social patterns and expect both of them to preserve themselves.
And while we do see, as I'll talk about moreso later in the video,
differences between the United States and say the Scandinavian countries
and other social democracies, in terms of how they "collar" capitalism,
the United States itself exists in a completely different level of the sickness.
That even if you regulate in free education, free health care,
free medical leave, free extended vacations, all these other things common of
the pop culture socialism as we know it today,
it would just be a matter of time before a new constituency
would come in and remove those safety nets
in favor of larger order capitalist rationalization.
So I hope all of that makes sense because equal opportunity,
to define that and make it real and make it applicable,
requires far more than what these folks are proposing.
- So for me, what this generational shift is about
is a shift in this fundamental question about who this government works for
and who it creates opportunities for.
[PJ] You can't pose the question of who the government works for
without understanding what gives birth to the structure of government to begin with.
Governments are fundamentally premised economically.
That may seem odd since we're led to believe
government is the starting point of our society in action.
But if you examine the nature of governments since the Neolithic Revolution
you will see that they are first and foremost concerned with economic behavior.
Feudalism, mercantilism, capitalism
and even socialism and communism as they have existed,
have had institutions of governance that organize around those economic foundations
explaining their differences.
This only makes sense since the economy is what produces survival.
And as a related aside,
I'd like to point out that this understanding that economics
is the root of survival has led to some deeply superficial perspectives
that further misunderstand the nature of government,
such as with modern Libertarians.
They see a false duality between markets and government
and as the argument goes, government is a problem
as it restricts the so-called free market
and hence if we reduce government power or regulation,
as was notably done by the Thatcher and Reagan administrations,
you will open up markets and wealth will spread, more people will be supportive and so on.
Obviously it didn't work out that way nor would it ever work out that way.
And my point here is to not debate the libertarian perspective directly
but to show the pervasiveness of this false duality,
or confusion which is even present in the Sanders panel.
The truth is government and business are inseparable
because you have to have regulation
of the individualistic and self-interest-driven anarchy
that defines market behavior.
The invisible hand may exist to some degree
but that degree is so limited,
far too limited to be universally workable.
Markets simply are not a viable system when it comes to accounting
for human sustainability or social stabilization.
It's old and out-of-date.
If government did magically vanish,
the negative externalities produced by market behavior
would pretty much destroy the planet overnight, gesturaly speaking.
So regulation becomes critical to collaring this primitive economic model
that simply can't take into account what is required.
That stated, overall government has two roles:
the democratic or regulatory rule,
where the general population sees problems and tries
to vote in regulations to solve those problems,
while the other role is to facilitate business
and work to preserve national business in a competitive global context
along with encouraging and assisting the expression
of the most successful in business.
Now this second rule explains why there is a natural gravitation in America
for high-level corporate power to create legislation
and in effect control government.
More succinctly government is a regulator on one side
and government is a tool for groupistic business power
and economic advantage on the other.
Even more, since market economics guarantees inequality and class hierarchy
due to its very structure,
money and power become intertwined
and suddenly you have perpetual class antagonism
and competitive threat.
And within that climate of antagonism and threat
the power elite naturally become fearful,
then generating feedback loops of lower-class disregard, oppression and so on,
weakening them like a country weakens another country's infrastructure in war.
All of this is systemic and should be expected
given the nature of the economic structure that serves as the foundation
of government behavior.
Now, that stated, coming back to that structure,
remember government, even though it makes money out of nothing through its central banks,
still wishes to limit inflation, so they tax.
Taxation is important income for government.
Likewise a thriving economy also allows government to maintain its geopolitical dominance.
This occurs through economic power emerging in the form of
colonialistic and globalistic trade agreements for example,
and the United States being the empire that it is,
while also housing the vast majority
of the most powerful transnational corporations on the planet,
we can better understand why the sickness of political preference
in support of the wealthy class is so much stronger in the US
than in many other governments.
It just makes perfect sense, systemically.
So the real question is not "Who does the government work for?"
The question is "What defines the government's inherent nature?"
What are its natural gravitations?
And it's interesting how people don't pick up on that.
The corruption against Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary
could be considered an anomalous thing.
But maybe it's not.
Maybe it's a natural gravitation of those
in positions of hierarchy and business and financial power
working to preserve their positions and so on,
and they move in like a swarm against anyone
that wants to deplete their power.
And if it's found that say the US government's nature is inherently there
to favor business, wealth, class and power hierarchy,
maybe it's time to rethink how the democratic process
is to be approached since this system can only be fundamentally antagonistic
towards anything that we would consider true democracy or
egalitarian democracy, whatever you want to call it.
[M. Moore] And these films I make, they're about a country
that has an economic system that's unfair, it's unjust,
and it's not democratic.
You cannot call this a democracy
if the democracy means we just get to go vote,
but with the economy, we have no say in this,
then it's not a true democracy.
[PJ] I got excited for a brief moment when Moore said this
because he seemed to hint at the fact that
economic democracy is required for a true social democracy.
Yet that focus quickly gets lost in vagueness,
which I guess shouldn't be too surprising since he made a movie about capitalism
that didn't even address the structure of capitalism.
Just more vagary,
highlighting certain corrupt extremes while still supporting general market practice
as if general market practice doesn't inevitably lead statistically
to a vast spectrum of corrupt extremes.
You're only as free and powerful as your purchasing power will allow you to be in today's society.
And because all these folks still subscribe to the market religion in general,
the idea of economic democracy really only implies
being able to influence the regulation of how the economy unfolds,
never really touching the actual structure.
Again, if the structural nature of the economy works against
higher order democratic possibilities,
reinforcing rather than alleviating oppression,
perhaps it's time we addressed that structure
rather than dance around it
or avoid it because it's too inconvenient, taboo or complicated to talk about.
[D. Hamilton] And the key frame in which to address these solutions
is to empower people.
What is really pernicious is that the most vulnerable people,
when trying to do something for themselves,
they're the most exposed to predation,
be it from the financial sector,
be it from colleges and universities that might be
incentivized by for-profit as opposed to a non-profit motive,
so that rhetoric has a harm on those that really try hard.
We don't want that, we want a society where your efforts will truly be rewarded.
Hamilton seems to bring up predation and lower class vulnerability and exploitation
as if it's separate from the incentives and procedural dynamics of market logic.
This observation needs to move past the fact
that poor people become more vulnerable to exploitation,
rather focusing on the fact that the economic system generates this
class hierarchy or inequality by its very design.
How extreme that class inequality becomes
is subject to other forces of course as we see across the world.
But it doesn't change the fact.
Where does one draw the line between predation and strategic cost efficiency?
Where do we draw the line in the gradient of overall human exploitation
in the capitalist machine?
Because it is just that: a gradient or matter of degree.
For example, I am a low-budget independent filmmaker
and I have to find people to do things cheaper than industry standard.
I have no choice, if I expect to produce quality that will draw income in the end.
This means as a systemic result,
those who I can afford to hire are often young, or starting out,
or in a deprived condition whereby they can't demand as much money for their service.
Now do I like doing this? No!
But I have no choice in the market game and neither do you
when it comes down to it.
Each one of us every moment of our lives
is engaging in some form of cost efficiency or savings
to try and secure our futures.
And that inevitably leads to some form of taking advantage
of other people's circumstances whether we intend it or not.
And the solution certainly isn't to pretend
that some forms of human exploitation for another's gain is fine
while some forms are not.
That would be a matter of degree fallacy or continuum fallacy.
And the way folks intuitively combat that
is to fall back on morality.
They may say "Well it's okay for a poor person with $100,000 in student loan debt
to work as a janitor in a coffee shop due to that pressure,
while it's NOT okay for a poor person to work for six cents an hour in a sweat shop in Asia."
Once again, in order to understand what's happening in the structure of capitalism
you have to become objective,
removing both your familiarity with the practice of markets,
how you've been rewarded - that operant conditioning if you have been successful -
while also removing the tendency to draw moral lines
when in truth they don't actually exist logically.
- I'd be remiss not to point out that these vulnerabilities
are more pronounced for marginal groups.
Race, gender, disability status,
formerly incarcerated,
they face obstacles that the general population don't.
[PJ] Once again we need to go deeper.
If we don't understand how groups became marginalized or what keeps them marginalized,
if we don't understand the root causes we can't develop proper solutions, once again.
For example, black-white race inequality obviously cannot be understood
until you at least go back to early American slavery,
in turn considering the arduous and heavily fought process of integration since.
And the question then becomes
"What incentivized or set in motion abject African slavery?"
The answer is simple: cost efficiency.
Economic motivations.
Racism itself as we see vividly in sickness today
is a side effect of this older period of time.
Race was developed as a social construct in fact,
a perception to help preserve the economic institution
of abject human slavery, and effectively classism.
As Dr. Martin Luther King often talked about,
the black-and-white divide in America was used to preserve the power establishment,
keeping poor whites and poor blacks fighting amongst themselves.
In fact if you think about it, this race class divide-and-conquer
is still occurring today, for few are talking about this fact
that slavery was an economic decision,
a business decision, a capitalist decision.
So you can't explain the ongoing deprivation of African Americans today
without seeing this chain of causality
and fundamentally linking the oppression to capitalism itself.
Now since then racism has grown and taken on a life of its own as we know,
and coupled with all the other procedural dynamics
black society has remained regimented and poor
even though there has been general improvement through technology really
as time has gone on.
In fact I think the only group that ever really went after
this system in terms of how it creates group racism and oppression of course,
besides Dr. King and his Poor People's Campaign late in his life,
was the work of the Black Panthers movement, a very large movement in its time,
who were originally opposed to capitalism based on principle,
which is an important historical footnote
that we don't hear much about anymore.
How many movements out there are actually going after
capitalism in the way we obviously should?
Anyway likewise, other marginalized groups cannot be understood
without the competitive element of capitalist society also being considered again.
Gender inequality has cultural roots
no doubt linked to the history of patriarchy and sexism.
Women have historically been paid less and of course marginalized
because male dominated societies simply got away with it.
But you can't look at wage inequality
between men and women today for example and not consider cost efficiency.
That's really the motivation.
It's not that men sit back and say "Women are inferior,
I'm going to pay them less because they don't deserve it."
It's because they know this pattern still exists
and they can get away with it to a certain degree.
I point this out again because you have to look at human-induced group deprivation
from an economic perspective
before considering cultural matters.
Obviously culture is a big part of things, it's not always economic,
but you'd be surprised how much economic involvement past and present
culminates the social condition we see today
including ongoing oppression, marginalization of groups, etc.
Now as far as disabled people as he brought up,
it should be readily apparent that the economic value of people
that have limited capacities, physically or mentally,
make them of less commercial value by default.
If the libertarian theory of human value in financial terms,
meaning you get what you work for and so on,
if that's true,
then those that unfortunately suffer from disabilities of whatever kind
are always going to suffer because the system simply isn't humane enough to respect them.
The people are worthless to the system.
And as far as those that have been incarcerated,
which is characteristic of the US social approach
to further repress those that have committed crimes on one level,
keep in mind that the history of convict leasing,
the modern corporate employment of prisoners for a fraction of minimum wage,
coupled with modern for-profit prisons that seek increased prison capacity
so they can get more money, presents a cloud
of economic pressures that have very little reason, very little incentive,
to do anything but continue limiting people's rights
and literally oppress them and exploit them.
[A. Kasparian] Income inequality continues to be a great tragedy in a country
such as America where
you have so much productivity, so much wealth,
but so much of it is concentrated at the top 1%.
And the reality is another portion of that tragedy is how
we have allowed the wealthiest individuals
to essentially take hold of the narrative
regarding all of us
and stereotype us as individuals who expect entitlements,
who expect to get things handed to us, when in reality as Senator Warren
brilliantly put: we want equality of opportunity.
[PJ] So I wanted to throw this part in by Kasparian because it sets up a couple of interesting points.
First, income inequality is a problem in the 21st century regardless of country,
including the fact America is not an island.
If people are going to complain about inequality generated from the loss of jobs
due to outsourcing, you have to then take into account
the existing deprivation or inequality
in the outsourced areas that are being exploited.
Companies would not outsource unless they can get people to work cheaper, obviously,
so this is an international synergy.
We should also remember the economic differences between the north and southern hemispheres
considering this macroeconomic inequality that has been created
largely through the force of colonization and globalization.
I want to point out that without exaggeration,
America is basically this spoiled child empire that has,
at least its business and government culture,
has raped and pillaged its way to wealth since the dawn of the 20th century;
its economic growth has occurred on the backs of other nations.
And then the American public is surprised
when the US business-driven leadership
enables the exact same kind of abuse in its own populations domestically?
That should be no surprise.
In the game of economic exploitation of class there are no nations,
there are only those who can dominate and those who are vulnerable to domination.
This is another reason why the Union argument, which will be talked about more later,
really falls flat today.
Companies simply are not bound by national borders,
they will influence any legislation to restrict their movement,
and hence unions can be sidestepped very easily
by simply moving operations to economically weaker nations.
The second thing I want to point out is this narrative she mentions which is a good point,
which condemns anyone seeking non-market support or benefits, entitlements,
and they're considered lazy freeloading socialists as we know.
This has been a powerful tool of propaganda.
But rather than counter it through just kind of moral objection
it's best to point out that society as a whole
IS the generating force of innovation and hence wealth.
Everything we see in terms of material and intellectual progress
is a social outcome.
It is a social outcome whether it's generational,
building upon people's knowledge as time goes on,
or its lateral in the sense of sharing ideas in the short term
as exemplified by say the power of the open source movement,
advancing industrial and scientific development through the group mind.
And that's just the way it is; no one comes up with anything on their own.
There are no true geniuses.
There are geniuses in the temporal sense that have built upon other people's work
but no one just spontaneously comes up with anything.
It's always a social process.
So the propaganda that people should get what they work for -
as if the competitive market we see is a level playing field or
in some kind of equality,
where each individual is working to climb their own individual mountain,
and if they reach the top of that mountain they should be rewarded
disproportionately against those that don't reach the top of that mountain -
this is preposterous from a systems perspective,
a true sociological perspective,
a true epistemological perspective.
Not only is there no level playing field,
people are also not equal in their abilities or in their biology
and have different strengths and weaknesses.
These are not strengths and weaknesses that are universally assumed, in other words,
what seems like a strength or a weakness in one context
could very well be the opposite in another context.
This propaganda will say that those with weaker strengths
mental or physically or, who are just lazy,
they deserve less in this sort of socially Darwinistic assumption,
and it's a very dangerous assumption, and it's a very false assumption.
So, culture has become obsessed with individual success,
so-called success, ignoring the collective reality of our existence.
So coming back to Kasparian's point
people today more than ever should be receiving a dividend
of society so to speak.
There's nothing wrong with the idea of people being born into a society
that's actually designed to take care of them,
building upon the fruits of what prior generations have done.
There is no greater means to generate real equality of opportunity
than to actually remove the stress of survival.
Providing people with the necessities of life is the root
of allowing people to actually be creative and free
and to develop and prosper.
So if people could just be relieved of that foundational stress of survival,
having to worry about their children's education,
worried about their next job, worried about their health costs and so on,
if we can alleviate that, there is your precondition for true
equality of opportunity to allow people to flourish,
as promoted by organizations like The Zeitgeist Movement
and new forms of economic models.
So anyway let's not confuse equality of opportunity with something like
equal opportunity employer or other market-based notions once again
because equality simply doesn't exist in this type of socioeconomic structure.
- But business won't come
to this area because there's no sewage infrastructure.
And if there's no business there's no tax base
to build any sewage infrastructure - do you see a pattern here?
about how this works.
So you get these areas of poverty that just get
locked in poverty.
[PJ] I threw in this comment because it's just another example of the
procedural dynamics of market logic once again,
even though no one is speaking of these types of feedback systems
in that context.
These dynamics have to be pointed out not as though they are some anomaly
but underscoring the core logic of the way the system works.
Of course investors are not going to come to regions that they can't exploit
because there isn't proper infrastructure.
So it becomes a self feeding cycle of more and more poverty and deprivation
and isolation and so on.
This is a structural problem, not a problem of policy.
[C. Flowers] Some of those same type of attitudes that existed prior to the 1960s,
the structural racism that was reinforced by racial terror is still in existence today.
[PJ] Flowers brings up structural racism, and again
you can't really talk about racism without talking about classism.
Classism is racism's father
and racist tendencies, which are created through economic fear of other groups,
can only be resolved through removing that economic fear in the end.
Now this isn't to say that all bigoted views are somehow economically related.
But generally speaking if you view history
and look at patterns of bigotry across groups,
you will see a history of economic oppression or economic fear.
And I can't emphasize how important that foundation is to understand
to try and stop modern bigoted behavior.
There is no silver bullet, but the closest thing to a silver bullet today
is working to create true economic equality on this planet,
removing groupistic fears.
[M. Moore] Water doesn't just get dirty.
Those are the decisions that get made.
And you don't have clean drinking water because of decisions about money
that are made- we were talking backstage about Flint.
And there are many Flints around this country and it's not just
that we have an environmental problem
but we have an economic problem
where those people - in your case in Alabama, in my case in Flint -
where decisions get made where they say "You know what?
These people, they're not worth the investment."
[PJ] I again almost got excited here
hoping Moore would link what he just described to the inherent incentives
and procedural dynamics of the market economy.
Instead the phenomenon pointed out of economically poor or dead regions,
is explained in an almost conspiratorial way.
Apathy is not malicious intent.
Business logic doesn't care.
Same with the homeless crisis.
Homeless people don't have any money, they're not economically viable,
so they are ignored.
So these decisions he speaks of
are about what's profitable and what isn't,
and deep poverty-riddled areas in America
are really systemic outcomes.
Primary logic of markets - efficient regional exploitation -
if it can't be exploited investment doesn't occur.
So, Flint Michigan and other such regions really need to be understood as
"negative market externalities,"
negative externalities of capitalism that are inevitable like pollution,
not some failure of policy.
- Economic justice should be a moral imperative.
Why are we relying on the private sector to begin with?
Somebody's dignity should not be based in the profit of a firm-
that's just the bottom line.
[Audience cheering]
[PJ] And the crowd goes wild!
Yet it's this kind of moral invocation that continues to stifle
any type of technical progress in the activist community.
We have to stop thinking in terms of what is right morally,
demanding people act against their own self-interest in the market game.
Because that's what the invocation implies.
It's exhausting listening to the platitudes and righteousness
of what "should be" in this public debate on effectively human rights,
when we are entrenched in a system that is really morally bankrupt by default
and isn't designed to favor equality or justice.
It's designed to favor hierarchy and INjustice.
Everybody's dignity so to speak
is contingent upon income and profit in this type of system.
One's dignity is proportional to their purchasing power in other words,
for only their purchasing power gives them in effect
any human rights, to whatever degree.
- When we talk about the decline of the middle class
clearly were talking about the loss
of 50,000 factories in this country since 2001,
of jobs being sent abroad to China, etc.,
of workers now working for much lower wages than they use to,
and the decline of the trade union movement.
I want to say a few words about those issues.
[PJ] And this begins the extensive conversation about unions
which seems to be at the core of the solutions proposed by this panel.
While unions are important to keep some balance
in market class warfare as I touched upon before,
remember we live in a different condition today.
The unions had strong force decades ago and political power
but the natural gravitations of capitalism have eroded that,
and rather than look at this as an ebb-and-flow let's look at this as an evolution.
Sanders mentioned the sending of jobs overseas, declining wages,
marginalization, battles against unions, etc.
The implication is that these things are supposed to not happen?
When of course the truth is that the entire gravitation of our economy ensures
this constant diminishment, attenuation and antagonism from the ownership class
which really holds power, as naturally would be the case
in this type of government
with the foundation being markets once again.
It may seem redundant for me to say all this,
but if this Town Hall was supposed to be progressive and in-depth,
we can't keep falling back on these old notions of economic warfare
and the idea that the lower classes will simply organize more strongly,
develop strong unions, influence political party and somehow maintain
a social justice equilibrium.
While it is certainly possible with very heavy improbable,
but counter-system legislation to stop international capital flows,
the outsourcing of labor and so on,
along with perhaps the application of universal basic income to give
the working class less vulnerability,
enhancing their ability to fight back against
being manipulated into lower wages or poor circumstances -
that's simply not the way it's gonna go if government is composed of business power.
I'm not saying anything is impossible, once again I'm saying that it's improbable.
And I know the conversation is difficult
regarding trying to make structural changes to our economic system.
It's extremely difficult and requires a deep mass movement and sharp focus
about what the changes need to be.
But the fact that we're leaving this out of the conversation here is the actual problem.
[C. Estrada] But even 15 isn't a living wage.
It's not the wage that we grew up with
and so we have to have 15 and a union.
Workers have to have a seat at the table
because if it's left up to employers
they're always going to make a decision on their bottom line.
It is about their bottom line,
they're always going to send it to their shareholders in corporations
so I agree with what you said, we can't leave it up to the private sector.
Workers have to get a seat at the table,
and how do we build that trade union movement again
when employers are spending a billion dollars a year
fighting and union busting,
fighting workers as they try to organize.
[PJ] Not to run this into the ground
but I keep trying to find a fitting analogy that embraces
the kind of naivety we hear along the lines of what Estrada is saying.
She points out the actual problem
but doesn't give the gravity of that problem the weight it deserves.
For lack of a better analogy it's like capturing a lion in the wild from Africa,
plopping it in the living room as a pet,
and then being surprised when it attacks you.
It's also important to point out that unions are really no different in their incentives
than business owners.
If a union had the option and power to increase its wages a hundredfold,
you can bet that they probably would in the exact same self-interest,
self-preservation that business owners have,
to pay as little as possible to their employees.
So unions and management, unions and company,
are really two sides of the same coin
of economic warfare.
And the goal should be to remove the need for war to begin with.
So yes, the working class needs a seat at the table obviously,
in the context that we are in,
but I'm tired of people once again speaking of unions as though they are a solution
when they're really just a reaction.
- Because 60% of workers want a union
so you ask why don't they get one?
And they don't get one because
they're being fired,
they're being told that their jobs will go to Mexico
where they're competing with $3.95.
[PJ] What did you expect?
Estrada again makes it seem like these behaviors are anomalous
and the implication is that some kind of legislative force
has to come in and limit the ability of businesses to diminish union power.
But if the ownership class runs government as it does,
as it would be expected to
given the economic foundation of government,
why would it favor any such legislation?
Even with mass voter force it still runs against the current.
We also can't forget the dark violent history of unions
as the most central expression of class warfare.
When unions were considered anti-American and communistic, the Red Scare
worked to try and diminish union power and so on in the mid 20th century.
I want to again reinforce that there's a current,
a trend in our society, and that current flows one direction.
Anything that moves against that current,
of the market's inherent incentives and procedural dynamics,
will periodically drown or be pulled in the other direction
one way or another, just a matter of time.
- Unions built America's middle class,
it'll take unions to rebuild America's middle class.
I just think that's ... [Applause]
[PJ] No, unions today will not rebuild the middle class
because conditions have changed.
They will help to whatever degree they can be enforced
but they have very diminished efficacy in the current
condition we have on the planet now.
What allowed for the middle class after the post-World War 2 era
was a synergy of influences.
The middle class flourished in a short-lived domestic and international condition.
With Europe and much of the industrialized world in shambles,
emerging US hegemony enabled a delicate period of stress reduction;
it was a petri-dish stage of a new era.
US-based industry started to grow and dominate as a result.
These industries then expanded to absorbing wealth from other regions
through emerging globalization, hence reinforcing the US Empire,
still semi-loyal to the nation.
In this, union power was far more tolerated
because there was less pressure on American society to be competitive on the whole
against other nations.
At the same time the ongoing Industrial Revolution allowed for
increased productivity and hence a more relative abundance,
again easing social stress.
Sorry to be rambley here but with anything sociological it's complex.
You can't understand the post-World War 2 period of US growth
and the rise of the middle class without taking into account the international condition
and recognizing new trends.
It was really just a matter of time before self-interest
of these new powerful industrial capitalist organizations evolved
into evermore greedy and ruthless action,
including working against its own domestic population
just as it works against third world nations in exploitation.
Transnational corporations simply stopped having respect for the borders,
suddenly this grace period of middle-class respect ended,
as corporate America expanded globally.
So the middle class diminished in America because the very idea
of the American middle class became irrelevant.
Companies became international.
The entire dynamic changed, and hence it makes sense that the US,
which houses most of the transnational corporations that are empowered today,
at least houses in the sense of "we are the origin nation,"
but that is not to be confused
with the idea that there's any loyalty to the US middle class
as these folks basically imply.
Today businesses really don't see nations.
Transnational dominance and capitalist expression doesn't care about regions.
It's not loyal to anything
so what's basically happened is the abuse that you've seen
through colonization and globalization
has been transferred domestically as corporations became more international.
And good luck trying to legislate around that kind of global dynamic
to somehow magically improve the American middle class.
- Back when I was growing up in Flint Michigan
nearly every job was a union job.
The person who bagged the groceries in the checkout line-
there was a union for grocery bag baggers.
And everybody did well. And you only needed one income.
[PJ] Here we have again the nostalgic position that America can simply return
to some institutionalized systemic state that existed prior
when that can't happen, again because of international dynamics
and just general technological change and so on.
Things evolve, they don't just ebb and flow once again,
in society, sociologically.
Like Donald Trump's "Make America great again!"
we're obsessed with this as a society, we can't seem to think
systemically or from an evolutionary perspective,
understanding how outcomes change circumstances as time moves forward.
And I want to give an analogy for this, an analogy for market capitalism itself.
Think about the discovery of hydrocarbons and oil.
If it wasn't for the discovery of hydrocarbons and oil
we would not have all of the great progress that we've seen.
But now what is hydrocarbon energy doing?
It's destroying our atmosphere, it's polluting the environment
to almost a deadly extent.
So at once it used to be fine, best we knew,
turned out to be deeply problematic on another level as time moved forward.
And this is exactly how people should be thinking about market capitalism:
as an evolutionary phenomenon.
[G. Lafer] As a political scientist I'm asked sometimes how does it happen
that in a democracy laws get passed that go against the interests of the majority.
And to answer that question we really have to look
behind the politicians and behind the parties
to see what is the real power that is writing our laws.
And that's not just the Koch brothers but it's a handful of the biggest
and most powerful political actors in America which is the big corporate lobbies.
The biggest vehicle through which corporate political activity happens in the States
is called the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC.
They meet several times a year
in committees that are made up half of elected legislators and half of corporate lobbyists.
[PJ] So Lafer here continues the common general outrage argument
that politicians are corrupted by lobbyists for money,
laws are being written by lobbyists and so on and so forth,
as if that should be a surprise.
And I'm not gonna go through the litany of detailed incentives and causality that explain this.
Rather I'm just gonna put it this way:
If legislation is not for sale
in a social system where everything else is for sale,
we have a consistency problem.
Market economics as the foundation of our social system
says that people should be able to operate without coercion
on a voluntary basis,
and whatever happens within those parameters
anything can be exchanged and so on and so forth.
So buying and selling politicians is like buying and selling pizzas.
This whole idea of getting money out of politics is possibly
the most naive platitude and argument I've ever heard,
because it goes against absolutely everything we are taught about how our society is run.
So as far as I'm concerned if we're going to be consistent
the Koch brothers SHOULD own and run America.
If you want to stop the corrupt influence of groups that
are disproportionately gaining advantage over other groups
then maybe, just maybe, it's time we begin
asking what kind of economy would actually facilitate that
as a social precondition.
- Describe for our audience how it happens
that not only here in the Congress now
but in state after state,
the needs of working people are ignored,
the needs of the wealthy and powerful are addressed.
- Well first of all I think it's important to say that it's not a partisan issue.
As you said a majority of both Republicans and Democrats
support a higher minimum wage, support a right to paid sick leave,
think that Citizens United should be overturned, and a bunch of other things.
And the corporate lobbies are not cheerleaders for the Republican Party.
They want more money and power for themselves
and they're not hesitant about going after
pro-working-people Republicans. In Michigan,
when right-to-work (which is a law that's designed to kill unions in the private sector) was passed,
the Senate majority leader who was a Republican was opposed to it.
And he was taken in a backroom with big money donors who essentially said
"Do what we say or this will be your last term in office because
we'll pull our money from you and will fund a primary opponent."
[PJ] Building upon the consistency of money
and how those with the most money are going to win
(they vote with their dollar, no pun intended),
we also have to think about the evolution of this society once again.
For the first time in history the United States
has both a plutonomy and a plutocracy.
Plutocracy simply means the government is run by big elite business interests
in favor of money and capital and so on,
and a plutonomy is an economy
that has such a large percentage driven by the 1%,
the enormously wealthy are spending so much money amongst themselves,
that they actually have more importance on a certain level
to the entire overall economy,
making the lower class economic behavior virtually irrelevant.
The amount of money that's being moved amongst the upper 5-10%
is so extreme that it greatly diminishes the importance,
economic importance, of the middle and lower classes.
When you take that into account
you begin to see something very interesting and that is that
capitalism is basically a precondition for fascism.
And plutonomy and plutocracy emphasizes the wealthy class
while diminishing the lower classes
and hence different forms of constraint will always exist to dominate
because power and money are so deeply intertwined.
- The issues with regards to politics is beyond just voting and that's
clearly evident with the ways in which
corporatists can lobby and control things.
So I think we need to be even more sophisticated than just talking about voting.
Voting is obviously essential and important
but beyond voting we need social movements
and Senator Sanders has talked a lot about this, building a social movement,
he's used the word political revolution.
[PJ] I certainly agree that we need something more sophisticated than just voting.
Social movements however need to have an actual platform.
What kind of platform are you people proposing for these social movements?
Just people saying they want more equality and using old techniques to achieve that,
that have proven a lack of efficacy?
People standing in free speech zones yelling at buildings, holding up signs,
hoping someone will look out the window from Congress and listen to them?
And that's another thing by the way:
have you ever noticed that the political process effectively for the general population
is really just this half-assed kind of public display technique?
People have no say on direct policy unless there's a referendum.