Welcome to the Wall Street Casino and Resort

I think it’s funny how everyone pays so much attention to the stock market and yet we know so little about it. The stock market is not an indicator of the health of the economy, not for real people at least. The stock market is an indicator of the speculative investments of a very wealthy few and the mutual funds of the poor schmoes trying to save for retirement. The stock market doesn’t really mean anything, its gambling with an MBA. Now some will argue that the stock market keeps companies honest, that it reflects their value and performance, while providing the necessary capital to keep them going. To some degree, yes this is true, but not really.

The stock market only represents the perceived value of a company. The perception of a company’s profitability is never its actual value. A company’s stock will go up and down according to the whims of stock traders. If they feel like a stock is worth more, they’ll buy/sell high and visa versa. Why they feel this way, doesn’t matter. Often it doesn’t correspond to reality. That’s why we have things like market crashes. Folk buy up stock on the assumption that they’ll keep going up. Not because the company is actually worth anything, but because investors think they can sell to the next guy for a higher price. That is until the bubble bursts and there’s no one else to buy the stock. A stock market bubble is essentially a pyramid scheme; the new guys fund the profits of the old guys till the whole thing falls apart.

What’s worse is that the stock market doesn’t really apply to you or me. Its health is never our health. Corporate stocks go up when profits go up, and raising profits is often accomplished through unsavory means. When GE lays off a thousand workers, it’s stock shoots up 2-3 dollars at least. New labor saving technology cuts costs, boosts stock and undercuts labor’s bargaining power. If a logging company chops down a national forest, then the money rolls on in. We all suffer from increased environmental destruction, but hey, DuPont’s up 3 points!

The media’s fascination with the stock market demonstrates its upper class bias. They don’t really care about the little people. If they did, more journalists would talk about unemployment, gentrification, and all the not so fun symptoms of a healthy stock. But they don’t, because the news media, especially the business media, is owned and controlled by 5 large corporations, staffed largely by relatively well off reporters and driven solely by profit motive. It’s a bit different at the local newspaper where reporters make pretty modest salaries, but those newspapers aren’t in the business of investigative reporting, corporate HQ wants to make money, and stories like that could only upset advertisers.

It’s all part of a growing and willful ignorance amongst most of the population on all matters of economics. Few people, let alone the reporters themselves, notice that capitalism today isn’t about making things anymore. That’s not where the big money is. Most investment today is in speculation. Now that may involve speculation on productive assets like companies and land, but its still speculation. The problem with speculation is that it doesn’t add any value. At least industrial capitalists build stuff and develop technologies. But speculation is just blackjack with much higher bets, an exclusive casino for the ultra wealthy.

The danger is that over speculation isn’t only unproductive, it’s also incredibly risky. Imagine the economy as a line on a graph, going up and down in a cyclical stable line. Well, the more speculation you add, the deeper and longer those bumps and troughs get. Speculation doesn’t create value, but it is very good at creating volatility. The reason is pretty simple, if you have 50 people trading a stock, its range isn’t going to differ that much over a day or a week, there’s only so many people and so much money. But if you had 50,000 people, you could generate wild fluctuations. Those are the fluctuations that cause a Black Tuesday or an East Asia crisis. If you don’t know about the East Asia crisis, basically around 1997 a bunch of currency speculators drained most of the capital out of the region in a matter of weeks. Factories were sold off piecemeal, bank after bank collapsed, there was hyper unemployment. It wasn’t very fun. Especially when it cascaded into Russia, causing the ruble to crash and eviscerating any gains those poor folk had managed to claw out of the capitalist “shock therapy” of 1992.

Obviously we’ve got a bit of a problem here. We have an economy built on speculation and it’s ready to blow. The cracks have already appeared; in fact they’re fissures at this point. The housing bubble was built on speculation and that has come back to destroy several large mortgage companies (Countrywide is a good example). Fuel prices continue to skyrocket. Why? In the long term its lower supplies and increased demand from India and China. But that’s not the case right now, actually right now its oil speculators bidding up the price and hoarding oil futures because they’re anticipating that increased demand. Food? Yeah that too, in 2004 there was 15 billion sloshing around the food commodities markets, now it’s 150 billion. Of course there are many other problems, but speculation is one of the root causes for about every economic calamity we’ve got right now.

This is dangerous, because speculation is not the cause of people’s problems. Capitalism, oppression, exploitation are the problems. But during these depressions and panics certain sections of the ruling class, the industrialists and the small time owners, start to wax about the power of the “evil bankers.” They start saying that all of you disaffected industrial workers are loosing your jobs and your way of life to that evil transnational banking elite. And we gotta ally together to fight those dastardly bankers, and secure the health of the nation, which only grows more powerful through the strength of industry and the hard working values of traditional heartland folk. If you haven’t realized, this is what we call fascism, add some comments about “jewish bankers” and you get Nazism. During times of capitalist crisis the industrialists and other capitalists co opt parts of the working class, usually the more disaffected, conservative sections, and then brutally assault leftist/revolutionary working people. There’s a reason why Hitler called it “National Socialism,” he actually brought some workers along with him. However Hitler did wipe out the more “socialist” elements during the Night of Long Knives. But hey, I’ll take a dead Nazi however I can get em.

Anyway, before this gets too meandering and silly, let me sum it up. Speculative capital is bad, and it is going to cause another recession, if not another depression sometime soon. The problem is we cannot allow conservative reactionary types to derail working folk into some sort of right wing, neo fascist movement. When the shit hits the fan, we need to articulate a vision that is revolutionary and makes it clear that speculation isn’t the problem, but a problem, a symptom of the larger disaster known as capitalism and hierarchy. Getting rid of speculation won’t end layoffs, wage cuts, racial hatred, etc. It just strengthens one section of the rulers against another.

On the Poverty of Suburban Unemployment: Why it sucks

Getting stuck at home for long periods of time is pretty enlightening. I guess having no money does that. Makes everything real clear. For awhile now I’ve fancied myself something of an absurdist. I savor in the idea that if the universe is absurd, that there is no real meaning, then we are radically free to choose and create the meaning for our self. The world becomes ours in a way that you don’t get with typical Christianity or any organized religion. I’ve always dovetailed this absurdism with a bit of Marx. Marx always pointed out that humans have an almost innate need to create and to do. It was our “species being” to sit there amongst the world and take action to change shit in some way

When you combine the two, I believe that you find something approaching a “human nature” or at least a general tendency. Humans find their meaning in whatever they wish. But in order to find that meaning they have to take action. They have to create that meaning, not just plot it out. Getting stuck here at home has brought this bit into relief. After a couple weeks of fruitless job searching I had already lost a lot of drive. I was stuck at home with very little to do, especially since most of my old friends were out of town. I live in an area that’s designed to keep out fun. People come here to raise kids and to grow old, but nothing in between. Young adults have very little in the way entertainment around here. The political message behind this is all very clear. Don’t think, don’t do, just stay isolated in your consumption. I’m gonna post more that a bit later.

Anyway, I wasn’t able to take action. I couldn’t really do anything. Sure I could write and read but I could not put my ideas into practice. I was brainstorming my meaning, but not living it. I was denying my species being. I was party to a general malaise, I just felt like blah. I didn’t feel strongly about anything. Of course it wasn’t some silly emo “zomg I’m depressed” moment it was just generalized anxiety. I couldn’t emotionally care, I was the same intellectually, but the wind had been taken out of my sails. Only after starting this blog, and working on some other projects have I suddenly felt a return to form. This is pretty obvious proof that absurdist/marxist POV. While I can chart whatever course of meaning I like, that course has no substance, no action behind it. It becomes another sterile intellectual pursuit, which explains a lot about most intellectuals. No wonder they’re so much like cold fish.

Meaning is intrinsically tied to emotion and action in life. We forget that cold logic gets us nowhere without emotion. It tells us what we want, and that’s the basis for most of our decisions. Anything we strive for in life, all the momentum comes from feeling. That’s why organizer is so important to any radical. Yes struggle is logical and clearly a necessity. But there’s an emotional component that’s also required. There are plenty of armchair Marxists and even a few armchair anarchists and by large, they don’t have the passion or the fervor for real revolutionary change. That requires hard, messy organizing because that hard messy organizing makes our ideas relevant. It creates the meaning behind them. Without experience in the trenches all our ideals will fall apart. We have to keep ourselves sharp and that means building what we want to see. For if we just sit around talking about it and writing missives, we’re doomed to disillusionment.

In Memoriam, George Carlin

George Carlin died last night. The man was a true genius, and in my view, one of the greatest comedians of all time. Carlin wasn’t just a comedian though, he was one of our greatest commentators. I know that when I was a kid, listening to Carlin was my first real introduction to radical politics of Old timey Strikeany kind. He brought into relief my stewing opposition to religion. He pointed out how it was just an arbitrary bunch of nonsense. At the time I was pretty moderate on most issues. But religion was just beyond the pale. A little white man magically saving us? Huh? It made no sense!

My rebellion against god pretty much put me on the path to radicalism. It was the domino that started the chain, smacking down one system of hierarchy after another. Carlin had a sardonic air that kept you honest and kept you questioning. Its not that he was much of an anarchist. More of a nihilist sometimes. But despite his dark attitude Carlin had a deep love for his fellow human. He always thought himself not a cynic but a skeptic. He didn’t hate people, just the fucking idiots who tried to bully and control others. Carlin’s bits weren’t about revolution, but he always attacked arbitrary authority and the silly ways it manifested. Voting, religion, corporations, marketing etc. Calling bullshit kept him going.

He had a rare way of seeing the world. He could observe something and notice all the little bits that it funny. Finding the sexual innuendos of wartime rhetoric, discussing the minutiae of suicide and its proper procedure, it was his forte.

Eventually I had listened to every one of his specials at least 5-30 times. Carlin made me the person I am today. He gave countless kids caustic wit and sarcastic delivery. He had a cadence that just worked. It was like an internal iambic pentameter, which you just sorta picked up listening to the guy. While I’m no stand up, I’d like to think that most of humor is a direct influence of Carlin. He gave me the linguistic threads to weave some of the more deranged and perverse ideas that pop into my head at night when I can’t fall asleep.

He showed us that you don’t need to be mainstream or even well versed to rip down the most complex political systems in weird and original ways. The “bigger dick foreign policy theory” doesn’t need any Marx or Rousseau, just a bit everyday observation. I was no philosopher as a 13 year old kid, no deep thinker. I liked engineering and I was “smart” but not so much on the “heavy topics.” Carlin was a philosopher for the everyman. He reeled you into an abyss of scatological humor that somehow shook off the mental detritus. At a time of anti-intellectualism, falling reading comprehension, and general ignorance Carlin showed us a there was a time to be serious a time be silly and a fart joke fit both.

So raise a glass, and whip up a fart for a great man, comedian, philosopher and human being. George, wherever you are, I hope Joe Pesci keeps good watch over you.

Bloody Cynics: Why Struggle is a Logical Response

Well I just finished talking to a friend of mine and as usual he proclaimed his inherent rationality for knowing that “people are apathetic and stupid, and just follow whatever leader suits them.” Apparently I’m a naïve idealist for thinking that the revolution will ever happen and that collective struggle can change people’s lives. This got me thinking. How do we justify organizing for the long haul? Well I think there are a couple things to consider.

Old timey StrikeFirst people fail to understand that building a revolution isn’t some one off deal. Revolutions are built when small struggles blossoming into a bouquet of popular intransigence. We’re trained all our lives to hate and fight our fellow humans. Collective organizing is an act of unlearning that training, bit by bit inch by inch. With every small victory, we change the lives of those involved. They learn that desperation and survival aren’t the only options, and they too are people worthy of equality, freedom, happiness. In short they find a sense of dignity. Our struggle, even if it never sparks a revolution, at the very least makes lives worth living.

So many of us live lives devoid of purpose, or worse, delude ourselves into some collective pyramid scheme like the Catholic Church. Mass struggle gives us an answer that doesn’t involve buddy Christ or buddy Jack Daniels. When Camus asks us why man doesn’t commit suicide, revolutionaries have an answer. While others drown themselves in drugs, alcohol and sermons, those in struggle can live without anesthetizing themselves. Unlike my “rational” friend, I can go through life confident of what I’m supposed to do. There’s no existential angst, no “why are we here!” nonsense.

Now to get back down to less highfalutin language, let’s just look at the facts. Direct action gets the goods, simple as that. The Labor movement didn’t bring about a socialist utopia (yet), but it did stop children from working in mines, or loosing their limbs in industrial looms. The civil rights movement didn’t end the exploitation of black working class folk, but it did help end most of institutionalized racism. I’d say both of those things are worth fighting, even ding for on their own merits. What’s great is that these worthwhile everyday struggles are all part of the revolutionary project.

A revolutionary movement is really an evolutionary movement. It’s a slow, long slog through victory and defeats. Slowly but surely, we can change the world. It’s a bit of a pain in the ass at times like this, with forests of revolution cut down by raging fires of repression. But with all fires there lies a few seedlings, germinating in the ashes. Give it enough time and enough energy, and those seedlings of rebellion will overtake the world.

Middle Class?

I am sick and tired of people on the American left yapping about the middle class. They either don’t know what the middle class is or they see the middle class as some social democratic aspiration. Union MadeAmerican Unions consistently talk about the need to “rebuild the middle class,” and that the demise of organized industry is the demise of the American middle class. There’s something wrong when the unions, representatives of the workers, think themselves representatives of the middle class. Clearly they don’t want their members to become small shop owners, or middle management? Well perhaps the UAW, but they’re fools.

So then what does all this jargon about the middle class mean? Well I think it has a lot to do with the weakness of class analysis these days. The trade unions in America have bought into the same fable that all Americans have bought into, that there’s this mystical middle class that we all can attain. The vast majority of Americans, rich, poor, or in between, all state their impassioned belief that they are middle class. Why? Because middle class isn’t a real class, but a cultural archetype. It contains everything that it means to be American ie everything that it means to be a good capitalist. The Middle Class Man aka Homo Mediatus is everything that capitalism values. He is independent, he is a property owner, he is educated and most importantly, he is entrepreneurial. Homo Mediatus is an enterprising and dynamic individual; he is Horatio Alger and Andrew Carnegie. He is not rich and aristocratic, living off his wealth, contributing nothing, fighting innovations that harm his bottom line. Nor is a whining worker, too stupid to rise above his means, trying to suck money from the government and his employer.

Yet the middle class as a social class does not exist. It never has. People merely think they have middle class status because they own some kind of middling property (aka a house) or they hold some sort of autonomy on the job. Or they own a lot of property, but don’t consider themselves “rich” because they still “work for a living.” None of this has anything to do with proper revolutionary class analysis. Your class is based on your relationship to capital. Do you own it or control it? If you own some, do you own enough to live off of it? If you primarily work for capital, what sort of work do you do? Do you have power over others; can you hire and fire them? The list goes on.

The middle class is a combination of several classes all mixed into one. A small portion is petit bourgeoisie, small business owners that can’t seem to win out against the big capitalists. These people are scum, as they’re nothing but weak capitalists. Most or a large minority of the middle class is actually working class. They may have a higher degree of work autonomy and they may garner higher wages, but they work for a living, and they aren’t the boss of anyone. Folks like medical technicians, middling to low level engineers, school teachers, skilled tradesmen (carpenters, plumbers etc.), technical writers, freelance writers, many newspaper and script writers etc are working class. All of these people get lumped in with the “middle class” and as a result are inculcated into the cult of conservatism and moderation.

The other part of the middle class is the real middle class. These folks are the coordinator class. They hold a weird contradictory position in society. On the one hand they don’t own enough capital to just sit around, nor are they workers in the traditional sense. They occupy a middle ground peculiar to modern capitalism. Coordinators are the folks who you see everyday and HATE. They’re the management, the politicians, the middle to upper bureaucrats, lawyers, doctors and occasionally professors, though they occupy a weird position. And of course those dirty cops.

The coordinator class serves two functions, 1 they supervise everyone else. They manage capital and labor while the capitalists learn modern art. They beat in skulls while the capitalists gather at Davos. 2 the coordinators take on the “really tough” stuff. They’re the specialists of the specialists; their multiple title degrees give them prerogative to make decisions and take initiative. Tom Wetzel sums it up well when he says “The power of the coordinator class is not based on ownership but on a relative monopolization of levers of decision-making and other empowering forms of work. ”

The coordinators are the guardians, and administrators of power. They typically ally with the capitalists, acting as a bulwark of strength. However in times where their work is routinized and pay degraded, they side with workers. They also have their own class interests, as was enshrined in various state socialist regimes. State socialist governments didn’t represent working class people, they represented coordinators. The industrial managers, military personnel, and commissars of Soviet Russia, red China, and Batshit Crazy Albania, were coordinators. They didn’t own the means of production individually, but instead controlled them through access to exclusive education, and exclusive social networks. This is especially pertinent with Maoism, where the revolutionary core literally resides within a group of dissatisfied coordinators.

I’m so pissed off about the misapprehension of the American middle class because it forces an ever larger number of people into a false coordinator class, and petit bourgeoisie consciousnesses. With capitalism becoming ever more skilled, folks will soon need a college degree to apply for a job at Wendys. More and more Americans are getting a college education, at ever higher prices. A whole generation of white collar, debt riddled workers are popping out of the universities, ready for a life of doomed struggle, as they run like hamsters on a wheel toward their rightful dream of middle class respectability. If we’re to rebuild our class, we need to first dispel this illusion. We shouldn’t enshrine our victory as the rebuilding of a conservative and exclusive middle class, especially when that class “proves” the utility and fairness of modern capitalism. There is no middle class, and the sooner we realize it the better off labor will be.